Tony Romo, TV Underdog? Don’t Bet Against Him
The early days of the Cowboys quarterback’s career offer insight into why he could hit the ground running in his new job. Plus Christian McCaffrey pick predictions, Richard Sherman trade clues, an NFL-UK trip and more
Peter King, editor-in-chief of The MMQB, does not believe that Tony Romo will be an NFL Hall of Famer due to the number of quarterbacks from his era with superior credentials.
I’m not saying Tony Romo will make it. I’m not saying he won’t make it. I am saying he’s a different guy, a unique case. And though I think doing football on TV is harder than the public thinks, and probably harder than Romo thinks, and though I think Romo’s got a huge bridge to build to ever get to be Cris Collinsworth II, I’m not betting against him.
A few reasons why, but let me tell you a story first. Actually, the story is from Sean Payton, Romo’s quarterbacks coach with the Cowboys when Romo came out of Eastern Illinois undrafted in 2003. Payton, quarterback coach. Bill Parcells, head coach.
This was Payton’s version of the story the way he told it to me Thursday night: “We’re at Oakland in the  preseason. Fourth quarter, late, and we’re in a two-minute drill, driving, down a touchdown [actually 20-14]. We get down to, like, the one, and Tony’s the quarterback, and the clock’s running down, and Parcells yells, ‘Clock it! Clock it!’ So I tell Tony to clock it, and he runs to the line, and we all think he’s going to clock it. But he calls, ’98! 98!’ That’s the call for the quarterback sneak.”
… :11, … :10 … :09 … Snap to Romo.
Payton: “So Tony, instead of clocking it, does a Brady-like sneak and somehow he gets over the line, and we end up winning the game. After the game, I couldn’t really say, ‘Great job!’ If he didn’t make it, we’d have both been in trouble. Big trouble.”
That’s part of the story. On Sunday, Romo picked up the rest of it.
“That's so funny,” Romo told me. “The one thing they didn't know on that play was I called ‘98’ to quarterback-sneak it, but I was still planning on spiking it. I just wanted the option to sneak it if the defense wasn't aligned properly. If Oakland would have been aligned right and in their stances with intensity, you have to spike it. But they weren’t. It’s an educated guess I took.”
But if you were wrong?
“I'm pretty sure I'd have been on a bus back to Burlington, Wis., if I wasn't lucky enough to get in. It was pretty stupid at that stage to risk that. But hell, I was young and dumb.”
Imagine you’re fighting for a roster spot—Romo was behind Vinny Testaverde and Drew Henson in camp in year two of his career—and the only chance you get to prove yourself is in the preseason, and you choose, on the likely last play of a game, to go counter to what a future Hall of Fame coach (Parcells) and a future Super Bowl-winning coach (Payton) tell you to do. You’re an unproven kid, a half-scholarship player at Eastern Illinois, uninvited to the combine, undrafted … and you make your own call at the goal line? How do you have the stones to do that?
“Man, I don't know,” Romo said. “You just want to win, and it felt like the percentages of me scoring were high. Not scoring never crosses your mind. So I never thought about the consequences, in that moment, of failing. If you fail, you fail, but I'll deal with the failure after the game and take the responsibility that comes with that. But you have no chance of being great if you can't be decisive. Make a decision and roll with it.”
Sounds exactly like Romo’s thought process this spring. Today, he could be on the verge of signing with the Houston Texans, a 42-minute plane flight from the home he does not want to upend in Dallas, with his wife and two children and a third on the way. He could have been the quarterback of a team with a Super Bowl defense, with Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt likely to return, and he could have showed the Cowboys what they’re missing. If he could have stayed healthy for one season, which he knew too was absolutely no lock, this could have been his best shot at a Super Bowl, ever. (I’m projecting the Houston signing. I think it was likely, because the Texans know they can’t enter the season with Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as their prime quarterbacks. No one’s told me Romo was a sure thing in Houston, but logic is logic.)
But despite that opening, Romo chose a pretty challenging world. As Romo told the Mike Krzyzewski podcast on SiriusXM Radio: “Right after the season I was playing football. That was a no-brainer for me at the time. And then I just, I feel like I do with all big decisions I've made in my life, you don't want to make them emotional or quick, you want to kind of just soak in it, think about it and take your time and things start to reveal themselves. And you pray about it, go talk to your close family and people you trust, then you make the call.” Doing the number one job in the CBS NFL booth alongside Jim Nantz, he said, “feels right. It really does.”
Romo says he knows what he doesn’t know. I hope so. The NFL hasn’t announced the TV slate for the year, though a complicating factor for Romo will be that CBS is likely to have about nine weeks when the network will either have the Thursday night games simulcast on CBS and NFL Network, or the crew will do the games and they’ll be on NFL Network. One game’s hard enough. Two? In 70 hours? In different cities? The one sane factor here: There will be some of those weeks, if CBS isn’t doing the national doubleheader game in the 4:25 ET late window, when Romo and Nantz could have Sunday off, seeing that there won’t be a true national game on CBS on Sunday.
Then there’s this, from former CBS sideline reporter (on the Simms/Nantz crew) Bonnie Bernstein, encapsulating Romo’s task on Friday to The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler: “As an analyst in a two-man booth, you have to take every single play you see, be able to process the All-22 [full-field video replays], decide what to dissect on-air for the audience, and then, without stepping on your play-by-play guy, you have to provide perspective. Is that personnel package working? What was wrong with that defensive back’s technique covering the back shoulder fade? And be able to provide perspective on a player’s history. Whatever the context of the moment requires. You have one shot to get it right and 15 seconds to do it—and if the offense is running hurry-up, you have even less time. You have all of this information at your fingertips, what you’re seeing, all of the insights gathered from players and coaches during our production meeting. So, on Fridays when we get there, we meet with the home team head coach and coordinators and star players. You have all of this insight that you gather from the production meeting; essentially you are trying to flawlessly and cohesively stuff 50 pounds of information into a two-pound bag. Ask anybody who has tried it, and easy is the last adjective they will use.”
Of course, Romo has come this far before. Only difference: He had three years with training wheels on before he had to be The Man.
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“You have no chance of being great if you can’t be decisive.”
Romo caught the Cowboy coaches’ eyes in 2003 at the combine. He wasn’t invited to participate, but he was asked to be one of two “camp arms,” basically. His job was to throw to receivers during receiver workouts. Payton met him there and found him to be a gym rat. Asking questions, trying to ingratiate himself with teams, making himself known. He went undrafted, to his chagrin.
“I recall we had a fifth-round grade on him,” Payton said. “In the sixth round and seventh round, we debated him as an option but chose other guys. I can imagine his disappointment, sitting home. You know, the neighbors are over, the cheese dip’s gone stale, the neighbors have all gone home. But we really wanted him as a free agent.”
As did Mike Shanahan in Denver. Funny story here. Mike Shanahan, former Eastern Illinois quarterback. Sean Payton, former Eastern Illinois quarterback. Tony Romo, now a former Eastern Illinois quarterback.
Denver’s QB depth chart: Jake Plummer, Danny Kanell.
Dallas’ QB depth chart: Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Clint Stoerner.
"I actually wanted to go to Denver a little bit more, I felt like I had a better chance of making the roster,” Romo said. “The money … Arizona, I believe, offered the most, probably around $20,000 or $25,000, which was like being rich at that time. Denver came in and they were like 15 to 20, but they also had Mike Shanahan who I had strong respect for, and obviously the Cowboys came in. It was Mike Shanahan on one side and then Bill Parcells on the other. Sean would call in and then eventually he passed the phone to Jerry [Jones], so you went through the whole gamut.”
Dallas was at $10,000. Said Payton: “Parcells asked, ‘How we doing?’ And I was confident. I thought we had him. Jerry didn’t want to lose a player we really wanted over $5,000 or $10,000. I said, ‘Mr. Jones, I think we’ll get him at 10.’ And then Tony said he’d come, and Jerry said to me, ‘I don’t know you too well, but I sure am glad you just saved me $10,000.’”
Romo told me he went with his gut back then. That’s the same way he played quarterback, a dodging/diving poor man’s Favre who should not be remembered mostly for the fumbled PAT snap in the playoffs in Seattle, or his early-career hiccups in big late-season games, or for just two postseason wins. Those are parts of his résumé, not the whole of it. And though he’s not going to go down as an all-time great, he’s going to go down as a great leader, an exciting player who lifted good but flawed teams, a prime example of today’s quarterback—a thrower/runner with a flair for knowing when to do both.
“The game I’ll remember,” said Payton, “is 2009, in New Orleans. I’m coaching the Saints. It’s a Saturday night, we’re 13-0, and Dallas comes in, and they’re fighting for the playoffs. Tony was magnificent. He started something like eight for 10 [exactly], and they just couldn’t be stopped. They beat us. Tony beat us. I just will always remember his consistent production, what a threat he was. I loved him as a player. He got better every year.”
In his new life, Tony Romo won’t have three years to make his mark. It’ll be great to get better every year. But in his new world, he’ll start as a green rookie, on one of the very big TV stages. One thing he’ll be, judging by the past 14 years: confident.
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Where’s McCaffrey Going? (Hint: Cheesesteaks)
In the past three days I’ve asked some of the smartest draftniks and former NFL scouts this question: If you had to project where Christian McCaffrey will go in the draft, what overall pick would you guess? I asked because McCaffrey is one of the most discussed players in this draft. Most people see him as a hybrid weapon—a runner/returner/slot receiver—who shouldn’t be overused. Smart, seeing that McCaffrey’s likely to play at about 203 pounds. “He’s got the ability to make people miss, but also to make tough yards in the pile,” said Payton, who likes him. “I’ve got a crystal-clear vision of the player. He’d be like Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush for us, kind of the Joker role [versatile back]. But I think you have to have a pitch count on him.”
My panel of experts see him going in the teens, and three of them said particularly they think he’d be the best fit in Philadelphia, as the successor to Sproles and the Swiss army knife in coach Doug Pederson’s game plan. The Eagles are scheduled to pick 14th in the first round.
The projection of my panel:
|Draft Analyst||Pick Projection|
|Dan Hatman, The Scout Academy||8|
|Bucky Brooks, NFL Network||14|
|Todd McShay, ESPN||14|
|Mel Kiper, ESPN||14|
|Matt Miller, Bleacher Report||14|
|Dane Brugler, NFLDraftScout.com||14|
|Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network||15|
|Mike Mayock, NFL Network||16|
|Steve Palazzolo, Pro Football Focus||19|
Interesting: Not a soul thought he wouldn’t be picked in the top 20.
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Our Tom Brady Jersey Story
This week at The MMQB, and also in Sports Illustrated, you’ll read a piece by Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas, edited by Gary Gramling, on the two-country saga of the stolen Brady Super Bowl jersey. It’s a fun and rollicking and oft-surprising tale that asks and answers this multilayered question: Who is Martin Mauricio Ortega, and how did he get away with Brady’s Super Bowl jersey, and how was he caught? The tentacles of the story, from Foxborough to Denver to Seattle to Houston to Mexico City, with geopolitical drama and contraband in black garbage bags, are sublimely fascinating.
A very short preview of the Klemko/Vrentas piece, from the Sunday morning when Mexican authorities made the big bust:
March 12: At 5:40 a.m. Mexican law enforcement officials arrive at Ortega’s doorstep. They have a search warrant for his home in this suburban, gated community in Condado de Sayavedra. But they will not execute it.
Dressed in his pajamas, his stunned wife looking on, Ortega was face to face with armed federal agents. A deal was presented: Hand over the Super Bowl jerseys and whatever else you’ve stolen, and you will sleep in your own bed not only tonight, but for the foreseeable future. Ortega fished a black trash bag out of a dresser drawer and gave it to the police, who took photos of the transaction to prove Ortega’s cooperation.
Agents didn’t tear up the floorboards, toss cabinets or pull kitchen appliances from their wall connections. They didn’t even search the lower floor. They simply asked, “Do you have anything else?”
He made a phone call to a friend who arrived shortly thereafter (Mexican police on the scene dubbed the physically stout newcomer with the helmet, Gordito, or “little fat one”). The friend brought with him an orange-and-navy-blue helmet with year-old scuffmarks on the crown: Von Miller’s Super Bowl 50 helmet.
To the Mexican authorities, the haul might as well have been a laundry pickup. They declined to search the rest of the house and left as quietly as they’d arrived, leaving the slumbering stallions at a neighboring horse farm none the wiser. To the American officials waiting back at the U.S. embassy, the trash bag and the helmet represented the culmination of a weeks-long, cross-continental search that had cost hundreds of man hours and tested the relationship between two countries.
Read the entire piece later this week at The MMQB. And listen to Klemko and Vrentas discuss the caper on my podcast on Wednesday morning.
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Come and See Us in the UK This Week
I hope to see some of my United Kingdom friends in England and Scotland this week. I’m part of a tour of NFL players and NFL-UK host Neil Reynolds beginning tonight in London and stretching through Thursday evening in Scotland. The NFL contingent includes active players Kirk Cousins (Washington), Danny Shelton (Cleveland) and Jarvis Landry (Miami), along with former players Kurt Warner and Steve Smith Sr.
Neil Reynolds has told me we’ll put on interview shows each night, and there will be ample time to come by and say hello. I’d love to meet as many of you as I can.
We’ve scheduled a visit to a Scottish pub late Thursday afternoon, and I’m up for another visit or two during my trip. So stay tuned to me on Twitter for updates as we go from London to Liverpool to Nottingham to Edinburgh, and above all, please propose a spot to have a beer with me/us before or after the events. The quickie schedule of events:
• Monday: London (Mermaid Conference and Events Centre), 7:30 p.m. Kirk Cousins, Jarvis Landry, me.
• Tuesday: Liverpool (Floral Pavilion), 7:30 p.m. Kirk Cousins, Jarvis Landry, Kurt Warner, me.
• Wednesday: Nottingham (Playhouse Theater), 7:30 p.m. Kurt Warner, Danny Shelton, Steve Smith Sr., me.
• Thursday: Edinburgh (Beer Kitchen Scottish Pub), 4:45 p.m. Kurt Warner, me.
• Thursday: Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Conference Center), 7:30 p.m. Kurt Warner, Danny Shelton, Steve Smith Sr., me.
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Quotes of the Week
“I have to go to the hardware store to pick up some anti-moth product. I’m not sure if I’ll get home in time to see it. Who’s winning?”
—Vin Scully, who was not watching the Dodgers’ opening day game last Monday when reached on the phone by Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke during the game. This is the first year since 1950 Scully has not been a baseball broadcaster.
Plaschke told him the Dodgers were winning, and he asked Scully if he was happy.
“Sure I am,” Scully said. “I’ve got a really clean car.”
“He’s a man’s man, he’s a pro’s pro, and he’s unbelievably brave.”
—Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters, to NHL.com, on 31-year-old Hurricane Bryan Bickell, who announced Saturday this would be his last season playing hockey. Bickell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November.
“For Tony, this will be like merging onto the Autobahn with your driver's permit.”
—One veteran network broadcaster, to me, on the task facing Romo.
“I don't think I ever had goosebumps this many times in a game.”
—Henrik Zetterberg, after the Detroit Red Winger scored in a 4-1 win over the Devils in his 1,000th NHL game, and the last one ever contested at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings will move to a new facility nearby next season. The Joe will be demolished.
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Stat of the Week
The weirdo Eastern Illinois quarterback triangle that came into refocus with the news of Tony Romo stepping away from football to the TV booth. The 30-year connection, with their Eastern Illinois tenures: Sean Payton (1983-86), Romo (1999-02), and Jimmy Garoppolo (2010-13).
Eastern Illinois career passing records
1. Garoppolo: 12,595
2. Payton: 10,655
3. Romo: 8,212
1. Garoppolo: 113
2. Romo: 85
3. Payton: 75
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Factoid That May Interest Only Me
The projected starting left tackle of the Los Angeles Rams, Andrew Whitworth, is 4 years, 1 month older than the Rams’ head coach, Sean McVay.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
My buddy Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times told me such a good travel note at the NFL meetings that I asked him to note it for MMQB. Here it is:
One of things I’ll miss most about the San Diego Chargers is the NFL’s greatest road trip: riding Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner from Union Station in Los Angeles to the cool little town of Solana Beach. It was a convenient and comfortable way to beat the traffic, and get two uninterrupted hours to write, read, or just relax. The first hour of the ride is unspectacular, starting in the concrete rail yards of Los Angeles, and making stops in Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine. But then the train traces the coast, riding right along the beach through San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Oceanside, and finally Solana Beach. Every glimpse out the window is a postcard. My folks live a couple towns south of that, in Del Mar, and typically I’d borrow one of their cars to go to Chargers games. It was an ideal arrangement.
Even though the Chargers are gone, I’ll keep making that train ride. Last weekend, while my wife and son were making a couple college visits, I took my 14-year-old daughter down to visit my parents. While doing some homework on the ride back up, she noticed something in a seam just below the window. She ran her pencil along that crack, then shrieked in horror. Her pencil tip pushed out a pile of wide, thick, yellowed toenail clippings. A thoughtful present from a previous passenger. She recoiled as if a hand had come out of the wall. Even worse, one of the crescent-shaped clippings fell into her purple backpack, migrating to the bottom, naturally. We emptied the backpack, got the clipping out, then delicately swept the rest into a plastic water bottle and disposed of it. We laughed about it, and wondered how gross you’d have to be to: a) cut your nails in public in those close confines, and b) hide the evidence for someone else to find. The train was crowded, so it’s not like we could move seats.
Eventually, we got back to L.A. and put our bags in the car. We were still laughing about the experience. It was a little chilly, so my daughter pulled on the red sweatshirt she had been sitting on during the ride north. Moments later, she ran her hand through her long hair and felt something foreign. A twig? A leaf? No, a stranger’s toenail that had been hiding in the sweatshirt—a memento from a trip we won’t soon forget.
Sam! Now that’s what I call a good travel note!
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Tweets of the Week
A baseball season has started without Vin Scully or Connie Mack working in some level of it for the first time since 1885.— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) April 4, 2017
This Tweet is from last week, but in the wake of this being the first baseball season since 1885 without one of those two men in the game, I exhumed it.
And in other news, Steelers annouce they will take him back https://t.co/NgbmVs1z15— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) April 7, 2017
Wouldn’t expect #Saints to reach for a WR or TE – Payton and Brees and that system in conjunction define this passing game, not the weapons.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) April 7, 2017
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From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week: Indianapolis GM Chris Ballard and Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.
• Quinn on the specter of overruling new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian on a play call, after letting former OC Kyle Shanahan call passes that helped take the Falcons out of game-clinching field-goal range in the Super Bowl: “I totally recognize where you are going. I had [the authority to overrule Shanahan] before for sure. I don't know if I would say overrule, because obviously I am on the headset and I listen too. I would have felt comfortable saying at any point in the game, Hey let's think about this, let's go in another direction … I knew where we were going [when Shanahan called for a pass that resulted in a sack with the Falcons in field-goal range and less than four minutes to play in an eight-point game] and I knew we were in field goal range and that was something that we discussed. But that was one for me learning. How do you mitigate some of those risks that take place? But let's face it, there are all sort of moments that go into the game, but clearly, if you have do-overs, yeah you would say, ‘I would like a do-over at this, or at that.’ But at any point, I always have felt like over the last couple years, Kyle and I have a very good relationship and he has a real respect for the head coach relationship ... I don't regret being aggressive, I regret the result.”
• Ballard on having confidence in decisions as a scout: “I go back to [Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters, the Chiefs’ first-round pick in 2015. GM] John Dorsey and Trey Koziol, who is a West Coast scout for the Chiefs, they kept saying, Man, this guy is special. Trey kept saying he's misunderstood; he's not as bad as what everybody is making him out to be. So finally John goes, ‘We've got to see him.’ I said, ‘I'm going, I'm going to Oakland.’ And I went and spent a day-and-a-half with him, his parents, met his family, and we got very comfortable with his situation. I came back and said we're fine. Marcus is a good guy. He's got a really good mom and dad who raised him right. When I understood what their values were, I knew what his values were. And they are still very involved in his life, dad is a high school coach, mom is a good lady, they are good people. When I saw Marcus interact with mom and dad, I felt very comfortable that he was going to be fine … I don't live in fear. If you do the work, you make a decision and you move forward. I don't ever live with the worst of what can happen. I look at the best of what can happen. You can't do what we do and be scared about the outcome.”
• Ballard, after a long career as a scout, making the final decision on the Colts’ picks on draft weekend: “It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool.”
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think there are five clues about the possibility of Richard Sherman being traded that lead me to believe it’s more likely than not he will be traded, and probably before the April 27 first round. I’ll give you those in a moment. But this is one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments for the Seahawks. Sherman’s still an excellent cornerback, clearly a top-five corner with the physicality and smarts to still be a shutdown corner, and the Seahawks are bereft of good cover guys after Sherman. That would suggest Seattle absolutely should not trade Sherman. But maybe the brain trust feels there’s no time like the present: Seattle’s lucky to be in a quarterback lull in the NFC West right now, with only an aging Carson Palmer a current threat now that Brian Hoyer (Niners) and Jared Goff (Rams) are likely starters for the other two division teams. Now for the clues:
• Sherman’s aware of the trade talks, told our Albert Breer he’s not upset about it, and apparently wouldn’t mind it happening.
• GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have both acknowledged it’s possible.
• Carroll said at the NFL meetings recently, “Richard went through a lot last year, and most of it self-inflicted,” referring to Sherman freaking out on the sidelines once, and rebelliously questioning an offensive play-call that drew the ire of Carroll. That quote really stuck with me. Pete Carroll very rarely says anything about his players remotely negative, and here he’s saying something negative about one of his biggest stars.
• The Seahawks have to know that they’ve been so empowering with their players that this could give them the chance to start fresh on the attitude front. Marshawn Lynch and then Sherman went too far with that freedom. With Lynch gone, getting rid of Sherman for a fair price could be the logical next step for Seattle.
• Sherman at 29 for $22 million over two remaining contract years might be too tempting for cornerback-needy teams to pass up.
But—and this is a big but—I find it interesting that the team often most interested in milking a couple of years out of veterans who’ve been great elsewhere apparently won’t bite on Sherman. The Patriots chose to give huge money to Stephon Gilmore, and I doubt they’d employ two corners each making in excess of $11 million a year. Just not their way.
2. I think the fact that passed gas has become a microscopic factor in the Phil Simms story could be the funniest note in the 20-year history of this column. Judge Jim Nantz’s reaction to this moment in the booth for yourself.
3. I think (and take this with a shaker of salt, not a grain, because I also work for NBC) the CBS move with its number one teams sure seemed like an awkward announcement, Tony Romo replacing Simms. The fact that this wasn’t totally buttoned up showed, when Simms wasn’t quoted in the announcement and hasn’t spoken publicly since. I’ve heard Phil Simms won’t mind making a new start (for at least the remaining two years on his contract), either on a lower team doing games, or in the studio. We’ll see.
4. I think there is only one message in the NFL’s one-year deal with Amazon to stream games this fall, the way Twitter streamed them last year: The experiment continues. There’s a reason that Roger Goodell and NFL executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp take a group of league employees to Silicon Valley every year, trying to keep current with the latest trends in the digital world. All of this is fact-finding that the NFL must do before the next broadcast rights negotiations four years from now. Don’t be blinded or really very concerned by the fact that, according to Sports Business Journal, Amazon paid five times (approximately $50 million) what Twitter paid for the rights to stream some games last year. The most important thing is that by the end of the 2017 season, the NFL will have experimented streaming games via a website (Yahoo), a social-media platform (Twitter) and an all-things-to-all-people site (Amazon) through its Amazon Prime portal. Don’t be surprised if the NFL finds another new-media-world way to stream games in 2018.
Now, for all of you like me who still will want to find the games on television, I have this message for you: You can. The Thursday Night streaming games will be on CBS, NBC or NFL Network, depending on the week. Just remember that when you see some new Silicon Valley partner doing a deal with the NFL, it’s all about the future—much more than the present. (And a reminder that the NFL and Amazon have worked together previously, on the All or Nothing series. Last year’s product, featuring the Arizona Cardinals in 2015, was a success. And this year’s version, which will feature the 2016 Rams, will likely be released this summer.)
5. I think if you’re looking for draft information (as I am every year about this time), I’ve got some recommendations:
• Dane Brugler’s 2017 NFL Draft Guide ($9.99). Cool thing about Brugler: He is good with being controversial, because he trusts his gut. He’s got Christian McCaffrey rated ahead of Leonard Fournette, questioning Fournette’s decision-making, instincts, pass-protection and receiving skills. Brugler’s detail reminds me of the late Joel Buchsbaum.
• Pro Football Focus Draft Pass ($19.95). What distinguishes the PFF product, to me, is the statistical detail, such as this: Pitt’s Nathan Peterman, the dark horse among the quarterbacks likely to be picked on day two, has a better adjusted deep-ball completion percentage (54.7 percent) than any of the top guys (Mahomes, Kizer, Trubisky, Watson) … and strangely, PFF writes, “Arm is limited,” and has “a limited ceiling.” It’s a brutally honest and revealing review of every player likely to be drafted.
• Dan Hatman’s 2017 ITP Draft Guide ($34.99). Hatman, a longtime NFL scout, has started his own scouting business now. His guide has some team-speak to it, so you’ll feel like you’re in a draft meeting sometimes. But like Brugler, Hatman is beholden to no one and gives opinions and gut feelings that are particularly valuable this time of year.
6. I think Austen Lane, former columnist for The MMQB (What It’s Like To Get Whacked, 2013), deserves kudos. Transitioning to a new career as an MMA heavyweight combatant, Lane debuted in Sarasota, Fla., with a first-round knockout of John Darling. Pretty quick too: 14 seconds into the bout. “I think I’ve found what I’m meant to do,” Lane told me. “I loved football, really did. But there’s something about this man-on-man sport that I really love.” Good luck to Lane.
7. I think Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon is going to be one of the two or three stories of the draft. Get ready. I agree with what Albert Breer wrote the other day: I think he’ll be gone by the end of round three. That’s a significantly different story than the one we thought it’d be last fall, when Mixon—dropped for a season from the Oklahoma team after being caught on video punching a women in the face—was playing well but was so pockmarked by the horrendous event that some wondered if he’d be drafted at all. The video, made public in December, gave the incident new life. But the fact that he’s making 15 visits to teams, and the fact that he has shown significant remorse, leads me to believe some team is going to take a chance on him earlier than the Chiefs with receiver Tyreek Hill after his domestic-violence arrest; Hill went in the fifth round. I can tell you this: One team in the league believes, with no punch, Mixon and Leonard Fournette would be neck-and-neck for the number one back on its draft board. So we’ll see what happens 17 evenings from now.
8. I think that video will never go away. That’s the pitfall for the team that drafts Mixon.
9. I think if someone from Latvia asks you today, “What is this NFL thing? Why do people talk about it all the time, even when they are not playing?” You should tell this person something like: Well, NFL Network is this 24/7 NFL channel, and this afternoon at 5 Eastern, NFL Network will reveal the preseason schedule on a TV show. The preseason schedule is 65 practice games no one cares about. And I mean no one. The aim of these games, aside from testing rookies and unproven players, is mostly for teams to come out of them uninjured. But there’s going to be a show with a reveal of the schedule of those games today.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Attaway, Sergio Garcia. I love when top athletes bury stereotypes.
b. Detroit: The end of Joe Louis Arena is at hand. And you sent it out wonderfully and emotionally Sunday night, with a crushing win over the Devils and an emotional tribute. Beautiful.
c. Lord, enough with the triple-double talk. Nonstop. Absolutely nonstop. Even Russell Westbrook has to be sick of it by now. How many different ways can talk radio and sports TV shows extol the absolutely endlessly fascinating, never-happen-again-in-a-million-years season in which a basketball player averages double-figures in scoring, rebounding and assists? I agree, of course: It’s a tremendous achievement. It’s only been done once before, by Oscar Robertson, more than a half-century ago. So it’s worth a lot of attention. But “a lot” has a limit. I beg we have reached it.
d. The solution to the NBA “players’ rest” issue strikes me as pretty simple: Cut the schedule from 82 to, say, 74. Every team loses four home games. So the records change. The sport has to evolve.
e. I see you, Nets. Playing hard when no one is watching, and when only professional pride is on the line. Good stuff.
f. Loved this podcast—and it’s got some age on it—on Steven Dubner’s “Freakonomics” show, about when to quit. It takes in the life of Justin Humphries, a former Astros prospect who quit, and it takes in the calculations of when it’s actually smart to walk away from a job or a passion. Interesting.
g. Wow. Mike Trout has seven home runs off King Felix.
h. Jackie Bradley Jr., has already saved about 16 runs in center field for the Red Sox. And with that bullpen, he’s better be ready to save 160 more.
i. Beernerdness: What a beer list at Eastern Standard, the restaurant around the corner and just down the street from Fenway Park. Peerless. Mystic Table Beer (Mystic Brewery, Chelsea, Mass.) was my choice, a saison, and it didn’t disappoint. Very flavorful, easy to drink, with a slight citrus and light-alcohol (4.3 percent) taste and feel. Delicious.
j. My gosh. Remember Otis Nixon? That incredible base-stealer? He's missing. If you know anything, please help.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
Happy for Sergio.
Parcells once said, “Now they can’t
say you can’t do it!”
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