Zac Taylor explains the Bengals’ new approach to the offseason
Zac Taylor is like a lot of NFL coaches in the way his calendar works. And normally, for him and pretty much everyone else in his profession, that means once the end of June hits, he and his family are taking trips, seeing people and checking every box they need to before camp kicks off and the grind of the season gets started.
This year will be different.
Taylor, his wife Sarah and their four kids will stay in Cincinnati for the league’s unofficial summer break. They’ll unwind, hang with friends and enjoy their adopted hometown.
It’s just one more change made by the Bengals’ coach to adjust for coming off a Super Bowl loss. Last year was a whirlwind for everyone in the franchise. Inexplicably, Cincinnati went from a team coming off a 4-11-1 season, that hadn’t been to the playoffs in a half decade, with a quarterback on a freshly reconstructed ACL, to one that would win 10 games, finish atop the rugged AFC North and take down the AFC’s top two seeds on the road en route to a conference title—before falling just shy of a Lombardi Trophy against the Rams.
Add all of it up and, for Taylor, there’ll be real value in getting a shot to catch his breath. He’s giving his players that shot, too, in delaying the start of their offseason program as an acknowledgment of what they’re coming off of, to give them the best shot to get to where they want to go next. And no, there’s no previously sketched-out roadmap the staff is following—even if some coaches in the group have actually been through this before.
“We got guys on staff that have been a part of that, myself included, [offensive coordinator] Brian Callahan and other guys who’ve been there, won and lost,” said Taylor. “But it is different now if you were talking to someone who had experience 15 years ago. The offseason program has changed now, the length of the season has changed now and we’re dealing with our own set of challenges that we’ve gotta figure out what’s best for us.
“That’s what matters most, and I like how our guys have handled everything so far.”
So Monday, the 2022 Bengals hit the field for the first time with their coaches, a full two weeks after the rest of the league did the same. And there’s a trust that Taylor has that, as a result of this and based on the sort of locker room he’s bringing back, the gesture will pay off in a group that’s locked in and ready to go.
Which, he thinks, will give the Bengals the best chance to get the one thing they couldn’t last year.
It’s mid-May, and I’m out of the office on assignment (more on that next week), but we’ve still got a jam-packed MMQB column for you. In this week’s column, you’re getting …
• More on the 2022 NFL schedule.
• A look at how the Chargers’ viral anime video came together.
• Some notes on the Browns, Saints and Titans headlines from the week.
But we’re starting with the defending AFC champs, and what’s next in Cincinnati.
There were really a couple of reasons for Taylor delaying the offseason program in Cincinnati.
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The first is the aforementioned reality of the new NFL calendar. The Bengals just finished the first 21-game season in league history (24 if you include the preseason), wrapping up that breakthrough campaign on Feb. 13. So having the players show up for the offseason program, April 19, would’ve meant, for Cincinnati, bringing guys with all that mileage on their legs back in roughly two months after the season ended.
“I wanted guys to be excited to come back in the building, and not, O.K., we have to come back, because this is when the offseason starts, even though we just finished February 13,” Taylor said. “I wanted guys to really be excited.”
That much, Taylor said, is already evident. Nearly the entire roster, save for franchise-tagged safety Jessie Bates and another guy or two, was in town for Phase I, and it seems likely that all but Bates (who still hasn’t signed his franchise tender) will be present and accounted for Monday. What’s more, Taylor says, “The guys are energized, the guys I’ve seen around in the locker room, the weight room, guys are energized and ready.”
The benefit in the second reason for Taylor slow-playing the Bengals’ offseason, he hopes, will show up in the team’s rookie class in the fall.
Because Cincinnati’s scouting staff is the league’s smallest, the team always involves its coaches in a very meaningful way in the draft. But this year, Taylor wanted to add to that, and he thinks he got that accomplished by giving the coaches the two weeks leading up to the draft, normally split between work with veteran players and work on potential draftees, to focus just on the college kids.
“Even the last week leading up to the draft, you walk by and when you see all the coaches’ doors closed, it means they’re all on Zoom,” Taylor said. “I remember walking by one of the last days we could Zoom and everybody’s door is shut. And you can hear on the other side, coaching is happening. And when you know that’s happening on Zoom, what it means is they’re interviewing as many kids as they could at the last second.
“They’d been doing that all through April and they didn’t stop until the last second we were able to do that. So for them to be able to focus, the scouts and coaches, on getting every bit of information we can on these guys leading up to the draft, whether that helps us in the first round or the seventh round or free agency, whatever it was, I know our coaches took advantage of every second of it.”
It wound up paying off on Day 2 of the draft.
For the first time since Taylor’s first year, and because predraft COVID-19 restrictions were finally lifted, the Bengals could have players into their facilities for top-30 visits. The Bengals used one in April on a corner named Cam Taylor-Britt from Taylor’s alma mater, Nebraska. Taylor-Britt really impressed the Bengals with his energy, football IQ and drive to be great in those meetings. So new cornerbacks coach Charles Burks circled back and Zoomed with Taylor-Britt just before the draft, seeking to confirm those impressions.
Sure enough, the Bengals traded up three spots to land him with the 60th pick.
Before we dive into the next steps, Taylor does have an admission to make. Yes, he’s happy to help his players pace themselves a little better through the offseason. Sure, the fact that the Bengals, and everyone else, went through bastardized offseasons the last two years made it easier to conceptualize this idea of his. But Taylor’s not claiming he’s reinventing the wheel here—it’s really not more complicated, or innovative, than calendar math.
“We had 100% turnout last year, all our players showed up, they showed up May 20-ish, and we got great work done,” Taylor said. “And this year they’re coming in May 16 to start our on-the-field work. So it’s not that different than last year, and last year we felt like we got good work in. But I’ve gotta say, had we not been in the Super Bowl, we’d be utilizing all nine weeks. To answer your question, we know it can work for this season, with less time, because of how we did it last year, but in the future?
“If we didn’t play as long as we did, we would absolutely maximize all the time that we could.”
Still, to go forward with it, there had to be an implied trust from Taylor—in knowing, based on the group of players he has, that those two on-site weeks lost weren’t going to waste.
“It’s a great point, it’s a big reason we had the season we did last year and a majority of the team is back,” Taylor said. “Those guys are hungry, they know how to work, they’ve got great leadership skills, they’ve got great work ethic, there is a lot of trust that they’re getting themselves in shape, getting themselves prepared, they know what it takes. You look at every position room we have on our team and there’s great leadership there.
“I’m really pleased, obviously, with the team that we have, and more than just the types of guys that we have.”
Which brings us to the three things Taylor wants to get done between now and the summer break.
The first two are obvious and apply to every team this time of year. One, the Bengals will focus on integrating their new pieces into the program, both on the field and off, particularly with the infusion of veteran talent into the offensive line (La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, Ted Karras) and rookie talent into the secondary (Daxton Hill, Taylor-Britt). Two, they’ll work to tweak, adjust and reestablish their schemes so they can hit the ground running in camp.
And then, there’s the third item on the agenda: building the culture back up, which is a little more complicated. Because as Taylor said, what the Bengals had in 2021 was pretty unique—a young team that played with an old soul in the biggest moments. The good news is a lot of those guys are back, and some of the team’s best players, guys like Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Trey Hendrickson and Vonn Bell, are evangelists for the program.
Taylor says that even seeing the guys lifting and running the last two weeks, or just in the locker room, “You’re reminded of the character we have in there.” That said, he and his coaches are going to be deliberate in trying to reestablish what was built in 2021.
“We aren’t going to take it for granted or assume it’s going to be the same,” he said. “You’ve got to work from ground zero, to make sure everyone understands the values that are going to be important to us, all the things we talk about from a culture standpoint, we will talk about again starting on Monday. And I’m excited to do that again. We’re not going to take anything for granted.
“But you do look back in the locker room, and you interact with these guys we’ve interacted with the last two weeks, and it’s such a great group. You know what they stand for, they know what the Bengals stand for. But again, we’re not going to take it for granted; we’re going to make sure we’re very thorough as we go through the offseason program.”
Taylor was on the ground floor with Sean McVay’s Rams, and was in the division with Bill Belichick’s dynastic Patriots before that. So when I asked if he’d studied the difference between a team that flashes for a year and one that sustains success, I figured I’d get something philosophical on building and facing such teams.
Instead, I got a laugh.
“Well, good quarterback play helps,” Taylor said, in a way that you could almost see his smirk through the phone. “And we feel like we have that, and we’re going to continue to have that. [Burrow]’s hungry, as we get back. And again, it comes back to us feeling like we’ve got the right group of talent at different position groups. That’s where we’re at right now, we feel like we have a really good group.
“We have leaders at every position. They understand what it takes, they’ve all played in big games, they’ve all done well in big games and so I think that’s going to serve us well.”
Indeed, the Bengals have lots of reasons to believe the Super Bowl was a beginning, and not an end, for the franchise. Burrow is 25, Chase is 22, the team is strong and deep at the offensive skill positions and in the defensive front seven, and the offensive line and secondary should be better. So the roster, on paper at least, should continue to ascend.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t scars left from February. The Bengals had the lead in the final five minutes of the Super Bowl, and the ball in the last two minutes down 23–20, and because of that, the what-could-have-been thoughts are never far away.
In fact, for the first month or so afterward, Taylor was more likely to unwind at home with Netflix rather than ESPN, in an effort to avoid catching a stray with random highlights popping up here, there and everywhere.
“I’m always yelling at my boys to change the channel,” Taylor said. “And that dang Matthew Stafford commercial, the Verizon commercial or whatever it is—just change the channel. But it’s just more reason to get back to work and do our best to get back there and get our chance to get it right.”
So where some teams will do something ceremonial (like burying a football) to get past such a traumatic loss, and others go over the top in confronting it, Taylor’s going to handle it in a very natural way—the Bengals’ coaches will address the game as it comes up in the course of everyone doing their jobs over the next few weeks.
There won’t be a dramatic speech Monday morning from Taylor. There also won’t be any hiding from it, much as the wounds may still be open on some things.
“For all of us, there’s something each person would have liked to do differently, myself included in that,” Taylor said. “It’ll come up in the cut-ups, it’ll come up with things as we start to implement our schemes for next year here in the upcoming weeks. Those plays will be in the cut-ups, and there’ll be opportunities to talk about it. Our team was disappointed, but we have to turn the page and focus on next year.
“We have new players. Last year’s team was last year’s team, next year’s team is next year’s team. And so again, we know the hard work it took to get the point we were at. And now we have to start all over, and do it all over again, starting really this Monday as we walk back on the field together. Everyone’s excited for that opportunity, everyone’s hungry for it.”
Time will tell whether Taylor’s adjustments and strategies for mapping out the next steps for the Bengals are the right ones or not.
For now, we can say—they are uniquely his, and the Bengals’, own.
SIFTING THROUGH THE SCHEDULE
We covered the schedule release pretty thoroughly in Friday’s GamePlan (actually Thursday night this week!), but we do have some leftover thoughts on how the schedule worked out, and a few random nuggets from NFL vice president of broadcasting Onnie Bose. So here are 10 scheduling things to chew on with four months left until the season begins.
Josh Allen is an absolute TV superstar. The Bills start the season in the kickoff game and come back Monday night in Week 2. They also have a marquee Sunday game in mid-season, the Monday night finale and play on Thanksgiving. All of it has to do with the curb appeal of Allen. “Look at those two playoff games that Josh Allen played,” Bose said. “Two years ago, he stepped up, and he’s a star. But he went to another level and just blew your mind. The excitement for that, look at the Bills’ schedule and the games on the marquee, starting with [the season opener], and Week 2 on Monday Night Football and right on through. Everyone can’t wait for the K.C. rematch, and then him against Burrow. [Allen] drives a ton.”
No single game this year was cause for network jockeying. The closest? Maybe the Patrick Mahomes vs. Allen rematch, which CBS got in the late-afternoon national window in Week 6. “Last year was kind of a unique world with [Tom] Brady returning to New England. There was nothing of that level where Hey, everyone would kill for that game,” Bose said. “But there are, as always, some games at the top. And going back to your question about being quarterback-driven, it’s K.C.–Buffalo and that rematch, Brady against Mahomes, Brady against [Aaron] Rodgers, anything Dallas. Dallas–Tampa Bay gave us a huge start [in Week 1] last year. And then the Rams having some great opponents, playing against Green Bay, K.C., Tampa and Dallas. I think if you look at it, we tried to distribute those. It’s kind of like the draft, there were probably 10 to 12 that stood up above the rest, and we really tried to distribute those.”
The new international rotation was a factor. Basically, under the new broadcast contracts, all 32 teams will give up a home game to play internationally over the next eight years. And the impact of the schedule-makers having to fill out those assignments is already being felt at a time when they have the whole league to pick from (a few years from now, when the list of teams you can force to go abroad dwindles, it’ll probably be even more complicated). “So it’s a pretty unique year where Green Bay and Tampa Bay are going to Europe and playing in the international games,” Bose said. “And obviously playing in Germany is a big deal. And from a scheduling point of view, it’s subtle, but those are really quite good games (Giants–Packers, Seahawks–Bucs) that otherwise might’ve been deployed in other places for us.”
Playing on Christmas Day was an interesting call. The league put two games there last year. In the past, when Christmas has been on a Sunday, they’ve had a standalone prime-time game that night. What they’re doing this year is decidedly different, with a full-on tripleheader of games (Packers–Dolphins, Broncos–Rams, Bucs–Cardinals). And you have to wonder if this ruffled feathers across town from 345 Park Ave., at the NBA’s Manhattan offices. The leagues have always been respectful of one another, and the NBA has always viewed Christmas Day as the unofficial start to its broadcasting year (it’s two months into the actual season, but the league doesn’t rate great while football is being played). Does this change the dynamic between the two? I’d love to know. (The good news for the NBA is that Christmas isn’t always on a Sunday, so it’s not like this will be an annual problem.)
I’m still blown away by the number of teams that maxed out on prime-time games. It’s 12 (13 if you count the Steelers’ Christmas Eve NFL Network game). And 16 teams had four or more prime-time games. We quoted Bose saying this on Friday, and it’s the truth—that speaks very well of where the league is from a depth standpoint, with so many teams being attractive television commodities. While we’re here, I’d also second Bose’s point from Friday on the Broncos. The fact that Denver’s got seven standalone games based on where that team has been the last few years is staggering, and probably just another sign of the drawing power of the quarterbacks.
Anyway, I hope all of you enjoyed our coverage of all this silliness. And if you have more questions on it (or how your team got screwed), I’ll be answering those in Wednesday’s mailbag.
The Chargers’ social team won schedule release day. I’ll start by saying I don’t know the first thing about anime. I know what it is, and that’s about it. But I do know it’s gotten increasingly popular on this side of the Pacific with younger generations, and one such fan is a Chargers features producer/editor named Andrew Córdova. It was the 20-something’s idea, around six weeks ago, to unveil the team’s 2022 schedule in anime form, an outside-the-box idea that immediately captured the imagination of those in the room, and one that would eventually blow up the internet.
Where did the explosion land on the social media Richter scale? We’ve got one good measure of it for you. Córdova’s boss, Chargers VP of content and production Jason Lavine, was sorting out accommodations with a Hyatt in New York the other day, so 10 people from his team could accept the Webby for best sports social account (the team beat out the NBA, Bleacher Report and Canada—yes, the whole country—for the honor). And as he talked to the 60-year-old woman on the other end, she asked what group the Chargers were sending. Lavine said, “It’s the Chargers’ content team.” “The one that did the video yesterday?” she responded. “I read about it in the [New York] Post.”
Here are a few other measures on how well the video did …
• As of Saturday morning, the video’s post had over 70,000 retweets and more than 213,000 likes on Twitter.
• On Instagram, at the same point, the video’s post was at over 106,000 likes.
• The video reached No. 9 on YouTube’s trending page.
And the team itself is just as proud of this: The video was relatable enough to connect with people who are clueless on anime (like me), while also staying true to anime in a way that would excite fans of the genre (like Córdova). For example, the pirate ship used to depict the Raiders during Vegas’s two appearances in the video is from the anime series One Piece.
Of course, putting together the video itself wasn’t all fun and games, and in addition to Lavine and Córdova, David Bretto, Mina Dunn, Hayley Elwood, Alex Farkas, Mercedes Fraistat, Brian Georgeson, Megan Julian, Tyler Pino, Brian Raab, Daniela Rodriguez, Bryan Thomas and Paige Vinnicombe all contributed to what became a 39-day effort to put the whole thing together. And by the time the team got its schedule, around 10 a.m. PT on Wednesday, it had 31 hours to string together all the work they’d done, which also had its challenges.
The end result made it all worth it, and is a reflection of the investment the team has made to keep all this work in-house instead of outsourcing it. And before we move on to more football-centric things, we’ve got two final points to hit on. One, the Chargers’ group really liked the videos done by the Panthers, Lions, Bills, Seahawks and Broncos, too. Two, this actually isn’t the most retweeted Chargers’ tweet ever. It’s evidently going to take a little more to beat this one …
Jarvis Landry’s signing is just another sign of where the Saints are. Drew Brees or no Drew Brees, Sean Payton or no Sean Payton, New Orleans’s internal belief in its core, and GM Mickey Loomis’s urgency to give it the best chance to win a championship, has been over-the-top evident all offseason. It’s obvious in how they’ve continued to push money into future years. It was evident in the team’s draft-pick trade with the Eagles, designed to move future assets into the present. It’s there in how the team has approached the quarterback position. It’s shown up again with the signings of LSU alums Landry and Tyrann Mathieu.
And really, if you look at that core, it’s understandable—Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Andrus Peat, David Onyemata and Alvin Kamara carry the seven biggest cap figures on the team, all are homegrown and all are still capable of playing at a really high level.
How far those guys can go will now largely ride on the rest of the team. First, Jameis Winston, of course, but also with the younger players like Cesar Ruiz, Erik McCoy, Chris Olave, Trevor Penning, Payton Turner, Pete Werner and Paulson Adebo, who are still on rookie deals. And then mercenaries like Marcus Maye, Landry and Mathieu.
As for Landry himself, to be clear, the Browns still liked him as a player. They just didn’t like him at $15 million. He’s certainly not the guy he used to be. I had one coach in Cleveland estimate he’ll be at about 50 catches for the Saints—Landry’s still crafty out of the slot and can be a weapon on third down and intermediate routes, so long as New Orleans can help him, schematically, from getting jammed at the line. And the good news is, with Thomas as a traditional ‘X’ receiver (bigger, outside target) and Olave expected to be the burner, Landry should have a very natural role in the group.
Also, he should be able to contribute quickly, which, for all the reasons above, is important.
The Browns’ decision-making also highlights a component of roster management at this time of year. Cleveland had shown interest in bringing Landry back. And Deshaun Watson’s arrival, for a time at least, had Landry interested in returning to Cleveland. So what happened over the last couple of weeks? The Browns got themselves a new version of the 29-year-old who manned the slot for them the last four years by taking Purdue’s David Bell with the 99th pick. And it really is uncanny if you look at his profile coming out of the Big Ten, and compare it to Landry’s—tough, crafty, ultraproductive receiver without great timed speed who projects into the slot as a pro with some outside flexibility. So, yeah … no wonder it became easier for the Browns to walk away. And it’s not the only example of that sort of thing to come out of draft weekend.
• Duane Brown, the Seahawks’ left tackle since 2017, is still on the market. And Seattle just took Mississippi State left tackle Charles Cross with the ninth pick and Washington State tackle Abraham Lucas in the third round.
• The Chiefs’ coaches got a lot out of Melvin Ingram (at 32 years old) down the stretch last year, but don’t need him as much now with first-rounder George Karlaftis coming aboard.
• Lions DE Trey Flowers, if he can stay healthy, still has consistent, steady play left for someone at 29. But after the Lions took Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal in the top 100 picks, it might not be in Detroit.
And there are other examples out there, too. Which, again, is just an interesting piece of insight into how the NFL offseason keeps moving and dynamics change along the way.
The Ryan Tannehill debate is ridiculous. I also couldn’t agree with Titans coach Mike Vrabel more on this: “His job is to prepare to help us win a bunch of games and be a great teammate and help out. And I know that he’s going to do that. So that was not any sort of issue for me. … I thought Ryan handled that very well. I thought he was genuine. I thought he was authentic. And I know Ryan is a great teammate. Everybody here knows he’s a great teammate. And that is not his job.”
Vrabel played 15 years in the NFL, so he has a pretty good handle on how these things work in locker rooms, and Malik Willis, on the other end of the mentoring comment from Tannehill, did all he could to defuse the situation, too, saying that Tannehill had the rookies over to his house, and calling him a “good dude.”
Here’s the reality: The NFL chews up and spits out players faster than I think most fans realize. All you have to do is look at the current list of available free agents to recognize that. So a player like Tannehill can help a young player, but any time someone talented, younger and cheaper comes along, the job of the older player, first and foremost, is to do everything he can to keep his job.
We’ve seen how quarterbacks being drafted motivated Tom Brady (Jimmy Garoppolo) and Aaron Rodgers (Jordan Love) in recent years, and with Tannehill going into the final guaranteed year of the contract he signed in early 2020, it’d make sense that Willis’s surfacing in Nashville would do the same for him.
I think, on balance, Mike Mayock did a good job in Las Vegas, but that 2020 draft class … yikes. With the trade of Bryan Edwards—new GM Dave Ziegler dealt the former third-rounder to the Falcons on Friday with a seventh-rounder for a fifth-round pick—Vegas is now without its first four picks from a draft that was held 25 months ago. The fifth pick, Tanner Muse, is a special teamer. The sixth pick, John Simpson, started last year, but will be fighting for a roster spot this year. And the seventh pick, Amik Robertson, is a roster bubble guy at corner. And thanks to the Khalil Mack trade, all seven of those picks were in the first four rounds. Now, again, Mayock did some nice things in Vegas, which is why Ziegler and Josh McDaniels didn’t conduct an immediate teardown of the team when they arrived. But that class, without even considering the off-field problems first-rounders Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette have had, or that third-rounder Lynn Bowden was traded before the first game of his rookie year … was not good.
It’s nice that Tyreek Hill stuck up for Tua Tagovailoa this week, but it also shows what sort of scrutiny Tagovailoa is going to be under this year. The background on this is that the Dolphins tweeted out a video last week of Tua throwing the ball downfield. And while there was a rocket emoji attached to the tweet, the video itself made it look like Tagovailoa lacked the kind of launcher attached to Hill’s old quarterback. So fans reacted in kind, and then Hill went to bat for his new quarterback.
Again, really nice that Hill’s doing that for Tagovailoa, when he easily could’ve just ignored it and gone on with his day. That said, given the excuses gone narrative out there—following the firing of Brian Flores and the acquisitions of Hill and left tackle Terron Armstead—there are going to be eyes on the Dolphins’ quarterback all year in this sort of day-to-day way. And especially because less than a year from now, Tagovailoa will be eligible for a new deal and a decision will have to come on his fifth-year option, a decision that will likely be much more complicated for the Dolphins than it will be for the other two teams that took quarterbacks in the top 10 two years ago.
The sweet spot for the 49ers on Jimmy Garoppolo might come in six or seven weeks. This is the truth facing Garoppolo—there simply isn’t a clearly open seat for him. But that could change by the time Garoppolo can actually throw the ball again. Garoppolo’s tracking to be back throwing, after rotator cuff surgery, at the end of June or early July. By then, teams will have had two months to see their rosters on the field and reassess ahead of training camp starting at the end of July. So the Niners pushing pause on the effort to move Garoppolo not only allows them to get a good, long look at Trey Lance and build an offense for him accordingly—it also allows for a need to materialize elsewhere. Maybe Drew Lock will struggle in Seattle (although it’s unclear whether the Niners would deal Garoppolo within their division), or neither Sam Darnold nor Matt Corral will emerge as a clear choice in Carolina. At that point, the 49ers would have a healthier, easier-to-assess quarterback to dangle for them. The risk, of course, is that things go the other way in those places. But at this point, given how quiet it’s been, that seems like a risk worth taking—even with the knowledge that the Niners really could use the $24.6 million in cap space shipping Garoppolo off would create to work on deals with Deebo Samuel (if the Niners can complete a reconciliation there) and Nick Bosa. Stay tuned.
Revenge plots attached to games are usually a bigger factor for fans than they are for players, but there’s one theme I’m keeping an eye on this year. Let’s start with what Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz told NFL Network during the schedule release show on returning to Philadelphia on Nov. 14 (a Monday night): “I know that’ll be a big game. A lot of emotions. I’m sure fans will eat that one up and it’ll be fun—make for a good story line. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be just another ballgame. It’s going to be a huge divisional game for us when that one comes. So I’m excited for it, but at the same time, I’m trying not to get too excited for that one, because, again, it’s just football. Can’t press. Can’t do too much.”
So yes, that one will be interesting. But to me, maybe more interesting will be three earlier dates—the opener against his old coach Doug Pederson and the Jaguars, the Week 3 game against the Eagles and the Week 8 game in Indianapolis. You see where Wentz said there that he “can’t do too much”? Well, within the first eight weeks, we’ll have three situations where you’ll get a clear vision on whether he’s pressing as he plays against teams with people that, at least on paper, would have the best knowledge of how to bring that side out of him. And if it happens, like it did down the stretch last year, Washington has a rookie it likes quite a bit in Sam Howell, the fifth-round pick who had a high enough grade with the team that it essentially demanded his selection where the Commanders got him.
While we’re there, it’s definitely worth noting that the Browns are only in prime time twice. Obviously, with flex scheduling and everything else, things can change. But it absolutely looks like the league would rather keep the Deshaun Watson story out of headline positions for the time being and keep the top broadcast teams from having to weigh in on it too much. The aforementioned prime-time games are on a Thursday night in Week 3 and a Monday night in Week 8. Every game other than those two is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff. And the two marquee opponents on the slate, the Bills and Buccaneers, appear back-to-back deep into the season, one just before Thanksgiving and the other just after. So as it stands right now, Troy Aikman won’t have to comment on Watson until Halloween night, and Tony Romo probably won’t need to for a while, either. And yeah, maybe this was unintentional. But it sure doesn’t seem to be.
It’s the middle of May, and it’s quick-hitter takeaway time. So we can roll with it …
• The details the St. Louis Post-Dispatch uncovered this week really confirm what we knew all along—that the NFL was always going to do what was going to give itself the best shot to succeed in Los Angeles after two decades out of the nation’s second-largest market. And Stan Kroenke’s deep well of cash created that best shot for Park Ave.
• Also, the Raiders would’ve been a weird fit in St. Louis.
• The Earl Thomas story is bizarre and scary, and I hope he gets help and that the rest of his family is safe.
• Conversely, I think we’re all O.K. reserving judgment on the Jerry Jeudy story.
• Lions GM Brad Holmes’s Chris Long comp on Hutchinson was a very common one with scouts before the draft, so he’s not the only one who sees it.
• Congrats to NFL legend Frank Gore on his first pro boxing win.
• Having Cam Brate gives the Bucs flexibility to leave the light on for Rob Gronkowski, and I do think Gronk will eventually come back. If he doesn’t? Get to know rookie Cade Otton.
• It was interesting hearing Jaguars coach Doug Pederson speak so openly about Urban Meyer, saying his players need some “healing” after “trust … was broken” last year.
• Ingram is a nice signing for the Dolphins, and I think part of it is hoping that 2021 first-round pick Jaelan Phillips can learn a few things from the wily vet.
• RIP, Gino Cappelletti.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. Condolences to those who lost loved ones in the mass shooting in Buffalo that left 10 people dead. And I’ll say here what I said on Twitter—there’s no reason for a civilian to have a gun like that. Zee. Row. Getting to try to look like a badass on Facebook isn’t a good trade-off for what those weapons have done in this country.
2. On the other hand, good to see the Bills actively work with their community on this as it reckons with the tragedy.
3. Ime Udoka has done a hell of a job, Jayson Tatum really answered the bell in Game 7 and I don’t really see why the Celtics can’t win the NBA title, which would’ve been an absolutely preposterous idea back in November.
4. Remember when Erik Spoelstra was just there to be LeBron’s caddy?
5. The last five minutes of a Game 7 in the NHL have to be as intense as anything in sports; and we got a lot of Game 7s over the weekend.
6. All the complaining about NIL in college sports is hilarious because the NCAA had forever to make the whole concept its own. And as it became increasingly clear that the day was coming, the NCAA just kept sitting on its hands. Nice final act by Mark Emmert as NCAA president. Or at least a fitting one.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
We have to start with this one this week. Of course.
Points for mocking everyone.
You’ll never hear me having an issue with ’90s nostalgia. And that’s right, kids, you could only use the internet back then if no one was using the house phone (and the house phone was generally the only way to make a call … although my mom had a car phone because she’s a real estate broker).
Probably my second favorite one behind the Chargers—and where the Chargers had shade for the Browns, the Lions brought it for the Jets.
And this one wins for star power alone.
This is why Nick Chubb has no problem running through tacklers.
Pretty interesting seeing Aikman, Romo and Brady all get a higher average number as broadcasters than they did as players (and nice chart here from Sando to illustrate it).
Love this. I promise we’ll do something on Woodhead over the next few weeks.
Technically not NFL, or this week, but I came across it the other day and it’s awesome.
Congrats to John, Charean, and the forever king of Dallas media, Gallo.
Fun fall ahead for coaches in rough patches, with Sean Payton out there and available.
Awesome that the Bills let this come around and gave Kyle the scoop on the back end (unless it was Bernard’s agent … but either way).
Really cool story.
Has to happen all the time.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It pays to be a champion.
Brady’s taking home $37.5 million a year to work half weeks half the year, and I think one interesting piece of this that no one seems to be talking about is how his willingness to take manageable contracts both in New England and Tampa may be, to some degree, paying off financially now. If you’d argue he’d have fewer rings absent having done that, then it follows that, without being so far in front of every other quarterback ever in championships (7–4), he might not have the earning power he does now.
Because Fox didn’t just land a really great NFL quarterback. They landed the greatest—just like every other company that Brady works with has. And they’ve all done so in pursuit of the same sort of benefit Brady’s own brands have reaped from his name.
Now, taking less money in the moment, for any quarterback, is a dice roll. And not one I think I’d recommend to many. But it’s hard not to see how it’s worked out for No. 12.
More NFL schedule coverage:
• How the NFL Built (and Rebuilt) the 2022 Schedule
• Ranking the 10 Best Games of the Year
• Analyzing Each Network’s Prime-Time Games
• Six Teams That Got Hosed by the Schedule