What an interesting time for quarterbacks in the NFL. The last month:
Jan. 20: Philip Rivers retires, opening the Indianapolis quarterback position—again.
Feb. 7: Tom Brady wins his seventh Super Bowl.
Feb. 12: Quarterback and presumptive first overall pick Trevor Lawrence throws for scouts at Clemson.
Feb. 17: Doubt cast on Ben Roethlisberger’s future in Pittsburgh.
Feb. 18: Eagles trade Carson Wentz to Indianapolis.
Sometime very soon: Drew Brees expected to retire from the Saints.
All the while: Texans telling people they’re not trading Deshaun Watson. Offers come in. They’re not engaging.
All the while: Four quarterbacks jostling to be picked in top eight of the April draft.
Every offseason has good storylines. But this year, from the time Adam Schefter put the over-under on starting quarterback changes in 2021 at 18 (and took the over), football antennae have been raised at the most important position in team sports. We’re likely to have a lull now, because the next major decision doesn’t have to be made for 66 days—the first night of the draft. That’s when we’ll know how good a card-player rookie Houston GM Nick Caserio is. Let’s start there, because now, all anyone really cares about is Deshaun Watson.
Over the weekend, two common themes emerged about Houston’s near future. One: The Texans have one untouchable player, Watson, as of now. Two: Houston is not only not interested in trading Watson but also not interested in listening to offers for him. At least two teams have given offers to Houston and gotten zero feedback. Like, no reaction, no “We’ll get back to you.” Nothing.
Surely rookie GM Nick Caserio is gathering said offers in a Stickie on his desktop, or in some encrypted Word file. He knows one day he might have to act on one of them. I’m told he’s categorically opposed to trading Watson, period—either in the next nine weeks before the draft (when he’d clearly get the best deal to start the Texans’ post-Watson lives) or ever. It’s easy to say that, of course, when the deadline is far away. It’s easy to say that too, when you know that trading a 25-year-old franchise quarterback is crazy, and when fresh in the memory of all Houston fans is the warm-and-fuzzy press conference just 24 weeks ago when a grateful and emotional Watson was so thrilled to sign a $156-million contract extension with the Texans.
No one knows who will fold, who will stay strong. Caserio and owner Cal McNair have never been in the eye of a storm like this one. Watson, the friendly and guileless great player, has never had to make a decision as weighty as sitting out an offseason and maybe a season.
I think Caserio is playing it right, at least for now. The message is out there: Houston’s not even listening to offers. Maybe they’re serious about sitting on Watson. But Caserio also has to be cognizant of asking 53 players he doesn’t know—perhaps prepping for the season in the same virtual and fairly impersonal world that 2020 was—to take the field in 2021 with the worst team in the league, perhaps quarterbacked by an A.J. McCarron type. The results would be disastrous and could rip the team asunder even worse than it is now. J.J. Watt’s already jumped ship. Who would be next? Who, I should say, of any value?
So if Watson continues to say he won’t play for the Texans, Caserio would be able to make his best deal in the days before the April 29 first round. Below are the best candidates, keeping in mind teams cannot trade draft picks beyond 2023 right now, and keeping in mind how draft-poor the Texans are. Houston has no first-round or second-round pick this year, and isn’t scheduled to pick till number 67 in round three.
• CAROLINA PANTHERS. I’d be surprised if the Panthers hadn’t made an offer by now, quite frankly. This is a fit in many ways. Very aggressive new owner (David Tepper), who would move mountains for a franchise QB. It’s not in the AFC, meaning Houston wouldn’t have to see Watson in the playoffs till the Super Bowl. (That would be a Belichick factor.) Because the Panthers are not flush with draft capital, I think they’d have to include a quarterback with some value and at least two very good veteran players. By the way: Cal McNair, I’m sure, would also love the fact that, if the NFL’s scheduling formula stays the same, Watson as a Panther would not play in Houston till the 2027 regular season. Cross-conference matchups happen every four years, meaning Carolina, which played at Houston in 2019, would host the Texans in 2023 and play at Houston in 2027. But that’s pretty low in the pecking order of factors in this trade. Very low.
Peter King Proposal: A 7-for-1 deal. Running back Christian McCaffrey, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, receiver Robbie Anderson and first-round and second-round picks in 2021 (eighth and 39th overall), a first-round pick in 2022 and third-round pick in 2023 in exchange for Watson. Houston might push for the inclusion of 22-year-old pass-rusher Brian Burns as a vital part of any deal, which would be a tough giveaway for coach Matt Rhule. Of course, McCaffrey would be tough too.
• NEW YORK JETS. GM Joe Douglas is a big home-grown advocate, and I believe New York would chafe at doing a mega-pick deal for Watson because too many dyed-in-the-wool scouts there believe in building the team through the draft. But so many of the ingredients are there. The Jets would be able to jettison a quarterback with some interesting value, along with the second overall pick plus a trove of draft currency.
Peter King Proposal: A 6-for-1 deal. Quarterback Sam Darnold, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, first-round picks in 2021 (second overall) and 2022 (the higher of New York’s two first-round picks), plus second-round picks in 2021 (34th overall) and 2023 in exchange for Watson. Caserio could turn the second overall pick this year into another ransom. But I’m just skeptical that Douglas would make this move. Obviously, he’d be thrilled to get Watson. But he knows he has a crummy overall roster and denuding his looming drafts I believe is too much for him to accept. One other factor here: With Houston in some cap trouble and the Jets with a monstrous $68 million in cap space per Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap, the Texans could ask the Jets to take the guaranteed $10.5-million 2020 contract of fading edge rusher Whitney Mercilus.
• SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS. San Francisco would be okay with entering 2021 with Jimmy Garoppolo as its starter. But no matter what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch say, they can’t be totally comfortable with it. Garoppolo has missed 23 of the last 48 regular-season games with injuries. (Tom Brady has missed 15 games due to injury in 20 seasons.) And I’ll always wonder if the 49ers have the tiniest bit of buyer’s remorse for not putting the trigger on a deal with Brady last March. We’ll know when Brady (or Lynch or Shanahan) write a book in 15 years how close that came. But if the Niners could convince Garoppolo to waive his no-trade clause, I could see San Francisco being all in here, even though the Niners clearly would have to part with some major assets, perhaps including the young nerve center of their defense. Linebacker Fred Warner is such a rising star, however, that his re-signing in San Francisco in the next 12 months might affect the franchise’s ability to keep other great young players (Nick Bosa?) in house.
Peter King Proposal: Seven-for-1. Garoppolo, linebacker Fred Warner (that really hurts), tackle Mike McGlinchey, first-round picks in 2021 (12th overall) and 2022, plus a second-round pick in 2021 and third-round pick in 2022 for Watson. It’s a lot for the Niners to pay; of all the players in all the deals I’m proposing, Warner would be the most coveted one in my book. But he’s here because he is entering the final year of his rookie contract and would want a new deal. (McGlinchey is in exact same position, too.) Houston could view them as cornerstones for the rebuild.
Or . . .
• SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS/MINNESOTA VIKINGS. This is centered on the premise that San Francisco would not want to rip apart a team and a future, and might be willing to take a lesser deal for a quarterback Shanahan has long admired. And also that Caserio, in the heart of the draft room in 2014 when the Patriots made Garoppolo a second-round pick, would want to try again with Jimmy G. It’s a wing and a prayer, but fascinating to me.
Peter King Proposal: The Vikings send quarterback Kirk Cousins to San Francisco. The Niners send Garoppolo to Houston, if, of course, he’d waive his no-trade. The Texans send Watson to Minnesota. In return: the Niners send their first-round pick in 2021 (12th overall) to Houston, and they’re out. (So San Francisco would be trading Garoppolo and a one to Houston and getting Cousins with two years left on his contract.) The Vikings would send linebacker Anthony Barr and running back Alexander Mattison plus their first-round picks in 2021 (14th overall) and 2023, and second-round picks in 2022 and 2023 in exchange for Watson. Houston’s haul: Garoppolo, two ones this year, a one in 2023, and two second-round picks.
• MIAMI DOLPHINS. You’d hear a big, loud, “We’re not trading Tua if the Dolphins weren’t at least pondering Watson.” Why wouldn’t they be? It’s extremely hard, after seeing one year of Tua Tagovailoa, to think his mega-upside would equal the 2021 Watson. It’s logical to at least look into it.
Peter King Proposal: Miami trades defensive end Christian Wilkins, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, first-round picks in 2021 (third overall) and 2023, and second-round picks in 2021 and 2022 for Watson. In essence, Miami is trading the 13th overall pick in 2019 (Wilkins) and the fifth overall pick in 2020 (Tagovailoa), plus two ones and two twos for Watson. Advantage for Miami is the deal would leave the Dolphins with first-round and second-round picks this year and their first next year while giving them a quarterback to play on equal footing with Josh Allen in the AFC East for the next decade.
• THE OTHERS: Denver does have the ninth pick plus some good young pieces (Garett Bolles?) to offer, and a quarterback with minimal value in Drew Lock, so don’t count new GM George Paton out . . . Chicago would certainly be interested, but drafting 20th this year is a big negative, with no QB other than Nick Foles to deal; the lack of significant young talent to package is a negative too . . . Washington is intriguing because of its strong young defense, but WFT might have to trade off too much of what makes it an attractive future team—Chase Young and another promising youngster—a well as its three or four very high picks. Not impossible, but a major challenge, and I bet Houston would have better offers.
I can hear many of you now: Price tag’s too steep! You’re crazy! I’m not. If Watson gets traded, it’s going to have to include a gigantic package, maybe the highest price ever paid for a player in league history. It’s justified. Twenty-five-year-old franchise quarterbacks never come on the market. But the price isn’t for everyone. It may not be for the Jets.
If I’m Caserio, calming the waters now is the best plan. Over the next two months, you want to try every way you think might work to rebuild a bridge with Watson. But if it gets to the point that you can’t by late April, that’s when the best offers will be out there. Carolina might be the best option, willing to do the most to get Watson. The Tepper factor tells me that. After the draft, if the Texans still have Watson, there’s a danger of sitting on him and having a nightmare cloud over the franchise’s head—as if there’s not already one there.
Let’s examine the Carson Wentz deal from both sides, starting with Indianapolis:
Indianapolis: Worth the risk
First let’s discuss the palomino in the room: Andrew Luck.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said Luck “is more retired now than he was a year-and-a-half ago?” Why do you think he said that? My bet is that the Colts had plans to pursue Wentz this offseason, but before they’d trade for a player with four years and $96 million left on his contract, they had to be sure that Luck wasn’t having second thoughts about playing. So I’m assuming they heard either from Luck directly or someone very close to the quarterback that Luck doesn’t see himself playing football anymore. And once they felt sure Luck was ensconced in retirement, they moved full speed ahead on Wentz.
Regarding the deal: The trade was fair to both the Colts and Eagles. A third-round pick this year and a first-round pick in 2022 (if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps in Indy this year, or 70 percent and the Colts make the playoffs) means the Colts will hand the Eagles the 84th overall pick this year and more likely than not a pick in the range of 23rd overall next year for Wentz. Plus, Indy takes the risk of the contract: $96 million over the next four years, with $47.5 million guaranteed. Heck of a risk on a quarterback who failed so spectacularly, and in many ways, in 2020.
Wentz is 28. He was awful last season and justifiably was benched for the last four games in Philadelphia. But he looked like the long-term guy the previous three years (81 TDs, 21 interceptions), and if anyone can fix him after the 2020 debacle it’s probably Reich. “I’m extremely close with Carson Wentz,” Reich told me a month ago on my podcast. He called Wentz “a lifelong friend,” and said, “I felt for Carson this year.” No question Wentz felt the vibe; I’m told the Colts were his first, second and third choices in trade, mostly because of Reich and also because he’s a Midwest (North Dakota) guy, and Indianapolis has about 1 percent of the sporting venom of Philadelphia. The offensive line is significantly better in Indy than Philadelphia, the offensive weapons better, and the job security of Reich and GM Chris Ballard means the Colts will be a far more stable franchise than most spots where Wentz could have landed.
But the reason this deal took a while to come together is because finding a fair compensation package was tough. The Colts figured that, at 28, a quarterback three years removed from being a top-five QB and one year removed from still being considered a franchise player was worth a late-third and either late-first or second-round pick. With Indianapolis still in great cap shape even after committing to Wentz, it’s a smart risk—but a risk nonetheless.
This has been an absolutely bizarre period for quarterbacks with the Colts. Eighteen months ago today, Luck was the Colts quarterback. Two weeks prior to the 2019 season he retired. Jacoby Brissett was the 2019 guy, then Philip Rivers in 2020. With the January retirement of Rivers, Wentz takes his shot. It’s urgent that the Colts get this position right for the long haul. The scotch-tape job over the past two years has gone all right (the Colts are 18-15 since Luck walked away). But it’s been plenty costly: Ballard has spent $73 million at quarterback over the past two years, and gotten zero playoff wins out of it. He knows that has to change. The money Indianapolis has spent at quarterback over the past three years, with more to come this year:
2019: Brissett ($14.9 million), Luck ($12 million), Brian Hoyer ($5 million), Chad Kelly ($268,000). Total: $32.17 million
2020: Rivers ($25 million), Brissett ($14.5 million), Jacob Eason ($1.34 million). Total: $40.84 million.
2021: Wentz ($25.4 million), Eason ($780,000), TBD. Total: In excess of $26.18 million.
Three-year total (with one player to add): $99.19 million.
It’s easy to point to the reassuring presence of Reich and the relatively easygoing fan base of central Indiana to say Wentz will be back strong. As I’ve watched him and talked to those with knowledge of Wentz’s performance in 2020, I think three things went way wrong:
1) He saw ghosts; he often rushed throws even when he didn’t have to because he was used to heavy pressure from a line he didn’t trust anymore.
2) He didn’t respond well to hard coaching, tuning out much of what he was being taught. After the Eagles spent a 2020 second-round pick on a quarterback, Jalen Hurts, Wentz didn’t trust the front office either.
3) Wentz hurrying his drops and throws resulted in a crashing to earth of his accuracy, which declined from 69.6 percent in 2018 to 57.4 percent in 2020.
Reich, I’m sure, won’t stand for any “I got this” tendencies from Wentz—and I would be surprised if Reich hasn’t already communicated either directly or indirectly with Wentz that he’ll be coached hard in Indianapolis, and he’d better be ready for it. Wentz will have a fundamentals refresher course led by Reich, with further drill-down from coordinator Marcus Brady and QB coaches Scott Milanovich and Parks Frazier.
Last point about Wentz’s 2020 season: He hasn’t done enough in the NFL to fuss about a backup quarterback being drafted, and he hasn’t done enough to bitch (quietly though it was) about being benched. What he should have done when benched, even though he’d been sacked 4.3 times a game at that point, is say, “When you throw multiple interceptions in half of your starts, it’s just not good enough. I’ve got to be more accurate, and I’ve got to work to be better than this. It’s on me.” Leaders say that. I can think of another guy who thought he was in his prime and seethed when his team took a quarterback in the second round. Tom Brady responded by winning the Super Bowl in Jimmy Garoppolo’s rookie year. Brady won the Super Bowl in Garoppolo’s third year. When Garoppolo was traded in the middle of his fourth year, Brady was on his way to winning the MVP. At 40. Brady didn’t ask for a trade when Bill Belichick drafted a quarterback in the second round. He said, I’ll show you the mistake you made, drafting a quarterback when I’m still in my prime.
So I like the trade for Indianapolis, as I said. But there’s one man who can make it a great trade, and one man only: Carson Wentz.
Philadelphia: Has the Lombardi Trophy been fired, or traded?
Three years ago this month, after the Eagles’ stunning 41-33 Super Bowl victory over New England, I wrote a deep dive about the winning touchdown in the game—Wristband 145, I called it, because that’s what coach Doug Pederson called into the ear of quarterback Nick Foles before the play. Foles, super-subbing for injured franchise QB Carson Wentz, called the play next to “145” on the band: “Gun left trey, open buster star motion . . . 383 X follow Y slant.” The call resulted in a 11-yard TD pass to Zach Ertz, giving Philly a 38-33 lead with 2:21 left.
The play was not in the original 194-play game plan of the Eagles. Early in Super Bowl week, receivers coach Mike Groh went to offensive coordinator Frank Reich with an idea he thought would flummox the Patriots: a single receiver (Zach Ertz) to the left, three receivers (Trey Burton, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery) in a triangle to the right, a back (Corey Clement) in “star,” or sprinting, motion behind the triangle. One receiver to the left, four to the right. The Eagles, through Reich’s and Groh’s research, thought the Patriots would cover Ertz alone. Pederson called it. Groh and Reich were right—Ertz was singled. That touchdown gave the Eagles their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
Look at the key men in that play, and in that offensive powerhouse, who I just mentioned. And look at what’s happened in 36 months:
Doug Pederson: Gone. Fired last month after going 23-27-1 in the 51 games since the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles: Gone. Signed as a free agent in Jacksonville in 2019, traded to Chicago in 2020. Status for 2021 uncertain.
Carson Wentz: Gone. Traded to Indianapolis—after finishing 35th of 36 QBs in passer rating in 2020 and being benched by Pederson.
Zach Ertz: Very likely gone. Cap-strapped Eagles could save $4.7 million on the cap by trading or releasing him.
Mike Groh: Gone. Promoted to offensive coordinator in 2018, fired after 2019 season. Now receivers coach for Indianapolis.
Frank Reich: Gone. Departed two weeks after Super Bowl win to be Indianapolis’ head coach.
Trey Burton: Gone. Signed free-agent deal with Chicago in 2018. Now tight end in Indianapolis.
Nelson Agholor: Gone. Signed free-agent deal with Las Vegas in 2020.
Alshon Jeffery: Very likely gone. Should be a cap casualty this spring after missing 19 games due to injury in last three years.
Corey Clement: Likely gone. Unrestricted free agent. Buried on Eagles’ depth chart. Looking for a better role elsewhere.
The team as a whole, poof! Gone, into thin air. Doug Pederson’s last four years: Super Bowl win, playoffs, playoffs, 4-11-1 . . . fired. Whaaaaat? What has happened in sports?! Assuming Ertz and Jeffery are let go, all six starting skill players from the Super Bowl, gone. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, 14 years younger than Super Bowl champ Bruce Arians, retired at 54. Leader of the secondary, Malcolm Jenkins, gone. Special-teams captain Chris Maragos, retired. There might be a team in the 55-year history of Super Bowl that has dissolved faster than these Philadelphia Eagles, but I can’t think of one.
Craziest thing: This was a playoff team in 2018 and 2019. The year after winning the Super Bowl, Foles had them 27 yards from the end zone in New Orleans, 27 yards from the NFC Championship Game . . . but an interception wrecked that drive. In 2019, with Wentz finally starting a playoff game for the Eagles, he lasted eight minutes before being concussed and exiting the game. Then came the incendiary 2020 season, starting with drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round, continuing with Pederson missing the first two weeks of training camp with COVID-19, and Wentz playing poorly from the start. Plenty of blame to go around here, but the best point in this was made by Bucky Brooks of NFL Media: Being a starting quarterback in the NFL is not a lifetime appointment. Wentz didn’t think he should have been yanked. Did he watch his own tape?
The other day, Mike Florio’s Pro Football Talk TV show on NBC Sports Network played a clip from an interview with GM Howie Roseman, who has presided over the dissolution. Roseman, speaking less than 10 months ago, said this about Wentz: “We love Carson Wentz. We showed it with our actions. We showed it when we traded everything to go get him. We showed it when we paid him with that contract. It’s not like we’re trying to get out of that contract. We’re committed to that.”
This is why you don’t hear the Eagles, through off-the-record or unsourced material, defending the picks acquired in trade with Indianapolis. That’s because the Eagles didn’t win here. They may have made the right move in jettisoning Wentz; they likely couldn’t have brought him back without moving Hurts, and if Wentz played poorly in 2021, he was likely unmovable because of the $47.5 million in guarantees in his contract. It’s no-win for the Eagles. If Wentz plays great in Indy, the Eagles mishandled him and will be set back years in franchise development. If Wentz flops in Indy, the Eagles mishandled him and will be set back years in franchise development.
Over the weekend, in talking to two people who know the inner workings of the Eagles, it’s clear that there is a stunned disbelief inside the team from Lurie on down. A year ago, Pederson and Wentz were the keystones for the future of the franchise. Today, it’s almost inconceivable Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts are the coach and quarterback, and the franchise is cap-strapped with so few young building-block players. It used to be that a coach with recent Super Bowl currency wouldn’t get erased after one bad year. It used to be that a struggling young quarterback would take his medicine and fight to get his position back, not semi-force a trade so soon after making his money.
Roseman is public enemy number one with an angry fan base right now. “Angry” is a mild term, most likely. Philadelphia is mad as hell at the Eagles, and at Roseman. “I hate Howie Roseman with a passion now,” Eagles fan (presumably) Adam Michalesko tweeted after the trade. “I don’t want to be a fan anymore.” (Rumor has it he’ll be wearing a green jersey come September.) The Super Bowl seems 13 years ago, not three. But that’s the NFL world now, where spite is routing patience.
As Black History Month enters its last week, I wanted to share a story about the year that pro football was integrated. This was 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson became the celebrated breaker of baseball’s color barrier. There was a new football league in 1946, the eight-team All-America Football Conference. The Cleveland Browns of the AAFC, coached by Paul Brown, signed a Black defensive lineman, Bill Willis, and a Black fullback, Marion Motley; Willis played for Brown when he coached Ohio State in 1942, and Brown coached Motley on a military team in 1944 and ’45, so Brown didn’t view the professional signings of Willis and Motley as anything unusual even though no pro football team at the time had employed a Black player.
That year, the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL also signed two Black players, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, but neither made major impacts. The Browns actually broke the barrier, because they played three games before the Rams played their opener. And Motley and Willis turned into Hall of Fame players, keystones to the Browns winning all four AAFC championships and then the 1950 NFL championship in the Browns’ first year in the big league. Motley, a 238-pound bruiser, led all of pro football in rushing in 1948, and led the NFL in rushing in 1950.
But back to 1946. It wasn’t an easy year for Motley and Willis, who were subject to some thuggery and name-calling from the opposition through the inaugural AAFC season. Motley told of being tackled and having a foe step on his hand purposely with a cleated foot in view of the officials; fouls like that went mostly unpenalized. Motley considered it a moment of triumph when an official, Tommy Hughitt, finally called unnecessary roughness for one of the flagrant fouls committed on him. Motley and Willis were forewarned by Brown to not respond when being taunted or abused. Walk away from trouble, Brown told them. In week 13 of the 14-game season, Cleveland was due to travel to Miami, and the Browns were told of serious threats on the lives of Motley and Willis if they played in the game. The Browns played it safe, and Motley and Willis stayed home that week.
In telling the tale of the Browns’ early years, one thing that gets underplayed is how Motley and Willis handled racist abuse—it was similar to the way Jackie Robinson did in his rookie season the next year. No matter how vile the language or taunts, Robinson ignored them, as Motley and Willis had the year before. Turns out there may have been a connection between Robinson and the two football players in Cleveland.
Motley, from Canton, was proud to be a Hall of Famer. Before his death in 1999, Motley spent a lot of time at the Hall and got close to Joe Horrigan, the recently retired archivist, vice president and executive director there.
“Once,” Horrigan said last week, “Marion was here, and we were talking about his early years in pro football. Of course he knew all about Jackie Robinson, and about how Branch Rickey had signed him to play for the Dodgers. He knew Jackie started playing in the big leagues the year after Marion and Bill Willis debuted in pro football. And Marion said, ‘I used to carry this newspaper clipping in my wallet from the Pittsburgh Courier. In that story, Branch Rickey said he watched how me and Bill Willis played and carried ourselves in pro football. He said if they can play a contact sport and survive everything on the field, then that gives me hope we’ll be able to do it in baseball.’ And the next year, obviously, Jackie was playing for the Dodgers.”
There was momentum for the desegregation of professional sports during and after World War II. Standout football players like Willis and Motley pushed the boundaries in college and semipro football, and coaches like Brown ignored those who said it was a white man’s game. We’ll never know how much the Browns, with their progressive coach and bold players, influenced Rickey, because he’d signed Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers in late 1945 and Robinson starred in the Dodgers’ minor-league system in 1946. The big leagues beckoned, and Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947—seven months after Rickey began noticing the relatively smooth season of Black players in pro football.
There’s a long-overdue movement in Canton to memorialize Motley, and to teach future generations about the local citizen who broke the color barrier in a major American pro sport before Robinson did it in major-league baseball. Generations of kids in northeast Ohio deserve to learn the history of Marion Motley (and Bill Willis), and what they did for future generations of Black athletes. Motley’s story was told in a documentary aired this month on PBS Western Reserve called, “Lines Broken: The Story of Marion Motley.”
“As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is on the team.”
—Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, on Ben Roethlisberger, on Wednesday.
This is one case when taking attendance made big news in Pittsburgh. Has a player ever sounded less a surefire member of a team than Roethlisberger with the Steelers on Wednesday?
“It’s like the two franchises were traded for each other.”
—Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia, on the former Eagles now in Philadelphia, including the head coach (Frank Reich) and starting quarterback (Carson Wentz), and two of the coaches who will be hands-on with Wentz—Mike Groh and Press Taylor.
“As one chapter closes, another one begins. And I’m excited to join the Indianapolis Colts and look forward to the work ahead! God’s plan!”
—Carson Wentz, on Instagram, acknowledging his trade from the Eagles to the Colts.
“We did a lot of work on him leading up to the draft. The player that was here in the fall was not the player we evaluated. He’s going to have to make a determination on whether he wants to do what it takes to play pro football.”
—Tennessee GM Jon Robinson, on the 29th pick in last April’s draft, tackle Isaiah Wilson.
To whiff with the 29th pick in the draft? That’s a gigantic gaffe if Wilson doesn’t turn his life around.
“I loved every minute of the journey, but at this time I feel called in other directions.”
—New York Mets minor-league outfielder Tim Tebow, announcing his retirement from baseball.
Good for you for trying, Tim Tebow. Good for you for ignoring the negativity on so many steps of your odd (but interesting, with persistence lessons at every stage) sports journey.
Number of the week: 18.79 percent.
Based on a salary cap of $180 million (which could rise before the start of the league year in three weeks), the Eagles will pay Carson Wentz $33,820,608 this year, 18.79 percent of their 2021 salary cap, to not play for them this year.
Since Carson Wentz was drafted in the first round in 2016, the Eagles have played six playoff games.
Wentz played nine plays, total, in those six games.
(Missed all three in 2017 with a knee injury, missed both in 2018 with a back injury, started against Seattle in the 2019 wild-card game and was knocked out of the game after nine plays with a concussion.)
Tua Tagovailoa 2019 (9 gms)
71.4 comp %
Mac Jones 2020 (13 gms)
77.4 comp %
Tua had 4 future first-round WRs during his 2019 campaign
Mac Jones had 1 sure first-round WR for the majority of the year (Waddle injury)
— Mike Tannenbaum (@RealTannenbaum) February 16, 2021
Mike Tannenbaum, former NFL GM, runs the 33rd Team, a thinktank on all things NFL.
WHOA 👀 pic.twitter.com/Dj4xLzmexL
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 20, 2021
The Pittsburgh Penguins, to honor captain Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th NHL game Saturday night, all dressed in Penguin sweaters with the number 87. Sid’s number.
“You have to land. We don’t know if she is going to die on this plane.”
One plane, three doctors and a woman gasping for air.
A flight home from Super Bowl LV became a trip of divine intervention.https://t.co/KpC2701N5X
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) February 19, 2021
Terrific story here by Jourdan Rodrigue. Turns out the NFL had a great idea inviting vaccinated health-care workers to the Super Bowl.
Yeah, it’s snowing again, and a lot of Philadelphians are going to be tempted to save parking spots…and clear out their closets. Saving parking spots is illegal – even when offered multiple draft picks and cap relief. Be an MVP – shovel and share! #NoSavesies pic.twitter.com/JTORZm7E1R
— Philadelphia Police (@PhillyPolice) February 18, 2021
This is the Twitter handle of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Here we go — Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater has unfollowed his team on some social media accounts.
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) February 21, 2021
Cowherd is a FOX sports host.
Otto v Tom. From Steve Tourek, of Phoenix: “I love that you brought up Otto Graham (pointing out that both Tom Brady and Graham have won seven titles), but the context of Graham’s seven titles goes far beyond four of them coming in the All-America Football Conference. Graham’s four AAFC titles were in an eight-team league, and his three NFL titles were in leagues of 13 (1950), 12 (1954) and 12 (1955) teams. Brady’s title teams were all in a 32-team league, with the exception of 2001, when the NFL had 31 teams. I think this is important context.”
It’s a very good point, Steve. Thanks for making it. Clearly Brady had a tougher road to his seven titles. I wonder how to compare the two great quarterbacks when considering their championship careers. For the purposes of this comparison, I did not include Brady’s 2000 and 2008 seasons, because he started zero and one game, respectively, in those two years.
• Graham: 10 seasons played, seven victories in championship games, three losses in championship games.
• Brady: 19 seasons played, seven Super Bowl victories, three Super Bowl losses. Record in conference title games: 10-4.
Both men have credible claims to greatness, considering this: Graham made his league’s championship game 10 of 10 years. Brady has made his conference’s championship game in 14 of 19 seasons. As you point out, Graham played in a league of 13 or fewer teams every season. Brady has played in conferences of 16 in all of his 19 seasons. Interesting history to ponder.
I took it easy on Meyer and Reid. From Aaron: “It seems you went a little light on both the issue with Andy Reid’s son and Urban Meyer. ‘Meyer needs someone to be his conscience.’ Why are you letting him off? How about he finds his own conscience? Obviously the guy is incredibly tone deaf or just does not give a crap about racism. In regards to Reid’s son, how about KC steps up and pays all the hospital bills for the injured girl? They might be successful on the field but the nepotism is gross. Many people read your articles and you generally do an amazing job of speaking the truth on social and political issues. Don’t be an apologist for coaches who act poorly.”
Thanks for writing, Aaron. Particularly on Meyer, I see your point. I gave him credit for realizing his immense error in judgment and “accepting the resignation” of the former Iowa strength coach. He should have had a better handle on the firestorm it would cause in the first place. He comes from a world where—my sense is—it’s much easier to run roughshod on people than it is in the NFL, and I still think he needs someone with NFL experience who can tell him, You can’t do that.
I took it easy on Brady. From Richard Worley: “Your failure to address Tom Brady’s drunken behavior and his buffoon throwing of the Lombardi Trophy across an open water area is disappointing. Ignoring the non-reported knee issue of Brady was also a disappointment.”
I wasn’t critical of any of them because they do not bother me. Tom Brady got drunk at a party celebrating the Super Bowl victory. Good for him! When people celebrate seminal events in their lives, sometimes they drink to excess. I don’t think there’s a single story in Tom Brady’s 21 seasons as an NFL player that you could find him drinking and doing something stupid or wholly irresponsible.
Regarding the trophy: He threw it to a teammate on another boat, and the teammate caught it. Big deal.
Regarding the knee issue: If the knee did not cause Brady to miss any practice he was scheduled to participate, or endanger his status for any game this season, then it doesn’t bother me that he was never on the injury report. I would guess—and that’s all it is, a guess—that the over-under for players around the league who had clean-up surgeries, or are scheduled for them, since their last game of the season would be about 50. Do you think all of them were on injury reports?
1. I think it’s too early to know exactly why Vincent Jackson’s life ended far too soon at 38, but the signs that he was spiraling downward are there: successful former football player (four times a nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award), estranged from his family, serious alcoholism suspected. And then Jackson, the former Buc and charger receiver, found dead in a Florida hotel room last Monday, circumstances cloudy. May have been dead for a while. John Romano’s column in the Tampa Bay Times is a gem about the price players pay. Wrote Romano:
For an industry that is approaching $20 billion in annual revenues, there should be no excuse for players falling between the cracks when it comes to post-career care. Not when it’s become increasingly obvious that the game itself has played a large role in so much misery.
It isn’t just the toll taken on knees, hips, shoulders and backs and the temptation to quell the pain with opiates. It isn’t just the repeated blows to the head that creates protein clumps that destroy brain cells and change personalities. It isn’t just the psychological and economic adjustment of living outside the adoration of the NFL. It’s all of those things combined.
Ken Belson of the New York Times reported Jackson’s brain will be examined for possible evident of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, at Boston University.
2. I think this would be my idea on retired players and their post-career lives: The NFL and NFL Players Association just finished one of the most cooperative ventures in modern era of league-union relations. Collectively, led by Dr. Thom Mayer of the NFLPA and Dr. Allen Sills of the NFL, the two entities agreed on proper protocols to get the league through the 269-game season while respecting the rights and private lives of players. I say convene a combined league-union Blue Ribbon Panel, with mental-health and cognitive-health experts from each side, to examine why so many players struggle in their post-career lives. Invest real money in addressing the afterlives of football players. Invest real money is safety nets for players who go off the grid and whose lives their good friends are seriously concerned about, so that prominent players and excellent contributors to society don’t die binging on alcohol or other substances after giving up on finding a good life post-football.
3. I think this has stuck with me for a while. I remember having coffee with Sage Rosenfels in New York after he retired from his backup-quarterback gig in the NFL. He was, I’d guess, about 35 at the time, and he told me how hard it was to be starting at ground zero in his search for a new career at his age. While his peers at Iowa State were beginning their professional lives at 21 and 22, Rosenfels was working and training every offseason to be the best football player he could be, to stay in the NFL for as long as he could. So now, in his mid-thirties, he was trying to figure out a professional job outside of football, and competing with people 12 and 14 years younger. That stuck with me because imagine how many leave the game every season and find they’ve got to start competing for jobs with people who’ve spent years training for them while they’ve spent so much time honing their football skills. Mentally, that’s got to be taxing, if not frying.
4. I think there were these interesting nuggets from Mel Kiper and Todd McShay on their Field Yates-hosted ESPN draft podcast the other day:
a. McShay has a counterintuitive order of quarterbacks at the top of the draft: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields. “It’s Lawrence one, gap, Wilson two, gap, then the next quarterbacks, Lance and Fields,” he said.
b. When I told one NFL personnel man who is scouting quarterbacks heavily the McShay 1 through 4, he said: “Three of those four will be taken in the first four picks. The Eagles [at six] will be lucky to have a good one fall to them.”
c. Lance over Fields is the big surprise there, obviously, particularly after Fields ravaged Clemson and Lawrence in the playoffs in January.
d. McShay likes a fifth quarterback, Mac Jones of Alabama, to land in round one.
e. Kiper’s number five overall player is a tight end, Florida’s Kyle Pitts. It’s the first time in 43 years—if Pitts doesn’t fall below five overall—that Kiper will have had a tight end in his top five players on his final board.
f. “The Giants are as far as [Pitts] will drop,” Kiper said. New York picks 11.
g. Big battle for the top corner between rangy Caleb Farley, who opted out of his last season at Virginia Tech, and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain, son of the former NFLer. Kiper could see Farley being the top corner picked.
5. I think this video of the kid taunting Cam Newton—at what was a football camp attended by Newton to help these young players—is just so pathetic. Forget that Newton was the first pick in an NFL draft, and once was an MVP. Can you imagine a kid taunting a person with as much credibility as Newton, giving his time to help this group of young people? It’s mortifying.
Cam got a little triggered 👀 pic.twitter.com/D7MZkLdorg
— Justin Ramos (@patriotsnews247) February 21, 2021
6. I think it’s good for Drew Brees to be in control of his fate and all that, but it’s Feb. 22. It’s been 36 days since Jay Glazer announced Brees would definitely be retiring after the Saints’ final playoff game, 36 days since that last playoff game. And crickets. It’s widely (overwhelmingly?) assumed Brees will retire and transition to broadcasting. Drew, you’ve got the stage to yourself this week. No quarterback trades likely. It’s all yours.
7. I think this was a great note from Field Yates of ESPN: Of the 22 quarterbacks drafted in first rounds between 2009 and 2016, zero remain with their drafting teams following the trade of Carson Wentz to the Colts. Moral of the story: Impatience rules the day, and teams just aren’t going to wait once they think a player’s expiration date has come—either for playing or off-field reasons. That number isn’t surprising, though. It’s shocking.
8. I think I’d love to see free-agent quarterback Jacoby Brissett sign with the Eagles. Great spot for Brissett, who still wants to play, probably won’t have a solid starting opportunity in this market, but would be an excellent backup if Jalen Hurts struggles in Philadelphia. Good signing too, even if the Eagles pick a rookie in the first round. Brissett could just move on after one season.
9. I think, come to think of it, there should be a shuttle between Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Two flights daily, each way. We’ve already seen Carson Wentz and Frank Reich and Press Taylor and Mike Groh from Philadelphia to Indianapolis, and Trey Burton from Philly to Indy with a stop in Chicago. We’ve seen coaches Nick Sirianni, Jonathan Gannon and Kevin Patullo going from Indianapolis to Philadelphia. Now, maybe Brissett to Philadelphia, and Zach Ertz to Indy. It could be a quite a fraternal offseason.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Texas, I feel for you. The country feels for you. Sending best wishes in your recovery from this intense period of freezing.
b. We evidently can land a dune-buggy Rover thing on Mars (the vehicle even takes selfies) but can’t make sure that our power grid in the biggest state in the continental U.S. can withstand a major cold snap. I see.
c. Peter King Trivia: Name the creative writing professor I had in my junior year at Ohio University. (Hint: He has become a minor TV celebrity. Second hint: He is not alive.) Answer down in 10t.
d. TV Story of the Week: Steve Hartman of CBS News on the Michigan man who did something so nice for his community, with so many kids stuck at home during the pandemic.
e. “When that inner voice spoke to Scott Chittle and told him to “build it,” the Manton, Mich., resident felt compelled to listen. When the pandemic forced shutdowns, Chittle decided that what Manton needed more than anything was an outdoor ice rink.”
f. Chittle’s kids didn’t even skate. He just wanted something for the kids of his town to do outside. No one was going outside, and boys and girls (and their parents) were never meant to live wholly indoor lives.
g. Where Hartman finds these stories, I do not know. But his storytelling is a gift for us all.
h. “Now,” Hartman says in the piece, “the dark winter is springing with joy.”
i. Reporting of the Week: Katie Strang of The Athletic on the dysfunction inside the Arizona Coyotes organization.
j. That is some terrific reporting, Katie Strang. She traces the problems to the ownership of Alex Meruelo:
Some of the missteps have been blamed on a lack of familiarity running an NHL team, but those familiar with Meruelo’s approach to business operations insist this is a feature, not a bug. “They basically took how they managed radio stations, pizza chains and casinos and used that same playbook for a hockey team,” said one former employee.
The team’s relationships with corporate partners, vendors and suppliers eroded as Meruelo Group executives applied what appeared to be a specific strategy: call up the partner, vendor or supplier, and ask that entity to “work with them.” This was often the starting point of a process in which Meruelo’s associates would haggle over line items in invoices or portions of a contract; it was also not uncommon for Meruelo associates to use the threat of litigation as leverage to get out of paying outstanding invoices or to make payments at drastically reduced costs. Over the course of reporting this story, The Athletic identified and spoke with eight vendors with whom the Coyotes had outstanding or past due balances or negotiated their debt to a lower amount.
“They default on a bill and then chisel you down to what you accept and then they pay you,” said one vendor.
k. Sports Feature Story of the Week: The ever-versatile Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, on the golf course with the PGA’s rulesmeister. Farmer’s lede:
Sitting in your golf cart all day, then rolling over to a buried lie to make a decision that might swing a PGA Tour event is a little like being an airline pilot.
“Hours of boredom,” Mark Russell said. “Moments of terror.”
Russell should know, even though he was half-joking Saturday when he summed up his job that way, his soft North Carolina drawl a stark contrast to the angry winds buffeting Riviera Country Club.
For more than 40 years, Russell has been rulebook royalty on the tour — along with counterpart Slugger White — making the call on where the tees and pins should be for events, the length of the rough, whether a player can get relief and move the ball, and everything in between.
. . . Have gavel, will travel.
l. Just the right touch. The best thing I can say about Sam is he makes me read stories about things I don’t care much about, because I know the pieces will be good.
m. Informative Story of the Week: Fred De Sam Lazaro of PBS on the effort to vaccinate Native Americans. From the piece:
De Sam Lazaro: “Nationwide, indigenous people have experienced the highest death rate from COVID-19, nearly twice the rate of white Americans. That’s partly because Native people have higher incidence of diabetes, heart disease and asthma, conditions related to poverty that can exacerbate a coronavirus infection. Antony Stately is the executive director of the Native American Community Clinic, or NACC.”
Stately: “Establishing herd immunity, getting 70 percent to 80 percent of our population vaccinated, is going to be really, really important. Many communities are losing their elders. Those are the people that hold the knowledge of our culture and our language, things that are really important to us, that are as important to our health and well-being as is medicine, as is food, as is water and all those other things.”
n. We don’t hear much about the deaths of influential Native Americans—but that doesn’t mean they’re not vitally important in their tight-knit communities.
o. Powerful Piece of the Week: Will Leitch, writing on Medium, on how much he has in common with another person from central Illinois, a U.S. congressman named Adam Kinzinger. The common thread includes families lost to political disagreements. Writes Leitch:
I have spent most of my adult life feeling vaguely guilty about leaving my slowly eroding hometown, the place where my father grew up, the place where his father grew up; we once traced my family tree back to 1860 and discovered that my great-great-great-grandfather lived in . . . Mattoon. My father has seven brothers and sisters, all of whom live either in Mattoon or no more than 20 miles away. Everybody stayed there, until I left.
I have always felt that weight, the guilt of leaving my loved ones behind and also the pressure of living up to their expectations, of justifying my choice to leave . . . They were a part of me, forever, and I always made sure to remember that, and also to remember the lessons they had taught: basic human values of hard work, humility, and graciousness.
But in the last five years, many of them — most of them, if I’m being honest with myself—have changed. Before 2015, we would have normal, good-natured, even enlightening conversations about politics, mostly about gun control and social welfare programs . . . But in the age of Trump, all that changed. Our conversations became much more confrontational, almost immediately, and were no longer about issues or debates. They became personal. That I didn’t like Trump — that I found him an existential threat to the America that I knew my extended family loved as much as I did — wasn’t about disagreement anymore; it was about me being an “elite,” about me being a traitor to the place and the people I grew up with, about me losing touch with my roots by rejecting a man who wouldn’t know a 4-H Club event from the 21 Club and frankly wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near central Illinois. Their love and dedication for Trump turned me into something other than family to them: It turned me into the enemy.
p. Man, that’s heavy. Leitch is a great writer. You can feel the pain in his words.
q. Amanda Gorman Quote of the Week: The 22-year poet extraordinaire, the cover story of Time this week, on her advice for young girls—Black girls particularly—in the spotlight:
“My question is do they have any advice for me. I’m new to this, so I’m still learning . . . You really have to crown yourself with the belief that what I’m about and what I’m here for is way beyond this moment. I’m learning that I am not lightning that strikes once. I am the hurricane that comes every single year, and you can expect to see me again soon.”
r. What a gift Amanda Gorman is at this moment in our history.
s. Wow, is all I have to say. We are six episodes into the seven-ep first season (hope there’s a second) of The Queen’s Gambit. To think I put it off this long. It is a genius show, so well-cast, so well-acted. Anya Taylor-Joy (bet she never thought she’d be mentioned in a football column) is perfect as a pill-popping adopted foster-child chess wunderkind. I mean, who ever thought of that sort of character? I know who. Which leads me to . . .
t. Peter King Trivia answer: Walter Tevis, author of the 1983 novel “The Queen’s Gambit,” taught writing at Ohio University, and I was the beneficiary of his brain for 11 weeks in 1977 or ’78. (I forget which quarter I had him.) Amazing that 42 years after I walked off College Green and into my life that Ohio University comes back to me . . . on Netflix.
u. Happy 1,000th game, Sidney Crosby.
v. Speaking of athletic feats, Florida Atlantic baseball player Caleb Pendleton hit grand slams in his first two college at-bats Saturday night.
w. Teanerdness: Lately, it’s been two of these daily for me, in a HydroFlask thermal cup: Tazo Wild Sweet Orange tea, half a teaspoon of honey, a hunk of squeezed lemon. I am Vitamin-C’d out the wazoo. That is one delicious drink.
x. I’ll tell you how you know you’re 63: You glance at the listings for Saturday Night Live and realize you’ve never heard of the host (Rege-Jean Page) or the musical guest (Bad Bunny).
y. And it’s not the first time.
First time, probably,
that Roethlisberger sees his