Ten days till the strangest draft in NFL history kicks off, and there’s some interesting news coming later in the column. (For instance: Roger Goodell will announce the first-round picks from his basement in Westchester County, N.Y.) But for the first time this crazy spring, let’s focus on round one of the NFL draft rumors, and what I know.
The full mock draft lands next Monday. For now, I wish I could tell you something of value on all 32 picks, but I’ll only use what my late-week fact-finding ferreted out. Let’s go:
1. CINCINNATI. So there’s little chance the Bengals will trade out of this pick. LSU’s Joe Burrow makes too much sense for the long-term best interests of the franchise. But Cincinnati trading out of the top spot is not unprecedented for the Brown family. After Steve Young signed with the USFL’s L.A. Express in March 1984, they Bengals dealt the top overall pick to New England. The Pats dealt first, first, fifth and 10th-round picks (that’s how long ago it was; there were 12 rounds in ’84) to be able to snag wideout Irving Fryar first overall. The Bengals got shafted, essentially; they picked a pretty good guard (Brian Blados) and got nothing else of substance out of the deal. But the Bengals never would have made the trade had Young been there for them. With Burrow, an Ohioan, on the board, the Bengals should probably sit and take him.
2. WASHINGTON. No one in my sphere thinks Ron Rivera will do anything but log on to the NFL’s secure Microsoft Teams draft channel when Washington is on the clock and enter Chase Young, Ohio State.
3. DETROIT. Defensive player or trade down. Lions would love to find a partner to supply them with a fifth pick in the top 90 of a top-heavy draft. Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah or Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown would be Matt Patricia types. But how about this counter-culture idea from one smart GM on Saturday: “I bet 40 percent of the teams in the league have C.J. Henderson higher on their boards than Okudah. Better cover guy.” Hmmmm. Even a trade down for slightly less value would be smart for Lions GM Bob Quinn.
4. NEW YORK GIANTS. Hard to see Dave Gettleman go anywhere but tackle in this urgent draft for the G-men. Gettleman shocked the world with Daniel Jones at six last year, but the meat-and-potatoes GM is likely to go meat-and-potatoes this year with a tackle. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Alabama’s Jedrick Wills are 1-2 or 2-1 on many draft boards.
5. MIAMI. In free agency 14 years ago, the most fateful decision in the NFL was quarterback-desperate Miami bypassing Drew Brees because of a major shoulder injury in favor of Daunte Culpepper. That, of course, changed the course of pro football history. In the draft this year, the most fateful decision will be another medical one, and it’s in quarterback-desperate Miami’s hands again: to draft Tua Tagovailoa with his injury history, or to pass him by.
Interesting to note that Chris Grier, the current GM, was a Miami national scout in 2006 and watched the organization make the safer, and ultimately dead-wrong, call. Interesting, too, that Grier was Miami’s director of college scouting under football boss Bill Parcells from 2008 to 2010—and one of Parcells’ favorite bromides is, “The most important part of ability is availability.” Tough call for Grier.
I do hear that he and coach Brian Flores are very much against trading the farm to move up to get Burrow—which some in the organization want to do. I doubt owner Stephen Ross will pull the owner card and force a mega-offer to try to move up to number one, but we’ll see. “You can’t say anything with certainty on Tua,” Mel Kiper says.
One last point, and I can’t take credit for it; a smart GM told me this Saturday. Imagine the buzzkill if the Dolphins take Tagovailoa, and there’s a huge virtual celebration, and Adam Schefter or Chris Mortensen take the TV throw from Trey Wingo and say: “Trey, I’ve been told that more than one NFL team gave Tua Tagovailoa a failing grade on his physical exam.” Welcome to Miami, kid.
6. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS. Top-five GM poker-player in the league: Tom Telesco. (So you ask: Who is the top one? Easy. Jacksonville’s Dave Caldwell, who keeps the Jags’ picks from his wife.) A quarterback or long-term tackle makes the most sense; a GM friend of Telesco’s thinks he’s very high on Justin Herbert. But head coach Anthony Lynn is legitimately bullish on Tyrod Taylor, and maybe for more than one year. Talked to Telesco on my podcast this week, and he said the final board gets made, virtually, this week by video conference.
9. JACKSONVILLE. Not a quarterback, I hear. “They really want to give Gardner Minshew a real shot,” one FOC (Friend of Caldwell) says. Defensive impact player like Swiss-Army-knifish Isaiah Simmons makes sense. Biggest question for Jags on draft weekend revolves around the latest really good cornerstone player who wants out, Yannick Ngakoue. Can Caldwell find a fair deal for the defensive end?
10. CLEVELAND. New GM Andrew Berry:
• Is a good friend of Joe Thomas and saw his value in his previous Cleveland tenure;
• Was most recently schooled in the Eagles’ ethos of when-in-doubt-take-an-offensive-lineman;
• Sees a tackle position on the Browns in tatters;
• Watches 2019 Browns tape and sees Baker Mayfield running for his life.
I mean, how does Berry not take one of the four hot-prospect tackles right here? “I agree,” one Browns-watcher on another team said Saturday. “But they love that Boise tackle, and maybe they think they can get him in the second round.” What an apt pick: With the 41st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Browns select Ezra Cleveland, tackle, Boise State.
11. NEW YORK JETS. Big needs are tackle, wide receiver and pass-rusher. Joe Douglas, the GM with a six-year contract, knows there isn’t a pass-rusher worthy of the pick here, and knows he can get a first-round-caliber wideout at pick 48 in the second round, and sees the best value by far here at tackle. If a value player like Louisville’s Mekhi Becton or Andrew Thomas of Georgia is still on the board, I’m betting tackle here.
12. LAS VEGAS. Jon Gruden’s been grousing that he’s got no home-run playmakers at wideout. Mike Mayock wants clean character guys. Ceedee Lamb seems pretty logical.
13. SAN FRANCISCO. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw. Another defensive lineman in the first round?!! This sounds crazy, and maybe it is, after all the first-round defensive-line capital the Niners have used up. (Consider Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Nick Bosa in the last five drafts.) But I hear the Niners are desperate for a space-eating defensive tackle who can threaten the pocket, and that’s what the 315-pound and athletic Kinlaw does.
16. ATLANTA. Falcons fan? NFL fan? Click on the video on top of this column to see what I’m guessing will be the coolest draft-weekend setup any GM in the NFL will have. Thomas Dimitroff did my podcast Saturday, and it’s a video pod, and he was good enough to show me the draft lair he’s set up in his Atlanta home. You’ll love it.
Desperate for some edge presence, Atlanta signed Dante Fowler (Rams, 2019: 11.5 sacks) in free agency. Dimitroff could double-dip with the second-best edge rusher in the draft: LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson.
17. DALLAS. “It’s too high for a center,” said one personnel wag, “but they love the Michigan center (Cesar Ruiz), and they could trade down a few spots and still be sure of getting him.” Interesting: a plug-and-play heir to Travis Frederick.
19. LAS VEGAS. Mike Mayock won’t be able to pass on Florida corner C.J. Henderson if he’s here (and I wouldn’t be surprised at a Raider tradeup for him), not after formerly Raider-bound Eli Apple failed his physical and the Raiders got outbid on Byron Jones. Of course, they could go Henderson at 11 and an excellent wideout at 19 too.
21. PHILADELPHIA. The Eagles, understandably, didn’t want to give up the 53rd overall pick for Brandin Cooks. Mocks from Caribou to Carlsbad will give Philly a wide receiver, and I probably will too, a week from today. Give me some time on that one.
23. NEW ENGLAND. “They love Justin Herbert, but enough to trade up for him?” one rival GM said. Pats do have 12 picks—second-most in the draft—for ammo, but only one of those comes in the top 85. If they want Herbert, they’d likely have to be willing to part with the 2021 first-rounder in a trove of picks. After losing out on Hayden Hurst in their latest hunt for a tight end, no way the Pats could reach for versatile Notre Damer Cole Kmet here to solve the tight end problem, is there?
27. SEATTLE. Best quote that I mined this week, from an AFC GM: “Only two sure things in this draft: Joe Borrow to the Bengals and John Schneider trades down in the first round.” In the eight drafts since 2012, Schneider has traded his first-round pick every year . . . and twice in 2017 and 2019. Eight first rounds, 10 trades. Whatever happens on draft weekend, my money is on Schneider to add a pass-rusher, probably Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen, in the next two weeks.
One last note, from a GM who has been in the quarterback market, on the number four QB in the draft: “Jordan Love’s a polarizing player. He’s the most exciting quarterback in the draft. He’s not Mahomes, but coached well, he could become a really good player.”
My lone mock of the year will be out next Monday, and I’m going to turn it into a video production as well, hosted by NBC’s Paul Burmeister. More information on that next Monday in FMIA.
Over the past few days, I’ve reached out to people in the NFL orbit—draftees, current players, a coach, a GM, a scout, the NFL administrator in charger of the Draftathon fundraiser, an ESPN analyst, a trainer to NFL players—to ask how their lives have changed in this unprecedented time, and where they are in life and livelihoods. And I asked them to send me pictures.
A COVID-19 NFL gallery, April 2020:
Anna IsaacsonSenior vice president of social responsibility, NFLLiving in Brooklyn (temporarily)
Isaacson runs the league’s “Draftathon,” the COVID-19 TV and web fundraiser on draft weekend.
“My husband is an orthopedic surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and Westchester. He’s doing virtual tele-health visits, working with families whose loved ones are being treated for COVID-19, and has different levels of exposure to the virus. We have a 4-year-old son, Theo. We made the decision three-plus weeks ago that my son and I would come to Brooklyn, where I grew up, to stay with my parents. My husband is staying in our apartment on the Upper West Side. I’ve been working full-time on draft, starting on calls and video conferences at 9:30 a.m., running maybe 10 hours, and then maybe more after Theo goes to bed, if I don’t pass out. Theo shows up on every call with the commissioner. He [Roger Goodell] just laughs and says, ‘How’s Theo today?’ He’s an active boy going through every symptom, every anxiety, full of confusion. It’s hard on Theo. He doesn’t really understand. Every day he says, ‘Text Daddy. Tell him to come and pick us up with the car.’ Being five months pregnant, I try to keep the stress down. But Brooklyn is so much of an epicenter.
“For me personally, from a social-responsibility perspective, this draft is so important. I feel such a responsibility at this time in our country to do this right. We do community events all the time, and they’re all important. But this one feels different. It feels weightier, heavier. This is our shot to unify people, to really help. I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. We’ve got to get it right.”
Justin Herbert2020 NFL Draft quarterback prospect, OregonLiving in Eugene, Ore.
“I’m back in Eugene with all my family, my [two] brothers, my parents. It’s been cool to get to spend time with them. I throw with my brothers. I’ll throw five days a week. I usually have some meetings [virtually, with NFL teams]. I’ve gotten pretty good with the Zoom meetings, actually. I lift on the back porch. We were sent some dumbbells and some free weights, so we go back there and lift. I watch some film, go golfing when I can. A couple golf courses here are still open. We’ve done our best to monitor who we come in contact with.
“This is an exciting time, as tough as it may be with everything that’s going on. I think it would’ve been really, really cool to be at the draft and it would’ve been a really special moment to just be there in general. Instead of that, being in Eugene, I’ve always loved Eugene and being here is really special. I know that my family will be there. Whatever happens, happens. If you get too caught up in what you can’t control, it doesn’t turn out your way all the time.”
Ted KarrasCenter, DolphinsLiving in Mansfield, Mass.
“I’ve used some of my time to work toward my Master’s in Business Administration at Indiana University. I’ve been studying for a midterm in financial management, re-watching some of the lectures. This is kind of fun—[former Patriots teammate] Joe Thuney is going for the same degree. We have lectures Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., but they’re all recorded so you can go back and watch them any time. This is my second master’s. My first was in Recreation, Sports and Tourism, and when I finish this, I’ve got my next one planned at American Military University online. Astronomy. One of the great perks about being a player is you get $20,000 a year in education benefits, then more after you retire. It’s crazy: I’m going for six [Master’s degrees]. I got into Harvard to study literature, but that’s a pretty serious one. I’m going to save that for when I am done playing.
“I’ve been working out in the garage of one of my [former] Patriots teammates, Hjalte Froholdt. My wife and I are big Scrabble players, so we do some of that. Watch ‘The Office.’ Play Call of Duty. And I fixed a couple of holes in the drywall in our house. We’re in the same boat as everyone else.”
Louis RiddickDraft analyst, ESPNLiving in Mullica Hill, N.J.
“Last year, we’re on the ESPN set in downtown Nashville, just to the right of the stage. Hundreds of thousands of people there. Absolutely electric—just like it’d have been this year in Vegas. Free-flowing, playing off one another’s comments. You could hear the excitement in our voices. Hyped up. Same way some players talk about needing and wanting and feeding off the crowd in games . . . you get a taste in a live draft setting. This year, I’ll be in my house in Jersey, in my office, with a camera and video return so I can see the telecast. Door shut. Just me in there. Quiet. Sterile. Talk about a 180 from what it would have been like in Vegas. Most of us will be working the draft in our own little silos.
“[Media-performance coach] Gerry Matalon used to say we had three jobs—to inform, to educate, and to entertain. The entertainment part’s really important this year. My hope would be we give the people, despite all the challenges we face globally, something they need in America right now. We’re all aware this has to be fun—and it will be.”
Tom TelescoGeneral manager, ChargersLiving in Newport Beach, Calif.
“It is surreal to be home. I’ve never been home this much in my life. My [three] kids are upstairs in their rooms, doing their school stuff from about 8 to 2:30 every day. We don’t have a basement, so I’m at the dining room table with a Surface, an iPad, a Mac, an XOS computer, working as usual. I’m like a lot of people these days—we don’t have a land-line in our house, so we’ve got to get one put in, at least as a backup right now, in case cell service goes down on draft weekend.
“We left our building the 17th of March. We’re trying to carry on as we normally would, but it’s been adjustment. I never even heard of Zoom until we had to start using it. A lot of time has been spent on, ‘How are we going to set up and run a draft, logistically, from my house?’ The challenge of it is kind of invigorating. They say it’s a virtual draft. I don’t really get that. Nothing fake about it. It’s the real deal for us.”
Chris HarrisCornerback, ChargersLiving in Dallas
“My days are pretty much the same. My wife and I take care of our four girls under 5 at home. Usually it’s a tag team. My wife has the baby—she’s four months old—and I handle the other three. We have a pool, so I go swimming with them. They like soccer and basketball, so we play a lot of that.
“I work out with five guys, younger guys, and my trainer, Ronnie Braxton, at a field here, five days a week, from 11 till 1:30 or 2. In the past, we used to have 20, 25 guys in the workouts, but my trainer cut it down this year because of the virus. All the weight rooms here are shut down, so we’ve taken our weights out onto a football field and created this really spread-out weight area. It’s like one of those Field Day areas when you were a kid. We don’t come into contact because of the virus. We used to do 7-on-7s, but not this year due to the virus. I am cautious. I don’t touch my face. As soon as I get home, all my stuff goes right into the washer, and I don’t touch the girls, don’t touch anything.
“It’ll be a strange year, whatever happens. I was a rookie in the  lockout. The whole NFL was on hold, waiting for the CBA. My advice for guys is you better be in shape whenever camp starts. The teams that have been together, that didn’t have a lot of turnover, will have a big advantage.”
Terrell Lewis2020 NFL Draft linebacker prospect, AlabamaLiving in Hyattsville, Md.
“I work out once or twice a day, talk to a bunch of teams, watch TV. Killing time. Same old same old. Today I went to get some food after my workout, and they were really paranoid there about how I ordered the food. I went to hand them the menu and they said, ‘Just put it down.’ Crazy. But I understand—being really careful with this virus.
“I’ve been mostly using Zoom to have meetings with some teams. Green Bay, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tennessee, Detroit. That’s been completely weird. I talked to one team with my shirt off, looking kind of rough. I need a haircut. Today, I talked to coach [Matt] Patricia and the staff with the Lions. On those calls, we talk ball, their scheme, watch film, talk about my upbringing, my journey at Alabama, how I fit in their team, what I’m doing with my money to make sure I take care of it. We get to know each other a little bit. I want to make them feel comfortable with me as a person.
“The draft will be so different. Having a draft party taken away—you can’t truly cherish the moment like you wanted to growing up. Even after the draft, we have no idea when we’ll go to our team. You’re training, but for what? OTAs? Camp? The season? You try not to think about how long this will last.”
Michael PierceSoutheast region scout, RamsLiving in Daphne, Ala.
“I was at the Clemson Pro Day [March 12], and it was a nervous time for a lot of the scouts. You’re thinking, ‘Is it best to be on the road right now?’ After that, I was driving to Georgia Southern for their Pro Day, and I was told we were coming off the road. I flew home from Atlanta, and I’ve been home since. We have draft meetings, and we all get on Microsoft Teams, and each scout comes onto the screen to talk about his guys. Actually, some of what I’m doing is watching tape of next year’s class. We’re working ahead.
“What I like about this year is we’re concentrating on the player, on the basics of the player. We’ve been to the schools, we’ve watched him play, we’ve watched his tape. We know the player. Now we fall in love with the player, not the story. You know what I mean? These guys are so polished now that sometimes opinions get changed on guys based on interviews and things like that. This year, there’s not as much face-to-face, but to me, scouting comes down to tape.
“It’s a weird time, a scary situation. I try to filter it out. The show goes on.”
Ron RiveraCoach, WashingtonLiving in northern Virginia
“Being a new head coach now, the last time I was in this position in Carolina was during the  lockout. So I didn’t get to meet my football team until the day we started training camp. This is not uncharted territory. We’re just waiting to see from the NFL and NFLPA when we can start this virtual coaching with our players in our off-season program. Because I was the first head coach hired this year, I was able to get my coaching staff hired, and get the playbook ready, so we were way ahead of the curve. We’ll have virtual meetings with our players and start our installation. What I’ve told our coaches, ‘Keep it simple. Stick to the core, stick to the meat. We’ve got to be really good at the simple things.’
“As far as the draft goes, one of the things we’ve said is at the very beginning of the clock, if we don’t have anything going, we’re not going to waste time. We’re moving on. This is going to test you, to find out just how good your basics are, how good your college scouting department is, how good you are as evaluators, determining whether or not the guy is going to fit you. It’s interesting. We’re kind of going back to the basics, the fundamentals of scouting and coaching.”
Ryan CaprettaStrength and conditioning trainerLiving in Westlake Village, Calif.
Capretta, a former NFL strength-and-conditioning coach, runs athlete-training firm ProActive Sports Performance in southern California. Multiple trainers in ProActive work with 30 current NFL players and about 20 draft prospects—usually in person. But this spring, Aaron Rodgers, Derwin James, David Bakhtiari and Clay Matthews, among others, work with Capretta virtually.
“Normally we work with guys 1-on-1 or in small groups, but now we either send a guy a detailed program or work with him over FaceTime or Zoom. Today I did a Zoom workout with Derwin James. I was in my garage workout space, he was at his home. It lasts about an hour. We do what I call three rounds. Round one is to get the blood flowing, wake the body up. Round two is the meat of it, with high-intensity intervals and minimal rest. Then he chills out for a minute or two. Round three is the finisher. I zap him. Maybe a split-squat holding dumbells to the side, some high-knee jump-ropes. Then I might say, ‘Derwin, hit the hill.’ He’s got a hill behind his house, and he’ll go do two sprints up the hills, maybe eight seconds each, then come back. Then we’ll do a stability exercise and cool down.
“It works out great. Different guys work out differently. With Aaron, I send him a detailed program, and he’s good with doing it himself. David Bakhtiari, he has a program, but I’ll Zoom or Facetime him in. We do so many different things here. Clay Matthews has a beautiful home gym, so he works out there; he’s been with us for over a decade. We Zoom guys in, and do conditioning, strength, yoga and mobility work. Is it perfect? No. But it works. When you’re working out, you get into the zone, and it’s really not that big a difference. We can BS with guys over Zoom just like we’re there with them.”
Steven HauschkaKicker, BillsLiving in Newport Beach, Calif.
“I’ve got a 2-and-a-half-year-old son, and my wife Lindsey and I are expecting another boy in a month. We’re trying to be super-cautious. We decided to have a home birth, and that decision looks even better now. I probably wouldn’t be allowed in the delivery room in the hospital now. Being home so much, I’ve taken a deep dive into cooking. Made some pretty good pizza this week. And I’m with Jones, my son, most of the day. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for snails and playing with trucks . . . and reading up on potty-training. I know there’s chaos in different parts of the country right now, but there’s also a lot of goodness in society now, with things slowing down. People have hit the pause button. I see neighbors talking to neighbors.
“I’ve been doing FaceTime workouts with my trainer. I’m able to use kettle bells, TRX, the Keiser Functional Trainer and Pilates equipment.
“It’s a really unique time. It’s super weird. So many livelihoods—we’re all in a state of limbo. Still, I feel fortunate to be alive right now in this great country.”
What I’ve Learned . . . In the last few days about the draft, including mechanics and other nuggets:
• Roger Goodell will preside over the first round, as is the commissioner’s habit. On April 23 at 8 p.m. ET, he’ll appear via an in-home camera in the basement of his home in Westchester County, N.Y. Interesting note from a Saturday conversation with the NFL’s special-events czar, Peter O’Reilly: During each pick, a virtual montage of 15 fans of the team on the clock will be the backdrop behind Goodell, with those fans reacting (booing?) to the commissioner and to whoever their team picks.
• The national anthem will be performed before the start of round one by a performer of some fame, from his/her home.
• NFL HQ. Each year, the NFL’s VP of player personnel, Ken Fiore, is at the head table of the draft, on site, supervising the mechanics of the draft and accepting and confirming trades between the teams. This year, Fiore will do it from his home in Garden City, N.Y., on Long Island, 25 miles east of NFL offices.
• The draftees will be in their homes, mostly, and have been told to have no more than six people in the picture when the in-home camera (the league is dispatching 58 of them to top prospects, and a few to college coaches) focuses on them at the time of the pick. In the first round, most of the picks will be shown reacting, and then they’ll be interviewed. Justin Herbert, for instance, will be home in Eugene with his mother, father and two brothers.
• Making picks will happen like this: Each team’s designated drafter will be connected to the league’s official Microsoft Teams private and encrypted draft channel, and will make the pick through that channel. There are two fail-safes: A GM can call Fiore or a member of his team directly by landline or cell with the pick. Also, there will be a conference call for the length of the draft with club officials muted; the club official designated to make the pick can unmute his/her line and announce the pick. If the pick is made through Microsoft Teams, Fiore or his representative will announce on the conference call that a pick has been made and the next team is on the clock.
• Time for picks. Same as in recent years: 10 minutes per pick in the first round on April 23, seven minutes per pick in rounds two and three on April 24, five minutes per pick in rounds four through seven on April 25. There was discussion about expanding the time, but it sounds like the league will be less autocratic about the clock if there’s a legitimate reason (blackout, etc.) for a team to be late with a pick.
• Connectivity. Each team will have choices, but I talked to five over the weekend about the mechanics of it. The Saints, for instance, will have two videconferences working simultaneously. One will have GM Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Payton, assistant GM/college scouting director Jeff Ireland and VP/football administration Khai Hartley; the other will have those four people plus every scout. The four-man group will be open for free discussion while the larger group will likely mostly be muted, with Loomis or Payton having the ability to unmute, say, the scouts with the most knowledge about a particular player. Say they want to pick LSU linebacker Patrick Queen in the first round; Loomis could ask the scouts who were at LSU the most in 2019 for their thoughts.
• An example of how a GM will function. Atlanta’s Thomas Dimitroff toured me, virtually, through his setup on Saturday in his home. He’ll be alone in a home office, with three screens on the wall in front of him. He’s tried to re-make this room with the bells and whistles of his draft room. One screen will be the TV feed from ESPN. The NFL’s pick-by-pick feed will be on the smaller screen to the right, with Dimitroff able to toggle between the Falcons’ board to his left—overall rankings of players, a needs board, position-by-position ratings. In front of Dimitroff will be smaller touch screens with in-depth player reports and league information. On his phone will be programmed the contact person for 31 teams so he can talk trades with any team with one touch. The Falcons’ senior director of football technology, Mike Crews, worked fast to get Atlanta draft central in gear. “Obviously,” said Dimitroff, “it’s a lot smaller and scaled down. But it literally is what I have in the draft room. We are permitted to have one technology guy in our house. I will sequester him down in the basement. I will make sure that he goes in and out the downstairs door. Hopefully I’m not needing him at all. But the reality is we need to have him here just in case.” Nice work if you can get it: Crews, the IT pro, will be able to sit in a comfy room watching the draft on a 100-inch TV.
• Trading. That’s what teams are still working out. One GM told me he’s likely to divide the 31 potential trade partners into four groups. Each one of those groups, with seven or eight teams in it, will be told before the draft if he/she has a trade to discuss during the draft to call the contact person, who will then tell the GM that Team X wants to talk trade. If the GM can pick up right then, he will, and he’ll engage that team. But it won’t be as smooth as having everyone in the same room. As Chargers GM Tom Telesco told me: “If there’s multiple teams involved, that’s where it gets a little tricky. That’s what we have to work through. We’re going to have some people who’d usually be at our draft-room table who will probably be connected by video-conferencing. So I can talk to them while I’m on the phone. If there’s a couple of phones going off, I may have one of my kids pick up the phone. It’s all hands on deck. Could have both of my sons with jobs—keeping track of who’s been picked, the board. It’ll be fun.”
• Draftathon. The NFL chose six national non-profits to benefit from what’s likely to be a lucrative pot of money raised by three days of relief efforts for COVID-19 causes during the draft: the Red Cross, Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, the United Way, the Centers for Disease Control “All of Us” fund, and the Salvation Army. The league will have to walk a fine line here; there are 17 million newly unemployed Americans due to the pandemic, so it’s tough to be making a big appeal now despite the overwhelming need. “We won’t be pressuring anyone,” said Anna Isaacson, the league senior VP of social responsibility. “If you can give a dollar, great. If you can give $10, great. If you can give $100, great. If you can’t give, totally understood.” There will be cut-ins throughout the draft with players, former players and coaches appealing to help. Expect to see Sean Payton tell his story of contracting and overcoming the virus.
• Vegas. So the financial hardship on Las Vegas has been great with the closure of the casinos, and the NFL having to cancel the Vegas-hosted draft this year doesn’t help. “We’re working with Las Vegas on a future year for holding the draft,” O’Reilly told me. The draft will be in Cleveland in 2021 and Kansas City in 2023. The league really wants the draft in Los Angeles soon, so my guess is Vegas and L.A. will each host sometime by 2025.
• WiFi. “The number one factor in this draft? Strength of WiFi,” one coach told me Friday. Could be. But the redundancies could render that moot.
“I don’t think people have really focused on what it’ll be like for players to play without fans in the stands, if that’s what happens. You’re so used to playing in front of fans. It pumps you up, fills you with adrenaline. To play in front of nobody would be so bizarre. Mentally preparing to kick in a stadium with no fans will just be so different.”
—Buffalo kicker Steven Hauschka, to me, on the prospect of playing in empty stadiums this fall.
“In terms of depth, it’s probably the best wide-receiver class ever. I’m going almost 40 deep with receivers who have a chance to play in this league. I have 33 receivers with grades inside the first four rounds.”
—ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.
“We can help our country heal. We can help bring our communities together. We can provide hope. We can provide a distraction from the everyday issues and show people that there is a future out there and that we’re all going to be part of that.”
—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, to Kairos founder Ankur Jain, on holding and televising the virtual draft April 23-25.
“I don’t think there was a final, final decision until it happened, but I think I knew before last season that this would be my last season (in New England).”
—Tom Brady, on “The Howard Stern Show” last week.
“The governors of the states and mayors are going to be the ones who tell you whether we can do it. The NCAA can say, ‘Hey, you guys are all going back’ and if Governor Newsom says, ‘We’re not going back’ then we’re not going back. I’m not well-versed in infectious diseases. I’ll leave that to the Dr. Faucis of the world, who I’ve got a lot of faith in. When I listen to him talk, it seems like he’s got a pretty good grasp of it, so when he says ‘Go,’ we’ll go.”
—UCLA coach Chip Kelly, via the Los Angeles Times.
“I have my third child due in June. If this ‘bubble’ in Arizona was going to happen starting in May, you’re trying to tell me I’m not going to be able to be with my wife and see my kid until October? I’m going to go four or five months without seeing my kid when it’s born? I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen.”
—Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, in a column written for the Associated Press with AP writer Howard Fendrich.
The Alliance for American Football launched a week after the Super Bowl in 2019, its founders talking of giving the league a legitimate three-year run to see if spring football could work in America.
The XFL launched a week after the Super Bowl in 2020, its founders scoffing at the one-year XFL debacle of 2001, convinced that spring football would work in America.
The AAF, from its opening day, was alive for 50 days and eight game weeks, suspending operations in the middle of its first season.
The XFL, from its opening day, was alive for 30 days and five game weeks, suspending operations in the middle of its first season—though there’s an asterisk here, because the coronavirus was impactful in its demise.
Surely the virus affected the lifespan of the XFL. And though the XFL is likely to cease operations, that announcement has not been made. But the point remains: Two leagues, a year apart, were birthed with the intention of proving spring football, done right, could work. Once they kicked off, they lasted a total of 80 days.
In the last three drafts, Seattle GM John Schneider has made 26 trades, Chargers GM Tom Telesco one.
On Monday through Friday last week in Walmart stores across the country, shoppers bought 330 million rolls of toilet paper. That’s one roll of toilet paper for every person in the country. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said this on the “Today” show.
There is no shortage of toilet paper that would cause people to buy it at such an alarming rate. And yet people keep doing it over and over. I’ve seen officials from grocery store giants and the Targets and the Walmarts say you don’t have to hoard toilet paper because it’s going to be here tomorrow and we’re in no danger of running out. But in one week, one chain of stores sells one roll for every person in the United States. This seems more sad than weird to me.
Hmmm. A travel note.
My most distant trip of the past week was a 40-minute walk with Chuck the dog that took me 11 blocks from my Brooklyn apartment.
I went on one grocery-store trip, two stops at the Italian coffee shop that, thankfully, is still open Friday through Monday for socially distant takeout, and a stop at the wine shop on our block. That’s it for excitement in the past week.
“In lieu of flowers or donations, the Kaline family asks that you reach out to someone you love and check in on them during this unprecedented and challenging time of need.” https://t.co/txrCBSknxR
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) April 12, 2020
Shaikin, a baseball writer for the Los Angeles Times, on the humble humanity of the Al Kaline family.
A while back, I was asked what it would take to get me on Twitter. “Hmm, I said. A global pandemic ought to do the trick”. Well, here I am. What do I do now?
— Howie Rose (@HowieRose3) April 11, 2020
Rose, the veteran Mets’ radio play-by-play man, joined Twitter on Saturday.
Thursday night game. Carson calls me at 10:30 am that morning says hey come to the qb meeting room. Tells me when they give us cover 2 in the red zone I’m checking the play and go make a play… sure enough here’s what happened! #QB1 https://t.co/I8WJepg3ak
— Zach Ertz (@ZERTZ_86) April 10, 2020
Ertz is an Eagles tight end.
For those who have wondered how much Mike McCarthy has truly embraced analytics, Justin Rudd was on Marlon Davidson’s pre-draft call with the team.
— Bobby Belt (@BobbyBeltTX) April 10, 2020
Belt is an NFL Network producer.
If Howard Stern and Tom Brady wanted to talk till the end of this quarantine, that’s fine by me.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 8, 2020
Schefter covers the NFL for ESPN.
A week ago, I wrote that if I were Miami GM Chris Grier, and my draft ratings had Joe Burrow significantly ahead of any quarterback in this draft, I’d offer Cincinnati four first-round picks (three this year, one next) to move up and acquire the Bengals number one overall pick on April 23. I asked for readers to send thoughts to me at [email protected], and 116 emails poured in. A few, abridged:
Thinks I hate the Fins. From John W.: “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you’re a Miami Dolphin hater and a true New England Patriots fan. I base this on the overwhelming attention (favoritism) that you give to Tom Brady, Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick in the majority of the articles that you write. Your article insisting that you think the Dolphins should give up at least four first-round picks to move up in the draft to select Joe Burrow is beyond stupid. The actual drop off in talent level from Joe Burrow to Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa is minimal at best. The Dolphins need their 1st round picks for obvious holes that they have in their roster. . . . I will give you credit for being a very seasoned and experienced writer who has won many awards. But with that being said, I can’t understand why you would write an article that lacks any common sense. This is probably why you’re a writer and not an NFL scout or general manager.”
Thanks for writing, John. My basic point was the Dolphins should do this if there is a significant gap between Burrow and the number two quarterback on their board. If the dropoff in their eyes between Burrow and number two is very small, as you suggest, you’re right—they shouldn’t do it.
Thinks Bengals should do the deal. From Matt Schrottky: “If Miami offers four first-rounders for the number one pick, Cincinnati has to take it. Love my Bengals, but we’re more than a QB away from being good.”
Agreed—but only if, as I hear, there is high regard for Justin Herbert in the organization.
Thinks it’s a great trade for Miami. From Giovanni, of Las Vegas: “I’ve been a Miami Dolphins fan since I was five years old and I’m 54. Reading everything about the upcoming draft, you make the most sense. I love Joe Burrow and I wish the Dolphins would do all they can to get him. He is the next Marino or can even be better than Marino. Cincy will be a waste for him! They are a team that will never go anywhere even with him under center. I see Joe revitalizing the Miami fan base who have been disappointed in our team for over the last 20 years. I think Tua will be a bust. If we take him, it’s going to be another Marino curse.”
Well, I don’t know about that. Tua Tagovailoa is a very good prospect, just risky.
Thinks the price is too high—and he’s a season-ticket holder. From Jeremy Collins: “I do believe four first-round picks is a bit too hefty of a price. I would have a very hard time, as a fan and season-ticket holder, to give up that many picks. I am one who believes their first-round picks should be spent building the offensive line.”
Lots of people agree with you, Jeremy, and I respect that. And good for you to hang in there with your team. Whatever happens, I hope you get to see the revival of a great franchise.
Thinks I might be daft. From Gene Dyer, of Fort Lauderdale: “With all due respect, what in the world are you thinking? The second coming of both Dan Marino and Joe Montana would not be worth four first-round picks in today’s NFL. As a lifelong Dolphins fan, I do agree that quarterback is a huge need. However, offensive line is much more important when it comes to turning this franchise around. Why bother chasing Burrow if you can’t protect him? Burrow has more than proved himself to me and I would love to see him and his moxie in the aqua and orange, but no one is worth four first-round picks. If you are ever in the Fort Lauderdale area, I’d welcome the opportunity to take you fishing and talk football.”
Thanks, Gene! Such a nice offer. I would disagree about the value of first-round picks. Miami has five first-round picks over the next two drafts. If I told you that you could trade four of them for Patrick Mahomes, would you do it? For Deshaun Watson? Those guys were first-round picks in 2017. Of course we have no idea if Burrow will be in their league, but my point is that if there’s a significant gap between Burrow and the next-best guy, well, that’s why you built up that trove of picks.
Michael wonders about Zoom. From Michael Osborne, via Twitter: “Over the past few weeks, you’ve been mentioning Zoom more and more. Is this purely coincidental, or strategically placed as they’re a sponsor of the Peter King Podcast?”
Thanks for asking, Michael. About a month ago, with a small crew working inside the NBC Sports offices because of the virus, I was asked to learn how to use Zoom to record my podcast. NBC had a Zoom account, and set me up to use it. Little did I know Zoom would also be taking the NFL by storm over the next couple of weeks. So, as in the case with Thomas Dimitroff on Saturday, I try to record video on my podcasts now so people can not only hear what we’re talking about, but see us as well if they like. And Dimitroff giving me a tour of his home draft-weekend setup . . . priceless. I have no connection to Zoom, and Zoom has no connection to my podcast. It’s a cool tool. That’s about it.
1. I think this is a great idea from the Cleveland Browns: They’re rolling out a uniform redesign on Wednesday, and the net proceeds from all new jersey sales will go to COVID-19 relief in Greater Cleveland, a program the team plans to unveil today. Two points:
• Jersey profits will go to a fund, “Hats Off To Our Heroes,” aiding health-care professionals, first-responders, education professionals and others on the front line of caring and servicing those affected by the virus. “Having a uniform launch now, we asked ourselves, ‘Are we being tone-deaf?’ “ Browns executive vice president J.W. Johnson said. “We thought we needed some positivity in a tough time for a lot of people.”
• This will be the third team in a week (Atlanta and Tampa Bay last week) re-launching the uniform. If it seems it wasn’t that long ago that the Browns changed unis, it wasn’t. It last happened in 2015, and the reaction was pretty sour. “Our fans wanted us to get back to our roots, to our tradition,” Johnson said. “We’ve always had a classic, clean and iconic look. We’re a traditional team, like Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Dallas. Our fans weren’t super-thrilled with our uniform [change] the last time. Now we’ve been able to figure out a way for us to go back to more of a traditional look while giving back to people and to families who need it.” It’s a smart way to help. Now everyone who buys a Browns jersey knows they’re contributing X dollars to those helping the afflicted.
2. I think kudos are in order to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post for ferreting out the nugget that NBC Sports has signed Drew Brees to a football broadcasting contract that will begin after he retires—presumably after the 2020 season. Marchand reported that Brees will likely start as an analyst on Notre Dame football games and on the “Football Night in America” studio show, and could work in the booth in the event NBC gets a second NFL package of games during the next TV negotiations. (The NBC, CBS and FOX NFL deals expire after the 2022 season, but there could be talks before then on new network deals.)
Marchand also reported Brees “will be groomed as the potential replacement for Cris Collinsworth” on the Sunday night games. Is that possible? I suppose. But I can tell you that the NBC NFL analyst’s job is Collinsworth’s for as long as he wants it. He’s 61, in superb health, loves his job as much as any person alive, and I doubt he’d want to do anything other than announce football games for a long time. So I don’t see Brees taking Collinsworth’s job anytime soon, unless Collinsworth decides to leave the NBC booth, which no one expects.
3. I think you have every right to disregard my opinions, because I work for NBC. I’m calling it as I see it. I know how beloved Collinsworth is inside NBC. This deal with Brees was not done to push out Collinsworth.
4. I think I have four reactions to Tom Brady’s marathon interview with Howard Stern:
a. Impressed that Brady would talk about the rough patches in his marriage. That took some guts. It also shows he worked on it to try to be a better husband.
b. I like the fact that he dismissed so much of the Brady-must-hate-Belichick narrative. That storyline is not what I believe. Did Brady want a new team and a new coach? Yes he did. That does not necessarily mean he hates his team or his coach. “[Belichick] and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody has ever been privy to, and nor should they be, that so many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship or about how he felt about me,” Brady told Stern. Just watch—in 2029, or whenever Brady is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, he and Belichick will embrace for 15 seconds. It’ll be sincere.
c. I am sure Brady wasn’t thrilled with Belichick eschewing highly rated skill players on offense in his last two or three years, other than the occasional wish-and-a-prayer resuscitation attempts with Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown. But it was interesting to hear him talk about how he saw certain teammates. “I would say, ‘You know, I don’t have any trust that this guy can help us win the game,’ ” Brady explained to Stern. “I mean I [could] definitely express my opinion to say, ‘If you put him out there, I’m not going to throw him the ball. Fortunately for me, coach Belichick always saw it the same way as me, which is why I think we have such a great connection, because he saw football very much the same way I saw it.”
d. Really impressed that Brady went on the show. For someone as careful as he is in nearly every press utterance, it was good to hear him let his guard down.
5. I think a big part of being a quarterback is winning. Many of my peers chortle at that. But that’s how I feel. When you discuss the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Otto Graham’s got to be in the discussion. Played 10 years for the Browns, played in the championship game of his league 10 times, the Browns won seven. So he’s in my top three or four. As is Tom Brady, even though Terry Bradshaw said the other day he is not better than Roger Staubach, Dan Fouts or Dan Marino. To each his own. But then where do you rank Brady, Terry Bradshaw? Ninth? Thirteenth?
6. I think I don’t want to be a 2020 sports alarmist. But on the PBS NewsHour the other night, host Judy Woodruff interviewed Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist who is well-schooled on vaccinations and pandemics, and the subject of being in big crowds—such as at NFL games—came up.
Gates: “There will be some things where the benefit to the risk, like large public gatherings, may not resume until broad vaccination has taken place.”
Woodruff: “Over 10 people?”
Gates: Yeah, we’ll have to figure out how to draw that threshold. We may even understand age-specific risk at that point. Having a classroom with young people in it may be just fine because their role in transmitting the disease — we’ll understand in the next month or so. It may be so limited that you’re far more liberal with young people getting together than you would be with a general-age audience.”
Interesting. Just another thing to think about when considering whether games of any sort will be played this fall with fans in the stands, or at all.
7. I think the Competition Committee last week could have recommended a one-year trial of review for pass interference in the last two to four minutes of the game, which I would favor. But the committee didn’t, and didn’t recommend continuing the pass-interference replay rule to be extended after its one-year trial in 2019. Not having it at all is preferable to having it over 60 minutes, in my opinion, because the NFL didn’t do what the owners voted to do at the 2019 March meetings—which is to make Al Riveron able to overturn the calls from his New York lair. Riveron’s overturns were capricious and inconsistent. So I’m okay with killing it all over what the system was last year.
8. I think I think the best COVID-19 NFL news of the week is this: On Friday, doctors in Jacksonville gave ex-Jag tackle Tony Boselli a clean bill of health after his dangerous bout with the virus. On Saturday, he went for a 15-mile bike ride with his wife and some friends, his first time on the bike in 26 days. Afterward, Boselli slept for two hours. He’s an active guy, and that was a great first post-virus step for him.
9. I think, analyzing the two Houston trades involving high-profile wideouts
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