NFL life, March 30, 2020:

THE DRAFT

The other day, I was told that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could kick off the 2020 NFL Draft in 24 days from a remote-controlled camera in his home in Bronxville, N.Y., a village 15 miles north of NFL headquarters in Manhattan. But, a source with knowledge of draft-logistics discussions told me, that would be a “worst-case scenario.”

Sounds like a “best-case scenario” to me. Rich Eisen, the NFL Network draft host, agreed. “What better way to communicate the necessity to stay inside to stop the spread of the coronavirus than the commissioner of the NFL announcing the picks, alone, from his house in New York?” Eisen told me.

It’s a stark and grand concept. And if it’s good enough in these grave times for the august Lester Holt—who hosted the NBC Nightly News from his home in New York—it should be good enough for the NFL. There’s a more likely, more traditional idea for the draft, I’m told. A working group of senior league officials and NFL Films, NFL Network and ESPN officials have been discussing draft alternatives from their homes via teleconference in recent days. With NFL Films in southern New Jersey and the NFL Network campus in Los Angeles deemed non-essential businesses and shuttered by governors in those states, the only draft-related partner still open—though with a skeleton crew—is ESPN, in Bristol, Conn. However, with President Trump saying Saturday he might establish a quarantine in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey at some point, who knows if the ESPN set, even with socially distanced hosts, would even be available for round one in 24 days?

THE SCOUTING

Niners GM John Lynch brought his fans, on Twitter, into his home office the other day with a video of his pre-draft work space. It’s the wide-screen TV in the office, where he was watching video of a Kentucky prospect.

As Lynch said Sunday, he wanted to channel his inner Tony Dungy, who used to tell his Bucs players: “No excuses. No explanations. Get the job done.” He wanted to show his team and his peers in the business and 49er fans and maybe even the world at large: Everybody’s got problems these days. Ours are small, really. Solve them.

“People have a lot bigger problems than we do, I can tell you that,” Lynch told me. “This year’s a lot different than any year scouts and GMs have had, obviously, with all the challenges. But this time of year, what you really need is time. The other day, [coach] Kyle [Shanahan] called and said, ‘This is unbelievable! I’m getting so much done.’ And he’s right. He and I, this time of year, would be watching this tape in our offices, and the difference is our doors aren’t getting knocked on 50 times a day. I’m really getting a lot done.”

THE PLAYER

The all-pro pass-rusher of the Arizona Cardinals, Chandler Jones, lives in a lovely home in a Phoenix suburb. He has an in-home gym and an in-home movie theater. Often his friends have come over to enjoy both. But not now. “My friends are home too. They have asked me, ‘Hey, can I come use your gym?’ I tell them no. Nobody can come over. I’m not being paranoid about this. I’m being cautious. My house is off-limits.”

Jones said he has been watching movies that creep him out. To each his own. He’s watched “Contagion” and “Pandemic” in his in-home theater. Alone. (Why not just turn on the TV and watch news?) He’s not sure how they got there, but he has a box of protective gloves and a box of masks, and he wears them when he has to go to the grocery store. He’s not alone.

“Life now is really about living a day at a time,” Jones said, “and hoping for the best.”

THE PROSPECT

Cal safety Ashtyn Davis is the perfect example of a 2020 NFL Draft prospect. Likely a second/third-round pick in the April draft, Davis couldn’t work out at the combine because of December groin surgery, and was prepping to blaze a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash at Cal’s March 20 Pro Day, then impress teams in personal meetings. Then pro days were cancelled by the NFL, and scouts couldn’t work out prospects, and players couldn’t visit teams. Strike one, strike two, strike three.

Now Davis is training in Santa Ana, Calif., doing pushups and TRX workouts in his nondescript apartment. Last week, twice, trying to get in some speed work and DB drills, he got kicked off football fields near his apartment. “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t frustrated,” Davis told me Friday. “But I refuse to come out of this sort of quarantine a downgraded version of myself.” Ashtyn Davis will have to be judged on his Cal tape and some FaceTime chats with teams. The best scouts in the NFL will be the MVPs of the draft this year.

THE CONSUMPTION

No live sports to watch. Going stir-crazy at home. Content. Who’s got content?

Minutes of video content watched on the Falcons website and the Falcons app:

March 2019: 80,964.
March 2020 (through March 26): 884,814.

That means fans this year are consuming 11 times as much Falcons video content as they did a year ago. Is there any wonder the league wants to keep the draft in the dormant sporting month of April?

THE AGENT

Ryan Williams, 40, a partner in one of the leading agent groups Athletes First, has never been home for the entire month of March in his 18 years in the business. Until this year. He and his wife had a baby on Feb. 28, and by the time he should have been traveling for pro days to see his clients, the coronavirus made travel dicey, and then the NFL canceled everything. Over the weekend, Williams didn’t sound bummed about it.

“In this whole experience,” Williams said from his California home, “there are pockets of enlightenment and joy. We have a 4-week-old baby, and I’ve been with him every day of his life. I was talking to my wife last night. We realized our 5-year-old twins have never had their dad home 30 days in a row. I’m not alone. Think about all the scouts, all the coaches, home for the first March in years. It’s been pretty refreshing.”

THE OUTREACH

The Red Cross had to cancel 2,700 blood drives in March, projecting the loss of 86,000 pints of blood. A Michigan blood bank said last week it had only a one-day supply on hand, threatening all surgeries. Cardinals principal owner Michael Bidwill made a $1-million donation to Arizona COVID-19 relief, but he wanted his organization to do more. He heard about the desperation for blood. With the space in the wide main concourse at State Farm Stadium, Bidwill figured that would take care of the social distance part of it. The Cardinals announced the blood drive on Thursday, and every appointment was filled overnight. They added two hours to the drive, and those appointments sold out in an hour.

That’s 500 pints of blood.

“We’ll spread the donor spaces around the concourse, so no one will be close, and we’ll have everyone exit through a different gate to limit contact,” Bidwill said Sunday. “So many people feel, ‘What can I do?’ But they figure they can give a pint of blood.”

Five hundred people doing something to help, driven by a football team and wanting to do a good deed.

“We’ve sold out 144 straight games at State Farm Stadium,” Bidwill said. “But this is our most important sellout.”

A Different Draft

It’s a bit fruitless these days to try to predict what’s going to happen—with offseason programs, with the release of the schedule, with training camps, with preseason games, with the regular season. The NFL, like all of society, is at the whim of a virus.

With Roger Goodell confirming that the draft would stay on the scheduled dates of April 23-25, that’s one mystery solved. But the form it will take—the where and the how, especially—is in a nascent state. What we do know is most people normally together for the draft will be separated. It has created one interesting prospective. If you’ve done Zoom video conferencing, or you’ve watched recent nightly newscasts, maybe you’ve seen eight or 10 people on the laptop screen or the TV all ready to be called on by a host. Imagine the same thing on draft night. The NFL will send out about 50 portable camera kits with microphones to top prospects and college coaches, with better-than-FaceTime quality, so NFL draft coverage will be able to bring in, say, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow from the family home outside Athens, Ohio, when/if he’s the first pick of the Bengals. Then Burrow will be able to do his media availability with the Cincinnati press, and whatever other one-on-ones he chooses to do.

Not perfect, but necessarily different.

The draft itself will be different. The first two or three rounds shouldn’t be upset all that much because of the scouting changes; the top 100 players were poked and prodded normally for seven months of the college preseason, regular season, bowl season and combine season before everything shut down. But it’s the later rounds, as NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said in this space last week, that could see teams trying to hit the safe singles instead of the risky triples.

“What teams will succeed?” said former Patriots and Chiefs executive Scott Pioli, now a CBS Sports analyst. “Teams that are focused and worked long and hard at the Senior Bowl and the all-star games and the scouting combine. Teams that know how to scout. Teams that have a strong system in place.”

When I pointed out how that might be a disadvantage to new coaches like Carolina’s Matt Rhule, fresh out of Baylor to the NFL, Pioli disagreed. “Not necessarily. He has a network of people he can call on in the Big 12 that not many teams will have, and he’ll have a lot of contacts back East from Temple. [Rhule is the former Temple head coach.] That could be a big advantage on some players for Carolina. In general, the good franchises rely on scouts for success in rounds five, six and seven.”

I thought it interesting that Pioli brought up the drafting of Tom Brady in 2000 in the sixth round. In that year, the Patriots scouted Brady during the season with an area scout, then at the East-West Game in California with other scouts, then at the combine. Then the late Dick Rehbein, then New England’s quarterback coach, did a private workout with Brady in Michigan. Then New England drafted him 199th overall. Pioli’s point: All of that scouting would have been the same in 2020 except for the private workout. That workout was a big deal, of course. But the Patriots had a lot of knowledge on Brady before that workout, and could well have taken him during the draft had they not been able to go to Ann Arbor for the private session.

“Too many people are complaining about what isn’t possible in the draft process this year,” Pioli said. “The rules are the same for everybody.”

One other interesting thing I picked up: At least one team is quietly using GPS data from college teams to estimate the 40 times and other movement measurables from players who didn’t work at the combine. That’s a smart way to get an edge.


Beyond the draft: I can’t imagine offseason programs existing in any sort of together way. More likely, teams could have classroom setting for playbook learning, but conditioning and training likely will have to be lonely pursuits through the spring.

As Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill said Sunday: “Our IT people have been our MVPs, setting up our coaches and scouts to work remotely.” They could do the same with players—and likely it’d be easier to set up with the more digitally fluent younger generation.

I asked Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, a forward-thinking techie in his own right, how he saw the near future.

“I think the NFL’s going to be fine,” he said. “I don’t mean it won’t be changed. It is being changed now. How it’ll impact things like training camp, sooner than that, the OTAs . . . Training camps will probably affected in some way. And of course, your point about the stadiums, with 50,000 to 70,000 people, whatever it may be. I think it’s just too early to tell. Of course we have to be able to provide a safe environment for fans. That’s the most critical thing.”

On whether he believes there will be a 16-game regular season, Blank said: “If I had to speculate now, and I use the word speculate because that’s really all it is, I would say yes. Only because it’s so far away from where we are today. I could easily see camps being shorter, players being tested on a daily basis, things of that nature. No fan attendance. Things like that. We may have fewer preseason games, which probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I think by September, my hope is by the time the regular season starts, that we’ll be able to bring people together in some form or fashion in a safe manner and play.

“I do think we need football now. It’s hard to turn on any device you have today, almost any site, television, PCs, laptops, phones—without the first thing popping up being something on the virus. And that’s appropriate. However, I also think that people want a diversion. People want to be optimistic. People want to think about things that are really good times for themselves and their families and their loved ones and their communities. I think to have that kind of hope and aspiration mixed into your daily life is important.”

Blank was in Hilton Head with family when we spoke on Saturday afternoon. Even though he hasn’t been in a coronavirus hotspot, he voiced what I’ve heard mental-health experts say. It’s strange to write about this in a football column, but these, of course, are strange times.

“I usually walk and exercise a lot under any circumstances,” Blank said. “But now I know it’s important to exercise the body and calm the mind. I told our associates the other day you’ve got to find ways to calm your mind. Whether it be thinking, meditation, reading, prayer, slower breathing, whatever it may be, do something. Because it’s easy under these conditions to have your mind racing all over the place. It’s important to be able to keep your body moving, keep it functioning, keep it active and yet have a calm mind at the same time.”

NFL Spring Meetings

10

This was supposed to be the week of the annual NFL Spring Meetings. Instead of slumming at the Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., owners and club officials will meet, virtually, from Massachusetts to southern California, all tied digitally with league office people scattered in their homes in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “It’s weird,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank told me. “But all of our business is really doing virtual conferences and meetings for weeks now. Everybody has kind of gotten used to it and they understand it. Your only hope is somebody doesn’t show up in their pajamas.”

Some of the issues I expect commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss either with club presidents and top officials by teleconference Monday, or with the 32 owners in a virtual meeting Tuesday:

• The new playoff format. The extra two playoff games in 2020 are in little doubt; the seventh playoff team per conference was collectively bargained with the players in the new CBA. This season, it’s likely there will be three wild-card games on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, and three on Sunday, Jan. 10.

There had been consideration for a 2-3-1 format, two on Saturday, three Sunday and one Monday night, but that is unlikely because a team would come out of the first playoff weekend playing a short-week divisional game. I would expect a possible Monday night wild-card game to come up in future years, however; the difference in rights fees switching from a 1:05 p.m. Saturday game to 8:15 p.m. Monday would be substantial.

Also to be decided at the spring meetings: the television schedule for wild-card weekend, and which networks will air which games.

• Momentum for a May schedule release. Last week, I theorized the NFL might release the schedule in May. That’s really not a big deal; in a normal season, the NFL releases the schedule seven to nine days before the draft. That would put this year’s schedule-release date somewhere around April 14-16. Not saying that won’t happen this year. But for the schedule to be released in mid-April, there’s one major issue, one that likely won’t be resolved by May 7 or 8 but certainly would have some more illumination to it by then.

What if the NFL has to truncate the season, perhaps go from 16 games to 12 or 14? If so, the league would likely want most of all of its division games played in total, and the league would likely want to be sure every team had an equal number of home and road games for each team. Of course we won’t know if all of that is going to happen by the first week of May, but we will certainly have a better idea with three weeks more lead time to make the schedule official. Plus, the NFL would have to consider two more major quantifiers in the making of the schedule: Try to give each team two home games and two on the road in the first four games (or at least one home and one road in the first two weeks), and try to cram most if not all of the division games in the final 12 weeks of the season.

I was sent on the trail of thought by a reader, Mark Cohen of Gibsonia, Pa., who wrote to ask:

“As the state of the world for September is certainly unknown, should the league consider backlogging division games for November/December, so that if the first part of the season cannot be played, division champions will be settled largely by head-to-head matchups.”

Trail of breadcrumbs here, but I looked back at the last year when the season was in some doubt when the schedule was made: 2011, when players were locked out in the spring as the schedule was released. And the NFL did account for the possibility of a shortened season. The Rams had no division games in the first eight weeks of the season; Jacksonville zero in the first seven weeks. Baltimore and Buffalo had one division game in the first eight weeks, and the Bengals and Browns one in the first nine weeks. So in light of the question marks about the start of this year, the backloading of division games and a May schedule release seem likely.

• Equality for all. Goodell is likely to enforce the same rules for all teams over the next stressful month, particularly when it comes to anything draft-related. Some teams—Minnesota, San Francisco—have built expensive draft rooms with technological bells and whistles. If social-distancing rules and maniacal cleaning rules were enforced, why couldn’t, say, five employees per team be stationed in each of the 32 draft rooms April 23-25? (Owner, head coach, GM, personnel director, and one wild-card person per team such as a cap guy, for instance.) There is one reason, and only one. If one or more teams does business in a state that has mandatory closings of non-essential businesses, meaning those one or more teams cannot open their building even for four or five people, then Goodell will order that every building remain closed.

Draft Mystery Man

Mystery man. Those are the two words one NFL GM used this weekend when I brought up the name of Ashtyn Davis. Actually, this is what the GM said: “He’s the mystery man of the draft.” I’m writing about Davis because he’s the perfect case of the kind of intriguing player teams won’t know as well as they should on draft weekend because of the new rules. Here’s why:

Davis, more of a track prospect than football coming out of Santa Cruz (Calif.) High in 2015, walked on the track team at Cal, then tried out for the football team in the spring of his freshman year. He made it. That led to a long and winding road to football prominence as a smart, physical, 6-1, 202-pound safety with excellent speed. Mel Kiper rates him the third-best safety in this draft. But his 2019 season was marred by a year-long groin injury that ended with surgery to repair a torn adductor muscle near his groin last Dec. 18. Davis was invited to the combine and wanted to run the 40 (he didn’t have a recent 40 time for the NFL scouts, so this was a puzzle piece missing in his profile), but he wasn’t quite ready. He’d have to wait—so he thought—for Cal’s Pro Day three weeks after the combine. Of course that was scratched because of the NFL’s response to COVID-19.

Ashtyn Davis
NFL Draft prospect Ashtyn Davis, at Cal last fall and at his Santa Ana apartment now. (Getty Images/Courtesy of Ashtyn Davis)

He was able to impress teams mentally at the combine. “I was trying to make a team fall in love with me,” Davis said. The Seahawks turned the film off after three plays, when Davis—who studied teams so much before the combine he knew some of their defensive terminology—knew the terms “hammer” and “nail” in Pete Carroll’s scheme. Carroll laughingly asked Davis: “Ever thought about coaching?” Teams notice how good he was at punching balls out of receivers’ arms. Why? Because he studied NFL career forced-fumble leader Peanut Tillman’s punch. He had eight personal meetings set up at the Cal Pro Day. None happened. So far, he’s had six FaceTime sessions. But he won’t get to work out for any team, and no one knows a reliable 40 time on him. That’ll affect his draft stock. I asked one GM over the weekend where Davis might be picked. “Thirty-five? Seventy-five? I’m guessing,” he said.

“I’m antsy,” Davis said. “But this is obviously a tough time in the country. I get it, totally. I just wish I could train for the 40 and run the 40, and now I haven’t been able to do either. But whatever happens, I know I am going to give first-round talent to whoever picks me.”

The Helpers

20

Among those around the NFL who have helped causes, in their own words:

Chandler Jones
Cardinals defensive end
Donated 150,000 meals to food banks in Arizona and his hometown of Endicott, N.Y.

“This thing is not discriminating. It’s every social class. I stay home all the time now.

“I paid attention to it in phases. The first time I really paid attention is when the NBA suspended the season. Wow, this is somewhat serious. Next phase: I’m in a Safeway in Arizona, so many shelves empty, so many products just not in the story. I thought, Whoa, this is crazy. Then I needed some video-game equipment, and I went to the Best Buy, and it was closed, and there’s guys in lime-green jackets with masks on, taking orders from people in their cars. Man, that was crazy. I try to stay away from the news, but I watched the news, started to realize people were not only losing jobs, but they weren’t eating—and a lot of them had no way to even get food. So what could I do from my home? My financial advising team got me a list of food banks and I decided this was the best thing to do, financing 150,000 meals.

“What inspired me? My mom. She used to cook for the Meals on Wheels program, then she delivered the food. She did it every day. She inspired me. So the food problem across the country is a huge, huge problem. Maybe this can put a little dent in it.”

The Arizona Food Bank Network


Jared Goff
Rams quarterback
Financed 1 million meals for Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, with an emphasis on meals for L.A. public school students

“Part of my job as quarterback is to put my arms around people, to be helpful.

“The hardest part for me is seeing the kids who aren’t eating, kids in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I asked our community relations department with the Rams, How do we get these kids food? And Andrew Whitworth and I—Andrew is fantastic, he’s taught me so much about being a leader in the community—decided to do this cause. The L.A. Regional Food Bank does such a great job. They have the ability to provide four meals for a dollar—they get the best food deals on everything. Really, I just wanted to help in some way. I just felt the need to do something.

“Entering my fifth year, I planted my roots here. I love it here. I’m fully ingrained in he community, and I wanted to be part of this community for a long, long time. So this is part of that. This is crazy, a wild time, such a different time. We’ll always remember this. Remember when we were locked down because of that virus?

Los Angeles Regional Food Bank


Matt Ryan
Falcons quarterback
Gave $50,000 to Atlanta Community Food Bank, $50,000 to Giving Kitchen, which helps at-risk food-service workers

“We’re all doing what we should be doing, if we’re in a position to help.

“Everyone’s targeted causes that are close to their heart. My wife and I have so many friends in the food industry, who own restaurants or who work at restaurants, who have been totally affected by this virus and the quarantines and the shutdown. Friends at the Giving Kitchen who have done a great job helping service workers who’ve come upon hard times, either get sick or are out of work. With the Atlanta Community Food Bank, so many kids are out of school, dependent on two meals—breakfast and lunch—with families who may be having a hard time too. For us, we’re not done. We’re gonna continue to evaluate situations to see what additional areas we can make an impact in and help our community.”

Giving Kitchen Atlanta


Kyle Rudolph
Vikings tight end (number 82)
Seeded a Twin Cities meal campaign with goal of 500,000 meals by donating 82,000 meals to Second Harvest Hartland

“Without food service at school, a lot of kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“My wife Jordan and I here in the Twin Cities have provided meals for kids and for families that go through food insecurity. We’re fortunate. The only uncertainty I have right now is entertaining my three kids under 4 on a daily basis . . . We thought it was our responsibility to support so many of the families here in the Twin Cities that have supported us, not only on Sundays but with everything else we’ve done in the community here. The big thing I tell people . . . They might say, ‘Well, my donation won’t make a big difference.’ A donation of $25 will feed one person for an entire month. Think of that, and it’s crazy. You wouldn’t think $25 would go that far. Take that a step further. If you donate $100, you’re feeding a family of four for an entire month. We’ve had unbelievable support from all over the country.”

Rudy’s Meal Plan, at Second Harvest Heartland


Arthur Blank
Falcons owner
Gave $5.4 million to Georgia and Montana causes, with $5 million going to Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund

“You and I have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes.

“We’ve got to make sure that all of our health care providers and the whole health care system are ‘armed’ if you will, in every sense of the word. That includes everything from all the equipment they need to food, etc. I’ll just give you one little example. A lot of the intensive care units across the country now are swamped. The people who work in those intensive care units, they don’t even have time to go out and get food. One of our doctor friends came up with a program that we’re supporting now where we’re picking up food at a variety of different restaurants—really good food—and actually having it delivered to the hospitals, to help feed the staffs who can’t leave. I mean, there’s a million little ways.

“My daughter called me this morning from Montana. She said, there’s a company there that’s usually involved in making this or this and they’re now making masks. Whatever number of masks they can make. It’s not millions, but it’s like a thousand masks. So I think that every organization, every person, is trying to do what they can. I said this the other day to our associates: One of the ways that personally people will get through this is by reaching out and trying in any way they can, trying to help others. That’s where the heal is, to help other people heal. The focus goes off the self and on to somebody else.

Hands On Atlanta, one of Blank’s beneficiaries, will ensure 31 AmeriCorps members can continue to tutor Atlanta public school students in need. 


Drew Brees
Saints quarterback
Gave $5 million, in part to have 10,000 prepared meals delivered per day to needy Louisianans for the duration of the pandemic

(Via “The Today Show”)

“There are so many people in need right now, so many in the state of Louisiana.

“The state of Louisiana thrives on small business. We’re a hospitality state. Even with the stimulus package . . . that’s probably going to take a while before people really see the benefits of that. So how do they sustain? How do they survive? We all have to come together, to make sure we get through this together. We’ve been through a lot of tough times together, whether it’s hurricanes, oil spills, floods, and this is just another one of those bits of adversity and we’re gonna come out better on the other side.”

Quotes of the Week

I

“I’ve been able to reflect a lot. That’s really important in life—to reflect and appreciate what you have. I also have been able to watch some great shows on TV. ‘The Tiger King’ is the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

—Rams QB Jared Goff, on what he’s been able to do while hunkered down in southern California in his home.

II

“We’ve been killing the Zoom meetings. I should have bought stock in Zoom.”

—San Francisco GM John Lynch, on social media, showing how he’s watching tape at home to prepare for the draft while giving a strong message, #WFH (Work From Home) to limit the spread of coronavirus.

More Lynch to his fans: “We will be ready for that draft. I know it’s not ideal working from home. Make the best of the situation. Stay at home, stay safe.”

III

“You kind of go back to what was life like for me as an athlete before I had a world-class facility. I did a lot of pushups, a lot of situps. I ran around the neighborhood, I ran in the yard. You try to find a park or an open field. And that’s kind of what I’ve resorted to now.”

—Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph, on his off-season workout regimen in Minneapolis without being able to use the Vikings’ facility or a local gym in the last couple of weeks—and for the foreseeable future. All of those are closed.

On Friday, faced with the prospect of a long stretch without being able to work out typically, Rudolph had a Tonal strength-training and fitness system installed in his home. It’s sort of a Peloton of strength and conditioning, with the user being able to follow classes based on individual needs.

IV

“This is not a fantasy draft that you conduct out there with just a list of things on a piece of paper. There’s a lot of work that goes into it to prepare and there’s a lot of work that is done during the draft. Listen, it’ll be very, very difficult to conduct that and do it in a way that you’re doing justice to the process.”

—Saints GM Mickey Loomis, to me, for “The Peter King Podcast” this week.

V

“It’s not gonna happen . . . I just know him, and he’s not a fit in our locker room.”

—Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, on free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown, to Brandon Tierney of the Tiki and Tierney Show on CBS Sports Radio.

VI

“We modified our lives. It’s not convenient to lock yourself in . . . It’s not convenient for you not to be playing basketball. But we’re going through a period of time now where we’ve got to, as a country, pull together. Don’t get frightened. Don’t get intimidated. Use the energy to be able to confront it and do the kinds of things that’ll put an end to it.”

—Dr. Anthony Fauci to Steph Curry on Instagram Live Thursday.

Fauci, the White House coronavirus expert, has tried to reach different audiences with his message of how to stop the spread of the virus, and 50,000 watched Curry interview him.

VII

“That’s what we’re going into camp believing, but they’re going to compete. We really like what we have in terms of our young quarterbacks. Kyle a young guy who has a live arm, understands the game, understands how we do things, so I’m excited about what the potential could be.”

—Washington coach Ron Rivera, to WFNZ radio in Charlotte, asked if Dwayne Haskins was his starting quarterback after the trade of a fifth-round pick for his former Carolina quarterback, Kyle Allen.

Numbers Game

30

“Free me,” Brandin Cooks Tweeted Friday night, spawning questions about his status with the Rams. Does he want to be traded? Or is “free me” referring to some sort of get-me-out-this-quarantined life?

After an earlier version of this note ran, I was told by two sources that Cooks is not on the block. If that changes, it would continue one of the oddest careers of a very good player ever. Cooks was drafted 20th overall by the Saints in 2014.

  • In 2016, at 23, catching passes from Drew Brees, Cooks was the Saints’ deep threat, averaging 15.0 yards a catch with eight touchdowns.
  • In 2017, he was traded to the Patriots for the 32nd pick in the first round. At 24, he caught passes from Tom Brady, and his 16.6-yard average resulted in Brady’s best and most consistent deep threat in years.
  • In 2018, he was traded to the Rams for the 23rd pick in the first round. At 25, he caught passes from Jared Goff, and his 1,204 yards were the most in his career. He was the key receiver on a Super Bowl team.

In 2020, Cooks has had concussion issues, and his production dipped to 3.0 catches per game last year, by far a career-low. An acquiring team would owe him $20 million the next two years, and then could cut him without a hurtful cap hit. For about 4 percent and then 5.5 percent of the salary cap over the next two seasons, Cooks could be the missing link to a contending team … but of course, that would mean the Rams would be willing to deal him. Which as of now they’re apparently not willing to do.

Brandin Cooks

Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks. (Getty Images)My best landing spots for Cooks, if the Rams would entertain a deal, would be Philadelphia, Green Bay, Oakland or Washington. Of course, the strength of the receiver group in this draft will affect any of those teams’ willingness to pursue Cooks.

Amazing, really, that one player, at 26, has already been worth the 20th, 32nd and 23rd picks in three different drafts.

Factoidness

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On Oct. 2, 2015, a rainy Friday in Charlotte, the Charlotte 49ers hosted Temple in a college football game at what’s now called Bank of America Stadium.

That night, Temple coach Matt Rhule brought his 3-0 Owls to Charlotte. Quarterback P.J. Walker threw touchdown passes of 13 and 11 yards to wide receiver Robby Anderson to lead Temple past Charlotte, 37-3.

This summer, pandemic permitting, Panthers coach Matt Rhule will be able to deploy quarterback P.J. Walker to throw touchdown passes to wide receiver Robby Anderson for Carolina in Bank of America Stadium. Rhule was hired to coach the Panthers in January; Walker and Anderson were both signed as free agents by the Panthers last week.

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I don’t believe the Patriots are likely to sign Cam Newton, but his brief history against them suggests they should think hard about it. In two career games against the Patriots, Newton is 2-0 versus Tom Brady, with a 128.2 rating (his best against any NFL foe) and a .719 completion rate.

King of the Road

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Dichotomy of Life Dept.:

Thursday, our Brooklyn neighborhood, 3 p.m., maybe 71 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. Absolutely perfect spring day. I was walking Chuck the dog, thinking what an absolutely perfect day this would have been for a Scherzer-deGrom opener between the World Champion Nationals and the even-hopeful Amazins in Queens—the best opening-day weather in New York imaginable.

I was nine-tenths of a mile from the Brooklyn Hospital Center, the place, according to the New York Times, where Dr. Anthony Fauci was born. The Times reported just this morning (Thursday) that the “virus descended” on the Brooklyn Hospital Center about three weeks ago, with 800 suspected COVID-19 patients having been seen since. One of the seriously ill victims was a doctor who practiced in the hospital. I read the story in the paper, and I was more determined than ever to not get within six feet of any living things but my wife and dog.

As I walked down a side street with a public school, I did not pass a single person on the street. Four, five minutes. No one. I got to the school. I noticed a lone boy, maybe 13, shooting baskets at a wide-open playground behind the school. He was the only one there. I turned the corner to begin the walk home. No one. On the rest of the seven-minute walk home to our apartment, I passed two people.

On the walk, I felt not nine-tenths of a mile from danger, but nine miles from it. I know I am not. Much, much respect to those respecting the stay-home pleas of our leaders. I cannot imagine the mental strain on the health-care providers on the front line, knowing peers are getting sick and even dying from COVID-19. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tweets of the Week

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Farmer covers the NFL for the Los Angeles Times.

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Harlan is the Rome bureau chief for the Washington Post.

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Irsay, the Colts owner, with a Bob Seger serenade to Colts fans.

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Lang is a retired NFL offensive lineman.

Newman!

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Mail call. Send your thoughts to peterkingfmia@gmail.com, or on Twitter.

Keep the column coming. From Mike Downes, of Ironbridge, England: “I am a devoted NFL fan from England. We are effectively in lockdown due to the Covid-19 virus at the moment. We need a distraction and any coverage of the NFL is always very welcome. The offseason always provides interesting stories regarding free agency, the draft and so on. It’s even more important that you keep providing your excellent, insightful coverage at this most difficult of times. I love your interviews which give added depth to the general headline NFL news, so more of the same please.”

So good to hear from you, Mike. You live in a lovely spot. I have family near you . . . in Lichfield, not far from Birmingham. I really appreciate your note. I’ve gotten quite a few similar notes, from people who would like to get away from the real world for a while. So thanks, and I will keep them coming.

Let’s not rewrite history here. From Henry Newman of New Jersey: “Although I feel bad about Sean Payton or anyone getting the Coronavirus, the directives of social distancing and quarantining seem to have been disregarded by Sean by going to the combine, Broadway shows, golfing and a horse track. I’m not saying he would have not contracted the virus elsewhere but we all need to be a little less selfish in trying to slow and (hopefully) stop the spread.”

The NFL Scouting Combine occurred Feb. 24 to March 1 in Indianapolis. There was no medical authority at the time telling Americans to not travel or that it was dangerous to gather in public. The first coronavirus death in the country occurred on the second-to-last day of the combine. Payton then went to New York the following weekend, March 5 to 7. Broadway shows were open until shutting down March 12. He golfed in Florida sometime in the week of March 9. The sports shutdown began on March 11, when the NBA stopped playing. Payton went to a horse race in Arkansas on March 14, with no fans in the stands, and began to feel ill the next day back home in New Orleans.

If you want to criticize him for traveling and attending a horse race after some shutdowns started, I understand. But the other events happened in some cases weeks (the combine workouts) and in some cases days (the Broadway shows) before people were warned about public gatherings—and in the case of golf, I doubt anyone in Florida at that time was warning people to stay away from public places around March 9-11. So other than the horse race, it’s unfair criticism, I believe.

Another fan of “The Crown.” From Robert Kent, of Toronto: “I agree with you on the wondrous ‘The Crown.’ Thank you for steering me to it. Here in Canada we are very familiar with Claire Foy as our CBC broadcasts a great deal of BBC content. Yet, she outdoes herself as Elizabeth R. There are only three essential female actors: Streep, Foy, and Blanchett. The others are as near to greatness as Uber is to F1.”

High praise! Thanks so much for writing, Robert.

He’s unhappy. From Rob Simpson, of Bellevue, Wash.: “I’ve read your last column. Take your Trump-hating and add in your hypocrisy about drinking and shove them both up your elitist a–. You hysterical, lying, elitist windbags are truly suffering from selective amnesia. I hope you retire soon. Maybe next to Obama in Martha’s Vineyard?”

After my critical comments of the president for his exchange with NBC’s Peter Alexander, I got 23 emails. Thirteen were in Rob’s camp. So I get your message. As I’ve said often, if the cost of me speaking my mind on the state of this country and this president is going to cost me readers, I’m okay with it. Several emails asked me to stick to sports. Down there in number 10 of Ten Things I Think I Think is where I stick the personal thoughts about things like good stories I’ve read, movies, beer, wine and politics. I counted over the weekend. In the month of March, I wrote five Monday columns totaling about 43,000 words. Of those, 313 words were about politics—my comments on Trump last week. Seven-tenths of 1 percent of the words I wrote in March were political. There’s a lot of football in the column every week, and a little bit of life, and I don’t plan on changing that.

Respect the Seahawks. From Mark Indrebo, of Marysville, Wash.: “What will it take for the Seahawks to get the respect they deserve in the NFL? You put them in 11th place on your list of teams people want to watch. I’m old enough to remember when the Patriots and Green Bay were among the worst teams in the league. Then they got good, and got lots of national attention. Dallas had way more bad seasons than good this century . . . I always told myself that if Seattle could put together a good decade of top five play, they would get the same sort of attention. But now that they’ve done that, they’ve barely squeaked into the top third.  I don’t get it.”

Mark, what I did, as I said, is take “a wild guess at the most attractive TV teams in 2020.” My reasoning for having Dallas, New England and Green Bay ahead of Seattle is all about the ratings. In the 2019 calendar year, NFL games were 16 of the top 30 most-watched shows on TV. Dallas played in five of those game, New England four, Green Bay four and Seattle one. Thanks for writing.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think it’s unlikely he will try to reach out to salve the wounds right now, but Roger Goodell has to know how angry football team personnel are with him right now. Some are unhappy that the draft will go forward on April 23-25, figuring all the restrictions on scouting will make it harder for all teams to get up to speed on players. Some are unhappy that, in Goodell’s words, “Public discussion of issues relation to the draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.” Really? “Why on earth would you ever threaten an opinion?” texted one prominent NFL person. Another: “Whatever happened to freedom of speech?” I agree. Just because a GM like Mickey Loomis says he thinks the draft should be delayed, and more anonymous influencers have the same opinion, why threaten them with discipline? Seems a little provocative to me.

2. I think it’s pretty understandable to have a few frustrated personnel people, when everything in the seven weeks between the end of the combine and draft weekend is taken away. What’s the harm in blowing off some steam, or advocating for a different way of doing things? What Loomis suggested on my podcast was not revolutionary, but rather a suggestion with some intelligence to it.

3. I think the first signing that illustrates how much a player wanted to play with Tom Brady was Ndamukong Suh’s one-year, $8-million deal with the Bucs. One team talking with Suh believes playing with Brady was the tipping point in Tampa Bay’s favor.

4. I think this is an interesting theory about why the market for free agents died pretty early, and why there seemingly were fewer mega-contracts this year than usual, and why there might be more cap casualties than usual this year as the COVID-19-related shutterings go on, from a smart NFL GM:

“Some owners have to be concerned there might not be football, or it might be a shortened season, and their income could be drastically affected. It’s just uncertainty, and when there’s uncertainty, some owners don’t want to commit the money they usually do.”

5. I think to let you know how COVID-19 might affect the season, think of what we learned on Friday. On Thursday night, it was a bit of jaw-drop when the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, Gen. Todd Semonite, told MSNBC, on the subject of the insta-hospitals the Corps is building in New York and planning for other cities: “Our engineers are embedded in each of the states. We gotta figure out those sites. That’s a governor’s call, to figure those sites out . . . We’re in, right now, Seattle Seahawks stadium is the next big one we’re looking to design, to be able to put hospitals back in there, in the underneath part of that stadium.” Whoa. That’s something I hadn’t heard.

On Friday, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan confirmed that the stadium’s Event Center would be used as a field hospital site where 300 soldiers from the 627th Army Hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., would be deployed. The temp hospital would be used to treat non-COVID patients, so Seattle hospitals could concentrate on those suffering from coronavirus. Washington has more than 3,700 confirmed cases, and more than 180 dead. No telling how long the CenturyLink site would be needed. And that’s one of the reasons why the NFL can plan for the season like it’s full-speed ahead and all will happen on time. But no one can know how things like the CenturyLink temp hospital could affect things.

Michael Brockers
Rams defensive end Michael Brockers. (Getty Images)

6. I think this was the Michael Brockers story: He agreed to a three-year, $30-million deal with the Ravens early in free agency. Baltimore had to get a neutral physician to do his physical, per coronavirus-related NFL rules. Brockers lives in Houston. He got the physical there, and had an MRI done on an ankle after suffering a sprain in Week 17 for the Rams. The MRI was sent to the Ravens, as well as the exam particulars, and the team decided it was not a risk it wanted to take, not with a contract that included $21-million guaranteed. If the ankle either became a chronic condition or needed surgery, and that affected Brockers’ 2020 season, the Ravens thought the commitment was not worth it. So Baltimore canceled it, and the Rams re-signed Brockers, an effective player they know well.

7. I think I learned a lot about new Miami cornerback Byron Jones the other day, reading something he said in his introduction to the south Florida media. He’s generous to the people who helped him get where he is, and his ethos sounds contagious. Jones said:

“One thing my coach said—his name is Kris Richard, and he’s really one of the big reasons why I moved to corner and why I was a Pro Bowl player—is approach things as if it’s a championship. So championship preparation in practice, in life, the way you eat. If this was a practice leading up to Super Bowl, how are you going to prepare for that practice, prepare for that game? So really, my mindset is regardless of if I’m getting paid $1 million or $13 million. It doesn’t change for me. I’m always going to practice and prepare to my best abilities. To me, that’s what’s consistent of being a part of—the good players in this league, we don’t change based on outside circumstances. There’s something internal in a player that says, ‘Hey, I have certain standards I’m not going to deviate (from them) no matter what’s going on.’ “

8. I think I find this amazing, but perhaps not so amazing consider the times we’re in: I have three columns left before the draft, and I haven’t written about the draft—I mean, anything involving the best players or what teams might do or who controls the thing—yet. Think I should get to that next week.

9. I think it’s true that no one knows what the future holds, but I also think what Kirk Herbstreit said on ESPN the other day bears a note. “I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football,” Herbstreit said. Maybe we’ll have to build a logo for this column called Non-Football Morning in America. If that happens, I believe that’ll be the least of our concerns.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. I miss baseball.

b. I really miss baseball.

c. Life Column of the Week: Steve Politi (who is always so good) of NJ.com, on his newfound appreciation for teachers.

d. Politi was the math teacher for his fourth-grade son. The first lesson: fractions.

“I opened up the fourth-grade text book Go Math! To page 463 and was greeted with this problem:

“2 x 3 2/3 = 2 x _____.

“Wait. Do what now? If I had to teach my fourth-grader how to solve these problems myself, I would be done just in time to send him off to college.”

e. Politi called his former first-grade teacher from Nutley, N.J., Mrs. Szura, now retired, and wondered if something strange had happened in the math field since he learned fractions decades ago.

(Teacher voice. Can’t you just hear it?) “Steven,” she said. “How could fractions change?”

f. Sports Column of the Week: Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, on the sportswriter who sort of lucked into an ownership stake in the horse that might win the Kentucky Derby.

g. Clark Spencer, ex of the Herald, used to write about the horses—and the Marlins. He knew enough about horse racing to know to stay away from investing in it. Far away. Spencer told Cote this was his advice to potential investors: “If you invest in a horse, expect to lose every dime you put in.” And now, Gouverneur Morris happens.

h. Amazing and heart-wrenching factoid for me on the WNBC-TV news Friday evening in New York: Fifty cases of COVID-19 in Montclair, N.J., where we raised our kids and lives for 19 years—and 10 dead.

i. Coronavirus Story of the Week: Jessica Lustig of the New York Times on her husband fighting the virus in New York City, with her and her 16-year-old daughter existing in the same modest apartment, and sharing care for the patient.

j. Haunting, scary, lovely. Lustig writes, using her husband’s first initial, T:

“I am consumed with trying to keep us safe. I wipe down the doorknobs, the light switches, the faucets, the handles, the counters with disinfectant. I swab my phone with alcohol. I throw the day’s hoodie into the laundry at night as if it were my scrubs. I wash all our towels, again and again. When CK wants to shower, I wipe down the whole main bathroom—where T refills his water cup, where he has had diarrhea, where he coughs and spits out phlegm—with bleach, take out T’s washcloth, towels and bathmat and replace them with clean ones, telling CK to try not to touch anything, to shower and go right back to her room. Then I do the same. If T needs to use the bathroom before we’re ready to shower, I do the whole bleach routine again before we go in. Twice, in the first week of the illness, I eased him into an Epsom-salt bath. But not since then. He is too weak. It would be too much. There is no way. When he shuffles down the hall from the bedroom to the bathroom, he lists against the wall. He splashes water on his face in the bathroom, and that has to be enough.”

k. As haunting is Lustig seeing strangers on the walk home from a doctor appointment. “The few people walking past us on the sidewalk don’t know that we are visitors from the future.”

l. Coffeenerdness: I’ve started drinking the canned cold coffees. Favorite so far: Rise Brewing Co. Excellent espresso, with all organic ingredients.

m. Beernerdness: Sunday, just after 5 p.m., in the home stretch of the column, I did break out the Peroni (Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Rome, Italy), a superb lager if you’re having more than one. And I thought, “Love you, Italy. Thinking of you, Italy.”

n. And on that happy note . . . a friend of mine, Neil Reynolds of Sky Sports in England, is kicking off a new podcast Thursday. It’s the aptly named “Neil Reynolds Podcast.” (Wonder how long it took him to think of that name. Probably the same amount of time it took for me to come up with “the Peter King Podcast.”) I’ve gotten to know Neil pretty well, and a couple of years ago went on a tour of Great Britain with him and a few NFLers to talk football to the intense fans there. We had fun. And I’m on Neil’s Sunday night show on Sky. So he’s a ridiculously smart football man. He loves it. He’s been at the ground floor of the exponential growth of the game in England. Anyway, his first episode of the pod is a fishing trip in Tampa with Ryan Fitzpatrick, which is interesting for a couple of reasons: a) this is Fitzmagic we’re talking about, and b) Neil happens to be afraid of fish, and he actually catches one, and well, you’ll have to listen if you want to hear Ryan Fitzpatrick treat a man with a fishphobia.

o. Reynolds mentions to Fitzpatrick at one point in the podcast that he plays like he’s sucking every ounce of enjoyment out of it because who knows how many more days he’ll have doing this, and it hits Fitzpatrick just rich. He says: “Very true. I think part of it for me too is everywhere I’ve been gaining perspective of I don’t know how long I’m gonna be out there. I don’t know if this play is my last, this game is my last, this season is my last. I don’t know. Even if you look back to last season, I played the first few games, then I got put on the bench. Then I got put back in. It was like, for me, especially now in my career, like what do I have to lose, you know?” Good pod. I liked the first episode. You can hear it Thursday.

The Adieu Haiku

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One day at a time.
Get through today. Tomorrow
is a mystery.

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