It’s currently as slow as it gets, as far as NFL news goes. So it’s the perfect time to unplug, to relax, to reflect.
Screw that. Let’s create some content the easiest way possible — by asking the audience to identify the topics.
Yes, it’s mailbag time. A staple of the quiet times. A way for me to satisfy my daily habit of hunting and pecking through several thousand words, because that’s what I’ve done every day for the last 20 years and will keep doing as long as my fingers cooperate with my brain, and as long as my brain makes some reasonable degree of sense. (“That hasn’t stopped you yet.”)
On Sunday morning, I put out a call for questions on Twitter (@Profootballtalk), and I picked through the best ones. Or at least the ones I felt like answering. Regardless, here are the questions I picked and the answers I pecked.
From @PFTPMPosse: With Dr. Sills pointing out that punt returns are now the “most dangerous play,” how could/would/should the NFL make it safer without eliminating what’s often one of the most exciting plays (like they did when they all but eliminated the kickoff return)?
Several years ago, the NFL began the process of getting fans ready for changes to the punt play. Nothing has happened yet, and it’s unclear where or how the changes would begin. For the kick return, the league tried several different strategies, from moving up the kickoff point (to increase touchbacks) to moving the default possession spot from to 20 to the 25 (to incentivize touchbacks) to ultimately overhauling the formation for the kicking team and the receiving team in order to finally reduce the thing that makes the play so dangerous — two players running full speed at each other and colliding, with an instinctive dip of the helmet just before impact and maximum pressure applied to the cervical spine.
What can really be done to make the punt safer? The goal would be to identify the source of the risk (high-speed, unimpeded collisions of players moving in opposite directions) and to work backward to eliminate it. It won’t be easy when talking about what ultimately is a play from scrimmage, a play that needs to retain the ability to become a fake punt at any time, without notice.
The fact that nothing has been tried yet underscores the challenge inherent to making the punt play safer without introducing a new universe of potential unintended consequences. The easiest approach, frankly, would be to get rid of the punt play altogether. When a team would otherwise punt, the other team takes possession 40 yards away (but never inside its own 20).
Or maybe the punt play ends wherever the ball is caught or comes to rest, with perhaps five or 10 yards added to the result for the receiving team to simulate a return. However, that would eliminate the need for the gunners, allowing teams to have maximum protection for every punt — and greatly reducing the chances of a block.
The changes that ultimately saved the kickoff came from the efforts of special-teams coordinators to reimagine the play. It will take much more than that to properly address the punt play, since too many changes could make it too easy to accomplish a fake punt, or too hard to do so.
From @aredzonauk: Now that he is satisfied contractually & financially will Aaron Rodgers have the same motivation for 2022?
The satisfaction from his new contract comes, in my view, from the neutralization of the threat posed by Jordan Love‘s presence. When Love arrived via the first round of the 2020 draft, Rodgers assumed he’d have another year or two in Green Bay before the Packers moved on. Now, after a pair of MVP seasons, Rodgers has won. Love is irrelevant. Rodgers won’t be pushed out; he’ll leave on his own terms.
Rodgers recently admitted that he thinks about retirement “all the time.” His contract is structured to allow him to retire after any given season, without financial complications. He surely enters each season at this point viewing it potentially as his last.
At this point, his best motivation should come from a desire to win another Super Bowl. That will be harder to accomplish without Davante Adams. In a weird sort of way, Adams leaving reduces the pressure on Rodgers, since yet another failure by the Packers to get to the Super Bowl will be blamed not on Rodgers but on the Packers — even if Rodgers yet again becomes far too conservative in the postseason, rather than letting it rip and not worrying about throwing an interception or two.
Regardless, some would say that if you’re openly talking about retirement, you’ve already retired. Maybe, in Rodgers’s mind, it was enough to beat back the challenge presented by the drafting of Jordan Love, and to stick around for another year or two as a reminder to the front office that, even if he can’t win a second Super Bowl, he emerged as the victor in one of the strangest power struggles we’ve ever seen between player and team.
From @MikeLeeTaylor: If NFL owners were upstanding citizens with high standards they would follow then they would expel Dan Snyder in a heartbeat. They haven’t. So how bad are the owners?
The issue isn’t about how good or bad the owners are. The owners are greedy. Teams get sold to the highest bidder. Really, the only qualification to own an NFL team is to have enough money to win the auction. It doesn’t matter if the owner knows about football, cares about football, cares about people, cares about anything other than getting a return on the investment.
The owners haven’t tried to get rid of Snyder for a couple of simple reasons. First, he would fight them tooth and nail, suing everyone and taking the legal fight wherever he had to take it. Second, he quite possibly knows enough about other owners to create real problems for them via media leaks or other strategies aimed at airing out dirty laundry.
Some think Snyder leaked the Jon Gruden emails. (Obviously, Snyder is one of the people who had access to them.) If Snyder did, that would be one hell of a warning shot to anyone who would dare to mess with him.
From @Whitediculous: How long do you think it will take for a suitable trade partner to step up for Baker Mayfield and who do you think it will be?
It’s already taken too long. The question becomes whether the Browns can finalize a deal before the start of training camp. If not, the question becomes whether they can persuade Mayfield to stay away until a trade opportunity emerges.
He shouldn’t. He should insist on showing up and practicing and being part of the team. He should demand the opportunity to practice. Even if (or especially since) it means that he’d risk suffering an injury that would cause his trade value to plummet.
That’s his only leverage at this point. Agitation. But if he pushes it too far, the team could try to release him for reasons other than skill, injury, and cap. If he’s cut for “personal conduct which, in the reasonable judgment of the Club, adversely affects or reflects on the Club,” Mayfield’s $18.8 million would disappear. Even if he’d eventually win a grievance on the issue, the money could be tied up for a couple of years.
Regardless of how it plays out, it’s already a mess. The only question is whether the Browns and/or Mayfield can find a way to cooperate just enough to land the plane on a trade that has seemed inevitable for weeks, but that hasn’t come close to happening.
For Mayfield, it’s about much more than his guaranteed salary for 2022. It’s about setting himself up for a solid contract in 2023. The longer he’s a non-playing member of the Browns, the harder that becomes.
From @USCHolmey: Is the NFL going to make an NBA-style minor league for college-age kids? Or are they gonna wait for someone else to do it?
The NFL treads lightly when it comes to potentially undermining the free farm system known as college football. The NFL tries to get kids to stay in college, not leave. So it would be highly unlikely that the league would have any involvement in the creation of a professional league that provides an alternative to college football.
Besides, the NIL explosion makes it harder to attract players from major college programs. Now that college football players are making money, they don’t need to play in a minor league in order to get paid.
That said, if any of the various other pro football leagues ever become truly profitable, look for the NFL to swoop in and buy it up. Even if the NFL stays away from college players, the NFL won’t stay away from money. If a lesser pro league ever starts making enough of it, the NFL will want in.
From @briankleinertz: How successful does Mike McCarthy have to be to remain Cowboys coach in 2023?
Round of eight at a minimum, since the team hasn’t gotten any farther than that since 1995. With Sean Payton destined to return to coaching in 2023, it may take a berth in the NFC Championship to save McCarthy.
Yes, owner Jerry Jones keeps trying to throw water on the idea of Payton supplanting McCarthy. Jones is doing that to reduce the pressure on McCarthy.
It’s already known that Jones nearly hired Sean Payton in 2019. (The whole story appears in Playmakers.) Jones surely still wants him. But Jones surely doesn’t want to concede 2022 in order to get Payton. Payton will be there when 2023 rolls around, and Jones will be able to make a move for him.
Unless McCarthy does enough to make Jones not interested. It could take an NFC title-game appearance for that to happen.
From @proxygotcaught: I’ve not been hyped for Raider football for a long time. I have a feeling this year they might actually exceed my expectations.
The NFL is always better when the Raiders are good. They haven’t been good in 20 years, with just a pair of one-and-done playoff appearances in two full decades.
Yes, there’s currently reason for hope. Unfortunately, they belong to the AFC West. In most other divisions, they’d be the favorite to win it. In the AFC West, it will be a major struggle to just secure a wild-card berth.
The offense will be very good. The defense will be the real question. In the end, the Raiders may have to emerge with more points in more than a few high-scoring games in order to get to the postseason. However it plays out, it should result in many exciting games for the Raiders in 2022.
From @aShotofVitaminE: How does revenue sharing work, practically? For example, if a person can’t stand Jerry Jones, does Jerry still get money when that person buys Vikings tickets or watches Packer games on TV?
Revenue sharing has three major components: (1) TV deals; (2) league-wide sponsorship deals; and (3) the visiting-team pool from ticket sales (roughly one third of ticket revenue, after expenses are removed by the home team). Without revenue sharing, some teams would make many millions more than other teams, and it would throw the entire league out of balance — possibly fracturing it into multiple leagues.
If, for example, the teams did their own TV deals, the Cowboys would sell the rights to their home games for at least $1 billion per year. What would a team like the Jaguars get for their home games? Hint: A lot less than $1 billion.
So, yes, Jones always gets his cut. As does every owner. Without revenue sharing, Jones would actually get A LOT more than he already does.
From @ericandteddy: Are you still being asked to throw the opening pitch for the Pirates?
The moment passed before we got down to the specific business of picking a day for it. My wife wasn’t a fan of it, since there’s no upside. I either get on the mound and groove one into the catcher’s mitt (big deal) or I put one into the dirt or into the crotch of a bystander (BIG deal). Besides, I would have spent all summer fretting about it until it happened. If it ever occurs (and maybe it will next year), the best way for it to unfold will be quickly, so I won’t have much time to obsess over screwing it all up and wishing I’d never done it.
From @aredzonauk: Will we see a new version of Russell Wilson emerge in Denver?
New version? No. New utilization? Yes.
In Denver, Wilson will get what he has wanted for years in Seattle. The offense will be designed just for him. In Seattle, it most definitely was not.
Not many quarterbacks enjoy that status. It’s reserved for the best of the best: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers. It’s not about a player fitting the system. The system fits the players. The system is the player.
In Seattle, Wilson fit the system. In Denver, Wilson is the system. Whether it works will go a long way toward justifying, or contradicting, Seattle’s persistent refusal to make Wilson the centerpiece of the offense.
From @Jamesbondrose: What’s your prediction for the Miami Dolphins this season, with respect to the new coach, Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill?
Mike McDaniel will do a great job of designing and picking plays aimed at getting the most out of his players. And he could draw it all up well enough to maximize Tua’s talents and minimize his weaknesses. The question will be, inevitably, whether Tua can make a big throw in a big spot with a big game on the line.
Jimmy Garoppolo checked all the boxes in the same offense the Dolphins will be running. But when the time came to deliver in the clutch, Garoppolo couldn’t. Tua will get his chance. Time will tell whether he’ll get it done.
As to Hill, his recent comments about his perceived lack of opportunities last year in Kanas City will resonate if/when he’s not getting 10 touches or more per game. McDaniel undoubtedly will ensure that his best player has every chance to contribute. But if defenses manage to figure out how to neutralize Hill or to nudge the action toward other players, how will Hill react? It’s a fair question, now that we know what he thought about his total involvement in the Kansas City offense last year.
Bottom line? The Dolphins could be very good this year. In many respects, it all comes down to how Tua performs, especially in key moments when he needs to make something happen with his arm.
From @Landman44: Who will be the best FA WR signing that is currently on the street right now?
Without question, it’s Odell Beckham Jr. The question is when he’ll be healthy, and whether the team that he joins will be in position to get the most out of his services as the postseason approaches and unfolds.
From @ZebrastripesUsa: Herbert or Burrow? Who would you rather start a franchise with?
I’d take either in a heartbeat. Justin Herbert has the better overall physical skills. Burrow has the better overall intangibles, at least for now.
The next challenge for Herbert will be to take command of his team. To inspire teammates who react well to inspiration. To hold accountable teammates who react well to being held accountable. He needs to get as many other players as possible to perform at the same level he does at all time, the way Burrow seems to have done in Cincinnati.
Herbert will get there. When he does, I’ll take him. For now, I’ll take Burrow.
From @mintchris77: Do you think Thursday nights on Amazon will be a success? I wonder if people want to switch to a streaming device rather than just being able to pull up the game on regular TV.
It depends on how “success” is defined. The NFL has chosen to shift one of its three prime-time games per week from three-letter broadcast TV to a streaming platform. And the NFL is committed to getting as many people as possible to change their viewing habits on Thursday nights.
Will it happen right away? Probably not. It will take time. It will take plenty of promotional dollars. It will take creativity.
It won’t be easy. The NFL has made a couple of early-morning London games available as streaming-only options in the past. In 2015, the NFL exaggerated the audience for a Yahoo-only free stream of a Bills-Jaguars game. In 2017, the NFL never released the viewership numbers for a Yahoo-only free stream of Ravens-Jaguars, and all that that implies.
It will be very interesting to see how the information about the Amazon streams is released and characterized by the NFL. There will be a temptation to make the glass seem half full, even if it’s actually closer to empty. Part of the effort to get more people to watch will be to convince people that many are already watching. It could require careful scrutiny to get to the truth, as it often does when trying to get look behind Big Shield.
From @PFTPMPosse: How can the NFL justify releasing these massive reports supposedly telling us everything when it comes to investigations of players (sometimes teams), and yet hide behind BS when it comes to oligarch investigations?
It can’t. But it does. It’s one of the great skills of the Commissioner, who has sold with a straight face the ridiculous notion that anonymity for some current or former Washington employees can be achieved only by providing secrecy as to the entire investigation.
All anyone can do is call BS, repeatedly, and hope that the right people with the right power to compel a different approach will take notice and action. For now, that’s the House Oversight Committee. They’re pushing to get to the truth, and they should.
To the various folks who’ll ask whether Congress has better things to do, it does. But it’s capable of doing multiple things at once. Besides, not once during his testimony before the Committee did the Commissioner ever suggest that Congress shouldn’t be looking into these matters.
It should be. The NFL benefits greatly from its broadcast antitrust exemption, a gift from Congress in the early ’60s. Its teams finagle hundreds of millions in taxpayer money for stadium construction and renovation. And it’s the one property that can bring millions of viewers together at the same time to watch the same thing. Some businesses are too big to fail. The NFL is definitely too big to ignore.
Without the Oversight Committee, there would be no effort at all to force the NFL to abandon its goofy argument for refusing to release information. Even the best efforts of the Oversight Committee may not be enough. But at least they’re trying. Hopefully, more external voices will set aside their own interests and join in the cry for transparency.