With one week left in NFL offseason programs …
• This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while—a market correction could be, and should be, coming for NFL head coaches.
I’ll pull out the example of Sean Payton to provide context here. The Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Monday that the ex-Saints coach was offered a five-year, $100 million deal to take the Miami job earlier this year. I’m told the offer itself was actually $100 million over four years. And before that, in New Orleans, my understanding is Payton was on a five-year deal worth $80 million, when everything was added up.
So he walked away from $16 million per, and could’ve gotten $25 million per. Sounds like a lot? But is it? Take a look at NFL economics, and you might be lead in another direction here. The league pulls down an estimated $18 billion per year. There are 15 (!) quarterbacks making $25 million per or more, and one making double that. Aaron Donald, Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Joey Bosa, Cooper Kupp, A.J. Brown and Myles Garrett are there too. Roger Goodell makes $63.9 million per year.
Still think Payton’s numbers there are out of whack?
Ultimately, most NFL people would tell you that the quarterback is the most important person on the football side of a team, with the head coach running second. So I’d argue the idea that a really good or elite coach would be worth closer to what a starting quarterback is worth, with so many of head coaches still under $10 million per year, is pretty sensible, when you consider how each team should slice up its pie of pro football’s fortune.
As I see it, the reckoning is coming. Payton has leverage because he’s already got money, and will have multiple suitors if and when he decides to return to the sideline. Sean McVay has leverage with the Rams because if he walks away, a TV network will likely give him a raise on what he’s already making. And if you want to get a Ryan Day or a Lincoln Riley out of the college ranks down the line, you’ll have to beat the eight-figure annual numbers those guys are pulling down (Look at what Carolina did to lure Matt Rhule from Baylor).
Now, what I’m less sure on is how quickly the market correction comes—owners have been determined, in the past, to keep the numbers manageable, and first-time head coaches are rarely in a position to say no, even if a deals below market. But if a couple big names do deals, or even just throw their weight around a little? It could happen soon.
• So what’s the biggest difference between Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson (who chose not to miss veteran minicamp), and D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin (who decided to hold out)? Other than Murray and Jackson, as former first-rounders, having made more money (which should give them more financial flexibility to hold out)? Those two are quarterbacks, and the other two aren’t.
And that means a decision to hold out by Murray and Jackson affects everyone on offense—and absolutely would hurt the quality of work the team is able to get in this week. That’s not to say Metcalf and McLaurin aren’t important to their teams. They are. But it’s a lot easier to make believe a receiver is out there for install than it is to simulate your starting quarterback running the show.
So, for now, I wouldn’t take the actions of those four this week meaning any one player is more serious about getting paid than the next guy.
• Speaking of Metcalf, it’s at least interesting that, per Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, Geno Smith looks poised to get the first snap of training camp. The fact is the Seahawks, and the league, know who Smith is as a player. He’s 31. This will be his ninth season, and his fourth in Seattle. If there’d been a revelation on Smith, it’d have happened by now. And that makes the fact that Drew Lock hasn’t passed him yet notable.
Now, Seattle, for sure, looked at getting Lock as a priority in the Russell Wilson trade—GM John Schneider loved Lock coming out of Missouri in 2019, and Lock’s best tape came from the end of his rookie year, when he was running an offense very similar to the one Shane Waldron runs for Carroll. That said, the Seahawks have never been shy about letting a young guy who flashes compete for playing time. In fact, all it took was a rookie minicamp for the team to get Wilson starter reps back in 2012.
So it’ll be interesting to see if things playing out this way through the spring will tempt Carroll or Schneider to take a second look at Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo this summer.
• It’ll be harder to get such a read on the Panthers coming out of their minicamp this week since, even though Sam Darnold has been there for a year, both he and Matt Corral are starting anew with coordinator Ben McAdoo. Still, at least internally, Carolina will have a better idea of where they’re at after this week, with plans to meet on it thereafter to chart the course at quarterback—whether the picture includes Mayfield or Garoppolo, or not.
Scroll to Continue
• One leftover from my talk with Matt Ryan last week—I did ask what, over his exhaustive tape study the last three months, stuck out about the Colts to him in watching and learning about his new team. He laughed, because he thought his answer was obvious.
“The run game,” he said. And he affirmed he saw some familiar things within it, gleaned from having worked for five coordinators, and Dirk Koetter twice, over 14 years in Atlanta.
“The run game’s a little different than some of what I did with Kyle Shanahan,” he said. “But there are times when we ran the ball with Mike Mularkey early on in my career, or Dirk Koetter’s first time around, where there were some similar-type schemes. It’s all stuff that I’ve done, it’s just how they coach it and how they emphasize things that are a little bit different.”
With that established, one thing Ryan does know is what a great run game can do for him, having had Michael Turner help ease his transition to the league early in his career, and having rode Shanahan’s vaunted run game to the Super Bowl in 2016.
“No doubt,” Ryan said. “I’m like, OK, let’s go. Obviously, you still have to go out there and do it, you don’t just roll out of bed and run the ball the way they did. You gotta earn it, you gotta work at it. But the potential is there. And the video evidence is there. That’s part of it, I know it’s about being a complete football team. And balance to me is being able to run the ball when you want to run the ball, and throw the ball when you want to throw the ball, not making it about the numbers, and then playing good defense.
“And all of those things excite me about this organization. I’m fired up to be here.”
• Jerick McKinnon’s a better story than he’s made out to be. A converted college quarterback who became a jack-of-all-trades in Minnesota, he played well to earn a free-agent payday in San Francisco, then blew out his ACL in consecutive years, missed every game of 2018 and ’19, and has come back to carve out a place for himself with the Chiefs.
McKinnon isn’t a superstar, and never really was one. But he had to earn his way back in Kansas City last year on special teams, eventually getting touches on offense, and then became a significant piece for the Chiefs in the playoffs. He’s still fun to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see what Andy Reid does with him after getting a good handle on how to deploy him in 2021.
Regardless of how that plays out, though, it’s good to see McKinnon back out there.
• One nugget I gathered coming out of last week’s minicamps—new Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have been pleasantly surprised with the depth the team has at a number of positions. One is tailback, where the guys in charge believe they’ve got a couple real talents beyond mainstays Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. (I’ve heard second-year speedster Kene Nwangwu and fifth-round pick Ty Chandler are two to watch).
This, of course, speaks well of the job the old regime did building the roster up. And where we’ve written a few times the last few weeks that the Raiders’ new guys felt like there was plenty to build on with what they inherited in Vegas, the same applies for O’Connell and Adofo-Mensah in the Twin Cities.
• So there’s a squabble over money in Chargers ownership? Very surprising that would happen within the NFL’s ranks.
• It’s good to see Trey Lance will be getting extra work in—and the hope would be that he can make the same sort of leap between spring camps and training camp that he did last year, when he spent the team’s 40-day summer break working in Atlanta, North Dakota and Orange County to try and accelerate his development.
Work ethic, drive and character, to be sure, were never a problem with Lance. We’ll see if, come summer, the Niners are looking at a more natural thrower than they saw last year.
• The responses to my tweet about Derrick Mason on Monday were interesting—some people couldn’t believe he’d be regarded as a better receiver than A.J. Brown. And I guess I’d just exit the argument by saying that while Brown has a ton of potential, he’s got a ways to go to have the kind of career Mason had.
Mason was absolutely that good, and this whole thing feels to a little bit like people arguing Randy Moss was better than Jerry Rice (he absolutely wasn’t), just because Rice wasn’t as physically imposing as Moss was. Which, of course, is being an old man and telling you where to stick your measureables and your highlight reels. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my nap.
More NFL Coverage:
• NFL Needs to Bench Deshaun Watson
• The Aaron Donald Deal: How the Rams Do It
• How the NFL Should Feel About the Broncos Sale
• 100 Bold Predictions for the 2022 Season