Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take a spin around the ever-active NFL news cycle and count down the days until the NFL Draft unfolds later this month in Music City......
* You could almost feel the dysfunction that was on display in Green Bay the past two non-playoff seasons. But after absorbing this week’s eye-opening Bleacher Report expose about the Packers’ internal issues, it’s almost a wonder Green Bay was able to string together that eight-year streak of postseason appearances from 2009-2016 — and win a Super Bowl — in the midst of all the franchise’s problems.
Aaron Rodgers reportedly holding a grudge against coach Mike McCarthy dating from the 2005 draft, when McCarthy’s 49ers chose Utah quarterback Alex Smith at No. 1, over the green-room captive Rodgers? McCarthy alleged to have been more diligent about keeping his massage appointments than fixing and fine-tuning his offense? And team CEO Mark Murphy feeling it necessary to implore Rodgers to not be “the problem’’ upon the hiring of new Packers coach Matt LaFleur this offseason?
What a portrait of a multi-faceted mess the story painted, and even if you choose to believe the narrative only 80 percent accurate — and I’ll take the over — it’s a damning indictment on almost all the key figures in Green Bay this past decade-plus. And to think that McCarthy was upset that the end of his tenure with the Packers got branded with the charge he allowed “complacency’’ to set in. After this story, complacency is almost too nice of a label to describe the state of disrepair that at least recently reigned in what once was called “Titletown.’’
The fallout and damage to McCarthy’s coaching reputation could be substantial and it may have already cost him one head coaching opportunity. I thought it was curious that the Browns, with all their ex-Packers employees in positions of power, didn’t even really sniff McCarthy as a serious candidate to become their new head coach in January, turning instead to the relatively unproven Freddie Kitchens. But now it makes a heck of a lot more sense if the word was already out about McCarthy, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got no real interest from teams hiring a head coach in early 2020 as well.
As for Rodgers, his barely concealed distaste for McCarthy’s coaching acumen is now out in the open and whether he likes it or not, accepted public knowledge. That’s not going to help his reputation of being somewhat Machiavellian and always ultra-concerned about his own image and standing as one of the NFL’s marquee stars. If you thought Rodgers was thin-skinned and bristled at criticism before, this story opens a new chapter in how the spotlight of scrutiny will fall on the Packers’ franchise quarterback going forward. Then again, he has the supreme contract security that Green Bay’s hierarchy handed him last offseason, thanks to Murphy’s premature decision to make him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Good luck when you open up your first offseason program next week, Matt LaFleur. I haven’t seen this much head-slapping self-inflicted trouble descend on one previously well-respected franchise since the Red Sox’s chicken and beer fiasco of 2011.
* There’s a growing sense that if the Cardinals don’t get a trade offer they deem sufficient, they could opt to hang on to 2018 first-round quarterback Josh Rosen even if they do the expected and draft Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray first overall on April 25. Or at least that’s what the Cardinals and perhaps some other interested parties want you to believe.
I’m not buying it, largely because it’s unreasonable to think Rosen would play nothing but the good soldier in that scenario, either helping Murray learn the ropes as the team’s rookie starter, or even taking part in a training-camp competition with a positive attitude about the situation, knowing Murray is going to play at some point very soon.
It could be a toxic locker room mix to keep both Rosen and Murray in Arizona and I don’t think you could blame Rosen for agitating for a trade, rather than accepting his backup status a year after being the No. 10 pick in the draft. He’s going to want a chance to re-start his career elsewhere and that’s why the notion of carrying both first-round quarterbacks in 2019 strikes me as wildly unrealistic.
* Speaking of unrealistic, rookie Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he doesn’t “let negativity get near me,’’ according to a profile of him written by the Cardinals official team website.
Okay then. But Kingsbury is an NFL head coach now, despite a rather unconventional path to the job, and if negativity doesn’t get near him at any point in the future, he’ll be the first head coach in league history to ever master that trick.
“I don’t read things. I have people sort out my mail and e-mails,’’ Kingsbury said in the story. “I’m a positive-vibe person. I just don’t let the negativity get near me.’’
Can we all just file that one away and check back in November or so? Or better yet, let’s have Kingsbury talk to Jason Witten and trade tips about taking on a new, high-profile job that comes with the potential for attracting a lot of negativity.
And in a related topic, where does one go to get someone to sort out their mail and e-mails? I’m asking for a friend.
* One of the more entertaining — and far-fetched — items of the week in the NFL was the news that new Denver coach Vic Fangio has informed his Broncos players they should be ready for an old-school training camp experience that will be tougher, more disciplined and more demanding than they’re used to.
“He’s a no-nonsense coach,’’ said Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, according to 9 News in Denver. “He’s going to be old school. I wouldn’t be surprised if minicamp and training camp is like the 1960s, back in the day.’’
Count me among those who would be surprised. First off, I don’t think they even had minicamps back in the ‘60s. Because most players had offseason jobs in order to eat and have a roof over their heads. And secondly, that little document called the CBA doesn’t allow for the return of grueling, contact-intensive eight or nine-week training camps like the kind Bud Grant, Vince Lombardi, Hank Stram or Don Shula liked to run. Just ask the NFLPA.
I remember talking to former Vikings players from the ‘60s and ‘70s when I covered Minnesota in the late ‘90s, and they said they’d spend most of their summers in training camp under Grant, reporting shortly after the Fourth of July and playing six or even seven exhibition games. Those days are gone, and gone for good. Fangio might intensify the pace and physicality of Denver’s camp, and good for him if it’s what his team needs. He might even make them run and sweat and hit more than usual.
But a throwback to the 1960’s it will not be. You can bet your Tom Landry game-day fedora on that.
* So what was your favorite Alliance of American Football memory? The one you’ll tell your grandkids about some day? I think mine came this week, when league chairman Tom “I’m No Hero’’ Dundon pulled the plug on the fledgling eight-team league, just eight games into its inaugural season.
Good riddance if you’re not professional and big-league enough to even make it through your first 10-game schedule. I was never anti-AAF, but I certainly don’t need football in the offseason. It’s not a year-round sport and less is more sometimes. Actually missing football at this time of year is a good thing, and it makes you appreciate when September rolls around all the more.
Dundon obviously was in it for the quick buck and had no intention of riding out the long haul to respectability that the AAF said was its only goal. So much for all the buzz created about this upstart league, and the predictions that it had a very viable plan and the cache of having many proven people such as Bill Polian and Charlie Ebersol deeply involved and invested in its success.
I genuinely feel sorry for the players, coaches and fans who were led on and then unceremoniously dumped by what proved to be a minor league operation in every way. But there is one positive to come from the whole debacle: For two blissful months we got to again appreciate the wit and coaching moxie of one Steve Spurrier, who had the brass to suggest his league-best 7-1 Orlando Apollos were clearly deserving of being declared the first and only AAF champions now that the entire enterprise has folded.
God bless, Steve Spurrier. Now and forever.
* Don’t do it, Jets. Please, no. Not those uniforms again. What on earth convinced New York that the time had come for an update of its thoroughly uninspiring 1978-97 uniforms? The new/old green and white ensemble that leaked on the internet this week conjures up nothing more glorious than Ken O’Brien struggling to live up to the rest of the famed 1983 quarterback class (with apologies to Todd Blackledge), and I hate to see the Jets again lose the helmet logo that Joe Namath wore in his glory days.
I know. It’s about merchandising. And new sells. Generally speaking. But I thought the Jets had learned their lesson when they switched back to their classic uniforms in 1998 and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game, led by Bill Parcells and Vinny Testaverde.
And now this, two decades later. Those who fail to learn from history truly are doomed to repeat it.
* Every year the NFL win totals come out in April, and every year I try to figure out how an NFL team is projected to win a half a game? But seriously, it only makes sense the Patriots, personnel losses and all, are projected to have a league-high 11 wins this season, and Miami, with its drastic rebuild underway, is seen as a five-win team in 2019.
Vegas is usually pretty accurate with these calculations, or so I’m told. But most of the picks aren’t too tough to figure out. The Bears, Colts and Browns all improved dramatically last season, so they’re expected to be good again, with Chicago at 9.5 wins, Cleveland at 9 (that’s low in my opinion) and Indianapolis at 9.5.
On the flip side, the Packers, Vikings, Steelers and Giants disappointed last year, and they’re all down a tick or two in terms of expected wins: Pittsburgh from 10.5 last year to 8.5 this year; Minnesota 10.5 last year to 9 this year; Green Bay 10.5 last year to 9.5 this year (sounds high to me); and the Giants, 7.5 last year to a measly 6 this year.
I’ve never done the math, but I’m pretty sure if you added up all the expected win totals any particular year, it would amount to more than the 256 regular-season the NFL puts on. But there are rarely if ever any 2-14, 3-13 or 4-12 seasons on the way in the Vegas win totals. Or 14-2 and 13-3 for that matter. I’m guessing it’d be too risky. And risky often equals losing in Vegas’s eyes.
* Some would say the Arizona Cardinals, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft, are on the clock with April 25’s first round approaching. But I think that’s 10 days too late and off the mark in terms of NFC West teams.
It’s Seattle that’s truly on the clock first. Quarterback Russell Wilson has given the team an April 15 deadline to strike a contract extension with him (Really? On Tax Day, when we all have enough to worry about?) and it sounds like he’s fully expecting to become the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Otherwise, Wilson apparently doesn’t want to talk or think about a new contract until the season is over, and then the risky franchise-tag game enters into the equation. And given how that exercise worked out in Washington D.C. with Kirk Cousins, I’m anticipating the NFL team in the state of Washington to take an entirely different course of action.
Almost time to pay the man, Seattle.