Peter King’s news, rumors entering NFL free agency

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Things I’ve heard over the weekend about this legal-tampering period beginning today, and why I expect it to be more of a dud than electric free-agency period.

• Not sensing the verve out there for this class. Lots of things conspiring to make that happen. The two spots with mega-options in veteran free agents, the defensive line and safety, are overrun with strong prospects in the draft. One GM told me Sunday there would six to eight pass-rushers taken in the first round alone, and maybe six safeties picked in the top 50. When the number one guy in the class might be a guy who sat out the 2018 season (Le’Veon Bell) and plays a position that’s been severely devalued because of young guys after the first round becoming impact players early (Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt), it’s a pretty meh season.

• Why are teams talking about trading their tagged players? I’ll put myself in Chiefs GM Brett Veach’s shoes. Kansas City has franchised pass-rusher Dee Ford (last 39 games: 26.5 sacks) but is listening to offers. My guess—just a guess—is the Chiefs would be open to taking a low second-round pick or high three for him. If they got, say, the 60th pick in a defensive-line rich draft, they’d be investing about four years and $4.8-million in cap dollars there (or in a pick somewhere in the first three rounds to replace Ford) instead of the four years and maybe $70-million in Ford … and they’d be able to use their money to go get a needed player at another position in free agency like C.J. Mosley or Earl Thomas. You know what this is, at least in part? It’s the Patriot Effect. You see New England let go of valuable vets every year and still win. I do believe there is some of that in play with teams dangling their franchise guys. Footnote on Dee Ford that should not be forgotten: He led all edge players in snaps (1,022) last year.

• I don’t see the Colts, with their treasure, breaking the bank in the next two weeks. No team has ever entered free-agency with this kind of loot. Indy, including the money carried over from 2018, has $134 million to spend if they desired. I doubt sincerely GM Chris Ballard will go freaky in free agency. It’s not his way. Of all the GMs in the league, Ballard’s not one to let cap money burn a hole in his pocket. Take running back. The Colts got 1,104 yards out of Marlon Mack in 12 games last year … and he costs $749,912 against the cap this year. Could they do better there? Probably. But when you’re coming off a season averaging 4.4 yards per rush with a young core in the backfield and up front, it’s not exactly a position crying out for help.

• Le’Veon to the Jets? New York, with $116 million in cap room and the motivation to spend with a GM who has to win this year, is the favorite to sign Bell. I can’t see Bell to the Colts except at a discount, and Bell will be motivated to make up what he lost last year (which he’ll never do). Smart football people think the Jets are the leaders in the Bell derby, with Washington and Miami possible too.

• Earl Thomas is a hot name. He’ll be 30 in May, and he’s missed 23 of 51 Seattle games in the last three years. But Thomas is a highly respected player with motivation to stick it to Seattle, with the ability to be a playmaking centerfielder and a good hitter too. Houston, San Francisco, Dallas and Kansas City all could be players for Thomas, though I doubt the Chiefs would be a player in the $12-million-a-year range. They just don’t have that money.

• It’s an tepid QB market, to put it mildly. Nick Foles will likely be disappointed at the action and money his entry into free agency will trigger. Like everyone, I’m guessing Jacksonville. … Teddy Bridgewater has a tough call to make. Sean Payton would love to have him back for Drew Brees insurance at maybe $6 million for the year. But if you’re Bridgewater, sitting in 2019 would mean you wouldn’t have played for four seasons. And what would your worth be in 2020 after four years of inactivity? If the Dolphins or Jags offer him real money and the promise of a starting job in 2019, he might have to take it.

• The underrateds. Guys under the radar who will get paid: Washington edge player Preston Smith, Carolina right tackle Daryl Williams (trying to rebound from knee surgery), Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, big Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams, Oakland tight end Jared Cook (why in the world Gruden is letting him walk is beyond me), Bears safety Adrian Amos, and Chiefs center Mitch Morse.

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Why Texans need to trade for Redskins’ Trent Williams now

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Three Things I Think

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three quick thoughts:

1. I think my everlasting memory of this trip will be watching J.J. Watt steam in from Aaron Rodgers’ left side on a live pass-rush drill (well, full-speed, but no hitting the quarterback in a camp practice) in the Texans-Packers joint practices. He jousted with left tackle David Bakhtiari, dipped to the outside, got half a step on the left tackle, and sprinted at Rodgers. Watt meant it. As did Rodgers, who sprinted up the right side and evaded Watt. First time Watt ever stepped foot in Wisconsin to play pro football (though a practice), and he got emotional about it, and it meant a lot to him. Two Hall of Fame players going at it on a Monday morning in northeast Wisconsin. Loved it.

2. I think the Texans need to trade for Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who is unhappy in Washington and threatening to not play this year. Houston’s time is now. Watt turns 30 this year. So much of this team is in its prime. They could get three or four more years out of Williams, who turns 31 next Monday, and he’d strengthen the only true weak point of this team.

3. I think I marvel at DeAndre Hopkins and found it compelling to just watch him practice in Green Bay. He even dropped a pass over the middle. Consider that last year he became the first receiver since drop stats were kept—at least 13 years—to catch at least 110 balls without a drop. “Why do you think people don’t really know that?” he asked me after practice, a bit annoyed. I don’t know, but I do know Hopkins is the best wideout in football by almost any measure. “There are games, like against Philly last year, when he gets his jersey ripped off,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Teams are so physical with him. What makes him special is so many plays are contested. People are draped on him, and he comes down with it.” With wideout injuries last year, Houston saw a weird three-man coverage at times on Hopkins, “cut coverage,” O’Brien called it, with a linebacker undercutting him near the line of scrimmage before he would get out in the open field and face two cover guys. I asked Hopkins how he worked on his hands as a kid. Jerry Rice tossed and caught bricks with his dad, a mason. Hopkins: “This is something I haven’t told many people, because it’s embarrassing,” he said. “We always used to catch flies with our hands. I was the only one who could catch ‘em. One-handed, two-handed. I actually studied flies. I’d watch ‘em. How do you catch flies? They fly up. If I can catch that, I can catch anything.”

Why Antonio Brown is crazy to fight NFL over helmet issue

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Regarding the Mike Silver/Adam Schefter-reported stories Friday about the melodrama surrounding the Oakland receiver—or, I should say, the receiver employed by Oakland who is not currently playing for Oakland—the overriding thought I have is a simple one. The NFL and the NFLPA have teamed up to research helmet safety and helmet technology through exhaustive, independent studies since 2016. All players were told in 2017 they’d have to wear new helmets—league and union-approved—by 2018, with a one-year grandfather period pushing the absolute deadline to don correct helmets to 2019. I did a podcast about the helmet in May, and over the previous seven months talked to 14 players about the helmet issue. Several of the players weren’t crazy about making the change, including 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who’d worn the same model of helmet for 15 years (though it had been updated at least once) and admitted to me he would not have changed unless forced.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Staley told me last fall, “and I think I’m a perfect case study of why it needs to be done. I wouldn’t have changed my helmet unless they made these rules changes.”

For Brown to be fighting this is just crazy. According to Schefter, Brown had a two-hour grievance hearing Friday with an independent arbitrator, arguing that he should be able to wear a helmet he has been wearing for more than 10 years. (That, in itself, makes the helmet illegal; the NFL mandates that helmets worn for at least 10 years be replaced, regardless of their condition.)

There isn’t much the league and players union agree on without reservation, but the current helmet protocol, the outgrowth of a $60-million investment by NFL owners in 2016 to improve helmet technology and reduce head trauma in players, is one of those things. If Brown wins, he would be the lone player out of 2,016 active and practice-squad players in the NFL this season who would be wearing a helmet—the Schutt Air Advantage, in his case—not approved for use by NFL and NFLPA testers. And this helmet is so old that it’s not even been tested by the league and the union. I’m told unquestionably it would fail any test for helmet safety, as would virtually any helmet not made in the last four or five years.

A few other thoughts on this nutty story:

• Brown has to grow up, or he’s got to get some help. Someone in his life, if anyone has a scintilla of influence over him (and that is in doubt), needs to say to him: The Raiders could void your contract for this behavior, and you’d be out $30.1 million in guaranteed money, and what team would pay you even a fraction of that after? You walked out on the Steelers and then turned into a child on the Raiders and boycotted them too—in the span of nine months!

• The Steelers have to be the happiest team in the league right now. They don’t have a great player, but they do have a sane, undivided training camp.

Jon Gruden has to defend Brown, which he did Saturday night after the Raiders’ preseason win over the Rams. But anyone who knows Gruden knows he’s got to be frustrated over his best offensive weapon being disabled because of the freaky frostbite injury and fuming at Brown being AWOL because the NFL is trying to make football safer for him.

• To be a fly on GM Mike Mayock’s wall. He’s a football purist, and his first season piloting a storied franchise might be sent over a cliff by the weirdest controversy in years that has incredibly little to do with real football.

• Mike Silver’s 20-tweet thread detailing the Brown story Friday was exquisite. Best football thread I’ve seen, full of rich detail and information about the dysfunctional Brown/Raiders/helmet thing. What was great about Silver’s long social screed: It was essentially an 800-word news story, broken in real time on Twitter instead of being broken on NFL.com with a Twitter link to the story. Whatever the reason for doing it that way (NFL.com I’m sure now regrets the loss of traffic on a heavily read story), I found it easy to digest just by scrolling up on my phone. Silver had the helmet stuff solid, and this piece of information that can’t go on in team meetings: “Brown, according to witnesses, typically glances at the screens of several tablets and his smart phone during meetings, distracting himself by engaging in activities which include perusing his bank accounts and ‘liking’ photos on Instagram.” Social media is still the Wild West, but Silver showed you can break news with a story broken into 20 easy bites.

• “Hard Knocks” is either going to show a slice of this Brown story this week, with some real video and team reaction, or it’s Pravda. And I know Ken Rodgers of NFL Films, the curator of this show. He will want to show the real story, very much.

I’ve been around a lot of crazy stories in the NFL in my 35 years covering the league. But the last nine months in the life of Antonio Brown is right up there.


One more thing from Kearse: “The NFL changed the rules to prevent more head injuries and more head contact. But at the end of the day it’s a full-contact sport and guys are kind of making quick decisions, and you want to be able to have a product that’s going to be able to protect you. I think the NFL wants this league to last. They’re going to have to continue to keep digging deeper to improve. It’s an uncontrolled environment where things can happen and for me personally, I want to have the best protecting me out there.”

Someone’s got to get to Brown, and fast.