Here’s why the Arizona Cardinals drafting Kyler Murray isn’t such a lock

Leave a comment

What happens if we’re all wrong? What happens if the Arizona Cardinals don’t do the lead-pipe-lock thing of the 2019 NFL Draft, which is to use the first pick overall on Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray? What happens if they shock the world April 25 and trade the pick, or take someone else?

It’s 10 days before the first round kicks off, and we’ve talked ourselves into being sure the Cardinals will take Murray and pair him with the coach who lusts after him, rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury. And if I had to do my mock today, I’d give Murray to Arizona. (Useless Information Dept.: MOCK DRAFT ALERT!! Mine is next Monday.) It makes a lot of sense to pair your McVayesque head coach with the quarterback he loves.

I’m not positive Murray to the Cards plays out like that. I’ve got a few reasons, after a round of phone calls in the past few days.

Let’s run ’em down:

• I don’t believe there is unanimity inside the Cardinals building today either to take Murray, trade down for a passel of picks to a Murray-loving team, or to sit at one and take an impact player for the defense like edge-rusher Nick Bosa. Then again, if GM Steve Keim and Kingsbury both want Murray, that’s going to be the pick.

• The Cards’ personnel brains—led by Keim and VP of player personnel Terry McDonough—are extremely confident people. If you run a team’s play-acquisition department, of course you should be confident. But Keim and McDonough are at the upper end among NFL personnel people in belief in their ability to pick players. I think Keim wouldn’t blink about trading the first pick. Keim won’t be scared to buck conventional wisdom.

• Suppose the Raiders, picking fourth, and coach Jon Gruden, who was openly covetous of Murray at the combine, decide that three of their five first-round picks in the next two drafts are worth using to get the first pick. Theoretically, suppose the Raiders trade the fourth and 27th picks in round one this year, plus one of their two first-rounders next year, to deal up to Arizona’s pick, and the Raiders take Murray. Then suppose they could recoup one of those first-round picks by trading quarterback Derek Carr to Miami or Washington or the Giants for a 2020 first-rounder. Over the next four years, the Raiders would save about $13 million a year by paying a first-pick quarterback an average of $8.5 million a year, as opposed to the $21.5 million average on the remaining four seasons of Carr’s contract.

• If you’re the Cards, and you could have four first-round picks in the next two years, including the fourth overall pick this year, and you have a coach you believe could make Josh Rosen 20 percent better, it might make sense to try to ransom the pick. To take the Murray pick and deal it, and be in position to choose a defensive centerpiece like Josh Allen or Quinnen Williams and two more first-rounders … tempting.

• Few teams in the NFL need a transfusion of talent at multiple positions like Arizona. The respected player-rating site Pro Football Focus ranks players top to bottom at each position. In 2018, Arizona had only two players from its starting 22 rated in the top 15 in the league at their positions: middle linebacker Josh Bynes (fifth) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (ninth). Arizona did not have a top-30 guard, center, tackle, tight end, running back, quarterback, defensive tackle or safety. Alarming. Trading the top pick could be medicine for a lot of personnel issues in Arizona.

But it Keim thinks Murray’s going to have Mahomes-like impact, or even close, he should resist temptation, pick Murray, and deal Josh Rosen 10 nights from now. Peter Schrager made a good point the other day on “Good Morning Football:” In 1984, the Portland Trail Blazers had a young shooting guard they liked, Clyde Drexler, who went on to be a Hall of Fame player. Owning the second pick of the ’84 draft, with Michael Jordan on the board, Portland picked center Sam Bowie. Some 35 years later, it’s still the worst NBA draft decision ever. If the Cards see star power in Murray, their decision should be made.

Who knows how good the 5-10 Murray will be? But living with passing on him would be something Keim, and steward-of-the-franchise president Michael Bidwill, must consider with one of the biggest decisions this team has had to make since moving to Arizona in 1988.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Former Chargers center Nick Hardwick taking proactive approach to post-NFL brain health

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Nick Hardwick, former Chargers center and current San Diego radio analyst.

This has been anything but a typical NFL offseason for me. If you follow me on either Instagram or Twitter, you know I recently undertook an intensive, six-week brain treatment protocol at the Brain Treatment Center where I live in San Diego. It’s an affiliate of the USC Center for Neurorestoration, a progressive brain health clinic focusing on the intersection of physics and neuroscience.

Upon retiring in February 2015 after 11 seasons as an NFL center, all of them spent with the Chargers, I did my best to follow the counsel I received from coaches, the players union, and former teammates who had smoothly transitioned into the next phase of their post-playing lives.

For starters, I almost immediately lost a good chunk of my playing weight. It wasn’t necessary to carry 295 pounds on my 6-4 frame, because I no longer was tasked with routinely fighting some of the baddest humans on the planet for three hours-plus. I dropped the weight fast and got down as low as 208 pounds at one point, but my wife, Jayme, didn’t really favor that version. So I regained some muscle and currently weigh a very comfortable 230 pounds or so.

To keep busy and stay close to the game, I went to work almost immediately on the radio in San Diego, including at iHeart Radio, where I’ve hosted my own show since 2016. As part of the gig, I got to serve as the Chargers radio sideline reporter in 2015, and I spent the following two seasons in the booth as the team’s radio color analyst.

Those roles kept me engaged, and helped me challenge myself mentally. I felt as healthy as I had ever been since my freshman year of college, the year before I walked on and made the football team at Purdue. But I still felt I had more cognitive ability left untapped, because my brain wasn’t necessarily firing on all cylinders.

Fortunately I was able to function because over the years I had hard-wired my mentality to continue to persevere through pain, discomfort, less than ideal situations and, to be honest, some states of depression I now recognize. I knew a certain amount of mental endurance was required after playing the game so long.

But I also realized toughness alone wasn’t the answer. I came to realize and accept my fate that as a former football player, I had accumulated somewhere around 25,000-plus head hits over the course of my playing career, all at least equivalent to boxing jabs, with the occasional straight punch and uppercut thrown in for good measure.

How did I get to that 25,000-plus estimate? I played 11 NFL seasons, for about 1,000 game snaps per year. Add in another 1,000 snaps during training camps, not counting our offseason practices. And don’t forget the three years of college football I played, with similar snap totals, but rougher practices.

It’s easy to see the hits accumulate quickly at the position I played. I was diagnosed with six verified concussions in the NFL, but I still never missed a game due to one of them, a gut-it-out approach I would not recommend to kids or anyone else. During the 2008 season in Kansas City, I was knocked out cold on the field for about 12 minutes, waking up on the X-ray table at Arrowhead Stadium with the technician asking me to turn on my right side for reasons I didn’t understand.

“What?!’’ I thought for a moment I had broke my neck, but it turned out I had caught a hip to the head, delivered courtesy of Chiefs linebacker Rocky Boiman, whom I was blocking on a screen pass to Chargers fullback Jacob Hester.

While I accepted the damage that came with playing football for a living as part of the price paid, something hit home and came to a head for me at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta this past winter. I was there covering the weeklong event for my radio station, XTRA 1360, and despite being at the NFL’s glamor event, surrounded by the league’s football community, I found myself in one of those emotional troughs that occasionally came.

I knew then that I had a decision to make and some sort of action to take. While there was no erasing the time I had spent banging heads and colliding with defenders—and I wouldn’t take it back if I could any how, because it was the time of my life with so many lessons learned—it wasn’t enough just to plow through the low ebbs in life.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Sunday Night Football’s executive producer reveals how show is created each week

Leave a comment

Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Fred Gaudelli, the executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecast.

By Fred Gaudelli

One thing I appreciate about being the executive producer of NBC’s Sunday Night Football team is that we’re a lot like a football team. The very good NFL teams enter the next season thinking, What can we do to get better? This isn’t corny, and I don’t want it to seem chest-puffing. We’ve been the highest-rated and most-watched prime-time show for eight straight years—a network TV record—but we’ve got that same feeling about improving this offseason that we have every year.

One of the things we’ve been discussing: expanding the use of the Skycam in live play-by-play situations during games. We might add a second Skycam to give viewers a totally different look this year. When NBC did the Notre Dame Blue and Gold Spring Game this year, the Skycam was moved from down the middle of the field to the sideline view, which is the view almost every play is now covered from. We wanted to see the impact of having the play-by-play camera on the line of scrimmage, from the sideline, via Skycam for every snap. We’ve studied the tape at length and hope to try this on our second preseason game in August, Pittsburgh at Tennessee. We’ll actually have two Skycams: the normal one that shoots from behind the offense in the middle of the field, and this new one, positioned on the line of scrimmage, on the sideline.

My initial reaction is this will make all fourth-and-one attempts better viewing experiences for the fans. But we’ll see how it works in Nashville in August for that game. If we like it, we’ll probably use it on live plays on fourth-and-short (and maybe others) in the first game of the NFL’s 100th season, Green Bay at Chicago, on NBC on Sept. 5. It’s new and fun—and it could make the viewing experience much more interesting.

That’s the techie in me, trying to get better. But in 30 years of producing games at the network level, one of the most important things I’ve learned—from John Madden—is so incredibly basic, as old as the game itself.

Watch pre-game warmups.

We have a team of 175 in front of and mostly behind the cameras that puts on the Sunday games, and we have every technical and modern convenience any TV crew could ask. But you’d be surprised how often we use something we learned just watching pregame warmups, the same way the fans in the stands do. Either Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth might use something on the telecast, or maybe director Drew Esocoff or I will see something and have a graphic built for use during the game. Maybe we’ll use it, maybe not. John taught Drew and me that intently watching warmups is really the final piece of game preparation. So much information is gleaned by rituals and warmups. Madden was the first to do this and the best ever at it. I love this part of the process.

Perfect example: Three years ago, before a Chiefs-Broncos game in Denver, linebacker Justin Houston came out before the game wearing an altitude training mask; he had a coach with him, with what looked like two extra-large catcher’s mitts. The coach set up some pylons and wore the two big mitts. Houston then began working his hands in all kinds of different pass rush moves much like a boxer would work before a title bout. Houston systematically went through his entire repertoire of moves. So, halfway through the second quarter, Houston was wrecking the game. He had three sacks and Denver tackle Ty Sambrailo had no answer for the quickness of his hands. We ran a package of the three sacks and ended it with video from the pre-game ritual, showing the hand movements in pregame that were used on the sacks. The Chiefs won the game, and Houston’s impact on the game was a huge reason.

So the modern technology like the sideline Skycam is great, and I mean that. I think it’ll make us better this year. But there is something crucial about the simple human element too—in this case watching pre-game warmups for an hour. If you watch our games and see really cool images and really great story-telling, I think we’ve done our job.

Read more from Football Morning in America here