2. Brady, Brady, Brady. “Tom Brady,” one well-connected NFL exec told me, “is the one domino paralyzing the entire NFL right now.” That’s because of the realization among teams here that Brady actually might leave New England. Before this past week, I’d say most people in the league thought Brady might flirt with other teams but eventually finish where he started and where he belongs. But by week’s end, there was rising informed speculation the Raiders, Chargers, Colts and Titans (though that cause would be hurt if Derrick Henry leaves in free agency) could be in play for Brady.
3. Listen to Jeff Darlington. The ESPN NFL reporter is tight with the Brady camp. He’s not nipping-on-the-fringes tight; he’s legitimate inside-the-circle tight. I’ve seen it. So when Darlington says he’d be stunned if Brady returned to the Patriots, I pay attention. I’m not sure I would say the same, but I definitely take notice. I notice because of the kind of person Tom Brady is.
When Jerome Bettis turned down a shot to go to Miami late in his career, and when Dan Marino turned down a chance to play a final season in Minnesota, part of the reasoning by both men was their affection for their long-time teams—Steelers and Dolphins respectively—and their business futures in both of their long-time cities. I think Brady’s different. He loves New England. He loves this team. But I think Brady is more open to new experiences, and more welcoming of them, than many players might be.
As Darlington told me late Friday: “Everybody wants to make this about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and their relationship, and to some extent, that dynamic is part of it. But I also think this is about exploring a new challenge—about reinvigorating himself. I also think it’s as much about the overall experience as it is about just trying to win another ring.”
I still think there’s a Brady-Belichick summit before anything gets decided with finality. But whatever happens, remember the “reinvigorating himself” thing from Darlington. It’s important.
4. Anonymous quote of the combine. From an agent with vet quarterbacks in the mix, when I said I had no idea how this QB game of musical chairs will end up: “The problem is, there’s way more quarterbacks than chairs.” I can see that.
My prediction: Five quarterbacks will be immensely pissed off a month from today, with a depressed market value for their services. Or no market value.
5. Fruitless Endeavor of the Week. Where will everyone land? I kept asking people here about the fate of Jameis Winston, and I couldn’t find a landing spot for him. I doubt sincerely he’d be a starter on opening day 2020 if he leaves Tampa (which is likely), but where would/could he be a backup? Let’s guess at other outcomes.
If you put Burrow in Cincinnati, Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, and Justin Herbert or Jordan Love in a draft-and-develop situation with the Chargers—and I have no idea if that last one is true—where does that leave the vets? Brady in Las Vegas or Tennessee? Teddy Bridgewater in Tampa Bay? Philip Rivers or one of the rookies in Indianapolis? Andy Dalton as an insurance policy (that might have to be cashed in October) in Chicago? Cam Newton in Carolina? What of New England, if Brady goes—maybe wait till the market dries up and get a Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota cheap, while grooming favored son Jarrett Stidham? Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee? What about Washington’s backup plans (strangely, the team interviewed at least three QBs at the combine) for Dwayne Haskins, if club execs fear Alex Smith might not be ready to play in September? Without chairs, maybe: Carr, Winston, Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum. (I’d go hard after Keenum if I were Buffalo or Cleveland.)
One of my favorite X factors is Foles, assuming, as many in combine hallways believe, that the Jaguars go with Gardner Minshew. Foles is 31, a Super Bowl MVP, a great team guy, a pocket guy in need of a good offensive line and outside weapons. The more I think of Foles, and the more I think of a landing spot if he’s not a Jag, I think I might be able to talk myself into the Colts. Makes a lot of sense, especially behind that line, and especially with how much help he’d be to Jacoby Brissett.
9. Sounds-Zany-But-Isn’t Idea of the Week: If I’m Zac Taylor, I’d push to sign Josh McCown as my backup, while keeping Ryan Finley to develop. McCown turns 41 in July, and he wouldn’t be signing to play, but rather to be the kind of selfless every-day on-and-off-field mentor he’s been for Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and Johnny Manziel (win some, lose some) in the last six years. Even if McCown wants the same deal he had last year in Philadelphia—Friday nights free so he could coach his sons Owen and Aiden in high school—that shouldn’t stand in the way of a smart idea. Burrow would love McCown.
14. On Andrew Luck. Seemed appropriate to ask folks in Indiana the question football fans in the other 49 states all have about the football team in Indiana: Think Andrew Luck’s ever coming back? Did not hear one speck of evidence here to suggest he is. I asked the excellent Indiana-centric columnist for The Athletic, Bob Kravitz. He said he’s heard nothing about Luck and football, at all. Kravitz: “Everybody defines happiness differently. For most of us red-blooded Americans, I think fame, fortune, athletic superstardom is the pinnacle of all desires. But for some people, that’s not what they want. They want a different kind of life.” That’s the life Luck, presumably, is living in relative seclusion these days.
20. Assorted things I heard in my 66 hours here:
• Cowboys and Titans might not be rooting for the CBA to pass. New CBA would allow teams to use only one tag per year. Old CBA would allow two tags per team, meaning Dallas could lock up Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper, Tennessee Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill.
• Lots of pass-rush-needy teams asking about Jadeveon Clowney, worried about his inconsistency and injury history.
• I would expect the Ravens to consider tagging-and-trading Matthew Judon. Ravens’ history is to let productive linebackers go either for a good pick or compensatory pick.
• Highest-paid interior lineman in free agency? I hear New England’s Joe Thuney could be a $15-million-a-year player.
• Teddy Bridgewater market is warming up.
• After Jack Conklin, the tackle market caves, unless Trent Williams is dealt by Washington. Next might be 26-year-old Halapoulivaati Vaitai of the Eagles, who has allowed a respectable six sacks in 810 snaps over the last two years.
• Heard two smart football people say they’d take Tua Tagovailoa at three if they were Detroit, let him get fully healthy in 2020, then figure out the QB situation after next season, when, presumably, there’d be a robust market for either Tua or Matthew Stafford.
• Amazing, to me, that three coaches and one GM said they didn’t mind the new work rules with the new CBA if it passes—namely, cutting the number of padded practices from 28 to 16 in camp and giving players more time off in and out of season. “Tell me what the rules are, and if they’re the same for everyone, I’m fine,” said one playoff coach.