Peter King

Peter King’s 2019 NFL Draft headlines: Tyreek Hill must go, Steelers find new Shazier, more

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My 2019 draft-coverage gameplan: in a word, weird. Thursday, Denver. I just thought John Elway might do something out of the ordinary, and he did, sort of, dealing down for a tight end/security blanket for Joe Flacco (Noah Fant) and falling into Drew Lock, which he never expected to do, with the 42nd pick … Friday, Oakland, playing catch-up with a chock-full Raider draft and the Gruden-Mayock dynamic. “The confidence I have [in the GM] is better than I’ve ever had,” Gruden told me. “The guy is sick. He’s a maniacal worker. I love him.” … Saturday, Tempe. Kyler Murray and Josh Rosen, oh my. Good chunks on all of those stops coming.But first, headlines from the weekend:

• Tyreek Hill has to go. Audio surfaced in Kansas City on Thursday, in connection with injuries suffered by Hill’s 3-year-old son, with the son saying, “Daddy did it.” Further, when the boy’s mom told Hill the son was terrified of him, Hill said to her, “You need to be terrified of me too, bitch.” The Chiefs barred their all-pro wide receiver, Hill, from team activities after hearing the tape, and now must take the next step: cutting Hill, who already was walking a thin line after punching the woman in question in the stomach when she was pregnant. The second-round choice of Georgia sprinter Mecole Hardman (4.33 speed) telegraphed the end for Hill in Kansas City.• The Giants, controversially, find Eli’s heir. All those who had Daniel Jones going sixth overall—nine spots ahead of Dwayne Haskins, 36 ahead of Drew Lock—well, you’re clearly in the head of GM Dave Gettleman. The Giants did not want to take a scintilla of risk by picking pass-rusher Josh Allen at six and taking Jones with their second pick at 17 (and he almost certainly would have been there then). On Sunday, Gettleman told me: “I agonized over that. Agonized.” Washington finally gets a long-term quarterback. After the failed RG III experiment in 2012, Washington has stumbled from passer to passer. Now owner Dan Snyder hopes Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins (who prepped at the Bullis School in Bethesda) will be the franchise quarterback Griffin never was.• GM of the Draft: An unknown one—Miami’s Chris Grier, who, with two trades in the span of an hour Friday night, turned the 48th overall pick into Josh Rosen, a sixth-round pick and a second-round pick in 2020. The Dolphins now have a year to see if the 10th pick in the 2018 draft, Rosen, can be the QB of the future … and if not, Grier will have five extra picks (as of now) in 2020 to find that franchise passer in a richer crop of prospects next April. “I know some people say we’re tanking,” Grier said from Florida on Saturday night. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth. It’s gathering draft capital, plus we’ve now got a quarterback to come in and compete for us.”• The Steelers finally find a Shazier replacement. Mike Tomlin has been jonesing for a sideline-to-sideline playmaker and defensive captain-type since Ryan Shazier was lost with a spinal injury in December 2017. GM Kevin Colbert did something very uncharacteristic to help: He traded up in the first round for the first time in 16 years to get Michigan speed linebacker Devin Bush, who paid homage to his predecessor. Shazier is still trying to return to play football. “I know he has the heart and the will,” Bush said.

• Doug Baldwin might be done. The Seattle wideout and team conscience has had three off-season surgeries, is 30, and GM John Schneider acknowledged Baldwin could retire. “Whatever happens, Doug will go down as one of the great players in the history of this program,” coach Pete Carroll said. Undrafted out of Stanford, the slight Baldwin used guile and extreme competitiveness to catch 551 balls and score 55 touchdowns in eight seasons. He will be missed, in so many ways, if he’s gone.

• A strange pick in Carolina. “This has nothing to do with Cam Newton,” GM Marty Hurney said after the Panthers used a third-round choice on West Virginia quarterback Will Grier. Nothing? I am not buying what Hurney’s selling. In the last two years, Newton has had rotator-cuff surgery (2017) and arthroscopic shoulder surgery (2019), both on his throwing shoulder. Cam turns 30 in two weeks. It’s okay to say, “We need some insurance at the most important position in sports.” Because that’s what this is.

• So long, SeaBass. The last kicker to be drafted in the first round, Sebastian Janikowski, retired Sunday after a 19-year career, with the record for most field goals of 50 yards or longer (58) in a career. In 2000, Al Davis drafted him 17th overall. That’s one slot ahead of Chad Pennington, 125 slots ahead of Shane Lechler, 182 slots ahead of Tom Brady. That’s quite a run.

• The Road Draft is one of the best ideas the NFL ever had. Chicago was better than New York, Philadelphia was better than Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth was very good, and Nashville, even sopping wet Thursday night, was as good as Dallas-Fort Worth. Next year: Las Vegas. Lunacy alert.

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Peter King’s NFL Mock Draft

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1. Arizona: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

We live in a society (I sound like Costanza) that screams “Fake News!” when something seems just too obvious. We need to face reality, folks. When Cards GM Steve Keim walks into a meeting with club president Michael Bidwill today in Tempe to discuss the fate of the first overall pick, they could do a couple of things. They could decide to take Murray, the choice of head coach Kliff Kinsgbury. They could decide to take the best edge-rusher (Nick Bosa)—who I hear is the choice of many in the building—or the best player (Quinnen Williams) in the draft. I’ll be surprised, as will America, if the choice is anyone but Murray, particularly because the Raiders, at four, are not likely to want to trade up for what it would cost. I do want to give you one cautionary tale on Kyler Murray, assuming he is picked here. Over the last seven years of football—three years of varsity high school football, a short one-year stint at Texans A&M, sitting a year at Oklahoma after transferring, mostly sitting in 2017 behind Baker Mayfield, and starting last year at Oklahoma—Murray has started 60 games. He is 57-3. Who knows if he starts right away in the NFL? But in the NFL, he could lose more starts in a month than he lost in the previous seven years. It’ll be interesting to see how Murray adjusts to adversity. Not sure he’s ever had much of it, at least in football.

2. San Francisco: Nick Bosa, edge rusher, Ohio State

Niners have loved him since the Cotton Bowl in 2017, when Bosa’s 1.5 sacks led the marauding Ohio State defense in a 24-7 pummeling of USC’s Sam Darnold in the last game of the star QB’s college career. I hear the Cardinals think of Bosa as a “generational player,” which just speaks to their love of Murray if they’re willing to pass on Bosa and leave him to the Niners. Edge-rusher is the element San Francisco hasn’t gotten right. To fortify the defensive front, the 49ers chose Arik Armstead 17th in 2015, DeForest Buckner seventh in 2016, and Solomon Thomas third in 2017 … and still their biggest team need is pressuring the quarterback. Four picks in the top 20 in the span of five drafts along the defensive line—if Bosa doesn’t put the defensive front over the top, this is some bad drafting.

3. New York Jets: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Imagine Josh McDaniels, Chad O’Shea and Brian Daboll—the offensive brains of the AFC East—designing protections to keep Leonard Williams and Oliver from wrecking games over the next three or four years. I realize that with new coordinator Gregg Williams staying with a 3-4 defense that this isn’t the perfect fit for Oliver, but Williams once bragged about being able to play 42 different defenses with his scheme, and he’d figure out how to make Oliver work. For a long time, I’d penciled in Josh Allen here because of the Jets’ edge-rusher need, but when you do a mock, you go by your gut. And someone I trust told me the Jets don’t love Allen. So those are the kinds of scale-tippers that change the board—and, most often, make me look like a dope Thursday night about 8:45 ET. We shall see. Oh, and the Jets would like to trade down too, if they can get a ransom. I don’t see it.

4. Oakland: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

My guess after talking to multiple teams is that Williams is at the top of more boards than any player. One of the smartest guys in our business, ESPN’s Jeff Legwold, has Williams atop his Top 100 list that dropped Saturday. Since the Raiders have a crying need at tackle—their top-rated DT was not in the top 50 of the 2018 Pro Football Focus DT rankings—Jon Gruden, who has ultimate say in Oakland, will greenlight this pick, and GM Mike Mayock gladly will take Williams here as the first pick of his NFL GM career.

5. Tampa Bay: Devin White, LB, LSU

Lots of people love White, a tackling machine who, at 237, tackles with the force of a 260-pounder. I’m taking my best guess of what GM Jason Licht would do if he was staring at White and Josh Allen here … because the Bucs need a pass-rusher too. Jason Pierre-Paul is 30, and other than possibly the precocious Carl Nassib, I don’t think there’s an eight-sack guy on the roster. But White can step in for the departed Kwon Alexander and be the sideline-to-sideline presence coordinator Todd Bowles would love. Plus, White might be the best defensive leader in this draft.

6. New York Giants: Josh Allen, edge rusher, Kentucky

A veteran personnel man who knows Dave Gettleman said the other day, “Dave wants a pass-rusher in the worst way. He won’t reach for one, but he’ll get one with one his first three picks.” Giants pick 6-17-37, and if they have their heart set on one of the young quarterbacks—Gettleman, as usual, has been a good poker-player here, because even those who know him do not know which quarterback he likes—they should be able to get him at 17. Or, perhaps, if they play their cards right, to trade back up into the low first round with that fifth pick in the second round as bait. (The Rams would love to dump out of the 31st pick.) One other thing Gettleman would figure to love in Allen: No top-prospect rusher is more experienced: He played in 51 college games.

7. Jacksonville: T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa

Daniel Jeremiah said the other day he thinks Hockenson could be the reincarnation of Jason Witten. He’s the best blocking/receiving tight end to come out in several years, and he’ll need to be good so the Jags don’t regret passing on a desperately needed long-term tackle like Jawaan Taylor. My feeling is the Tom Coughlin/Dave Caldwell decision comes down to Hockenson or Taylor, and they go with the best tight end to come out in years—to support their new quarterback, Nick Foles, who had a great tight end in Zach Ertz in Philadelphia.

8. Detroit: Jawaan Taylor, T, Florida

I will be surprised if the Lions pick Taylor here. The Lions want to trade out, and this is the area for the first offensive lineman—Taylor or Jonah Williams or, in what may be a stretch, Andre Dillard—to be picked. Could be Jacksonville, could be Buffalo, or it could be whoever picks at eight. (Man, I’m really selling Taylor to the Lions!) I just can’t figure out which team will jump up here. For a while I thought it was Atlanta, but the Falcons seem inclined to use all their picks, not trade a fairly high one to move from 14 to eight.

9. Buffalo: Jonah Williams, T-G, Alabama 

Bills love Quinnen Williams, but I can’t see the Raiders parting with him if he’s there at four. Bills could also trade up for Josh Allen, or pick T.J. Hockenson if he falls to them. But if they stay, Jonah Williams could be an upgrade to Spencer Long at right guard or possibly, eventually, Ty Nsekhe, at right tackle. Lots of differing opinions in the scouting community on Williams. I would ask Bills Nation to look up “quixotic” in the dictionary. This is a good player, a better-than-Cordy Glenn player, but Williams is not Walter Jones. Having said that, it’s a smart choice by Bills GM Brandon Beane, who is trying to build a playoff team one solid player at a time.

10. Denver: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

There’s not a perfect player on the board for Vic Fangio’s defense, but so many teams need a rangy sideline-to-sideline linebacker (Pittsburgh would love for him to drop to 20, but I don’t see it), and many think Bush would be a great compliment to edge-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Four or five teams between 10 and 20 would have serious interest in Bush if he falls past 10.

11. Cincinnati: Brian Burns, edge rusher, Florida State 

In the last week, Burns has gotten very hot … because he runs in the low 4.5s and there aren’t enough edge-rushers for this voracious market. He has some weaknesses, like his size (he’ll probably play around 248), but I think he’ll be gone by pick 20. I think his floor is Tennessee at 19.   

12. Green Bay: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

Scouts who went into Iowa City over the past few months told me the staff there raved about T.J. Hockenson and were nice but not Hockenson-like about Fant. Might be unfair, because Hockenson is so pro-ready. Over his last two seasons at Iowa, Fant average 14.7 yards per catch and had 18 receiving touchdowns. Contrast that to teammate Hockenson’s 14.8-yard average over the last two years, with nine touchdowns. Very interesting. And Fant runs better, in the 4.5-second 40- range. This is probably 10 picks too high for Fant, and it wouldn’t surprise me if GM Brian Gutekunst picks long-term offensive tackle Andre Dillard here instead. But in any case, I can’t see Fant making it out of the first round.

13. Miami: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Falcons, on deck here, cry. Wilkins slipping to 13 would be a gift for rookie Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who learned under Bill Belichick that quick 315-pound people-movers in the defensive interior are to be collected and valued. Dolphins have so many needs, and if an offensive tackle they like falls here, that could be the pick too. Regarding QB? No team in the league—from what I’ve heard—has spent more time researching Josh Rosen in recent weeks than Miami. Suppose my mock is correct, and Washington and the Giants use the draft to take young quarterbacks, and Miami and the Chargers are the only teams with even some interest in Rosen, and GM Chris Grier tells Arizona GM Steve Keim on draft night: “We’ll give you our third-round pick—78 overall—for Rosen. That’s it.” Tough call for Keim, but knowing Rosen would be an unhappy camper behind Kyler Murray, and figuring this is a good depth draft in the first three rounds … well, that’s a lot to think about right there.

14. Atlanta: Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

Four players from Clemson and ‘Bama in the first 14 picks … with more on the way. Atlanta needs size and power, and at 6-4 and 342, with a 5.05 40-yard time, Lawrence is exceedingly rare. He seems to have convinced NFL teams that he did not knowingly take a banned substance that caused a positive PED test, disqualifying him from Clemson’s two playoff games. This is another spot to watch the best-available offensive lineman fall too.  

15. Washington: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State 

Dan Snyder gets to pick the quarterback of the future from his backyard in Maryland. Haskins’ family moved to Maryland from New Jersey at the start of his high school years, and Snyder’s son and Haskins both went to high school at the Bullis School in Potomac, Md. Picking Haskins could give Snyder the local-guy-makes-good story the franchise obviously would love. I found this piece of footage from for NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky quite helpful and revealing about Haskins.

16. Carolina: Montez Sweat, edge rusher, Mississippi State 

“Don’t put him in the first round,” one smart guy told me Sunday afternoon. “So many teams are afraid of him.” Some teams are worried about a heart condition discovered in Sweat after the season, and NFL Network reported Sweat has been taken off some teams’ draft boards. One GM told me Saturday: “We think it’s an issue, but we’ve been told if we keep a close eye on it, he can play. This is the kind of thing that different teams will have different opinions on.” Another GM told me he thought Sweat’s upside, if healthy, is better than Nick Bosa’s. With the retirement of Julius Peppers, Sweat would be a perfect addition to an edge-rush-needy team—if GM Marty Hurney can get past the worry over Sweat’s ticker.

17. Houston: Andre Dillard, T, Washington State

PROJECTED TRADE: Houston sends 23rd and 55th picks to Giants for this choice.

No team in the NFL needs a radical upgrade at tackle as much as the Texans. Per Pro Football Focus,the starting Houston tackles last year, Julie’n Davenport and Kendall Lamm, allowed 101 quarterback disruptions (sacks, hits, hurries) on Deshaun Watson, which is downright abominable considering Watson’s one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league. Think how many pressures he avoided just by being Deshaun Watson. Dillard’s the top tackle on Houston’s board, from what I hear, and teams think he’s got a chance to be a good left tackle.

18. Minnesota: Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State

Speaking of PFFthe lowest-rated NFL center in the league by far last year was Minnesota’s Pat Elflein. The Vikings pick at 18, 50 and 81, and the perception on the scouting trail is that two of those three picks will be offensive linemen. They’d better be. Bradbury’s a pugnacious guy, a Jason Kelcetype, with more quickness than most centers in the league now. He could start day one. No, let me amend that. With Elflein still in-house, Bradbury had better start day one.

19. Tennessee: Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan

Here’s what funny about mock drafts. Sometimes, I hear from a smart GM who says something like: Drew Lock is way too low! Okay, I text back. Who should I give him to? Tennessee. No way, I text. You can’t draft Mariota’s successor yet. So I thought and thought and made one extra call, and some said, of all the players I had left on the board, “Rashan Gary is Mike Vrabel’s kind of player. Give them Gary.” See the science I use here?

20. Pittsburgh: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

Imagine the first cornerback off the board being a guy who played one year at Temple after transferring from the Presbyterian (S.C.) College Blue Hose, and who will have one of the great names in the history of whatever team drafts him. Word on the scouting street is that Mike Tomlin loves Ya-Sin, and with White and Bush off the board at a position of great Steeler need (linebacker), Pittsburgh opts for a physical 6-2 corner who made tremendous plays in his one season of (fairly) big-time football.

21. Oakland: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

PROJECTED TRADE: Oakland sends 24th and 106th picks to Seattle for this choice.

So, the best running back in this draft will probably be picked somewhere in the twenties, and three teams—Philly at 25, Indy at 26 and Oakland at 24 and 27—are quite interested. The Raiders would have to move only three spots ahead to make it happen, and probably wouldn’t have to denude its mid-round picks to do so. I could see Seattle at 21 or Baltimore at 22 do this kind of deal, because Schneider and rookie Ravens GM Eric DeCosta love dealing. I met with Jacobs last week, by the way. Delightful fellow. Hungry to be a great NFL player, and he’s a versatile back too. Jon Gruden could turn him into a 1,700-total-yard back as a rookie.

22. Baltimore: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson 

New England hopes Ferrell falls 10 more spots, but he won’t. The Ravens also could trade—rookie GM Eric DeCosta would love to accumulate more picks. But Ferrell is an ideal building block on a defensive front that needs a new star. I won’t be shocked if Ferrell is gone if the Ravens take a 10-year center like Erik McCoy of Texas A&M; 38 career starts at a very high level, and the Ravens value the offensive line as much as any franchise in football.

23. New York Giants: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

PROJECTED TRADE: New York gets this pick and No. 55 from Houston for No. 17 overall.

The Giants could just sit at 17 and pick Jones, or Drew Lock, too. In my scenario, the Giants get their QB for 2020 and beyond after trading down with Houston … and they pick up a late second-round pick to go after a long-term safety to pair with Jabrill Peppers, or maybe take a shot on the right tackle Gettleman knows he needs. As for Jones the player, there’s a wide disparity in opinion in the man who went 17-19 as a college starter. Very smart, but he doesn’t have the deep arm of the three other first-round candidates. In Bob McGinn’s annual deep dive into the top draft prospects, the veteran scribe quotes a NFL scout saying of Jones: “He reminds me of Ryan Tannehill. There’s just something missing with him.” Damning, but the four first-rounders seem to all have zits this year.

24. Seattle: Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State

PROJECTED TRADE: Seattle gets this pick and No. 106 from Oakland for No. 21 overall.

This is GM John Schneider’s 10th draft with Seattle, and he has traded his first-round pick seven straight years. No question he wants to again this year, and so I have him moving from 21 to 24 and getting an early day-three pick in return. At 24, he needs to pick a player who can be a tone-setter right away. Abram’s that kind of player. More about Frank Clark later, but the pressure will be on Schneider if he moves Clark to find another edge-rusher with the production of Clark. Look for the Seahawks to pick a rusher either low in the round here or with their third and fourth-round loot.

25. Philadelphia: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

Some love him. Some think he’s too wispy at 166, and they’re worried that he enters the NFL nursing a foot injury, and he might be prone to injury in the big-boy league. But he is one big threat. Instinctive and fearless too. Could be that DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles one last season, and then Brown steps in as the deep threat Carson Wentz can grow with into middle-age. Two cautions: GM Howie Roseman struck out on the free-agent he wanted, running back Tevin Coleman, and he could steal his RB1, Josh Jacobs, from the Raiders and Colts in trade. And Roseman is not fearful of drafting a guy (Sidney Jones, round two, 2017) who has to sit most or all of his rookie year with an injury. So I’d watch Jeffery Simmons here too.

26. Indianapolis: Greedy Williams, CB, LSU 

He’s 6-2 and runs a 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash. What’s not to like? Tackling, perhaps. But the Colts need two things badly: an edge-rusher and a shutdown cornerback. Williams is better at corner than the remaining edge guys are at sacking the quarterback. However, keep one thing in mind with Colts GM Chris Ballard: He’s not going to change his board to fit his needs. If there’s a significantly higher-rated player here, Ballard will take him.

27. Oakland: Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia

Touchdowns allowed in coverage over his last two college seasons: zero. He might drive defensive coordinator Paul Guenther crazy with his practice habits, but his game production, at least in college, made up for that. If the Raiders can come out of this first round with the best defensive tackle in the draft, the best running back in the draft, and a corner who should push for playing time immediately, it’s going to be a successful first draft for the rookie GM Mayock.

28. Los Angeles Chargers: Cody Ford, T, Oklahoma

Could be a strange change for Ford. He protected for the fleet Kyler Murray at Oklahoma last year, and, if this happens, he’d be protecting for the statue-esque Philip Rivers in L.A. The Chargers have to start planning for the future up front; Russell Okung enters his 10th season and turns 31 this year. Ford’s a good building block for GM Tom Telesco.

29. Seattle: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington

PROJECTED TRADE: Seattle sends DE Frank Clark to Kansas City for this pick and the 63rd choice.

The run on corners continues. Murphy’s an interesting prospect. Very savvy, but he played just 20 college games, and his speed is in the barely acceptable range (4.55) for corners. The Seahawks continue the quest in this draft for Legion of Boom II. (More on Clark after the 32nd pick.)

30. Green Bay: D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi

This would be very anti-Packer. Last wideout taken in the first round: 17 years ago, Javon Walker. They haven’t taken a receiver in the top 50 in 11 years (Jordy Nelson, 2008, 36th overall). I could see Andre Dillard here too, but Brian Gutekunst is trying to stock up for one last multi-year run with Aaron Rodgers, giving him the kind of weapons that will allow him to be Aaron Rodgers again. I might go Marquise Brown here if I were Green Bay, but I realize a 166-pound burner may not have the shelf life of a Sterling Sharpe-big-bodied player like Metcalf.

31. Denver: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

PROJECTED TRADE: Denver sends the 41st pick and a 2020 second-rounder to the Los Angeles Rams for this choice.

Feel bad about predicting this. Sometimes in mock drafts, you want to get a player in the first round because you think he’s going to be a first-round pick, and you wedge him in and make the logic fit after that. I do not think the Rams want to pick at 31, and feel they can use a trade-down to get a two or three back after dealing fourth and second-round picks to Kansas City in 2018 for cornerback Marcus Peters. Denver likes Lock, and might be able to snag him as a two-year learner behind Joe Flacco while retaining the ability to use the 71st pick this year on a potential starter at a need position, like Texas A&M tight end Jace Sternberger. A move like this wouldn’t surprise me, but I also think the way Denver GM John Elway’s talking, he could punt on a young quarterback until the richer QB draft of 2020.

32. New England: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State

I don’t think this is the likely Patriots pick, but I don’t know who is, and I wanted to get this great player in the first round. The second-best best DT in the draft (behind Quinnen Williams) till tearing his ACL earlier this year won’t be available to play until 2020, and he’s also got some personal rehab to do after a past physical altercation with a woman. Simmons could have the kind of impact Jaylon Smithhad for the Cowboys after a serious knee injury in his last college game—and the team that picks him will have to wait only one year for Simmons, not the two seasons Dallas afforded Smith to get physically right. Smith was the 34th pick overall in 2016. We’ll see if a team near the bottom of round one or top of round two takes a shot on Simmons.


In the end, I struggled mightily with the Frank Clark trade from Seattle to Kansas City. I had the trade in my first draft of the mock on Friday, then took it out for 48 hours, and just put it back in Sunday night. The waffling came before I sent Clark to the Chiefs because of the Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hillincidents. And I will not be surprised at all if the Chiefs don’t do it. But I’m taking the gamble, because the Kansas City need for edge-rush is so pronounced. Hunt was cut by the Chiefs last year after video surfaced of him kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel last offseason. The league and local authorities are now investigating whether Hill may have been involved in a child abuse case with his three-year-old son. Clark was cited in police reports in 2014 for a domestic abuse case against his then-girlfriend. It could be the Chiefs (or Colts or Jets) have done a lot of due diligence and believe such accusations are in Clark’s past. But it was tough for me to predict that and it came down to a gut feeling Sunday night.

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Five pivotal moments that brought change to reviewing pass interference calls – and what’s next

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One of my first league meetings was in 1989, when Pete Rozelle, worn down by two late-tenure player strikes and endless litigation with Al Davis, unexpectedly resigned as commissioner in Palm Desert, Calif. In the 30 years since, the annual spring meetings, a time of reviewing the good and bad from the previous year and setting the table for the future, have most often featured internecine strife over labor or TV or expansion or replay or player health and safety … something. Often, two or three somethings.

Nine years ago, during the coaches’ annual golf outing at the league meetings, owners passed a rule mandating both teams touch the ball in postseason overtime games, unless the first team with possession scores a touchdown. The coaches were dead-set against it, figuring it added another layer of decision-making that they didn’t want. (Though it has hardly turned out that way; the coin-flip winner almost always takes the ball to start OT.) I remember coaches returning from golf had this attitude of, The owners did WHAT?!

Over the years, that kind of it’s-our-game attitude by owners has been common. But this year, from the start, it was different. This was a kumbaya year. Eight days ago, arriving for the meetings, Giants co-owner and Competition Committee member John Mara told me there wasn’t nearly enough support to replay-review interference not called on the field. I thought there was no chance of the league approving what had been the owners’ great white whale—allowing replay on a subset of plays that didn’t get flagged by officials on the field. Then five things happened, in chronological order:

1. Goodell told the owners stridently Monday that though replaying pass-interference calls and non-calls wasn’t perfect, it was important to fix a problem laid out for all the world to see in the climactic moments of the NFC title game. They needed to pass a rule allowing replay to address interference. Though Goodell’s reputation in the public eye has been badly tarnished in recent years, he still gets high grades as a diplomat among the 32 owners. “Roger felt strongly in favor of being able to put a flag on the field, in response to the NFC Championship Game,” said a club official close to the process. “He was definitely a vital person to all this.”

2. The coaches met as a group Monday and stressed how much they wanted interference addressed in the replay process. One coach in the meeting said: “Technology is too advanced to leave replay alone. All of America sees a huge mistake that we can do nothing about.”

What the coaches really wanted was an eighth official in the upstairs officiating booth, the so-called Sky Judge, but the league was steadfast against that because of the presence already of a replay official at each game, and of league officiating czar Al Riveron conversing with the on-field ref during replay reviews. The Sky Judge would be superfluous, the league believed—plus there’d be a challenge to get 17 Sky Judges ruling with the same standard from crew to crew. Interesting side note: Monday began with a full-league meeting during which international play and players, new marketing plans and gambling preparedness plans were discussed. And so when the coaches’ meeting stretched from its scheduled one-hour length to an hour-and-a-half, then close to two hours, a couple of coaches wanted to hurry things up. Not New England’s Bill Belichick, who had a few pointed words about the time they’d spent on the non-football stuff that morning and told his peers, essentially, We’re not hurrying out of this meeting. This stuff’s too important.The coaches left after two-plus hours, giving their two Competition Committee members, Payton and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, their proxy to push hard for some form of replay on pass-interference.

3. “Let’s hear from everyone who has something to say,” Competition Committee chair Rich McKay said to open a full league meeting Tuesday morning. Dallas coach Jason Garrett, a member of the coaches subcommittee of the Competition Committee (and a Princeton grad), had something to get off his chest. He spoke for about four minutes, and when he was finished, the room gave him a loud ovation. One top club official told me that in more than a decade at these meetings, he’d never heard such a reception for a speech. I found Garrett late Tuesday and asked him what he’d said.

“I talked about the credibility of the game and the focus of the game,” Garrett said. “And what resonated with me after the two Championship Games was this: The four teams playing at the end of January, the best teams in our game, play overtime games. Fantastic football games. And what is America talking about? Officiating.

“The two best teams in the NFC play this unbelievable game. Great coaches, great players. A Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees, and so no one is even talking about the game and all of those elements after the game. They’re talking about one thing: the call that was missed. And so for me, the idea of somehow finding a way within the structure that already exists to be able to rectify that play, that egregious mistake, is paramount. If we all put our heads together, we can solve this situation. As we go forward, we can clean this up so that this isn’t the focal point of everybody at the end of this unbelievable game. It goes to the credibility of the game and the integrity of the game.”

“A pivotal moment,” said this top club official. “I think when people heard it in such a convincing and simplistic way, even those who were really opposed to reviewing plays that hadn’t been flagged started to think we needed to do something about it.”

This club official, by the way, had been opposed to being able to review non-called interference plays. His team—his owner, actually—now was on the fence.

4. The Competition Committee met again at midday Tuesday and settled on the fourth proposal they’d considered on pass interference. The committee was now split, 4-4, on support of “putting a flag on the field,” as everyone called it—allowing coaches to replay-challenge pass-interference both called and not called. Still opposed on the Competition Committee: Dallas’ Stephen Jones, Green Bay’s Mark Murphy, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and Denver’s John Elway. The last tweak, rules proposal 6C, had the key element: making pass-interference reviews allowable either after flags or with no flags, with the proviso that in the last two minutes of the first half and the game that the calls be subject to booth review only.

The important element here: Hail Mary plays. Some teams felt if coaches could challenge a Hail Mary on the last play of the first half or game, it would lead to every one being challenged, and coaches pushing for interference to be called the same on Hail Mary plays (when everything but a tackle or egregious shove is overlooked). That was the key change. Murphy and Elway switched to being in favor of 6C. And soon, after more discussion, Jones and Tomlin changed, and now the Competition Committee was 8-0 in favor of 6C … allowing all pass-interference plays, called or not called, to be eligible for review, with all reviews in the last two minutes of a half called only from the replay official upstairs.

5. The vote was anticlimactic. Cincinnati was the only team opposed, with 83-year-old owner Mike Brown, who thinks replay is far too intrusive on the sport, casting the no vote. The meeting to approve the new standard lasted only about 25 minutes.

Fair question to Payton from Sal Paolantonio in a gaggle of reporters afterward: “Think the coaches staged a coup?”

“Not at all,” Payton said. “Anything but. I think that today, this set of owners meetings, forget the specific rule, there were just a lot of great, healthy discussions about our game. Someone asked about our fans specifically in New Orleans. I said, ‘Look, when you’re on this committee, there’s a little bit of a responsibility for the game and football fans in general.’ That’s what this meeting was about.”

Later, to me, Payton said: “Bill Belichick said it best when he talked to the media—it’s an honor to be part of the process. This was not a Saints rule or a Rams rule. It’s an NFL rule. Maybe that play in the championship game was the Titanic, and it led to this moment. But what happened this week was about making the game better. I truly believe we did.”

When Payton left the Flagstaff Ballroom, he picked up all his papers—the rules proposals and his notes—and he organized them neatly, and took them home to New Orleans. For him, those papers are souvenirs from a week he’ll want to remember.

Tougher Gig For Al Riveron

Now what?

The man who preceded VP of Officiating Al Riveron, Dean Blandino, thinks about the details now. Riveron, I’m sure, is thinking of them too. I requested some time with Riveron on Thursday, and the league declined, preferring to get its new plan together before putting the man in charge of it out front.

“The important thing,” Blandino said, “is establishing a standard. There is already so much pressure in that job [VP of Officiating] anyway. I doubt you’ll see a lot of calls overturned. My feeling is there is so much contact downfield the standard will have to be high to overturn the call, or to give a pass-interference penalty when one wasn’t called on the field.”

That is my biggest question: We know the bar will be very high, as it always has been, for an interference call on a Hail Mary play. There will have to be a clear tackle, or a two-hand shove, for an interference call in the end zone, according to two members of the Competition Committee I spoke to. Good. Hail Marys should require a mugging for a flag.

But what of borderline pass-interference calls or non-calls? In regular replay, to overturn a call requires incontrovertible evidence that the call on the field (or, in the case of some interference calls, the non-call on the field) was wrong. What would be the standard for interference? The same?

As former ref Terry McAulay, now an NBC rules analyst, said Saturday: “What about the Brandin Cooksplay?”

Very interesting. With 4:28 left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 53, New England led the Rams 10-3. Jared Goff threw deep down the right sideline for Cooks, who had a step on cornerback Stephon Gilmore, with safety Duron Harmon sprinting over from center field. As the ball fell to earth around the New England five-yard line, Gilmore reached toward Cooks and grabbed his left forearm. As Cooks reached for the ball, Gilmore had his hand on the arm for maybe half a second. As the ball got to Cooks, the Ram receiver appeared to get both hands on it, but he could not make the catch.

In real time, it was hard to notice any sort of early grab or touch by Gilmore. And Cooks did manage to get his left hand in position to help try to make the catch, though the left arm was clearly slightly restricted. The ball fell incomplete.

On the next snap, Goff threw an interception. For the Rams, that was the game.

Via NFL GamePass, I was able to see the replay of the Super Bowl 53 game telecast Saturday. I watched the Gilmore tug/grab/arm-restriction between 20 and 25 times. On the replay, CBS’ Tony Romo said, “Gilmore grabs his arm just a little bit.”

Jim Nantz said: “Gotta make that catch.”

Romo: “ … Gilmore’s got a little bit of his arm right there.”

From the time Cooks stands up after the contact to the time the next play is snapped, 37 seconds pass. That would be enough time, clearly, for Rams coach Sean McVay to be told in his ear by an upstairs replay analyst to throw the flag—or at least to tell him there might be something there.

That is the kind of play that could torment Riveron and his New York officiating staff next fall. It’s close, the kind of play that, if called, you could understand and support. There’s a restriction, though not a killer restriction. Are these close calls the kinds of game-turning plays you’d want to have reversed?

But the Competition Committee reviewed the Cooks play in the runup to the meeting, and viewed it as a foul that should have been called. So when the league proceeds to define interference in review, it’s likely with that letter-of-the-law direction from the committee in mind. This is something that needs to be studied and resolved by Riveron and the NFL office. In 2017, Riveron got ripped for a series of ticky-tack replay calls. He was better in 2018. But it could be a rocky road in 2019, with interference calls and non-calls added to Riveron’s already crowded plate.

I would understand a reversal there, but I don’t think I would have overturned it.

“I absolutely feel the same way,” McAulay said.

“In my opinion,” Blandino said, “that is a good example of the on-field standard being different than the replay standard. In real time it’s so close the only way to consistently officiate it is to not call the foul, which is what they did. With the ability to slow it down on video you can see the contact is early. This to me is the biggest issue with making these plays reviewable.”

No—the biggest issue is how tortuous and controversial pass interference is as a foul. That’s why I think the standard for overturning a call or non-call on the field has be a high standard. The evidence has to be overwhelming. “To think the two of us can watch the same play and agree on pass interference all the time, that’ll never happen,” Raider coach Jon Gruden said at the meetings. “For us to think we can look at a replay in super, super, super-slo-mo and determine whether it is or it isn’t is unrealistic. I tried to do it in [the ESPN Monday night] booth for nine years.”

I’ve always said that from Labor Day till early February, the most important job in the league belongs to the commissioner. Number two: the vice president of officiating. For Riveron, that job gets a lot tougher in 2019.

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