The winter of quarterback discontent is far from over. Get used to it. It will bleed well into spring and, perhaps in some cases, summer as well.
If you have not begun to fully contemplate the Texans without Deshaun Watson or the Seahawks without Russell Wilson or the Packers without Aaron Rodgers, well, you’d best get started. At least one of them won’t be back in the same place in 2021, and all could be gone by 2022. They have leverage. They have a voice. They are quite discerning. They see it all and hear it all. And they have a way of making others know it, directly or indirectly or via a combination of both.
You can trace it back to Carson Palmer forcing his way out of Cincy if you like, getting owner Mike Brown – as stubborn and immovable as anyone in pro sports, who has been categorically opposed to trades on the hole and not one to be bossed around by anyone – to cave to his wishes. Or maybe you’ve been around long enough to recall Eli Manning letting it be known – mostly passive-aggressively – that he wouldn’t be playing for the Chargers, so, well, don’t bother drafting me and if you do, you’d better trade me ASAP. Heck, I’m old enough to remember John Elway holding the Baltimore Colts ransom, withholding services, dabbling with low-level minor league baseball and crowbarring his way out of town.
Don’t label this some newfangled development. It isn’t.
This isn’t about social media or controlling one’s message or some byproduct of our culture. Sure, all of those things can bolster and expedite the power play … but they aren’t the cause. Yes, seeing players in the NBA take these tactics to an art-form may raise the stakes and capture the attention of other pro athletes and make them more aware of harnessing their career and dictating transaction outcomes. But that’s not why it’s happening.
Because it’s happened many times before, in this very sport, at the quarterback position. The difference, as best I can tell, is that more quarterbacks are seizing the moment and making the case for their departure or setting it up under their terms all at once, or within a few weeks of one another. There is certainly more volume than I can ever remember before, and more varied means for getting the message across (whether through traditional media, podcasts, blogs, social media), but a new phenomenon this is not.
It’s not any different than what Elway or Eli or Carson pulled. Only the methods have changed, somewhat.
If a franchise quarterback feels as if he is being let down by his franchise, he has a right to make it be known in however he sees fit. Doesn’t have to please everyone. You don’t have to agree with his message. But in a sport with so much injury risk, in which one’s career mortality is always lurking around the corner, and with the ability to reach fans and media and other teams instantly through their social media, this trend isn’t changing anytime soon. These guys saw Peyton Manning call his shot in Denver late in his career and win a ring and Tom Brady do the same thing, immediately, in Tampa.
If they don’t think a front office or coaching staff is living up to its end of the bargain – contract or not – you can expect to hear about it. None of these situations are going away anytime soon, and even one like Rodgers in Green Bay, which went from a boil to a simmer, can get cranked right back up again with a few fingertips on a tweet, or a quick IG story, or a brief appearance on a buddy’s radio show. It’s so easy.
Players, and elite quarterbacks in particular, have significant power and pull. They’ve been throwing that weight around for a long time. Now it’s just happening more often.
Minority hirings still lagging
The NFL Football Operations department has continued its discussion about the disturbing trends in hiring minority coaches in recent meetings with the Walsh/Wooten Committee and the Fritz Pollard Task Force, including a detailed study that pointed to some of the issues and factors at play in these hires historically and in the short term.
Football operations put together a 60-page document outlining some of its statistical findings, which further illuminate the problems. There were a few positive developments: among all hires (coach, GM, assistant coach), 34.6% were minorities, nearly double from 2020, two minority GMs were hired with no previous ties to that team and the minority interview rate for offensive coordinator jobs went from 3.7% in 2020 to 33.9% this year.
However, some other trends also caught my eye. According to the league, for all head coaches hired from 2002-20, minority coaches interviewed an average of six times before getting hired, while white coaches interviewed on average 3.7 times. From 2015-20, those numbers spiked to 6.8 and 4.1 times. From 2015-20, the five black coaches to get a head coaching job each interviewed five times or more before getting hired (Todd Bowles led the list with 12), while in that same timeframe five white coaches — Doug Pederson (1), Kliff Kingsbury (1), Joe Judge (1), Ben McAdoo (2) and Matt LaFleur (2) — were hired with just two total interviews or fewer. And this does not include someone such as Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who has interviewed at least 10 times without having yet been hired.
Nepotism remains an issue as well. At least one in seven coaches in a supervisory role is related to a current or former NFL head coach, the study found; of the 73 coaches that are related to a current or former head coach, 55 of them are white. It also found that of the 19 minority head coaches since 2002, only two (Mike Tomlin and Art Shell) did not have at least one minority coordinator on staff, pointing to the need for more diversity in head coaching ranks as a means to further build and cultivate the pipeline of future head coaches.
More insider notes
- The wave of cap casualties and cuts has only just begun. The real purge is coming next month. Of the players let go thus far, former Raiders and Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams definitely intrigues me. Great size at 6-4, love his yards per catch and while injuries have to be a concern, he’d seem a prime candidate for a one-year prove-it deal at far less than the $11M a year he made in two years with Oakland/Vegas. …
- Hard to recall a quicker flameout for a first round pick – while doing literally nothing on the field and being nothing but a problem off of it – than this forthcoming Titans divorce with Isaiah Wilson. I doubt they get much of anything of value for him. That’s not to say he’d definitely clear waivers, although if he did and he was a free agent off that rookie contract, no shortage of teams would pounce to try to sign him at their price. …
- The more I look at the Bengals and all of their holes and all of their pending free agents, the more I believe they may be the team with the most on the line in the entire NFL this offseason. The window to win with Joe Burrow making peanuts is slim. It’s hard to see them being among the NFL’s heaviest spenders in a few years when Burrow could be making $40M per year and the cap surges post-pandemic (allowing wealthier owners to go crazy if they like) and they need a transformation of the offensive and defensive lines, for starters. In a year when many teams will sit out the first wave of free agency, it will be fascinating to see if the Bengals dive in. All those years of refusing to trade aging talent might haunt them longer than they could have expected.