It’s almost time to shut it down for a few weeks. Vacation is upon us.
I’m going to take the next few weeks off, in hopes of returning from the beach to find a landscape in which the NFL – and other pro sports, for that matter – are on the cusp of relaunching in some fashion. Things have slowed to a crawl in terms of actual NFL news, and it’s use it or lose it time, so I’m going to log off for a while with the idea that perhaps I can travel to a training camp or two on the immediate other side of this break.
Late July may be a period in the history of professional sports in this country unlike any other. With some luck – okay, probably a massive amount of luck – we will see NFL training camps opening up at their normal time, just as MLB completes the first week of its season and the NBA and NHL seasons restart in a tournament style and golf is getting into its biggest events and MLS is playing and we are getting closer to crowning a Champions League winner. Imagine that.
But I couldn’t depart for the beach without making a few fearless predictions about what I expect to see when I get back to work and writing regularly in mid-July. So here it goes:
Dak Prescott remains on the franchise tag
Going year-to-year, at his position, and his price-point is hardly a problem. In fact, it allows him to keep a stranglehold on leverage and allows him a $32M bridge to 2021, when the economics of the NFL could be drastically altered for the better. Why lock in on the biggest professional decision of his life amid a pandemic, with so much uncertainty, and owners in a risk-averse mode and looking to save pennies? He knows he will be in with Jerry Jones for another $38M in 2021, and then could call his shots as a free agent in2022 and land a fully guaranteed three-year deal that blows away the $86M Kirk Cousins got be going the double-franchise-tag route. Why give away prime years of your service time now with future caps murky and teams fretting about no fans and completing a season? Forget about giving Dallas the fifth year; I wouldn’t give up the fourth year. Of course there is a risk of severe injury – but how often have we seen that with QBs? Dak had the fortitude to walk away from roughly $30M a year before the start of the 2019 season, and he crushed it. He has the power now. That tag is a rarely a weapon for a player, but it is for him. He should use it as such.
Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned
It’s great to hear all of these coaches and GMs and owners speaking in hypotheticals about the QB who has been systematically erased from NFL free agency for like three years now being an option for them. It’s progress, I suppose. But talk is cheap and through all of my reporting I have yet to hear of one team reaching out to schedule a workout or take any action whatsoever towards actually giving this guy a shot. And I continue to maintain that while it’s not impossible he returns, it may be improbable. And if it does occur, it will be because of injury to a starting QB. And that’s highly unlikely to occur in the next three weeks with no football being played except for, seemingly, in Tampa, where Tom Brady is in midseason form. If Kaepernick gets a shot it will be in-season (or in-camp), I believe. But I don’t hear anything that makes me think anything is close to imminent, as much as it now seems OK for NFL decision-makers to ruminate on the topic in public.
The NFL preseason will be cut in half, or scrapped
There is little appetite for these exhibitions in the best of times. They were already on the chopping block before. If you think the only game that gets sacrificed is the Hall of Fame game, I have some Brock Osweiler rookie cards I want to sell you for $500 each. My conversations with executives from NFL teams this week left me with the distinct impression that these games will prove to be more trouble than they’re worth. “What is the risk-reward on playing these games?” as one top AFC exec put it. “The core guys barely play at all, the risk of traveling with that many people to play a game no one wants to see just doesn’t make sense. What’s the point? Why risk it?” I suspect common sense prevails on this matter. Getting through this season of 20 weeks will be difficult enough; tacking on four weeks of travel for games that don’t count is an unnecessary exercise.
Rosters will already be cut from 90 to at least 70
I got the distinct impression from chatting with Troy Vincent, the league’s VP of football ops, that carrying 90 bodies into camp might not make the most sense. “It’s a numbers game,” as he put it to me, and these teams only have so much real estate to work with at their facilities. Coaches don’t love this idea … but John Harbaugh and Sean McVay have also indicated how “impossible” it may be to meet the protocols as is. Something has to give here, and it will take massive efforts to get some of these buildings to comply with spacing and testing restrictions even with 53-man rosters. “We’re already bracing for it,” one NFC personnel man told me. “I get it. Most teams could get down to 70 or 75 pretty quickly, and without four preseason games you don’t need those numbers anyway.” One AFC exec said: “It actually would be a good thing for the rookies. Think about it – are you going to cut your sixth- or seventh-round pick without getting a chance to look at him?”
The NFL will be procuring a site for an in-season practice hub for free agents
The XFL has a smart model where potential free agents worked out at one facility with oversight and training from coaches to be prepared as injury replacements. Executives I spoke to believe there is a lot of merit to the NFL adopting this, given the pandemic. Rather than fly in five guys from all over the country on a Tuesday, as normal, if you already have a stable of players under a practice-squad type contract, all staying in shape and being quarantined more or less in one spot, then teams could have what amounts to an in-season combine. The physicals would be done, the testing would be conducted regularly and many of the hundreds of players who would get released in a pre-camp roster purge would have a place to go. All of the metrics – 40-yard dash time, etc – would be available to teams in realtime and you could do Zoom tryouts from that location so that teams only bring one layer in to sign at a time, rather than doing all of these workouts at the facility. Look at the baseball model to minimize how many people are at the ballpark and for how long each day. Expect NFL meetings to largely be Zoomed and I could also see certain practice days at the facility being offense only or defense only. Why have extra bodies around, most of whom aren’t going to be signed anyway? It would requite some investment from the owners, but would have unanimous support from football people.
Jamal Adams is still a Jet
Trying to talk your way off a roster, into a trade to secure a record contract on the other side is a difficult-at-best proposition for a safety under ideal circumstances. Attempting to orchestrate such a maneuver amid a pandemic with the NFL unsure of how this season will unfold, with projections for a flat cap at best and maybe $5B in lost revenue, is, frankly, preposterous. The GM doesn’t want to trade him, no one is going to give away multiple first-round picks for him and then pay him, oh $16M a year. Squeeze every penny you can get from New York and lock in. When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way from your first contract fight to your last big payday. Best bet of getting coin, with so much term left on your deal, plus a potential 2022 franchise tag, in a CBA that makes holding out futile, is to get what you can in this pandemic or try to renew this process in 2021 when there is, hopefully, a vaccine. But whining your way out of town in these times ain’t gonna work.