Another PFT Sunday mailbag


With the draft only four days away, the NFL machine is gathering itself for what will be a frenetic week. Which means there isn’t a whole lot happening right now. Which makes it a perfect time to answer 10 of your questions, as submitted via the PFT Twitter account.

So grab some lunch, settle in, and try not to get any Kenny Rogers Roasters grease on the keyboard.

From @PFTPMPosse: “Could you see the NFL ever going to a PPV style model for broadcasting games?”

It’s highly unlikely that NFL games would ever be exclusively available via a pay-only model. Even as streaming grows, millions of fans rely on non-Internet options for watching TV, whether through over-the-air signals in metropolitan areas or satellite dishes in rural locations. Unless and until streaming can gather audiences like those that flock to three-letter networks for NFL content (currently, NBC, CBS, and FOX), the league will continue to make multiple games per week available at no charge to consumers.

The business reason is simple. Every game televised on free TV becomes an infomercial for the sport, for which the NFL gets paid huge money by the network televising it. The smaller the audience, the less potent the message. The challenge becomes striking the right balance between the money paid for the rights and the reach of the broadcast.

A very important political reason exists for maintaining free TV access to NFL games. In the 1960s, Congress gave the NFL a broadcast antitrust exemption, allowing a collection of distinct businesses to come together and sell its TV rights collectively. If/when the NFL sells those rights in a way that freezes out the average consumer, Congress may strip the league of its antitrust exemption, forcing a new reality in which the Cowboys sell their rights for billions and the teams no one really wants to watch scramble for whatever they can get on The Ocho, or wherever.

That said, look for the NFL to try to expand its streaming footprint aggressively. Although DirecTV likely will keep the satellite right to NFL Sunday Ticket, momentum has been building for the league to sell digital rights to Amazon or YouTube or ESPN+ or any other entity that would pay huge money for the rights to put out-of-market games on phones, computers, laptops, etc. Indeed, don’t be shocked if the NFL eventually decides to create a direct-to-consumer option for this, something the league already does with live preseason games and with regular-season and playoff games that already have been played.

From @aredzonauk: “Will the NFL or ESPN work-in some booing to make [Roger] Goodell feel at home?”

The TV presentation of the draft reportedly will include a montage of 15 fans per pick, who supposedly will interact with the Commissioner and/or react to the selections. That’s likely too small of a crowd to give the fans the kind of anonymity that would be conducive to booing him.

The league sees it every year at the draft. Tens of thousands will boo lustily when the Commissioner walks to the podium. And then any, some, or all of the specific persons from the group that boos will, if given the chance to get close to him, clamor for handshakes and hugs and smiles and selfies with Roger Goodell.

All that said, don’t completely rule out the possibility of a sufficiently #selfaware Goodell arranging for his wife and daughters to boo him in jest when the process starts. If executed the right way (and it wouldn’t be easy to do it), Goodell could score major points with NFL fans everywhere if he finds a way to poke fun at the fact that, if the draft were happening in Las Vegas, the thousands assembled on the Strip wouldn’t be chanting “Wayne NEWWWWW-ton.”

From @95KeepPounding: “Do you think [G.M.] Marty Hurney will finally be out of Carolina after the draft or will Dave Tepper make the ultimate mistake and extend the contract of a guy who is 102-122 in his 14 years as a GM?”

During the final episode of last year’s All or Nothing, Panthers owner David Tepper said something that made me think that both coach Ron Rivera and Hurney were on very thin ice.

“This league is set to be an 8-8 league,” Tepper said. “Everything is fair in this league. So if you have better coaches, better GM’s, some advantages with facilities, advantages with the training, management process, whatever those, whatever it is, you know, analytics, whatever that is to give you an edge, that’s what you need. And you need a good quarterback.”

Tepper already has replaced Rivera, a two-time coach of the year, with Matt Rhule. Hurney has to date remained in place, but it’s entirely possible that Tepper intends to wait until after the draft (as plenty of teams now do) to make a change. It’s the kind of thing that gets loudly denied until it happens — and then it happens and instead of obsessing over the fact that the team sent false messages and/or flat-out lied, the media focuses more on what’s next.

But the Panthers surely wouldn’t do something like this. Not the team that spent so much time at the Scouting Combine selling the notion that they plan to keep Cam Newton for multiple oh wait.

From @LockerRoomTalka: “Do you think [Bill] Belichick will pass [Don] Shula in all time wins before he retires?”

Yes. And I was really tempted to just stop there.

Shula has 328 wins. Belichick has 273. Which means that Belichick has 55 wins to go.

Belichick turned 68 on Thursday. Although Belichick has said in the past that he doesn’t want to coach into his 70s, that’s a much tougher commitment to make when parked only 727 days away from them.

Owner Robert Kraft has previously told PFT Live that he’d like to see Belichick coach into his 80s, comparing Belichick (and Kraft himself) to people like Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffett, who continue to work at a high level a generation or more beyond what used to be the accepted retirement age.

For Belichick, the question becomes how long he’ll coach into his eighth decade — and how many games he’ll be able to win per year without Tom Brady at quarterback. If Belichick can remain in the range of 10-12 wins per year, he’ll need five seasons to pass Shula. If the Patriots fall into the 8-8-on-average category (with scattered seasons of 6-10 and 7-9 and 8-8- and 9-7 and 10-6), he’ll need seven years.

Health permitting, Belichick surely will keep going. The real question is whether and when he’ll begin to struggle to remain on his feet and moving around a sideline for three or more hours. That’s precisely why George Halas, currently second on the all-time victory list with 318, retired from coaching at the age of 73.

All things considered, Belichick probably has at least five years left. And five years could be all he needs to catch and pass Shula.

From @MaximusOvrdrv: “Should the NFL start broadcasting games throughout the week (say a game on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, etc.) if high schools and colleges do not resume their football programs? In your opinion, would that be a better way for not only the NFL, but for the fans as well?”

The broadcast antitrust exemption (that’s two mentions of it in one mailbag) prevents the NFL from televising games on Fridays or Saturdays from Labor Day weekend through early December. So the first challenge would be securing a one-time dispensation from Congress. That presumably would be easy to accomplish, if high school and college football aren’t playing in 2020. Then again, college football could choose make a stink about it; the powers-that-be may wantr FOX and ESPN to broadcast past games during the traditional college football viewing windows throughout the day on Saturday, with no competition from pro football.

Assuming that the NFL can televise games on Fridays and Saturdays without losing their antitrust exemption, would the NFL choose to do it? With no other football available in 2020, why not?

Scheduling could be an issue, but the removal of fans from the equation (which likely will be the case if high-school and college football aren’t played at all) would make it easier to move games from the Sunday-afternoon cluster to Friday night or throughout the day on Saturday. Also, if the NFL season ends up being played with, for example, all teams sequestered in Florida hotels (where pro sports are deemed to be an “essential” business), the travel burdens will be minimal for teams that play on, for example, a Friday after a Sunday or a Saturday after a Monday night.

With the ticket revenue likely gone, adding up to four weekly broadcast windows (one on Friday night and three on Saturday) would help make back plenty of money for the league. If, of course, the league can get the networks to pay for it.

If not, well, maybe those extra games become streaming-only, with fans paying for the ability to watch. Surely, if there’s no high-school or college football this year, hundreds of thousands if not millions will fork over whatever the charge will be to watch football on Friday nights and all day Saturday.

From @leepers500: “What is the message to the market of [Christian] McCaffrey’s deal? You have to produce yards through the air AND on the ground (I believe he’s quite high on the receiving yards list each year as well as rushing)? Or is it: if you are the lone superstar on rebuilding franchise, you get paid?”

The message is simple: Every running back will be valued and evaluated individually.

Some will be regarded as interchangeable pieces, chewed up and spit out and replaced with another rookie after three or four or maybe five years. Others will secure big-money paydays from teams that believe/hope they’ll keep tread on the tires deep into their 20s — and that for business reasons realize that the player sells plenty of tickets, jerseys, etc.

Production and versatility become a huge part of the assessment, and McCaffrey checks both boxes. He also has become the new face of the Carolina franchise, given the release of Cam Newton and the retirement of Luke Kuechly. In an alternate reality where both are still on the team, would the Panthers have moved so aggressively to get McCaffrey under his second contract? Maybe not.

So the reality is that the market for running backs will remain muddled and largely depressed, given the ability in any/every given year to find incoming prospects who will move the chains and score points if: (1) they get competent blocking; (2) they learn how to hold onto the ball when facing NFL-caliber defensive players who are skilled at ripping it out; and (3) they can be trusted to pick up blitzing defenders.

Not many will break from that formula. And if McCaffrey’s performance significantly dips over the next year or two, it may be even harder for the next McCaffrey to get paid as early in his career as McCaffrey did, after only three seasons.

From @LawrenceTheHump: “If the giants had selected Sam Darnold or Baker [Mayfield] rather than Saqoun [Barkley], would they be more competitive and competing for a playoff spot this year?”

At the risk of being “that guy” (while still being “that guy”), the Giants couldn’t have drafted Mayfield in 2018 without trading up from No. 2 to No. 1. But the point is a good one.

The Giants, instead of taking a running back, could have had Darnold or Josh Allen or even 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. More importantly, they could have had pass-rusher Bradley Chubb or already-All-World guard Quenton Nelson.

When the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007 and 2011, they had great defensive and offensive lines. And great offensive and defensive linemen have much more staying power than great running backs. For instance, the team that stopped the Patriots from going 19-0 was led defensively by Michael Strahan, who had been drafted in 1993.

So the real question is whether the 2018 Giants should have waited to get a running back later (like maybe Nick Chubb at the top of round two) and pounced on Bradley Chubb or Nelson at with the second pick in round one, and whether either guy (coupled with Nick Chubb) would place the Giants in better position to secure a playoff berth now than Barkley (coupled with guard Will Hernandez, taken one spot before Nick Chubb) does.

But the better question isn’t whether that approach would enhance the Giants’ chances now, but whether having Bradley Chubb or Nelson would help put in place a foundation that could extend well beyond the prime years of Saquon Barkley‘s career?

In answering that question, consider the list of running backs who were drafted by the Giants after Michael Strahan arrived and who left the team before Strahan retired: Ron Dayne (first round, 2000); Joe Montgomery (second round, 1999); Sean Bennett (fourth round, 1999); Tiki Barber (second round, 1997); Tyrone Wheatley (first round, 1995); and Gary Downs (third round, 1994).

From @CPruenca: “Are you hearing anything regarding Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory reinstatements?”

Not a word, and that’s no surprise.

Although many view the new substance-abuse policy as relaxing dramatically the standards for the reinstatement of players who previously were suspended indefinitely by the league, it has no impact at all on the status of players like Smith, Gregory, Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant, David Irving, etc. They’re still suspended, the Commissioner still has full discretion when deciding whether to reinstate them, and the Commissioner has no deadline for making a decision on their reinstatement applications.

For Smith, the fact that his latest suspension arose from DUI and hit-and-run charges makes his situation much different than players who simply had failed too many marijuana tests. Some think, however, that the Cowboys wouldn’t have made the move if they don’t know something.

If they do, they’re the only ones.

From @djgingerale: “What movie did you end up watching with your wife last night?”

We watched Plus One on Hulu, at the recommendation of one of the many folks who responded to the question on Twitter (some of the responses were as entertaining as the movie). I’d never heard of it. Starring Jack Quaid (son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan) and Maya Erskine (who was at times hilarious), it’s worth your 99 minutes if you’re looking for something light and funny — although I’ll admit that someone brought a blender to the TV room, jammed three onions on it, and pressed the “frappe” button during one specific scene between Quaid and Ed Begley Jr., who plays Quaid’s father in the movie.

From @leepers500: “Suppose an antibody test is developed and used to test players along with a virus test, temperature checks and quarantines. Then the system fails and players fall sick, with perhaps very serious consequences. Since the CBA has been passed, does the NFL bear the liability?”

The CBA won’t matter at that point, because however the 2020 season plays out will be the product of a specific and precise negotiation between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, like those that resulted in the parameters of the virtual offseason program. And, unfortunately for the league and the union, it seems as if every answer to every question triggers another 20 questions.

Surely, whoever chooses to play (and the final agreement between league and union hopefully will give players a chance to opt out without financial penalty beyond lost salary) will at some point be assuming all associated risks. And, given the size of some of the players, there will be very real risks to assume.

Plenty of offensive linemen and defensive tackles aren’t just obese, they’re morbidly obese. And they will be at enhanced risk of a serious health consequence, especially if they have high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes or other conditions that morbid obesity can cause.

As one league source opined recently, if only one football player dies from COVID-19 that he may have caught at work, the NFL likely will have no choice but to shut down indefinitely. That’s why it will be critical to identify a clear and effective system for keeping the virus out of locker rooms, and for getting the union and anyone who chooses to play to sign off unconditionally on the plan. Without both of those things, there can be no NFL football in 2020.

I realize that plenty of people may not want to hear that, but we can either deal with hard truths now or we can delude ourselves into the summer months and deal with the hard truths later. Having the best possible plans in place for a 2020 football season demands that the NFL and the NFLPA embrace the former.

Another PFT Sunday mailbag originally appeared on Pro Football Talk





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