Happy Memorial Day, everyone …
• This quote from Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence caught my eye. It’s on new Jaguars receiver Christian Kirk, and on the surface it seems relatively benign.
“Just from a football IQ sense, I think he’s really quarterback friendly,” Lawrence said in his press conference. “The way he sees the field, different coverages unfold, the way he runs his routes, I just think he’s quarterback-friendly. And then obviously his speed is something that we really needed and it’s going to help us a lot. You guys saw today, he can fly and locate a ball, all those things.”
Alright, now let’s deconstruct what the 22-year-old quarterback is doing here. First, he’s recognizing, in May, what this particular receiver brings to the table, and what he’ll be able to do for him. Second, said knowledge shows the work he’s already put in with Kirk. And third, he’s publicly backing a new teammate.
Again, none of this is rocket science. But what it does show is Lawrence is investing—in himself, his team and those around him. It reminds me of what one head coach said to me on Lawrence when things were particularly back in Jacksonville last year—that the way Lawrence was handling reminded him of how Troy Aikman handled his own 1–15 rookie season, playing through what, at the time, seemed to be an impossible situation.
Lawrence is gonna be O.K., I bet.
• There’s a lot of focus on Kyler Murray’s situation, but with less than two months left to camp, his is hardly the only contract situation to keep an eye out. Among those people are talking about now, Colts G Quenton Nelson, Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chargers S Derwin James join Ravens QB Lamar Jackson as 2018 first-round picks heading into their option year. And then you have 2019 rookies like Deebo Samuel, Elgton Jenkins, D.K. Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and Hunter Renfrow going into contract years.
Throw in the dynamics at play with a salary cap that’s expected to jump in a big way over the next few years, and there are some interesting negotiations on tap across the league.
• Terrible news on Monday, with the passing of Cardinals CB Jeff Gladney, who was involved in a car accident overnight. Gladney caught on with Arizona in March, and the team had high hopes for him as a player they liked quite a bit coming out in 2020.
Gladney’s NFL career never really got off the ground, because a solid rookie year was followed by an indictment on domestic violence charges, which led to his release from the Vikings last summer. Gladney was found not guilty in Texas in March, and signed a week later by the Cardinals. Ex-teammates and friends spoke highly of Gladney in the wake of the news getting out on Monday afternoon.
• We promised in the morning column we’d bring some ideas for the NFL’s next diversity summit, as delivered by the participants. And there was one that was overarching—the idea that the league could tailor the experience to the needs of different people involved in the event. The concept I heard tossed around was having a few chunks of time dedicated to seminars, with participants having options on which seminars they’d want to attend.
That way, for example, a guy on the ops side wouldn’t have to jump in on what would amount to, for him, a 101 course on cap management. And by doing that, you’d be recognizing the difference from one candidate to the next—with some there on the cusp of becoming head coaches or GMs and others just getting their names in the mix—involved in the event.
Here are a few other things the guys I talked to had to offer …
49ers director of player personnel Ran Carthon: “The one part for me, I would’ve liked a little more time to hear from the diversity committee, specifically because they were new. [Texans GM] Rick Smith was the only familiar face up there, and the rest of the people up there didn’t come from football backgrounds per se, so it would’ve been nice to hear them and spend a little more time with them. Obviously, we were on a little bit of a time crunch, we had to get things in because the actual owners’ meetings were going on. That’s just one small piece I’d like to see improve going forward.”
Panthers VP of football administration Samir Suleiman: “The one thing I already suggested to them and a couple of the owners I’ve had contact with since then, was to take the roundtable speed dating on Day 2, and make it more beneficial for the candidates. You know how they say interviews are won within the first five minutes? So, O.K., let’s give the candidates one-on-one time for five minutes with as many owners as they can to make their elevator pitch. And when you add that up, with 60 candidates, that’d be incredibly wearing on owners. But I thought what you could do beforehand is maybe have both candidates and owner pre-select who they’d want to speak to, or prioritize. For example, at a couple of the roundtables, I was assigned to tables where I already had a relationship with the owners. So even though I enjoyed speaking with them, I think I would’ve benefited more with an owner I didn’t know and vice versa.”
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Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn: “The time element I thought was very, very important, and there were some things where there just wasn’t enough time. But I go back to saying, Listen, they were trying to get so much information to us, that you’d appreciate that. And now going back there are some things I’d probably eliminate so the time could be longer, as far as sitting and talking with people. You’d be surprised by how these conversations can end up growing.”
Browns assistant GM Glenn Cook: “If you’re talking to people and you assume their next step is to be a GM, their next step is to become a head coach, then I think you should shift a little bit from the mundane, boring aspects of those things, and really drill down into something that would actually impact change. So it’s like, Hey, here are the different ways we actually came up with this philosophy around the cap—this team’s philosophy is X, this is how you build it out. On the coaching side, it’s less about how to put together a staff, and moreso a scenario like, say you came into an ownership group that would only allow you to change out four coaches. How do you prioritize what position groups are most important, which coaches you go after? Because that’s the real scenario. Every coach can come in with a list. Every coach has a list, they know who they want to work with. But how many situations do you go into where it’s like, Ah, well, I like my receiver coach, I want to keep him, the owner saying that? Or the GM is like, Hey, I like this guy. So you have to work around some things that aren’t perfect. Those are the scenarios that I don’t think people are prepared for.”
And all this, from each of these guys, comes with the caveat that the experience was overwhelmingly positive over the two days in Atlanta.
• I wouldn’t be surprised to see some version of this in the summer or fall (maybe pre-camp for coaches, and in-season for personnel folks at the league’s fall meeting) to supplement the larger event we saw last week. And maybe some of that could be done virtually.
But there was one more idea that I liked, and think should be considered, and that was to expand the league’s annual meeting in March to include coordinators on the coaching side and top lieutenants on the personnel side. They could be a good resource during those meetings for a number of reasons outside of their career pursuits, they could have their own meetings there that’d benefit the game and the sorts of interactions everyone wanted last week could happen in an organic way. Something to chew on, at least.
• One leftover from my talk with Jameis Winston—I did ask the Saints quarterback for the difference this spring with Sean Payton gone and longtime coordinator Pete Carmichael in full command of the offense. His answer, as you’d imagine, wound up being pretty funny.
“The quarterback room is not different at all, we just don’t have Sean busting in the room with mad genius plays,” Winston said, laughing. “That’s the only difference. It’s a little quieter.”
And the upshot now is that he’ll get to build with Carmichael and quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry, knowing that he’s going to be starter (which we touched on this morning).
“I get to learn this offense, really learn this offense, and I get to build with Pete and Ronald Curry on what we’re going to do, we get to see what we’re going to be good at, and we can plan to execute that way,” Winston said. “Like, that’s the best part about this OTAs, getting a chance to really go through these installs, learn the ins-and-outs of these concepts with your coaches, with Pete, who’s been doing this thing for 16 years, instead of me just learning by myself or having to sneak a text to Drew Brees on how he sees something.”
I’m legit excited to see where Winston can take things this year. Because to me, it’s clearly the best situation he’s been in over eight years as a pro.
• Darren Waller’s contract situation with the Raiders merits attention, of course, because of who he is as a player. But I don’t think there’ll be a ton of drama here. San Francisco’s George Kittle and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce clearly defined the top of the tight end market, and if Vegas has to go a little past $15 million per on a new-money average, I think they’d be OK with it, especially considering where the receiver market is and what Josh McDaniels can do in his offense with a versatile tight end.
Also worth noting: Waller’s been a monster early on in the offseason program, better than the new guys even expected. So it’d be good business to take care of him.
• Rams DL Aaron Donald signing a marketing deal with rapper Kanye West (he announced the agreement on the I Am Athlete podcast) is another good example of an athlete trying to find the best, most creative way to leverage his name while his star is still shining bright. And finding someone with the reach Kanye has to help actually makes a lot of sense.
• It’s not nothing that Mitch Trubisky is getting the first reps at Steelers OTAs. There was some question as to whether Mike Tomlin would make Trubisky wrest the job from Mason Rudolph, and keep it from Kenny Pickett, and I still think that’ll happen to some degree. But giving him the reps with the ones makes sense in that, if he’s most likely going to be your starter, getting him work with guys like Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth is valuable.
• Happy Memorial Day. And I’ll leave you this, from the brilliant Alejandro Villanueva.
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