Not that it was intentional, but no, Brian Flores and Zac Taylor did not cross paths during their nine days in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII. And yes, it might have been cool if they had, given the circumstances.
“I know,” Taylor says now.
There aren’t many people who could relate to what each coach was going through in the run-up to Rams-Patriots on Feb. 3. Both 30-somethings had, unofficially, landed head-coaching jobs. Both were, by league rule, forced to dance around that reality when asked about it. Both were occupied with the Super Bowl while the other six coaches who filled 2019’s openings were building staffs, assessing their rosters, and starting work towards free agency and the draft.
And now, two weeks later, Flores and Taylor are in a 23-day sprint to the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Flores’s old boss, Bill Belichick, a veteran of nine Super Bowls, has grown fond of saying that making it to the NFL’s championship puts you five weeks behind everyone else working towards the next year.
But Belichick doesn’t have to fill out an entire staff, establish protocols, learn an entire new roster of players, and go through the new coach dog-and-pony show. Flores and Taylor do. Oh, and they have to be ready to hit the ground running—Flores comes from a background in which coaches are very involved in scouting, Taylor’s going to a place where it’s always been that way—come Feb. 26 in Indy.
“The one thing that’s good here is there’s a lot of really good people from a support staff standpoint, from media relations to IT to equipment to nutrition to strength and conditioning to the training staff to our chefs, everyone does a really good job,” Flores said this week, from his office. “We’re trying to get the organization aligned and on the same page. It’s a lot going on.
“Meeting after meeting after meeting, trying to get to know everyone. I want to hear their philosophies, and their vision for their specific sub-programs, whether it’s training or IT or equipment, the crew that handles the practice field. There are a lot of people I have to get to know. I’m working hard to learn everybody’s name, that’s tough. I’m working at it, I’m studying that at night, along with studying the players.”
A lot of people in new jobs describe it as drinking from a fire hose. For Flores and Taylor, this must feel more like drinking from Niagara Falls.
In this week’s MMQB, we’re all over the big news of the week, including:
• Why the settlement between Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and the NFL probably can be explained in one word: discovery.
• How the franchise tag will affect free agency in 2019 (including union projections for all the tag numbers).
• Which quarterback has been present and accounted for in his team’s facility over the last few weeks, and why you should very much pay attention to it.
• Where the logistics of the Broncos’ trade for Joe Flacco are at.
• What scouts think of Kyler Murray ahead of Indianapolis.
And there’s a lot more, too. But we’re starting with the NFL’s newest head coaches, and the mutual challenge they’re in the midst of tackling.
As I talked to Flores and Taylor over the last few days, I looked for commonalities in how they discussed their respective situations. Both flew to their new homes on Feb. 4, the day after Flores’s Patriots beat Taylor’s Rams, and both will be en route to Indy a week from Tuesday.
There were a few. But two really stuck out. One was what each coach regarded as the best piece advice they got ahead of becoming a head coach for the first time. “Just be yourself and be patient,” Taylor said. “Be yourself,” Flores affirmed, almost as if he’d talked to Taylor about it beforehand. “It’s imperative. You try and be someone else, I don’t want to say people can sniff it out, but I think part of leadership is being authentic, being sincere, being transparent. If you’re not those things, it’s not leadership, in my opinion.”
And that dovetails into the second commonality. Flores told me he got that advice from Dino Mangiero, his coach as a high school linebacker at Brooklyn Poly Prep. Mangiero, in fact, was front-and-center at Flores’s introductory press conference, and someone the new Miami coach sees as “somebody I’d go to in any situation, and this one in particular. I’ve been calling him.”
Likewise, Taylor found a high school coach to lean on—he hired ex-University of Cincinnati staffmate Doug Rosfeld away from Archbishop Moeller, a storied prep powerhouse in Ohio, to be his director of coaching operations. Rosfeld’s role is, in essence, chief of staff, and, for now, to help the 35-year-old Taylor prioritize his scheduling, to ensure football work has its rightful place, and ease the transition.
There’s a lesson in this, too. In the end, there’s a simplicity to the job. It’s to lead an entire football team, which Mangiero and Rosfeld have done, and Flores and Taylor hadn’t until a couple weeks ago.
“Obviously, he’s never been a head coach in the National Football League,” Flores said. “I’m talking to him more about leadership. He’s somebody I trust.”
Alright, so there are differences in how Flores and Taylor are handling what’s in front of them. Let’s hit those now.
Flores Brings Familiar Faces From Foxboro
Knowing he hired Flores in New England, I brought up what Scott Pioli once told me about becoming a GM in Kansas City in 2009: The thing that surprises you most going from being No. 2 to No. 1 is what might cross your desk in a given day. On one hand, Pioli would say, he was hired to scout football players. On another, he’d become responsible for making sure the grass on the practice fields got cut.
As it turns out, Flores and Pioli actually had that conversation, more than once.
“And not only Scott, Flores said, “but we’d had a few people leave the [Patriots] building that I’m very close to. I reached out to everyone and said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna have a lot of blind spots, where are those?’ I had a lot of conversations.
“I try to delegate as much as I can. But it’s important I have a say in what’s going on, and that they understand my thinking on whatever might cross my desk.”
You can certainly see how Flores prioritized that in his hiring. He worked together with new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea for a decade, and DC Patrick Graham for seven years in New England. Special teams coach Danny Crossman cut his teeth under Scotty O’Brien, another ex-co-worker of Flores and Belichick guy. And defensive pass-game coordinator Josh Boyer and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski were on that New England sideline in Atlanta two weeks ago, with Flores and O’Shea.
“Us having all worked together, we work well together, we’re aligned as far as the things we believe, our core beliefs,” Flores said. “So that’s good. But I think the entire group, along with the guys that have worked with me in the past, they’re all really good people, really good teachers, don’t have egos. And from that standpoint, everyone’s aligned. And I think they understand the vision we want to have.”
As for where Flores is now, he’s navigating four tracks from a football standpoint—working through the Dolphins roster, meeting with coaches to build a shell of what the team will be schematically and culturally, and getting film work from GM Chris Grier on both college players and free agents. The good news is that the staff was in place by the end of his first week. The rest has been, admittedly, a juggling act.
He’s had to find time for his other roles as head coach—he broke away from meetings two Fridays ago to speak at the Dolphins Cancer Challenge golf tournament, for example. And while he’s got a ways to go on the scouting end, Flores is starting to get a feel for his own roster.
“There’s a lot of young, talented players here,” Flores said. “I’ve seen guys in here working, that’s always nice to see. A lot of the players are here really year-round. They’re here, they’re working, I see them in the cafeteria, and I’m excited.”
He should be, of course. There are only 32 jobs like the one he has. And finally, the other night, the reality of that hit him, giving the 37-year-old a moment where things slowed down amidst the craziness, if only for a few minutes.
“I looked around and thought to myself, ‘This is crazy,’” Flores said. “Obviously, I worked for 15 years in New England, and thought about my background growing up in New York, and it hit me. I was excited. I was proud of myself in that moment. But at the same time, when you start to think about your accomplishments, complacency sets in.
“So you slap yourself in the face and say, ‘Why don’t you put on some more tape to watch?’ … This is definitely not the finish line for me. This is really the start.”
Taylor’s Start in Cincy: No DC, But a QB In Place
The biggest difference for Taylor between then (his previous 35 years on planet earth) and now (as one of those 32 NFL head coaches) is something he actually has felt every night.
“What I do notice is, Man, I sleep hard,” Taylor said. “When my head hits the pillow at night, it feels like five o’clock rolls around real quick. It used to be, I’d lay in bed and look at my phone and go through some stuff. Not anymore. When I lay in that bed, I’m out within about 20 seconds.
“I think, you think critically all day, you’ve got a lot of decisions to make, so you've got to make sure that you take a couple of seconds every day to relax your brain a little bit. But that’s been good. That’s not anything I didn’t expect.”
Taylor’s situation is different than Flores’s. Maybe because his candidacy as a head coach came about quicker—he was promoted from Rams assistant receivers coach to QBs coach at this time last year—and his staff has been slower to materialize. The Bengals are still looking for a defensive coordinator, which, given Taylor’s offensive background, will be a vital hire.
His approach hasn’t been quite the same either. He and his staff have met on scheme and philosophy, of course. But rather than chip away at everything at once, he segmented his football work. And so his focus up until late last week really was zeroed in on the Bengals roster. He’s completed that, so he does have an opinion on the individual players, and the group.
“There's good talent, and there's a good mix of young, first- and second-year players, and some good veterans,” he said. “And so it really is, it's an exciting team to get a chance to work with. Like any year, any year with any team, you’re always going to look to the draft to help strengthen your roster and free agency. But I am excited about the guys that we already have.”
And that goes for the quarterback too, in case you’re wondering. That came through when I asked if he feels Andy Dalton’s the right guy for his offense.
“I do,” Taylor said. “I've watched Andy for a really long time, dating back to his days at TCU. I’ve always been impressed with the way he plays the game. I've always known he’s a smart guy. We haven’t had a chance to meet on football or anything like that. But I do know that he'll be able to quickly master this offense. He gets the ball out on time, he’s accurate, he’s got good athleticism.”
That offense, Taylor says, will find its starting point in what Sean McVay’s Rams have done schematically over the last two years. But Taylor hired offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and his staff with evolution in mind. While each assistant comes from a West Coast offense background, they come from different branches of the tree, which Taylor hopes will lead to diversification.
And obviously not having a defensive coordinator yet isn’t ideal. Most recently, Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn was blocked from interviewing, and Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley turned an interview down. Things didn’t work out with more experienced names like Jack Del Rio and Mike Nolan.
But Taylor says he isn’t going to rush that one—“No [timetable], just need the right person”—and is leaning on secondary coaches Robert Livingston and Daronte Jones in interim.
As for what’s ahead, with his tape work on the Bengals roster done, Taylor got started on the draft this weekend. He still hasn’t watched free agents, but he’ll make time for that soon in a schedule that starts every day at Paul Brown Stadium at 6 a.m., with a film session with Callahan, then meetings with owner Mike Brown and personnel chief Duke Tobin.
“The day goes fast, you get a lot done, you always feel like you could get more done and you look up and all of the sudden it’s 4:30, and you’re like, ‘Where did all the time go?’” Taylor said. “But it’s been good. The most important thing is you put a plan in place every day of what you want to accomplish and where you want to be by this day with the scheme, where you want to be this day evaluating your roster, where you want to be by this date in terms of the draft and free agency.
“So everyone is following that plan and we know that we got plenty of time. It seems like we've got to be rushed but we really don't. The draft’s at the end of April, the players don't come until April 9.”
The cool part, for Taylor, is he already has a comfort level with his surroundings. He was only at the University of Cincinnati for 11 months in 2016. But he and his wife identified with the area so quickly that they’re moving back into the area they left when they headed for California two years ago.
“The people that we met when we lived in Cincinnati, the Midwestern values—I'm from Oklahoma, my wife’s from Green Bay—we felt at home in the year we were here,” Taylor said. “I’ve lived in a lot of places, I've had four kids in four different states, to this point. Some places you go, when you’re driving back to your house, you’re just going back to your house. Here, we always felt like this was a home.”
That would be another reason why he’s sleeping pretty good at night.
What NFL Scouts Are Saying About Kyler Murray
We’ve covered Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray’s decision to focus on football pretty thoroughly over the last two weeks on the site. I figured now is a good time to take a quick look at Murray the football player, through the eyes of a few scouts who’ve watched him over the last few months.
AFC Exec 1: “This kid is way better than Lamar Jackson—better arm, more accurate, better anticipation, better processor, better athlete. I think he’s better across the board than Lamar, Lamar’s just bigger. But that’s not irrelevant. … If I told you he was 6' 3", you’d be all in, but he’s not. He’s shorter than Russell Wilson, and Russell is a lot stockier. … He’s a really good player. He does all the quarterback stuff really well. He’s a great athlete. My hang up is his size.”
AFC College Scouting Director: “He’s a hard one. He’s really good, he throws the ball well, there are no throws that he can’t make on any level. And I don’t think him being small is that big a problem, but when you’re small and you run like he can, I’m not sure how you wouldn’t be a little concerned. … You have to build it around him, but he’s pretty good. … And you gotta be real with yourself too, if you want to take him. You may have a second-round grade on him—I think a lot of people do—but if you think you’re getting him in the second round, you’re probably not.”
NFL DRAFT BIG BOARD: The Pre-Combine Top 50
AFC Exec 2: “At first glance, the passing skills are there. He’s good. So it’s just the size and can you tailor the offense to him. … The weight is big, because with his body type, you’re not sure he can get a lot bigger. Russell, Baker [Mayfield], those guys have a thickness to them, they’re broad-shouldered. That’s not this guy’s body type. Even as lines have changed, he’s still beneath the norm. And until we get him on a scale and measure him, that’s going to be the perception. … He also had a really good offensive line, great system, so we didn’t see him getting hit as much. How’s he going to throw from the pocket at our level at his height?”
It all adds up to maybe the most anticipated weigh-in in combine history. That one, if you want to mark your calendars, is set for Thursday, Feb. 28.
1. I thought our Michael McCann did a good job of covering the Colin Kaepernick/Eric Reid settlement news on Friday, pointing out that it was likely a draw (which is what most settlements are). Like everyone else in the media, I’m not privy to terms of the deal. What I do know is that the CBA specifies that a player victimized by collusion would be entitled to treble damages—triple the total of what he lost. Kaepernick made $14.3 million his last year in the NFL. If you double that (for the two years he just lost) it comes to $28.6 million. Triple that, per the terms of the CBA, and he’d be owed $85.8 million. And if his lawyers made the argument he’d have, say, three more years of earning power, extrapolating the total losses to five years, the number swells to $214.5 million. That’s without getting to other losses Kaepernick’s lawyers could argue.
If there was a smoking gun that proved collusion, lawyer Mark Geragos would be probably be asking for a mammoth total like that, and would also have the ability to go public with what actually happened. That they settled tells me there probably wasn’t a smoking gun. Here’s what I believe is more likely: Through discovery, a lot of embarrassing stuff—not adding up to collusion, but still damaging to the league—could have come to light.
This sort of thing is why the NFL has worked to avoid discovery like the bubonic plague over the years. During the 2011 lockout, the union couldn’t get to discovery fast enough (before players’ paychecks were in peril) to flip the leverage. During the Tom Brady case, you might remember, the shoe was on the other foot, and a bunch of Brady’s personal information became public. My guess is that the Kaepernick/Reid case exposed information that the NFL didn’t want getting out into the public realm. That would probably be enough for the league to cut Kaepernick and Reid checks.
2. That said, the NFL wouldn’t settle with a player unless that player (or players, in this case) had something pretty damning. The league does not like taking losses in court. And while this wasn’t technically in court, I’d say the same would go here, even if there is value in the NFL simply moving past a situation that hurt it on both sides of the metaphorical aisle over the last three years.
3. Interesting nugget I picked up: I’m told Giants QB Eli Manning has been working out at the team facility, as he usually would this time of year, over the first month-and-a-half of the offseason. That doesn’t mean that he’s gotten information that he’ll absolutely, lock-stock-and-barrel be the team’s quarterback in 2019. But logically, if he thought the team was moving on, it’s fair to surmise that he’d find somewhere else to work out. It makes some sense for the Giants to stick with him too, incoming rookie or no incoming rookie. Manning is due $17 million in cash this year, which is $1 million more than Tyrod Taylor got to be Baker Mayfield’s placeholder, then backup last year. Would the Giants really do better with a bridge quarterback than Manning (so long as he’s amenable to some mentoring) in 2019? I’d say no. Either way, we’ll know if the Giants brass has been forthright on this by March 17, when a $5 million roster bonus is due (the rest of his money comes via a $11.5 million base and $500,000 workout bonus).
4. Sources say Joe Flacco has been on the ground in Denver, and already took his physical with the Broncos, clearing the way for the trade with the Ravens to become official when the new league year kicks off on March 13. I detailed on Thursday why I don’t hate the deal for Denver. And I really do like it for Flacco. The return to a Gary Kubiak-style offense, as run by new Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, should be fantastic for the 34-year-old. The presence of offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who has potential to turn a long-term Denver weakness into a strength, is another benefit. And the skill group has some growth potential, with rising sophomores Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman coming back.
5. One team that was in on Flacco other than Denver: Washington. Given the price, both in the mid-round draft pick and a middling starting-quarterback contract, it makes sense, as Washington works through an uncertain future at the position.
6. Nick Foles and Teddy Bridgewater would be the next two quarterback names on the list. And one agent raised the possibility that their teams could transition tag them ahead of free agency. There’s merit to the idea on the surface. Bridgewater won’t be franchised. Foles, you’d imagine, only would be if Eagles czar Howie Roseman had a trade worked out before the tag window closes. And so retaining matching rights might give these teams hope to hold on to valuable backups. The problem? The salary cap. The Saints and Eagles project to have less than $10 million in breathing room each—both are top five in money committed to the 2019 cap right now—and the transition tag at quarterback is expected to top $20 million. So Bridgewater or Foles simply signing their tenders could create problems, even after the teams make some moves to clean up the cap, logistically, if the Eagles or Saints wanted to do anything in March. That means it’s a good bet Bridgewater is on the market unfettered in March. And it’s not hard to imagine Foles getting there either.
7. This week’s meeting between Steelers owner Art Rooney and receiver Antonio Brown, in Miami, should be interesting. I was told late last week that Pittsburgh still hadn’t resigned itself to trading away Brown. The makeup of the team explains why. If Ramon Foster returns next year, four of the Steelers’ five offensive linemen will be in their 30s on opening day, and the fifth, David DeCastro, is 29. Ben Roethlisberger turns 37 next month. Defensive starters Cam Heyward, Joe Haden and Morgan Burnett all turn 30 this year. Pittsburgh’s been on the doorstep for a while. Would Band-aiding the Brown problem make more sense than shipping him off for draft picks? Maybe.
8. Russell Wilson’s contract situation should be a shining example—as baseball stars like Bryce Harper fight for longer contracts—why shorter is better in the NFL. Very few NFL contracts have guarantees past Year 2, and almost none (Matt Ryan’s deal being a notable exception) have guarantees past Year 3. That means years past a third year in a blockbuster contract are basically team options. Which is why, back in 2015, Wilson signed a four-year, $88 million extension. His camp gave the team an extra year in exchange for doing the deal a year before his rookie contract expired, and now he’s going into a contract year, while his draft classmate Andrew Luck is signed through 2021. Meanwhile, the top of the quarterback market has jumped 50 percent since Wilson did his deal, and he’s in position to benefit from that.
9. On the subject of contracts and free agency, keep an eye out for our Andy Benoit’s free agent rankings this week. I got a sneak peek, and here’s one interesting nugget: Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman outranks Le’Veon Bell. Benoit on Coleman, from the column: “A less patient but more explosive Le’Veon Bell. Must play in an outside zone running scheme that encourages him to attack the perimeter—which, thanks to deceptive, long-striding speed, Coleman does better than anyone. Is also a superior passing game weapon than some teams’ No. 3 receiver, with the flexibility to align out wide or in the slot.” Like I said, a lot of interesting stuff coming in that piece. The great thing about how Andy does this is he’s unaffected by perception.
10. I didn’t get to watch much of the AAF this weekend, but I did have an interesting conversation with an executive for one of the league’s team. He estimated there were 10 players on his, and every AAF, roster that should be in the NFL but aren’t. Among the reasons he cited for some of those guys being on the outside looking in: Players landing with the wrong NFL team from a scheme or cultural standpoint initially, immaturity when the players got their NFL shot, or NFL teams just missing on guys. Sometimes we forget that with the massive number of players there are in the NFL—up to 1,696 during the regular season and nearly 3,000 in the offseason—there are bound to be a ton of guys sitting on the fringe, who can be either in or out for pretty arbitrary reasons.
… OF THE WEEK
“I’m gonna repeat what my friend said so I don’t get in trouble. He’s like ‘You went from the toilet bowl, to the Super Bowl.’”
—Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy on Barstool’s Pardon My Take Podcast.
That, of course, was in reference to Van Noy being dealt from Detroit to New England two years ago. At that point, one of the guys asked Van Noy, “Is your friend also named Kyle Van Noy? That’s what this is?” Van Noy responded, “That was KVN. This is Kyle Van Noy. I’ve got like double personas.” We had KVN, with a little bit of Van Noy, on Zo and Bertrand during my two-hour Wednesday spots this year. And I can just say that I’m … not shocked. The guy can be entertaining as hell when he turns it on, and he’s had the on switched taped down since Super Bowl Sunday.
It takes more than $5 million to get a young person interested in baseball.— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) February 11, 2019
Baseball wasn’t killed by a new generation of ADD-riddled fans. It was murdered in cold blood by Kevin Clark, Tweet King.
Take that, Mahomes!
Based on the events of this week, I’d say Malcolm Jenkins is owed an apology.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
The combine is just eight days away, so here we go …
1. With Alabama junior RB Josh Jacobs on the rise, I figured it’d be timely to give you the NFL comp that more than one evaluator gave me on him: Frank Gore.
2. In the midst of Kyler Murray Mania, I do wonder if teams wind up talking themselves into taking a flyer on Penn State’s Trace McSorley later in the draft. When I did my draft quarterbacks story last August, Trent Dilfer was very high on him. And one AFC college scouting director gave me this gem of a quote: “I love him, he’s like G.I. Joe. He’s not an NFL quarterback, but he’s such an awesome college football player.” Are we sure, if Murray’s size isn’t as big a concern, that McSorley doesn’t have a place in the league? It’s at least an interesting question.
3. While we’re there, the emergence of Murray on the heels of Mayfield’s success has positioned Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley as the college game’s top QB developer (we’ve written on him pretty extensively here, and will have more next week in our combine preview MMQB), which is why ex-Alabama QB Jalen Hurts just transferred to Norman. Along those lines, new Ohio State coach Ryan Day might not be far behind. He was offered the Titans offensive coordinator job last year, and now has former mega-recruit/Georgia transfer Justin Fields on campus, which is largely a result of Dwayne Haskins becoming a first-round pick under Day’s watch.
4. Mississippi State DL Jeffery Simmons is, without question, a Top 10 talent based on what he did in the SEC the last three years. The video of him punching a woman during a fight between the woman and his sister, during his senior year in high school, certainly complicated where he stood with NFL teams. And now he has a torn ACL, so where he goes is anyone’s guess. The coaches in Starkville have sworn by him to his scouts. But this one won’t be simple for anyone.
5. While we’re there, keeping guys like Simmons and Louisiana Tech DL Jaylon Ferguson from the combine is dumb. And yes, I know a league memo went out Friday saying they can now go to Indy, but just for physicals, after they were initially uninvited. Really, the NFL has decided here that it’s more important keeping the conversation on players like that off TV than it is to get the teams what they need out of an event that was invented to streamline and standardize the pre-draft scouting process. The truth is, coaches and GMs need more time with guys like Simmons and Ferguson, not less.
6. It’s hard not to look at Duke basketball’s freshman phenom, Zion Williamson, and not think what he’d be as a football player, given his 6' 7", 292-pound frame. And so I pass along this conversation Mike Krzyzewski had with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, via ESPN.com. “I’d put him at tight end or wideout or [defensive] end or wherever he wanted to play,” said Swinney, per a clip released by Duke of the show that will air on ESPNU Radio at 6 p.m. ET Thursday. “We might even put him at quarterback.” Krzyzewski then said, “You’d run the Wildcat.” Swinney said: “Put in the Wildcat, no doubt.” I’d definitely pay to see a 292-pound monster running the option. Sign me up for that yesterday.
S/O to …
… Patriots defenders Kyle Van Noy, Devin McCourty, Derek Rivers and Duron Harmon. These four guys heard the story of Mindy Butts, a single mother of six who lives in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. Butts taught herself over the years to be a savvy shopper through “extreme couponing,” something that helped in supporting her family. In time, she built a pantry and gave to those in the community in need, doing so even as she struggled to get by at times. Through the effort, she built a relationship with a Boston Police Detective named Larry Ellison, who lent her his car recently when hers needed fixing. Which is where the players swooped into help. Those guys went and visited her the week of the Super Bowl, brought gifts, and used part of the Patriots’ social justice fund to get Butts’ car fixed. I even heard they took care of a few months of her rent. The team site did a piece on it. Pretty cool story.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Over the eight years of the current CBA, the number of players getting franchise-tagged has actually slipped pretty consistently. Check the numbers out.
What gives? The league and union complicated the formula in 2011, because there would’ve been an artificial inflation under the old formula as a result of teams stashing big cap figures into the uncapped season of 2010. The result was lower numbers at the start of the CBA. But in time, the formula matured, and tag figures became more reflective of the term “franchise player.”
That’s why progressively fewer guys have been hit with it. And this year, there’s a chance the tagging is limited largely to one position group: defensive line.
On paper, the pass-rusher class coming on March 13 looks historic: Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Dante Fowler, Trey Flowers, Ziggy Ansah, Za’Darius Smith and Brandon Graham are all up, as are interior linemen Grady Jarrett, Sheldon Richardson and Ndamukong Suh. But the list could look pretty different after the window to tag players, which opens Tuesday and closes March 5, passes.
FRANCHISE TAG CANDIDATES: Who Could Be Tagged on Each of the 32 Teams?
Right now, I’d bet that Lawrence, Clowney, Ford and Clark get tagged, and would think the same fate could be in play for Jarrett. Realistically, looking at the class, Giants S Landon Collins and Bucs LT Donovan Smith might be the only guy outside that group (except for Nick Foles as trade bait, of course, and a couple kickers) who are tag considerations.
And the union’s franchise number projections can explain why. These numbers are based on a $190 million cap; the NFL gave clubs a projection of $187.0 million-$191.1 million back in December:
CB: $16.175 million
DE: $17.291 million
DT: $15.355 million
LB: $15.591 million
OL: $14.201 million
K/P: $ 5.018 million
QB: $25.103 million
RB: $11.322 million
S: $11.256 million
TE: $10.486 million
WR: $16.948 million
Given what Khalil Mack ($23.5 million per) and Aaron Donald ($22.5 million per) got last summer, the idea of giving Lawrence or Clark the defensive end number (Lawrence would actually be north of that, as he and Ansah’s tag figure is $20.572 million as second-time tag-ees), Clowney or Ford the linebacker number, or even Jarrett the tackle number doesn’t sound crazy. Nor, given what guys like Nate Solder or Eric Berry have gotten, would Smith or Collins be grossly overpaid at the offensive line or safety numbers.
But elsewhere, it’s easy to see teams saying, “Thanks but no thanks.” That linebacker number is skewed by edge guys (Von Miller, or Clowney or Ford) playing up in a 3-4. So Baltimore would have a tough time going there with C.J. Mosley, as Minnesota would with Anthony Barr.
All of which is evidence the tag is at least working better than it used to. It’s actually in play for premier players at premier positions again, which is how it was always supposed to be.
• Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.