LeBron who? The NFL stars who had success in another sport

by Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

A week or so ago, it emerged that basketball legend LeBron James, a three-time NBA champion, once considered playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

During the 2011 lockout, James started to train as a football player. Of course, he ultimately stayed with basketball but not before Jerry Jones, the owner of his favourite team, had sent him a contract. James went on to win consecutive NBA championships with Miami Heat in the next two seasons and obviously, it’s all gone swimmingly from then on.

We’ll never know how the 6’9” forward for the LA Lakers would have worked out in cleats and helmet. But it’s fun imagining a successful pro from another sport switching codes to play football, or vice versa.

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Some NFL stars could have had promising careers in another sport if they’d chosen to pursue that option. Take baseball, for instance. Many of you will know that Arizona QB Kyler Murray was drafted first overall by the Cardinals in the 2018 NFL Draft, but also ninth in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics, making him the only player to be drafted in the first rounds of both sports. (The A’s still hold his licence, should he decide to chuck in the whole football thing.)

He wasn’t alone in being drafted by MLB teams and, due to their ability to throw with speed and accuracy, most have been quarterbacks: John Elway, Dan Marino, Michael Vick, Colin Kaepernick, Johnny Manziel, Matt Moore and Jameis Winston were all drafted in both sports. Russell Wilson was drafted by two MLB teams and even TB12 himself, Tom Brady, was selected by the Montreal Expos.

To a man, they opted for football and the rest, as they say, is history. But what about those players that did switch to or from the NFL, and hit the heights in both fields? There aren’t many but there are certainly a few worthy of mention.


TONI FRITSCH – SOCCER


Back in the Sixties, Anton (“Toni”) Fritsch was a soccer player in Austria. He made 123 appearances for Rapid Vienna, winning the Austrian League three times and the Austrian Cup twice. He also represented his country nine times, and scored twice in a 3-2 win against England in 1965, earning himself the nickname “Wembley Toni”.

The nippy striker then went on to be the first Austrian to play in the NFL. He was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1971, even though he’d never played the game in his life, and trained to be a kicker – soccer-style kicking was all the rage at the time. His debut season couldn’t have gone any better, with a game-winning kick in his debut against the Cardinals, and the ‘Boys winning Super Bowl VI in early 1972. Given his earlier exploits in his home country, that makes him the only player in history to win professional titles in both association and American football. 

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His 11-year NFL career took in the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, and his record of kicking a field goal in 13 straight playoff games remained untouched until Adam Vinatieri equalled his feat in 2007.

Fab fact: Fritsch is credited with introducing the “rabona” (where the kicking leg wraps around the back of the standing leg) to the NFL. He used it to take an onside kick in a 1972 Divisional playoff game against the 49ers, helping to seal a historic 30-28 victory.


BO JACKSON – BASEBALL


Vincent “Bo” Jackson is the only athlete in history to be named an All-Star in both baseball and football, arguably making him one of the greatest of all time. And his achievements are all the more impressive when you consider he played both sports pretty much simultaneously.

Having won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 while at Auburn, Bo was drafted as the first overall pick by the Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL Draft. He’d already told the Buccs not to bother; he wouldn’t play for them. And he wasn’t joking: Jackson turned down the five-year, $7 million contract in favour of a shorter, cheaper deal with MLB outfit the Kansas City Royals.

Getty Images via Sporting News.com

He eventually joined the Los Angeles Raiders as a running back a year later, having agreed with owner Al Davis that he could report in once the baseball season was over. He made it to LA by Week 8 in his rookie campaign, playing in seven games and scoring six touchdowns, three of which came against the Seahawks in Week 12. His 221 rushing yards that night, just a month into his fledgling NFL career, is still a Monday Night Football record.

He managed 10 games in 1988 (580 yards, 3 TDs), 11 in 1989 (950 yards, 4 TDs) and, despite a curtailed 1990 campaign, Jackson was selected to the Pro Bowl. All the while, Jackson turned out for the Royals, as well as the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels, hitting 141 home runs over eight seasons and earning All-Star status in 1989.

A hip injury ended his football career in 1991, after just 38 games, but after a hip replacement, he managed to prolong his baseball career until 1994. 

Fab fact: Jackson’s Nike endorsements included the “Bo Knows” campaign for the first Nike Air trainer, in which he plays a range of different sports.


WILLIE GAULT – ATHLETICS


NFL fans of a certain age, myself included, may (just about) remember Willie Gault as a wide receiver and kick returner for the Bears (1983–87) and Raiders (1988–93). Gault, picked #18 in the 1983 NFL Draft, was a member of the Chicago team that defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XX in 1985. In his 11 NFL seasons, he claimed 6,635 yards, made 9 punt returns and 45 kick-off returns, and scored 45 touchdowns.

Bleacher Report

One of the NFL’s fastest-ever (his personal best for the 100 metres stands at a blistering 10.10 seconds), it should be no surprise that Gault qualified as a member of the U.S. Olympic track team. Alas, it was in 1980 when the United States – among others – boycotted the Moscow Games. Nonetheless, he went on to form part of a world record-setting 4×100 metre relay team (along with Emmit King, Calvin Smith and the legendary Carl Lewis) at the 1983 World Championships.

Fab fact: Gault has also set several world records in veteran categories, including the 100 metres (10.88 seconds) for the 50–54 age group in 2011.


HERSHEL WALKER – BOBSLEIGH


Walker earned a wealth of accolades, including the Heisman Trophy, while at the University of Georgia, and is widely regarded as the greatest college running back of all time. He then began his professional football career with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League (USFL), before going on to the Cowboys, Vikings, Eagles and Giants.

In 12 NFL seasons, Walker scored 84 touchdowns and gained 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards and 5,084 kick-off -return yards, making him the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways. He’s also the only NFL player with a 90+ yard reception, 90+ yard run and a 90+ yard kick-off return in one season (1994) and once scored two 84+ yard touchdowns – one rushing, one receiving – in the same game! 

USA TODAY Sports, AP Photo

But why is Walker worthy of our attention here? Because he joined the US bobsleigh program and competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, as a member of the national team while with the Vikings. Running backs – 200-pound blokes with strong legs and a low centre of gravity – are well suited to being push men, apparently. And competing as the push/brake man in the two-man bob, Walker and his driver Brian Shimer were placed seventh, 0.3 of a second off a medal.

Walker is also a black belt at taekwando and undefeated as an MMA fighter. OK, he only had two fights but still, you wouldn’t wanna mess with the fella!

Fab fact: In 1989, the Cowboys traded Walker to the Vikings for five current players and six future draft picks, making the HWT (Herschel Walker trade) the largest trade in league history. 


MARQUISE GOODWIN – ATHLETICS


Some of us know Mr Goodwin as the wide receiver and kick returner who was recently traded to the Eagles from the 49ers. He was initially drafted in the third round of the 2013 Draft by the Bills and to date, Goodwin has recorded 2,323 yards receiving, 468 return yards and a further 89 rushing, and notched 13 TDs. Some of his early seasons in Buffalo were blighted by injury, and he was also crocked in the second half of last year, which meant he missed San Francisco’s trip to the Super Bowl. 

49ers.com

Goodwin’s track and field career is a similar tale of “close but no cigar”. In his specialty, the long jump, he won two national college championships, and represented the United States in Junior, University and World Championships, as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he finished 10th.

After a three-year hiatus, he marked his return to athletics with a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games, but finished a disappointing seventh at the Olympic Trials a year later – so no trip to Rio for Marquise.

In his time, he has also competed in the 60, 100 and 200 metres, and the triple jump.

Fab fact: Goodwin’s career-best long jump of 8 metres 45 centimetres would have been good enough to beat Greg Rutherford and win Olympic gold in London.


DEION SANDERS – BASEBALL


With “Prime Time”, now an analyst for CBS and the NFL Network, we may have saved the best till last. Sanders was successful at football, athletics and baseball at Florida State University, before being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft. He played primarily at cornerback, but also as a kick returner, punt returner and wide receiver.

During his 14-year career, he was named to eight Pro Bowls and made consecutive Super Bowl appearances: Super Bowl XXIX with the 49ers, when they beat the San Diego Chargers, and XXX with the Dallas Cowboys, who saw off the Steelers. He also turned out for the Redskins and Ravens before retiring in 2005. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and named in the NFL 100th Anniversary All-time Team.

Bleacher Report

“Neon Deion” also had a solid nine-season baseball career, playing as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. He lost his one World Series appearance in 1992, when the Braves lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, but nonetheless, Sanders is still the only person ever to appear in both a World Series and a Super Bowl.

Fab fact: On 11 October 1992, Sanders played for the Falcons against the Dolphins in Miami, then flew to Pittsburgh to join the Atlanta Braves for their National League Championship Series game against the Pirates later the same day. Alas, he didn’t make it out on to the diamond, which rather ruins the story, but I guess his manager wasn’t chuffed with him having played an hour of gridiron as preparation for their big game.

Five teams that nailed the 2020 NFL Draft

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

From the record-breaking television ratings to the lack of technical issues, the NFL’s first virtual draft was an undoubted success (unless you’re a Green Bay fan). Like a bizarre episode of Through The Keyhole, we also saw inside the homes of the star players, and the makeshift war rooms of the general managers and coaches: Kliff Kingsbury’s huge villa, Dave Gettleman’s basement and Mike Vrabel’s total madhouse. As I alluded to earlier this week, some teams left us with more questions than answers but here’s a quick round-up on who ‘won’ the 2020 NFL draft.


BALTIMORE RAVENS


Most analysts concur that Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh knocked this draft out of the ballpark, with A and A+ grades being handed out like candy. They made their 10 picks count with good value on both sides of the ball and didn’t seem to reach. Instead, they waited for the likes of LSU linebacker Patrick Queen (#28) to fall into their laps, as well as Ohio State running back JK Dobbins and speedster WR Devin Duvernay on Day 2.

Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Queen should make an impact in the heart of the defence with his sideline-to-sideline speed, especially after Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes left in free agency. Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike also had many a pundit purring, with the defensive tackle getting snaffled at pick #71 despite being widely predicted to go in the 30s.

Alongside Mark Ingram, Dobbins should give yet more oomph to their league-leading rushing offense, while linebacker Malik Harrison and guard Ben Bredeson add depth across the board. Baltimore also picked up a couple of late steals, with receiver James Proche, who logged almost 4,000 receiving yards and 39 receiving touchdowns over four seasons at SMU, and Iowa safety Geno Stone, rated by both Move the Sticks’ Daniel Jeremiah and PFF’s Mike Renner as the best value pick of the final round.

Baltimore were exceptional last season and didn’t have many needs. But even so, they improved even more over the weekend, staying neck and neck with the Chiefs as the team to beat in the AFC Conference.

In short: they smashed it.


DALLAS COWBOYS


When drafting, the big question that faces every team now and again is whether you go for the best player available or fill your biggest need. The Cowboys entered the 2020 draft with the league’s top offense and obvious needs in defence, yet opted to spend their first-round pick on Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Bullseye.

Alonzo Adams/AP

Lounging around on his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar super-yacht, team owner/president Jerry Jones must have been laughing into his champagne cocktail when he picked Lamb at #17. Arguably the best receiver in this loaded class, there was no way he should have been the third off the board. With the ‘Boys having signed Amari Cooper to a $100 million extension, Lamb probably wasn’t on the radar but taking him was a no-brainer: Christmas came early in Texas. Preventing their receiver-needy rivals in Philadelphia from securing his run-after-catch abilities was just the icing on the cake.

Only then did Dallas move on to address their two main areas of need, cornerback and defensive tackle, and they did so with great value picks. Stefon’s lil’ brother Trevon Diggs, mocked by many to go (to Dallas, as it happens) on Day 1, landed in the second round to help fill the void left by CB Byron Jones. Oklahoma’s huge defensive lineman Neville Gallimore also came a day later than many expected. Steals? All three picks border on daylight robbery.

Rewriting the draft textbook, the Cowboys also picked up Utah edge rusher Bradlee Anae with pick #179 (90 picks later than predicted by Mel Kiper of EPSN). I saw a comparison with Maxx Crosby recently, which means he should be a viable replacement for the departed Robert Quinn. They also snatched up another corner in Reggie Robinson, adding depth in a weak spot, and Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz, arguably this year’s top center. If he can stay healthy, he could step straight in for the retired Travis Frederick.

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After a disappointing campaign in which they didn’t seem to want to win the NFC East, despite the stuttering Eagles handing them chance after chance, Dallas are shaping up nicely to boss the division in 2020. Jones can now start to focus on getting Dak Prescott’s deal inked. With a mouth-watering trio of targets at his disposal – Lamb, Cooper and Michael Gallup – it’s time to keep the franchise QB (and his bank manager) happy.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS


Vikes GM Rick Spielman is probably still resting up after selecting a massive 15 players in the 2020 NFL Draft, the biggest haul since the seven-round format was introduced in 1994.

He did a great job addressing the team’s needs, particularly in the first three rounds. To replace wide receiver Stefon Diggs, he used the 22nd pick to take LSU’s Justin Jefferson. Jefferson can play out wide or in the slot, and should give Kirk Cousins a tasty option alongside Adam Thielen, if his 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns last year are anything to go by.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

They then moved down a few spots, giving #25 to the 49ers in return for the 31st and two later selections, but still found another would-be star in TCU corner Jeff Gladney. Minnesota then double-dipped to take Cameron Dantzler (#89) to boost a depleted cornerback room missing Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, while Ezra Cleveland should add useful depth at left tackle.

A total of 11 picks on Day 3 brought several more decent pick-ups, including James Lynch, a defensive tackle from Baylor, Oregon LB Troy Dye and defensive end Kenny Willekes.  

Boom. Job done.


CINCINNATI BENGALS


Who knows if any trade offers were received and rejected but with the first pick in the draft, the Bengals held fast to secure their quarterback of the future and their franchise poster boy.

Joe Burrow was the obvious choice, having just completed the best college football season by anyone, ever. He starts from the get-go as the incumbent QB, Andy Dalton, was finally released (while I was writing this article) after a lack of trade interest. If Burrow’s success at LSU is any guide, the 2019 Heisman winner could eventually end Cincy’s three-decade playoff win drought and have the Who Dey Nation eating out of his hands. I bet they’re already planning a statue outside Paul Brown Stadium.

Associated Press

After last season’s struggles, just picking the Ohio native makes Cincinnati a winner in this draft. Admittedly, he can’t reverse their fortunes alone, so it’s just as well de facto GM Duke Tobin and HC Zac Taylor kept their foot on the gas. Mirroring the 2011 draft when they picked AJ Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds, they paired Burrow with WR Tee Higgins with the first pick of Day 2. The 6’4” jump-ball specialist notched 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Clemson, and has been compared to Green, his new teammate (and favourite player). Higgins may even replace the franchise-tagged wideout in time.

With the only slight gripe being a (misguided) belief that their O-line didn’t need help, three of their five remaining selections were used to beef up their underperforming linebacker corps. Cincinnati opened Round 3 with Logan Wilson, who excels in pass coverage, while Akeem Davis-Gaither is a one-man highlight reel who might see some special teams action early doors. The Bengals chose a third linebacker in Purdue’s Markus Bailey with their final pick. Touted to break the Top 100 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury last season, Bailey may yet prove to be a real find, if he can stay healthy.


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS


Let’s face it. Before Cincinnati was even on the clock, Tampa had probably won the offseason, having replaced turnover merchant Jameis Winston with GOAT Tom Brady, and then enticed TE Rob Gronkowski out of retirement for one last hurrah alongside his ol’ pal. But the Buccs complemented their trade prowess with a strong draft, focusing on giving their new (but old) QB some much-needed O-line help and more offensive weapons.

In Round 1, Tampa traded up one place to #13, coughing up their 14th and 117th picks to the 49ers, to ensure Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, arguably the draft’s top tackle, was theirs. He wasn’t expected to drop that far after storming the Combine, so I bet the Buccaneers did some last-minute big-board shuffling.

Getty Images

In the third round, they turned to skill positions, collaring Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (#76) to beef up their backfield before diving into the deep wide receiver class to come up with Tyler Johnson (#161). Johnson’s Minnesota teammate, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (#45), is a versatile ball hawk could yet turn out to be one of the best snares over the three days. For added spice, his dad was a Pro-Bowl defensive back who intercepted Brady in 2001 when playing for the Bills.

If Bruce Arians deploys the battle-weary Gronk sparingly, alongside his other tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers could be a team to watch next season.


HONOURABLE MENTIONS


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS GM Chris Ballard filled a lot of needs, even without a first-round pick (traded for 49ers DT DeForest Buckner, which won’t do them any harm). Second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. from USC could become a top receiver, while explosive RB Jonathan Taylor – averaging 2,000 yards a year over three years – is a hot prospect, despite some concern about the tread left on his tyres after his heavy workload in Wisconsin. A day later than many predicted, the 6’6” Washington quarterback Jacob Eason got picked up in Day 3. The big-armed gunslinger won’t play next year but, under HC Frank Reich, he’ll be groomed to take over from Philip Rivers in due course.


The MIAMI DOLPHINS had 14 darts – including three first-rounders – and most hit the target (though they did use one on a long snapper). Despite some pre-draft smoke and mirrors, GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores selected Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa first. Who knows if his injury woes are behind him but the Dolphins had to take the risk on the most naturally talented QB out there. His hip injury was bad luck but it made him available at #5, an equivalent slice of good fortune after Miami didn’t quite #TankForTua. Tua will line up behind a shiny new offensive line including another Round 1 pick, tackle Austin Jackson, and while cornerback Noah Igbinoghene was one of Day 1’s biggest reaches, they got better value in later rounds with DE Jason Strowbridge and edge rusher Curtis Weaver. Outside the draft bubble, acquiring Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, Byron Jones and Matt Breida only increases the sense that Miami will be much, much better next year.

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY

Earlier this month, I suggested going best defensive player available for a few rounds might be a wise tactic for the CAROLINA PANTHERS. Well, whaddya know? Despite having a new offensively minded Head Coach in Matt Rhule, GM Marty Hurney used all seven of his picks on defence, including a big ol’ run stuffer in Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown (#7) and athletic Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos (#38). Later on, they traded up to the last pick in Round 2 to get safety Jeremy Chinn, while cornerback Troy Pride Jr. was also good value in the fourth. The moves they made in free agency – replacing Cam Newton with Teddy Bridgewater and adding Jets receiver Robbie Anderson – should also reinvigorate the team’s offence, making the Panthers a contender again.


I also liked the high-risk, high-reward approach of the ARIZONA CARDINALS. Picking at #8, GM Steve Keim somehow ignored the team’s needs at offensive tackle and went for Clemson linebacker/safety hybrid Isiah Simmons. It might have been a risk (especially having shipped out their second-round pick in the DeAndre Hopkins trade) but 63 picks later, the ace in the pack came up when they snaffled Houston left tackle Josh Jones. After standing out at the Senior Bowl, there was some Day 1 hype about him but he fell… and fell… and fell. Apparently, Kliff Kingsbury even called Jones’ college coaches to ask if there was something he ought to know about. Some steals feel like pick-pocketing but getting Jones in Round 3 was a ram-raid.

Five teams with more questions than answers after the 2020 NFL Draft

If you believe the main commentators, most of the 32 NFL teams had a decent draft. There were a lot of A grades bandied about, with the Ravens, Cardinals, Cowboys, Vikings and even the Bengals getting praise for their hauls. But which teams raised a few eyebrows, had us wondering what they were thinking or just messed with our minds? Here are five teams that were more conundrum than consensus.


1. What are the Packers trying to tell Aaron Rodgers?

As we approached the draft, the general feeling was that the Packers needed more offensive weapons for Aaron Rodgers to throw to. And, with one of the deepest receiver classes in a long time, it was easy to predict that they’d pick one or two to keep Davante Adams company. But rather than finding Rodgers offensive tools to elevate his game, Green Bay opted for his heir apparent, Utah State QB Jordan Love, instead. I would not have wanted to be the pet cat in the Rodgers household on Thursday evening. 

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

Getting all kinds of heat for this pick (our very own Kieran gave it an ‘F’) asx well as the draft as a whole (‘D’ and ‘loser’ grades were not uncommon), you have to question why they traded up to #26 to pick a high-risk guy with 17 interceptions last year. OK, Rodgers is 36 and on the back nine of his playing career (to mix my sporting metaphors), but there’s still plenty of life in the old dog yet – he’s still contracted for another four years.

They made matters worse by failing to pick a single WR – criminal, given the number of pass-catching options available in the 2020 class. Instead, they opted for a power running back (AJ Dillon) and then reached for a TE (Josiah Deguara).

With roster needs at receiver and offensive tackle, as well as linebacker and defensive line, it seems odd that they wouldn’t want to push on from reaching last season’s NFC championship game. But it seems the Pack have a longer-term vision and may be planning for the post-Rodgers era rather than building around him with a Tee Higgins or a Michael Pittman Jr. They could still have win-now aspirations and may just have wanted a decent backup in case the old boy gets crocked, but you can’t help but feel that Green Bay wasted their picks this time around… and upset their franchise QB to boot.

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2. Did the Patriots make a dog’s dinner of the draft?

Bill Belichick doesn’t do templates; he does things his own way, ploughs his own furrow as it were. Being the coaching guru he is, what often seems like an odd pick to the rest of us usually works out OK. But even for him, this year’s draft seemed a little off-script. Maybe we should take more stock from the video feed from Belichick HQ that suggested Bill’s dog Nike was in charge of making the picks.

With Tom Brady, Danny Shelton, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and the once-retired Gronk all leaving town this spring, conventional wisdom would be to fill some of those holes with the Patriots’ 12 picks. But somewhat unconventionally (at least for everyone else bar Belichick), there was a bit of horse-trading, they moved back out of the first round and made their first pick at #37 instead of #23. Small-school safety Kyle Dugger – at least we’ve all heard of Lenior-Rhyne now – was followed by defensive linemen Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings: decent enough picks, but defence was never the issue here.

We were left with a few questions after New England’s business was done. We all expected tight ends to be on the shopping list but were Devin Asiasi (#91) and Dalton Keene (#101) the right selections at the time? Given their limitations last year, they also needed help out wide so, just like the Packers, why didn’t the Pats pick up at least one receiver, especially from this deeper-than-deep class?

They also didn’t take a QB, so we have to assume they trust former fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham to pick up the reins in TB12’s wake. They could have a Gardner Minshew on their hands or he could be more of a Ryan Finley – eek. Apparently, not going after Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason or Jake Fromm to reduce the risk “wasn’t by design, it just didn’t work out that way”… not words you usually hear Belichick utter. (Then again, he may yet trade for Cam Newton or Andy Dalton and all this conjecture would be pointless.)

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Not only did they ignore the quarterback prospects, they did so in favour of a kicker no one had heard of in Justin Rohrwasser. Without one on their roster, a kicker was always a need but was he the best value at #159, especially with Tyler Bass and Rodrigo Blankenship – arguably the two top options – still available? Apparently, his familiarity with playing and training in bad weather was a key selling point but even so, it still seemed a bit odd that the first kicker off the board was ranked about 12th in his position.


3. Did the Eagles get Hurts in case Wentz gets hurt?

I don’t recall any mock drafts pairing the Eagles with Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, but that’s who they used their second-round pick on. Philly have already coughed up a cool $137 million on extending Wentz’s contract so they obviously see him as their QB1 for a fair while yet. So is investing the #53 pick in his understudy a wise move?

Jason Getz

Their first pick, WR Jalen Reagor from TCU, gives Wentz a new target to throw to, and they got more speed later in the draft, as well as through a trade for the 49ers’ Marquise Goodwin. But opting to bring in a new backup at quarterback, rather than address corner, safety and linebacker, or give their current QB more playmakers to aim at, was an unexpected move.

GM Howie Roseman obviously believes in his current play-caller but also stated that he wants to make Philadelphia “a quarterback factory”. They do like a strong second choice, be it Nick Foles, Chase Daniels or Josh McCown, and it’s saved the day of late, especially with Wentz twice suffering season-ending injuries. But unless they use the athletic QB in a Taysom Hill-like way, as a Swiss Army knife on special teams, Hurts’ only hope of seeing the field in the short term will be if Wentz fails to suit up for some reason over the next three or four years. That may not happen for some time, if at all, so not waiting till Day 3, when Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason came off the board, seems like a reach with their second pick.


4. Just how many tight ends does Chicago need?

Having passed their first-rounder to the Raiders as part of the Khalil Mack deal, the Chicago Bears didn’t have many picks and only joined the draft at pick #43. Many were expecting them to use their two second-round selections to fill gaps at corner and safety. However reasonable the choice of Utah CB Jaylon Jennings was at #50, many of us were surprised that at #43, Chicago plumped for Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet with their first pick.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t get me wrong: seen in a vacuum, he’s a great pick – Kmet was very much a top TE choice and will give Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles a viable red zone target. However, the Bears had added Jimmy Graham to an already-crowded tight end room during free agency, so the selection of Kmet only muddies the waters further. Unbelievably, his arrival means the Bears now have ten (yes, 10!) of ‘em – maybe someone’s getting TE and TEN confused?


5. Houston, do we have a problem?

One of the lasting images of this year’s remote draft will be Texans Head Coach – and now General Manager – Bill O’Brien losing his cool and storming off when a potential trade with Detroit fell through at the last minute. Not the personification of poise and professionalism maybe, but that frustration only mirrors how Houston fans must feel about O’Brien.

The fact that he has traded away two big stars, Jadeveon Clowney and DeAndre Hopkins, without getting a first-round pick for either are black marks against his record. The friction between him and Hopkins, and the arrival of a sub-par David Johnson in his stead, were part of the most puzzling free agency move this off-season. They also gave up a fourth-round pick in that deal, as well as a second-rounder in exchange for the LA Rams’ Brandin Cooks and a first-round spot (plus two top picks in 2021) when acquiring former Miami left tackle Laremy Tunsil. That may yet prove to be as high a price as the $66 million extension they’ve just forked out.

Those shenanigans left them with just five selections this weekend. Having seen DJ Reader leave for Cincinnati in free agency, at least DT Ross Blacklock was a sensible choice with their only selection in the first two rounds. Linebacker Jonathan Grennard in Round 3 was probably a reach, and neither CB John Reid nor WR Isiah Coulter seem to be immediate impact players, given the Texans’ depth at both positions.

Rather than roster-building, O’Brien seems to be slowly doing the opposite, leaving Houston fans increasingly frustrated with his unpredictable choices.

2020 NFL Draft: Bold Predictions

 

Less than 48 hours to go. At the Full 10 Yards we’ve been waiting way too long for this draft, and we imagine you have been as well!

With all the smokescreens and rumours flying around, we thought it’d be fun to throw out some bold predictions for the draft.

  1. Rob Gronkowski to the Bu… Oh

Whilst writing this article, we got a reminder of why the NFL off-season is nearly as entertaining as the real thing – Rob Gronkowski came out of out of retirement and was traded to the Buccs.

Not only does this add another weapon in Tampa for Tom Brady and Bruce Ariens, but it also seemingly adds another interesting veteran to the trade block just before the draft starts in OJ Howard.

But back to the bold predictions, here’s a few from the @Full10Yards crew:

Andy Moore (@Ajmoore21): Only two QBs go in the top 10

It feels almost inevitable after months of speculation that a QB goes 1st overall, then at 3 or 5, then again at 6. But, in recent weeks there has been doubts about the Chargers taking a QB at 6, and now as we enter the week itself, there’s rumours of the Dolphins taking a tackle with their first pick.

It could all be a smokescreen, in fact it most likely is, but how fascinating would it be to see Tua drop down the board a bit, and the scramble amongst unexpectant teams to get a QB they didn’t think they’d have a shot at getting.

On the flip side, if Justin Herbert starts to fall, it’ll be interesting to see where he eventually lands, could the Saints get their future QB without trading any capital to do so? Could Colts come up into the bottom of the first and take him?

Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk): Atlanta Falcons move up to #3 and take the top corner

Most of the mock drafts I’ve seen go Joe Burrow #1 to the Bengals, Chase Young to Washington at #2 and then Jeff Okudah to the Lions. With that in mind, I’m going to mess with that scenario and say the Ohio State corner goes to the Falcons at #3.

Atlanta’s GM, “Trader Thomas” Dimitroff, is no stranger to wheelin’ and dealin’, not least when he handed over a few picks to the Browns to nab Julio Jones at #6 in 2011. With the rumour mills in full grind, there’s growing chatter that Atlanta are considering another big move up from #16 for a defensive star.

They have needs at linebacker and defensive tackle but I’m going corner, to replace recently released Desmond Trufant. CJ Henderson from Florida is getting some traction and maybe a deal with the Cardinals or Jaguars inside the top 10 might be enough. But we’re talking bold predictions here so how about a trade with Detroit, who are apparently listening to offers, for the top CB available?

On the flip side, the price might be too rich and the Falcons aren’t blessed with draft capital (only six selections). But with many teams ahead of them also looking to trade down for more picks, it can’t be ruled out. The Falcons also have ambitions to bounce back after going 7-9 last year so they’ll want players who can contribute right away while the likes of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones – and now Todd Gurley – are still around.

 

James Fotheringham (@NFLHypeTrain): San Francisco do not get any of the top 3 receivers

Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III have been projected to go to the Jets, Raiders and 49ers at 11, 12 and 13. The 49ers are in a bit of a quandary. They could sort out their need at WR but as it stands, they don’t pick again until the 4th round after their second pick in the 1st round (31).

Surely then, one of the two picks will be traded? And with teams looking to target players I can see the 49ers taking the capital and trading down from either spot.

However, trading down from 13 will almost certainly leave them with no chance of getting one of the previously mentioned receivers. That leaves them with the likes of Justin Jefferson or Donovan Peoples Jones. It won’t be a disaster but it will leave 49ers and fantasy fans somewhat underwhelmed.

There is a possibility that, if the Jets take a tackle, Jeudy gets picked by Raiders and one of the Broncos, Dolphins, Jaguars and Eagles are suddenly in a position to trade up and get Lamb or Ruggs at 13, thus providing the 49ers with good trading partners.

The other option is that they keep pick 13 but replace Buckner with a new DT like Javon Kinlaw, as we saw in the Full10Yards mock draft, but I sense the draft capital they get offered by teams in the QB or tackle hunt may be too much to turn down.

 

Dave Moore (@davieremixed): The Broncos take the best player left at 15

The agreed play is that the Broncos take one of CeeDee Lamb/Jerry Jeudy/Henry Ruggs III or a defensive lineman and that makes sense given the need for playmakers opposite Sutton and Fant as well as the Derek Wolfe-sized hole on the line.

But are you telling me that if John Elway has a chance to pick Tua or Herbert if they fall that far that he won’t? Or if Jedrick Wills somehow falls that far in the ensuing chaos he won’t seek to replace the disaster that is Garrett Bolles?

 

There we go then, four predictions that would cause a stir come Thursday night. Tell us what you think will happen at @full10yards.

10 SERIES: 10 TEAMS THAT NEED A GOOD DRAFT

By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the big live NFL Draft event planned in Las Vegas has been shelved and, rather than sitting together in physical “war rooms”, team representatives are now preparing to dial in remotely from home. Obviously, all 32 teams could do with a successful haul come close of business on 25 April but if they can master Zoom or Skype, which teams really need to nail this first-ever virtual draft?


Cincinnati Bengals

(7 picks: #1, #33, #65, #107, #147, #180, #215)

The league’s worst team last year obviously need as good a draft as any but it’s not quite as crucial as usual. In Cincy terms at least, they had an active free agency and filled a few holes, especially in defence. That said, with Andy Dalton still under contract, and Dre Kirkpatrick and Cordy Glenn released, Cincinnati’s best chances of acquiring extra picks didn’t come to fruition so they’ll just have to make the seven they do have count.

Trades notwithstanding, the Bengals are due to pick first in every round, giving them the next 10 days or so to decide what to do with the first overall pick (as if we didn’t know) and several hours each evening to consider any trade offers they receive before starting Days 2 and 3. They shouldn’t mess this up but you only have to go back 12 months to see how a draft can be a total washout. With injuries (Jonah Williams) and underperformance (Drew Sample, Ryan Finley) in abundance, only LB Germaine Pratt came out of the class of 2019 with any credit.

After, we assume, Ohio native Joe Burrow becomes their new franchise quarterback, the Bengals should get a couple of skill-position weapons for him to work with (as AJ Green and John Ross both hit free agency next season), at least another offensive lineman for protection and probably another linebacker.

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Washington Redskins

(7 picks: #2, #66, #108, #142, #162, #216, #229)

Picking second after a terrible 2019, it should be no surprise to anyone that Washington also feature in this article. They have a sackful of needs, even after a busy free agency, just the standard seven picks with which to address them and a new Head Coach in Ron Rivera who’s going to want to make progress PDQ. So this draft matters.

Rick Scuteri / Associated Press

Almost everyone has the ‘Skins taking Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young at #2 overall and while the defensive line isn’t their most pressing need, it would be hard to pass on a player widely regarded as a “generational talent”. Then again, they may trade the second spot away to someone like Miami, and grab one or two other first round picks. After that, the Redskins don’t pick again until #66, so they’re not going to get the pick of the bunch. They’ll need a tight end or two after Jordan’s Reed’s departure and Vernon Davis’ retirement, and a WR mate for Terry McLaurin: Chase Claypool or Antonio Gandy-Golden maybe?

If Trent Williams decides he’s washed his hands of the franchise after sitting out last year, left tackle will suddenly become a pressing need too.


Miami Dolphins

(14 picks: #5, #18, #26, #39, #56, #70, #141,
#153, #154, #173, #185, #227, #246, #251)

The Dolphins opted for a total reboot last year, trading away the likes of Kenyan Drake and Minkah Fitzpatrick in exchange for a million draft picks (OK then, just 14, including three in Round 1 alone). Having acquired all this capital in exchange for bombing last year out, the Dolphins can’t afford to waste any of it now they have so many holes to plug. 

With Josh Rosen probably not the guy and Fitzmagic a stop-gap at best, the Fins will probably take Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert, and have the ammo to move up from #5 if they need to. Their woeful pass rush has been bolstered in free agency with LB Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Shaq Lawson, and they now have the highest-paid corner in the business in Byron Jones, so that leaves their O-line as the other main priority. Picking at #18 may mean they miss out on the top-tier OL talent and have to wait for someone in the second wave, like Isiah Wilson or Ezra Cleveland, or they may double-dip on Days 1 and 2.

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Los Angeles Chargers

(7 picks: #6, #37, #71, #112, #151, #186, #220)

On paper, the Chargers don’t look in bad shape so suggesting they need a blinding draft might seem to be over-stating it. But many of their best players –DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, TE Hunter Henry and centre Mike Pouncey among them – are entering the final year of their contracts. It’s time to put some successors in place now, as they won’t be able to keep them all.

In Philip Rivers’ wake, Tyrod Taylor is the bridge QB for now but LA are touted to pick their playcaller of the future at #6; whether that’s Tua, Herbert or Love remains to be seen.

Free agency signings such as corner Chris Harris and right tackle Bryan Bulaga suggest the Chargers might be going all out this year. Another lineman or two are on the cards too, so expect a tackle in Round 2 – a Josh Jones or a Lucas Niang maybe. Later rounds will give the Chargers the chance to fill out the wide receiver room and beef up the secondary.


Carolina Panthers

(8 picks: #7, #38, #69, #113, #148, #152, #184, #221)

Having shelled out $33 million for Teddy Bridgewater, a full-scale rebuild seems to be on the cards in Carolina under new HC Matt Rhule.

Chuck Cook

Jets WR Robby Anderson joined during free agency, so their offensive focus can probably be directed towards O-line help to support the running game of Christian McCaffrey, and a TE to replace Greg Olsen. That said, they’re more likely to look at their immediate defensive needs. With Luke Kuechly’s retirement, only one starting cornerback of note and the D-line needing help, just picking the best defensive player available for several rounds might not be a bad tactic.

They have more than enough picks to haul in a strong draft class this year. They’re out of the gate at #7, behind three QB-needy teams so they’ll be spoilt for choice when their time comes: at least one of LB Isiah Simmons, CB Jeff Okudah and DT Derrick Brown should be there for the taking.


Jacksonville Jaguars

(12 picks: #9, #20, #42, #73, #116, #137, #140, #157, #165, #189, #206, #223)

You could argue that the salary-cap-strapped Jags need help pretty much everywhere and anywhere. HC Doug Marrone is in one of hottest hot seats in the NFL and needs his 12 picks to pay off if he’s to avoid another losing season.

Jacksonville’s defence has more holes than a block of Emmental, having lost Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell, so they’ll need to use some of their extensive draft capital early on. With picks #9 and #20, they could start at corner and on the edge. If Okudah falls to them, they’ll snap him up and Yetur Gross-Matos would be a solid pick at 20. Gardner Minshew may yet get some competition on Day 2 if the Jags consider Jacob Eason at #42.

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Las Vegas Raiders

(7 picks: #12, #19, #80, #81, #91, #121, #159)

Las Vegas made some decent FA pick-ups, including LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and safety Jeff Heath, so a few more shrewd selections could propel them from also-ran to playoff contender.

AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

Now that the draft is online rather than at a massive public event, there’s slightly less need for the former hosts to make a big splash in their new home. Nonetheless, the Silver and Black have two first round selections with which to make some Day 1 headlines, with wide receivers like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and CeeDee Lamb being widely mocked to the Raiders. If they go that route, their selection would probably leapfrog Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones in the pecking order.

Cornerback could be the other likely first-round target while Days 2 and 3 will likely see them hone grab a defensive tackle and added depth at safety and linebacker.


Minnesota Vikings

(12 picks: #22, #25, #58, #89, #105, #132, #155, #201, #205, #219, #249, #253)

A contract extension for QB Kirk Cousins can only mean one thing: the Vikes are in “win-now” mode. But if they are going to go a step or two further than last year, they’ll have to address several areas, on both sides of the ball, with their dozen 2020 picks.

Offensively, the Stefon Diggs trade to the Bills means a viable #2 wideout to support Adam Thielen is vital. The WR class is deep this year but I suspect pick #22 or #25 could well be used on someone like Tee Higgins or Laviska Shenault.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

A guard or two might be wise, having released Josh Kline, but addressing the defence is arguably as pressing. They could do with two or three corners to fill the vacancies left by Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander (both Bengals now) and Xavier Rhodes, now with the Colts. There’s also no depth at safety and with Eversen Griffen also off to pastures new, a defensive end like Iowa’s AJ Epenesa is also on Minnesota’s shopping list.


New England Patriots

(12 picks: #23, #87, #98, #100, #125, #172, #195, #204, #212, #213, #230, #241)

There was a time, not that long ago, when suggesting the Pats really need to nail this draft would’ve been considered heresy, or even the first signs of madness. But for a change, they need a lot of their 12 picks to hit the target.

With the untested Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer their only choices at QB, Bill Belichick suddenly has much to ponder in the post-TB12 era. Are they happy with their options or will they be in the market for someone like Jordan Love at #23 or even Jalen Hurts in a later round?

Both are possible, but their offense could really benefit from a track star who can take the top off a defence. If they go WR in Round 1, Henry Ruggs could be available, or they might wait for Denzel Mimms or Chase Claypool. Post-Gronk, there’s also been a noticeable TE-shaped hole in the Patriots’ ranks so the top dog here, Cole Kmet, might even be the first selection.

In later rounds, New England really need some of those compensatory picks to find viable replacements in their defence, having lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, during free agency. And they don’t have a kicker on their roster, so a top prospect like Tyler Bass may well be Boston-bound.

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Chicago Bears

(7 picks: #43, #50, #163, #196, #200, #226, #233)

In complete contrast to the Dolphins, the Bears don’t pick till midway through Round 2. Having had limited cap space to play the free agency field, Chicago are going to have to play a canny game to make the picks they do have count.

Having already acquired Nick Foles to give the troubled Mitchell Trubisky some competition, they’re not likely to consider anything but a late-round ‘project’ at QB. Therefore, expect the gaps in the backfield left by departing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and corner Prince Amukamara to be the ones the Bears fill at #43 and #50. Could Grant Delpit fall that far, for example, or maybe Antoine Winfield Jr?

It won’t be until staggering 113(!) picks later that Chicago will get the chance to do anything else, like find a wideout to complement Allen Robinson or add a piece to their O-line, but they’ll probably need to do both with their Day 3 choices.

10 things that defined the 2019 NFL season

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

Looking back at last season, there were some great games and some awful ones. Amazing throws, catches and runs. Incredible touchdowns. Last-ditch tackles. But that’s the case every year. So what were the events that really defined the campaign? Here’s the @Full10Yards take on what 2019 should be remembered for.


1. Luck finally runs out as Colts’ QB retires


The first headline of the 2019 season was written during Indianapolis’ preseason game with the Chicago Bears, when 29-year-old franchise quarterback Andrew Luck suddenly announced his retirement. Sadly, he was booed off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as the news leaked out.

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The reasons cited at an emotional press conference in August centred on the mental and physical toll of the injuries sustained during his career. Referring to the seemingly endless cycle of injury and rehab, he said “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game… and the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football. It’s the hardest decision of my life but it is the right one.”

Touted as a generational talent, the Stanford QB was selected as the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft as the successor to Peyton Manning. He immediately delivered, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons without missing a start. His best season, 2014, saw him throw an NFL-leading 40 touchdowns as Indy reached the AFC Championship game.

But during his final four years, he missed 26 games and played in pain most of the time. He tore abdominal muscles, rib cartilage and a labrum, lacerated a kidney, suffered concussion and, in what was probably the final straw, endured a mystery ankle issue that was never resolved.

Despite an injury-blighted 2015, he signed a $140m extension to become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but then missed all of 2017. The four-time Pro-Bowler came back with a career-high 4,593 yards in 2018, and finished his career with 23,761 yards (third on the Colts’ all-time list) and 171 touchdowns.


2. Player holdouts become a thing


The 2019 season saw more NFL holdouts than ever before. Skipping training camp seemed to be an increasingly common and effective tactic as players tried following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack.

There are several reasons why players hold back their services and demand a trade: it’s usually about money so each franchise needed to weight up whether keeping the player active benefits either party in the long run. And in 2019, the results were mixed.

Take Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon from the LA Chargers. With two years left on his rookie deal, Zeke held out through August and got a six-year, $90m contract extension for his troubles. Gordon didn’t. He was looking to prove his value though his absence but the Chargers dug their heels in and leaned on Austin Ekeler instead. Gordon, in the fifth year of his rookie deal, caved after a few weeks of cat and mouse, and slinked back into the fold in late September when his request fell on deaf ears.

Despite being set to make a paltry $1.1 million in 2019, Saints star wideout Michael Thomas was adamant that he wouldn’t hold out, but he did. But boy, did it pay off. Negotiations led to a $100m, five-year deal – a new record for a receiver.

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The Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney also had a deal below market value so he sat out all of preseason, prompting a trade to the Seahawks days before the start of the campaign, while the Jaguars’ defensive end Yannick Ngakoue refused to attend minicamp and preseason workouts until his contract was resolved.

There were also two holdouts not driven by the dollar: Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey demanded a trade after a touchline bust-up with head coach Doug Marrone during their Week 2 game against Houston, and Washington tackle Trent Williams sat out the entire year due to the way he believed the Redskins medical staff handled a health scare. 

To me, saying you won’t play till you get what you want feels like a spoilt child sulking and stamping their feet. Then again, it might be worth a try if you’re gonna get paid $100 million to zip it.


3. Antonio Brown quits the NFL


The former Pittsburgh wide receiver had a difficult 2019 to say the least. Having bounced around three different teams in under a year, he tried to claim back around $40 million in unpaid wages, fines, guarantees and bonuses from the Raiders and the Patriots.

Lynne Sladky/AP

Oakland acquired him from the Steelers but cut him before Week 1, creating a flurry of complaints concerning fines, lost guaranteed money and a $1m signing bonus voided because he was axed prior to playing a regular season game. Picked up by the Patriots just hours later, Brown is also attempting to salvage his unpaid Week 1 salary plus another $9m signing bonus, accusing the franchise of breach of contract. Then there’s the two (unsuccessful) grievances he filed against the NFL while disputing the ban on his preferred style of helmet.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor, while another woman accused him of sexual misconduct and sending intimidating text messages. Brown strenuously denies the charges but that final claim tipped the scales for the Pats. He was released after just 11 days and one game.

Soon after, AB84 hit social media saying he wasn’t going to play in the NFL any more, as team owners can obviously cancel whatever deals they liked. He also took pot-shots at Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger, who had both been linked with scandals in the past without much fall-out.

The investigations rumble on but whatever the eventual outcome, the league has lost a star. The 31-year-old was one of football’s most prolific offensive players with the Steelers, where his 686 catches and 9,145 receiving yards were the highest totals for a receiver over a six-year span. But it has also lost a troubled soul. Let’s hope he gets the support and professional help he needs.


4. Kaepernick holds a weird workout


Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly a divisive figure. At his peak, the quarterback led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship games but in his last season, the Niners went 2-14. He has been out of the league since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem – a protest against police brutality on people of colour. Since then, there has been no love lost between the player and the NFL.

Having settled a lawsuit with the NFL in February after claiming teams blanked him in retaliation for his protests, the league organised an out-of-the-blue, take-it-or-leave-it tryout for Kaepernick in mid-November. He was given just two hours to accept. A work-out for 25 teams was scheduled to start at the Atlanta Falcons’ training complex but amid bickering over terms and conditions, Kap pulled out and held his own private workout at a high school in Georgia, 60 miles away. About six representatives made it to the new location in time.

Carmen Mandato, Getty Images

The workout was clearly a PR stunt by the NFL – probably in an attempt to deflect criticism of their treatment of Kaepernick – but it was his only shot to get in front of scouts. As a free agent, he is eligible to sign with any team and at the time, several potential suitors were being mooted.

Regardless of the motivations behind it, one guy did something out of it but it wasn’t Kaepernick. Jordan Veasy, one of the receivers used in the workout, was subsequently signed to the Redskins’ practice squad, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.


5. A new position is invented: the quarterback-up


How many quarterbacks saw game time in 2019? Would you believe 57? Most teams had to rely on at least one stand-in and in a few cases, more than one. Every week or two, it seemed like a franchise QB was replaced by a stand-in for one reason or another, and with varying degrees of success. 

Injuries were obviously the main reason for a swap and for some, there was hardly a blip. 41-years-young Drew Brees lost five weeks but the Saints’ stand-in Teddy Bridgewater held the fort admirably, going a perfect 5-0 in his stead. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes also missed game time when he dislocated his kneecap against Denver, but veteran Matt Moore ably took over.

Alas, it didn’t always work out so well. Jets back-up Trevor Siemian – pressed into action when Sam Darnold contracted mono – didn’t even complete two quarters before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Luke Falk’s two subsequent starts produced 0 TDs, 3 INTs and 14 sacks. Likewise, after Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow surgery, Pittsburgh were forced to call upon Mason Rudolph and then Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges (both underdelivered) while Matthew Stafford’s deputies were Jeff Driskel (0-3) and then David Blough. The undrafted rookie had a blinding first few minutes, throwing TD passes against the Bears on his first two possessions, but the rest of his five-game run was ‘sub-optimal’.

Retirement also played it part, with the Colts forced to start Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck retired, while the Giants hastened the changing of the guards just two weeks into the season, subbing in Daniel Jones at the expense of the outgoing Eli Manning.

USA-TODAY

But for many teams, starting QBs were benched left, right and centre purely due to their performance. After a mediocre stretch in Miami, Ryan Tannehill took the Titans’ starting job from an underwhelming Marcus Mariota in mid-season and promptly went 9-4, including two on-the-road playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. With 22 TDs and 6 INTs, Tannehill went from ‘work in progress’ for the Dolphins to Comeback Player of the Year in Tennessee.

Back in Miami, Josh Rosen floundered for six games, leaving Ryan Fitzpatrick to pick up the pieces and win five games (despite the team being in full rebuild mode) while in Washington, journeyman Case Keenum paved the way for young buck Dwayne Haskins, the possible future of the franchise. In contrast, Ryan Finley really isn’t the future in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton was benched with the Bengals at 0-8 but the rookie was beyond terrible. After three more painful losses, Dalton was restored.

Likewise for the Panthers, Cam Newton’s injury gave Kyle Allen his chance. After four wins in four starts, he was sacked seven times by the 49ers (with a painful 28.9 passer rating) in Week 8, and was replaced by Will Grier. But he was even worse in his two starts: amid a flurry of interceptions, fumbles and sacks, Carolina lost both by 32 points.

There was one other guy I deliberately haven’t mentioned, as he deserves an entry of his own, so let’s move on… 


6. Minshew Mania


Having signed a $88m deal to become Jacksonville’s QB1, Nick Foles went down with a shoulder injury in Week 1. The Jaguars needed a new hero. Step forward sixth-round draft pick Gardner Minshew II.

The rookie put the Jags’ first W on the board in his second start, a Thursday night win over the Titans, and by the end of September, he’d been named Offensive Rookie of the Month, having thrown for 905 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in four games. The Jags were 4-5 when he handed the reins back to Foles but not before “Minshew Mania” had taken hold.

Not all heroes wear capes; some wear helmets and cleats. And on their days off, they wear aviators, headbands and cut-off denim ‘jorts’. Aided by giveaways of fake moustaches at home games, fans dressed themselves and their kids as Minshew. His distinctive look even became the Halloween costume of choice. With plans for his own fashion range, Minshew has since filed trademark applications for several terms, including Minshew Mania.

Somewhat appropriately for our moustachioed maverick, the mania ended in November (see the UK men’s health campaign Movember to see why), when Nick Foles returned. However, Minshew wasn’t quite done, replacing the former Eagle halfway through a 28-11 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 13.

Looking beyond the hype and hysteria, Minshew racked up 3,217 yards, 21 TDs and six INTs in 14 appearances, and oversaw all six of Jacksonville’s wins. Solid enough production to reassure fans, should he be called upon again.


7. Myles Garrett loses his head


As we all know (*cough*), Rule 12, Article 17 of the NFL rulebook states: “A player may not use a helmet … as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.”

Well, eight seconds from the end of Cleveland’s fractious 21-7 victory over Pittsburgh in November, that’s exactly what occurred. Steelers QB Mason Rudolph had just completed a pass when he was engulfed by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The players shoved each other, then wrestled and grabbed each other’s face masks. The top draft pick from 2017 pulled Rudolph’s helmet off and clobbered him over the head with it.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The ensuing melee led to three immediate ejections, followed by fines for both teams and suspensions for the main protagonists. Garrett’s indefinite ban for his actions – termed “totally unacceptable and inexcusable” by coaches, players and pundits alike – was only rescinded after the season ended. And he had previous: Garrett had already been handed a $50,000 fine for punching a Titans player and two roughing-the-passer penalties against the Jets, one of which ended Trevor Siemian’s season.

At the time, Garret said: “I lost my cool and I regret it. I hurt my whole team.” He later stated: “A win’s a win. I don’t think it’s overshadowed by what happened.” Yeah right, fella – we’re only going to remember the result.

Contrite at the time, Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens added: “I’m embarrassed. Myles is embarrassed. It’s not good. He understands it’s totally unacceptable.” But just a couple of weeks later, Kitchens was pictured wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt, reigniting tensions just 48 hours before the teams’ rematch. Smart.


8. The Patriots play i-spy (again)


There’s a well-known saying: “To get caught spying on your opponents once is unfortunate; to get caught twice is foolish.” OK, there isn’t, but given New England’s track record, there should be.

In early December, the Patriots acknowledged that a video crew working for them filmed the Bengals’ sideline during their game with the Browns, violating league rules in much the same way they did in 2007 during the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots admitted that a crew, making an online series titled “Do Your Job”, inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, and failed to inform the Bengals and the league of their intentions. They did, however, hand over all footage. In a statement, the Patriots accepted full responsibility for the incident (blamed on an error with credentials) but Bill Belichick distanced himself and the team from the shenanigans.

AP Photo/Gary Landers

When confronted by security, the video guy reportedly said he was an employee of Robert Kraft, not the team itself. That’s very interesting, as a key witness 12 years ago told investigators that was exactly what he’d been told to say if caught.

The seized tape apparently showed eight minutes of footage focusing on Bengals coaches signalling during the game. Sounds incriminating enough to me, especially with a game with Cincy coming up. Yet according to the NFL investigation, there was no clear evidence of the Patriots trying to gain a competitive advantage.

Maybe it was just a communication breakdown but with the Pats also at the centre of the 2015 Deflategate scandal, I can’t help thinking “there’s no smoke without fire” – and that is a well-known saying.


9. Tough Mudder comes to the NFL


In October, the Super Bowl-bound 49ers faced the Redskins at FedEx Field, holding them to 154 total yards and zero points in a 9-0 win. The game was played in appalling conditions: driving wind and rain turned the already substandard field into a quagmire, with many players struggling to keep their feet in the pooling surface water.

Not surprisingly, literally nothing of any note happened during the regulation 60 minutes (check out the box score if you like). ‘Skins QB Case Keenum made nine throws for 77 yards and Washington had -7 net yards in the fourth quarter. On the other side, Jimmy G only made 12 of 21 attempts and the game’s only points came courtesy of Robbie Gould’s boot.

That’s why the game will be remembered for what happened after the last play. Nick Bosa sacked Keenum as the clock hit zero and celebrated with a headfirst slide 10 yards across the grass. Fully embracing the conditions and their inner child, several teammates joined in. Before you knew it, a pack of white jerseys (OK, brown) were skimming across the sodden field like body-boarders.

Niners defensive end Deforest Buckner said. “It was a lot of fun. It was definitely worth it. Everybody started sliding around. It was like a bunch of little kids out there. That’s part of the game, having fun. Right now, we’re having a lot of fun.” Cornerback Richard Sherman added: “It takes you back to being a kid: you’re sloshing around and your shoes are full of water and mud. Guys had a lot of fun slipping and sliding out there.”

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

10. A new UK venue earns its spurs


Coming to London for regular season games since 2007, the NFL continues to grow over here. British fans sport flags, foam fingers, face paint and the jerseys of all 32 teams. We hang out like old friends, then scrap like alley cats for the merchandise fired into the crowd by the ‘party patrol’. And then there’s the possibility of a London-based franchise.

In 2019, we got four games for the first time as the all-singing-and-dancing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium joined Wembley as a UK International Series venue. In early October, the Oakland Raiders saw off the Chicago Bears in front of 60,463 people. The Raiders led 17-0 at half-time, the Bears fought back with 21 unanswered points but Oakland eventually triumphed 24-21.

But it wasn’t Josh Jacobs’s late TD or Gareon Conley’s game-ending interception that will stand the test of time. It was the authentic experience created by an arena built to NFL specifications that went down so well with players, coaches and fans. The dual-purpose venue has a grass football pitch (used just five days earlier for Spurs’ 7-2 Champions league defeat to Bayern Munich) that retracts beneath the stand, revealing a synthetic, NFL-ready surface. Then there’s the bespoke, super-sized locker rooms and conference suites for both teams.

Miles Willis Photography

No wonder Raiders QB Derek Carr liked it so much. “Everything is first class, every little detail,” he said afterwards.This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I’ve ever been at. Bears coach Matt Nagy concurred, adding: “It blows you away – it’s absolutely phenomenal.”

Rather than borrowing a ‘soccer’ stadium like Wembley, the NFL may just have found its spiritual home on these shores.


11. And one more for luck…


We started with a story about Luck so for a purr-fect finish, we should end with one too, even if it takes us over our designated 10 items.

During the second quarter of Dallas’ Monday night game at the Giants’ MetLife Stadium on 4 November, play was delayed for a few minutes when a black cat trotted onto the field. Displaying Amari Cooper-esque speed and agility, the elusive feline evaded players, officials, stewards and security with some neat route running and play-action before heading off under one of the stands.

Game caller Kevin Harlan had a ball, providing play-by-play commentary on the moggy’s progress: “Now he’s at the five… he’s walking to the three… he’s hit the two. A state trooper has come on to the field and the cat runs into the end zone! That. Is. A. Touchdown!”

The black cat seemed to give the Giants instant bad karma, as the home side threw away a 9-3 lead to eventually lose 37-18. And for weeks afterwards, superstitious fans clocked the fact that the ‘cat’ teams – the Lions, Panthers, Bengals and Jaguars – couldn’t buy a win for love nor money. In fact, it took almost a month, when Cincy beat the Jets on 1 December, for the hex to be lifted.

NFL Free Agents: Spinning the wheel of fortune

By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

With the franchise tag deadline and free agency looming, it’s time for the @Full10Yards top 10 free agents list (five on each side of the ball) and some thoughts on where they might land ahead of the 2020 season. Thanks to Instagram, we know the 41-year-old Drew Brees is returning to the Superdome for at least another year with the Saints. So while he’s technically still a free agent, he isn’t on this list. So who is? Let’s spin the wheel…


TOP OFFENSIVE FREE AGENTS


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Image Credit: Paul Sancya/AP

1. Dak Prescott (QB) – Dallas Cowboys


He began his time at Dallas by winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and most recently, he led one of the league’s top offenses, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns in his best campaign yet.

But the cheap deal has run out and someone has to pay the dude. Will it be the Cowboys? It seems they’ll have to go north of $30 million a year, which begs the question “Is he actually worth that?” That’s quite a pay-out but the Cowboys seem to want to build around him. Being the franchise poster-boy for the next few years comes at a price.

Safe bet: Dallas. To quote Jerry Jones, “He’s our quarterback of the future” so it looks increasingly likely that the Cowboys will retain Prescott. He’ll want to cash in on his potential and Jones will make him a happy camper.

Long shot: Dallas. Nope, it’s still the Cowboys. Al three of the team’s most valuable players have expiring contracts (that’s Amari Cooper and Byron Jones too) and it’ll be hard to keep all three. With contract talks back up and running again, Dak seems to be the one who’s going nowhere.


Image credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

2. Amari Cooper (WR) – Dallas Cowboys


Oh boy, do the ‘Boys have free agency headaches. The former Raider filled Dez Bryant’s cleats well but well enough to get top dollar? He’s not perfect but he’s the best receiver available and by that score, he won’t come cheap. If Dallas don’t think he’s worth $20 million a year, or think that paying Prescott, Cooper and corner Byron Jones will break the bank, he might walk.

Safe bet: Dallas. Theoretically, Jerry Jones could pay Dak and tag Cooper, keeping another star in the Lone Star State and giving Coach Mike McCarthy quite the toolkit in his first season.

Long shot: Washington. The Redskins have the cap space to pull the trigger. Imagine if their divisional rivals snaffled Cooper to go alongside rising stars Terry McLaurin and Dwayne Haskins.


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Image Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel

3. Ryan Tannehill (QB) – Tennessee Titans

I doubt any player boosted his reputation more in 2019 than Tannehill. His sensational second-half of the season, leading Tennessee well into the playoffs, suggests he may have more to offer than the waning old men, Brady and Rivers.

He resurrected his own career and the Titans’ season, and will probably get a tag of some sort. He obviously benefitted from Derrick Henry’s success, but he seemed pretty mobile in the pocket and kept making the throws asked of him.

Safe bet: Tennessee. The Titans shouldn’t overpay a guy who had three good months and who might not hit the same dizzy heights again but the franchise tag buys them a year’s grace.

Long shot: New England. Neither GM Jon Robinson nor HC Mike Vrabel seem that upbeat about him and the Brady-to-Nashville whispers just won’t go away. With a straight swap, could the reincarnated Tannehill continue his renaissance under Bill Belichick?

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4. Derrick Henry (RB) – Tennessee Titans


Henry was the top rusher in the league last year, with 1,540 yards and 18 TDs. Going for over 180 yards in both his postseason games, there’s no hint of him easing up or slowing down.

Despite helping the Titans ride their late-season wave of glory, Henry is a running back. And these days, they don’t keep getting paid, especially if they’re a non-factor in the receiving game (Henry had just 28 targets all year). Like Dallas, the Titans have two big contracts to sort out. They could pay Tannehill first and then see what they can offer Henry, or vice versa.

Safe bet: Tennessee. He’s among the top RBs, on a resurgent team with a decent O-line, and in a system that clearly works for all concerned. Why leave Nashville?

Long shot: Houston. With Carlos Hyde unlikely to stay, adding a tank like Henry to the backfield could help the Texans take the next step in 2020.


Image Credit: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

5. AJ Green (WR) – Cincinnati Bengals


Valuing AJ Green is a toughie. He was an elite wideout when we last saw him but thanks to toe and ankle injuries, that was 18 months ago. Despite being 31 and without any tape from last season, Green should still have some juice in the tank. We just don’t know how much.

Green wants to stay if the price is right. If healthy, Green would be the ideal pro to help Joe Burrow ease into the NFL, having had 1,000-yard seasons in six of his eight years in the NFL. Cincy didn’t trade him during the season so it’s hard to see him going now.

Safe bet: Cincinnati. Just a few weeks ago, Green said he wanted to be a Bengal his whole career. The most likely scenario is that he stays for a prove-you’ve-still-got-it year.

Long shot: Las Vegas. If contract talks break down or Green is tagged-and-traded, the Raiders could do with a skill position upgrade. They are sorted for slot receiver, running back and tight end but a true outside track star would be the missing piece.


TOP DEFENSIVE FREE AGENTS


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1. Chris Jones (DT) – Kansas City Chiefs

If Jones hits the open market, he is primed to get paid. $18 million a year is the going rate for a wrecking ball of a defensive tackle who’s notched 24.5 sacks in the last two seasons. Jones is a rare beast who can dominate games… even alongside Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes.

An explosive pass rusher and Pro-Bowler who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Aaron Donald and JJ Watt, Jones could expect top whack. But can the Chiefs (available cap space: $13.7 million) afford him, having given something in that ballpark to Frank Clark already? A monster extension to Mahomes will also be needed when the time comes.

Safe bet: Kansas City: The Chiefs should keep Jones but may need to tag him for at least another year.

Long shot: Indianapolis. Maybe KC apply the tag but trade him for draft compensation. The Colts could be up for such a move, as they have draft picks to play with and need some pass-rush help.


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Image Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

2. Shaquil Barrett (EDGE) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers


As mentioned in a recent season in review piece, Bruce Arians said of Barrett: “He ain’t going anywhere.” Given his league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019, they can’t let him walk but there’s still a chance that Barrett is a one-hit wonder. His four seasons in Denver were decent enough but in that time, he only got 14 sacks. That muddies the water somewhat.

Safe bet: Tampa Bay. He’ll stay put, although it would be wise for the Bucs to use the franchise tag and check last year wasn’t a fluke. Then, he will seriously reap the rewards down the line if he continues on his current trajectory.

Long shot: Tampa Bay. He’s already talked of giving Tampa a “home-town discount” due to Florida’s income tax arrangements so that’s another tick in the “not going anywhere” column.


Image Credit: Chris Szagola/Associated Press

3. Jadeveon Clowney (EDGE) – Seattle Seahawks


Clowney is an enigma. His production doesn’t live up to the billing – he had just three sacks last year and is yet to hit double figures – and he’s had some niggly injuries. But he produces big, game-defining moments, and he’s got the time and potential to grow as a pass rusher.

For a change, I’m not predicting a franchise tag scenario here because the Seahawks agreed not to use it when they acquired him from Houston. And they got him for a song in the first place. So despite non-elite production, Clowney can expect to become one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL. We’re talking something like $100 million over five years. Ouch.

Safe bet: Seattle. It’s no secret that Russell Wilson wants him to stay and Head Coach Pete Carroll won’t want to further weaken a defensive line that ranked 31st in pass rushing last year. We’ll see him at CenturyLink Field next season for sure.

Long shot: Houston: I know, I know, but bringing Clowney back might not be as dumb as it sounds. The Texans’ passing defence was porous and JJ Watt isn’t getting any younger, so a newer model could give their edge rushing a timely boost.


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Image Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

4. Yannick Ngakoue (Edge) – Jacksonville Jaguars


Think of him like those Velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park film, sneaking in – quickly and silently – hunting down quarterbacks and flaying them alive with their oversized talons… err, sorry, got a bit carried away there. It’s actually more like rushing the passer, getting sacks and forcing errors.

He’s clocked 37.5 sacks through his first four seasons but if he gets elite money now, he’s getting overpaid.

Safe bet: Jacksonville. He’s still young and even in an off-year like 2019, Ngakoue’s eight sacks and 50 total pressures last season – his lowest since he was a rookie – was quite a nice floor.

Long shot: Buffalo. The Jags are strapped and it’ll cost a cool $20 million to keep him. But the Bills have the dosh. They are also losing Lorenzo Alexander to retirement and Shaq Lawson is also hitting free agency, so could have a couple of major gaps to fill.


5. Justin Simmons (Safety) – Denver Broncos


Big, fast and springy, Simmons is a run-breaker and a ball hawk, with 94 tackles and four interceptions in 2019. Those stats made the 26-year-old Pro Football Focus’ top safety last season, signalling a massive step up this year. But the teams sniffing around will need to kick the tyres to make sure he’s not another one-year breakout player getting top dollar for one unrepresentative season.

Safe bet: Denver. Simmons has evolved from a third-round draft pick into an essential element of the Broncos D so I suspect keeping him in Mile High City is a priority for John Elway, even if it’s via the franchise tag for now.

Long shot: San Francisco. If the Niners can’t keep hold of Jimmie Ward, especially given his history with injuries, yer man Simmons could be a great fit in the Bay.


ALSO IN THE PICTURE


Tom Brady (QB), New England Patriots

I couldn’t not mention Brady, could I? Time is catching up with TB12 after 20 seasons but given his stature in the game, he will still turn heads, even though he’s on the wane – he was only the 11th-ranked quarterback in 2019. I doubt he’ll want to up-sticks and start again at the ripe old age of 43 so staying in New England for one last hurrah with Uncle Bill Belichick before he sails off into the sunset doesn’t seem unreasonable. But if you wanna gamble and put it all on red, the Las Vegas Raiders have a youthful core and the financial where-with-all to add weapons around him.

Philip Rivers (QB), Los Angeles Chargers

Although a relative spring chicken (a mere 38), Rivers’ arm isn’t what it was, what little mobility he had is long gone and he had 20 INTs last year. That said, he also threw for more than 4,600 yards and 23 touchdowns so all is not lost. Rivers won’t be back in LA so again, Indianapolis would make a lot of sense. Their offensive line works and Rivers would be reunited with former Chargers QB assistant Frank Reich. Thinking more out of the box, he’s just moved to his family to Florida. Tampa Bay anyone?

Jameis Winston (QB), Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis is your guy if you want a bucketload of throws, thousands of yards, loads of touchdowns and a million interceptions. He’s high risk, high stakes, high reward. The Buccaneers are considering living dangerously again by bringing back the all-and-nothing QB, using the franchise tag for damage limitation. Failing that, the Indianapolis Colts GM said the jury’s still out on Jacoby Brissett.

Brandon Scherff (G), Washington Redskins

Scherff is a run-blocking guard who might have broken into the top 10 if he’d stayed healthy. Despite taking to the field only 19 times in two years, he’s arguably the best interior lineman in this year’s free agent class. The three-time Pro Bowler and former first round pick should stay with the Redskins under new HC Ron Rivera but if he doesn’t, let’s pretend for a moment the Cincinnati Bengals actually engaged in free agency. Scherff would help a terrible O-line protect some young whippersnapper called Burrow.

Byron Jones (CB), Dallas Cowboys

Despite hip surgery last offseason, Jones backed up his breakout 2018 campaign with another top year. Versatile enough to also play safety, Jones will be the top corner on the market which, according to the laws of supply and demand, means he’ll get paid above and beyond his ability. Minnesota could improve at corner, with Xavier Rhodes’ form falling away and Trae Waynes heading for free agency, while the Philadelphia Eagles could help their injury-ravaged secondary by poaching from a divisional rival.

New Head Coaches: Time to Judge who’ll Rhule

By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

After disappointing campaigns, three NFC East teams – the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants –as well as the Panthers and Browns decided it was time for a new Head Coach. A fortnight after the regular season finished, four of the five had filled their hot seats, and the Browns have since found their man too. Now that the game of musical chairs has stopped, let’s take a look at who’s landed where and how they might fare.


WASHINGTON REDSKINS


Fired: Jay Gruden
Hired: 
Ron Rivera 

The switch: Washington got a two-month head-start on the rest, setting the HC conveyor belt in motion in October. After going 0-5, they decided enough was enough and fired Jay Gruden, who made the postseason just once in his five years in the capital.

A day after they closed out their 3-13 season with a 47-16 humbling by divisional rivals Dallas, long-time team president Bruce Allen was given the order of the boot, not long after he’d told the world the team’s culture was “damn good” (no laughing at the back, please). They swiftly followed that by agreeing to make Ron Rivera, let go by the Carolina Panthers, their new HC.

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The pros: Rivera is experienced, respected and no stranger to success, having led the Panthers to three consecutive NFC South titles from 2013. His hot streak culminated in a 15-1 regular season in 2015 and an appearance at Super Bowl L against the Denver Broncos. Having evolved from ultra-cautious to more progressive and forward-thinking, ‘Riverboat Ron’ could be the man to ensure Dwayne Haskins delivers on his early promise. The ‘Skins also need to sharpen up on the defensive side, but Rivera has form here too: he had five top-10 defences in Carolina. Bringing in former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio as his defensive coordinator can only help.

The cons: While his overall record stands up to scrutiny, it’s been tough going of late. Rivera’s last two seasons in Charlotte were both injury-affected and both went south after promising starts. Without Cam Newton, last year’s 5-11 saw them prop up the NFC South and the year before, they also finished with a losing record (7-9). That said, everyone to a man was complementary when he left.

The outlook: A fresh start was just what the doctor ordered and for Rivera’s sake, let’s hope the toxic Washington set-up is history. With the power to bring the crowds back to FedEx Field and reset the culture within the building, he’s already having a positive effect. Apparently, left tackle Trent Williams – who sat out last year because he lost trust in the medical staff and then the front office – has vowed to return to the fold because of the new HC and the organisational restructure.

The verdict: The pick of the bunch. He’ll have his hands full but with Allen out of the picture, there’s a distinct chance ‘Riverboat Ron’ will turn this ship around and steer the Redskins towards calmer waters.


DALLAS COWBOYS


Fired: Jason Garrett
Hired: 
Mike McCarthy

The switch: The Cowboys were the second team to make their move, eventually parting ways with Jason Garrett after nearly 10 years at the helm and an exit process that seemed to take just as long. Jerry Jones made it clear he wasn’t going to spend time bringing a college coach up to speed so they interviewed two experienced NFL guys: former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and long-time Bengals HC Marvin Lewis. Once Garrett was finally out the door, Dallas took less than 24 hours to announce McCarthy. 

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The pros: Of our five coaches, McCarthy has the best pedigree, having led the Packers to nine playoff appearances, six NFC North division titles and a Super Bowl win (ironically at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium) in his 13 seasons. Although his relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers deteriorated, it was effective for much of his tenure so McCarthy should be able to strike up a good rapport with Dak Prescott.

The cons: McCarthy was fired midway through Green Bay’s 2018 season and he didn’t work during 2019 so will having a year out of the game hinder him? He has allegedly spent the time studying the latest NFL trends but equally, he might have lost some momentum.

The outlook: McCarthy has also been developing a new playbook, which will hopefully compensate for Dallas’ failures over the last decade. McCarthy needs to hit the ground running and start securing the late-postseason appearances Garrett should’ve achieved with the talent at his disposal. His credibility and reputation are high, but so are the expectations on him to bring success pretty much straight away.

The verdict: The one with everything to prove. McCarthy is a fine choice but the control he might want or expect isn’t up for grabs. In Dallas, Jerry is King: he calls the shots and makes (and breaks) the rules. Where the lines are drawn will decide whether McCarthy leads Dallas back to the heights of old or if he’s just the next guy to be stifled by the Jones dynasty.

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CAROLINA PANTHERS


Fired: Ron Rivera
Hired: 
Matt Rhule

The switch: In early December, when the wheels were falling off another Panthers’ season, Ron Rivera was released. Owner David Tepper announced that he would be targeting an offensive-minded replacement, and did exactly that in hiring Baylor coach Matt Rhule. As it happens, Rhule was supposed to meet with the Giants (where he spent a year as an assistant O-line coach) after his trip to Carolina but never made it, having been made an offer he couldn’t refuse and the Giants couldn’t match. (For the record, I wouldn’t turn down $60 million over seven years, if anyone’s offering…)

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The pros: The size of his contract suggests Carolina are all in on their new man. Rhule is a leader and has a knack for turning struggling teams around in double-quick time. He took Baylor from 1-11 in 2017 to 11-3 just two years later and, before that, transformed Temple from a 2-11 outfit to a conference-winning one.

The cons: It’s important to remember that Rhule has no league experience at HC (a red flag to some). He will need to make the not-insignificant leap from college to the big league if he is to bring the franchise some stability and, eventually, success.

The outlook: Rhule won’t need to repeat the complete turnabouts he managed in his college programmes. He’ll have assets to work with – not least a solid defence and one of the league’s top stars in running back Christian McCaffrey – but there is also work to do, with linebacker Luke Kuechly retiring and tight end Greg Olsen joining the Seahawks. It will also be interesting to see whether he plumps for Cam Newton, Kyle Allen or someone else as his long-term QB. In the draft, he might grab a couple of guys with potential and the right character traits, and take the time to nurture them.

The verdict: The slow-burner. If Rhule can get on top of things in the pro world, the Panthers could be back in the mix again. However, I suspect, as we saw with some of last year’s rookie coaches, we shouldn’t expect results overnight. It took him a couple of years to get to grips with Temple and Baylor, and he’s been afforded ample time to set things up the right way so peg him for a successful rebuild from 2021 and beyond.


NEW YORK GIANTS


Fired: Pat Shurmur
Hired: 
Joe Judge

The switch: Despite a strong finish by Saquon Barkley and a decent showing by young QB Daniel Jones, the Giants had a disappointing 2019 under Pat Shurmur. They could ill-afford to let another season slip by with such talent in their ranks so, after Shurmur’s two underwhelming seasons ended with a 9-23 record, the Giants were next to step up to the plate (to mix my sporting metaphors).

Just minutes after the Panthers announced Rhule, the Giants revealed Joe Judge as their man. Interestingly, New York ran the rule over Rhule too, and were given the opportunity to match Carolina’s massive offer. The Giants declined.

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The pros: Judge was a special teams assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama for three seasons and then spent eight years with the Patriots as special teams and wide receivers coach. He won three Super Bowls in New England and has been plucked right off the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Being a special teams guy, he’s used to having close contact with most players on the roster, which will stand him in good stead.

The cons: Compared to the likes of Rivera and McCarthy, Judge is a relative unknown. He also hasn’t held a head coaching role at any level, which to some might make him the weakest candidate on paper.

The outlook: Judge may be a rookie but the 38-year-old is a good communicator, has high standards and a blue-collar work ethic. Judge’s initial press conference suggested that New York have a good fit. He told the media to expect an intense, aggressive, old-school team that will reflect the community in which they play.

The verdict: The left-field choice. I don’t want to judge too early but he comes across as hard-nosed and disciplined. He can certainly talk the talk, so let’s see if he can walk the walk.


CLEVELAND BROWNS


Fired: Freddie Kitchens
Hired: 
Kevin Stefanski

The switch: Armed with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett to name but a few, the Browns were many people’s top tip for a playoff run or even a Super Bowl appearance in 2019. Even Sports Illustrated ran with “Bold prediction! Cleveland’s first division title in 30 years” on one cover. As it turned out, The Ill-Advised Freddie Kitchens Experiment was abandoned after a year, with a disappointing 6-10 season ending with a three-game losing streak. As they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get Kitchens out” (or something) so they did, with GM John Dorsey also sent packing.

Cleveland interviewed a host of candidates – Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, Ravens OC Greg Roman, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, 49ers DC Robert Saleh, Eagles DC Jim Schwartz, Uncle Tom Cobley and all – but in the end, they plumped for Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The pros: Part of the furniture in Minneapolis since 2006, Stefanski is a schemer, an analytical thinker and someone who can maximise offensive talent. The Vikes had a 10-6 season and a Wild Card win over the Saints, and their attack was largely effective under Kirk Cousins.

The cons: Initial reactions to the hire were mixed at best, not least because he wasn’t McDaniels – seemingly the fans’ preferred choice – and because of Minnesota’s poor offensive performance in their playoff loss to the 49ers. He’s untested as an HC, and was second choice when Kitchens was ultimately hired 12 months ago, which makes him feel like a consolation prize.

The outlook: Only time will tell whether this was the right move, but Cleveland seriously need an experienced, attack-minded guy to take their offence by the scruff of the neck and sort it out. But hiring an unproven Head Coach won’t give the long-suffering fans in Cleveland much confidence that they’ve got one right for a change.

The verdict: The jury’s out. How many times have the Browns been primed to turn things around at last, only to fail? They haven’t kept an HC for more than four seasons over the last 20 years. Stefanski may succeed where others before him have fallen by the wayside but he isn’t a safe bet. It’s a coin-flip for me but at least he shouldn’t be any worse than Freddie…