Colts QB Matt Ryan is already proving his mettle
The moment might not mean anything six months from now, when the Colts are in the teeth of the NFL season’s grind. Or maybe it’ll be a harbinger that this group, that’s spent its last four seasons on the fringe of the league’s elite, was ready to break through.
Either way, for those involved, it was pretty funny.
The story starts with Matt Ryan acclimating to the Colts’ offense, and coach Frank Reich and coordinator Marcus Brady working through installing core plays with him over the course of the last two months. One such concept—“a play we’ve had a lot of success with,” Reich said—was going in, and it was a type of play that Ryan had a pretty good comfort level with from his 14 years in Atlanta.
“I really love this concept, and at the very beginning, I was like, Have you ever thought about just sitting this shallow down on the backside?” Ryan said. “It was, That’s not how we do it, whatever. And so we go through the whole offseason, and I keep looking at it on the practice field going, Man, I think it would look good if we sat that shallow down.”
“And this is the great thing about Matt,” Reich added. “He told us what he wanted, but he wasn’t demanding, like, Hey we gotta do this. And we said, alright, let us process this. The play came up several times in practice and we kept running it the old way.”
But Ryan kept looking and looking for reasons why, maybe, Reich and the Colts had that particular part of the play—a route run by a receiver who’d be fourth in the quarterback’s progression—right, and the idea of the adjustment just lingered in Ryan’s mind.
Finally, the last week of May, Ryan brought it up. And during a quarterback meeting in the first week of June, the second-to-last of the Colts’ offseason program, Reich said, “O.K., we’re going to look at it today.” Brady put it in the practice script. And as fortune would have it, the call went in when Ryan and the first offense was out, and Nick Foles was in with the twos.
“So Foles runs the play, the first progression’s not there, the second progression’s not there, and the third progression’s not there,” Reich said, his voice rising. “And sure enough, he goes back to the adjustment that Matt had talked about and it just clicked perfectly. And Foles hits and his reps were up, and he walks over and Matt looks at me, and I just start laughing. So Matt goes back in, now Matt’s in the huddle, Foles is in the background.”
Rookie tight end Andrew Ogletree came back with the ball, oblivious to what those who’d been in the quarterback room were laughing about, and as he did, Reich cracked to Foles, Hey, did he say it didn’t matter if the first couple guys are open or not, I want you to work through the progression all the way to this little change up? Did Matt pay you to do that?
“It’s just something funny,” Ryan said, “where you’re like, O.K., I think we’re all getting on the same page.”
Funny now, yes, with the hope being there’ll be deeper meaning to it in time as the Colts try to, finally, get over the hump with their fifth starting quarterback in as many years.
One week left until the NFL’s annual summer break, and we’re locked and loaded with the first of two minicamp editions of the MMQB column. In this week’s column, you’ll find …
• A chat with Romeo Crennel on his 52 years in coaching, including 41 in the NFL.
• Cooper Kupp on his future in the NFL, after signing his monster contract.
• Notes on a bad week for Deshaun Watson.
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• Insight into the other side of Aaron Donald’s Super Bowl–winning play from February.
But we’re starting with the Colts and Ryan, and why Indy might finally have the quarterback that makes it all click for Reich and GM Chris Ballard in their fifth year running the team together.
To understand the significance of that single OTA practice snap from early June, you have to first understand how Ryan and Reich have worked together since the Colts pulled the trigger on trading Carson Wentz and then trading for Ryan in March.
Once the deal was done, Ryan dove into Colts tape in a way he hadn’t really studied in years—“I’ve watched more film in the last year than I have in the last 10 or 12”—and did it with a purpose. As much as he wanted to learn Reich’s scheme, which is sprinkled with elements of all the different offenses he’s run the last 14 years, he also wanted to learn what his new teammates brought to the table.
He knew, for sure, that it’d take time, and for that reason, Ryan wasn’t going to impose his own beliefs or ideas on the coaching staff when he reported for the offseason in April.
“The thing is, they’ve played really good offense, they’ve run the ball extremely well, they have guys that are capable of being big playmakers in this league, multiple different guys,” Ryan said. “And so I can come in and say, Hey, listen I’ve had a lot of success doing it one way. But that was with a different cast of characters, a different group of guys. For me, I kind of took the slow and steady approach of, Let me see the other players, let me get to work on the field with them, let me digest all of what the Colts have done here.”
And he did that, even though he knew one of Reich’s greatest strengths, clearly illustrated by the number of quarterbacks he’s now won with, was to tailor his scheme to what the guy under center does best.
Reich, for his part, did broach the subject pretty early with Ryan, explaining how his philosophy—that there’s a foundation for the offense that accounts for about 80% of the scheme, with the other 20% open to swinging to the quarterback’s skill set—would work for a vet going into his 15th season. He emphasized how he’d look to collaborate with the quarterback. Ryan responded by telling him he’d need some time first.
“It was refreshing that here’s a guy who’s been the MVP of the league, here’s a guy who’s led his team to a Super Bowl appearance, here’s a guy who’s incredibly accomplished at the quarterback position in every way, coming in here and wanting to use it as a fresh start,” Reich said. “And as you said, Albert, really putting it in the context of, Hey I wanna learn this offense, I wanna learn what this team is all about, and there will be plenty of time for me to contribute to the process of what our offense will be.”
So there’s one reason why the Foles-to-Ogletree connection on a mid-June day mattered—because it reflected the amount of contemplation and care that went into every suggestion that Ryan has made the last two months. Even though the concept was one Ryan had run in Atlanta plenty, and the adjustment he was suggesting was a part of that concept in his previous NFL life, Ryan waited through more than six weeks of the offseason program, and until he knew his teammates well, to even raise the idea to his coaches.
Another reason it matters? Because it shows the level of detail Ryan’s going to be able to inject into the offense, which could, finally, unlock the potential of a maturing Colts team.
Everyone knows the list Reich compiled over his first four years as a head coach, from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers to Wentz. What you might forget is that he spent his first six years in coaching in Indianapolis too, as an assistant from 2006–2011, and the first four of those were with just one quarterback, Peyton Manning, under center.
So when he says another quarterback is Peytonesque, you might want to listen. And in a very specific way, he sees how Ryan’s approached the offseason like that.
“Matt’s an incredibly smart guy, but one of the things I’ve continued to be impressed by—he doesn’t want to expand things, he wants to consolidate things,” Reich said. “It’s a little bit Peytonesque like that: Don’t try to overcoach, don’t get too cute, don’t try to overscheme, let’s just run the same things over and over again. That’s how I’ve been brought up in this league. In an age where everyone wants to talk about how smart the coaches are, or the quarterback is, and all the ways that you can scheme, and do this and that … and those are all important things, [but] Matt is old school, and I’m a little bit old school like this too.
“It’s like this, rather than always trying to scheme things up where one guy’s open, the play is designed so if the quarterback can work his progressions, somebody’s going to be open.”
That may sound like a lot of football jargon, but there’s an easy way to explain what Reich’s saying. He likes to have a quarterback who can find a lot of answers with a certain play, knowing the more answers the quarterback can find within a play, the fewer plays the coaches will have to run. In turn, the reasoning goes, you’re lightening the mental load on other players, allowing them to play faster and getting them a lot of reps on certain concepts, which theoretically adds up to better execution of those concepts.
“And then everyone knows,” Reich continued, “where if you’re a receiver, you better be running to get open because he can get the whole way through the progression.”
Which, then, explains why the fourth progression on a single play gnawed at Ryan through the offseason—because for him and Reich to run the kind of offense they want to run, having that tight end sit down on a shallow route has to matter. And that level of detail would, as Reich learned quickly through April and May, matter in just about everything that Ryan did, as he commuted through the spring, spending his weekdays in Indy and his weekends in Atlanta (his twin sons were finishing up pre-K back in Georgia).
It didn’t stop with scheme, either, as Ryan said earlier. He wanted to know his teammates on the same level, and not just who they were as people and what they were as players, but also the fine details of their tendencies, their likes, and how they moved on the field, a process that necessitates Ryan getting to see and feel them out in person in a practice setting.
So even though he arrived blown away by the Colts’ run game, and impressed with both Jonathan Taylor and the versatile Nyheim Hines within it, and intrigued with the size, length and physicality of tight end Mo-Alie Cox on tape, he knows more in June than he did in April.
“I knew a lot about the Colts, but when you dive into it and you watch every day, you find out, Oh, well, I knew about him, I didn’t know he was this good,” Ryan said. “When you watch a lot of them, it’s, O.K., I didn’t really know he had this skill set. Same thing with the receivers, I think there’s a young group, obviously they’ve had some injuries there, but it’s a young group, it’s a talented, physical group.
“I’m trying to put into my head, O.K., the way these guys run, what route combinations fit them, how can we use certain guys? And then seeing how that stacks up with how the coaching staff and guys feel about it, that’s more of what I was watching.”
Another result—Ryan can now do more for them, both at and away from the facility. To that end, through the NFL’s summer break, he’ll work out with Colts skill players in twos, rather than gathering them all at once, in California, Ohio, Atlanta and Indianapolis. The idea, he says, is “to go slow and steady with each guy,” and get each player the work he needs. Ryan also jokes, “I only have one arm,” so in a bigger setting, especially as he gets older, it’s tougher to get everyone work without wearing himself out.
“It’s brilliant,” said Reich of the plan. “I don’t know too many guys that do it like that. I think it’s showing his experience and savvy as a leader and making each experience more valuable, giving each other the attention that’s going to help elevate their game, as opposed to getting the whole group there. And like he said, he’s only got one arm.”
The last three months have been an adjustment for Ryan, for sure. It took him two or three weeks just to figure out where everything was in the Colts’ facility and learn the names of the people he’d pass in the hall.
“I talked to Matthew Stafford right after, and before I got traded, when the possibility was out there,” Ryan said. “He was like, Don’t get me wrong, you love the experience that you’ve had the entire time, and you love the continuity and the people that you know, but it’s a bit like going to that first day of high school, where you switch schools and you’re going in trying to meet people. There’s that nervous, anxious excitement that comes with it.
“I think all the firsts you tick off along the way, whether it’s first game, first whatever, all those things will have that kind of feel.”
That’s why, Ryan continued, he approached his position of leadership within the team with the same sort of methodical approach he took to learning the offense and personnel. In the beginning, Ryan joked that he felt like, “I’m supposed to be telling you what to do, but I can’t remember what we’re calling.” Over time, he got his footing. Through it all, his coaches and teammates were struck by how he forced nothing.
“I always have belief that the guys that have that special, unique leadership ability have this combination of rare confidence, but also rare humility, they’re blended together,” Reich said. “You can be extremely confident, have extremely strong convictions and beliefs about who you are and what you do, but also have a genuine humility about you. And then when you have those two things and you’re super talented, you’re gonna get an elite leader.”
As a leader, Reich continued, “he’s elite.”
That brings us to the player Reich now has, at 37 years old, at the position he once played.
Of all the quarterbacks traded this offseason, Ryan is the only one who’s been league MVP. He’s also the one who most recently started a Super Bowl. And even after 15 years, it was obvious as Reich, in his words, turned OTAs and minicamp this year into more of a passing camp than it has been the last four years, with a ton of seven-on-seven work done, that Ryan is hardly on his last legs as a player.
“Not even close,” Reich said. “I mean, not even close. He’s made so many throws. The way his throwing mechanics are flawless and it’s so effortless, literally reminds me of a PGA golfer who looks effortless in his swing. Like when the ball comes off the clubhead, the ball just sounds different, looks different, feels different, and then the golfer hits it where he wants to hit it. That’s the way I feel with Matt. He makes every throw look the same, he’s never straining, he’s very disciplined in his mechanics, very sound in his mechanics.”
Which is where Reich still sees the special traits that made Ryan the third pick in the draft in 2008, and a franchise quarterback for a decade and a half in Atlanta.
“Every quarterback at this level is a good passer,” Reich said. “But then there are guys that are at another level, in another zip code. I mean, his statistics bear out that he’s very accurate, but I probably didn’t fully appreciate just how good of a passer he was. In my mind, he’s in that elite category of accuracy, it’s just effortless. Just pure passing ability and accuracy. Or the way Matt talks about it, it’s D.T.A.—decision-making, timing and accuracy. His decision-making, timing and accuracy is elite.”
So as Reich has learned that about Ryan, and Ryan has learned just about everything about the Colts, the word “energizing” is one each used to explain where their conversations and relationship are going. Reich is just the second coach Ryan’s had who played quarterback in the NFL (ex-Falcons QBs coach Bill Musgrave is the other), which has allowed for discussions to take on a different depth and context. Conversely, as Reich said, Ryan is showing a synergy in how he sees offensive football with his coach that’s tough to find.
“There’s a lot of overlap,” Reich says.
The season is still three months away. The Colts have a lot to prove, and Ryan concedes that he does too: “I think you always do, as a player.” But for now, both are trusting that they’ll be ready for that when they get there, and taking each step as it comes.
To this point, taking that approach, even when it comes down to the granular stuff, like the fourth progression in a concept in a June practice, has served them well as a coach tries to break through and stabilize his quarterback position—and a quarterback tries to breathe new life into his career in a second home, like Manning and Tom Brady recently did.
“It’s tough at the beginning, when you’re making that transition, and you don’t know what’s gonna go on,” Ryan said. “But here I am, sitting here eight, nine weeks later, I am so excited. I couldn’t be more fired up to play with those guys and to work with Frank and work with Marcus Brady, Scott Milanovich and Parks Frazier. It’s been awesome. I think sometimes you need a little bit of a change. It can be good for everybody. I certainly feel that way.”
Absent the hype you’ve seen elsewhere this offseason, a lot of people in Indy do, too.
Romeo Crennel Retires As One of the Good Guys
There aren’t very many people who’ve coached or played in the NFL where, no matter whom you talk to, what you hear about them is consistent. The league’s too competitive and too cutthroat, and there’s too much gossiping and climbing going on for the feelings on just about anyone to be universal.
Then, there’s Romeo Crennel.
The beloved 74-year-old defensive guru officially walked away from football last week, after an even 50 seasons in coaching over the last 52 years, 39 of them spent in the NFL (he took years off in 2009 and 2013 after head-coaching stints in Cleveland and Kansas City). Crennel leaves behind a strong legacy of winning (five Super Bowl titles as a defensive assistant) and a sturdy track record of talent development. But if you asked any of his old staffmates or players last week, the biggest impact he made was on those he was around as people.
In last week’s MAQB, ex-Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi intimated as much when he measured his words, not wanting to use the term cavalierly, before calling Crennel a father figure. And that his players saw him that way? Yes, now that he’s out, Crennel is willing to say that carrying that moniker for the guys he coached is pretty flattering.
“Sure it is,” he said Friday. “Because when you think about coaching, coaching is teaching and trying to give guidance to the guys you’re working with. And I think they respected the way I approached them and dealt with them, on and off the field. I think as a result of that, they did see a father figure, and I think they appreciated that.”
They also appreciated the work he did with them individually, with Crennel’s track record sparkling in that regard. Among those he coached …
• Lawrence Taylor and Willie McGinest worked as pass rushers with Crennel when he was a defensive line coach. And Crennel was in the weeds back then with a smattering of really solid interior linemen like Leonard Marshall in New York and Ray Agnew in New England.
• As Patriots defensive coordinator, he helped to get the best out of one Hall of Famer (Ty Law) while developing another one (Richard Seymour), and helping to raise guys like Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren while maximizing vets coming in from the outside like Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer.
• In Kansas City, he was charged with developing young guys like Justin Houston, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe and Eric Berry, each of whom became Pro Bowlers soon after Crennel got to them.
• J.J. Watt was NFL Defensive Player of the Year his first two years with Crennel, and the Texans were able to build around their star with their coordinator developing talents like Whitney Mercilus, A.J. Bouye, Benardrick McKinney and D.J. Reader, and getting more from players he inherited like Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph.
And in working with all of them, Crennel’s hope is they saw a coach committed to making sure, at a baseline, all the basics were taken care of, which is a pretty underrated part of what made Bill Parcells’s and Bill Belichick’s teams so great over the years.
“As far as football is concerned, I hope they’d say I’m a fundamentalist and a technician, and I expected them to know their technique and know their fundamentals,” Crennel said. “I expect great effort from them. I expect them to know the game plan, and I expect them to be a part of a team, because it’s a team game.”
Which, of course, led to a whole lot of team success over the years. A few more things from my conversation with Crennel, as he leaves the league …
Retirement had been on his mind for a while. And what made it hard the last few years was not wanting to go out on a bad note—with the 2019 season ending in a blown lead in the divisional playoffs to the eventual champion Chiefs, and the last two resulting in coaching changes. What he really agonized over, he says, after 50 seasons, was “making sure in my mind that it was the right thing to do, because football was in my life that whole time. I just felt like it was time for a change and so I pulled the trigger.”
With it done now, the thing he’s really proud of, again, is the relationships he was able to build. Over the last six days, Crennel’s fielded text message after phone call after text message, going all the way back to guys he coached at Western Kentucky in the early ’70s, most saying that, “I’ve made a difference in their life. I’m proud of that. I feel good about that. … Those make me feel like it was all worth it.” So how did he do that? Well, there’s, of course, his fatherly tone. But he also held them to a standard that so many took with them after football was done. “I expect them to do the same thing in their personal lives that they’re gonna do on the football field,” he says. “Know what’s right. Do what’s right. And then as a result of that, they will be good people off the football field.”
He agrees that, yes, he could be the good cop to the Parcells or Belichick bad cops. To a degree, that was his role with the five championship teams he coached. “It was definitely a contrast, because both Bills are pretty stern as far as making corrections during the week and on the sideline,” Crennel said. “And I’m stern in my way, but I just approach it a little bit differently.”
Funny thing is, though, he didn’t always. Crennel explained to me that when he was younger, he too was a yeller and a screamer. It took him a while to evolve into what he’d eventually become. “It was just the realization that yelling and screaming doesn’t always get it done,” Crennel said. “You have to know your players, you have to know what buttons to push, and then overall I felt like players responded, particularly at this level now, to coaching, teaching and someone that showed them that you care about them not only as football players, but as men.”
And as for his favorite memory from a half century with a whistle … “The first Super Bowl,” he said. “I’ll always remember that first Super Bowl. They say it’s very hard to get to it and even harder to win it. We were able to get to it, and we won it. That one will always be special.” The one he’s referencing: Giants 39, Broncos 20 in Super Bowl XXI, with Parcells, Belichick and Crennel fielding one of the great defenses of all time.
I was texting with Harrison over the weekend, and he wanted to be succinct with thoughts on a coach who helped him reach the mountaintop nearly a decade into his playing career. Here’s what he came up with: “Coach listened to his players, treated everyone with respect, always worked his ass off and always was prepared. I have a lot of respect for coach—allowed me to play with freedom and trusted me. God bless him in retirement!!”
That really touches a lot of the bases with Crennel and illustrates the commitment he made to all those guys, a commitment that kept him pretty busy the last 50 years.
Now, he’ll get to use that time in a different way, and he’s looking forward to it.
“I’ve got three daughters and I’ve got eight grandkids, five girls and three boys,” he said. “There’s some football involved in it, there’s some cheerleading involved in it, and being able to go support them, it will be neat to do that. So that’ll be part of it. I’ll probably travel a little bit. Now that things are more open, I might want to go see some exotic places in this world—you see the pictures, you see the magazines, but to be able to do a little bit of that will be good.
“And then I’m always going to follow football and see what’s going to happen and see how the game changes, because it continually changes. I’ll keep my toe in the water.”
Crennel admitted that first Sunday of the NFL season is going to be tough, because he has so many friends coaching in the league “that I care about, that are on different teams, and some of them will be playing each other that Sunday.” To that end, he says he’s really not sure if he’ll be rooting for certain teams over others, but he’s “thought about it a little bit.”
Still, he plans to watch, because he cares too much not to. And sure, that’s about the sport. But more so, it’s about all the people he’s affected within it.
I still think the likelihood is a Deshaun Watson decision will come in July. But the emergence of a 24th lawsuit, and a New York Times report that included more graphic details and an accounting of appointments booked by Watson with 66 different massage therapists (a number that includes 15 produced by Watson’s camp that alleged no wrongdoing) certainly raised the temperature of the situation. And that’s why it’s significant that the NFL has farmed out the initial phase of the discipline process. In the past, with Roger Goodell serving as judge, jury and executioner, the league might feel like it would have to step in when the volume was turned up on a situation like this, lest they look like they’re sitting on their hands. In this case, former U.S. district court judge Sue Robinson is the one managing the first swing at discipline (it goes to Goodell thereafter, where Goodell can alter a suspension if he sees fit, unless no suspension is recommended). And a judge is far less likely, as I see it, to buckle to public pressure than the league office might be.
So I’ll say it again—I believe the deadline for pretrial discovery in the lawsuits, set for the end of the month, is a pivotal one as to Robinson meting out a suggested punishment here. It wouldn’t make sense, at this point, for her not to wait. So my guess would be she’ll make a recommendation in July, which is when it’ll go to Goodell and then be up for appeal. Bottom line, there’s plenty of time still to let that deadline pass and get sanctions in place by the start of training camp if the sides work on an expedited timeline.
I’d been of the opinion—and no one knows for sure, since it’s in Robinson’s hands now—that Watson might wind up getting an eight- or 10-game suspension. Now, I’m wondering if he’ll get on the field in 2021 at all. To be sure, the fact that there was a criminal investigation and no charges were filed remains a factor. But the sheer number of accusations and evidence that, at the very least, corroborates that Watson’s behavior was unusual for a pro football player looking for massages, and that he put himself, his team, and the league in a position to look really, really bad, which was the standard under which Ben Roethlisberger was sanctioned 12 years ago (“protect the shield” being the buzz term back then). And in a post–Ray Rice/Greg Hardy/Josh Brown world, I think the league’s very sensitive to looking like it’s going soft on anyone facing these kinds of accusations. Plus, if they give him a year, Watson will have effectively been sidelined for two, which would be in the neighborhood of MLB’s initial punishment of Trevor Bauer. Like I said, I don’t know what the punishment’s going to be. But I do believe the developments of last week are relevant to where this goes next.
And thanks to Jack Del Rio’s comments last week, we have another off-field situation to address here—one that I think says more about where we are as a country than anything else. For the record, I don’t agree with what the Commanders’ defensive coordinator said last week, about Jan. 6 being a dustup. And I have zero issue with Ron Rivera fining him for doubling down on what he’d tweeted earlier in the week. I also think unchecked rioting and looting, regardless of who’s responsible for it, is bad. My guess, or at least my hope, is that would leave me in the majority among Americans. You just wouldn’t know it by going on social media. That’s why, to me, the Del Rio situation only further revealed the truth, and that’s that one side in this country has no interest in listening to the other and vice versa. If someone says something you disagree with now, the move isn’t to have a discussion. It’s to start calling for their job, or bullying them into shutting up—which most people eventually will, because it can get to the point where it’s not worth the trouble anymore.
So Del Rio—and again, I disagree with what he said—essentially wound up doing that over the weekend in shutting down his Twitter account. It was treated as a victory by the sorts of people who send social-media mobs after folks. But what really was accomplished? As I see it, it just leads to more people being unwilling to talk through things with people they might not agree with. Which I’d hope we can all agree is a pretty horrible thing. O.K., I’ll get off my soapbox.
Cooper Kupp’s story is a great one—and really a tribute to how he’s continued to improve over more than a decade. To recap, Kupp went from undersized high schooler, to zero-star recruit, to scout-team star in college, to record-breaking receiver at Eastern Washington, to third-round pick, to steady complementary receiver, to the skill-position centerpiece of a Super Bowl champion. The contract he signed last week is an acknowledgment of all that. And it’s also a reason for the Rams to feel good that he won’t rest on the three-year, $80 million extension they’re giving him, something that was pretty obvious to me when I asked where he thinks he can get better, even after a 145-catch year that ended with a Super Bowl MVP trophy. “There’s so much,” he answered. “Never will I ever think that I’ve arrived in any way. There’s so much work to be done. Anybody that thinks they play a perfect game, anyone who thinks they’re as good as they can be, they are …. they’re wrong. That’s definitely not the way I see things, there’s so much we can do and I hope to continue to grow as long as I’m playing.”
You can read more on Kupp’s deal in Friday’s GamePlan. And here’s a little more from my Q&A with him that we didn’t use there.
MMQB: Did your knowledge on contracts and negotiations serve you well?
CK: It just allowed me to come to the table and speak clearly and confidently on what’s important to me. And knowing them, being able to be together on ways where it could work for both of us, in terms of structure and all the nuances. In that world, there are ways organizations work, and this organization works, teams don’t have just unlimited budgets to go off of. You’ve got to manipulate certain things. So it allowed me to feel like I could get to the table and be able to collaborate. If I didn’t know anything, it’s gonna be hard to talk to me about the issues the Rams might have with certain things.
MMQB: Having been in Sean McVay’s first draft class, I’d assume there’s some feeling of partnership or ownership in the program too?
CK: Certainly. I’ve had the luxury of being able to grow in this offense and with this team as we have grown, from the beginning of what our identity was as an offense to what we are now. And then also the beginning of what our identity was as a team to what we are now. I’ve been able to be a part of that and I’ve grown in it, and hopefully had a hand also in setting the standard and being able to hold people to the standard in some ways as well. On both sides, there’s an appreciation for that.
MMQB: How has the Super Bowl changed your life?
CK: In terms of day-to-day life, things are very similar. Still, I’m a husband, a dad; there are things that don’t change because of what you achieve. There’s stuff that’s more important to me, that stuff doesn’t change at all. Did I get noticed a little bit more after we won? That stuff changes a little bit, I think. But that comes with playing a Super Bowl in Los Angeles.
MMQB: Do you view this as your last contract?
CK: I don’t really think that far out. I want to play this game for a very long time. There’s nothing about me that thinks this will be my last, but you gotta take things a year at a time as you’re playing this game, and understand a lot of things can change. For me, I want to play this game for a long time.
MMQB: You’ve said you envisioned being in the NFL since you were 9—could you have ever dreamt of all this, though, with the championship, the contract and everything else?
CK: No, that wasn’t so much the thinking. It wasn’t something I thought about. But being able to play this game with a great group of guys, and being able to go after the things we’re pursuing right now, that was something I thought about, something that was important.
One of the things I love about football is the detail that goes into every play, and I learned something new about the one Aaron Donald made to win the Super Bowl in February. We wrote extensively on Donald’s game-winning pressure, with the help of Raheem Morris, a week after the game—and Morris explained how David Long feeling C.J. Uzomah clearing him out, and deciding to sit in Joe Burrow’s vision toward Tee Higgins, was a pivotal piece for the Rams in getting Donald to Burrow. A truth I gathered four months later? There was more to it than that.
Burrow, it turns out, was going to Ja’Marr Chase the whole time—he’d checked Chase’s route to send him deep before the snap. Burrow, I’m told, was looking to his left, toward Higgins, in order to move free safety Nick Scott to that side of the field, which would isolate Chase on Jalen Ramsey. Just as Scott started to move, though, Burrow felt the pressure from Donald, which brought his eyes down, and Donald ended the game by corralling the quarterback and making a downfield throw impossible.
The salt in the wound, of course, was that Ramsey had stumbled and Chase was alone in the end zone when that happened. But my understanding now is, from the snap, Burrow was going to Chase the whole way. And given another half second? Maybe we’d have had a different result. Which only further illustrates the value, and greatness, of a player like Donald, who’d negated a double team by attacking left guard Quinton Spain’s outside shoulder, and getting around him so quickly that center Trey Hopkins had no chance to help. And that’s all part of why the $40 million raise the Rams gave Donald last week figures to be money well spent.
The Raiders’ decision to give Hunter Renfrow a two-year, $32 million extension is another example of Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler showing trust and investment in the people they inherited in Las Vegas. Yeah, this gives me another chance to promote our piece on the team’s new brass from a couple weeks ago. But this is another good example of the points that both the coach and GM were trying to make—poignant ones considering the history McDaniels brought with him from his first shot at being a head coach in Denver, where he traded stars Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall away. And it is for the same reason McDaniels got excited just seeing Derek Carr and Maxx Crosby put pen to paper.
“I just know for me personally, watching Maxx go in there and do that in the signing room was like, Man, that’s awesome,” McDaniels said. “And they didn’t have to be someone we brought in here. They were already here. It was the perfect backdrop; it doesn’t have to be our way or the highway. You guys were doing this, we weren’t here, and your work ethic and the way you carry yourself in the building, and how you play football, how you approach life, how you treat people, is exactly what we want.”
McDaniels joked that day that Renfrow leads the team in questions—the slot receiver always has something for his coaches. And as last week showed, deep down, the Raiders saw that, along with so much else Renfrow can do for them, as a good thing.
Tyreek Hill’s podcast last week adds interesting context to his exit from Kansas City. Here’s the money quote, via Pro Football Talk: “If teams are gonna give us favorable one-on-one matches against their best corner, I don’t see why teams don’t utilize their best receiver. And that’s where probably, like, me and the Chiefs fell apart right there. When I’m like, Yo, I don’t mean to talk or be a diva in some situation, but can I see the pill some time, please? Just give me the ball, please.”
Last year, the Chiefs stalled offensively early based on a constant stream of two-deep shell looks defenses were throwing at them—basically daring them to win by chipping away underneath and distributing the ball, rather than living and dying with shots to Hill. It took Patrick Mahomes, Hill, and their coaches time to adjust, but eventually, with time, Kansas City had found different ways not just to get the ball in Hill’s hands underneath, but use the threat he posed over the top to get the ball to other guys too. And by the end of the year, Mahomes had grown from the experience (he told me as much for a GamePlan column in the spring), and the Chiefs were one bad half in the AFC title game from their third straight Super Bowl.
So … what happens now if the Dolphins use Hill to open things up for Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki? Or if defenses dare the Dolphins to beat them with anyone but Hill? It’s an interesting question, I think, and one that could affect how Tua Tagovailoa sees the field. Stay tuned.
Tom Brady’s Miami non-answer reminded me of something I think not enough people are paying attention to. His latest contract with the Buccaneers was, for sure, a cap-savings measure first and foremost. No real years were added to Brady’s deal (four voidable seasons were tacked on for cap accounting purposes), and Brady secured a no-franchise/transition tag provision in the negotiation. That means Brady is free to go wherever he wants next March.
And after dipping his toe in the retirement water, and pulling it out six weeks later, come this offseason, can anyone be sure he won’t want to make another run at extending his playing career past his 46th birthday? And if he does, could the Dolphins or 49ers be at the point where they’d be willing to do something if their young quarterbacks don’t play to the level they’re hoping? It’s worth at least thinking about, because I don’t think it’s something that’s lost on Brady himself.
We’re entering a critical six-week period for Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals and Ravens aren’t going to want to be at odds with their quarterbacks when camp opens. And in going through the offseason without having done deals, the price on each guy has jumped big-time. Just look at these two lists …
Highest-paid QBs (by APY) in February
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs: $45 million
Josh Allen, Bills: $43 million
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: $40 million
Deshaun Watson, Texans: $39 million
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: $35 million
Highest-paid QBs (by APY) in June
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: $50.27 million
Deshaun Watson, Browns: $46 million
Mahomes: $45 million
Allen: $43 million
Derek Carr, Raiders: $40.47 million
Matthew Stafford, Rams: $40 million
Prescott: $40 million
The number of quarterbacks over the $40 million threshold has, yes, more than doubled. We’ve seen a groundbreaking, fully guaranteed contract done for Watson. The landscape has changed, which is great for Murray and Jackson, and tough on their teams. But not as tough as being at odds with your quarterback going into the season, which is why the Cardinals and Ravens will have to work hard to get something sensible done with their stars before the start of camp (and if they’re not by then, certainly by Week 1).
It’s the last week of the offseason program, and we’ve got some quick-hitter takeaways to take you home. Our 10, for June 13 …
• Because he’s the new Broncos owner-to-be, I looked up where Rob Walton ranks among the wealthiest people in the U.S. He’s 13th, with a net worth of $67.6 billion. That put him third in his own family, behind brother Jim (he’s 11th, at $68.8 billion) and sister Alice (12th, at $67.9 billion). That’s according to last year’s Forbes 400, by the way.
• It also shows how wealthy you need to be to buy a team now, given that the Broncos’ price approached $5 billion. If you figure that means you’d need a net worth in 11 figures to join the club now, it’s worth mentioning that Forbes ranking listed 76 Americans being worth $10 billion or more. Walton will be the third NFL owner in that stratosphere, joining Panthers owner David Tepper and Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
• The Seahawks have been trying to fix their offensive line forever, and the spring brought a lot of hope, even without pads on, that the group they have now could be the one to fix the issue once and for all. Rams import Austin Blythe, and rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas have given the line a more athletic, competitive look, and 2020 third-rounder Damien Lewis looks like he’s on the verge of breaking through. So maybe …
• While we’re on rookies, Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt—products of Georgia’s off-the-charts defense—showed special traits all spring for the Packers’ defensive coaches. With a strong summer, both should be able to carve out roles as coordinator Joe Barry goes into his second year running the defense in Green Bay.
• The Patriots’ work to simplify their offense this spring behind new/old assistants Joe Judge and Matt Patricia has been pretty interesting. The way it’s been described to me, it’s basically an untangling of the Brady scheme. Since New England spent 20 years adding elements to the offense, and never really subtracting much, the volume in there could become numbing and difficult for new guys. It became complicated for being complicated’s sake. So this offseason, work’s been done to, in Bill Belichick’s words, “streamline” the operation, hoping it’ll be easier for new guys and get everyone playing faster.
• While we’re there, with that and a year in New England under their belts, over the course of the spring, both Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith have looked way more like what the Patriots thought they were getting in signing those two last year.
• With DK Metcalf’s minicamp holdout in the books, and one for Terry McLaurin looming, it’s worth noting that no less than eight receivers (Hill, Kupp, Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, D.J. Moore, Mike Williams and Chris Godwin) have signed deals of $20 million per year or more this offseason. Which has, of course, complicated the cases of the star wideouts of the Seahawks and Commanders.
• Could Del Rio still be fired? I think the only way it would happen is if there’s a groundswell from Commanders players. And I think Rivera, who was actually out of the country at the end of last week on a scheduled personal commitment, making a strong statement probably gets ahead of that sort of thing coming from the locker room.
• It’ll be interesting to hear more on Lions DT John Penisini’s retirement. He was no star, but had only played two years and had a solid role on the team. So this wasn’t a case of the 25-year-old getting out as the league was pushing him out.
• I’d guess that the Steelers will pay Minkah Fitzpatrick before Diontae Johnson. And given where receiver prices have gone, I think there’s a decent chance Johnson will wind up betting on himself and going to the market next year rather than doing the sort of deal Pittsburgh would see as suitable for him.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. Avalanche–Lightning should be a blast. And again, the NHL should spend the next two weeks pumping Nathan MacKinnon until its blue in the face.
2. Lloyd Carr’s grandson is a five-star quarterback who grew up a manageable bike ride from Michigan’s campus—and just committed to Notre Dame. That’s pretty bananas.
3. The deal the AAC made to let Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston leave for the Big 12 next summer does make you wonder if the Big 12 is really going to make Texas and Oklahoma be lame ducks all the way until 2025. To be fair, I probably would … but I’m kind of stubborn like that.
4. I actually really love agitators like Draymond Green because they add an element few can to rivalries and big playoff series. So I have no problem with him in particular. But the Warriors’ people acting aggrieved—and it’s not Green himself—because the Boston crowd is getting on him sound ridiculous. Green’s been this guy for almost a decade, and the Warriors have benefited from it. You can’t harbor the wrestling heel for that long, and then complain when he’s treated like one.
5. Steph Curry is absolutely amazing.
6. Guilty pleasure of mine: comparing cable-news chyrons from one network to the next when the you-know-what hits the fan. It’s usually like they’re operating on different planets.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
I don’t know if he’s a starting-level quarterback anymore, but Cam Newton remains a physical marvel.
Interesting and honest words from Adams.
They’re still good though.
For the 500th time, bring back the unique Super Bowl logos!
Cool to see Robert Griffin III doing this—he had Olympic potential in the hurdles, for those who don’t know.
Somehow, I see Kliff being the MVP of every wedding he’s ever been to.
Sharp move by Sam Darnold, not scoring on the guy who’ll be picking the starting QB.
A wise man once said, only two kinds of people wear sunglasses inside.
Maybe at some point it will, but I’ve seen that video 50 times, and no matter what punchline anyone attaches to it, it’s hilarious every time.
Again, I’m not sure what making people with dissenting opinions shut up really does, in the end. I am sure that it fixes nothing.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Most of the league has mandatory minicamp this week. And one more time, here’s the fine schedule if players (like McLaurin) skip out on it:
Day 1: $15,980
Day 2: $31,961
Day 3: $47,836
These fines, unlike training camp fines, can be forgiven. And with that … when our next Monday column posts, the NFL will have broken for the summer.
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The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.