No sports? No problem, thanks to the NFL and the onset of free agency...
$.01--The most stunning news of the first day came from Houston. Texans majordomo Bill O’Brien, for some reason, decided to trade the NFL’s best wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals. In return, the Texans pick up what’s left of former star RB David Johnson and a second-round pick, plus a swap of fourth-rounders. Oh, and they have to pay Johnson’s full $10.8 million contract for 2020, which is almost $2M more than what Hopkins was set to get.
Bill O’Brien the GM just severely kneecapped Bill O’Brien the head coach. In trading away one of the NFL’s brightest and most reliable stars, O’Brien shatters the passing offense built around Hopkins and Deshaun Watson.
A subsequent trade that would normally fly under the radar of the bigger moves puts it into perspective just how awful O’Brien screwed his own pooch. The Baltimore Ravens got a 2nd rounder and a 5th rounder, almost the exact same compensation as the Texans got back, for tight end Hayden Hurst. The only “bonus” the Texans got was paying a faded, oft-injured running back over $10 million in 2020.
Various reports have come out that O’Brien and Hopkins did not see eye-to-eye, and I believe them. Hopkins will be asking for a massive new contract sooner than later, and apparently O’Brien just wanted to avoid that altogether. Arizona figures to happily give Hopkins whatever he wants, especially after Larry Fitzgerald’s contract and Hall-of-Fame run ends in a year or two. Great move for the Cardinals and Kyler Murray, an absolute train-wreck move by the Texans that will negatively impact Deshaun Watson.
$.02--Tom Brady’s days with the New England Patriots are over. That news kicked off the second day and many people are still struggling to sink into their brains. Brady informed owner Bob Kraft and fearless leader Bill Belichick that he was moving on.
Putting the slack-jawed shock of the greatest winner of the Super Bowl era aside electing to fly the very accommodating coop, there are two stories out of this to follow.
Where does Brady go, and what do the Patriots do to replace him?
The leading suitors for Brady are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Chargers. With Philip Rivers imminently joining the Colts, Ryan Tannehill sticking in Tennessee, and Marcus Mariota moving to the Raiders, there just aren’t that many places that both need and can afford Brady. The Chargers would be my choice if I were Brady, in part because I don’t see Tom Terrific being a tremendous fit with Bruce Arians’ deep-ball offense in Tampa. Brady’s arm strength was visibly lesser last year, and at 42 it’s not coming back.
If there is another team in the mix, Miami would be a fun twist. Brady has tormented the Dolphins and their fans for nearly two decades. I don’t see that happening at all but it’s fun to grind the pepper sometimes.
As for the Patriots, it’s hard to see Belichick rolling with Jarrett Stidham as the starter. Stidham is not without potential but as a 4th round rookie in 2019 he threw 4 passes. One of them was picked off and he was sacked on another dropback. He’s too green to trust for a viable AFC contender. A trade for Cam Newton is a possibility, maybe. It’s difficult to envision the headstrong Belichick dealing with the equally headstrong but aloof Newton, but stranger things have happened. Brady will be wearing another uniform in 2020, after all.
The most sensible chatter is for the Patriots to acquire Andy Dalton from the Bengals. When the Cincinnati team was actively trying to win, Dalton led them to several playoff berths. I like the angle of an Andy Dalton redemption arc after he’s discarded by the Bengals for Joe Burrow. If Belichick can get to the Super Bowl with Dalton, it’s a crowning achievement as the greatest coach in NFL history.
$.03--Another impactful trade of questionable judgment went down Monday night. The Minnesota Vikings dispatched mercurial WR Stefon Diggs to Buffalo for several Bills draft picks.
Diggs is a very talented receiver but it comes with some strings. He’s got a needy personality and a distaste for errant QB play. He voiced his displeasure with Kirk Cousins in Minnesota for missing some downfield opportunities early in 2019. Imagine his reaction with joining the Bills and Josh Allen, the NFL’s least-accurate downfield thrower.
Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs' new QB, is the worst deep passer in the NFL. He hit 15 of 59 attempts last season.— QB Data Mine (@QBDataMine) March 17, 2020
At least in Buffalo, Diggs will be the unquestioned top dog at WR. He shared that mantle with Adam Theilen in Minnesota and it was an uncomfortable yet productive alliance. Diggs rockets to the top of the depth chart and gives Allen something he’s lacked: a true playmaking, high-volume wideout. Giving up a first-rounder and more is a steep price to pay for a player that might not fit the quarterback well.
The Vikings have battled salary cap issues all offseason, already unloading Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes. They get a 1st round pick in 2020, No. 22 overall, and 5th and 6th round picks this year plus a 4th next year. In a ridiculously stocked WR draft class, the Vikings have the ammo to replace Diggs and restock some depth with cheaper alternatives later.
$.04--Free agent quickies
Some snap reactions to contracts that piqued my interest over the last 24 hours…
Jack Conklin to the Browns: Smart move to shore up the biggest hole on the team, and locking up the best tackle on the market for a reasonable $14M/yr is a win for new GM Andrew Berry.
Austin Hooper to the Browns: This was the first move out of the gates. Cleveland made Hooper the highest-paid TE in NFL history at $11M per year. He’s a top-5 TE who really helps the Browns in the red zone, something that will make Baker Mayfield happy. Expensive but probably worthwhile.
Marcus Mariota to the Raiders: I’ll be surprised if Mariota doesn’t win over Raiders coach Jon Gruden by Halloween and make the first year in Las Vegas a little livelier. Getting Mariota in a stable offense can do wonders to revive his once-bright career. I also love the low-key move by Las Vegas to swipe LB Nick Kwiatkowski from the Bears. Good player and exactly what the Raiders needed.
Amari Cooper stays with the Cowboys: Dallas chose to keep Cooper instead of CB Byron Jones. It’s a Sophie’s choice situation but one I’m not sure I agree with. Then again, he made Dak Prescott a lot better and for what they’re paying Prescott, he needs every bit of better he can muster.
Byron Jones to the Dolphins: Jones is now the highest-paid CB in the NFL. Second on that list is new teammate Xavien Howard. Jones is very good in coverage but doesn’t make impact plays, not yet anyway. High-priced CBs in free agency have not panned out well lately, but I would bet on Jones being the exception. It’s a smart scheme fit in Brian Flores’ defense.
D.J. Reader to the Bengals: this Texans loss will fly under the radar, but it’s a big loss for Houston. And the Bengals opening up the checkbook to pay the emerging young DT could be a sign that a renaissance around Joe Burrow goes deeper than just the quarterback.
Kirk Cousins extends in Minnesota: Cousins continues to game the system better than anyone ever has. Good for Kirk. He’s good enough that the Vikings will never be out of contender status with him at the controls, but I’m not sold he’s ever going to be good enough to get them to a Super Bowl. It’s a very expensive purgatory for Minnesota.
Baltimore getting better: The Ravens stole Calais Campbell from the Jaguars for a 5th round pick. They dumped a rare flop of a 1st-rounder in Hayden Hurst and got a nice return from Atlanta, where he won’t be the answer either. Then they signed DT Michael Brockers to a below-market deal to shore up the interior defense, capitalizing on the Rams’ ever-closer complete implosion. The rich get richer.
$.05--The last cent is almost always non-football related, and this one is no exception. Like everyone else, my family and I are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and all the associated closings. My kids are out of school until mid-April (at the earliest). Restaurants here in Michigan are carryout only, while just about any place other than a grocery store that can hold more than 20 people is closed.
Life is not easy for anyone right now. No sports on TV during this time of year is a maddeningly depressing development. But this will pass, in time. Hopefully sooner than later, but it will pass. The impact it has on the sports world might take a lot longer, however.
I think of my friend Aaron, a season-ticket salesman for a MLB franchise. He’s got nothing to sell but vague hope right now. I think of my friend Dan, who runs the control booth for a regional sports network. He’s at home now, indefinitely. My friend Michelle is a trainer for a pro sports team that is currently on hiatus. So is her income. I know several people who work in the XFL, watching their dreams and livelihoods vanish as the league suspended operations. Heck, my son’s private basketball instructor is out of our weekly stipend because the gyms where we practice are all closed.
Because of circumstances like that, it’s going to take some time for a new normal to emerge in the world of sports. When the NBA and NHL do reemerge (my hope is by May and go straight to the playoffs for both), when baseball fires up, when college football practices begin, it’s not all going to work smoothly right off the bat. Be patient. Be tolerant. Be thankful they’re back, because we’re seeing that life without them isn’t nearly as fulfilling.