The NFL never really sleeps, but the beast may be in a mild snooze.
The glut of negative news drops out of the league office on Thursday afternoon certainly felt like a pre-vacation bloodletting of sorts. I suspect we get news on some player suspensions (for substance abuse or performance-enhancing, more so than for personal conduct policy issues), and then, most likely, things shutdown until the end of the month.
It's always risky to unplug and head to the beach for a bit in this business, but I'm going to risk jinxing myself and go on record as saying the next two weeks will be quiet. Real quiet.
All of the burning questions that so many have been asking for so long, about a myriad of quarterbacks in particular, I suspect will still be lingering when my vacation ends. This, I suppose, is the opposite of a fearless prognostication column (I already exhausted that offseason option last month). It's more my reading of tea leaves based on what I have been picking up regarding some of the thornier issues still percolating around the league as we enter what should be the most dormant time of the year.
I do not expect closure on much of this until just before the opening of training camps (July 27 for most teams), and some of it will undoubtedly remain unresolved until deep into the summer if not into the season. After an incredibly trying 2020 season that required unprecedented and nonstop work among all parties in this sport – getting the season off the ground and getting it completed and then agreeing to operating rules for a still-unique 2021 season – there is a real sense around the NFL that it is time to get off the grid and catch some breath before the marathon begins anew in a few weeks.
So, you ask, what does that mean for some of the most pressing situations across the league? Here's what I think:
It's one thing to wrap up an internal investigation of an owner without any public record, any reveal of evidence or any written document whatsoever. It's relatively easy to broker a settlement of sorts with one of your own, allow him to restructure his organization beforehand and accept what amounts to a suspension without ever having to label it as such or answer any questions in a forthright manner about it … But what Watson is facing is very different.
This is a star player under criminal investigation and facing a civil process while already at war with his franchise. The NFL as a rule takes its cues from the justice system, and with so many allegations from so many complainants, this could linger for months barring a global settlement of sorts. Some suggest the Texans trade him, but I can't see another owner wanting to take on this player under these circumstances and I tend to believe he will end up on the Commissioner's Exempt List to start the season. Either way, barring a settlement, I don't think there is anything close to closure on this situation, and even a settlement itself wouldn't necessarily wrap up the NFL's probe into this matter. I suspect this goes into September.
Rodgers is enjoying having his foot on the neck of the Packers brass. This is not, and never has been, about opting out before July 2 and using the pandemic as a contract mechanism. This has been about making Mark Murphy and Co. feel what Rodgers felt himself when they ambushed him to move up and draft Jordan Love a year ago. This is about blowing up their timeline for a peaceful transition of power and trying to win a Super Bowl somewhere else.
I don't expect to hear anything out of Rodgers' camp until the start of camp, and maybe not even then. He isn't worried about fines – he will be made more than whole whether that ends up in a redone deal in Green Bay or a new contract as part of a trade. I suspect he will let Cheesehead Nation get a nice look at what this offense looks like without him this summer – it will only end up strengthening his position – and then perhaps he will change his tune and come in on a horse made of Cheddar cheese to save their season. Or maybe he'll sit out til they trade him. Regardless, I don't see him flinching at all in the next few weeks.
The case is being made for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and, to a lesser degree, Baker Mayfield to get new deals having completed their first three season and all enjoying success. But there is only one of them who has won an MVP award and rewritten the record books. And Jackson is being represented by his mom, with zero guidance from the NFLPA (the union has tried to assist to no avail) and the rest of the industry has no idea what this contract will ultimately look like, there is zero flow of information about it in the agent community, and that could hold up the process around the league.
It's been a long time since a contract of this consequence was negotiated in such a non-traditional manner (Master P and Ricky Williams back in the day?) and whatever deal is done will have ramifications. Does he go for the bizarre 10-year structure that Patrick Mahomes took on a year ago at this time? Is it a very short-term deal? Does he just decide to end the process and play it out? Anything seems possible and from the Ravens' standpoint, the last thing you want to be doing is sitting down with your best player's mom to tell her all the things her son hasn't done and must improve on and why he doesn't deserve to get every penny he wants. The process requires exposing warts and engaging in a bare-fisted back-and-forth at times. Far easier exchange with a third party.
Good luck finding many comps to this situation, so I tend to think this goes on for a while, and we don't get a lot of action in the first half of July. One phone call could change it, as in any negotiation, but this is tricky.
Who is 'that (expletive)' Brady referred to?
Tom Brady drops his bombshell right as everything shuts down, capturing rapt attention and intrigue. Don't expect him to spill the beans about this process anytime soon. Heck, I could see him (or maybe his agent, Don Yee) one day writing a book that Brady's production team then turns into a movie or a documentary about the process. But that's a long ways down the road, well after Brady retires. In the meantime, many an NFL coach or GM will be pondering just exactly whom Brady was referencing. Of course, they'll be sipping on a cocktail or riding the waves while they do it.