Insider notes

NFL insider notes: Why Dak Prescott, not Patrick Mahomes, will be real trailblazer, NFLPA makes hay and more – CBS Sports

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret. NFL teams would love nothing more than for the Patrick Mahomes contract to become a template for the next wave of mega-deals from the recently-negotiated collective bargaining agreement.

But they won’t get that lucky. If anything, I’d suggest history will look at this pact between the best player in the NFL and the reigning Super Bowl champs as a team-friendly anomaly the likes of which few other top players will ever consider, much less sign. It will look like Adrian Peterson’s final contract with the Vikings has come to look; a one-off that doesn’t serve as much of a springboard for other deals. In this case, no one is going to want to be like Pat.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s a lot of money and security. But handing away 12 years of control to a team in any time is beyond extreme — especially at the most critical position in all of pro sports — and doing it at this juncture (mid-pandemic, before the new TV and gambling and other sponsorships kick back in and at a time without fans in the stands) has baffled many who negotiate contracts and some within the NFLPA ranks.

Mahomes is thrilled with the deal. He will make untold fortunes off the field as well. He will be fine … but a trend-setter he will not be. The deal has been universally panned in the agent community among all I have spoken to, and, to let you in on another secret, the QB contract NFL front offices are fearing from this summer isn’t Mahomes’, it’s Dak Prescott’s.

Prescott’s patience stands to be rewarded in robust ways we rarely see in this league. He is primed to becoming the rarest of entities in this country’s richest league: a premier QB, in his prime, able to negotiate with all 32 teams as an unrestricted free agent. And, at a position in which timing is everything (ask Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff), Prescott is likely looking at a market re-setting haul come early 2022. By which time supply and demand at the QB position is almost certainly to be back with the players, with this bizarre 2020 offseason — when more proven passers were available than there were needy teams — long in the past.

Trust me, Prescott sticking to his guns, virtually certainly getting tagged again by the Cowboys in 2021 (to the tune of $38M) and then hitting the street 12 months later is a far more frightening sight for owners and GMs than are the gross figures of the $477M Mahomes stands to earn — because it will take him an entire career to earn it and that cost certainty is worth gold in this sport.

What would keep Steve Bisciotti up at night isn’t the specter of Lamar Jackson asking for every penny Mahomes got next January. It would be Jackson playing out his fourth season in 2021 and then waiting to see what Prescott gets on the open market. That will be staggering.

Consider than Mahomes will earn $63M in the first three years of his deal, while Prescott will earn $70M in the next two. And if Prescott opts to follow the Cousins path after successive franchise tags in 2022 (and we assume the business of football will be booming as never before post-pandemic with a vaccine widely available) then what would Cousins’s fully guaranteed, three-year, $86M deal equate to in those terms? With the cap back soaring? 

Three years, $140M? More?

And what might that say for the worth of Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray or Joe Burrow (he could be seeking a new deal after the 2022 season) by then? At some point, some player would follow Cousins’ lead. Prescott is now more than halfway home to doing so. And once he gets past that second tag, taking any sort of long-term deal would be counterproductive.

True leverage in this league comes from proximity to being able to hit the open market. Particularly at key positions where the Next Man Up mantra doesn’t hold. Prescott seems to embrace that. Mahomes forgave it. Both will experience generational wealth and prosperity and a peace of mind. Only one has a chance to be trailblazer, however, when it comes to shifting the NFL’s spending paradigms at least a little more in the favor of his peers. 

Washington gets it right with Donaldson, needs the right team president

Kudos to the Washington football team for hiring Julie Donaldson to oversee its content and broadcasting. In light of the franchise’s toxic culture of sexual harassment being brought to the fore, again, by a recent Washington Post expose, this is a decidedly forward thinking and progressive move for a team rarely lauded for such.

Donaldson is a veteran of the DC media scene, an accomplished host and reporter and a breath of fresh air from the way things have been done with in-house media there. She is already well connected in the organization and is well respected inside and out. Few teams, if any, have put women in executive positions like this, which also make them in essence the face of the franchise in terms of messaging and branding and it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Regardless of the findings in the investigation that owner Dan Snyder has paid “outside” counsel to conduct, this team would be wise to spend even more time and resources discovering a team president to truly attempt to right the culture there. Someone who brings morals, wide-ranging experience and leadership, maybe even a hint of gravitas to the club. Years ago there were unfounded rumblings about Condoleeza Rice as a candidate to coach the Browns … but given her background and love to football and unique and unprecedented qualifications across the board, such a position in a city she knows so well would be an absolute grand slam for Snyder.

For 100 years this league has yet to have an African American team president. Somehow. Rice could be transformative in so many ways. I have no idea if she would be interested, but I would exhaust all options to find out. I’d also be in close contact with former player Shawn Springs, a football lifer who lives in the region and played for the team and was a star in the college and pro ranks and who has earned business and tech accolades far and wide for the work of his company, Windpact. It might not be the best time for him, but he’s been a sponge around guys like Paul Allen and leaders of industry, he understands locker rooms and coaches rooms (grew up at the feet of Tom Landry with his dad a stalwart on the Cowboys) and even helped raise the team’s QB, Dwayne Haskins.

Bottom line — if this franchise truly wants to change course and find an innovative steward, options abound. And change is clearly, badly, needed once more.

NFLPA negotiating 

The NFLPA has been very effective in its practices and negotiating in recent days, both via social media and also behind the scenes. Sure, the NFL was always going to relent on playing no preseason games, as I have been noting in this space for weeks, but the PA got it done sooner rather than later. Daily testing was always the only thing that made sense, and that is a reality now, too, at least during the early weeks of camp.

And we’ve been telling you for quite some time that there was no way in hell that 90-man rosters were going to hold … and they’re not. It’s a good year to be a drafted rookie, because a ton of them are going to make teams that have so little chance to weed through who belongs and who does not; they’ll get the benefit of the doubt.

The big key now is figuring out all of the financial components that still need to be resolved. Given the recent tenor of conversations, things are headed in a good direction. Nothing is final until it is final, but I like the way things are trending.

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Insider notes

NFL insider notes: Vikings should repeat franchise history and reset the market with new Dalvin Cook contract – CBS Sports

Nearly a decade has passed since Adrian Peterson reset the running back market. The Minnesota Vikings were the team to make the splurge then. I can’t help but wonder if they end up doing it again.

They absolutely have to be considering it. And even in an era in which running back value has been significantly depressed, one could make the case that their best shot to do anything of note during their Kirk Cousins era would be by making Dalvin Cook their primary fulcrum, extending his tenure and maximizing his impact. Because the reality is, if the Vikings are going to finally be a playoff factor, it will be as a result of their offense and not Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Breaking news: That defense has been slipping for years and even after the draft there are serious questions to be asked about the secondary and defensive line. Minnesota just extended Cousins’s already record-setting deal, locking in on a productive-but-by-no-means-transformational quarterback at over $30M a year. The days of this team being able to win consistently scoring in the teens are over; the offense has to be the star and if we know one thing about Zimmer it’s that he’s mandated no-frill, ball-control football (everything to protect that defense).

That’s not going to change, yet the balance of power in his roster most definitely has … which brings us back to Cook, who is entering his fourth season in the league (when dudes start getting paid) having proven to be a significant difference-maker when he is in the lineup. He doesn’t turn 25 until this summer and is coming off a 250-carry season in which he rolled up nearly 1700 total yards and amassed 13 rushing touchdowns and has averaged an impressive 4.6 yards per carry through his career.

Operating with a less-than-stellar offensive line and a quarterback who tends to be exceedingly streaky, Cook has emerged as one of the most dynamic every-down backs in the NFL. Is he any less important to the Vikings than the just-extended Christian McCaffrey is to the rebuilding Panthers? They had identical carries per game (17.9), while McCaffrey did average five more yards per game (Cook was seventh at 81.1 yards/game) and while the Panthers back was a 1000 receiver on nearly 150 targets, Cook had the fourth-highest receiving average among all running backs (9.8 per catch) but was under-utilized on just 63 targets.

We all know that’s changing, right? The Vikings dealt Stefon Diggs and, yeah, they took a receiver in the first round but the learning curves might be more steep than every with a virtual offseason and very likely a truncated training camp. Yeah, Kyle Rudolph had a bounce-back year but there is a reason he was on the trading bock for so long, and Irv Smith‘s rookie season wasn’t all that inspiring. This is becoming Cook’s football team and that should generally be reflected in one’s paycheck.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the direction in which the Vikings are going, and having Cook making just $1.3M in the final year of his rookie deal isn’t a good look. Give Vikings ownership credit – they have stepped up to pay and re-pay just about any core player necessary the last three or four years (and even some they should not have). They were giving out contracts like Oprah giving away cars. So best not stop now.

The Vikings were at a fork in the road after the 2019 season. Cousins was entering the final year of his fully guaranteed deal and key free agents abounded and the cap situation was tight. Had they gone ahead and dealt Cousins and Cook and started over in the draft I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Instead, they doubled down on the quarterback, slapped the franchise tag on Anthony Harris and spent big money on defensive tackle Michael Pierce.

A rebuild this is not. And the Vikings winning games as presently constructed without Cook being an MVP contender looks like a longshot. He is as central to their fortunes as any player in the league. When he suits up the Vikings are 18-11 and he is now two years removed from the surgery that wiped out his rookie season after just four games. With Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman in lame-duck contract years and the strengths of this football team transitioning, it’s clear who they need to deal with next.

Zimmer has churned through offensive coordinators for a reason and he is not going to relent and have his QB slinging the ball around 45 times a game no matter how much they are paying him. Even he has to know his defense is not nearly as fierce and imposing as it was, say, two years ago.

And the entire NFL knows that every running back in the NFL has been trying to get close to that mega-deal AP signed all the way back in 2011, when he inked a seven-year deal worth (a real, not inflated or fabricated) $100M with $40M guaranteed in the first three years alone. Nothing lasts forever, and even in an era in which running backs get discarded at an alarming rate – and even with several teams getting burned by paying big money for backs – eventually someone is going to push the standard back close to this.

The top of the running back market is set at $16M a season for now after McCaffrey’s extension. And if I was Cook, doing a three-year deal (with as much as possible guaranteed) similar to the structure Cousins applied in his free agent deal with Minnesota would have a particular appeal. Minnesota might as well tie the two together when it comes to contract length (Cousins is signed through 2022).

That’s the window to win something with this group, and opportunity abounds in the NFC North with the Bears and Lions floundering and the Packers front office seemingly hellbent on picking fights with a Hall of Fame quarterback and fooled that they have another 14-win season coming with that roster.

Cook is an integral part of the Vikings identity, and everyone gets paid in Minnesota. His time is now. Playing around with the franchise tag is less than ideal, and the Vikings aren’t winning anything without him.

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