Fast Friday 5: The most notable NFL offseason ever?

Andy Hart
February 28, 2020 - 6:36 am

Five fun Friday mini-columns from the world of (mostly) Boston sports for the price of one free click!

Listen to your team news NOW.


A free agent G.O.A.T., a CBA and so much more!

When the Patriots’ preparations for 2020 began somewhat prematurely following the Wild Card Weekend loss to the Titans last month, it was pretty much accepted that it would kick off arguably the most important offseason in franchise history.

Failing to reach at least the AFC title game for the first time in nearly a decade, Tom Brady’s uncertain free agent future put a cloud over Patriot Nation.

But the offseason questions ran far deeper that just TB12 in New England. There was the issue of changes on the coaching staff (Josh McDaniels surprisingly stayed, Joe Judge shockingly got the head job with the Giants and Dante Scarnecchia retired, likely for good this time). The team also has a boatload of important free agents not named Brady, including Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Joe Thuney, Jamie Collins, Matthew Slater and a slew of others.

But this offseason is a massive one outside the boarders of Patriot Nation as well. It’s not exaggeration to say that this may also be the most important, notable offseason in modern NFL history.

Think about it. Brady is a free agent. Drew Brees pondered retirement and free agency. Philip Rivers is leaving the Chargers and that’s just the top of the list of the most talented crop of would-be free agent quarterbacks the league has ever seen.

More importantly, the NFL and NFLPA – the owners and the players – are in the midst of negotiating a new CBA that will be the backbone of football – on and off the field – for the next decade.

While the NFL seemingly tried to rush to get a deal done this week, the players have resisted a bit. It will still go to a vote and likely pass, but there may be some lingering ill-will on the players’ side.

Overall the deal is very likely to expand the playoffs, expand the season and expand the pockets, to varying degrees, over everyone involved.

It’s massive.

Oh, and for good measure, the top of the 2020 NFL Draft includes elite talents at what are now considered the two most critical positions in football – quarterback and pass rusher. LSU passer Joe Burrow’s breakout Heisman season has him entering the NFL with as much franchise-quarterback hype as maybe anyone since Andrew Luck. Ohio State stud Chase Young has a perfect name to get after quarterbacks and is next in the line of badass Buckeyes on the edge.

G.O.A.T.s changing teams? Labor battles turning into long-term stability that includes significant changes to the postseason and regular season? A draft littered with elite talent in the fantasy football-friendly passing game, especially at wide receiver?

The NFL is where it’s at these days, even nearly a month removed from its last meaningful snap.

The NBA had an historic offseason last summer. But the NFL is ruling the roost year-round.

MLB and the NHL might wanna take notes.


Fancy meeting you here…

OK, can we be serious for just a minute? Good.

All 32 teams send some sort of contingent to Indianapolis each February. There are head coaches, GMs, assistant coaches, scouts, trainers, doctors and more.

They are there to research the 330 or so prospects looking to impress and improve their draft stock.

One would simply assume, I assume, that every team would do its due diligence on every player. Right?

Why, then, does the media spend so much time asking players if they have met with Team X? And why, oh why, do fans and social media followers seem to go so hella crazy when a reporter passes on the idea that a prospect met with a particular team, most of the time failing to specify the exact nature of the contact? Formal meeting? Informal? Passing in the hall? Chat at the Senior Bowl? Fist bump in the buffet line?

Can’t we all just kind of settle into the knowledge that most teams talk to most players at some point in time?

The fact is there is no direct connect between player-team Combine contact and eventual draft results.

Player X met with Team Y in Indy. File that under U for useless information that everyone seems to overvalue and overhype.


Cool/cocky Joe!

Joe Burrow is coming off one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in the history of college football.

He seems destined for the No. 1 pick and NFL success.

He navigated his way through two elite college programs, he has all the tools for the job and there is no way I’d pass on him.

The one underlying question I do have about Burrow is regarding his attitude and makeup. He walks a fine line between the cool, confident, swaggy leadership that’s a plus at the quarterback position and crossing the line into arrogance and questionable judgement.

The cigar and antics after the National Championship? OK.

The Twitter joke about his retirement after learning of his less-than-ideal hand size at the Combine? Funny.

But there is just something about the aging Macaulay Culkin-looking Burrow that feels like it could go down the road of Baker Mayfield depending on how things play out.

One things for sure, the son of a coach certainly sounded the part of a leader in his meeting with the media at the Combine.

“As a rookie you want to come in and just keep your head down and work really, really hard,” Burrow said. “I’m going to try to find a veteran who has done it for 10-plus years and try to mimic what he does. I’m gonna be a rookie, I’m not gonna know a lot of things, but I know how to work. I’m going to work as hard as I can. When my time comes to be a leader and be a starting quarterback, I’ll do whatever is asked of me.”

Hard not to like almost everything you see and hear from Burrow of late, but only time will tell how he handles the pressures of the ups and downs of life as an NFL quarterback. It’s not for everyone.


Tatum taking off!

Barely having broken in his Celtics’ shorts, former No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum was being compared to Boston legend Paul Pierce.

Then Tatum trained with late-Lakers great Kobe Bryant and he was supposedly greater by association.

Tatum was on the fast track to superstardom before his game really warranted such fanfare.

Now, though, No. 0 is making a name for himself on a nightly basis as the production is matching and even surpassing the previous promise and hype.

Strangely it seemingly took Tatum earning a role on the All Star team to really start to look like an elite NBA talent and scorer.

Over Tatum’s last 10 games he topped 28 points eight times and surpassed 36 points three times.

He’s taking more shots and making more shots. In seven of those games he shot better than 50-percent from 3-point land.

Oh, and the Celtics went 8-2 in those contests, seven of which came on the road including a West Coast swing that brought a hard-fought loss to the Lakers which included some rather controversial officiating.

The Celtics may not have a top-5 player or even a top-10 player at this point – which many take as a sign that Boston isn’t a true title contender – but at the rate that Tatum is developing of late, that may not be an accurate assessment of Brad Stevens’ squad much longer.

Tatum’s career is taking off before our eyes. And the Celtics’ future driven by its young star – short and long term – grows brighter by the day.


5 in 5: Meaningless reactionary Combine interview takeaways

There are few things more enjoyable and less meaningful than the immediate, reactionary takeaways from standing in front of an NFL Draft prospect’s Combine podium. But, they are also one of my favorite parts of visiting the ol’ “Underwear Olympics” in Indy over the last two decades. Seeing and hearing a player in person for the first time can be an eye-opening experience, with both positive and negative assessments that may or may not be proven true over the long haul.

For example, Baker Mayfield walked through the Combine media area with a greater air of arrogance than any player I’d ever seen before. That rubbed me the wrong way then and may be a character flaw that’s hurt his early development in the NFL. Time will tell.

With that in mind, here are five quick takeaways making snap judgements during a few days at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

  1. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina DL: “It’s crazy how humble I am.” I don’t think that’s how humility works! I’ll pass on the guy whose weight ballooned up past 350 last summer.
  2. Justin Jefferson, LSU WR: “I’m the best receiver, on and off the field.” Not sure whether he was alluding to being a student of the game and professional or if he really believes he’s a better person than the other wide receiver prospects, but it caught my attention.
  3. Isaiah Wilson, Georgia RT: The massive offensive lineman spoke with such a deep voice that it sounded like the audio was being slowed down and stood at the mic with cutoff sleeves displaying maybe the largest arms ever to pass through Indy. I don’t know how good an NFL tackle he’ll be, but if he fails he can probably have a fallback career as a bouncer, bodyguard or WWE star. He looks the part.
  4. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin RB: Knowing that Taylor nearly went to Harvard before putting up two 2,000-yard seasons with the Badgers it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise how impressive the running back was at the Combine media session. But from praising other backs in the class to expressing clear joy for his current lot in life, Taylor oozed genuine excitement and appreciation. There have been hits and misses with Wisconsin backs over the years, but Taylor seems to be the total package and it’s hard to imagine a team regretting picking him.
  5. It’s going to get plenty of play in the coming weeks, but the wide receiver class in this year’s draft is truly special. The prospects come in all shapes and sizes with varying positional versatility and skill sets. But the talent is obvious and could fuel a new generation of NFL playmaking. “I’ve seen all these numbers about guys that are going to go in the first three rounds,” Raiders GM Mike Mayock said. “Here’s what I’ll tell ya, the average over the last five years for wide receivers going in the first three rounds is 12, between 12 and 13 a year. You can easily make an argument, from a grade perspective, that they’re 20-25 of those guys out there this year, and that’s from a grade perspective. I’m not saying 20-25 are going. So there’s depth throughout, and there’s quality up top. That’s what you’re looking for in class, and on paper today, in February, that’s what we see.”

Related: Don’t believe Tom Brady is leaving New England rumors just yet