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August Newsletter - Back to School Edition

Dolphins between a rock and a hard spot-

Miami Dolphins defensive back Xavier Howard recently arrived for training camp and made no bones about why. Howard has taken the Marshawn Lynch approach — “I’m only here so I don’t get fined”. This is yet another example of the newest way players are handling their business if unhappy with their contract. A minor ankle injury is officially what the Dolphins are saying, but it’s another disturbing trend of harboring distrust between a player and management, fast becoming know league wide as a “hold-in”.

Howard took to Instagram last week to reaffirm his displeasure about his contract and his wish to be traded. “I don’t feel valued or respected, by the Dolphins,” he said. What really seems to stick in the craw of Howard is the fact that he is the second highest paid corner on his own team. This might be a good time to remind people that in 2019 Howard signed a $75M deal that, at the time, made him the highest paid at his position in the NFL. Obviously, as happens in the business, he has since been passed. I am sure he won’t mind that when he has an off year the Dolphins come looking for a re-bate. I say this tongue in check.

These types of individual situations can divide culture and cause rifts, not only within an organization, but also within ones’locker room as well. Dolphins GM Chris Grier (who is inexperienced with the contract side of the job) is in a tough spot. The good news is, Byron Jones, the other corner whose contract is being questioned by Howard, is not offended and said earlier this spring,” I’m staying out of this one”. I don’t know Howard, his character, or his influence on the locker room but trust me, some players will not see this as Howard has. Most agree that when you sign a contract, you live with it. It’s not like he signed a 6- or 7-year deal. It was a short term, 4-year deal that paid him (like I said earlier) as the highest paid corner in the league. Everyone should have been happy with this agreement. Had he wanted a year by year deal based on production, I am sure the Fins would have obliged.

There are ways to bridge the gap that should be easy to consider, but the fact that the Dolphins would consider anything will set precedent in future contract dealings with similar players. They have to determine if this player will ever be happy and is it worth it.

The fact that Howard is missing practice, although not ideal, isn’t a big thing. He is good enough that he will catch up quickly and frankly, the health risk of preseason isn’t worth the benefits of him practicing, even for the first three weeks if it came to that. If I were the GM, I’d consider a life preserver type move for Howard, offering to advance payment of his salary or maybe even add an incentive for 11 or more INT’s (he made 10 last year) that would not count against the cap. If that wasn’t enough, I think I’d just let him sit. If he becomes a distraction or less than team oriented, the Dolphins always have the fine of “conduct detrimental to the team” card to play. I would not give him a new deal, and definitely not while he is, in all reality, withholding services. Like all deals in the NFL, eventually he has to play to get paid. That’s the way the system was set up and how it works. Some handle it better than others.

The Bridge might be burned with Saints WR Michael Thomas-

Upon his arrival to training camp, the Saints announced that WR Michael Thomas had sustained an ankle surgery in June and he would miss the start of the regular season. This did not sit well with head coach Sean Payton (who said so publically) and I can’t imagine it went over any better with GM Mickey Loomis. This ill-timed and subtle message sent by Thomas of waiting to have surgery brought me back to Bulls player Scottie Pippen’s approach to surgery and rehab in the wake of being vindictive and selfish when feeling disrespected in a contract dispute that was chronicled in the documentary, “The Last Dance”. Pippen had surgery late in the process so he did didn’t have to play for his money and it allowed him to collect regular season money while rehabbing. I don’t know what Thomas’ beef with the Saints is, but if it’s true that this situation could have been avoided, then his actions were very unprofessional and will definitely cause a bigger rift within the team.

Once a season ended, one of the first things I would always do as a GM was sit down with all medical people and review the overall health of our team, what surgeries were planned for individual players and what their rehab timetable was for the offseason. A calendar for Thomas and his injury would have to have been approved and communicated to the player and his agent. I guarantee you, the Saints did not call for surgery in June, allowing Thomas to miss this kind of time.

This sounds eerily similar to that and comes on the heels of a personal dispute that Thomas and the team had during the 2020 NFL regular season, the details of which are still scarce. Thomas obviously has a bone to pick with the club. I would think the trust factor might be broken beyond repair now. The bad news is the Saints don’t have many options at WR now, especially with Emanuel Sanders now playing in Buffalo. I would look for the Saints to find a way, within their salary cap restrictions, to trade for a veteran receiver over the next month to fill this spot. We may have seen Thomas play his last game for the Saints as well.

Colts Wentz out already with a foot injury-

As Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face”. It took the Colts all of two days before they had to hit the “recalculating” button. It’s not the end of the world and I’m sure an MRI can solve all the mystery but being “out indefinitely” is not what GM Chris Ballard wanted to hear. That news on Wentz, combined with OC Ryan Kelley being out with an elbow injury for a couple weeks, opens a gaping hole down the middle of the Colts offense, where the Colts originally thought they were most solid.

I wouldn’t panic if I were a Colts fan. Frankly, I really want to see what backup QB Jacob Eason can do with a proven array of players around him and an offensive system that fits his skill set. I remember standing at practice in Eason’s freshman campaign at Georgia and watching him, in person, and thinking to myself- that’s what a first-round pick looks like. He’s big, he’s strong, he can get the ball out and I like his pocket presence. The only thing missing was the speed of his processing and a larger body of work. A year later, after getting hurt early in his sophomore year and being replaced by an instate recruit (with nowhere near his talent), Eason had no choice but to transfer. His one season at Washington as a starter (he spent another redshirting) was average, at best, in an offense that gave him very few answers/options IMO. In fact, the OC was soon after replaced at UW.

There are reasons he slipped into the 4th round and his development from that freshman year at Georgia was stymied but to me it can be somewhat explained. If Wentz is going to miss some time, I’d be very interested to see where Eason is in this system. He has all the physical skills to be an NFL QB, just not the body of work… YET.

Packer Fans should be careful what they wish for-

Despite the rush of many experts to say, “I told you this was what was going to happen in the Aaron Rodgers case”, I truly don’t think very few know 1) what happened or 2) what’s in store for this team from here on out.

As I watched Rodgers, in his press conference, very eloquently make his points and air the issues that he has had with the Packers front office, I couldn’t help but think two things. 1. He is making the exact case for why Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian used to say- owners own, coaches coach, players play- end of story. Of all the examples he gave, I’m not sure I agreed with any of his points, just sayin’. Sure, he should have a voice of input and I’ve always had an open door to players and their opinions. However, a single player lacks a big picture perspective of all the options available in each case he brought up. Sure, he knows the chemistry of his own locker room and might have a valid opinion of players he has faced, but all from a worm’s eye view. A GM and his staff have a bird’s eye view to go along with many evaluations and opinions and a somewhat different perspective because of it.

The second thing I thought was, will this guy be “all in” if/when shit goes bad this year? Every season has its ups and downs and the last thing a team needs is a veteran QB not buying into the program. After all, that was part of the reason the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first place in 2019. Rodgers’ body language at times can be off putting and very negative and even for someone on the outside of their facility like myself, it drives me crazy.

I just think this version of the Green Bay Packers, even though they have their best player in camp, might be combustible and on edge, week in and week out, to be successful for a long regular season grind, regardless of the talent on their roster.

Rodgers arrogance, which makes him such a good player, could negatively affect this team. The fact that he said “I don’t need final say” and compared his situation to “The Last Dance” (he has won a single Super Bowl) or “people come here to play with me”, would be concerning going forward.

I laughed at the first deal that he thought of — trading a 6th round pick for a WR who is struggling to be effective in his later years and just might have been cut by the Texans before the regular season rosters were wet. This was a case of ready-fire-aim. No wonder Randall Cobb rejoiced when he heard the news.

Not drinking the WFT Kool-Aid quite yet?

I love Ron Rivera. I love what he has done to the culture in trying to eliminate the toxic environment that WAS the Washington Football team, but I’m not ready to proclaim them the favorites in the NFC East. It’s simple for me. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is an excellent backup QB, but the inconsistency he has shown over most of his first 16 seasons in the league is something I just can’t dismiss. And even more so, the backups Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke, are just not good enough. In fact, I think 2nd year player Steven Montez might have more physical ability than both and he is 4th in line. It’s just one person’s opinion, but this position has been misevaluated and could be costly for 2021.

Their defense is outstanding and they might have the best defensive front in football. That may just hide their inconsistencies on the other side of the ball, but QB play and scheme in general will be what a lot of insiders look at early in this season.

I’m also not sold on the play calling and offensive philosophy for this offensive scheme based on what I saw last year. A first time O.C. in 2020, Scott Turner has to improve this year. His dad, Norv, was one of the all-timers to ever call plays. WFT fans have to hope he shows growth in his second year if they are going to gain another playoff berth. As we know, the division is there for the taking.

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