The Water Cooler



The NFL is filled with storylines each day, even during this COVID-19 pandemic. Most, however, are stories that get written and re-cycled until a new, and generally more controversial, topic comes along. Having run several NFL teams during my career, when I look at the current headlines making news in the league the skeptical side of me usually sends me down the road of what I call “second-level consideration” combined with a certain degree of personal in-depth analysis.

Internal meetings in NFL front offices are really not that different than discussions around the water cooler at the average workplace in America. Really, the main difference between the two is that NFL insiders generally can identify the source(s) involved, they know the combatants, they find out the details, and they usually can connect a few more dots about a given situation. Discussion from within provokes thoughts and opinions and those thoughts that show up as quotes can be enlightening.

Here are some observations that I’ve picked up on around my water cooler. I can assure you my same thoughts are being tossed around between trusted confidants in many NFL offices right now. Hopefully, they provide the necessary details that you may have been wondering about lately.

Our first news topic centers around the ongoing situation with Dak Prescott. Why is the Dallas Cowboy starting quarterback not agreeing to a new contract?

We can talk about numbers, averages, projections, stats and Prescott’s current status in the league. All of these things matter in the big equation but here is my second-level take on his situation. Anybody who has been involved in contract negotiations with professional football players knows that until time is of the essence, there is no reason for an athlete’s management team to say YES to anything. My vast experience has told me time after time that agents will continue to ask for more if their only downside risk in asking is hearing the word NO from the team.

Prescott’s agent, Todd France, is an experienced and respected agent who knows this all too well. He is one of the top 10 most powerful agents in the business. I have not talked to France, but I really believe he is actually waiting for one key development in Houston before making his next move with Prescott.

I think he is waiting for the Texans to “way over pay” their quarterback, Deshaun Watson, and he is really hoping that happens before July 15, the deadline for his client, Prescott, to sign a long-term deal under the NFL’s franchise tag guidelines. If Watson does get a mega-deal from the Texans soon it would give France more leverage in negotiations with the Cowboys to up Prescott’s asking price. I’m sure France has already positioned Prescott as having more value than Watson based on him having more skins on the wall.

All agents know that the Texans are being run by Head Coach/General Manager Bill O’Brien who is learning ‘on the job’. O’ Brien has very little experience in the art of negotiation, making deals and building teams in the salary cap era as a general manager.

Those in the business shake their heads at how the Texans are going about things these days but I regress. I believe the Texans way overpaid when they acquired former Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil last fall from the Dolphins. They then compounded this situation in the spring by doubling down and way overpaying him again with an unprecedented contract extension.

The Texans simply lacked the wherewithal to negotiate Tunsil’s current deal as part of the original trade. They then bragged publicly about the terms of the extension, internally attempting to validate their original decision.

Instead, both moves raised eyebrows around the league and around the water cooler. Following that questionable move, Coach O’Brien then shipped Watson’s best weapon, WR DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals for a Starbucks, because things between the head coach and his star receiver had gotten too personal for him.

Virtually any general manager worth his salt will not let things get personal with a player. It’s part of the job. Both the Tunsil decision and trading Hopkins have caused some internal strife within the Texans organization and O’Brien probably realizes his only ticket to job security rests in keeping Watson happy.

As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Watson get a new deal above his market value. Whatever the number is will have huge ramifications on all other quarterback deals in the league. So, if I’m France, I’d wait as well. He knows he has history on his side and zero to lose.

The other headline that has dominated the NFL spin cycle is how the New York Jets are handling the demands made by their starting safety, Jamal Adams. His demand for a new contract and subsequently his desire to be traded have put the young management team from the Jets up against the wall.

The facts are that Adams has two years left on his current contract and the Jets also have the franchise tag option available after that. Top safeties in the league are getting north of $13 million in today’s market.

Although Adams is well thought of in both the Jets locker room and around the league, he plays a position that is frankly hard to reward. Very rarely do you have a safety who is a “game changer” or has the ability to impact a game on defense like a premier pass rusher, or a cover corner for example.

Adams’ stats are also a bit misleading in my opinion. I realize he made 6.5 sacks himself in 2019 but those sacks came via designed pressure packages utilized by Gregg Williams, his defensive coordinator. Therefore, I’m giving equal credit to design as much as athletic talents.

Here is the key to this situation and something on that second level that I believe the Jets have to be discussing internally. The Jets drafted another safety, Marcus Maye from Florida, with the 39th overall pick in the same draft that produced Adams. Maye is also entering the fourth year of his original rookie deal. I think the Jets think he is a really good player who, in my opinion, happens to be a better cover guy, has more range in the post, played Adams position when Adams missed time in 2019 (without any drop of play) and has instincts/smarts to make calls and adjustments in the secondary for the entire defense.

I just can’t see the Jets paying two guys big money at the safety position. It’s not like their defense is playoff ready in other areas. Would the Jets rather resign Maye at $5-7 million a year than give Adams a new deal at $15 million a year? I know I would and if the Jets aren't thinking this way, the more experienced front offices around the league surely are.

I’m going to closely monitor Maye’s contract situation and it might give us the answer to what eventually happens with Adams in New York. By committing to Maye and trading Adams, the Jets can use the $10 million saved to fill two other needs with starters.

Adams future might just be tied to Maye not only on the field, but also off the field. I guess the moral to the story is that you CAN price yourself out of the market if you’re not careful. Another lesson is to make certain you hang around the water cooler at work. You might just learn something.

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Email: randy@muellerfootball.com
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