It’s déjà vu all over again in Green Bay.
My regular readers know I spent a decade working for the Packers, and I vividly remember sitting in our draft room in 2005 as we made the first-round selection of quarterback Aaron Rodgers while we still had future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre playing at a high level.
Fifteen years later, almost to the day, the Packers made the first-round selection of quarterback Jordan Love while they still had future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing at a high level.
The parallels of the beginning of their two careers continued this week.
On Nov. 29, 2007, near the end of Rodgers’ third season of apprenticeship under Favre, Aaron entered the game, after an injury to Favre, in a pressure situation. It was an away game against an NFC East opponent (the Cowboys) that was 10–1. The Packers would ultimately lose the game.
On Nov. 27, 2022, near the end of Love’s third season of apprenticeship under Rodgers, Love entered the game, after an injury to Rodgers, in a pressure situation. It was an away game against an NFC East opponent (the Eagles) that was 9–1. The Packers would ultimately lose the game.
The symmetry is stark. As for the rest of the story, we will find out over the next six months.
At the end of the 2007 season, we handed the keys to the Packers to Rodgers when Favre retired (although he later unretired), and we know how great Rodgers has been since.
At the end of the 2022 season, well, we will see. Perhaps, like Rodgers, Love will ascend to the starting position after a three-year wait, and Rodgers, like Favre, will retire or (also like Favre) will be traded. That will all play out in February and March.
For now, the early-career moments of Rodgers and Love continue on eerily parallel tracks.
More name than game
I just don’t get it with the breathless media coverage of the pursuit of Odell Beckham Jr. I know, I know: He had “the catch” and was a dynamic playmaker at one time. But, in my opinion, this is a fascination with a name over his game.
Beckham was a star player in the nation’s biggest market. Yet the Giants, despite signing him to a $90 million extension with a $20 million signing bonus, wanted out. Six months after signing that five-year contract, they traded him to the Browns despite incurring a $16 million dead-money cap charge (one of the highest charges ever at that time). Think about that: They preferred no Beckham and $16 million on the cap over having Beckham on the team.
On to the Browns where, after a couple of years, both parties also wanted a divorce. Yet unlike the Giants, who were able to garner a trade package that included a first-round pick, the Browns simply waived him. They could not or would not even rustle up a conditional seventh-round pick for Beckham; nothing, nada, zilch. They cut him, turning the scheduled $30 million left on the contract—$15 million for 2022 and $15 million for ’23—into dust.
Thus two teams had decided they were better off without Beckham—despite a $16 million dead-cap charge (Giants) and no compensation back (Browns)—than they were with him.
Last year’s episode of “Where will Odell sign?” ended with the Rams, a Super Bowl ring and another torn ACL. As for this year’s sequel, Beckham is taking visits and will reportedly sign soon. There are also reports of Beckham’s wanting a prorated $20 million contract, paying him more than $1 million per game for the rest of the season. You never know what a mercurial owner such as Jerry Jones might do, but to that wish, I say: Good luck with that.
Listen, I get it: Beckham has an “it” factor that few NFL players have, more like an NBA star. But here is what NFL general managers are looking at: (1) He has been shed by two teams that made major investments in him; (2) he has not played since the first week of February; (3) he has suffered two torn ACLs in the past three years. Oh, and he just got escorted off a flight for being in some sort of altered state.
I enjoy watching him play—when he has been a dynamic playmaker—as much as anyone. But it seems to me that, as of now, the name is bigger, much bigger, than the game.
Are owners colluding to stop fully guaranteed deals?
This weekend will mark the return of Deshaun Watson to an NFL field, of course against the Texans, a return that I thought the NFL would never allow in 2022. For a business that, as successful as it is, is still trying to attract more women, having Watson as the face of the Browns is not a good look after more than two dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Yet, as we all know, instead of pushing a yearlong suspension (or more), the NFL settled with Watson for an 11-game penalty, and here we are.
Beyond the on-field debut, the Watson contract has once again been in the news as the NFL Players Association filed a collusion suit against the NFL alleging teams/owners have illegally denied players guaranteed contracts since Watson’s five-year, fully guaranteed deal was signed in March.
As readers of this space know, I have often wondered whether Watson’s contract would become either precedent, as most sports contracts do, or an aberration and outlier. So far, the answer has been the latter: Subsequent quarterback contracts for Derek Carr, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson have reverted to the traditional team-friendly structure of early guarantees only, then shifting all the risk to the player.
To prove a collusion case, however, the NFLPA must show concerted action between two or more teams, or between the league and a team or teams. They will now seek any texts, emails or other communications, including those at league meetings, that may have suggested such concerted action. And my sense is that Lamar Jackson’s contract negotiation with the Ravens, or lack thereof, may be central to the allegations.
As to the case’s chances for success, I feel similarly about those as I did about the collusion case brought by Colin Kaepernick, one that ultimately settled.
Do I think the teams/league actions were/are collusive? No.
Do I think the teams/league actions were/are punitive? Yes.
In the Kaepernick case, owners were “punishing” Kaepernick for turning the focus of the business away from football. In this case, owners are punishing players coming after Watson in contract negotiations for daring to ask for the same kind of contract that was bestowed on Watson by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. They are cursing Haslam all the way for setting what could have been (or can still be) a precedent going forward, and making sure it does not become one.
Are NFL owners colluding in not giving out Watson-like contracts? Probably not.
Are NFL owners individually doing what they can to make sure Watson’s contract is not a precedent but rather an outlier? Probably.
More NFL Coverage:
• What Do Browns Fans Do Now?
• Mailbag: What to Expect on the Field in Deshaun Watson’s Return
• The Reeducation of Trevor Lawrence Is Paying Dividends