It’s a wrap, folks. The 2019 NFL Season is over. The Chiefs have had the parade. So, what have we learned these past few months? A lot, as it turns out.
1. A woman’s place is on the sidelines…or on the field.
With Katie Sowers becoming the first woman (and openly gay woman) to coach in the Super Bowl, and Bruce Arians hiring two women for his staff, it seems like there’s going to be more room for female voices in the NFL.
Anything that helps break up the (white) boys club is inherently a good thing. So, let’s see more of this next season, there are a wealth of qualified female coaching candidates. Let’s give them a shot. All reports out of San Francisco this season are that Sowers was tremendous in her role as an offensive assistant. And who knows. With that barrier being broken down, what’s next? A female kicker? Paging Carli Lloyd.
2. It really is a country for old men
If Hulu ads are to be trusted, Tom Brady is coming back, we just don’t know where. Philip Rivers is headed out of Los Angeles, but he’s entering free agency and not considering retirement just yet. Drew Brees has announced that he’s headed back to the Saints, much to the presumed displeasure of both Tedy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill.
The league has evolved to allow quarterbacks and kickers to play with less wear and tear on their bodies, so why not? I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I do think that we need to consider what prolonged careers do when we talk about legacy. We can’t just throw every quarterback that plays for fifteen years into Canton because they have more passing yards than Joe Montana. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Eli Manning isn’t a Hall of Famer. Sorry, not sorry
Put simply, longevity in and of itself is not an attribute that warrants inclusion into the Hall of Fame.
Answer me this: If David Tyree doesn’t “make” the “Helmet Catch” (don’t even get me started), are we even discussing this?
If Eli didn’t happen to be the QB on the tremendous defensive teams that beat the Patriots in two Super Bowls, he’d never even be considered.
Nationally, Eli gets a lot of love for those two wins for beating the most hated team in the league, but let’s be real. Over his career, he averaged an interception per game. Brady averages almost half that number. vHeck, can you name a season, any season in his entire career, when Eli Manning would be considered a top five quarterback, much less the best in the game? Nope. He’s never had a single season with a passer rating over one hundred.
For his whole career, Brady, Brees, Big Brother, Big Ben, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and many others have always been better. His only claim to the Hall is a long career in New York during the most prolific passing era of all time. He’s led the league in interceptions three times, and he’s lost just as many games as he’s won. He simply isn’t a dominant player. At all. Case closed.
4. The league still doesn’t know what to do with pass interference…
In an attempt to clean up the mess of last season’s NFC Championship game, the league agreed to allow video replay of pass interference calls. There’s only one problem. The officials are refusing to use that power for the good of the game. Perhaps out of solidarity for the on the field crew, the replay officials in New York simply won’t overturn the call of the field at an appropriate rate. Fewer than twenty five percent of reviewed pass interference calls were changed.
Given the relative risk of challenging and immediacy of video evidence for coaches to make a challenge, you’d expect that number to be a lot higher.
Yes, it’s a judgement call, but there were more than a handful of non-calls that got challenged that should have been overturned. The lack of clarity in the process is what makes this all so frustrating from a fan perspective. If the officials don’t want to overturn the ruling on the field, there needs to be some explanation when literally millions of people can see that the defensive player never turned his head and initiated contact.
5. Or replay in general
But maybe, just maybe, this isn’t about pass interference. Maybe its about replay in general. Officials don’t want it, or at least they want to slow its introduction into the game.
That simply isn’t going to happen.
Tennis is a far, far better game for the whole-hearted acceptance of a replay system that does what human judges can’t, and the process is crystal clear to viewers in the stands and at home. Baseball will automate the strike zone, but it will probably take decades. Football should look forward, not back.
First, make everything reviewable. There’s no reason in this technological age to allow human error to masquerade as “part of the game”. Second, automatically review ALL POTENTIAL scoring plays and turnovers. Not just ones that are ruled that way on the field. On the field refs should have a signal that immediately calls for a booth review. Essentially admitting that they didn’t have the correct angle instead of guessing.
Relying on coaches to challenge is just not enough in game changing moments.
Last, show viewers the booth review in real time. As it happens. With microphones. If the replay official simply can’t see enough, let fans see that. If they’ve seen something that flips the script, let us all know why. The real time explanation will go a long, long way towards appeasing even the most angry, partisan fans.
6. The Chiefs are not a dynasty. Yet.
Yes. Kansas City is on the ascent after a 2018 campaign that sputtered out in the AFC Championship and this season’s comeback-filled Super Bowl run.
But here’s the thing. I
t’s going to be really, really tough to repeat that success.
The Chiefs will need to start NOW to prepare for what will be the most lucrative contract in NFL history when they need to sign Mahomes to an extension. Something like five years and two-hundred million dollars isn’t out of the question at this point, with the vast majority of that guaranteed.
So, how do you balance the books? The answer is one Chiefs fans probably won’t love. They need to cut salary and do it on the offensive side of the ball. To keep rolling, the Chiefs can’t revert to the unbalanced unit they were in 2018. There’s still room for improvement defensively, and the offense suffers from a surplus of high-priced weapons.
Put bluntly, don’t expect to see the trio of Kelce, Hill and Watkins all in KC for very long. They’ll need some younger, cheaper talent, and they’re going to need it soon. If Kansas City can navigate that tricky situation without blowing up, they might be on to something.
7. Culture matters
Speaking of blowing up…what happened to the Browns? Or for that matter, Washington, Detroit and Carolina?
The Browns were supposed to be a contender after adding OBJ to the mix on offense. The results were…poor. Washington was poised to challenge in the NFC East on the back of a top-tier defense and running game. They fired coach Jay Gruden after an 0-5 start.
Carolina looked like a contender in the NFC South, and Christian McCaffrey looked like a potential MVP, but nagging injuries to Cam Newton scuttled the season, and Riverboat Ron Rivera paid the price for eight straight losses to end the year.
Detroit? They started strong with two wins and a tie, then a narrow loss to KC upset the applecart. They would win only once the rest of the way. None of the head coaches here are still employed, save Matt Patricia, who shook up his staff at the end of the year.
And the Bengals? They hold the number one overall pick in the draft, and Joe Burrow, the LSU quarterback considered to be the sure-fire number one is publicly stating that he has “leverage” in the scenario. I’m not saying that we’re headed for an Eli Manning-Chargers situation.
But maybe…The reason is simple.
Burrow is looking at Baker Mayfield’s regression, amongst other indicators, and understands that no man is an island in the NFL. No quarterback can carry the team alone (no matter how many movies and tv shows pitch that narrative). Culture matters. Team mentality matters.
8. We can expect the unexpected…sort of
Lamar Jackson coming up big and leading the Ravens to a division title?
Le’Veon Bell having a career worst season after moving to the Jets? Called it preseason, and man was it terrible.
Ryan Tannehill replacing Marcus Mariota?
I’m not trying to brag here. Just pointing out that some things can be known. Others can’t, like the psychological toll of playing a contact sport for years. Like the weight of constant injuries nagging at a player. Like Andrew Luck walking away from the game in his prime just weeks after I wrote that the Colts would be wise to rest him until he was really, really ready. In the modern game, we should be prepared to see these types of surprising early exits with increasing frequency. That prediction is guaranteed to prove out.
9. The Rooney Rule needs help
Five openings this offseason. Five hires of white guys. Only two of whom (McCarthy and Rivera) have been a head coach before. That means that still only three of thirty-two head coaching jobs in the NFL are held by African American coaches. That would be Mike Tomlin, who should probably have been Coach of the Year, Anthony Lynn, who will get a fresh start post-Philip Rivers, and Brian Flores, whose first year with Miami was not a success.
The problem isn’t, nor has it ever been, the need to force older, white NFL owners to meet with and interview at least one African American candidate for open head coaching jobs. The problem is that the pipeline of coaches that represent the candidate pool isn’t anywhere near as diverse as it should be.
What’s the solution to such a complex and charged issue?
I’m not sure. Maybe it’s applying a version of the Rooney Rule to ALL coaching jobs in the NFL, top to bottom. Maybe it’s bigger than that. To truly fix this broken pipeline, there needs to be a correction at the collegiate level as well, which obviously the NFL can’t control.
10. The 2019 NFL Season has been…a heck of a season
The first Super Bowl win of Andy Reid’s Hall of Fame career. The emergence of Lamar Jackson. The revival in San Francisco. Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay getting back into contention. The Steelers narrowly missing the playoffs despite the loss of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger (boy, was I wrong about them after a few games). The eruption of Derrick Henry into one of the most unstoppable forces we’ve ever seen. The complete blow up in Cleveland after sky-high expectations couldn’t be met. Gardner-freaking-Minshew.
But just because it’s over doesn’t mean that its like…over, over.
We’ll be here all offseason talking free agency, draft needs, combine surprises. So hang in there, it’s going to be a heck of an offseason, too.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.