In NFL.com’s Press Coverage series, columnists Judy Battista, Jeffri Chadiha, Michael Silver and Jim Trotter engage in a back-and-forth discussion on a timely topic, issue or theme. In this edition, MICHAEL SILVER kicks off a run-down of the many unresolved storylines swirling around the NFL as an unusual summer ticks on.
Tags on Fates of Cam, Clowney
As the NFL world settles down for the start of summer and prepares for a pandemic-challenged preseason and beyond, there is a slew of uncertainty surrounding the 2020 campaign.
Will training camps, held exclusively at team facilities, open as projected in late July and proceed as planned?
Will each team play four, two or any preseason games?
Will the regular season kick off as scheduled on Thursday, Sept. 10, with the Houston Texans taking on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium?
Will there be fans in the stands?
We don’t yet have conclusive answers to these questions, and because we cover a sport that never sleeps — not even during the traditional dead period between the end of offseason programs (virtual or otherwise) and the start of training camp — there are plenty of other hot topics to command our attention during these tenuous times.
For instance, one of the sport’s best and most passionate players is publicly demanding a trade, and the New York Jets need to navigate a potentially explosive situation at a pivotal juncture for the franchise.
Safety Jamal Adams, the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft, was a first-team All-Pro in 2019 — and now he wants a new home. Reportedly, he has given the Jets a list of eight teams to which he’d prefer to be traded, and on Monday, a video surfaced on social media of Adams responding this way to a fan urging him to come play for the Dallas Cowboys: “I’m trying, bro.”
The first hint of major trouble between Adams and the Jets surfaced last October, when there were reports that he might be dealt (potentially to the Cowboys) before the trade deadline. General manager Joe Douglas, who’d been on the job fewer than five months, told reporters he had merely listened to offers initiated by other teams, but Adams lashed out on Twitter, essentially calling Douglas a liar.
“At the end of the week last week, I sat down with the GM and Coach (Adam) Gase and told them I want to be here in New York,” Adams wrote. “I was told yesterday by my agent that the GM then went behind my back and shopped me around to teams, even after I asked him to keep me here! Crazy business.”
Adams, who has two years left on his rookie deal (after the Jets exercised his fifth-year option), sought a lucrative contract extension after the season, but talks between his agent and the team broke down in May. It’s unclear whether things can be salvaged, and the Jets have some big decisions to make.
If they can’t come to contract terms with Adams, and if they don’t get a trade offer that blows them away, can the situation be smoothed over enough to bring him back into the fold, at least for the 2020 season?
Would a player who once said during a forum with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jets season-ticket holders that the football field is “the perfect place to die,” really be willing to miss games as a means of trying to force the team’s hand?
And if the Jets, in the name of intra-team harmony, grant Adams’ request and send him elsewhere, does that set a precedent that could trigger similar power plays by other players?
There’s a lot to consider, and the stakes are high. Gase and Douglas had best instill a sense of hope in Year 2, both among the fan base and ownership. With Tom Brady out of the AFC East, the division is wide open, and the Jets need to find a way to be competitive — or things in Florham Park could get blown up again.
My esteemed colleagues, meanwhile, are monitoring some intriguing hotspots of their own:
Judy Battista: The offseason has been such a bizarre blur that I can’t believe it’s been more than three months since we were all anticipating the quick signings of quarterback Cam Newton and pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney in free agency. And we’re still waiting.
With so much in flux, and with teams unable to examine them in person, it’s no wonder Newton and Clowney are still on the open market. Their fates in the coming weeks are the offseason story I am most fascinated by — except for the overarching question of whether the NFL will be able to play its season uninterrupted. COVID-19 has changed practically every detail about this offseason, and what has happened to Newton and Clowney is a relatively small part of it. But these are two team-changing players, and to have them both on the open market for three months just underscores how very much the pandemic has disrupted the way the NFL does business. That their availability is not the top headline in the NFL this offseason tells you how sideways everything is.
Because of the long wait, Newton might have to settle for a backup role whenever he signs, which would potentially make him the biggest football player victim of the NFL’s ban on free agency visits. Nobody is shedding any tears here. I don’t blame teams for not signing him without examining Newton after a series of significant injuries, and if he is healthy, Newton is certainly capable of unseating a starter quickly, depending on where he lands. (Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear, Gardner Minshew.) But it’s hard to imagine Newton waiting this long in any other offseason. (Side note: The same scenario has worked against Colin Kaepernick — any team who might have wanted to take advantage of the changed atmosphere to work him out in the last few weeks has had to wait.) I think once the NFL allows free agent visits again — presumably by the time players have to travel to get to their training camps — Newton and Clowney will have their suitors, and I hope Kaepernick does, too. We discussed in an earlier column whether Newton can be a game-changer again. I gave a qualified yes — probably not this season because of the lost offseason. But I look forward to the musical chairs that will ensue when teams can finally get a look at the former Most Valuable Player and figure out where he fits in their quarterback rooms (he fits really well in yours, Jacksonville Jaguars).
Jim Trotter: The situations of Adams and others remain interesting, but none is more intriguing than that of Kaepernick. I’ve been among those who believed owners would not admit they were wrong in refusing to sign him following his yearlong protest of racial inequality and police brutality against people of color, but one general manager recently told me that, based on the widespread protests against social inequality and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent statements about Kaepernick, he believes it’s a virtual certainty that the former 49ers quarterback will be signed this year. There’s no doubt player demonstrations will take place to start the season, and that means Kaepernick will remain a topic of conversation. There’s simply no way owners can credibly claim to support player protests while figuratively changing the locks for a fourth consecutive season to keep Kaepernick out of their locker rooms.
Jeffri Chadiha: The situation between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones hasn’t dominated the spotlight the way it would in a different offseason. Part of that is the result of what’s been happening in the world today, with COVID-19 and racial unrest being the two major issues. Another factor is the contract extension the Chiefs are trying to negotiate with star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, which should end up being the most massive deal in NFL history. But if you think the contract talks between Jones — who was given the franchise-tag designation — and this team won’t have a major impact on the near future, then you really haven’t been paying attention.
As much as we talk about Mahomes and the Chiefs’ explosive offense, their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years had plenty to do with the maturation of their once underwhelming defense. Jones played a huge role in that growth. He finished last season with nine sacks and was a serious force in the Super Bowl LIV win over San Francisco, as he deflected three passes in that contest. Jones also had 15.5 sacks in 2018, which is an indication of how disruptive he can be when at his best.
All that information should’ve been sufficient for Jones to be locked into a long-term extension by now. The problem, according to published reports, is there has been literally no communication between the two camps for weeks. It’s difficult to know exactly where both parties stand at this stage, but we can assume this much: Jones wants a whole bunch of money, and the Chiefs are trying to juggle a lot of moving parts at the moment.
Jones actually wanted a significant pay increase before last season began. When the Chiefs traded for defensive end Frank Clark last season, they gave the former Seahawks standout a five-year deal worth $105.5 million, with $63.5 million in guaranteed money. That was the kind of money Jones was looking for last August. The Chiefs thought it was better to focus their efforts on extending Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill and letting Jones play out the final year of his rookie deal for just under $1.2 million.
It’s impossible to think Jones has forgotten that. It’s even harder to believe he’s not clamoring for an even bigger package than what Kansas City gave Clark. The Indianapolis Colts acquired former 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade in March, then rewarded him with a four-year, $84 million extension. Jones improved enough as a willing run defender in 2019 — that part of his game had consistently been seen as a major weakness — that he has every right to want a deal in the average salary range of $21 million.
Here’s where it gets really sticky. The Chiefs are going to have a hard time working out a deal with Jones until they know what they have to pay Mahomes in the near future. There’s also the likelihood that next year’s salary cap is going to be either flat or significantly lower than this year’s cap if COVID-19 restrictions result in fewer or no fans being allowed at games. As much of a wild card as the Mahomes negotiation is with regard to the Jones contract situation, it’s even more unsettling for both the Chiefs and Jones to have no idea what kind of budget the team will be working with in 2021.
This is all setting up as a serious game of chicken. The franchise tag given to Jones means the Chiefs are on the hook for $16.1 million this season. If he doesn’t sign the tender by the July 15 deadline to strike a multi-year contract extension and decides to hold out, then Kansas City GM Brett Veach is going to have a hard time making the kind of emergency roster moves he made last season to aid that Super Bowl run. On the flip side, Jones has to gauge where the market is heading. He can follow in the footsteps of other stars who ultimately found their own freedom after not signing their franchise tags by the aforementioned deadline — like Jets running back Le’Veon Bell (who sat out the entire 2018 season) and Clowney (who signed his tender after he approved the Seahawks as his destination via trade last offseason) — but that route involves potentially foregoing a sizable paycheck for a long time.
To be honest, I’ve always thought it was going to be hard for Jones to be back with the Chiefs. He was underpaid last season, and I don’t see him even being swayed by the $16.1 million being offered for one year of work. He’s turning 26 on July 3. He’s in the prime of his career. He’d also be the most attractive free agent on the market if the Chiefs pulled the franchise tag off him tomorrow. What we do know is that July 15 is coming fast, and no long-term deal can be negotiated after that point this year. Unless Jones and the Chiefs start talking soon, this will be one of the more interesting standoffs of the summer. This franchise has been making a lot of noise about “running it back” and becoming the first repeat Super Bowl champs since the New England Patriots achieved that feat in 2003 and 2004. That’s going to be a far more difficult task if Jones isn’t part of the equation.
Silver: These are all compelling storylines, and something tells me they won’t be the only ones that capture our attention in the coming weeks, even as coaches, talent evaluators and other team officials attempt to shut it down.
For example, as I reported Tuesday on NFL Now, two teams — the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens — have had legitimate internal discussions about whether to sign wide receiver Antonio Brown, a supreme talent whose erratic behavior and resistance to all forms of perceived authority short-circuited his brief stays with the Raiders and Patriots last season.
Brown, presumably, faces a significant suspension in the wake of a pair of off-the-field issues. But if he’s stable and able to avoid the type of self-implosion that marked his lost 2019 campaign, Brown could provide a significant second-half jolt to someone’s offense.
The Seahawks and Ravens, Super Bowl contenders with prolific quarterbacks and strong locker rooms, are pondering the risk/reward ratio. Brown has been working out with Seattle’s backup quarterback, Geno Smith, and the team has received positive reports. Meanwhile, Brown’s cousin, second-year receiver Marquise (Hollywood) Brown, plays for the Ravens, and the organization has batted around the idea of bringing in the former Steelers All-Pro since last fall.
There’s about a month to go before teams report for training camp — we think — and we’ll be keeping an eye on all of this.