Return of the PFT mailbag

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On those rare weekends when the NFL slows down, it would be a great time for me to do something other than bang away on a keyboard. But I prefer to bang away on a keyboard.

So we’ll do some mailbags during one or two of these slower Sundays. Here’s the first of however many I end up doing. All questions have been harvested in response to a call made via Twitter.

From @aredzonauk: When will we get a decision on Deshaun Watson from the NFL?

It needs to happen soon. Under the new procedure adopted in 2020, the NFL proposes a punishment. Then, the Disciplinary Officer reviews the materials, likely conducts a hearing, and reaches a conclusion. Finally, if the Disciplinary Officer imposes any punishment at all, either the league or Watson will be able to appeal the decision to the Commissioner, who has final say over the discipline. It will take time for this to unfold. The Browns would surely like to know by the time training camp opens. At the latest, something needs to be finalized by Week One.

From @Lactoo: What kind of contract do you think Orlando Brown will get? Might not be a top-10 OT but is young.
On the other hand, G.M. Brett Veach has avoided paying top dollar lately, with Tyreek Hill in particular.

When it comes to the franchise tag, there’s a general formula for turning it into a long-term deal. The player usually gets this year’s and next year’s franchise tender fully guaranteed at signing, with two or three non-guaranteed years on the back end. For Brown, that would be $36.65 million, fully guaranteed, since that’s what he’d make over the next two years under the tag.

Alternatively, he can opt to play under the tag in the next two seasons, skipping all of the offseason, training camp, and preseason if he so chooses. He also could sit out all of 2023 and then essentially force his way to the open market, like Le’Veon Bell did several years ago.

The fact that the Chiefs traded Hill likely isn’t relevant to Brown. Each decision is made in isolation, with consideration given to the cost of a capable replacement. The Chiefs need competent blocking for quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Also, when the Chiefs made the trade for Brown, they knew they’d eventually have to pay him. Now that Brown has hired an agent, they presumably will.

From @WillLew51464805: If a player is holding out from signing their franchise tag contract, does the team have to carry a salary cap space empty enough to cover the contract up to Week 10 where it is the last week the player has to sign it and get paid? Asking because of the Bengals/Jeremy Bates situation.

The team that applies the franchise tag carries the cap space unless and until it is rescinded. It can be removed at any time before it’s accepted by the player.

Once it’s accepted, the salary becomes guaranteed for the coming year. The cap number can be reduced by doing a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline for doing so.

From @donkey170: My lawyer friend said Rusty Hardin’s comments on radio would not be admissible in court so they matter only in the court of public opinion. Is that true? You seem to disagree.

Although Rusty Hardin won’t be a witness in any of the trials of the 23 (soon to be 24) cases pending against Deshaun Watson, Hardin’s position on key issues are directly relevant. Hardin is the writer, producer, director, and star of the production that will be the various courtroom defenses of Deshaun Watson. Hardin’s comments from Friday operate as a strong hint that these defenses will be based on the notion that it’s OK to receive and also to request sexual activity at the conclusion of a massage. Thus, while Hardin’s comments aren’t evidence, they show how he will present the evidence and eventually argue the evidence to the various juries.

It appears that the focus of each case will be to attack the credibility of the plaintiff, building and bolstering an argument that each plaintiff either consented to whatever transpired, that Watson never did or said anything that crossed the line, and/or that each plaintiff was never actually offended or wronged by Watson’s words or actions. Hardin’s comments strongly suggest that Watson won’t claim that he wasn’t receptive to and/or interested in one or more of the massages ending with a consensual sexual encounter.

While that approach could result in Watson winning one or more of the pending civil cases, it may not help his cause under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. If Watson admits he engaged in an extended pattern of arranging massages on social media with the goal of having the massages take a sexual turn, the NFL could impose a significant suspension for that and that alone, regardless of whether he ever violated or attempted to violate whatever the massages therapists consented to.

From @ericandteddy: How is the bakery doing?

The bakery is doing well, primarily because I have nothing to do with it. For those who missed it, my wife and I invested in a local Italian bakery that dates back to World War I. Her brother is the primary owner and operator. The speciality is pepperoni rolls, the unofficial food of West Virginia. Pepperoni sticks are baked into small loaves of bread, allowing for a handy meal for underground coal miners.

You can have them shipped fresh, if you’d like to try them. And if you’re passing through North Central West Virginia on I-79 or U.S. Route 50, stop by the bakery and get one right out of the oven. Tell them I sent you.

From @raideryeezus: Does Derek Carr and the Josh McDaniel offense fit together?

The question isn’t whether Carr fits the McDaniel offense. The question is whether and to what extent McDaniel will design the offense to fit Carr. That’s the philosophical question that every team must ask regarding its quarterback. Is the quarterback expected to run a predetermined system, or is the system constructed specifically to get the most out of the quarterback?

Some think every offense is built around the team’s quarterback. That’s definitely not the case. Only the best quarterbacks have the entire system constructed to suit their skills and abilities.

So what’s going on behind the scenes in Las Vegas? Is Carr busting his ass to learn McDaniel’s offense, or is McDaniel redesigning his offense to suit the things Carr does well? The throws he makes well. The plays he likes to run. The approach he’d prefer to take — no-huddle, shotgun formation, run to set up the pass, pass to set up the run, pass to set up the pass, etc.

Also, it’s important to remember that Carr’s new contract gives the Raiders an out after one season. While it would be a surprise (and a violation of the unwritten rules of contract execution) to dump him before the February deadline for doing so, they have the power to do it, if they want.

In this regard, it’s also important to remember that McDaniel’s first order of business when he became the coach of the Broncos more than a decade ago was to trade Jay Cutler. Ultimately, it all comes down to what McDaniel thinks of Carr as a quarterback, whether McDaniel is willing to make and sustain significant revisions to his preferred system for Carr, and whether McDaniel believes an upgrade would be available in 2023.

From @ryan_deprey: What are the chances Deshaun Watson’s lawyer is fired as a result of the comments this weekend? His actions are actively hurting his client’s interests.

It would be very difficult and disruptive for Watson to fire his lawyer at this juncture, even if Watson isn’t satisfied with the representation. The better approach would be to just pay whatever it takes to settle the cases.

Rusty Hardin seems to be doing what Watson wants — fighting hard for his client. Whether he’s fighting well is debatable, especially when it comes to the failed efforts to sway the court of public opinion. It’s also important to keep in mind the fact that Hardin is limited by the hand of cards he has been dealt.

That said, every litigator must be able to step back from advocacy and speak hard truths to the client. My concern in this case is that not enough hard truths have been spoken to Watson, by any of his agents or lawyers. There’s more than enough evidence to give a prudent lawyer concern about Watson’s behaviors, and more than enough to support a compelling argument, delivered passionately and directly to Watson, regarding the wisdom of accepting a reckoning and writing 23 (soon to be 24) settlement checks.

The problem is that it keeps getting more and more expensive. Last April, a deal bogged down because Hardin and Watson insisted on no NDAs in the settlement papers, so that they apparently could crow about how little the plaintiffs received. Last October, 18 of 22 cases could have been resolved for $100,000 each. Watson wanted all or none to be resolved. Now, who knows what it would take to resolve these cases?

From @glrush13: Anything new on NFL Sunday Ticket?

Nothing yet. The NFL will sell the Sunday Ticket streaming rights to a large company like Apple at some point within the next year. It’s believed that the new home for Sunday Ticket will then have the ability, if it so chooses, to sell a limited satellite package for areas that lack high-speed Internet access. Bars and restaurants will be a concern as well, since they rely heavily on satellite technology for their wide collection of screens. (Or course, at some point they’ll be expected to get with the times and upgrade to Internet-based TVs.)

The other question is whether the league will package the Sunday Ticket rights with an NFL Media partnership. The league has operated NFL.com and NFL Network since their inception. The NFL seems to be interested in relying on some other company with the expertise to get more out of products that, frankly, don’t compete the way the league originally envisioned.

The NFL believes that fans will or should flock to the NFL for content about the NFL. With so many options available, it takes more than simply attaching the shield to the product to stand out — especially since discerning fans realize that media owned and operated by the NFL will have clear lines that cannot be crossed when it comes to fair and proper criticism of teams, owners, the league office, the Commissioner, etc. (Case in point, you’ll never hear anyone on NFL Network or NFL.com call the league’s in-house arbitration process a secret, rigged kangaroo court. Even though it absolutely is.)

From @GodzillaKyle: Why hasn’t the Commissioner already acted on Deshaun Watson?

The league has learned the hard way the danger of making premature decisions regarding matters of player discipline. As a result, the NFL likes to wait as long as possible before taking action.

This creates a very real risk that, sometimes, the league will wait too long. In Watson’s case, the league arguably has already delayed for far too long a decision on Watson.

It will be very difficult to get the case against Watson resolved before Week One. It will be virtually impossible for the full three-step process to end by the start of training camp.

And while it’s easy to say that the Browns have no basis for complaining since they did the deal for Deshaun Watson, it’s not fair to the other players on the team, to the Cleveland opponents, to the fans, or to the sports books who currently pump millions into the NFL’s coffers to keep the Browns clouded in uncertainty.

The delay could have a more practical cause. Given the various social issues presented by the situation, along with the broader challenges the league currently faces when it comes to the treatment of women, the Commissioner may be struggling to reach the right decision. Some in the league office want to see significant punishment imposed on Watson. Even though the Commissioner took paid leave off the table in March, some in the league office believe Watson shouldn’t play at all until the cases are resolved.

At its core, the Personal Conduct Policy is a P.R. tool. P.R. will have a major influence over the final decision.

From @bigdaddybustard: What team could you see being this year’s 2021 Bengals?

The Lions, but only if they trade for Baker Mayfield.

From @treepunx: When do you think Dan Snyder will finally get booted?

It will be difficult for the NFL to get rid of him. He’ll fight tooth and nail against any effort to oust him. Also, he may know plenty of things that could be used against the league and/or his business partners if he becomes motivated to seek revenge.

That said, if/when the full facts and details of attorney Beth Wilkinson’s investigation (along with her recommendations) come to light, it would be untenable for Snyder to continue. Too much pressure would be placed on him, the team, and the league to make him go away for good.

Frankly, that’s why the league has covered it all up, in my opinion. But not to protect Snyder. The league, I believe, wants to protect the other owners from the creation of a precedent that could then become a roadmap for disgruntled employees to spark essentially a full-blown audit of workplace practices.

From @bird33WV: The Bears haven’t had a decent WR crew in ages. You see any changes upcoming with that? Doesn’t look good on paper, especially with Robinson out. One of, if not the worst WR crew. Tough being a Bears fan. Justin Fields needs some weapons.

The core question in Chicago is whether the new regime believes in Fields the same way the old regime did. They’ll say all the right things, at least for now. But are they really doing enough to help Fields thrive? Look at what the Jaguars have down to help Trevor Lawrence, what the Jets have done to help Zach Wilson.

If the Bears stink this year, Fields will get the blame for it. In time, fans and media will wonder whether he’s a true franchise quarterback. In time, it will be easier for the new regime to move on, if the new regime wants to do that.

If the new regime is truly all in with Fields, now is the time to be spending cash and cap space to acquire better talent, given that Fields won’t be eligible for a second contract until 2024 at the earliest.

From @Krutackin_blake: Vikings running it back with, essentially the same roster. Was it all on Mike Zimmer?

The offense was the problem, and the defense ceased being good enough to make up for it. That ultimately was on Zimmer.

Plenty of excuses could be made for the team’s failure to get one of the seven available playoff spots in 2020 or 2021, but the simple reality was that the team wasn’t good enough. The fact that the new regime in Minnesota (unlike in Chicago) saw no reason to tear it down suggests that, yes, the Vikings have plenty of talent.

With their first offensive-minded head coach in more than a decade, the Vikings will get a chance to get the most out of their collection of dynamic offensive players.

From @froggietalks: If Baker Mayfield is out for good in Cleveland, could a Jimmy Garoppolo for Mayfield trade happen if Deshaun Watson is suspended for a full year?

Those are some big ifs. But, yes, if Watson is suspended for a year and if the bridge can’t be rebuilt with Mayfield, it makes sense to solve the Mayfield problem while also finding a full-season replacement for Watson. But instead of Jimmy Garoppolo, how about Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold? He and Mayfield have the same salary. Also, the 49ers wouldn’t want Mayfield. If they don’t keep Garoppolo, Trey Lance is their guy.

However it plays out, the sooner the Browns know the length of Watson’s suspension, the sooner they can start making decisions about how to proceed without him.

If you made it all the way to end, you must like what we have here. That means you’d like Playmakers. So go ahead and order it now.

Return of the PFT mailbag originally appeared on Pro Football Talk