For Winston and Mariota, 2019 Will Be a Make-or-Break Season

Albert Breer
The top two picks of the 2015 draft will be playing for their franchise-QB status this fall, with their futures very much up in the air. The coaches working with the two this offseason, in Tampa and Tennessee, say signs are positive. Plus, the latest on the Aaron Rodgers-Matt LaFleur play-calling story, Alex Smith’s status, the NFL-NFLPA talks and more. You thought the NFL was on vacation?
The top two picks of the 2015 draft will be playing for their franchise-QB status this fall, with their futures very much up in the air. The coaches working with the two this offseason, in Tampa and Tennessee, say signs are positive. Plus, the latest on the Aaron Rodgers-Matt LaFleur play-calling story, Alex Smith’s status, the NFL-NFLPA talks and more. You thought the NFL was on vacation?

Clyde Christensen’s view on where Jameis Winston is, as a pro, is in part colored by some research he did before getting his hands on his new quarterback in April.

Knowing he had to instill confidence in the 25-year-old former first-rounder, and develop a partnership with him, the Buccaneers’ new quarterbacks coach dived into the numbers on comparable players at the position—highly drafted and thrust into a starting job right away. Christensen found that, while acknowledging Winston had work to do, his issues were hardly outliers among his peers.

One example came with the perceived (and probably real) primary problem in Winston’s game: He threw 58 interceptions over his first four years. Just like Andrew Luck threw 55, Cam Newton threw 54, and Matthew Stafford threw 54 (despite missing 19 games due to injury).

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Heck, Peyton Manning—Peyton Manning—threw 81.

“Your first four years, you throw a bunch of interceptions,” Christensen said over his cell just after the Bucs broke for summer last week. “Almost all of them did. [Matt] Ryan had less, but they ran the ball in Atlanta, he went to a little bit better football team. But you look at all the numbers, [Winston] had thrown for fourteen-thousand yards. I just hadn’t seen [the Bucs] on TV and they hadn’t won.

“So I wasn’t aware of it, but his numbers were solid for a guy who missed a couple of games with injury, a couple of games with suspension. His numbers were right up in there with all the others, what we would assess as really good players.”

OK, now here’s the flip side.

If we’re judging the Bucs by their actions, they’re seeing the flaws too. The GM who drafted Winston, Jason Licht, is still there, and Winston hasn’t gotten the second contract that serves as affirmation of a QB’s standing as his franchise’s face. They hired Bruce Arians—whose memoirs were entitled The Quarterback Whisperer—as head coach. Arians hired quarterback gurus Christensen and Byron Leftwich.

More simply put, Tampa emerged from four years with Winston lacking a clear answer whether he’s the right quarterback for the franchise, and the team reconfigured its football operation this year to get that answer. Christensen has no problem conceding the second part of this complicated equation.

“You’re going into your fifth year, you’re not the rookie anymore,” he said. “It’s time. Stuff really should show up now. That fourth and fifth year, the sixth year, is when it should click. Now, you have to put a supporting cast around him, and give him a chance too. That’s a big part of this thing. But you’re a veteran guy now. Dumb interceptions are not OK, bad judgment’s not OK, that stuff is what you’ve been working on for four years, getting the experience.”

What’s really fascinating about this summer subplot in the NFL? The team that drafted a quarterback right after Tampa took Winston in 2015 is going through the exact same thing.

Happy summer, everyone! It’s slow in the NFL, no doubt. We’ve still got you covered, no question. Among the things you’ll find in The MMQB today:

• An under-the-radar hire that should have your attention in Carolina.
• Some color on how Jared Goff and the Rams offense worked to become more  adaptable this spring.
• The future of “Hard Knocks.”
• The Redskins’ quarterback situation.
• Why Phil Savage figures to be a great resource for news Jets GM Joe Douglas.



And much more. But we’re starting with a pretty interesting storyline that hasn’t been mined much this offseason, maybe because the two main figures in it play in smaller markets where the scrutiny isn’t quite as intense.

Winston and Marcus Mariota came into the league in 2015 as a strong 1-2 atop the NFL draft. Neither was seen as a reach, both had been in the spotlight in major college football for well over a year, and each brought to the table outsized college production (Winston won a national title in 2013, Mariota made it to the title game in 2014) and high-ceiling potential.

Four years later, the two go into the 2019 season in a situation that’s unprecedented for first-round quarterbacks under the 2011 CBA: playing out a fifth-year option. Of the 12 QBs to go in the first round from 2011 to ’14, four (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles) were extended before Year 5. The other eight had their options declined, and were off the teams that drafted them by then.

We can argue the reasons why we’re here with Mariota and Winston. One could be the financial explosion at the top of the quarterback market (the average-per-year figure jumped 25 percent from spring 2018 to spring 2019). Another might be the buyer-beware lesson that Bortles provided—the Jags extended him rather than just exercising his option, and are carrying $15.5 million in dead money this year to show for it; Bortles was released in March and is now backing up Jared Goff on the Rams.

And then, of course, there’s the play of Winston and Marioa themselves. Which is what we’re going to get to right now.

THE STATE OF MARCUS MARIOTA

Really, two problems have worked against Mariota to this point in his career—and one hasn’t been much within his control.

Ken Whisenhunt was whacked as head coach halfway through Mariota’s rookie year, and GM Ruston Webster was fired two months after that. Mike Mularkey was hired to succeed Whisenhunt, and Terry Robiskie came in as offensive coordinator—and both were fired two years later. Last year Mike Vrabel arrived as coach, and he hired Matt LaFleur to run his offense. In January, LaFleur left for Green Bay to coach the Packers.

That’s a lot of turnover for any offensive player to endure, but it can hit a young quarterback particularly hard. Which is why new Titans OC Arthur Smith, who was there through all of it (and has been with the team since 2011), made the decision to stick with LaFleur’s system and terminology when Vrabel promoted him in January.

“We don’t want these guys to start over, because I’ve been in a ton of systems now where it didn’t matter to me what we called a 3-by-1 formation, the players already knew it,” Smith said. “Same thing with line calls, what you’re calling protections, all that terminology. And stuff has naturally evolved in the spring as we’ve put things in. These guys didn’t come in here and get a completely new system.”

Smith knows, because working with the tight ends, he’s lived it—in both the run game and and passing game. Going from Dowell Loggains’s offense in 2013 to Whisenhunt’s in ’14, for Smith, was “a complete overhaul.” Going from Whisenhunt to Mularkey as interim coach, “it was kind of mushed together,” and then “the playbook changed” when Mularkey got the job full-time. Going from Mularkey to LaFleur marked another plug-pulling.

And if it was tough on the coaches, you can imagine how that could affect a player, and especially a quarterback.

“It’s proven over time, when there’s a consistent player/coach relationship, it definitely helps that position,” Smith said. “And it happens in a lot of sports. Look at San Antonio with [Gregg] Popovich and [Tim] Duncan. Unfortunately, a lot of quarterbacks have had to deal with that. It’s not for me to say it’s stunted his growth, I don’t want to use that as a term for him. But I think in any sport, when you’re talking about positions like that, you’d like to have some consistency.”

That manifested itself in the spring, with the group able to hit the ground running, and Mariota getting to the point where he can now teach the offense back to his teammates, and worry about the defense, rather than the offense, when he’s breaking the huddle. Which, of course, is where you want a quarterback to be.

The second problem of Mariota’s is more complicated—his durability. He’s only missed eight games over his career, and just four over the last three years, and he’s been plenty tough, but he always seems to be playing through something. Last year it was a nerve issue that would be disconcerting for any football player, and cost him three starts and kept him out of two games all together.

He and the organization are walking a tightrope that’s been well-worn in the NFL over the last couple decades, trying to maximize a superior athlete at the most important position on the field without compromising his availability or career longevity.

Vrabel, Smith, GM Jon Robinson and the rest of the Titans brass want a multiple offense that can threaten a defense in every way. So figuring out where to pull the trigger and where to pull back with Mariota—who ran a 4.4 40 at the 2015 combine—as a runner is one challenge. Mariota learning when to use his wheels and when not to in broken-play situations is another.

“The thing I’ve stressed to him, and I know our coaches have stressed to him is, Let’s live to play another play,” Robinson said. “Don’t take that hit. If you feel the pocket coming down on you and you take off running, and the ‘backer is coming off of coverage and he’s coming screaming at you, throw the ball away. It’s OK to punt, we’ll get another crack at it. That’s the main thing, it’s stressing to him—to try as best as possible, like all quarterbacks do, to avoid getting hit.”

Even as Robinson said that, he acknowledged, amid the speed of an NFL game, that a quarterback’s tendency to yank the rip cord on a run is “a hard habit to break.” But the reality is that Mariota’s future in Nashville may ride on doing just that.

In discussing where the Titans had seen progress, the GM glowed over Mariota’s flashes of last year as he grew under LaFleur. He loved Mariota’s decisiveness as a passer against New England, and his playmaking down the stretch against the Eagles, and his resolve after a couple early turnovers against Dallas. (All of those games were wins against playoff teams; Tennessee missed the postseason at 9-7.) “You saw the grit and the competitiveness he has,” Robinson said.

Now, Robinson says, “we just have to keep him out there.” And so that challenge is clear. If Mariota and the Titans can surmount it, the GM says he sees where he might have his quarterback for the next decade on the roster right now.

“That’s certainly our hope,” Robinson said. “Everybody in this city, they love him. His teammates, I know they love him. We love him. And I’m proud of him, I’m proud of him for what he was able to do in the two or three months he was off. He came back, he was bulked up, and watching him on the practice field, he’s having fun with his teammates, he’s fist-pumping when there’s a big play, he’s kicking the dirt when he has a bad play. He wants to be great.”

We’ll see if he can be, more consistently.

THE STATE OF JAMEIS WINSTON

Lest you think Christensen’s homework stopped at Pro Football Reference’s URL, Winston’s new position coach—who worked with Manning, then Luck from 2012-15 in Indianapolis—actually went through all Winston’s throws as a pro, and a bunch of his tape from Florida State. Then he got on the phone and called everyone he could, “from the kitchen to the equipment room,” to find out just who his new student was.

What came back was surprising, especially given how Winston’s rep preceded him.

“The thing that stuck out to me is everyone said exactly the same thing—great worker, humble, has a humility about him that makes him attractive, has a pleasant disposition, and wants to win desperately,” Christensen said. “I was shocked that everyone said the same thing. I think that was probably one of the things. And as best I could I investigated all the incidents, or alleged incidents or whatever they are, and tried to figure those things out.”

Christensen acknowledged that some of the problems were very real, while noting that the incident that led to Winston’s three-game suspension last year—an Uber driver in Arizona accused him of groping her in March 2016—occurred three years ago. (Winston was not charged; he reportedly settled a lawsuit with the driver last November.)

“Everybody had a perception that this kid had been really struggling off the field for the last three years, and that wasn’t the case,” Christensen said. “The case was generally he’d been doing everything right for two-and-a-half years, and that suspension came as a delayed punishment that gave you a perception that wasn’t correct.”

Helping Winston with everything else will be simpler for Christensen. Part of the reason is that Winston has all the tools. Working around Manning and Luck, both sons of quarterbacks who grew into prodigies, has informed Christensen’s teaching in that regard, and Winston’s getting the benefit of it now.

On a macro level, it’s meant learning to turn hard work into smarter work, and to set up his off-field schedule in a way that’s conducive to what he’s trying to accomplish on it.

“You want to be a pro with a lot of things,” Christensen said. “You want to be a pro at resting—you have to rest well, you have to schedule well. You have to pick when you do appearances well. You have know when you’re going to fly to the West Coast and when you’re not. You have to pick your spots and decide when you’re going to be anchored into Tampa and just rest on those off days.

“He’s got so many things going on. And I always admired Peyton and Andrew, that they were just extremely disciplined with that. Once you set a schedule, they just stayed with it.”

In other words, when the schedule says it’s a rest day, don’t play soccer under the Florida sun on a turf field or fly somewhere for an appearance. When you’re on vacation, don’t do a three-and-a-half-hour workout. When camp is approaching, stay near Tampa to acclimate. “It’s comprehensive,” said Christensen. “It’s not just taking a five-step drop and throwing a football.”

And come August, cutting down on interceptions will, indeed, be a focus—“that’s a fact, we have to eliminate them.” Breaking down the tape, Christensen was able to categorize Winston’s mistakes. Most involved his aggressive nature. Some were a result of being down a couple scores late. Others were forced balls downfield. And others still came down to judgment.

“Andrew Luck was the same thing. It’s hard—those guys, they just don’t give up on a play,” Christensen said. “It’s hard for [Winston] to give up on a play, and that’s the hardest thing to teach.

“Now here’s what I’ll tell you—Brady and Payton are excellent. A, they have a great grasp of how long they have to get a ball out. B, they know they’re probably not running for 15 yards on a third-and-15.

“[Like Jameis], Andrew kind of thinks it’s a no-play’s-ever-dead type of deal. So that’s a hard teach and it’s just over time, doing it over and over and over.”

A fourth category is one where Christensen and Winston have already done a lot of work —with wayward throws that simply wind up getting picked off. As the coach sees it, a lot of inaccuracy is caused by bad or sloppy technique, and so the Bucs really drilled down on the fundamentals over the spring.

“We emphasized with him that a completion isn’t just a completion, there’s different levels,” Christensen said. “If I throw a ball two yards behind the guy and he makes a catch, you gain 10 yards. But if I’d thrown it out in front of him, the play gains 16 yards. It’s just trying to establish the correct mentality on accuracy, timing and anticipation. We worked really hard with him on just getting ourselves aligned correctly.”

Now, you want the good news here? Christensen still sees everything that made Winston the first pick in the draft four years ago. And at the same time, he remembers arriving in Tampa a generation ago with Tony Dungy, and how Trent Dilfer’s career went sideways because so many things went wrong around him.

That’s given Christensen perspective on what it’ll take to get the most out of Winston—and how it’s the new staff’s job to create the right environment for their quarterback, which starts with a system they think fits him to a T.

“Bruce Arians is going to throw the ball upfield, you’re going to get hit after you throw the ball some, you’re going to have to be big enough to take a hit,” Christensen said. “Yeah, so I do think [Winston] is perfect for his system. This guy’s going to sit in the pocket, no one would accuse him of being afraid, and you better have an ability to hold it a half a count and let it rip and be aggressive with the thing. It is kind of a perfect system for him.”

Time will tell if results show up accordingly.

Now, what’s super interesting about all this to me is how it might affect next spring in the NFL. It’s two teams that might or might not be looking for a quarterback in 2020, at a time when the position is as healthy as it’s been in decades. As such, it could affect how high guys like Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Alabama’s Tua Tagovialoa are drafted. It could impact where someone like Eli Manning plays in 2020.

And on another level, will Winston’s or Mariota’s ultimate fate serve as a test case for teams, since both guys had issues coming out of college that have impacted their careers as pros? Or maybe the way the Bucs and Titans have managed these guys affects the way teams approach the final years of a first-round quarterback’s rookie contract?

All of that is on the table. We should have some answers by Christmas. And quite honestly, I don’t have a great handle on which way either of these quarterbacks goes—which should make it all the more fun to watch.

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TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. After a little digging around, here’s the best way I can explain where the Packers are on who-calls-what-gate: They’re working on it. For the last few years, Aaron Rodgers has pretty much total freedom to change what he’s wanted to (which did create friction with the old staff), set protections and improvise on the fly. Conversely, Matt LaFleur’s system, as we’ve written here in the past, is built to take all of that off the quarterback’s plate, in an effort to get the quarterback playing fast. So the spring, for the coaches and Rodgers, was about meshing the two. One example: Guys from the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan tree have become acquainted with what’s called the “double call.” The idea is for the coach to give the quarterback two calls, and a read to make the decision on which one is in on a given play. It’s great for younger quarterbacks, because it simplifies another element of the game, and safeguards them against snapping the offense into a bad call. Rodgers, on the other hand, has become accustomed to getting a play call and adjusting as he sees fit from there. So how will the Packers marry those two? As I understand it, the plan is to go with the double-call, while giving Rodgers the freedom to adjust past that. Similarly, as those systems have entrusted protection calls to the center (again, to get the quarterback faster), the Packers will train Corey Linsley to manage that area of the game, with Rodgers having power to make corrections. The hope here, of course, would be to get the best of both worlds—giving Rodgers the option, but not the obligation, to make changes on the fly, getting him playing faster on some snaps, while taking advantage of his knowhow on others. So let’s see how that works before we go crazy either way. It’d seem to have pretty good potential.

2. Redskins president Bruce Allen called reports that Alex Smith would miss the 2019 season and that his career could be in jeopardy “nonsense” back in late January. Now we’ve heard from Smith himself, and he’s pretty much confirmed what we were all hearing back then, even after Allen disputed what was out there. Talking to FOX DC 5’s Angie Goff, Smith said, “Learning to run again, that’s a big one. I’m already throwing. Throwing isn’t a problem, but dropping, moving around, change of direction. … The steps I’m at now are lifestyle steps. I’m still working on playing basketball with my kids and running around after my daughter. Those are things I have to conquer anyway until I get to the point where I’m walking on the field. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited about that challenge. The stronger I get every week, the more I do, the more hopeful I am that that’s a real possibility." So by referring to his ability to play football again as a “possibility” that he’s “hopeful” will eventually be there for him, Smith is acknowledging what we’ve known. So the Redskins move forward with Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins. One bit of decent news: There’s a chance Colt McCoy will be ready for the start of training camp—I’m told it’s going to be close. McCoy has undergone three surgeries in the aftermath of a broken leg suffered last December.

3. There was some sticker shock over the idea of Saints receiver Michael Thomas getting $22 million per year in new money on his next contract. Should there be? For three years, the market for top defensive players stagnated, with Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller remaining atop it at about $19 million per. Then Aaron Donald got $22.5 million per, just before Khalil Mack got $23.5 million per, and since then DeMarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark have also eclipsed the $20 million-per mark. Similarly, the receiver market has stagnated a little recently, where the top guys are getting small bumps over the top of the market, and second-tier players like Sammy Watkins and Jarvis Landry are approaching it. So look at it this way: A.J. Green got $15 million per in new money on a four-year deal before the 2015 season. That year, the salary cap was $143.28 million, so Green’s APY was at 10.47 percent of the cap. This year the cap will be $188.2 million. And 10.47 percent of that is $19.70 million. Which isn’t that far off from Thomas’ negotiating position. (And also explains why Amari Cooper’s negotiation has been a tough one for Dallas.)

4. A few weeks back, in this space, Jared Goff explained to us how the Rams were working on becoming more adaptable offensively—and a staffer there gave me a pretty good example of how that’s worked a little while back. Because the Rams spend their spring trying to master their own offense, they aren’t pushing up against what their defense might call. So the offensive calls going in this spring routinely put Goff and the offense in a spot where they have to react post-snap. If the call in is ideal against zone rather than the man defense Goff is seeing? Or if one built to beat a two-high safety look meets a single-high safety after the snap? That’s where Goff and the offense have to adapt. And as I’ve heard, Goff’s done a better job this spring in more quickly getting to his second read, then to his third read or checkdown. Which is how you improve against defenses that show you something different from what you saw on tape, which is what the Rams were up against in the Super Bowl.

5. I’m told NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and a group of players, owners and select staff quietly held a collective bargaining session in Chicago on June 12, which was the third such meeting on exploring a new CBA, with the current deal set to expire in March 2021. (They met in Minneapolis on April 9 and New York on May 8.) And the NFLPA’s executive committee stayed in town for a strategy session on June 13. The sides are planning to meet again at some point in July. What does it mean? Well, for now, not a ton. But as long as they keep meeting, and continuing to plan additional meetings, it’s better than the alternative. And good news for football fans hoping to avoid a repeat of the first half of 2011.

6. One of the things that was quietly discussed at the most recent owners meeting in May was the future of “Hard Knocks,” given some of the difficulty the league had in finding a volunteer team for this summer. The general assembly, including owners and team presidents, discussed the viability of the franchise and its potential evolution. One idea mirrored the “All-Access” series that Showtime has done, where NHL teams have been featured in preparation for the Winter Classic and boxers have been spotlighted ahead of big fights. The NFL concept would be to give NFL Films access to two teams going into a big game a few times over the course of the season, with the episodes airing later in the year. And that, as far as I can tell, would be in addition to the training camp series, which could undergo changes as well. My sense is that the concern would be “Hard Knocks” getting stale after all these years—and as all of you well know, the league likes to get in front of those sorts of things. And another thing that was discussed (that I’m sure coaches will love) was the potential elimination of parameters around who the league can mandate to do “Hard Knocks,” which allow the NFL to make anyone do it.

7. The under-the-radar hire from last week that you should pay some attention to: The Panthers tabbed 27-year-old Taylor Rajack as their new director of analytics, having poached him from Philly’s robust analytics department. The Eagles have asserted themselves as an NFL leader in that area over the last few years, and it’s helped them construct one of the league’s deepest roster. And while the Panthers have some catching up to do, they’ve had their toes in the water on analytics for a while. Coach Ron Rivera has integrated information from the team’s in-house analytics staff (fourth down is one area where you’ve seen it), and the team has been represented at the Sloan Conference in Boston annually, going back to when Dave Gettleman was GM. That said, new owner David Tepper has very clearly mandated a deeper investment in analytics, which makes sense given his background in finance, and bringing Rajack in is pretty clearly a move to start to shape the organization in the boss’ vision.

8. I remember a conversation I had with Phil Savage when he stepped down as executive director of the Senior Bowl last year—and how he said he wished he’d had the experience of running the all-star game before he got his shot at being a general manager (that happened for him in 2005, with the Browns). His point was that a GM’s job is all-encompassing. You have to manage people, oversee budgets, allocate resources, and run an operation, even when a scout’s natural instinct may be to lock himself in a room with a bunch of game tape. It helped Savage earlier this year in running the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. And my guess is it’ll help him become a tremendous resource for 42-year-old Jets GM Joe Douglas. Savage was a mentor of Douglas’ over the latter’s first five years in the league, and he’ll serve as Douglas’s senior personnel advisor with the Jets now.

9. We discussed last Monday the future of the Patriots personnel department, and what could happen over the coming years, and it may color why the Krafts has been involved in the Nick Caserio saga, much like they drove the effort to keep Josh McDaniels in February 2018. The Patriots lost both their national scouts James Liipfert and Dujuan Daniels (to Houston and Oakland, respectively), and a key area scout, Pat Stewart (to Philly), over the last year. Word in scouting circles is that Caserio and college scouting director Monti Ossenfort are up in May 2020, and there’s a pretty decent chance that both leave then. All of that leaves pro scouting director Dave Ziegler, a college teammate of Caserio and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, as the highest-ranking personnel man under contract through 2020. So Ziegler’s a key figure. And you can see why the Kraft family would take an interest in trying to maintain some continuity on that side of the operation, as they did with McDaniels ahead of this year’s exodus of five assistant coaches.

10. Let’s just say that the Steelers were well aware of Le’Veon Bell’s living arrangements in South Florida during his holdout. And not that it was a big deal to them, but it did sort of line up with other parts of Bell’s life that made the team concerned about where his career would be a couple years down the line. He’s got a good chance now to prove them wrong, and show everyone where football stands in his priorities.

… OF THE WEEK

QUOTE

“I’m one of the best players to ever play in the organization. I’m going to say it—usually I wouldn’t, but I’m going to say it. It kind of shows the respect and how they feel about me.” —Panthers DT Gerald McCoy.

That’s what the ex-Buc said on FS1’s “Undisputed” about Tampa giving his No. 93 to Ndamukong Suh. I have two thoughts on it. One, good for McCoy, being honest about how he feels. As a 10-year vet, he’s earned the right to call someone out if he sees fit, and I think we’d all love it players spoke their minds more often. Two, he’s right. The Bucs didn’t need to retire McCoy’s number. But he was a good enough player for a long enough time for the team to take it out of circulation for a year. The body wasn’t even cold yet.

TWEET

This, referencing Joe Douglas hiring Phil Savage and Colts VP Rex Hogan (as assistant GM), was good.

… And that was even better. Hell of a week for my buddy Mike Garafolo on everybody’s favorite website. I’ve referred to The Ringer’s Kevin Clark as the Tweet King in the past. And I bet the Tweet King is hearing footsteps now, as he should be.

When Lonzo, Liangelo and LaMelo are together on the 2023-24 Lakers, and in the starting lineup together with LeBron and Bronny James, we’re all going to feel like a bunch of idiots—a bunch of idiots who LaVar had wrapped around his finger the whole time. #chess

Alrighty then.

CLIP

Everyone loves Rex Chapman’s Block-or-Charge videos. These are pretty cool too.

Someone give that kid a participation trophy!

I can’t stop watching this.

Can’t blame the guy. Tough to walk away from legroom on a 10-hour flight.

MEME

Social media never sleeps, apparently.

S/O to …

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, for spending a part of his summer opening a school in Tanzania. Lynn and his wife, Stacey Bell, started their foundation earlier this year, which worked with Common Threadz to build the school as part of Promise Village in the northern part of the African country. The school, opening on Saturday, will be K-7, with goals to expand to include high school down the line. And the students there will have access to clean drinking water and two meals a day, on top of their education. Lots of people give money to fund these sorts of projects. Good on Lynn and his wife for not just doing donating, but being hands on enough to travel halfway around the world to do important work during a time when most of football is on a beach somewhere.

SIX FROM THE SIDELINE

• From a guy who covers a league that has plenty going for it yet somehow still gets in its own way on things: The NBA Draft is a mess. I was out for my anniversary on draft night, and following on Twitter, from the hat thing on down, was pretty terrible. At one point I saw pictures of a guy in a Heat hat and had no clue what team he was going to. I heard the TV experience was similar. The NBA offseason is fantastic, mostly. But the lack of clarity on draft night is beyond dumb, and there has to be a way to fix it.

• I now want Kyrie Irving to go to the Lakers. I don’t know how things would blow up from there. But I bet it’d be super entertaining.

• Sounds to me like Kevin Durant won’t lose a dime over his torn Achilles. And if I were a team like the Knicks (or the Celtics for that matter), I’d make sure of it. Considering the importance of players like Durant in basketball, waiting one year is nothing for the kind of return he could bring, even with the injury risk attached to it.

• I’ve heard a lot of dumb things out of the sport of baseball the last few years. The idea of Montreal and Tampa sharing the Rays might be the dumbest.

• UConn belonged in the Big East all along, and good that their basketball programs are going back there. But the football program did have actual potential, which we saw when Randy Edsall got them to the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago. So it’s a shame to see those Huskies as a casualty of this move. And it’s also on the Big East brass of a decade ago for creating an environment where every football-playing school had little choice but to jump ship until it was a football conference no more.

• These lines caught my attention: Clemson is a 34-point favorite over Georgia Tech on Aug. 29, and Alabama is a 32-point favorite over Duke on Aug. 31. Tech was 7-6 and finished second in the ACC Coastal, and Duke was 8-5 last year. Clemson and Bama are pretty good.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The next big milepost in the NFL calendar is the supplemental draft on July 10, which usually fills some space during what’s pretty much a blackout period for the league, with everyone on vacation ahead of training camp. And so far, we have two entrants.

One is Syracuse linebacker Shyheim Cullen, who enters the draft with only four starts on his college résumé and will have obviously have to make it as a special-teamer. The other is West Virginia receiver Marcus Simms, who’s caught 81 passes for 1,362 yards and seven scores over the last two years.

The likelihood is that neither gets drafted. And that’s your supplemental draft update from here.

(Just to keep everyone’s expectations in order: Last year two guys were taken. Third-round pick Sam Beal spent his rookie year with the Giants on IR. Sixth-round pick Adonis Alexander posted four tackles in nine games as a reserve defensive back in Washington.)

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