Friday, June 18
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Week 9 Preview: Saints Secondary Needs to Figure It Out by Sunday Night – Sports Illustrated

1a. It sounds like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown will all be a go on Sunday night, along with a Bucs offensive line that’s been much better since the season-opening loss in New Orleans. So if the Saints are going to get the season sweep and move back into the driver’s seat in the NFC South, their defensive backfield has to step up.

That Week 1 win over the Bucs was the best performance of the season for a veteran secondary that hasn’t been nearly as good as it should be. Among other problems, Marshon Lattimore doing his Jekyll thing (you might say Hyde, but I imagine Hyde would hold up better in man coverage than Jekyll) and Malcolm Jenkins looking like a shell of his former self. In Week 1, most of the damage Tampa did through the air was in the form of ticky-tack pass interference flags. The pass rush could always take over—it was excellent in that Week 1 win, highlighted by Trey Hendrickson obliterating Donovan Smith—but in all likelihood, it’s going to depend on the coverage holding up.

1b. I see the “Tom Brady wants people to be their best” narrative winning out with large sects of the media when it comes to the indefensible Antonio Brown signing. And we all want the best for people, don’t we?

But here’s the thing about “wanting people to be their best,” especially in cases like this: It usually involves making difficult choices that don’t always benefit you personally. The last time Brown teamed up with Brady, he felt empowered to personally threaten a woman who had credibly accused him of sexual misconduct. And while the Patriots’ next course of action was obvious—no respectable organization could tolerate Brown at that point—it was reportedly done over the objections of Brady.

I’m not a mental-health expert and can’t give a surefire course of action for how Brown’s mental health issues would best be served, but if the past few years are any indication, being a professional football player is not good for the prospect of Brown becoming his best self. And if the past 14 months are any indication, teaming up with Brady, specifically, is even more problematic. If Brady was concerned with making Brown a better person, he would have made the decision to let him sign somewhere else or, even better, advised him not to sign anywhere at all. (Also, I enjoyed Tony Robbins in Shallow Hal as much as the next guy, but it shouldn’t be confused for a documentary, and surely it’s worth looking beyond the entertainment industry for professional help.)

Brady’s interest is in winning the Super Bowl—understandable, considering he’s a professional football player—and adding the best receiver in football to your roster for pennies on the dollar is a good way to accomplish that. There are lots of people around the league who would do the same thing. But there’s no need to assign some contrived altruistic purpose to it just because Brady claims there is.

1c. To clarify, I didn’t really enjoy anything about Shallow Hal. I love Jack Black because I’m a big Tenacious D guy, but that film was a little too Farrelly Brothers-y.

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2. While you were distracted by Tua all week, you missed the fact that the Dolphins defense is going to carry them to the postseason. Byron Jones has been healthy for four games this season (Noah Igbinoghene is a fine prospect, but he was a trainwreck filling in for Jones) and Miami is 3-1 and allowing 13.8 points per game and 5.45 yards per attempt in those games. And while the Dolphins are underdogs against a second consecutive NFC West opponent, they match up especially well with the Cardinals.

Miami’s weakness is on first down, when they’re allowing a league-high “success rate” (four yards or more allowed) of 62.3%. But they’re making up for it with elite pass defense. The Cardinals’ Air Raid offense leans heavily on quick-strike passing and Kyler Murray scrambles—Murray remains woefully inaccurate at the intermediate and deep-intermediate levels; his completion percentage on throws 15-plus-yards downfield (31.8%) is 28th out of 31 qualifiers this season. Along with the ability to match up with Arizona’s wideouts, especially early in the down, with Jones and Xavien Howard, the Dolphins have done a solid job limiting QB scrambles. Cam Newton went for 75 rushing yards in the season opener, but that was primarily on designed runs. Josh Allen only went for 19 rushing yards against the Dolphins, and Russell Wilson for five.

Miami’s defense should be able to hold down their end of the bargain, which means it could be up to Tua Tagovailoa. A lot of his issues in an underwhelming debut were due to a lack of pocket presence—not a shocker considering the layoff and the fact that NFL pockets are drastically different (much more claustrophobic) than those in the college game, especially if you’re playing behind an offensive line like Alabama’s. Facing a Cardinals defense that doesn’t generate much pressure with their four-man rush should allow him to find a little more of a rhythm, and perhaps carry the Dolphins to a win if he has to.

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3. In a nation of 328 million people, that only 12 of them got moved at the NFL trade deadline was truly a disappointment. And most of that disappointment revolves around Will Fuller, for whom the Texans were reportedly asking for a second-round pick that suitors (the Packers, specifically) would not part with.

Fuller is in the final year of his rookie deal, and a lot of folks are factoring comp pick value into his trade value (in other words, even if he’s a three-month rental, the Packers would recoup a pick in 2022). But if I were you, I’d be careful about projecting Fuller as fetching a second contract that would warrant a third-rounder in the comp pick calculation.

The wide receiver market is bizarre. It’s being recognized as one of the most valuable non-quarterback positions in football, but there are also so many good young receivers in the league that the market is flooded. Last year was considered one of the strongest WR draft classes ever, and next year’s class is arguably better. Because of that—both the level of talent and the farce that is the rookie wage scale forcing that talent to sign far-below-market long-term deals—free-agent receivers aren’t getting their fair share on the open market.

Fuller is a quality No. 2 receiver, a high-end deep threat when he’s healthy (drop-prone, sure, but it’s better to be a guy who gets open and drops it than a guy who can’t separate at all). But do you know who is objectively better, not to mention more durable, than Will Fuller? Robby Anderson, who had to settle for a two-year, $20 million deal last offseason. That would only be worth a fourth-round comp pick according to Over The Cap’s projections. The only other receivers who got multi-year deals last offseason were Emmanuel Sanders (two years, $24 million) and the baffling Randall Cobb contract (three years, $27 million; sorry, Randall Cobb is a great guy who’s had a fine career, but come on).

I would think that Fuller, because of the injury history, falls somewhere between Anderson and Breshad Perriman (one year, $6.5 million), and, again, the 2021 WR draft class is considered just as stacked, if not more so, than 2020’s, which made everyone hesitant to pay receivers last offseason. There’s also a good chance JuJu Smith-Schuster, A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins, Marvin Jones and/or Corey Davis could hit the market as comparable (if stylistically diverse) No. 2 receivers, with an outside chance that true No. 1s in Kenny Golladay and Allen Robinson could also make it to the open market.

Fuller is 27 in April, which suggests long-term deal, but injuries have limited him to fewer than 600 snaps each of the previous three seasons. I’d expect him to top out at a deal like Anderson’s, with a chance he’ll have to take one closer to Periman’s when you factor in the drop in salary cap. That would mean he’s only factoring in as a fifth-round comp pick, and when the calculus becomes swapping Pick 60 in 2021 for Pick 175 in 2022 (if the rest of your comp pick calculus evens out), plus eating up some of the cap space you intended to roll over, in exchange for a rental, the price gets to be a little too steep.

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4. Every year there’s a middle-of-the-pack team that gets an obscenely front-loaded schedule, starts off terribly, and because they’re out of it early the narrative gets locked in that they’re hopeless. Last year it was the Jets, who drew New England twice, Buffalo and a road game at Philly over their first six games (and played three of them with a third-string QB) and started 1-7. When they finished 6-2 against the soft side of the schedule, no one cared.

This year it’s the Texans, who were clear underdogs in five (or six, depending on how you view the Vikings) of their first seven games, started 1-6, but will likely be giving points in at least four of their final eight games. It’s too late for a run to the playoffs, but they’re going to get to six or seven wins, which is within the margin for error for a team that entered the year as the third-best team in their own division.

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5. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Split Enz!

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