It’s been a wild week in the NFL, and it started with the greatest winner in NFL history, Tom Brady, walking away after more than 20 seasons.
Vince Lombardi once said a man deserves but one testimony in his life.
As Tom Brady walks away, it’s time for his.
Brady, 44, officially retired from pro football last week. It wasn’t with fanfare but merely a social media post, announcing the greatest winner in NFL history was finished. His journey, completed.
All told, Brady enjoyed the most illustrious career imaginable. He won seven Super Bowls, three more than the next-closest quarterback.
In 21 seasons as a starter, Brady was thrice a First-Team All-Pro, earned Second-Team All-Pro honors on three occasions, won Super Bowl MVP five times, made 15 Pro Bowl trips, was a three-time league MVP, was twice the Offensive Player of the Year along with 2009 Comeback Player of the Year, and holds spots on the NFL’s 100th Anniversary, 2000s and 2010s All-Decade Teams.
All that, and Brady was never considered the best at anything save for winning.
Brady was never the most athletic, in fact, he was slow. He never had the best build, just look at his Combine photos. Brady didn’t possess the huge arm of Brett Favre and was never seen as his own offensive coordinator like Peyton Manning.
Yet Brady, along with a phenomenal cast with the New England Patriots helmed by head coach Bill Belichick, won. And won constantly. He had a stretch of three titles in four years to begin his career and won a Super Bowl an incredible 19 years after his first.
Brady is often compared to other greats in American sport, with Michael Jordan getting the most mentions in those conversations. But those comparisons are flawed.
Brady isn’t Jordan, he’s Bill Russell. Russell wasn’t close to the most talented player of his era, but few ever beat him, and nobody won more.
When Brady is inducted as a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2027 — and having asked multiple HOF voters, there won’t be a waiving of the mandatory five-year wait period — he’ll be remembered for the Lombardi Trophies and the AFC East and conference titles which provided the opportunities.
With so many other great quarterbacks who have been enshrined in Canton, the tributes have centered on their prolificness, their talent or their flare. Brady certainly captured those aspects, but they’re monumentally overwhelmed by the hardware he won. In a team sport at the highest level, what statement could be a greater compliment?
Brady played 22 years and only missed time due to injury in one season. He famously kept himself in shape, and in his final campaign topped 5,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. Unlike so many legends who play so many autumns, Brady didn’t go out meekly, making it tough for fans to watch. He was phenomenal to the end, a likely MVP runner-up while winning another division title.
While myriad fanbases celebrate Brady’s exit after being tortured at his expense, to watch him go is a sad moment for the sport. Few athletes transcend their game like Brady did, leaving it better than which he found it. His is a singular greatness, one which will live as a benchmark for all future and current players to strive for. In that endeavor, wish them much-needed luck.
Tom Brady retired last week, leaving behind a career of mythic proportions. He has been given his testimony.
And now, like Lombardi himself, Brady will endure for all time.
Top 10 Super Bowl winners of all time
1. 1989 San Francisco 49ers
2. 1985 Chicago Bears
3. 1972 Miami Dolphins
4. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers
5. 1966 Green Bay Packers
6. 1984 San Francisco 49ers
7. 1992 Dallas Cowboys
8. 2004 New England Patriots
9. 1976 Oakland Raiders
10. 1999 St. Louis Rams
"“This is not an overnight fix. This is not, we’re just going to snap our fingers and start winning football games. Our goal is to win football games, but we’re going to do it one player, one coach, one person in the organization at a time. And I’ll challenge our team, and I’ll challenge our fans. It’s about ownership. It’s about support. It’s about leadership. And that’s what I’ll bring. That’s what I’ll bring to the organization. And I’m not going to settle for anything less than a championship-caliber team.”"
– Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson on his expectations
Pederson joins the Jaguars after taking a year away following his firing from the Philadelphia Eagles, and he steps into a fascinating situation. On one hand, owner Shad Khan has never built a consistent winner, and general manager Trent Baalke is notoriously tough to work with. However, Pederson has a potential franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence and talent around him.
Jacksonville couldn’t have made a worse hire last offseason in Urban Meyer. Whether Pederson proves successful in Duval or not, though, they got it right here. Pederson is an experienced coach with a Super Bowl to his name, and he’s an offensive-minded teacher who can fix Lawrence.
The Jaguars have a long climb, but Pederson should help speed it up.
The Rams are the only team to win an NFL title in three different cities, doing so in Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
Info learned this week
1. Flores brings lawsuit, but what to make of it?
On Tuesday, Brian Flores sent shockwaves through the NFL.
Flores, the former Miami Dolphins head coach, filed a lawsuit against the league, citing racial discrimination in the hiring process. Flores alleged the New York Giants already decided to hire Brian Daboll before interviewing him, believes his interview in 2019 with the Denver Broncos was essentially a sham and claims Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him an extra $100,000 per loss in 2019, in hopes of tanking for a better draft pick.
The NFL, which has only three minority head coaches and another biracial man about to be announced (Mike McDaniel), immediately put out a statement claiming Flores’ lawsuit “without merit.” Then, over the weekend, commissioner Roger Goodell sent out a league-wide memo, calling the NFL’s lack of diversity among coaches “unacceptable.”
What does it equal? For starters, the league’s original statement appears — and was — ridiculous. There’s no way of knowing if the lawsuit had merits only hours later and without an investigation. It was the epitome of a knee-jerk reaction which Goodell has tried to walk back, and will spend a good chunk of his Super Bowl press conference continuing to do so.
As for Flores, he’s risking his career. While he reportedly remains a finalist for the Houston Texans’ job, the Brooklyn native could be blackballed. Additionally, Flores’ claims are explosive and plausible, but also must be backed by provable fact to succeed in a legal world. Can Flores prove Ross offered him money to lose? Can he prove the Giants already decided on Daboll, and Belichick wasn’t overeager in excitement for a former assistant?
Ultimately, it’s hard to see the lawsuit gaining legal traction without an avalanche of documents, texts, emails and the like. Yet whether the suit wins is somewhat irrelevant. Flores is shining a floodlight on the NFL’s complete failure in gaining diversity in positions of power. Goodell will now spend the league’s biggest week being forced to talk about it. He won’t enjoy being grilled, and that sentiment will spill into the 32 teams.
Want to truly fix the issue? More Black coaches need to be hired for entry-level positions in the first place. There isn’t enough of a pipeline. Ask yourself this: when is the last head-coaching opening where more Black men were interviewed than white?
Flores might not win the legal battle, but the NFL is taking a huge hit.
2. Senior Bowl wraps, and Malik Willis shined bright among others
The 2022 Senior Bowl is behind us, but the impact is straight ahead.
I spent four days in Mobile, covering practice, talking to league sources and gathering information. The bottom line? Liberty quarterback Malik Willis helped himself plenty.
Willis stood out among the six participating quarterbacks, showcasing a cannon arm and fantastic athleticism. While the flaws are evident in accuracy and consistency, the tools are obnoxious.
Another name to watch? Oklahoma defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey. For my money, Winfrey was the best player on either side. He dominated team and 1-v-1 drills. He was explosive at 305 pounds, quick and strong. His arms also measured at 35.5 inches, which is near-historic. Also, it’s worth noting that Winfrey had incredible energy in supporting other players during their reps. A football guy.
Elsewhere, it was impossible to miss Colorado State tight end Trey McBride. He caught almost any ball thrown at his 6-foot-3, 249-pound frame. He’s the best at his position this year and could be a nice Day 2 pick.
Finally, loved Coby Bryant from Cincinnati. He’s a smaller corner at 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds, but he’s aggressive, contests the ball and plays with good technique. It’s not hard to see him as a performer at the next level.
3. Super Bowl week arrives, and with plenty of subplots
Every Super Bowl has its storylines. This one is certainly no exception.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, another win and it’s the ultimate Cinderella story. Not since the ’99 Rams has a team gone from four wins to a Super Bowl parade the following year. Cincinnati’s coach, Zac Taylor, is trying to take down good friend and mentor Sean McVay, in the city where both grew to prominence.
Of course, there’s also Joe Burrow. Burrow was forgotten at Ohio State, only to transfer into Death Valley and lead the LSU Tigers to perhaps the greatest offensive season in college football history. After being taken No. 1 overall by Cincinnati, a career-threatening knee injury with multiple torn knee ligaments. Barely a year later, the Super Bowl after slaying Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in an epic AFC Championship Game comeback.
For the Los Angeles Rams, this week is largely about legacy. A win for McVay, and he joins a shortlist of elite coaches with a ring. For Matthew Stafford, the chance to prove it was the Detroit Lions holding him down, turning a career of what-if into what-should-have-been. In the case of Odell Beckham Jr., almost a decade’s worth of controversy, being called a losing player with winning skills. Now, a victory and those notions vanish.
Then there’s Eric Weddle. A longtime star safety who retired two years ago as a 2010s All-Decade member, a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro. Yet he never reached the Super Bowl, only to be coaxed out of the easy chair by defensive coordinator Raheem Morris. What was supposed to be an emergency role saw Weddle become Los Angeles’ leading tackler in the NFC title game.
Finally, Andrew Whitworth. After toiling with the Bengals for 11 seasons, the 40-year-old left tackle is enjoying his second Super Bowl appearance in five years with the Rams. Should he win, is this the final game in a great career for the potential Hall of Famer?
4. Vikings spurn Harbaugh, but his interest says plenty
The Minnesota Vikings were verging on hiring Jim Harbaugh to be their next head coach. Then, at the last moment, they rode with Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.
Harbaugh, 58, just enjoyed his finest season with the Michigan Wolverines, winning the Big Ten after dismantling Ohio State. Perhaps the former NFL quarterback felt complete after taking down the Buckeyes for the first time in his career, or perhaps it was more. The itch to compete at the highest level once more before it’s too late.
While Harbaugh has since told the Detroit Free Press he doesn’t plan on the NFL again, that’s likely nonsense. If a call comes with a big enough check attached to it, Harbaugh is clearly intrigued by the idea of reaching another Super Bowl and winning it, unlike how it ended for his Niners in 2012.
If the Vikings could bring him to the table, what happens if someone offers a franchise quarterback or the ability to draft one?
Harbaugh is headed back to Ann Arbor for 2022, but it would be stunning if this is truly the last time he’s seriously linked to an NFL job.
5. McDaniel to the Dolphins is an inspired hire
Mike McDaniel is walking into dysfunction, but doing so with skill and energy.
McDaniel, 38, spent 17 seasons working his way up the NFL ladder — sans a two-year stint in the United Football League with the Sacramento Mountain Lions — after graduating from Yale. Now, following five years as 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s top lieutenant, McDaniel is taking over the Miami Dolphins.
Yes, the same Dolphins who just canned Brian Flores after two winning seasons despite a flawed roster. Still, McDaniel inherits a young quarterback with upside, three quality weapons in receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker, and tight end Mike Gesicki, and a defense with playmakers at each level.
If Miami can fix its horrid offensive line, McDaniel’s run schemes and the existing offensive talent should make the Dolphins a fun watch with playoff potential.
While there’s reason to be skeptical — this is the Dolphins, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 — McDaniel’s resumè is terrific, his results speak for themselves and he’s another young coach in a league where many tenderfoots have succeeded in recent years, from McVay and Taylor to Shanahan and Matt LaFleur.
Miami shouldn’t have been looking for a new head coach to start with, but it landed a quality one.
Last week, I laid out my case for taking the Rams over Cincinnati and laying four points. This time, I’d advise playing the under over at WynnBet with a total of 48.5. Los Angeles should get relentless pressure on Burrow, while Cincinnati’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 24 points this postseason.
All signs point to a relatively low-scoring game, albeit with the Rams having most of the advantages.
Last year, Aaron Rodgers wanted out of Green Bay, and the Packers said no. This year, despite the current commentary out of Lombardi Ave., don’t be surprised if it’s the opposite situation.
For Green Bay, there’s an obvious reason to keep Rodgers. If he’s there, the Packers can win the Super Bowl, especially in a bad NFC.
However, there might be more reasons to move on.
Rodgers is 39 years old and is due $46.6 million this season for a team $50.7 million over the cap. A pre-June 1 trade nets Green Bay $20M in savings. More importantly, general manager Brian Gutekunst would be selling high on an aging, controversial quarterback who has repeatedly been a key figure in postseason failures.
While Rodgers remains great — he’s about to win consecutive MVP awards –it’s a fair question to ask if said level can be maintained much longer. Additionally, the Packers are going to be a lesser team on paper next season, likely needing to cut edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith while losing some combination of All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, star corner Jaire Alexander and tight end Robert Tonyan.
If Green Bay couldn’t reach the Super Bowl over the past two years, why will it happen in 2022?
Should Gutekunst call around and find out the Denver Broncos are willing to trade two first-round picks, a few young players and a few mid-round selections, it’s enticing. The Packers drafted Jordan Love to be their future, but now he’s entering the third year of his rookie deal. If not now for Love, when?
And if Love is a worthy heir to Rodgers’ throne, then Green Bay has ample draft capital to build a champion around him. If he’s not, the Packers can use said ammo to make a move for Love’s replacement while maintaining a clean cap sheet.
There’s certainly an argument to keep Rodgers in place for the Packers, but unlike last year, there’s a really good one to move him as well.
Inside the league
Two names to watch in 2022: Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.
Last week, the Indianapolis Colts hired veteran defensive coordinator Gus Bradley to replace the departed Matt Eberflus. Bradley, 55, has seen his style remain the same with the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers and Raiders over the past decade, running Cover 3 and rushing four. Nobody in the league blitzes less, which means the Colts desperately need their front four to win.
Enter Paye and Odeyingbo.
The edge-rushing duo was taken 21st- and 54th-overall in the 2021 Draft, with the notion Indianapolis could partner an explosive outside push with interior stud DeForest Buckner. As rookies, Paye flashed with four sacks while Odeyingbo notched a half-sack. They will need to be much more assertive in their second seasons for the Colts’ defense to work.
Many around the league have lauded the hire of Bradley, but it won’t work without a couple of youngsters stepping up.
The Super Bowl has an important yet bizarre history in Los Angeles.
Back in Jan. 1967, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game was played at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum between Green Bay and the Kansas City Chiefs, now known as Super Bowl I. The event returned for Super Bowl VII, when the undefeated Dolphins took down Washington.
Then, stunningly, Los Angeles didn’t get another Super Bowl until this Sunday. Of course, the league wasn’t present in the city from 1995-2015.
The first two Super Bowls in Los Angeles has been iconic. Can we have a third?
If Terry Fontenot likes Malik Willis, the Atlanta Falcons should run the pick to the podium if he’s available.
Fontenot, the Falcons’ second-year general manager, has to maintain the long view. Atlanta has Matt Ryan under center this season but can easily move on before the final year of his contract in 2023. How much does Ryan have left at 36 years old?
Assuming Atlanta doesn’t see Ryan aging like Brady, it’s time for a succession plan. Willis, who has elite arm talent and athleticism, needs to refine his mechanics and improve his consistency. Learning behind a pro like Ryan while in head coach Arthur Smith’s system — who’s a former offensive coordinator with a modern scheme — is an ideal situation for Willis.
Finally, Atlanta is Willis’ hometown. The Falcons would be landing a hometown hero with boatloads of talent who fits the current game.
It’s too early for certainty, but Atlanta might need to jump the Carolina Panthers, who select No. 6 overall, two spots ahead of the Falcons. Carolina also needs an answer at quarterback, and Willis has a terrific shot to be the first signal-caller off the board.
If Fontenot sees the future in Willis, the price of acquiring him is a sidenote.