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Breaking down the top stories from an unexpectedly exciting NFL Draft


▪ The story of the night wasn’t really a draft pick, but the Titans trading A.J. Brown to the Eagles for picks 18 and 101. The Titans promptly used the 18th pick to draft Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks.

This decision by Tennessee will be a fascinating experiment to see unfold, and could upend the current economics of the NFL.

Burks is, on paper, a Brown clone. Brown was listed at 6 feet 1 inch and 225 pounds, with a 4.49 in the 40. Burks is 6-2 and 225 pounds, with a 4.55 in the 40. Several draft analysts, including ESPN’s Matt Miller, listed Brown as Burks’s NFL comp.

Brown is everything an NFL team should want in a young receiver. He’ll turn 25 on June 30, yet in three seasons has 2,995 yards receiving, 26 total touchdowns, and a Pro Bowl selection. Yet Brown wanted a big contract, and the Titans instead are betting that they can simply draft another star receiver.

Brown got a new four-year, $100 million deal with the Eagles with $57 million guaranteed. Burks, as the 18th pick, will sign a four-year deal worth a total of $15 million. Not only is that dirt cheap, but Burks can’t negotiate or hold out until after the third year.

Burks is unproven and could be a bust. Brown is an established superstar. But the Titans are betting that with so many good receivers now, it’s possible to find one in the draft every few years instead of spending big in free agency.

If the Titans’ strategy works, it’s going to upend the wide receiver market, which has exploded this year into the second-most-expensive position behind quarterback.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (left) wasn’t pleased to see the organization trade wide receiver Marquise Brown (right) during the draft.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

▪ A second veteran receiver who was traded Thursday night got far less attention, and it didn’t sit well with a star quarterback.

The Ravens traded Marquise Brown, their first-round pick in 2019, to the Cardinals in a swap that also included the Cardinals’ first-round pick and a Ravens third-rounder. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was not happy, tweeting “WTF.”

Marquise Brown hasn’t quite lived up to expectations as the first receiver drafted in 2019 — ahead of Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Terry McLaurin — but he has 21 touchdowns in three seasons and is coming off his best year with 91 catches for 1,008 yards.

Marquise Brown asked the Ravens for a trade, but Jackson, stalled in negotiations over a long-term deal with the team, clearly was caught by surprise. Trading his best receiver probably can’t help the situation.

▪ The most fascinating angle of the draft on Thursday night: ESPN analyst Mel Kiper hated the No. 1 pick. Of the Jaguars taking Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, Kiper wrote, “I went back to the tape to see if I was missing something. Where were his one-on-one pass rush wins? I just didn’t see him dominate in any game.” Kiper preferred Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, who went second to the Lions.

Kiper is by no means the final voice when it comes to the draft, and his is just one person’s opinion. But how often does a major draft figure such as Kiper rip the No. 1 pick? Props to him for being one of the few to have the guts to question the Jaguars.

Jerry Jones can always be counted on for a moment of levity. After the Cowboys drafted guard/tackle Tyler Smith with the 24th pick, Jones held up the team’s draft chart at the news conference to prove they had Smith rated higher than Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson, who were drafted before Smith.

“I’m dead serious,” Jones said.

“Don’t show them that,” immediately responded his son, Cowboys CEO Stephen Jones. “Put that sheet down.”

▪ Nine teams had multiple picks in the first round, the most in modern draft history. The Jets made three picks, while the Jaguars, Lions, Texans, Giants, Saints, Ravens, Chiefs, and Packers made two each.

That left a record 10 teams without a first-round pick. Taking the night off were the Buccaneers, 49ers, Dolphins, Raiders, Browns, Colts, Broncos, Bears, Rams, and Cardinals.

Joe Douglas and the Jets front office have had an impressive draft so far.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

▪ In the AFC East, the Jets loaded up at three premium positions. They took cornerback Ahmad Gardner at No. 4, receiver Garrett Wilson at No. 10, and traded back into the first round to take defensive end Jermaine Johnson at No. 26. The Jets will surely find a way to mess it up, but on paper those are three solid picks.

The Bills jumped from No. 25 to 23 to draft Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam, who according to Pro Football Focus allowed an opponent’s passer rating of 55.1 in his three seasons in the SEC.

And the Dolphins just watched Tyreek Hill highlights.

▪ The Packers had two first-round picks, and have a void after trading Davante Adams, but declined to use a first-round pick on a receiver for the 20th straight season, going instead with a linebacker and a defensive tackle. The Packers have only used three first-round picks in 44 years on receivers, but their track record is pretty good: Javon Walker (2002), Sterling Sharpe (1988), and James Lofton (1978).

▪ New Saints offensive lineman Trevor Penning, picked 19th overall out of Northern Iowa, committed 16 penalties in 12 games last year.

▪ ESPN Stats and Info’s “draft predictor” said there was a 93 percent chance that guard Cole Strange, drafted 29th by the Patriots, would have been available at their next pick at No. 54.

▪ Raiders tight end Darren Waller has been the subject of trade rumors lately, but it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. Besides the fact that owner Mark Davis and coach Josh McDaniels shot down the rumors, Waller was a participant at the draft on Thursday, appearing on stage with Derek Carr and Roger Goodell to open the ceremonies. Waller’s presence couldn’t have been an accident.

▪ Georgia, the first school to have five first-round picks on defense in one year, had more first-round picks than the ACC and Pac-12 (four each).

▪ Four of 21 prospects who attended the draft were not selected in the first round: Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral, Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean, Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon, and Liberty quarterback Malik Willis.

EVERYBODY WINS

Deal good for Brady and Buccaneers

Tom Brady signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the Buccaneers this week.DOUG MILLS/NYT

Another story that got lost in the shuffle this past week was the details of Tom Brady’s new contract finally emerging. Brady will be back with the Buccaneers in 2022, but his contract does nothing to dispel the rumors of him joining the Dolphins next year — a plan that was supposed to happen this year, if not for Brian Flores’s lawsuit wrecking everything.

The contract is a win-win — the Buccaneers get a steal, and Brady gets the freedom to do whatever he wants after this season. But it will leave the Buccaneers with a nice little bill at the end of the relationship, whenever that comes.

The contract is fairly straightforward — a one-year deal for $15 million. Brady’s base salary is the minimum $1.12 million, and he got a $13.88 million signing bonus. Brady and the Buccaneers agreed to take out the $4.5 million in incentives he had in his previous contract.

Brady’s salary cap number is a team-friendly $11.896 million. Brady was previously on the books for a cap number of $20.27 million, so this created more than $8 million of space for the Buccaneers.

The Buccaneers got Brady at a low number by performing the usual cap gymnastics. The one-year deal is really a five-year deal with four years that automatically void. This way, the $13.88 million bonus can be spread out over five years for cap purposes. The Buccaneers did void years with Brady’s last contract, too.

Brady, who led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns last year, is the steal of the century at $15 million, with top quarterbacks going for $40 million or more. Even if you add the $15 million deferred signing bonus payment Brady received in February, $30 million for Brady is still a steal. Brady will have cost the Buccaneers $87 million over three seasons, and in return they got a Super Bowl trophy and their franchise value increased by nearly $1 billion.

While the Buccaneers get Brady for cheap, they have to deal with a minor annoyance in 2023. All of these restructures and cap gymnastics left the Buccaneers with a $35 million dead salary cap charge for Brady in 2023. That’s just salary cap space, not actual dollars, and the Buccaneers will find ways to move cap dollars around and field a competitive team. But it will be at least a minor hindrance for one year.

As for Brady, he once again signed a below-market deal to help his front office field a competitive team. But more importantly, the contract specifically says the Buccaneers can’t use the franchise or transition tag on Brady after this season, meaning Brady will be a full-fledged, unencumbered, unrestricted free agent.

Brady had this in the contract he signed with the Buccaneers last year, too. He also did this with his final Patriots contract. Whether Brady wants to be a Dolphin, a 49er, a Buccaneer, or something other than a football player in 2023, he’ll have the freedom to do whatever he wants.

ETC.

Hashing out the reasons

The NFL tightened its hash marks in 1972 in an effort to boost offense league-wide.Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

This past week, after I wrote an article about the different hash marks in college football and the NFL, several readers asked how it came to be that the college hashes are wider than the NFL’s.

According to the NFL, the NFL hash marks were tightened to their current spacing of 18 feet, 6 inches (the same width as the goal posts) in 1972 in an effort to boost offense, as the NFL believed there was “a direct correlation between scoring and higher attendance.”

However, per the NFL, tightening the hash marks had the opposite effect. The number of 1,000-yard rushers increased from five to 10 that first year, “but the overall impact on the offense was not what the NFL intended or desired … The defense no longer had to reveal its coverage by committing players to a side before the snap. This enabled coaches to better disguise the coverage and stifle passing attacks.”

The creation of the World Football League in 1973 put more pressure on the NFL to increase scoring, so in 1974 the NFL made other changes to boost offense — putting the goal posts at the back of the end zone (to discourage field goals), reducing offensive penalties from 15 to 10 yards, moving the kickoff from the 40 to the 35, etc. Finally in 1978, the NFL created the illegal contact rule to prevent receivers from getting hit more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, and “this had the desired effect of opening up the passing game and reducing conservative play calling.”

Giants’ Jones in a good situation

The Giants seemingly made a big statement about their future this past week when they declined the fifth-year option on quarterback Daniel Jones, meaning he will be a free agent after the 2022 season. But all things considered, it’s probably a good outcome for Jones.

The fifth-year option for first-round picks was introduced in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, and the NFL made a big change to it in the 2020 CBA. Under the 2011 CBA, the fifth-year option, triggered a year in advance, was guaranteed for injury only and had $0 in full guarantees until the first day of the next league year. In the new CBA, the fifth-year option becomes fully guaranteed the moment it is triggered.

Under the old system, the Giants probably would have triggered Jones’s option, knowing they could still release him in a year with no financial penalty. Under the new rules, the Giants declined the option because they didn’t want to guarantee Jones a salary of $22.384 million for next year.

But this still works out well for Jones. If he plays well in 2022, he would have been stuck at $22.3 million under the old system. But with the new system he can either hit free agency or get the franchise tag, both of which will pay him more than $22.3 million. And if Jones stinks in 2022, the old system wouldn’t have protected him from getting released.

It’s not ideal for Jones to have the Giants tell the world that they don’t fully believe in him. But at least he has a chance to play well and earn more money in 2023.

The Patriots don’t look likely to pick up their fifth-year option on wide receiver N’Keal Harry (left).Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

Speaking of fifth-year options, the Raiders declined it on all three of their first-round picks from 2019: DE Clelin Ferrell (No. 4), RB Josh Jacobs (No. 24), and S Johnathan Abram (No. 27). It’s a good reminder that even though a team has multiple first-round picks, it doesn’t mean any of them will actually turn out. Among the top 10 picks from 2019, only Ferrell, Jones, and Steelers linebacker Devin Bush haven’t had their options triggered, with the deadline coming Monday. Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry, drafted 32nd overall, will also be among those not having their option picked up … Terrific gesture by Peyton and Ashley Manning to create a Demaryius Thomas scholarship fund at Georgia Tech for incoming freshmen from Laurens County, Ga., where Thomas was born and raised. Thomas died in December at age 33 from a seizure related to injuries suffered in a car accident. “An important part of Demaryius’s legacy was the way he inspired the next generation to pursue their dreams with the same perseverance and determination that defined him,” Peyton Manning said in a statement … Danny Woodhead was a Patriots folk hero from 2010-12, and his fans may have another chance to watch him compete in New England this summer. Woodhead, 37, has submitted an entry for US Open local qualifying at Omaha Country Club on May 11, with an ultimate goal of playing in the US Open this June at The Country Club in Brookline. Woodhead, who last played football in 2017, is an accomplished golfer who qualified for the US Amateur Four-Ball Championship last summer. If he advances out of local qualifying, he would participate in final qualifying at Springfield (Ohio) Country Club on June 6.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.



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