The Tom Brady/Sean Payton Watch
NFL Divisional - Welcome to the Tom Brady retirement watch, also known as the Tom Brady free agency watch, Tom Brady Dolphins watch, Tom Brady Panthers watch, Tom Brady Jets watch, Tom Brady Saints watch, and Tom Brady "blatant effort to game the search engines, barely disguised as a clever intro" watch.
Or, for brevity's sake: the Tom Brady offseason clickbait watch.
We're done here, right? Brady creaked into the playoffs with an 8-9 team that would have gone about 6-11 if not for an unrepeatable amount of late-game one-score victories over feeble opponents. Brady threw just 25 touchdown passes, his lowest total since 2019. He averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt, his lowest total since 2002, twenty years ago. Brady can barely move in the pocket and looks ready to duck and cover when the pressure arrives. Do we really need a second encore?
Maybe we do: Brady finished third in DYAR in 2022.
Perhaps we should do some parsing. Passing DYAR numbers are down a bit this year across the league. Brady's 1,122 DYAR represent his third-lowest figure since 2014. Brady also led the NFL in attempts for a second straight year, which juices his value when compared to replacement level. In DVOA, which is less impacted by bulk numbers, Brady ranked … eighth. Still very good.
Few would rank Brady as the eighth-best quarterback in the NFL in 2022, just as few would rank Jared Goff fourth or Jacoby Brissett seventh. Brady's immobility and occasional fumbles give him negative rushing value in a league where everyone from Josh Allen to Jalen Hurts to Daniel Jones contributes significant DYAR with their legs. And we're just not that beholden to the statistics: our eyes tell us that Brady has slipped noticeably, especially against tougher defenses.
But how far should we drop Brady? Twelfth? Sixteenth? Is he above or below Goff right now? Maybe. What about Russell Wilson? Probably. A gimpy Lamar Jackson? How do we even make a comparison?
Walkthrough is almost certain that Brady will have his Matt Ryan 2022 year the moment he is transplanted from the Buccaneers, who surrounded him with top wide receiver talent and the best offensive line they could afford, to some team trying to feather his nest on the fly. Then again, Walkthrough has also been certain about Brady's imminent decline since 2014, so we can pound sand.
Brady ranked 30th among starters with 1.1 adjusted net yards per attempt when pressured, according to Sports Info Solutions, above Mac Jones and Zach Wilson but below Carson Wentz, Joe Flacco, and just about everyone else. Signing Brady means making such a great investment in building a superline and arsenal for him that would-be suitors might as well just save money and see what Geno Smith could do with such resources.
Yet some owner or general manager surely believes that Brady is worth a 2023 rental with a 2024 option. More importantly, Brady believes it. So strike up the Brady Watch.
- The Dolphins? Mike McDaniel and Chris Grier insist Tua Tagovailoa is their quarterback. Neither of them actually sign paychecks.
- The Panthers? Pro Football Talk arrived there this week. PFT will be making multiple stops at all stations over the next few months.
- The Raiders? Brady and Josh McDaniels, together again, this time with Davante Adams. Mark Davis could borrow some money off Jon Gruden to pay them.
- The Jets? Unlikely but Favrian. Brady would hate New York but might be up for a little self-torture if it means embarrassing Bill Belichick twice per year.
- A return to the Patriots? Can you imagine? Would you prefer a meteor strike?
- The Commanders, Colts, Saints, Cardinals, Ravens? All sound like implausible, awful ideas. But any competent local blogger can dream up a scenario. The Brady Watch is the stuff dreams are made of.
The Brady Watch is easy to laugh at, but it saved my industry in 2020: it was the only sports story in the world during COVID's dark dawn, and the speculation-and-signing cycle kept the lights on at sports-talk stations and freelance football writers busy for weeks.
The Brady Watch led to Brady Triumph, and later Brady Retirement followed by Brady Unretirement, plus Brady Divorce for the celebrity gossip scene. The Brady Industry is an Internet traffic driver. He's a household name to millions of casual fans who have no idea who Justin Herbert is. Another Brady Watch is preferable on many levels to a three-month Justin Fields Trade Vigil, especially since Brady remains a far superior quarterback to Fields.
So yes, we're doing this. And yes, we must take it seriously. But not too seriously. So instead of baiting the search-engine hook with a Five Teams Brady Could Play For in 2023 worm—though we kinda-sorta just did, didn't we?—let's steer into more familiar Walkthrough territory: comic books.
Magneto died in a recent run of X-Men comics. The X-Men have learned how to resurrect the dead whenever they choose (long story), but Magneto for-good died in the story, except that he did not. It turns out that ol' Erik Lehnsherr can use his electromagnetic powers to keep his heart beating and blood flowing for a plot-useful period of time even after getting his chest exploded. So Magneto "died," then climbed from some space rubble, helped defeat a level-boss villain, delivered one of his trademark soliloquies for about 40 panels, then died for real. For now.
Brady is the NFL's Magneto in many ways: principled antagonist to some; complicated hero to others; strangely ageless; imperious and a little aloof; able to do the impossible with an effortless flourish of his arm.
Brady's 2022 season felt like Magneto's not-quite death before the heartbeat trick. Brady has one more battle and operatic finale in him, because he wants to have one, and that's all it takes for him to conjure one out of sheer willpower.
And if he announces his retirement, no one is likely to believe it.
News and notes from hiring cycle:
Greg Roman steps down as Ravens offensive coordinator.
The Ravens and Lamar Jackson are in the process of tossing each other's stuff onto the front lawn. Roman is the vintage stereo with the turntable.
John Harbaugh says Lamar Jackson will have input during the coordinator search.
That's not an olive branch. It's a reminder to Jackson that the Ravens retain the rights to his services until they choose not to. It's like reminding your partner in a separation that the car is in your name.
Titans hire Ran Carthon as general manager.
Carthon spent a decade at the director-of-personnel level for the Rams and 49ers after four years as a Falcons scout.
Carthon is highly qualified—check out the 49ers roster—and also may have broken through the old-boy ceiling in part because of the recent NFL policy which incentivizes minority hires for prominent positions with compensatory draft picks.
Does … does that mean a progressive-leaning NFL policy is working the way it was intended to work? Maybe the NFL deserves a little credit for tackling an equity issue in an effective way that could be used as a model in other industries? Or will doing something besides incessantly criticizing and shaming the NFL get Walkthrough kicked out of the Socially Conscious Sportswriters Society?
(Walkthrough has been hereby kicked out of the Socially Conscious Sportswriters Society.)
Chargers fire offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, quarterbacks coach Shane Day, and linebackers coach Michael Wilhoite; will retain Brandon Staley.
Staley may not handle fourth downs aggressively anymore, but he still scapegoats aggressively.
Ben Johnson decides to remain the Lions offensive coordinator.
One conversation with the Houston Texans was all it took to make working for Dan Campbell seem perfectly normal.
New Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort says "ego will not be tolerated" in the organization.
The Cardinals problem isn't ego. It's id.
Browns hire Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator.
Schwartz's system requires outstanding defensive tackles, and Ndamukong Suh ain't walking through that door. (For the right price, Suh will absolutely walk through that door.)
Buccaneers fire offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
Todd Bowles asked Leftwich for a personal improvement plan early in the week. Leftwich handed it off to Leonard Fournette. It still has not arrived.
Commanders offensive coordinator interview list includes Pat Shurmur, Ken Zampese, Charles London, and Eric Stuberville.
Round up the dreariest suspects! Also: Charles London is almost certainly Carson Wentz's pseudonym.
Steelers retain Matt Canada as offensive coordinator.
Find someone as devoted to you as Mike Tomlin is to even his most obviously overmatched assistants. At least this means Canada won't interview with the Commanders.
Aaron Rodgers is not "mentally or emotionally ready" to make a decision about his future.
No one is.
Sean Payton Watch
Sean Payton will be the head coach of the Denver Broncos by the middle of next week. That's because Payton wants to coach the Broncos, the Broncos want Payton to coach them, and the New Orleans Saints are comfortable with their brokerage fee.
Payton tipped his hand when he publicly announced to Colin Cowherd that the Saints would accept "a mid or later first-round pick" to release him from his contract with the team. Oddly specific, don't you think? Why not just say "a first-round pick?" Do the Saints NOT want an early first-round pick?
Of course not. Payton just doesn't want to coach the Texans (second overall pick in the 2023 draft), Cardinals (third overall), or Colts (fourth overall), and he's not afraid to publicly signal as much. He wants the Broncos to make a bid, and he wants everyone to know that the Saints will find the late-round pick the Broncos acquired from the Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb trade to be adequate compensation.
Let's look at this from another angle. Say you are the Colts and want to dangle the third overall pick in front of the Colts to help land Payton. The whole world now knows you are overpaying. So do you ask for a second-round pick or something in return? Now you are haggling with the Saints merely for the rights to Payton. The Colts and Cardinals are now positioned behind the 8-ball. The Texans have the 12th overall pick from the Browns, but they're idiots whose best pitches are "Houston is kinda near New Orleans" and "we'll let you run everything, until the owner finds a new life coach, and then buckle up."
That leaves the Carolina Panthers. David Tepper speaks to Payton on Friday. The Panthers possess the ninth overall pick, which is plausibly "mid." Tepper has money and a reputation for relative sanity, the Panthers have lots of building blocks, Charlotte is a pleasant little city. Tepper should be able to make a persuasive pitch.
There are only two problems. The first is minor: the Saints don't want Payton in the NFC South. They probably wouldn't actively block Payton—who has certainly talked this through with Mickey Loomis and Gayle Benson—but they won't offer any bargains on that ninth pick, and may gouge the Panthers for a little more.
The second problem is glaring and obvious: the Panthers have no quarterback. Their best path to getting a quarterback is the ninth overall pick. It would take some creative accounting to clear enough cap space to go quarterback shopping. And Payton left the Saints to get away from creative accounting.
As mentioned earlier, Pro Football Talk floated some Payton-Tom Brady fanfic early in the week. The fact that they burned the piece early tells you a lot about its merit.
Russell Wilson at his absolute worst is better than no quarterback and no good path toward obtaining a quarterback. The Broncos roster is better than the Panthers roster right now. Vic Fangio has detached himself from Payton's assistant-coaching bundle to interview elsewhere, a sign that he won't be asked to return to the Broncos in a reduced role.
Money? Tepper and Greg Penner are Croesus and King Midas. But Penner wants it more, because Penner absolutely, positively cannot afford another Nathaniel Hackett who has no idea when to call timeout or how to keep a quarterback's ego from swallowing the locker room. Tepper can sell Panthers fans on Ken Dorsey or Mike Kafka. Penner must convince Broncos fans that the new sheriff knows what he's doing and means business. When the nine-figure sums start flowing, Tepper is more likely to tap out, and Friday's interview might well exist solely to make Penner ante up.
So Payton will join Josh McDaniels, Andy Reid, and Waffles McGuesswork as the AFC West head coaches. Walkthrough 99% guarantees it. Ultimately, it's probably the best choice for both sides. Payton may not turn Wilson and the Broncos around immediately, but he'll force us to take them seriously again immediately.