Joe Mixon's image rehab, the Pats' busy offseason and the Romo waiting game.
1. Joe Mixon's Rehab Effort Is Working
In a recent meeting with an NFL franchise, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon was asked a simple question: Why did you do it?
Mixon's answer, a team official told Bleacher Report, was contemplative and thoughtful. And while the official wouldn't tell B/R exactly what Mixon said, he felt Mixon's answer was sincere.
Mixon's willingness in recent weeks to address the character issues that have swirled around him after he was caught on video punching a woman in the face has transformed his image, according to that team official. Not just within that team, but around much of the league.
Indeed, people around the NFL now tell me Mixon is moving up draft boards.
It's long been believed that Mixon, like Ray Rice, would suffer because his assault was caught on video, and that video would embarrass any team that drafted him. Thus, he either wouldn't be drafted or he'd be selected late. Several team officials say at least four franchises have removed Mixon from their draft boards.
But the narrative around Mixon seems to be changing.
Now, remember the first and only rule of Draft Club: Everyone lies about Draft Club. So if team officials say Mixon's draft stock is rising, well, it may not be.
But in this case, I believe Mixon's rise is accurate. He seems to be impressing teams with his sincerity. Teams that once feared taking him are no longer as scared to do so.
Not only is his draft stock improving, but some teams say no player is moving up draft boards faster than Mixon. Apparently he's checking every box as he meets with various franchises.
Mixon might now go as high as the second round. Some even believe the late first round is in play. (Still, remember the first rule of Draft Club.)
There are still teams who are highly uncomfortable with Mixon being drafted at all, let alone in higher rounds. Some of these teams are outraged by the idea of a team selecting a player who hit a woman. No one is saying he shouldn't be allowed to play in the NFL. They just don't want him drafted.
The league office is watching this situation closely. They may deny this, but based on interviews I've done, the NFL doesn't want Mixon drafted either, feeling it would undermine the league's efforts to curb violence against women.
To some in football, what happens with Mixon is a test. Rice was once a line—a video line—few in the NFL thought would ever be crossed again. No one thought a player caught committing an act of violence on video would ever have a career in football.
It's possible Mixon may move that line.
2. If the Pats Call, Don't Pick Up
One of the more amazing things about the Patriots is how they operate despite all of their success. Even with their five Super Bowl titles, the Pats behave as if they have yet to win one. There's an air of desperation in their moves, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.
The Patriots are never satisfied. No team should be, but think about how many franchises get complacent. They don't spend their salary-cap allotments. They don't pursue free agents. They do little to improve.
Not the Patriots. They just engineered the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time, have won more Super Bowls than most teams ever will, and yet they are still dealing. They replaced Martellus Bennett with Dwayne Allen, a good move that builds depth. They signed Stephon Gilmore, a top cornerback. They kept some of their key players. And they traded for a top receiving target in Brandin Cooks.
Many teams would have made one of those moves. The Patriots made all of them. More are likely to come.
This is what a dynasty looks like. This is how a great organization remains great. This is why the Patriots may be the best franchise we've seen in any sport at any time.
3. To Trade or Not to Trade Jimmy Garoppolo
Teams still believe the Patriots will trade highly coveted backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and they believe the destination likely will be Cleveland. The possibility diminishes with each passing day, but team officials with whom I spoke still think it will happen.
I've been able to confirm that the Patriots want two first-rounders from the Browns for Garoppolo, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com first reported. The Browns would be stupid to do that. (Insert Browns joke here.)
Most around the league, however, think New England's asking price will come down and there remains a solid chance of a trade happening. We'll see.
4. The Ugly Truth About Playing in the NFL
On rare occasions, some players will tell the complete truth. All the pretense falls. The cliches die. And we get an inside look at what they're really thinking, minus the PR spin.
Former tight end Jordan Cameron, who recently retired after suffering his fourth concussion in six seasons, recently did just that.
After Cameron announced his retirement, ESPN's Pat McManamon asked him whether he loved football. His answer was fascinating:
I don't think a lot of these guys love football, to be honest. A lot of them don't. You play for other reasons, and every guy has their own reason. They know why, and as long as your why is really important, you keep playing without really loving football.
Because really, who loves to get hit in 10-degree weather by a 280-pound person? Really, no one likes that. 'Do you love football?' I couldn't stand when people asked me that.
I have heard this same type of sentiment privately from players for years. A lot of players. They don't want these feelings to go public because some fans who see football in simplistic terms don't fully understand what it takes to play this violent game, and they would be quick to criticize.
Playing professional football is a job, one of the most violent in the world. Many do it for money, which is the same thing that motivates other people in other jobs.
Some fans want players to do what they themselves do not, which is love their job. And while players often talk to me about loving the locker room, that's usually as far as their warm feelings go.
"Do you really love football?" Cameron told McMenamin. "A lot of guys don't really love it. There's a few guys that love it. Ray Lewis loves football. Peyton Manning. They love it. But a lot of guys don't really love this game, and there are players that will read this who will understand exactly what I'm talking about."
5. Maybe NASCAR Drivers Are in the Wrong Sport
Let's play the alternate universe game for a moment.
On Sunday, NASCAR drivers Joey Logano and Kyle Busch got into a fight after the Kobalt 400. It got me thinking: What would happen if two NFL players fought like that?
I'm not going to go much further than to simply ask you to ponder the reaction to such a scene in football. Just think about it.
I'm not necessarily speaking of the fight itself. I'm talking as much about the social media reaction to it. I saw fans of the NFL and other sports, even journalists, practically praising the fight on my social media feeds.
Would there be the same kind of excitement about such a brawl between NFL players?
Think about it.
6. Wanted in NY: A Capable QB, Any Capable QB
Currently, the Jets have two quarterbacks on their roster: Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. I'd rather have Tom Petty and Christian Bale.
Even the Browns have a better quarterback situation (at the moment). Brock Osweiler isn't great, but he's better than anything the Jets have.
Several scouts told me they couldn't remember a worse situation for a franchise at quarterback. I can't either.
7. The NFL's Painkiller Problem
I've written about the use of painkillers in football for decades. The NFL has gotten better at managing and distributing powerful drugs such as Toradol, but as the latest story about a painkiller lawsuit suggests, the league still is badly mishandling them.
There is a common thread in those stories going back to the 1990s, when a handful of us began writing extensively on the use of painkillers in the NFL: The sport cannot be played without them. That's the conundrum.
Not every player uses them. Not every team abuses its distribution. Not every player becomes addicted.
Still, it's all but impossible to play such a violent sport without them. And because these drugs are highly addictive, this can lead to abuse. It's not rocket science, as story after story after story has detailed.
Barring a fundamental alteration to the way the sport is played or an elimination of testing, painkiller abuse will remain a threat in football. That's why it is incumbent on the league to not just pay lip service to the issue, but to remain vigilant in policing the use of these drugs.
8. Denver and Houston Play the Waiting Game
The Cowboys have yet to release Tony Romo, as they're still holding out faint hope of a trade, but all indications remain that he will indeed be released and sign with either the Texans or Broncos.
For now, Dallas is trying to do what's best for the team, hoping some desperate club trades for Romo. But it doesn't appear as though that is going to happen. What's more likely is a bidding war erupts between Denver and Houston once Romo is released.
Both teams (especially the Broncos) are acting publicly as though they're cool on Romo, but it's just an act. Both know how much he could mean to their respective franchises.
With Romo, the Broncos or the Texans could knock off the Patriots next season and reach the Super Bowl.
I said it.
9. Ticketed for Canton
If there is such a thing as a quiet Hall of Fame career, it was that of DeMarcus Ware, who announced his retirement Monday. He didn't talk a lot. He didn't have a large number of games with tons of sacks. He was a great, steady player—period.
One thing that will help Ware's Hall of Fame case is this from Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus: Since 2006, no player has generated more quarterback pressures than Ware.
Nathan Jahnke @PFF_NateJahnke
Since 2006, no defensive player has generated more pressure than DeMarcus Ware. Future Hall of Famer. https://t.co/IOXZS547IM3/13/2017, 8:14:23 PM
10. What Was Zeke Elliott Thinking?
The appropriateness of Ezekiel Elliott pulling at a woman's top and exposing her breasts at a parade—which was caught on video and aired on TMZ—isn't debatable. It's crude, no matter whether the woman was offended or not.
What also isn't worth debating is whether Elliott's prank was smart. It wasn't. Remember, the NFL hasn't closed its investigation on domestic violence allegations made against Elliott last year. Repeat: The NFL is still looking into that.
Elliott may have done nothing wrong. The NFL may not punish him. But grabbing a woman's garment in public and exposing her isn't smart when the NFL is combing through your personal history.
Just a thought.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.