1. Contract dispute will motivate Russell Wilson
Each time I write something positive about Russell Wilson, a legion of Wilson haters emerge with their torches and their pitchforks and their Jason masks and set the world aflame. Because some men just want to watch the world burn.
Well, get the kerosene ready.
I think this season we are going to see the best Wilson yet—not in spite of his rocky contract negotiations with the Seahawks, but because of them.
Outwardly, we will see the same Wilson who says all the right things and does all the right things and smiles at the right time and kisses babies and waves to the crowd like an Avenger. But on the inside, the side Wilson is so adept at hiding from the public, there's going to be fire. He'll be agitated, and he'll use it to push himself to new heights.
Sources close to the situation tell me that talks between Wilson and the Seahawks are not going smoothly, something SI's Peter King touched on in his MMQB column this week. The problem is not that they are going terribly or acrimoniously; it's that they are just stagnant. For now. Things could change quickly.
But I've also been told by a Seattle player that Wilson isn't exactly crazy about this state of stagnancy. Oh, as he always does, Wilson will say and do the right things publicly. But this Seahawks teammate believes if Wilson doesn't get a new contract this offseason, he will use the slight as motivation.
(And you can only imagine how much more motivated he'd be if Seattle did something like bring in Michael Vick, as ESPN.com's John Clayton suggested.)
Wilson made $662,434 last season, according to Spotrac, 63rd among NFL quarterbacks. This season, his salary (all guaranteed) is $1.542 million. At least 27 and as many as 40 quarterbacks could make more than that. Forty. Forty.
As NFL cap analyst Brian McIntyre tweeted:
This despite going to two Super Bowls in his first three seasons and being part of a rapid transformation of the Seahawks franchise.
Part of the problem is the system. The rookie cap holds down salaries for years after players sign their first contracts. That's why Wilson's salary is so low despite the massive amount of winning.
The Seahawks could rip up that contract and reward Wilson now. But that's not necessarily the way the Seahawks do business. And the way they do business has been the best way of any franchise in the sport, so it's hard to argue with their methods.
It's also hard to argue with Wilson wanting a new deal. So here we are.
The best part of King's column was his illustration of how at every step, Wilson proved people wrong. This was excellent from King, speaking in Wilson's voice: "My franchise had finished below .500 four straight years before I got here, and we're 42-14 with two trips to the Super Bowl in my time, and we can't get a deal done? I'll show management."
The benefit for the Seahawks will be an even more focused Wilson. A better Wilson.
They still have a top-three defense, a top-two running back and now a top-two or -three tight end. Sure, sometimes Graham is afraid of physical contact, but Graham will still be, well, Graham. He'll be great.
And Wilson will be mad. Maybe furious.
For Seattle, that might be a good thing.
2. Who knows if this is true but if it is…wow
It was no secret that Jim Harbaugh and Jed York didn't get along, but if this is accurate—and I was unable to verify that it was—then holy crap.
That is a level of disrespect (again if true) that no human being deserves. Maybe York did something to Harbaugh that made Harbaugh act that way. But I can't see it.
You knew that after Harbaugh's departure, there would be a large number of stories like this one. This may be the first of many.
Just wait until Harbaugh writes a book. And he will.
3. One more on Harbaugh
Harbaugh wasn't perfect in his stint with San Francisco. He was a little, well, odd at times. Treated many in the press like they were garbage. Burned out people around him. No, it wasn't perfect.
But what he did in San Francisco was one of the best coaching jobs I've ever seen in decades of covering the sport. Almost overnight, he restored the pride of a franchise that was at one of its lowest points. He became the first coach in NFL history to reach conference title games in his first three seasons.
He was named Coach of the Year, turned Alex Smith into a winner, turned Colin Kaepernick into a winner and went to a Super Bowl.
When Harbaugh took the Michigan job, I thought for certain he'd win a title there. He'd transform Michigan the way he did the 49ers and Stanford before that. I thought maybe five years. Or a tad less. As few as three.
Then I saw this tweet from fan Drew Hallett:
Hallett later corrected himself, saying there was one recruit from Alabama in 2004, but still...
If Harbaugh's recruiting is moving at warp speed, maybe even three years is a conservative estimate for how long it will take the Wolverines to become national champions.
I tweeted this, and it set off Ohio State and Michigan State fans, which was to be expected. The level of vitriol was interesting—but, still, expected.
Harbaugh is a more experienced, more seasoned and more battle-tested Urban Meyer. People who don't cover the NFL regularly get how hard it is to win on the pro level. My belief has always been that if you can coach a team to a Super Bowl in the salary-cap era, coaching one in college is easier. Not easy. But easier.
So, see you at the national title game in two years, Wolverines!
4. Can Flacco play until he's 40?
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco turned 30 in January. He told ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley recently that he believes he can play until he's 40. I think he's right.
What's often lost with Flacco is that he's one of the better-conditioned quarterbacks in football. In fact, if there was a conditioning test taken by all of the game's QBs, one that tested every aspect of physicality, I think Flacco would win it. Yeah, I said it.
Wouldn't shock me if he played until he's 40—or even beyond 40.
5. Dolphins logo in HBO series
For decades, those in the media and entertainment industries have been terrified of using NFL logos without permission because the league has been almost fanatical about protecting those logos.
That might seem like pretty insider-football stuff, but it's interesting because of HBO's recent use of, most prominently, the Dolphins logo in the upcoming series Ballers. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio asked the league and the Dolphins about it and received no comment.
It's a mystery why the league is silent on this. But I doubt it stays quiet for long.
6. Watson is right
Former NFL tight end Ben Watson had a lot to say about athletes and how they aren't all criminals as the media sometimes portrays them. Well, I'm part of the media, and I've never portrayed all athletes as criminals. Ever. He sets up a straw man and knocks it down effectively.
I still found Watson's words, published in the Christian Post, compelling. Fascinating, even. Here is one thing he said, presented without comment:
You've got a league with a couple thousand players or so depending on the time of year. Then you have 10 or more very high-profile stories that are terrible stories and things that have happened. The majority of the guys are not in the news; they're doing great things in the community, they're doing great things at home, playing well and abiding by the rules. There's probably more than the general population, to be honest with you. ...
... It's unfortunate that so many of the guys who are doing right are painted with the broad brush by the guys who aren't. Then when you have these situations like Ray Rice's, they are things that are unfortunate and they're bad. Most of the guys in the NFL would sit here and tell you we don't condone the abuse of a child, any sort of abuse of a woman, breaking rules, failing drug tests or doing any of those things. We hold ourselves to a very high standard.
7. Patriots wasted no time
Ray McDonald had been accumulating off-field incidents, and the 49ers—and many of their fans—had been screaming due process while keeping him on the active roster. Then in December, with yet another investigation underway, they abandoned the whole due-process thingy and ditched him.
What was the difference? If due process was the standard, why did it matter whether it was the first or fifth or third or ninth allegation? Because of talent. He had it, and the 49ers needed it—until they didn't.
Flash forward to this past week. The alleged car of Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes was found abandoned on a highway. The Patriots could have relied on due process, but it was pretty damn obvious what happened. So they cut his ass.
If Spikes were a better player, would the Patriots have tried to utilize the due-process card? Doesn't matter, because he's not and they didn't.
Teams use due process whenever it suits them. Good player? Due process! Average player! Buh-bye.
Just remember that next time a team (or fans) tries to shove due process in everyone's face.
8. What does Anthony Davis' retirement mean?
I don't know. I just know Chris Borland retired recently at 24. Davis retired at 25. I've never heard of one player retiring like this in his mid-20s, let alone two inside a few months. They are both 49ers, but I don't think that has anything to do with their retirements. This is all about concern over what football is doing to their minds.
Here's what Davis said in a statement of his retirement:
After a few years of thought, I've decided it will be best for me to take a year or so away from the NFL. This will be a time for me to allow my Brain and Body a chance to heal. I know many won't understand my decision, that's ok.
I hope you too have the courage to live your life how you planned it when day dreaming to yourself growing up. Your Life is Your dream and you have the power to control that dream. I'm simply doing what's best for my body as well as my mental health at this time in my life.
Again, I'm not certain what this all means, but I have never heard of 20-somethings leaving the sport voluntarily—no doctor, no team forcing them to—because of concerns over head trauma. Now, we have two such players in a span of months.
This has to be alarming to everyone in the sport.
9. Jameis Winston doing well in Tampa so far
People I speak to in the organization maintain he is saying and doing all the right things. Especially off the field. I believe this. I don't think that was ever going to be an issue. Winston, for all of his faults, is extremely bright. When he's not doing stupid things.
He's smart enough to not screw up this early in the process. The true test will be what happens later, when the grind and pressure begins. If Winston is still doing well then, we'll know a great deal more.
On the field, he's apparently crushing it too, as wide receiver Vincent Jackson told the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings:
Yeah, he's very dynamic. He can put touch on it when he needs to, but he can also sling it when he needs to. We've seen both—where he knows he has to put his foot in the ground and fire it through a tight window and when he has to (throw) it deep and soft and put it away from the defender.
He's just a very sound quarterback, and he's only going to continue to get better because you see his competitiveness. He doesn't want to miss a throw. He comes out here each and every day and he works on his craft.
10. Kickers and the tar pit
Lions kicker Matt Prater told the Detroit Free Press' Carlos Monarrez he thinks the NFL will eventually eliminate field goals altogether. He's correct.
And it won't just be field goals. I think within a decade or so—maybe sooner—kickers will go the way of the dinosaur. Punters too. All of them. Gone. Like the Triceratops.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.