The 2020 NFL season is still scheduled to be played in home markets across the country, but one of the nation's foremost experts on the coronavirus isn't so sure.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, arguably the most visible figure in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, spoke with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta about what the fall sports schedule may look like, and it's not good:
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci said. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Fauci's quotes are just the latest reminder that we're still very much in the middle of a historically devastating pandemic, fighting a virus without a vaccine. With most epidemiologists in agreement about the certainty of a second wave this fall, it's feasible that the NFL might not be able to play in every home market. Teams like the Texans and Cowboys have already seen players infected, and with rising infection rates in several other states, they won't be the only ones.
The tight end market has officially been reset.
George Kittle (49ers) and Travis Kelce (Chiefs) each inked massive new extensions on Thursday that will make them the highest-paid players at their position by a wide margin.
Kittle signed a five-year, $75 million extension while Kelce put pen to paper on a four-year, $57 million deal.
Suddenly, Jimmy Graham's two-year, $16 million deal doesn't seem so bad. Then again, you get what you pay for, right?
Graham joins the Bears after a 2019 season in Green Bay that totaled 38 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Compare those numbers to Kelce, who had 97 catches for 1,229 yards and five scores in 2019, and Kittle, who had 85 catches for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns, and it's easy to understand why they're nearly doubling Graham's annual average salary.
Does Graham have enough left in the tank to justify his $8 million per year paycheck? He's earning more than players like Jared Cook (Saints) and Darren Waller (Raiders), who each flashed more playmaking upside than Graham in 2019.
The good news for the Bears is that they'll be out of the tight end market for a while, assuming second-round pick Cole Kmet lives up to his scouting report. He'll be a cheap starter on a rookie contract for the next four seasons.
Hopefully, we'll be talking about Kmet as one of the highest-paid players at the position when his second deal rolls around. Until then, it's Kittle and Kelce who rule the tight end universe.
Matt Nagy's reputation for being an innovative offensive mind took a hit last season when the Bears finished the year ranked 26th in passing yards, 27th in rushing yards, and 27th in total touchdowns.
To make matters worse, Nagy was also among the league's worst decision-makers on fourth down, according to Pro Football Focus.
PFF used the following qualifiers to evaluate which teams made the most of their fourth-down situations last year:
To these aims, we looked at all fourth-down plays in the first three quarters during the 2019 season that met the following criteria: 1) there were four or fewer yards to go for a first down or a touchdown, and 2) the expected points when going for it were higher than when kicking a field goal (with 35 or fewer yards to go to the end zone) or punting (36 or more yards)
The Bears whiffed on 75% of their fourth-down calls and left 12 additional points on the board, according to PFF's metrics.
Chicago lost two games by three points or less in 2019, so it isn't like Nagy's failures on fourth down prevented this team from winning 12 games. That said, could the Bears have reached nine or even 10 wins and been in a better position to make the playoffs had they flipped fourth downs into points? It's possible.
There's another factor that has to be considered that extends beyond Nagy's playcalling, however. Let's face it, He didn't have the players needed to attempt fourth-down conversions with confidence. Mitch Trubisky was barely watchable and David Montgomery didn't get much help from his offensive line. The offense ranked as low as it did for a reason; it just wasn't very good.
I'd expect some positive regression with the Bears' fourth-down efficiency in 2020, which should mean more points and maybe, just maybe, more wins.
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