Welcome to the Wednesday War Room, where Shutdown Corner’s NFL experts kick around two questions facing the league each week. Got a question for our crew? Email us! Today, we’re talking “Hard Knocks” and player value. Onward!
Question 1: “Hard Knocks” has kicked off its latest season, and while Tampa Bay might be intriguing, you know there’s plenty we won’t see. Which team in all of NFL history would you have liked to see as the subject of a “Hard Knocks” inside-the-locker-room series?
The New England Patriots would be fascinating. Because if they were forced to do the show, we might finally see them unplugged a bit. They have the dullest locker room in the NFL, and that’s by design. They’re not uninteresting, they just believe in not saying anything. It would be great to see the inner workings of the NFL’s best (and most paranoid) franchise.
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I would have loved to see the 2008 Green Bay Packers on “Hard Knocks,” simply because Brett Favre’s retirement/comeback/trade was unlike anything we’ve ever seen and unlike anything we probably will ever see. How his clashes with ownership — plus his perceived poor relationship with then-new starter Aaron Rodgers — affected the team would be something else. It would definitely provide the film crew itself with a bunch of unique challenges. Oh yeah, and did I mention this was Jordy Nelson’s rookie year, Ryan Grant was in the middle of a contract holdout, there was also backup QB controversy and fans absolutely hated Rodgers right after Favre was traded, even heckling him at his own training camp? It was wild.
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My pick would be the 1985 Chicago Bears. Why? Because they had everything! Sure, the Bears went 15-1 en route to a Super Bowl, but oddly that may be the least interesting element to this team. What I’d really love to know is what exactly went down between Walter Payton and Mike Ditka? While we’ve seen ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary—a great film that gives us a peek into their tiff—imagine a weekly insider show with these two characters? I mean we’re talking about Sweetness here!
Better yet, William “The Refrigerator” Perry was made for social media. Can you imagine watching that dude in the cafeteria or being forced into a dancing prank in front of the whole team? Or how about the film sessions between Buddy Ryan and Mike Singletary, diagnosing trick plays and discussing the ins and outs of the 46 defense, which Ryan literally invented?
Maybe most entertaining would be Jim McMahon, the folk hero quarterback who wore sunglasses and publicly defied commissioner Pete Rozelle. As popular and borderline mythological as the ’85 Bears have become over the past three decades, a “Hard Knocks” inside-the-locker-room series would epitomize “can’t-miss” television.
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You’re all insane. There’s only one right answer to this question, and it’s the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones flexing his good ol’ boy muscles for the first time! Jimmy Johnson terrifying an entire team with his maniacal devotion to Dallas! Emmitt Smith wrecking fools every time he touched the ball! Michael Irvin mouthing off and then backing it up! Troy Aikman wondering what the hell he did to get caught up in all this! Felonies! Allegations! You’d have more carnage in any one episode than an entire season of “Game of Thrones.” Shoot, an episode on the Cowboys’ famed White House—not the one in Washington—would draw better ratings than the Super Bowl. I’m legitimately sad now that this never happened.
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Question 2. At this moment, Derek Carr is the top-paid quarterback in the league, and Devonta Freeman is the top-paid running back. You’d have made a lot of money if you’d placed that bet two years ago. Which players—pick a quarterback and a non-QB—would you say deserve the richest contracts in the game right now?
Instead of deserve, I’ll tell you who will be the highest paid soon, and the record won’t be topped for a while: Kirk Cousins. The Washington Redskins have botched his situation so bad, he’s going to be a unicorn in NFL free agency as a good quarterback to hit free agency in his prime (seriously, look through NFL history – a quarterback of Cousins’ caliber and age has never hit free agency unless there was an injury involved or his former team had a backup plan … and the Redskins have no backup plan). Everyone thinks Cousins will be going straight to the San Francisco 49ers, but there will be plenty of teams bidding. It’s going to get crazy. Among non-quarterbacks, J.J. Watt deserves to be highest paid, assuming he’s healthy. No other non-quarterback dominates a game like him.
If I had to choose the most valuable player right now, it’s Tom Brady. But at 40, he’s not getting a huge contract any time soon. I think Aaron Rodgers is deserving of the biggest contract in the game as far as quarterbacks go. Yes, he’s 33, but he’s the rare player who might be worth more now then when he was in his “prime.” Rodgers just gets better and better despite the roster and injury issues the Packers have faced in the past two seasons. He’ll be 35 when his current contract is up. With Brady still going strong at 40, I’ll be really interested to see what type of money Rodgers draws in 2019. As for a non-quarterback, I’ll take Aaron Donald. What other defensive player clogs the middle, stops the run and rushes the passer as well as Donald? Maybe J.J. Watt, but Donald is both two years younger and far more durable: He’s yet to miss a game in his professional career. Donald is a key part — and currently the best player — of the Rams’ massive rebuild. The Rams would be wise to pay him as such.
If we really want to talk about those most “deserving” of the highest paid contracts in football, it has to be Tom Brady at quarterback and Von Miller as a non-quarterback. In terms of Brady, what hasn’t been said about him, really? His five Super Bowl titles surpassed Joe Montana for most all-time, and at 40 years old, he has shown zero signs of slowing down. Last season, despite missing four games, he managed to toss 28 touchdown passes and just two picks en route to the largest comeback in Big Game history, and his fourth Super Bowl MVP award. New England acquired Brandin Cooks in the offseason, no doubt the single best wideout Brady has ever had. With a healthy Gronk, there is no telling what No. 12 will do for an encore. And thanks to a vaunted diet and workout regimen, Brady isn’t slowing down.
All Miller has done is rack up All-Pro honors in five of his six years with Denver (he missed seven games in 2013). The best part about Miller however, is how he shows up in big games. Leading up to the Broncos’ 2015 world championship, he amassed five sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception during the pivotal two-game stretch. The way he forces opposing teams to game plan for him and him alone — that is worth top dollar by itself. The fact that he follows through and single-handedly changes the outcome of games? That is about as rare as it gets in this league. Miller has become a one-man game wrecker who is still just 28 years old, meaning his best football may be yet to come.
It’s tough to argue against Tom Brady, dammit, but since the question specified “contract,” I’m going to think longer-term, as in who I’d build a team around. Quarterback-wise, Rodgers is an outstanding choice, but Zach already snared him. So I’ll go with Matt Ryan, who’s the best of the next tier of QBs after Brady/Rodgers. Sure, he’s headed for a record-breaking contract of his own soon enough, but I’d lock him up. And while it’d be tempting to grab his Falcon teammate Julio Jones, I’m going across the country to grab Khalil Mack. Like Miller, he can blow up an entire offense all on his own. I’ll throw all my money on these two cats, field a team of 20 other scrubs, and probably still make the playoffs out of the AFC South.
Thanks for hanging with this week’s War Room. Got a question for our crew? Email us right here. See you next week!
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.