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WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — If declining TV ratings are a problem for the NFL, its players would like to know what can be done about them.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told ESPN on Saturday that he has recently met with executives at several of the league’s broadcast partners, including CBS, NBC and Fox, to discuss issues related to the game. Entering his 10th year as leader of the players’ union, Smith is looking ahead to the next round of collective bargaining negotiations and wants the players to have a greater voice in what he describes as the league’s “macroeconomic” issues, including the way it presents itself to the public.

“I think that the ratings information is significant and important. If we don’t pay attention to it, I think that we do so at our own peril, from a macroeconomic standpoint,” Smith said Saturday in an interview before his son Alex’s lacrosse game at the University of Hartford. “Certainly, I recognize that we’re lucky that over 30 of the top 50 shows were NFL broadcasts. But I think that you ignore at your own peril not so much just the decline in football, but the overall decline in ratings for most television shows and particularly sports broadcasts.”

Smith pointed to the success the NBA is having right now and a desire to find out more about what’s behind it.

“I think that it’s important to take a look at what’s going on in basketball, because for the most part, I think they are the only sport that more and more people are watching,” Smith said. “And my hat’s off to what they do and how they do it in the NBA. I think that you could make the argument that a lot of their programming is fresher, hipper. They do, I think, a great job of marketing their individual players, sometimes at a time when the [NFL] looks for ways to take their star players off the field. I would be interested in better understanding the relationship between the broadcast partners and the NBA, what that relationship is like, how they do their TV deals, their rights deals.

“But I think that, given the year-over-year ratings issue in football, it begs the question, ‘Should we be doing something different?’ And that might mean the restructuring of the season in a way to make it more fan-friendly.”

Pressed on specific ideas to restructure the NFL season, Smith said he would like to find ways to better feature the best games and maybe even eliminate some that don’t hold the public’s interest.

“You look at the ratings, and you see that marquee matchups buck the trend on declining ratings,” Smith said. “And you also know that there’s groups of games, and let’s just say preseason games to start with. … It’s hard to find a fan that wants to buy a preseason ticket or wants to watch a preseason game. So to me, you’re being intellectually dishonest if you don’t want to look at both of those issues.

“When you do look at playoff games, when you do look at whether they’re division rivalries or games that have a level of significance, those games are not only exciting and people still want to watch them, but those marquee games are still big-time, high-viewership games.”

He suggested a model with fewer regular-season games and another round of playoff games.

“It doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily what you’re going to do, but we are at a point where we the union aren’t going to be this sort of silent other third party out there who’s not involved in the business of football from a stadium, media, Sunday, offseason standpoint,” Smith said. “We’re just not going to do it anymore.”

Smith’s point in meeting with broadcast executives is to establish the NFLPA as demanding a say in vital underlying issues central to the future of the game. He has yet to engage ownership in talks regarding the next CBA but seems to be announcing that, once those talks do start, he would like to be addressing issues more fundamental to the game’s structure and future than the players may have been invited to discuss in the past.

“The reason I’ve reached out is because I’m interested in finding out what our broadcast partners think about our game,” Smith said. “And I want to make sure that we have an environment where not only they are providing important input but so are we, and that we’re all thinking about long-term viability rather than just short-term impacts on revenue.”

“I think that it’s important to take a look at what’s going on in basketball, because for the most part, I think they are the only sport that more and more people are watching. And my hat’s off to what they do and how they do it in the NBA.”

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith

Smith held forth on a number of topics during a roughly 45-minute interview.

• On player health and safety, Smith said he wants to continue to looking at ways to incentivize coaches and teams. Smith said the NFL is very good at establishing punishment structures for players who violate rules, but less willing to look at the extent to which coaches and teams might be complicit.

“For example, if at the end of the year you have a team that’s got the largest number of penalties for X, Y and Z — unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct — should we start considering what’s the impact on the coach stakeholder or the franchise stakeholder?” Smith said. “And that might include what impact that might have with them on draft order. Then you have a regime where everybody’s incentivized.

“Take a defensive player who’s coached or taught repeatedly that, if you can’t break up the pass, separate the receiver from the ball — and we know they’re being coached that way. When the incident happens on the field, if it’s too early, too hard or too high, there’s going to be a penalty and the player’s going to get fined and blah blah blah, blah blah blah. But at the end of the day, it seems to me that you’re still leaving out two other stakeholders, right? The coach that taught him to do it and the team that wants him to do it. And you don’t necessarily take into consideration that the player has not only been told to do it, but he knows if he doesn’t do it, he may not be playing and somebody else who is willing to do it might take his place. That’s a lack of aligned incentives.”

• On the investigation into and pending sale of the Carolina Panthers, Smith said he wants the league to be transparent about the investigation and its conclusions as they pertain to the allegations of harassment against owner Jerry Richardson.

He also took the opportunity to take some further shots at NFL investigators who, he believes, have performed poorly in past disciplinary situations involving players.

“If it’s true that Mary Jo White is involved in the current investigation of the Panthers, I have a question because I know that she falsely accused players in Bounty[gate],” Smith said. “And things that she said to the press were either knowingly untrue or there came a time when we all knew they weren’t true. If it’s true that Lisa Friel is involved in the investigation of the Panthers, then I know for a fact that someone who ignored the conclusions of her own investigator [in the Ezekiel Elliott case] is involved in the investigation of an owner. Neither of those two things should give anyone a level of confidence in the integrity of the investigation.

“So at the very least, it seems to me that the league as a whole and their partners, the players, deserve to have the results of the investigation of the Panthers released publicly before the sale. And that’s simply because, if the premise of the personal conduct policy is the integrity of the league, why shouldn’t we have the same level of transparency that occurs in player investigations occur here?”

• On free agency, which begins in a couple of weeks, Smith said he has his eye on certain high-profile situations like that of quarterback and union rep Kirk Cousins but is also casting a wary eye at what has happened with Major League Baseball’s slow free-agent market this offseason.

“What is happening there can most charitably be described as an anomaly,” Smith said of MLB. “And so, have I been talking with agents in baseball and with our brother/sister union MLPBA to look at what’s going on there? Absolutely. Because anomalies like that in a quote-unquote free-agent market are disturbing.

“We have economic mechanisms like the [spending] minimums. But hypothetically, if the anomaly that is occurring in baseball is motivated by the desire of some owners and some teams, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you’ve got an economic mechanism to prevent it. No economic mechanism is going to prevent a deliberate decision to affect the market. So my takeaway from what’s happening in baseball is that it reminds you at that times, people can make decisions or might want to make decisions that are, in the short term, somewhat self-centered but might end up negatively impacting their sport in a significant way.”

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Cowboys face decision in 2022: Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch – Dallas Cowboys Blog

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FRISCO, Texas — When Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy got together with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn last Friday morning, they began dreaming up ideas for the best way to use their 2021 first-round draft pick, linebacker Micah Parsons.

“We were starting to plan packages and personnel groups,” McCarthy said. “We just want to get Micah here, get him comfortable in the room, and it is going to be more about selecting not only what he can do but how it fits everybody else. Once again, he is a multidimensional and multipositional player for us.”

How the Cowboys make it work with the linebacker group of Parsons, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch will be among Quinn’s biggest challenges in taking over a defense that allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020.

Parsons was the highest-ranked defensive player on the Cowboys’ draft board, according to owner and general manager Jerry Jones. McCarthy said Parsons could play all three linebacker roles and serve as a designated pass-rusher.

“I play with a lot of effort; that’s what I think I do best,” Parsons said. “I’m always trying to get to the ball. I’m like a ball hawk. See ball, get ball. ‘Waterboy’ type.”

The Cowboys can hope Parsons is another Bobby Boucher.

Parsons, 21, seems to feel at home with the Cowboys. He grew up a Cowboys fan because of his father, Terrence. Micah was even comfortable enough to call the owner “my man, Jerry Jones.” He visited The Star twice while a player at Penn State. His best game was his last game, the 2019 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, when he tied his career high with 14 tackles and had three tackles for loss and two sacks.

“There were, what, six, seven plays on his highlights on his point of attack tape that was on there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

In the two days after Parsons was drafted, McCarthy was asked if he could be compared to Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner or two players from Quinn’s past, Vic Beasley with the Atlanta Falcons and Bruce Irvin with the Seahawks. Wagner has been one of the best all-around linebackers in the NFL. Beasley and Irvin were more pass-rush threats.

“I don’t think you can be one-dimensional in the league now with how many backs there are; receiving backs and tight ends that are going out into the slot,” Parsons said. “Me being versatile will have me here for a long time.”

Surely, Parsons will be on the field a lot in whatever role he earns from now until the start of the 2021 season.

But what happens with Smith, whose $7.2 million base salary is fully guaranteed, and Vander Esch, the Cowboys’ first-round pick in 2018? Free-agent pickup Keanu Neal was viewed as a weakside linebacker, at least in sub packages, in addition to safety.

Either Vander Esch or Smith will be off the field if the Cowboys follow their sub-package percentage from the past few seasons and Neal, a safety by trade, plays a linebacker role.

McCarthy is trying to paint a positive picture in May that will look a lot different come September.

“Your base defense when you play with three linebackers off the ball, or two off the ball and one on the ball, it just — I’m trying not to be redundant here — it gives us tremendous flexibility,” McCarthy said. “It definitely makes Leighton and Jaylon better.”

The addition of Parsons, however, also puts a clock on Vander Esch and Smith. One will not be with the Cowboys in 2022, just purely out of economics and salary-cap issues.

The Cowboys did not pick up Vander Esch’s $9.1 million fifth-year option for 2022, which would make him an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Smith is under contract through 2025, and his $9.2 million base salary next year becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. If the Cowboys released him before then, they would save $5 million against the cap.

Whoever plays better in 2021 would seem to have the better chance to be a Cowboy in 2022; Vander Esch with a new deal or Smith on his current deal.

Parsons is the present and the future at the position, but right now he is looking forward to learning from both of the more senior linebackers.

“I think they’re going to take me under their wing and teach me how to be a pro football player and help me get better every day,” Parsons said. “And we’re going to push each other, and I think once we all come together, we’ll play at an elite level. This defense can be the best defense in the National Football League.”

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New Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence has the mane of a man who means business

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When Trevor Lawrence stepped off the plane and onto his new home soil of Jacksonville, Florida, this past Friday, his first instinct wasn’t to smile or give a thumbs up. It wasn’t to shout “Duuuval!” and yank a Jacksonville Jaguars cap atop his head.

Instead, as the quarterback reached out with his right hand to accept the greetings of his new team, he placed his left hand atop his head, where his fingers caught a handful of glorious caramel blond hair before those locks could cascade down to cover his chiseled face and block it from the lenses of the waiting cameras. Then he strode toward those cameras with a handclap, a smile and a hair flip worthy of a gasp from Tyra Banks on the runways of “America’s Next Top Model.”

Yes, Jags fans, Trevor Lawrence has finally arrived, with his No. 1 arm, No. 1 throwing ability and, more importantly, his No. 1 head of hair. They are football follicles of such fortitude, they have made others famous by association, “others” ranging from social media sensations to nicknames, and lookalikes to faux tweets from the hair itself. Barbershops in his hometown have offered “The Trevor.” His mop has been chronicled by TMZ. And, after Lawrence dismantled Alabama in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game, GQ wrote, “He is Fabio if Fabio could drop a 60-yard dime against college football’s most perennially feared defense.”

When he once casually revealed he uses Pantene Pro-V to porter his plumage, drug stores in Upstate South Carolina saw a run on the shampoo from high school boys seeking to recreate Lawrence’s secret serum. Troy Polamalu, the pioneer of NFL hair wash endorsements, has offered up the advice of tucking in the hair, lest Lawrence get yanked down by it as Polamalu famously was following an interception against the Chiefs in 2006.

When filament-filled photos taken throughout Lawrence’s spring were sent by ESPN.com to multiple high-profile hairstylists for analysis — from his pro workouts, the Masters, his wedding, the cover of Sports Illustrated — the responses ranged from shock to jealousy.

It is the mane of a man who means business.

“It is definitely a new spin on helmet hair,” said celebrity hair and makeup artist Bryce Carey, who has worked with opulent head tops ranging from Rosario Dawson and Laura Rutledge to Ryan Lochte and Jesse Palmer. “It is as equally impressive in a headband as it is in a black-tie blowout. It is obviously well maintained, conditioned and groomed to perfection. It totally gives me fourth Hanson brother vibes.” And Carey means that as a compliment.

For three years, Clemson students have worn blond wigs with white headbands to games at Death Valley, to parties at the Esso Club and along every fashion mag/Insta post pose-worthy point in between. (If you want one of your own, you can order it via the internet from San Diego-based Watt’s Wigs. For $19.99, the “Star Athlete Headband Wig” comes adorned with a “#16” headband in either Clemson orange or Jaguars’ teal.) When the topic of his grand strands is inevitably raised at news conferences held from the CFP to the 904, his hair hastily hijacks the proceedings, as it did continually last week during his pre- and post-NFL Draft appearances.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this point when I get questions about my hair, but I am,” the 21-year-old said last week during the buildup to his impending selection atop the draft. “I guess I thought maybe people would be used to it. I mean, I’ve had it for a while now.”

How long has his ‘do been this long? The literal roots of it go back to his freshman year at Cartersville (Georgia) High. Believe it or not, Lawrence’s first days as a Purple Hurricane were spent wearing a buzz cut. He was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then moved to Cartersville, located about 45 minutes northwest of Atlanta. Neither location will ever be confused with Haight-Ashbury or the Sunset Strip, so short is how he had worn his hair his entire young life, sitting side-by-side with childhood buddy Joshua Mayo as his mom, Mrs. Rose Mayo, got out the clippers and sheared them like sheep.

But during his first days of high school, Lawrence and three teammates dared one another to not cut their coiffures for as long they could stomach it. The goal was to see both who could hold out the longest and if any of them could actually pull off the look. The answer to both challenges was Trevor Lawrence, though the early returns were not promising.

“It got a little rough-looking there in the middle,” recalled dad Jeremy Lawrence, a steel plant safety and environmental manager who has worn a buzz cut his entire life. “But he’s young and it grows fast.”

It grew a little too fast for the coaching staff at Cartersville, an old-school bunch who prefer their players’ lettuce be high and tight instead of long and lustered. But young Trevor had already taken over as starting QB as a freshman, throwing for 3,053 yards and 26 touchdowns, leading the Canes to the Georgia state semifinals. The coaches, looking around the “Friday Night Lights” town of 22,000 and seeing kids and adults alike wearing No. 16 jerseys and a smattering of blond wigs, decided that allowing Lawrence to keep his hair was probably the best way for them to keep their jobs.

Another gig positively affected by T-Law has been that of Cartersville hairstylist Scott Holder, who owns and operates the Hair Techniques salon with wife Holly. You know the place, down there off South Dixie Avenue, between Picketts Guitar Shop and Wilson Pools Depot. The Holders are longtime family friends of the Lawrences, so when Trevor decided he wanted to go as long off his neck as he did down the field, his mother, Amanda, called Holder, and he has been the caretaker of football’s most famous fibers since 2015. Throughout his college career, including last week’s draft, whenever Lawrence has felt the need to shape his strands, he has made the two-and-a-half-hour drive home for Holder’s handiwork, a quickly but carefully layered effort that takes about 20 minutes.

By the way, Hair Techniques is not the salon that offered up “The Trevor” — it was a rival shop elsewhere in town, but the good people of Cartersville didn’t bite. They had long seen the Holders sitting alongside the Lawrences at Hurricanes home games and then every Clemson postseason game, so they knew a cosmetology counterfeiter when they saw one.

Speaking of fur fakers, no one has ever had a problem with a pair of digital Trevor tributes that originated just down the road from Cartersville. From an undisclosed location described only as “near where he grew up,” a fan who prefers to remain anonymous runs the @TLawHair account and posts every latest great photo of Lawrence’s ‘do with the hashtag #GoWithTheFlow. The account’s big break came when Clemson retweeted it on the video board at Death Valley. Lawrence himself has responded multiple times with emojis. “It’s opened my eyes to how many guys complain on social media about his hair, and several ladies want to know the secrets to maintain the golden flow,” the Twitter user wrote to ESPN.com on NFL draft night. “We’ll see if Trevor lands a Pantene gig to go along with his Adidas, Gatorade and other endorsements!”

Meanwhile, in Alpharetta, located on the road between Cartersville and Clemson, high school student Bella Martina became a TikTok sensation two years ago, when classmates told her she looked like Lawrence. Her brother posted shots of Martina posing like famous photos of Lawrence. As of last week, the video had 2.4 million views, and its sequels, including a side-by-side of Lawrence’s reaction to her look and images of a trip to Clemson where she met the QB and head coach Dabo Swinney, have totaled more than 36 million views and counting. Martina became such a phenomenon on the Clemson campus, she was recruited by candidates for student body president and vice president to record campaign videos on their behalf. They won. Following the draft, Bleacher Report flew her to Jacksonville in Jags gear to see if the locals might mistake her for their new hero. They totally did.

Only days away from high school graduation, Martina’s latest viral video shows her posing in her customary No. 16 Clemson jersey and headband, with the promise of announcing where she will attend college this fall. She raises her arms in triumph and mimics a QB who was a high-round NFL draft pick last week … but it’s Alabama’s Mac Jones! Yes, after two years of wearing nothing but orange, Martina is rolling with the Tide down to Tuscaloosa!

“Clemson fans have been pretty lighthearted, which I appreciate. They know I am capable of having my own life outside of Trevor Lawrence, and we’re mostly making jokes about us being rivals,” said the Artist Formerly Known as Trevor Lawrence Girl. Speaking of, is she going to have to get a new nickname? Because, like her doppelganger, she certainly isn’t getting her hair chopped off. “Maybe Trevor will get a new nickname in the NFL that will trickle down to me.”

Lawrence’s hair has spawned nearly too many nicknames to count, but we will anyway. GQ certainly wasn’t the first to look at his wondrous wool and think of Fabio, the waterfall whiskered king of romance cover novels and reality television. But how does Fabio feel about the comparison? Reached by email, he responded saying he loves it, adding: “I wish Trevor well. I hope he has a good conditioner and good O-line, but I’m still a Seahawks fan. Go Hawks!”

Others have drawn a comparison between the god of Touchdowns and the god of Thunder, and it is a very literal interpretation of a drawn comparison. We reached out to Marvel Studios for a statement from Thor himself, but we were informed he is currently off planet with the Guardians of the Galaxy filming “Thor: Love and Thunder” (in theaters February 2022!).

But on the same day of the NFL Draft, Marvel Comics released a series of superhero-inspired cover images depicting some of the most likely big first-round picks. While there was much debate and discussion about what to do with the likes of Najee Harris and Zach Wilson, as soon as the artists saw a photo of Lawrence, there was no conversation needed. “Come on, this was too easy, right?” Marvel expert and podcaster Angelique Roche exclaimed when talking about Lawrence’s treatment as the legendary Thor #177 cover art by Jack Kirby. “Just look at his hair!”

Then, there is the perm treatment of Lawrence nicknames, tagged on Lawrence in high school and amplified the instant his spun gold could be seen bouncing from beneath his helmet as he touched Howard’s Rock and ran down The Hill.

“Yeah, I’ve heard ‘Sunshine’ pretty much my whole life,” Lawrence explained last fall, referring to the moniker bestowed upon Ronnie Bass, the Californian-turned-Virginian QB in “Remember The Titans,” a film that hit theaters the week before Lawrence’s first birthday. Bass, played by Kip Pardue, shows up for his first practice sporting a flowy long blond head of hair, drawing the ire of the T.C. Lawrence coaching staff, not unlike the reaction of Lawrence’s coaches in Cartersville, though head coach Herman Boone makes Sunshine get out the scissors before he’s allowed to suit up as a Titan.

“Yeah, that’s not how that went down,” the real Ron Bass clarifies today. First, “Sunshine” didn’t stem from his hair, but rather his sunburned skin. As a protest of having to move away from California, he stayed on the beach for a solid month in the, you know, sunshine. Second, as the son of an Air Force officer, Bass had a buzz cut, but when he joined the Titans, they were all sporting shaggy ‘dos. “Remember now, this was Washington, D.C. in 1971. Long hair was in, so I had to grow mine out to fit in with those guys.”

Bass went on to play college football at South Carolina, where he kept his high school nickname secret. It didn’t resurface until the movie was released. So, does it bother him there is now a second Sunshine, and he played at archrival Clemson?!

“Nah, man, he’s so good, I can’t be mad about that,” says Bass, 65, now a TV sales director in North Myrtle Beach. “I coached my son in football for years, and every team he ever played against, from youth league through high school, if they had a kid with long blond hair he was called ‘Sunshine.’ There will be more. Trevor just happens to be the best one.”

If we start reading between the hairlines here, have we uncovered the real source of Trevor Lawrence’s power? Not the weight room or the passing drills or even all of those Chick-fil-A sandwiches he eats after wins. Think about it. It was only after the original Sunshine grew his hair out like his teammates that the Titans became so remembered. Thor and his Avengers teammates couldn’t take down Thanos until after he had regrown his buzz cut back to shoulder length. And since Lawrence entered into his hair club pact with his high school teammates, he has posted a combined high school/college record of 86-6 with zero regular-season losses.

Wait, has this story turned into a Dan Brown novel? Have we followed those tiger paws painted on the streets of Clemson until we’ve stumbled out of the playbook and into the Good Book? Strength derived from hair length?

“The strength of Samson was in the vow, not the hair, but still, nothing good happened after Samson got the trim,” Commander Nathan Solomon, longtime U.S. Navy Chaplain and biblical scholar, explained. Solomon is referring to the Nazarite Vow, a series of devotional actions that includes a refusal to cut one’s hair. When Samson, a.k.a. The World’s Strongest Man (prior to that Magnus Samuelsson guy on ESPN2), had his hackles hacked off in his sleep, he became mortal. “Yeah,” the preacher says of anyone who might try to talk T-Law into a makeover of his mane. “Let it be a sign unto them. Leave it alone.”

It does feel a bit prophetic that Lawrence is moving not to New York or Chicago or some other place where perhaps a head of hair such as his would be met with scoffs and scrutiny. But he is in Jacksonville, located just a Hail Mary toss below the Georgia state line. It is, after all, the hometown of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and what was it they wrote in “Gimme Three Steps?”

Hey there fellow with the hair colored yellow, whatcha tryin’ to prove?

“Oh, he won’t get any resistance down here for that haircut, not in Jacksonville,” says Brent Martineau, who covers the Jags for, among other outlets, ESPN 690 AM. “This was the home of [Gardner] Minshew Mania, with the mustache and hair. And if you’ve ever been in this town, we have no lack of long hair, especially when the guy with the long hair is the No. 1 pick in the draft.”



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Did Raiders again ‘reach’ in the draft? Depends upon your definition – Las Vegas Raiders Blog

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HENDERSON, Nev. — Still trying to figure out how the Las Vegas Raiders could reeeaaach, yet again, for their first-round draft pick — this time Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood?

After taking Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall in 2019. After making Henry Ruggs III the first receiver selected in an historically-deep draft for wideouts in 2020.

Stop.

As in, stop trying to figure it out. Because it all depends upon your definition of “reach,” and who, exactly, is defining it.

Look, the Raiders, like 31 other NFL teams, have their own draft boards and rankings and really don’t care about your mocks or what Mel Kiper Jr., Daniel Jeremiah or anyone else thinks heading into the draft.

“I ignore it 100 percent, except for the fact that I think it’s part of my job to understand league value,” said Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, who, before being hired by the Raiders in 2019, used to make a living placing values on college players and producing his own mock drafts for NFL Network.

“So if you’re going to move up or down the board, you have to know what league value on players are.”

This is not to defend, or decry, the Raiders’ thinking as much as it is to explain how they could select Leatherwood, nowhere near a consensus Top 5 offensive tackle, at No. 17 overall.

To paraphrase Sally Field, the Raiders loved him. They really, really loved him. And at the end of the day, that’s all that mattered. Or did you miss Mayock, who used to make a living alongside the likes of Kiper and Jeremiah, saying that, ratings be damned, Leatherwood was their guy at No. 17?

“In all honesty,” Mayock said, “he was the highest-rated player on our board at that time — offense or defense.”

And there it is. As in, per the Raiders’ draft board, the notions of specific need and best player available intersected when Las Vegas came on the clock. And from Las Vegas’ perspective, the pick was a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, much of Raider Nation was ready to leap from the Stratosphere Tower after the Leatherwood pick, what with both Christian Darrisaw and Teven Jenkins still available. Surely, the Raiders could have traded back and still got their man, no?

Eh, no. Not according to Mayock.

“Just when we got on the clock a team did call us and inquired about moving up but they gave us a very poor trade offer and it was a team that needed a tackle,” he said. “So the combination of the poor offer and their need kind of pushed us away from that.

“There’s a risk/reward scenario and, in this case, we didn’t feel that it was worth it.”

Looking back, the only team after Las Vegas to select an offensive tackle in the first round was Minnesota, who took Darrisaw at No. 23 (Jenkins went 39th to Chicago).

The Raiders trading up in the second round to get the consensus top-ranked safety in Trevon Moehrig at No. 43 seemed to quell Raider Nation. Because, really, had you flipped those two picks — Moehrig in the first round and Leatherwood in the second — many would have celebrated on the Strip.

In reality, the Raiders addressed two real and specific needs at right tackle and free safety and both Leatherwood and Moehrig should start this fall.

Same as in 2019, when the Raiders needed a defensive end and they took the highest-guy on their board at the time in Ferrell, and last season with Ruggs.

“He was the only person I wanted in this draft,” Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com of Ruggs during training camp.

Hate the player, not the game … or somesuch.

“I mean, it definitely put a chip on my shoulder,” Leatherwood said of his pre-draft rankings, despite being the reigning Outland Trophy winner and a captain for the national champs. “It bothered me a little bit, but at the same time I’m not a media guy. I’m not the type of dude to get caught up in all that garbage, because I know what my film said about me. And the GM and the coach, they know that as well. I’m just grateful that they watched that film and they saw me as good enough to be the 17th overall pick.

“I’m more than excited to get to the program and prove them right. Not necessarily prove the haters, the people who made all the mock drafts and all this stuff wrong, but to prove to myself and the Raiders organization right.”

And so it went for the Raiders the remainder of their draft — taking an edge rusher who was deemed a late-round prospect at No. 79 in Malcolm Koonce, selecting a receiver-turned safety who will be converted into a weakside linebacker in Divine Deablo one pick later, trading up to draft another safety in Tyree Gillespie at No. 143 before addressing the secondary again it with cornerback Nate Hobbs at No. 167 and then bookending their draft with another offensive lineman in center Jimmy Morrissey.

Yeah, offensive line coach Tom Cable has some juice within the walls of Silver and Blackdom.

Really, the biggest surprise was that five of Las Vegas’ seven picks were on the defensive side of the ball, as it was the first time in franchise history the Raiders did not draft an offensive skill position player.

Or have you forgotten Jon Gruden coaches the Raiders and has final say on personnel decisions?

Mayock laughed.

“I love Jon,” Mayock said at the conclusion of the draft. “He was so good. I mean, we went into Day 2 and we attacked the defensive side of the ball and he was more excited than I was …

“And at the end of the day, you’re right, Jon Gruden is an offensive guy, but what did we do all weekend, we tried to help our defense get better and I give him a ton of credit for that. He was all in.”

Still trying to figure it out?

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