It's been a solid sports month.
At 50 years old, Phil Mickelson just became the oldest person to win one of golf's major championships. The Knicks are back in the NBA playoffs and Madison Square Garden has reclaimed its mantle as the Mecca. The breakdown of the marriage between Julio Jones and the Falcons has added a fascinating wrinkle to an otherwise-quiet time on the NFL calendar.
But none of those stories feel as historic as what's happening in baseball with Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani. The 26-year-old Japanese phenom has spent the first quarter of the MLB season dominating the sport as a hitter ... and a pitcher. He enters Tuesday with 14 homers (one off the league lead) and a 2.37 ERA on the mound. He ranks first in extra-base hits and averages 13.35 strikeouts per nine innings. Ohtani is excelling as a two-way star -- you have to go back to Babe Ruth to find a true comparison. He's been literally Ruthian.
Ohtani's unique greatness got me thinking: What would be the NFL equivalent of what we're seeing from the Angels star? Who is Football Ohtani?
I know, I know. There's some apples-and-oranges stuff at play here, but it's May on an NFL website, so let's hang out amongst the fruit trees. Ohtani profiles as a feared middle-of-the-order slugger and a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher -- two of the most desired skill groups in baseball. The pigskin equivalent of this kind of player would hold astronomical value. Astronomical!
In my opinion, a true ace pitcher -- a dominant, No. 1 bulldog -- is the most sought-after commodity in baseball. It's why Gerrit Cole got $324 million guaranteed from the Yankees when he reached free agency in 2019. There's an eternal scarcity of aces in the sport, and their presence holds enormous weight: They carry their teams during the season and take them to a higher level in the playoffs. The obvious correlation in football is quarterback, the undisputed most important position in the sport. So our Football Ohtani is a franchise QB. That's easy.
Now we veer into profound fantasy. NFL teams are deeply precious in the handling of their quarterbacks. Remember, this is a sport where the QBs wear a red jersey in practice so the bad men can't touch them. Two-way players are somewhat common in recent NFL history -- but you'll never see a starting quarterback with more than one job. Patrick Mahomes has a better chance of serving as a Chiefs cheerleader than playing a defensive snap in his career.
Football Ohtani will not be constrained by the unimaginative and fear-based logic of the football industrial complex. He's a star quarterback who will play a defensive position with approximate equivalence to a mighty slugger in baseball. He makes sense as a gifted edge rusher or a do-it-all Mike linebacker ... but in an effort to maximize his value, we'll make him an elite cornerback. Like a feared home run hitter, a talented cover man can affect the game both directly and indirectly. Pitchers are afraid to throw a strike to Baseball Ohtani -- no QB will want to throw a spiral near his football equal.
There it is. Football Ohtani is a franchise quarterback and a shutdown corner. (Something tells me he'd make slightly more than the league minimum.) I know this seems wildly implausible, but I'll leave you with this: Ohtani got this unique opportunity in MLB because he established himself as a two-way star in Japan. Who's to say there isn't an Ohtani somewhere in the NFL right now -- trapped within the restraints of a system that has never given him the chance to maximize his athleticism to its fullest potential?
Forget Let Russ Cook. Let Russ Tackle.
Onto the mailbag ...
"Would a Julio-Jones-to-the-Patriots move make the Pats instant contenders again in your eyes?" -- @Nblitch67
Julio Jones would be a slam dunk for Bill Belichick, especially at the widely bandied-about cost of a second-round pick. The Pats have the salary cap flexibility to make the trade work and have an obvious need at wide receiver following the retirement of Julian Edelman. Jones, even in his 11th season, would instantly become the best wideout on the team, slotting in front of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers. (Yes, those really are New England's projected starters at WR.) The big-money signings of tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith make the offense more versatile, but this team is still missing a legit star pass catcher. Jones is that dude. Would he return the Patriots to Super Bowl contender status? I'd slow that roll. The Patriots need much better play at the quarterback position and there are too many unknown variables at play there right now. Still, Jones would be a huge help to whoever is behind center.
"How much better does Zach Wilson need to look in comparison to Sam Darnold in Week 1 for the Jets' brain trust to feel safe that they made the right decision?" -- @EduTessis
Every Jets fan has the same prediction for Sam Darnold's revenge game: 24-for-31, 336 yards, 4 touchdowns, zero interceptions. It's inherent to the nature of a Gang Green supporter to assume the worst possible outcome for the team, but it's highly unlikely the Jets' brain trust will form any final conclusions based off Zach Wilson's first game as a pro. Wilson is as green as a Jets jersey and will be learning on the job. Struggling on the road in his NFL debut is well within the range of potential Week 1 outcomes. And if Darnold does indeed light up his old team? There will be people inside One Jets Drive who will be sending told-you-so texts to colleagues. Giving up on Darnold was not an easy decision.
"Is the (Tim) Tebow signing in Jacksonville a nice smokescreen to take some of the attention away from (Trevor Lawrence)? Maybe Tim is actually doing Urban (Meyer) a solid, and not the other way around." -- @irritableperson
I've read and heard this idea in a lot of places and it just seems kind of ... bizarre? Throughout the pre-draft process, all we heard was how Trevor Lawrence was born to be an NFL star; he was an unflappable, wise-beyond-his-years über prospect who's never been fazed by expectations or pressure at any time in his life. And now we're supposed to believe Urban Meyer signed Tim Tebow in an outlandish bit of media coverage misdirection? Put it this way: If Meyer really does feel compelled to give his No. 1 pick some cover, we are headed right back to Bortlesville.
There are non-stories within the non-story here.
"(Tom) Brady threw 3 picks in the NFC (Championship) Game. Do you feel like he's getting the praise as if he was on a MVP level just because he's Brady?" -- @EPtxChief
Listen. I get it. If you follow the Around The NFL Podcast, you know I religiously tracked any signs of slippage by Tom Brady during his miraculous run of greatness in New England. I even coined a term for it -- Gradual Decline -- and bloviated extensively when I found examples of possible regression in his play. And then he'd win another MVP, or an extra Super Bowl or two, and I was the sad clown. Eventually, I smartened up and got out of the doubting Brady game. I now work under the assumption that Tom Brady will be Good Forever and just try to enjoy the unique arc of his unmatched career. It's made me a happier football fan, and I can only suggest you follow the same path.