Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
Editor's Note: Today's Couch Slouch column is not suitable for readers of all ages; children will be bored to death, and certain adults might prefer to think about death. It involves journalism, which no one cares about.
In the hypercompetitive world of NFL inside information, the big boys – ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, NBC's Peter King and Mike Florio, Fox's Jay Glazer – are watched by millions on TV and followed by millions on Twitter.
The goal? To beat the other guy to bring us the latest scoop.
It's a rough-and-tumble business.
Actually, it's somewhere between dirty business and the price of doing business.
Journalism 101 has been replaced by Journalism 101k – the former teaches professional standards, the latter teaches how to earn six figures a year.
In the old days of manual typewriters, pens perched on top of your right ear and fedoras with press passes attached, you would report without fear or favor. Nowadays, you report with fear of losing your sources and with a favor here and there.
Sometimes NFL TV guys become big business all on their own. Naturally, they have agents or representation, and often their agents also rep NFL coaches and players. And this is not good.
Sometimes NFL TV guys exchange information with sources – the source, say, will help a reporter on a story if the reporter tells him what he's heard about another team's interest in a team or a draft pick – to curry favor with the source. And this is not good.
Sometimes NFL TV guys will "carry the water," so to speak, for someone else, perhaps further some anonymous source's agenda to maintain a good relationship with that individual. And this is not good.
Sometimes NFL TV guys will throw out the old adage, "It's better to be right than to be first," for the new adage, "It's better to be first than to be right."
In the black market for NFL information, there are shades of gray everywhere. It's all about access – it can be bought with trust, or less-than-holy alliances.
Best I can tell, these fellas live by the dictum, "It's not a conflict of interest unless it conflicts my interest."
Let's start with Schefter. Before hitting the national stage, we got a whiff of his modus operandi. While covering the Denver Broncos, Schefter wrote books with Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan and Broncos running back Terrell Davis, then kept covering them. They were essentially his business partners, so one might wonder about Schefter's objectivity; also, I like his chances to be first on Shanahan and Davis news.
Mortensen has been an unofficial presence at the Manning Passing Academy for several years, run by the Archie Manning family quarterback dynasty. Uh, how could Mort not get Peyton Manning scoops first?
Glazer trains NFL players in mixed martial arts in the offseason. Let me see if I have this right: They pay him for training expertise, then he reports on them as an "insider." Got it.
Then there's King, the former Monday Morning Quarterback guru at Sports Illustrated. He's a human pretzel of twisted allegiances and mysteriously sourced misinformation. Air-traffic controllers and NFL insiders should bat close to 1.000; if King – a career .262 hitter – were a controller, the friendly skies would be chaotic.
During the Ray Rice flap several years ago – in which King bungled the reporting – he began an SI.com piece with the quote, "Roger [Goodell] has determined that he will be a leader in the domestic-violence space." And to whom did King attribute this comment? "A source with knowledge of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's mindset."
1. Who uses language like that?
2. A source with knowledge of Goodell's mindset? Really? Heck, that could be Goodell himself!
My goodness, who watches these selectively watchful watchmen?
OK, I'm done now. You can bring the kids back in.
Ask The Slouch
Q.With the NCAA deciding to permit athletes to cash in on their name, image or likeness, do you think that Eric Dickerson and Craig James will now be allowed to access their retirement funds set up at SMU? (Jeff Dent; South Charleston, W.Va.)
A. What are you, nuts? Those payments have already been maxed out.
Q.I'm assuming MLB will have at least 30 jobs next year in the New York office monitoring electronic strike zones. Can I use you as a reference when I apply? (Kirk Cornwell; Delmar, N.Y.)
A. As a rule, listing me as a reference is high risk/low reward.
Q.If you were invited to the White House after winning the Pulitzer Prize, would you go? (Michael Turner; Evanston, Ill.)
A. Frankly, it all hinges on lane availability at the White House bowling alley.
Q.Once the climate change issue is resolved, do you expect the science community to shift its attention to inventing a sweatshirt with sleeves at a length Bill Belichick might find suitable? (Scott Shuster; Newton, Mass.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email email@example.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!
The Face of the Franchise.
Coleridge Bernard Stroud IV.
Whatever you want to call him, make sure you say it with the utmost respect. Stroud had the performance of a lifetime in the Texans' 39-37 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs. He led his team to an improbable comeback win. Improbable you ask? They were on their third or fourth different starting center. The whole team has been decimated with injuries. Quarterback is the only position group that hasn't had a guy miss a game this season from injury. The injuries kept coming in-game as Jimmie Ward, M.J. Stewart, Ka'imi Fairbairn (more on this shortly), John Metchie III, and Hassan Ridegway were all ruled out of the game with injuries. All of that, plus being down 37-33 with 46 seconds left and two timeouts. Nothing a rookie record of 470 yards passing and five touchdowns with no picks couldn't cure.
None of it phased him. One of the injuries has been to Robert Woods. A bit of an afterthought of a wide receiver signing because he was coming off an okay season with the Titans. A receiver over 30 years old two years removed from an ACL injury isn't exactly WR1 material for a rookie QB. Woods became a safety blanket for Stroud. The other receivers were all unproven with little experience. Dalton Schultz (211) was the only one of them that had more than 100 career receptions entering this season. Combine that with a first time offensive coordinator, rookie head coach, and a franchise trying to turn their team around, you wonder how is this kid seeing this much success so early on?
Faith. He opened his post game presser by thanking his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When asked how he stays so calm, he reiterated his faith by saying, “God gives me a peace to remain calm despite all what's going on around me.” He spoke about how he's a family man and struggles with balancing everything sometimes. That led to him speaking out on criminal justice reform. He brought up his dad's situation, as well as prison conditions in Mississippi. Saying he wants to use his platform for criminal justice reform was a delight, but the fact that he knows about it and does the research was impressive. “Some of the conditions with rats and roaches and stuff… I mean, I know they're criminals, but they're humans too.”
Whenever I hear about a player's leadership skills, I often pay attention to what others say about them. Unprompted praise from a vet on a rookie's leadership skills isn't something that should be ignored. When Laremy Tunsil says he's impressed by Stroud's leadership skills and other vets speak very highly of him, it lets me know the hype is no longer hype. The hype has given way to the real deal. Stroud is everything they say he is and then some. Stories like this go back to his time at Ohio State. He once told his NIL agent he didn't want any more deals so he could focus on being a good teammate and leader. He even bought his teammates gifts to share his newfound wealth. So I wasn't really surprised when I heard he regularly hosts teammates for dinner during the week.
Setting rookie passing records while leading your team to a comeback win on the final drive is one way to announce your arrival to the upper echelon of QBs in this league. No longer is he thought of as a good young QB, or good for a rookie. He's good. Period. Use whatever measuring stick you want, this kid stacks up with the best in this league. Name 10 QBs in this league playing better football this year. I doubt you can. As good as he is now, wait until they put more talent around him. If he stays healthy, he's going to be in that top QB conversation for a long time. Stroud has given Houston something it can be proud of.