Dan Hanzus takes questions from you, the readers, in his latest mailbag. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. You da real MVPs.
This Khalil Mack soap opera is suddenly fascinating. This whole time we were under the impression that Mack and the Raiders were doing the obligatory dance of seduction that inevitably consummates with a deal days before Week 1. Maybe that's still how this ends. But as the reports pile up about the possibility of a trade, we now have a scenario where a generational pass rusher -- in a league that is perpetually short on game-changing pass rushers -- could be moved prior to his age-27 season. The Raiders aren't crazy enough to do it, are they?
We'll see. Jon Gruden's $100 million contract gives him almost unprecedented job security, and he seems to relish in dismantling the work of Reggie McKenzie. Poor Reggie. We haven't seen a sitting GM emasculated like this since Chip Kelly took over in Philly and moved Howie Roseman's office to a metal shed in the middle of the Poconos.
Oakland can forget about getting two first-round picks. Twenty years ago, maybe. But teams got smarter -- they now put far more value in the draft, and first-round picks are gold currency. What kind of return could the Raiders realistically get on Mack, a two-time first-team All-Pro and the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year? Earlier this week, I wondered if the Raiders would bite if the Jets offered their first-round pick next year and Teddy Bridgewater. (Derek Carr, another of Reggie's boys, could be on shaky ground and Gruden has been openly critical about his current depth chart.) Bridgewater's trade to the Saints wiped away that possibility, but a first-round pick and a quality, starting-caliber player might be the starting point in negotiations.
I still think Mack is wearing silver and black this season, but you never know.
As NFL.com's resident "Hard Knocks" expert, I annuallycurate aSpotifyplaylist of the music we hear across the five episodes that comprise each season. It's no accident I start every playlist with the brilliant "Hard Knocks" theme composed by David Robidoux. And I think you nailed it, Girish. The theme is the sonic distillation of victory on the gridiron. It sounds like football. It's grand and muscular and dramatic in all the ways professional football is at its best. The ability to translate that into musical form ... damn, that's a pretty amazing skill to have. Way to make me feel small and inadequate, DAVID ROBIDOUX.
While we're here ...
HBO and NFL Films still have to bring this sucker in for the landing -- that happens with Tuesday's finale -- but I'm already sold that this is one of the best seasons ever. I believe Rex and the Jets in 2010 remains the gold standard, but if the finale is strong (and how can it not be with insider stock trading intrigue and the climax of Devon Cajuste's hero's journey), I feel good slotting this Browns season right behind Gang Green.
Oh, what the hell: Here are my "Hard Knocks" power rankings since I started at the dotcom in 2010.
1. Season 6, 2010 (New York Jets): Five episodes that helped make Rex Ryan one of the most well-known sports figures in the country. A season with a ton of compelling personalities led by Ryan, a gripping central plot in the Darrelle Revis holdout and, of course, Antonio Cromartie struggling to name his own children. It also documented a strong Jets team that would come within a win of the Super Bowl. Great television.
2. Season 13, 2018 (Cleveland Browns): This was smart casting. The Browns have been a league doormat forever and they're coming off 0-16, yet the public is fascinated by them. Against all odds, they've become a national team. My theory is that people latched onto the Browns as a lovable underdog long overdue for a dramatic rise from the ashes. There are many stories to tell, and the "Hard Knocks" crew has done a fine job checking each box.
4. Season 12, 2017 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): I'm still salty that I bit so hard on Jameis Winston. He was charismatic and affable and hard-working -- he came off as a promising leader that any team would be lucky to build around. I'm not so sure about that anymore. That said, this was an entertaining season, and the quarterback room of Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin and Sefo Liufau is my favorite in "Hard Knocks" history.
5. Season 8, 2013 (Cincinnati Bengals): This was the first "Hard Knocks" star turn for Hue Jackson, then the Bengals' offensive coordinator. He liked the cameras back then, too. Fun season with a lovable collection of personalities and a truly terrifying series of cameos from James Harrison. Underdog defensive tackle Terrence Stephens singing John Mayer's "Gravity" remains one of the most affecting "Hard Knocks" moments ever.
6. Season 7, 2012 (Miami Dolphins): I remember this season for three things: 1) Chad Johnson's career ending on premium cable after a domestic violence arrest; 2) Ryan and Lauren Tannehill teaching us what true love was really all about; and 3) Joe Philbin picking up other people's discarded chewing gum on the practice field.
8. Season 11, 2016 (Los Angeles Rams): Both "Hard Knocks" and the team it documented seemed to be in a rut during a mostly forgettable season that followed the Rams' move from St. Louis and the development of No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff. NFL Films found more fertile ground in the Rams' "All or Nothing" season that followed. Hey, it wasn't a total loss: We got Jeff Fisher's infamous "I'm not going 7-9" speech out of it.
How long have we been predicting that J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney would be the most fearsome pass-rushing duo of their generation? We've officially reached the stage where we have to actually see the two guys share the same field together for at least half a season. Is this asking too much, football gods? Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have this easy for me right now.
Will Smith from 1995-97 was like Brett Favre during his '95-97 apex ... completely untouchable. "Bad Boys" ('95), "Independence Day" ('96) and "Men In Black" ('97) represents one of the greatest triple-headers of fun popcorn entertainment in any decade. Of his contemporaries, only Nic Cage ("The Rock," "Con Air," "Face/Off") approached him. Of course, we ding Will appropriately for the abomination that was 1999's "Wild Wild West," but we should also credit him for 1993's "Six Degrees of Separation," a dramatic turn that distanced him from the Fresh Prince and was hailed by many critics as his greatest performance.
The Rock? I think he needs to find out who represents Liam Neeson and hire that guy. Take the "Fast & Furious" movies out of the mix and here are Dwayne Johnson's last five major theatrical releases and their corresponding Rotten Tomatoes score: "Skyscraper" (47 percent), "Rampage" (53), "Jumanji" (76), "Baywatch" (17) and "Central Intelligence" (70). A mixed bag, and that's generous. "Baywatch" is truly one of the worst free movies I ever watched while stuck on an airplane.
In summation, Big Willie Style in a walk.
We have legit intrigue in the bayou. My colleague Gregg Rosenthal put it well this week on the Around The NFL Podcast: The Saints have willfully put themselves in a situation that's very similar to the Patriots when they were juggling Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. That led to all sorts of issues in New England, and you have to wonder what Drew Brees actually thinks about suddenly sharing space with Bridgewater, a young and talented understudy who's become the feel-good story in the league. Maybe the Saints think a third-round pick is worth one season of insurance behind Brees, as the Saints try to get back to the Super Bowl. But isn't it equally possible the Saints will aggressively seek to retain Bridgewater beyond 2018? And if they do ... then what?
Call me crazy, but it feels like a 50/50 shot this is Brees' last season in New Orleans.
Ah, yes. Me and the rest of the podcast heroes will head overseas for a stay in London next week. We have a sold out live show on Tuesday, but will also be part of a huge NFL UK event at Picadilly Circus next Saturday. If you do see me -- and if I am in a bar (this would be shocking) -- I would probably not turn away Tito's brand vodka. Please do not buy me a warm beer. You guys are into that, right? Weirdos! Anyway, hope to see you, Andrew.
Until next time ...