Netflix’s ‘Quarterback’ fumbles the opportunity to provide unprecedented access to football fans
For football fans who are starved after five months of no games, the release last week of the Netflix series “Quarterback” felt like an early Christmas gift.
An eight-part series released in full at midnight Wednesday, “Quarterback” is bursting with potential. It promises “unprecedented access” to three quarterbacks in various stages of their careers — Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Marcus Mariota. It comes on the heels of “Full Swing,” an excellent Netflix documentary that probed the obstacles, insecurities, and challenges facing about a dozen pro golfers. And it is executive produced by Peyton Manning, whose short-lived show “Details” was the best analysis/film study show ever created.
So why did I have so much trouble keeping my eyes open?
The folks at NFL Films and Omaha Productions presented some fascinating material over eight episodes, all of which I watched this week. But “Quarterback” should have taken to heart that bigger isn’t always better. I had to force myself to watch the final three episodes. It’s a slog.
“Quarterback” would have been an excellent, riveting series if the producers kept it to two or three episodes. And it would have been better off focusing on just one quarterback as he traversed an NFL season — namely, Cousins, who was the most forthright with granting behind-the-scenes access, and therefore produced the richest material for the series.
Instead, by choosing three quarterbacks, and stretching it over eight episodes, we get a lot of fluff: Gratuitously long segments of Mahomes and his wife showing off the mansion they are building; Cousins reading books to his toddler; Mariota and his wife building a crib; MTV-style music videos of Mahomes working out with his trainer. Touching stuff, but that’s not why we’re watching “Quarterback.”
The series fails to deliver on its basic construct — rare insight into quarterbacking that you can’t get elsewhere. Perhaps that’s an impossible task given the amount of behind-the-scenes content already in the NFL universe. Between Tom Brady’s docuseries “Tom vs Time,” and several seasons of the Amazon series “All or Nothing,” and about a dozen years of “Hard Knocks,” there is nothing in “Quarterback” we haven’t seen.
“Quarterback” is heavy on NFL Films mic’d up footage, but light on “unprecedented access.” We don’t get much insight into game plans or in-game adjustments. We don’t get on the team bus or sit in the locker room at halftime. Even HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” for as much as it has been sanitized over the years, still provides riveting interactions between players and coaches in the meeting rooms and offices.
The first three episodes are a total bore, where we learn Mahomes hates taking pictures; that Cousins jumps in a cold tub on Mondays and uses a chiropractor on Fridays to restore his body; and that Mariota employs a high school friend as a personal chef because otherwise he would only eat fast food. Not groundbreaking stuff.
The series finally gets going in episodes 4-6 — footage of Cousins watching film in meeting rooms; some of the headset-to-helmet communications between Cousins and head coach Kevin O’Connell; and the genesis of how the Chiefs players create their own trick plays. It’s not earth-shattering material, but it’s at least captivating.
Cousins deserves credit for being the most revealing of the quarterbacks. Cousins let the cameras inside his sessions with the team psychologist. He let the cameras show him doing brain exercises while wearing strange headgear. He let the show reveal that he messed up the play call at the end of the Bills game that almost cost the Vikings the win. He also revealed that he completely detaches from football every Tuesday during the season, to the chagrin of his coaches, often spending hours reading books and drinking coffee at Barnes & Noble. And he let the cameras run when he was dissecting the Vikings’ playoff loss to the Giants on the ride home from the game with his wife.
Mahomes is a fun addition just because he is the biggest star in today’s game. We learn about his rivalry with Raiders pass rusher Maxx Crosby, and the pain that Mahomes played through in the playoffs after spraining his ankle against the Jaguars.
The biggest waste was including Mariota, who brought nothing to the table. It was a smart idea to include a journeyman quarterback who is fighting to keep his career going, but Mariota has no personality, offered no real insight, and therefore had the least amount of material in the show. Mariota also came off as clueless when he said, “I don’t know why there has to be that narrative” of him quitting on the Falcons when he, you know, quit on the Falcons after being benched in Week 15. Smartly, the producers didn’t include Mariota over the final 2½ episodes.
There is some decent material tucked throughout the episodes. But bigger doesn’t always mean better, and “Quarterbacks” would have really popped if it were a tight series. Instead, watching the show was mostly a chore. The producers fumbled away a decent opportunity.
“Hard Knocks” is about to begin its 18th training camp. The show has been running on fumes in recent years, sanitized beyond recognition as it morphed from a reality show to a running advertisement for the NFL. It is also struggling to stay relevant, as all 32 teams now create their own behind-the-scenes content for their websites and social media.
But HBO and the NFL have an opportunity to revive “Hard Knocks” this year, because of the team that was forced to participate. After months of waiting for a team to raise its hand, the NFL finally selected the Jets.
The Jets were one of the best “Hard Knocks” seasons when they participated in 2010. Of course, a lot had to do with an outsized cast of characters no longer with the team, including coach Rex Ryan and linebacker Bart Scott. But the Jets under owner Woody Johnson love the spotlight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s “Hard Knocks” provided a little more of the salacious interactions — the hundreds of private conversations between players and coaches that occur each day — that have been mostly removed from the show in recent years.
Aaron Rodgers may not love having a camera in his face all day — “they forced it down our throats” he said in Lake Tahoe last week — but if he’s smart, he’ll embrace the opportunity, show off his personality, and improve his public persona. And the last time the Jets were on “Hard Knocks” was the last year they made the playoffs.
So even though the last few seasons were barely watchable, I’ll be tuning in. With Rodgers and the Jets on board, “Hard Knocks” has a chance to be great again.
The NFL is oh-so-close to finally being rid of its Daniel Snyder problem. The league has scheduled a special meeting Thursday in Minneapolis for the 32 owners to vote on the sale of the Commanders to an investment group led by Josh Harris. All that’s needed is a ‘yes’ vote of 24 owners, and Snyder will be gone from the NFL.
Except in classic Snyder fashion, he’s not going quietly. The Washington Post reported that the negotiations between Snyder and the NFL have hit a “significant snag” that could squelch the deal — that Snyder wants to be from legal liability relating to the leaking of the Jon Gruden e-mails in 2021. The Post reported that Snyder is no longer willing to sign an affidavit that he did not leak the racially charged e-mails that led to Gruden’s ouster as Raiders coach.
Snyder knows the NFL wants him out, so it’s likely he is squeezing the league for a few final concessions on his way out the door. Don’t be surprised if the NFL gives Snyder what he wants just to be rid of him.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. came out with another thorough look behind the scenes of the Snyder/Gruden/NFL mess from the last two years. Among the top takeaways:
▪ Strong evidence points to at least three people being the source of the e-mail leaks that sunk Gruden: Someone from Roger Goodell’s office; Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez, who is a confidant of Snyder’s; and former NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, who reportedly bragged about leaking at least one of the e-mails. It’s possible all three were leakers.
▪ At an owners’ meeting in June 2021, Snyder and his attorneys presented a “blackmail PowerPoint” with screenshots of potentially embarrassing e-mails and texts from several top NFL executives. After the meeting, the NFL decided not to release the investigative report from Beth Wilkinson that would have recommended Snyder sell the team, and Snyder essentially “dictated” his punishment, which included a $10 million fine and no mention of the word “suspension.”
▪ Gruden doesn’t intend to settle his lawsuit against the NFL, telling friends his goal is to “burn the house down.”
▪ In 2020, Gruden griped to his friend Sean Payton about paying a $150,000 fine for his team violating COVID-19 protocols. Payton told Gruden that all the other coaches ignored the fines.
“You’re the only dumb [expletive] that paid the fine,” Payton said.
▪ Matthew Judon has been a wrecking ball since the Patriots signed him in 2021. He earned a Pro Bowl nod in both seasons, and Judon’s 28 sacks over two years rank third-most in the NFL behind Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett.
Yet the experts have mixed opinions on Judon. A new article by ESPN polling executives, coaches and players ranked Judon as the eighth-best pass rusher in the NFL behind Bosa, Garrett, Micah Parsons, T.J. Watt, Haason Reddick, Maxx Crosby, and Brian Burns.
“He’s more craftiness and nuance — not as high level of a player as some of the others at the top,” one scout said.
Judon ranked even lower in a new stat called True Pressure Rate, developed by offensive line coach Brandon Thorn, which sorts a player’s QB pressures into three categories — rare, high quality, and low quality. A low-quality pressure would be a coverage sack, or a pressure generated by defensive scheme (like with twists and stunts) as opposed to one-on-one dominance.
Judon ranked just 16th (including defensive tackles) in Total Pressure Score and 35th in Pressure Quality Ratio, with 34 of his 51 pressures graded low quality. While Judon is racking up the stats and awards, he appears to be doing so because the Patriots’ coaches are putting him in a position to succeed.
▪ The Patriots haven’t played the Eagles since 2019 and the teams don’t have much of a rivalry. But you can bet new Patriots receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and a handful of Eagles are looking forward to the Week 1 matchup at Gillette Stadium.
Smith-Schuster made himself Enemy No. 1 in the Eagles’ locker room this offseason with his trash talk following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win. He posted a Valentine’s Day card of Eagles cornerback James Bradberry with the message, “I’ll hold you when it matters most,” then two weeks later he posted a TikTok video trolling the Eagles further. Eagles cornerback Darius Slay and receiver A.J. Brown chirped back at Smith-Schuster.
The #Eagles seem to be in an all out war against JuJuFirst AJ Brown goes after him in deleted tweets, and now Darius Slay:“Worry about your TikTok dances.”Slay also said the defense had a great game in the Super Bowl, only allowing 180 yards.pic.twitter.com/cndxUoSxpL
“What JuJu need to be doing is really just be worrying about his little TikTok dances and keep it going and stop trying to play like that,” Slay said.
The deadline for players with the franchise tag to sign a long-term deal is Monday at 4 p.m., and it’s not going well for the two star running backs. The Raiders’ Josh Jacobs told Fox5 in Las Vegas he’s not going to report for training camp on July 25 if he doesn’t have a long-term deal. And the Giants’ Saquon Barkley has threatened to hold out into the season if he doesn’t get a deal.
If the two cannot come to terms on a long-term deal by Monday, their only choices are to play the season for $10.1 million or sit out. But because they are technically unsigned, they can’t be punished or fined if they don’t report for training camp.If they can’t strike a deal by Monday, don’t be surprised if Jacobs and Barkley sit out the first few weeks of training camp to make a point to management. Frankly, the Giants and Raiders will probably might be happy to let them sit out a few weeks and keep their bodies fresh.
Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen lamented last week that running backs are “sadly undervalued,” telling the website Silver and Black Pride “it’s intellectually dishonest” so few running backs get paid.
This isn’t a grand conspiracy — it’s the market talking. The fact is that running backs have the highest injury rate, have the deepest talent pool in the NFL, and their success mostly depends on the 10 people around them. Paying big money and committing multiple years to running backs just doesn’t make much economic sense.
With the Saudis essentially buying the PGA Tour and investing in Formula 1 racing and European soccer, could an investment in the NFL be far behind? The NFL’s bylaws prohibit investment groups from buying teams — one individual needs to own at least 30 percent — and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday on CNBC that the league doesn’t feel like it needs to change. “It’s something we’ll contemplate at some point in time, but we really like our basic model now where we have private ownership,” Goodell said. “Those owners are in the meeting room, they’re part of the league and they’re part of our success.” But money always talks. Let’s see if the NFL changes its tune if and when the Saudis approach the NFL with a $10 billion check to buy a team … About 280 NFL and college offensive linemen gathered in Frisco, Texas last week for “OL Masterminds,” the pass blocking summit organized by Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson. No Patriots attended this year, but three Boston College Eagles did (Kyle Hergel, Drew Kendall, and potential first-round pick Christian Mahogany), and participants listened to panels including Andrew Whitworth, Damien Woody, Will Shields, Richie Incognito, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck and Bruce Matthews, plus a mental health talk with Jay Glazer … Believe it or not: The Cardinals and Eagles have never had a player win an MVP award, which has been awarded by the Associated Press since 1957. The Saints, Jaguars, Texans, Jets, and Bucs also have not had an MVP … Join the Globe’s Jenee Osterheldt and CTD Production’s Chaney Carlson-Bullock on Tuesday at 5 p.m. for a virtual discussion about the GlobeDocs film, “Nxt Era Panthers – More than Football.” Register for the event and watch the documentary at https://globedocsnxterapanthers.splashthat.com/newsletter.
Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected].