Connect with us

Culture

Scottie Scheffler’s secret: How a ‘venomous’ trash talker became the best golfer in the world

Published

on

Scottie Scheffler’s secret: How a ‘venomous’ trash talker became the best golfer in the world

Follow live coverage of the 2024 PGA Championship today

It’s a week after he won the Masters, and Scottie Scheffler is hanging out at his local Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, making it abundantly clear that he can beat a bunch of middle-aged men’s asses in pickleball.

He’s with his normal crew, a group of 45-to-65-year-old insurance salesmen and finance guys in Dallas he has been playing money games with for years. They just finished a wolf hammer match on this Friday and are hanging out with adult beverages. And suddenly Scheffler, 27, is in a heated argument with two of the men, convinced he could beat them both in pickleball. Both of them against just him.

“They are going back and forth like two teenagers. And he’s digging in. This is serious to him,” says Frank Voigt, a Royal Oaks member and part of this crew. He’s known Scheffler since he was 6.

Because Scottie Scheffler wants to win. No, he really wants to win.

Advertisement

As Scheffler has risen to No. 1 in the world and become the undeniable dominant force in golf, a narrative has formed that he’s boring. Ho-hum. And that he doesn’t produce much personality in front of a camera.

He’ll attempt to claim the second leg of a potential grand slam this week at the PGA Championship, but it’s an open question of whether he’s a marketable enough star to cross over at a time when pro golf badly needs something to cut through two years of petty infighting. The fallout from the creation of LIV Golf in 2022 has created unprecedented wealth in the men’s professional game and splintered the PGA Tour locker room into factions divided on its next steps. There is as much conversation about what committees recognizable stars like Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy sit on as there is their chances of competing week-to-week.

But Scheffler’s little secret is that he’s not boring. He’s one of the most competitive people on the planet, a “venomous” trash-talking former basketball player who rakes in money from club members, annihilates tour pros in money games and used to run so hot his Texas coach worried it would get the best of him.

And the Sunday before he won his second Masters, he sat around with a bunch of close friends and admitted he was overwhelmed. Much the same way it had been two years before, waking up with the lead at Augusta National had proven to be one of the hardest parts — dealing with in his mind about what was to come, and what could go wrong.

“I wish I didn’t want to win as badly as I did or as badly as I do,” Scheffler told them.

Advertisement

The evolution of Scheffler is in the ways he’s smoothed those edges, channeling that competitive fire to become a focused, seemingly emotionless machine on the course, where he has won four of his last five tournaments. Still, the narrative is not the reality.

Texas coach John Fields was chatting with Scheffler’s caddie, Ted Scott, recently about this very thing.

“Ted, everybody thinks Scottie is this laid back guy and really relaxed,” Fields said.

“Coach,” Scott laughed. “You know that’s not true.”


The Texas Longhorns golf team was at a match play event at Texas Tech in 2015, Scheffler’s freshman year. He and match play partner Beau Hossler arrived to the par-5 11th hole and launched their drives. Hossler reached the shorter ball first and took a look down. Sure it was not his, he kept walking to the ball farther up the fairway with a little spring in his step. He thought he outdrove the soon-to-be NCAA freshman of the year by 20 yards.

Advertisement

Scheffler walked to the first ball, assumed Hossler correctly recognized it was not his own, and hit it. Immediately after, Hossler looked down at the remaining ball and said, “This is not my ball.” The way NCAA match play works, if you hit the wrong ball, you immediately forfeit the hole.

Scheffler exploded. He sprinted the 250 yards to the front of the green, picked up the ball, ran all the way back and, “basically throws it at Beau’s feet,” Fields said.

“It was like a volcano went off.” They bickered all the way back to the green and as they made their way to the next tee box.

“As we step off that tee box, I said, ‘Beau, we are not going a step further until you apologize to Scottie.’ He’s like, ‘Why do I need to apologize? He’s the dumbie that hit the wrong ball!’,” Fields said.


When Scottie Scheffler won his second Masters in April he celebrated in a way he seldom has during his career. (Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

Texas returned to Texas Tech for an NCAA regional later that season. By then, Scheffler was on his way to all the freshman accolades, but his game was starting to dip. He was on the back nine, and he hit a bad shot into the Texas wasteland. Scheffler was so angry he took a swipe at a bush with his left hand.

Advertisement

“Unfortunately, that bush was a Mesquite bush with thorns,” Fields said. “And that thorn went right in the left side of his thumb, underneath his fingernail. So you can imagine how much pain.”

But the thorn was so deep he couldn’t pull it out. Scheffler just had to keep playing. But Fields wasn’t with Scheffler’s group at the time. He had no idea of any of this, and Scheffler didn’t tell him.

Texas went on to dominate the regional and advance to the NCAA Championships. A week or so later, Fields walked around the local Byron Nelson PGA Tour event and ran into Scheffler’s dad, Scott.

“I’m really upset with you guys,” Scott said.

“OK, for what?”

Advertisement

“They haven’t been able to fix Scottie’s thumb!”

“What’s wrong with Scottie’s thumb?” Fields asked.

The thorn was so deep the trainer couldn’t get it out. Scheffler decided to just make sure it wasn’t infected and play the national championships with the thorn in his thumb. He’d hit a shot. Ice it. Hit a shot. Ice it. For five rounds of competition. When they later went to a surgeon in Dallas, he had to stitch it up and said if they had done it earlier, Scheffler would have been sidelined for the rest of the run.

“That, for sure, tells you how competitive he is,” Fields said. “First, how competitive he was that he got so angry he took a swipe at a bush. And second, persevering basically for 15 days of serious pain and almost having a chance to win a national championship.”


Sean Payton stared across the water, debating how to play the long par 3 at TPC Louisiana in New Orleans, as Scheffler just tore into him.

Advertisement

They’re playing a money game during a Wednesday pro-am before the 2022 Zurich Classic with Drew Brees, PGA Tour pro Ryan Palmer and some other business people, and Payton was hitting into the wind on the 17th hole. The 160-yard shot was playing more like 180, so the NFL coach was prepared to take a conservative angle to the right of the green, away from the water.

Scheffler wouldn’t let that happen. “Go for the pin,” Scheffler playfully heckled him with a cheese-eating grin. “Come on. Are you scared?” It’s what he did all day, needling Payton and Brees each chance he could. Payton did not take the bait on this one.

It did not matter. Scheffler still hit a 38-foot putt to win. “We had to pay,” Payton joked.

“I can tell from his demeanor and just kind of the way he approaches competition or a challenge that he’s had some pretty significant competitive background,” Brees said, “and it makes sense that a lot of that came from basketball. I can feel that confidence and that swagger with the way that he plays.”


Troubles with his putter kept Scottie Scheffler from winning for the last half of 2023, creating frustration for the Dallas native. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Scheffler’s old basketball coach at Highland Park, David Piehler, recalls having to tell the then-No. 1 junior golfer in the country to stop throwing his body (Scheffler now stands 6-foot-3) in front of bigger players coming down the lane. He didn’t want to be the guy ruining Scheffler’s golf career.

Advertisement

This isn’t just how he is in a playful celebrity pro-am, either. It’s him all the time.

It was a Tuesday practice round before the Genesis Invitational in February, and money was on the line, so by the time their drivers left their bags Scheffler’s lips were moving. This time, Tom Kim was a target. “Be nice today, guys,” his caddie Paul Tesori said with a sigh.

While the specifics remain unclear, Scheffler quickly needled Kim about how he won money off him in their last game. But really, he gave Kim flack for just about everything he said or did.

Kim is a baby-faced 21-year-old rising star from South Korea whose mix of innocence and earnestness has attracted a large following already on tour. He moved to Dallas and was quickly taken under the wing of Scheffler and other Texas-based pros. Scheffler really does help Kim, the latter unafraid to pepper the former with questions. They’re authentically close — Kim was waiting on the 18th green when Scheffler won his second Masters last month. But Scheffler also likes to beat Kim. And he likes to remind him of it.

“Scottie will let him get some place, and then Scottie eliminates him,” says Randy Smith, Scheffler’s longtime coach. “Because Tom is such a cute kid. He’s so funny. But Scottie will kill him with facts.”

Advertisement

He recently brought Kim and Si Woo Kim to play Royal Oaks. They got to play the wolf hammer game with the traditional crew. Scheffler shot in the low 60s. Tom Kim shot a 74 with no birdies. “They wore his ass out,” Voigt said. Smith said Scheffler hasn’t stopped reminding him of it, reaching the point that Kim came back to Royal Oaks without Scheffler to redeem himself. “He came back here about three weeks ago and he’s like, ‘I made four birdies!’” Smith said.

“It’s kinda cute to watch Scottie with little Tom,” Voigt said. “He worships Scottie. Scottie is his big brother.”

The thing about Scheffler — the thing that makes those Royal Oaks games so informative — is he is a trash talker of the highest order. Smith called it “venomous. Absolute venom. But there’s no angst.” It’s all simultaneously nice but relentless. Vicious with a smile. He’s always been that way, often called an “ungracious winner” as a 10-year-old challenging Smith’s handful of PGA Tour clients.

At Texas, Scheffler loved to talk trash with his teammates. Most people spoken to for this story take it back to his basketball background.

“He’s a reserved golfer, but in other sports it’s pretty hilarious the amount of trash talking that goes on,” Scott said. “He should have been a basketball player. But once the competition is over, he just wants to be with his family and friends. A very normal dude.”

Advertisement

So here is the No. 1 player in the world, and he’s not playing with members his age at Royal Oaks, or a litany of fellow pros. No, he has his group of people he loves. “And they don’t kiss Scottie’s ass,” Colt Knost says. “They’ve known him since he was 7.”

And he annihilates them. If they’ve played 100 games, he’s maybe lost in wolf hammer five times. And while they play that, Scheffler also plays all of them individually in match play. They don’t win those. They have hemorrhaged money to their buddy for years on end. Knost, one of Smith’s former clients and now an on-course reporter for CBS, remembers seeing Scheffler, his first professional season on the Korn Ferry Tour, come play a PGA Tour event on a sponsor exemption, and he already carried a Trackman device to the driving range.

“Damn, Scottie,” Knost said. “Spending that money already?”

“Frank bought it for me,” Scheffler quipped without missing a beat.

One time, Voigt was in a good battle with Scheffler, and Voigt made what he admits was a ridiculous par on No. 16. “Scottie is just ragging on me about what a horrible putt it was, that I hit the top of the ball and it was terrible. I’m like, ‘Well, it went in.” Scheffler then had to make a 10-12 foot putt for a big pay day. He, of course, made it.

Advertisement

“It takes a little bit of the seriousness of everything going on and adds a little levity and lightness to it,” Smith said. “I think he enjoys the heck out of it … But he does not like to lose.”


It reached the point Randy Smith could set a timer to it. When a young Scheffler lost any sort of  contest, he’d storm away, near sprint. Then, like clockwork, he’d be back 15 minutes later, ready to challenge people to a new game.

“You’d almost have to restrain him if he lost,” Smith said.

See, Scheffler’s family moved to Dallas when he was 6, and growing up at Royal Oaks working with the great golf coach Randy Smith meant the luxury of hanging around with PGA Tour golfers such as Justin Leonard, Ryan Palmer, Colt Knost and Harrison Frazar. Scheffler wanted to be like them. He always wore pants because the pros wore pants.

He’d sit and watch Leonard for an hour or two straight without saying a word, just soaking it all in like a sponge. Knost loves to tell the story of Scheffler sitting and watching while he practiced bunker shots for 15 minutes. Knost then went to pick up the balls, and he saw a ball land next to the hole with spin. He looked over to see Scheffler and asked if it was him. “How’d you do that?” Knost asked. Scheffler said he just watched.

Advertisement

This 9-year-old kid would challenge them to anything and everything. Putting contests. Chipping games. Nine-hole matches. Bunker battles. And he won far more than you’d imagine. He’d beg the pros to let him play Royal Oaks from the back tees, but they told him he couldn’t hit long enough. He kept pleading, so they said fine. Could he reach any of the par 4s in two shots? No. But his game was so composed and smart he’d manage the course and played par for nine holes.


Stories of Scottie Scheffler’s inner fire predate even his 2014 arrival at Texas. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

Smith used to make his players do a putting drill where they’d have to make a certain number of putts in a row. First from three feet, then from six feet, then nine, 12, and 15, and they couldn’t leave until they made them all in a row. Well, one day Frazar was out there for what Knost remembers as five hours. He could not finish the drill.

Then Scheffler got out of school, showed up at the course and said, “Hey, let me try.”

Scheffler got it on his first try.

“Harrison wanted to rip his hair out,” Knost said.

Advertisement

But when Scheffler lost in those days he could not handle it. The thing Smith to this day credits him for, though, is how he might run hot but he doesn’t carry it with him.

“He gets rid of it so fast you wouldn’t know he lost,” Smith said. “That’s the sign of somebody who’s got it together.”


John Fields remains fascinated by the marriage between Scheffler’s different parts of his personality. Scheffler is both this hyper-competitive assassin and somebody who takes immense pride in separating golf from his life. Golf is everything to him when he’s out there. When he leaves the course, his focus is simply his home life with his wife, Meredith, or hanging with his normal, non-professional golf friends.

Fields talks with awe as he looks back on Scheffler’s finish at the 2021 match play event in Austin. This was the year before Scheffler’s breakout. He made it to the final with Billy Horschel, only to lose on the 17th hole.

The tournament had a cart waiting for the Schefflers to take them back to the clubhouse. Fields and his wife, Pearl, waited to give him their love. And 10 or so 10-year-old kids shouted for autographs and gear. Before he talked to friends and family, he spent time with the kids. He laughed and joked, giving them signatures and all the attention they’d want. You wouldn’t know he lost.

Advertisement

Then he hugged Fields and Pearl and talked for a moment. All still seemed fine.

“Then he got in the golf cart, and I could see he completely exploded,” Fields recalled. “The tears came to his eyes. He was so angry that he had lost, and it was borderline suffocating.”

It blew Fields’ mind. To see Scheffler lose. To see him go through the time with the kids and him and act so composed, now knowing what was actually boiling inside. Scheffler could separate them until it was time to feel it. Then he felt it, and he could move on and forget it forever.

“It’s there,” Fields said. “It’s still there. And it’s never, ever gonna leave.”


Scottie Scheffler is going for his third major championship this week at the PGA. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

Scheffler is on top of golf. He’s been the best player in the world for roughly two and a half seasons. But this spring he’s reached a new level, turning more of those weekly top-5s into wins. Since the beginning of March, he’s won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship, Masters and RBC Heritage, and finished T2 in his other event. His level of dominance is suddenly getting compared to Tiger Woods and other greats of the era. And through it all, Scheffler has seemed so normal, downplaying it at all costs.

Advertisement

The next step is what happens when winning becomes so routine. How do athletes of that stature keep themselves deeply motivated?

Smith thought the question misinterpreted the entire thing that makes Scheffler great.

Scheffler is not one of those golfers seeking what Smith calls “a magic bullet.” He’s never looking for the quick fix or something to solve everything and make him perfect. He doesn’t believe in it. Scheffler believes in going into each day trying to get a little bit better. It sounds so corny while explaining so much.

But he goes back to Scheffler’s putting woes in 2023. He remained the best player in golf, yet he had a ridiculous 15 top-5 finishes to three wins, all while being one of the statistical worst putters on tour. He got asked about it each week. It took a toll on him. For the first time in his career, he was being criticized.

But Smith said Scheffler always viewed it as a down-the-road, long term process. He’d try to improve one little detail on a certain day or work on a putting feel the next day. But he wasn’t going to do anything rash. Scheffler knew if he took the time to address it properly, he’d be the better player in the long run. Now, he’s putting at his best rate in two years and winning everything.

Advertisement

“Just trying to get a little better at this, little better at that,” Scheffler would tell Smith.”And that’s all I need.”

The future of Scottie Scheffler is this era’s superstar competing against himself. It might not be reliant on the field or a true rival. It’s all so simple. He’s going into each day trying to beat the version of himself that started the day. And if he does that forever, he’ll be tough to beat. Because Scottie Scheffler only wants to compete.

(Photo illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photos: Andrew Redington, Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

Culture

Mueller: Has the NFL WR market reached a breaking point? How much is too much?

Published

on

Mueller: Has the NFL WR market reached a breaking point? How much is too much?

I’m not one for letting good players walk out the door.

I know from experience that talent is too hard to replace, even with the best-hatched plan, without taking a step backward. So I understand that, at least sometimes, proven teams need to overpay slightly for the sake of continuity.

But recent contracts for NFL wide receivers have forced me to at least question my philosophy. And that tells me that general managers and team-builders around the NFL are no doubt contemplating that question as well.

It’s not because these receivers lack talent. They are all really good players. But the contract numbers are making the team-building equation more complicated than ever.

The dilemma is twofold. First, if you’re going to pay a wide receiver more than $30 million per year, are you sure he’s a difference-maker and not just a guy who fits your system? And second, is it feasible to pay big salaries to more than one wide receiver on your roster?

Advertisement

Ten years ago, the NFL’s top-paid wide receivers made about $16 million annually, equaling about 12 percent of the $133 million cap. Today, A.J. Brown leads the way at $32 million annually on a cap of $255 million. That’s still just 12.5 percent of the cap. But let’s look closer.

In 2014, the two receivers making $16 million annually were Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, the clear standard-bearers at the position. There weren’t enough top-of-the-heap receivers that every new contract would reset the market. Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones and A.J. Green signed new contracts in 2015, but none exceeded $15 million per year. Fitzgerald’s and Johnson’s deals weren’t eclipsed until Antonio Brown hit $17 million per year in 2017 (a year after Johnson retired), just 10.2 percent of the $167 million cap.

The receiver market has already been reset twice in the past month, and we are on the verge of another jump with Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Ja’Marr Chase and Brandon Aiyuk all up for new deals. All four could plausibly reset the market, so we might be looking at $35 million per year — which would be 13.7 percent of the cap — or more. That leaves the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers with big decisions with implications across their rosters.

Advertisement

GO DEEPER

Justin Jefferson extension is now No. 1 priority for Vikings

Teams must take a hard look at where this money will come from. How much is too much for a non-quarterback? Does it make sense for a position group other than QB to exceed 20 percent of a team’s cap? How would that affect decisions elsewhere on the roster?

Jefferson is arguably the best receiver in the league, and Minnesota should certainly extend him. But the cost will tighten money to spend elsewhere, like on last year’s first-round pick, 22-year-old Jordan Addison, when his rookie deal ends. Of course, if the Vikings’ assessment of J.J. McCarthy proves accurate, a quality quarterback on a five-year rookie contract might be just what the doctor ordered. If I were running the Vikings, I would pay Jefferson and keep churning WR2 at the end of Addison’s deal.

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys probably need to be much more creative in dealing with Lamb. Jones already has a $50 million-plus quarterback quandary on his hands, with Dak Prescott having all the leverage in an endless game of chicken. As long as Prescott is the QB, the Cowboys’ evaluation skills might be challenged beyond most as they seek value from other receivers to pair with Lamb.

Advertisement

If I were the Bengals, I would probably sign Chase — who still has two years left on his deal — as soon as possible to avoid resetting the market after Lamb’s and Jefferson’s deals come in. Cincinnati already appears to be planning to let Tee Higgins walk after this season, which might necessitate another high NFL Draft investment at the position next year.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

The Tee Higgins-Bengals crossroads, Part 3: Ja’Marr Chase extension and paying 2 top WRs

The 49ers have a more complicated situation than the Bengals, having already paid Deebo Samuel ($23.8 million per year, $28.6 million against the cap in 2024) and with Aiyuk ($14.1 million against the cap in 2024) in the last year of his contract. Both players’ names have been popular in trade rumors this offseason. The Niners hedged their bet by drafting Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall in Round 1 last month, giving themselves options at the position.

My crystal ball tells me this group will undergo a renovation after the 2024 season. Aiyuk and Samuel are set to count $42.7 million against the cap this season. Add Pearsall and tight end George Kittle and that’s more than $56 million against the cap (22 percent) for four pass catchers. Samuel is the NFL’s eighth-highest-paid wideout and might rank third in the 49ers’ position room when it comes to route running and ball skills. Something will have to give.

Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel

Will Deebo Samuel, left, or Brandon Aiyuk be elsewhere in 2025? (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Players deserve whatever they can get — I am not here to dispute this — but even NFL teams with the most creative capologists will eventually be forced to pay for their extensions of credit, just like you and I. So what will they do about the rising costs of receivers?

Advertisement

When players get too expensive, nothing speaks louder than cheaper options.

Teams selected 35 wide receivers in the 2024 draft. That’s not unordinary, but the total of seven picked in Round 1 grabbed my attention. Sure, it might just have been a year with several special talents available. But it also might speak to a few other factors:

1. With experienced receivers becoming more expensive, teams need more cheap talent.

2. In this era of seven-on-seven competitions and wide-open passing offenses in college, receivers have more advanced skills at a younger age.

3. Good talent evaluators can identify and sequence receivers properly, with smoother projections to the NFL.

Advertisement

If you can identify the traits — beyond stats, height, weight and speed — that lend to a reasonably high hit rate on prospects, you can find value. These would be my top three traits, which you can find if you watch enough tape, for a receiver to fit any scheme:

• Create separation at the break point and/or change gears while underway in a route.

• See and distinguish coverage with your mind and reactions (or instincts), pre- and post-snap.

• Consistently extend to catch with your hands near defenders, allowing small guys to play bigger and big guys to be great.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

How WRs’ new leverage is changing roster-building strategies

Advertisement

The last few draft classes have been rich in receiver talent. Even in a watered-down free-agent pool this year, there were several good values. In short, you don’t have to pay top-notch to get value at wide receiver.

Some teams, such as the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, have already picked a lane. (Of course, having a talented quarterback makes it easier for them to consider this road.)

The Packers and Chiefs traded Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill before the 2022 season instead of paying them. Adams got $28 million from the Las Vegas Raiders, and Hill got $30 million annually from the Miami Dolphins. The Bills traded Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans this offseason, two years after signing him to an extension worth $24 million annually.

Though the Adams trade has not exactly worked out for the Raiders, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has reworked Green Bay’s receivers via the developmental route.

Christian Watson, drafted in the second round in 2022, is a straight-line-fast long-strider who can eat up a cushion, take the top off defenses and catch when he’s covered. His game is similar to that of Jameson Williams, whom the Detroit Lions drafted 22 picks earlier. In Round 4 that year, the Packers took Romeo Doubs, who will make $1.1 million this year after catching 59 passes in 2023. Doubs’ ability to find soft spots and distinguish coverages resembles that of the Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown, at least stylistically.

Advertisement

Last year, the Packers took Jayden Reed (64 catches as a rookie) in Round 2 and Dontayvion Wicks (39 catches, 14.9 yards per catch) in Round 5. Given his acceleration off the ball and out of breaks, Wicks might have more upside than any of the above.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Young Packers wide receivers creating major impact in present, excitement for future

Sure, it requires conviction in your evaluations, but Green Bay should be lauded for overhauling this group almost entirely with draft picks (none in Round 1), as those four receivers will cost a total of $6.3 million against the cap in 2024. Other teams should try to copy this economic model.

I’m not saying the Lions are wrong, but it’s a useful comparison. They reset the market by paying St. Brown $30 million per year even though he ranked 71st in the NFL in average air yards per target (7.75) and 39th in average yards per reception (12.7) last season. I understand the importance of keeping peace in the locker room and rewarding hard workers and leaders. He fits their system. But that signing might have ruffled a few feathers outside of the Lions’ front office and fans, who think it is money well spent. The Lions did let 29-year-old wideout Josh Reynolds walk, so they have shown they are willing to make tough choices, too.

The Chiefs, no doubt aided by Patrick Mahomes’ presence, have thrived since bailing on the market and going young, like the Packers. The Bills, with Josh Allen, have taken a similar route this offseason, choosing quantity over quality with reasonably priced veterans in Curtis Samuel, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Chase Claypool and second-round rookie Keon Coleman, after trading Diggs and letting Gabe Davis walk.

Advertisement

Of course, there are still teams on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Seattle Seahawks paid DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett a total of $41.3 million annually (they restructured Lockett’s deal this offseason), then drafted a receiver (Jaxon Smith-Njigba) in Round 1 in 2023. The Philadelphia Eagles paid Brown and DeVonta Smith this offseason a combined $57 million annually (22.4 percent of the cap), even after signing quarterback Jalen Hurts to a record deal last offseason.

The Eagles made those investments after struggling to draft and develop receivers, missing on top-60 picks in Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor. I can’t help but wonder: Was paying Brown and Smith a reaction to their previous struggles at the position?

There’s not necessarily a correct way to handle the rising costs at wide receiver. If there is, I’m not sure we know it just yet. Many theories are still being tested.

But here is something to consider: Teams will always have to pay great money for good players at positions where there is true scarcity, like quarterback. But I don’t see wide receiver, especially in the modern NFL, as a position of true scarcity. As a result, the sticker shock of recent contracts has given me pause.

I’m still not for letting any good player walk, but with each market-setting deal, the costs are getting harder to justify.

Advertisement

(Top photos of Amon-Ra St. Brown, left, and Justin Jefferson: Cooper Neill, Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

The Football 100
The Football 100

The story of the greatest players in NFL history. In 100 riveting profiles, top football writers justify their selections and uncover the history of the NFL in the process.

The story of the greatest players in NFL history.

Advertisement

BuyBuy The Football 100

Undeniable
Undeniable

Relive  the Kansas City Chiefs’ unforgettable 2023 championship season. Undeniable takes fans from training camp through the final whistle in Las Vegas.

Relive the Kansas City Chiefs’ unforgettable 2023 championship season.

Advertisement

BuyBuy Undeniable

Continue Reading

Culture

Wemby makes history with All-Defense first team nod

Published

on

Wemby makes history with All-Defense first team nod

Victor Wembanyama just accomplished something no other NBA player has ever done.

On Tuesday, the towering San Antonio Spurs big man became the first rookie in league history to be named to the All-Defensive First Team.

Wembanyama joined Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert, Miami Heat big Bam Adebayo, New Orleans Pelicans guard/forward Herb Jones and Los Angeles Lakers big Anthony Davis on the first team.

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso, Orlando Magic guard Jalen Suggs, Boston Celtics guard Derrick White, Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels and Celtics guard Jrue Holiday made the second team.

Gobert led in votes, receiving all 99 first-team votes from the panel of writers and broadcasters who submitted ballots. Gobert’s unanimous first-team selection comes as no surprise. Minnesota, with Gobert protecting the rim and receiving outstanding contributions on the perimeter from McDaniels and Anthony Edwards, finished the regular season as the league’s top defense, limiting opponents to 108.4 points per 100 possessions. Gobert ranked fourth in defensive rebounds per game (9.2) and sixth in blocks per game (2.13).

Advertisement

Two weeks ago, Gobert received the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award for a record-tying fourth time.

Wembanyama was named to the first team on 86 of the ballots and to the second team on 12 ballots. Although his Spurs ended the season with the league’s 21st-ranked defense, he already earned a reputation among his peers as a stellar defender. In The Athletic’s 2024 anonymous player poll, Wembanyama was the top vote-getter when players were asked to identify the league’s best defender, named on 15.2 percent of the ballots. Wembanyama led the league in blocks (3.58 per game) and collected 27.3 percent of all available defensive rebounds.

Adebayo was the cornerstone of the Heat’s fifth-ranked defense. Routinely praised for his ability to switch onto opposing guards — no small feat for a sturdy 6-foot-9 big — Adebayo provides the versatility and grit the Heat are known for.

Advertisement

Jones earned his first All-Defensive team selection. Tall and rangy at 6-foot-7, Jones was a key contributor to a Pelicans defense that finished sixth in defensive efficiency.

Davis finished the season third leaguewide in defensive rebounds per game (9.5) and fourth in blocks per game (2.34).

This marked the first season the league employed “positionless” voting for its All-Defensive and All-NBA teams and the first season players had to play at least 65 games (in most cases) to be eligible for an All-Defensive team.

Advertisement

In prior years, voters selected two guards, two forwards and one center for each of the two All-Defensive teams and each of the three All-NBA teams. Not anymore, though. As a result of the collective bargaining agreement ratified last year, voters were directed to select the most deserving players, regardless of their positions, this year.

The All-NBA teams will be announced Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

The NBA named its first All-Defensive teams following the 1968-69 season. Before this year, only five rookies had ever been named to an All-Defensive team: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-70 season), Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-85), Manute Bol (1984-85), David Robinson (1989-90) and Tim Duncan (1997-98). But Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwon, Bol, Robinson and Duncan were named second-team All-Defensive players as rookies, not first-team All-Defensive players.

What is the biggest takeaway?

League officials and the players’ union switched to positionless voting to ensure the most deserving players receive recognition.

This year, Abebayo and Davis benefitted from that change.

Advertisement

Although Adebayo has been considered within league circles as an elite defender for several years, he had been a second-team All-Defensive player in each of the previous four seasons, often finishing behind the likes of fellow big men Gobert, Draymond Green, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brook Lopez and Evan Mobley.

This year, Adebayo finally broke through to the first team for the first time in his career, deservedly so.

Questions remain about the long-term implications of the move to positionless voting: How should voters judge perimeter players’ defense relative to the defense played by bigs? Will bigs now dominate the All-Defensive First Team voting in most years, and would that be a positive or a negative?

Caruso almost certainly would’ve made the All-Defensive First Team this year if the league had retained the position-based voting system.

What was the biggest surprise?

It’s a pleasant surprise that the Timberwolves and Celtics, the top two teams in points allowed per possession, placed two players each on the All-Defensive teams. Minnesota had Gobert and McDaniels, while Boston had White and Holiday.

Advertisement

Who suffered the biggest snub?

Look no further than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who finished the regular season with the league’s fourth-best defensive rating and entered the playoffs with the top seed in the Western Conference but didn’t have players on the first or second teams.

Wing Luguentz Dort barely missed making the second team. He collected 34 total points in the voting, the 11th-highest total. Holiday, the final player selected to the second team, received 36 total points. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City’s rookie center who ranked fifth in blocks per game, had the 13th-highest voting total.

Required reading

(Photo of Victor Wembanyama and P.J. Washington: Jerome Miron / USA Today)

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Culture

Stenhouse Jr. fined, father suspended after Kyle Busch fight

Published

on

Stenhouse Jr. fined, father suspended after Kyle Busch fight

NASCAR fined Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. $75,000 and suspended his father and two JTG Daugherty Racing crew members for their roles in a fight that occurred following Sunday night’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Upset about an on-track incident that knocked him out of the race, Stenhouse confronted Kyle Busch after the race, then threw a punch at Busch’s head after they exchanged words. Busch was not fined or penalized.

Stenhouse’s dad, Ricky Stenhouse Sr., was suspended indefinitely for joining the physical altercation, following past precedent where NASCAR objects to family members injecting themselves in confrontations.

Two crew members for JTG Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse’s team, were also suspended for their involvement. NASCAR suspended team mechanic Clint Myrick for eight races and tuner Keith Matthews received a four-week ban.

Wednesday’s penalties are the fallout from an incident between Stenhouse and Busch during the opening laps of the All-Star Race, which became the catalyst to the post-race fight in the garage.

Advertisement

GO DEEPER

Stenhouse punches Busch after NASCAR All-Star Race

The chain of events began with Busch upset over what he considered an overly aggressive move by Stenhouse on Lap 1, prompting Busch to retaliate on the next circuit by turning Stenhouse’s car and sending him crashing into the wall. With his car too badly damaged to continue, Stenhouse parked his Chevrolet in Busch’s pit stall before exiting and climbing a ladder to yell at Busch’s team.

Stenhouse then vowed revenge during a national television interview on FS1, essentially stating he’d be waiting for Busch after the 200-lap race. Nearly 90 minutes later, and moments after the checkered flag waved, Stenhouse waited for Busch in the garage, casually leaning against the RCR No. 8 team hauler when Busch approached.

After exchanging words about the track incident, Stenhouse punched Busch, triggering a melee between members of their teams that included Ricky Stenhouse Sr. shoving Busch. Stenhouse Jr. could be heard saying “Dad” several times as his father and Busch jostled, with Busch appearing to throw a punch at the older Stenhouse.

Advertisement

The fight was over within seconds, but a video of the incident went viral.

“I’m not sure why he was so mad,” Stenhouse Jr. told FS1 after the fight. “I shoved it three-wide, but he hit the fence and kind of came off the wall and ran into me. I don’t know, when I was talking to him, he kept saying that I wrecked him.

“Definitely built up frustration with how he runs his mouth all the time about myself. But I know he’s frustrated because he doesn’t run near as good as he used to.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, told SiriusXM that officials opted not to penalize Busch for the crash that preceded the fight because they didn’t view it as entirely intentional.

Advertisement

“We really, as a sanctioning body, stay out of the on-track incidents unless we see something that blatantly comes back to us,” Sawyer said. “We’ll let those guys decide and agree to disagree.”

Sawyer reiterated crew members and family members are not permitted to “put their hands on our athletes” but declined to go into the specific reasoning due to the penalties being subject to appeal. He said NASCAR fined Stenhouse Jr. because he still decided to get physical with Busch despite the long wait after the on-track incident.

NASCAR handled the Stenhouse-Busch scuffle similarly to how it handled a fight last fall after a Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway that included a parent participating.

In that situation, Matt Crafton, who crashed out of the race, waited for Nick Sanchez after the race to confront him. Crafton threw a punch that broke Sanchez’s nose. Crafton was fined $25,000, Sanchez was not penalized, and Sanchez’s father was suspended two races for involving himself in the altercation.

Typically, NASCAR tolerates physical confrontations between drivers provided they occur immediately afterward with no time for either to cool down. NASCAR is not as lenient when parents involve themselves, usually reacting by issuing a suspension.

Advertisement

Why NASCAR issued these penalties

Let’s start with the crew members and Stenhouse Sr.

Historically, NASCAR has viewed crew members similarly to how the NHL views the “third man in” for its fight rules. NASCAR is somewhat OK with drivers settling things themselves (thus only a fine and no suspension for Stenhouse, and no penalties at all for Busch). But NASCAR absolutely does not want drivers being assaulted by a third party and has discouraged such behavior through harsh penalties to send a message.

Stenhouse Sr. is not a crew member, so it’s somewhat easier for NASCAR to issue an indefinite suspension for his role. But he also aggressively went after Busch, which is highly frowned upon as a family member.

As for Myrick and Matthews, the penalties do seem a bit severe compared to the past — particularly for Myrick. Eight races is a lot, especially for a mechanic on a mid-sized team. But NASCAR must have felt Myrick was particularly excessive with his role, and it certainly sends a message to other crew members not to get involved in future fights.

(Photo: Peter Casey / USA Today)

Advertisement

Continue Reading

Trending