The Zone Read: A rise in player mobility

The National Football League (NFL) is slowly entering a new era. Player mobility is far more real and sophisticated than it was even a few years ago. Players have proven means now for getting exactly what they want. Zeke made bank by making Jerry Jones sweat a bit. Le’Veon Bell got out of Pittsburgh, and now makes a sizeable chunk of guaranteed money. Melvin Gordon will likely accrue a season with the Chargers, then do what Bell did during 2019’s free agency and cash out. Fans should be happy to see players making these strides, especially as it secures greater health and stability, and I do not expect it to stop. I even hope to see it trickle down to the lesser-known players in the near future. But for now, it’s the stars that grab these sorts of headlines. Jalen Ramsey requested a trade; Jadeveon Clowney got traded after protesting the franchise tag; Antonio Brown left two teams within a few months because he wanted to. A changing National Basketball Association (NBA) landscape that emphasizes star mobility could be aiding this somewhat, and I think these recent developments will be key as we approach a potential NFL lockout in the near future.

With all that being said, I now turn my attention to a pivotal week four, where we will hopefully start to answer some of those maddening early-season questions. Here are four matchups you should keep an eye on:

Eagles (1–2) at Packers (3–0)

As a Cowboys fan, this is the second biggest question of the week I want answered (the first being if the Cowboys win): Is this Philly skid a blip in a lengthy season or a sign of things to come? The Packers and Eagles are headed in separate directions right now. One team is riding a defense to 3–0 while Aaron Rodgers and Matt LeFleur work on daily trust-building exercises to figure out the offense. The other has won one game against a trash Washington team and has otherwise struggled on both sides of the ball. If the Eagles drop to 1–3 on the year, which I see as very plausible, the Cowboys could become clear NFC East favorites. And y’all know I’m a big fan of that.

Vikings (2–1) at Bears (2–1)

Da Bears need to do a little more soul searching. Matt Nagy hasn’t quite figured out their offense yet. But the defense is chugging along as per usual. Minnesota meanwhile is figuring out how to win by making Kirk Cousins play as little football as possible. I don’t like Cousins against this Bears defense, and it will be up to fantasy lord and savior Dalvin Cook to carry the load. If he can get something going, Mitch Trubisky may have trouble keeping up. Sorry Mitch, but playing Washington doesn’t make you an elite QB the rest of the season.

Patriots (3–0) at Bills (3–0)

I expect New England to win this. But I want to watch for how close it is, because Buffalo actually looks competent this year. If the game is lost for the Bills but within a score or two, I think they can ride an easy division to a wild card. And if they win? Oh boy. I have some Pats fan friends I’ll be calling up.

Cowboys (3–0) at Saints (2–1)

Oh, y’all thought I’d ignore this one? Last year, it was this matchup that gave me hope. That hope was later quashed by the Rams, but they look worse this year so I can dream a bit. A win for the ‘Boys against this stout defense and creative offense, in the New Orleans superdome no less, will convince me that Dallas is for real, and a genuine threat to make the NFC title game. Now that I put this into writing and print however, I realize I am likely jinxing myself to a Sunday night filled with sadness and regret. Thus is the life of a Cowboys fan.

Happy week four everyone.