Find out how to watch the Manchester derby on Sunday, March 7.
As I was writing last week’s column, an image from Super Bowl LII, playing on NFL Network on one of my office TVs, caught my eye. There, on the small postgame podium, were Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, GM Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson. With them were three players. One was the game’s MVP, Nick Foles. Another, Zach Ertz, scored the game-winning touchdown to dethrone the reigning world champion Patriots.
And the third was in street clothes and didn’t play a snap in the game.
Carson Wentz didn’t know at the time that a year later, after coming back from the torn ACL that cost him a chance to play in those playoffs, he’d be hurt again and watching Foles lead Philly to another playoff win. He didn’t know that a year after that, he’d get hurt nine plays into his first, and still only, playoff start. He didn’t know Jalen Hurts, who was the Bama QB benched in the college football title game at the point, would be drafted three months after that.
Above all of it, he sure as hell didn’t know that three years, one week and six days after that Super Bowl, he’d be on an emotional morning FaceTime with his GM, with Roseman telling him that his five years as an Eagle were coming to an end. Nor did he know, at that point, that it would be happening, in part, to grant his request for a fresh start.
But that’s where Roseman and Wentz were last week, and the podium scene from 2018 can do plenty to explain how we got here.
The idea, at the time, was the torn ACL that Wentz suffered two months before was merely a speed bump in the then 25-year-old’s ascension to being the centerpiece of Roseman and Pederson’s reimagination of the Eagles’ franchise. No one thought that injury would lead to the end of the road for Wentz. And yet, Wentz being up there—instead of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox or Malcolm Jenkins—foreshadowed so much of the awkwardness to come.
The Eagles did a lot the last three years to try and get Wentz back to his MVP form of 2017. They fired, hired and promoted assistant coaches. They mortgaged contracts. They paid him more than Aaron Rodgers got months before him. And they propped him up as the face of the franchise at every turn—even after a game he didn’t play in.
As while we’re digging through the rubble of the last three years between Wentz and the team that traded up twice to get him in 2016, there’s a hard truth you’ll find buried in there. You do all that for a player, and eventually the production has to justify it. If it doesn’t, you risk things getting really weird.
Regardless of who or what you want to blame for it, Wentz’s production didn’t merit the treatment he got, and it hadn’t for a while. So things got weird, and now he’s gone.
We’ve got a lot to dive into on this one.
Another offseason week down, and we’ve got a lot to get to this week. In this edition of the MMQB column you’ll find …
• A look at Washington’s unique new scouting department.
• Assessing/remembering Tim Tebow, the NFL player, given his retirement from baseball.
• More on quarterback movement across the NFL.
• A fun nugget on the draft quarterbacks you won’t want to miss.
But we’re starting with the Wentz trade, and how it went down.
Soon after the season ended, Roseman and Wentz’s agent, Ryan Tollner, got on a call. Tollner and Wentz had debriefed, and Tollner passed along his own feelings on the situation, that he wasn’t sure Wentz would be at his best, for a multitude of reasons, in Philly anymore—and that the time might be right for the Eagles to get value for Wentz in a trade and Wentz to get a fresh start elsewhere.
Roseman responded that he wasn’t sure if he was open to it yet. But he gave Tollner the authority to feel out potential suitors. Tollner’s first call was the easiest one to make. Based on Wentz’s relationship with Colts head coach Frank Reich, forged by their two years together in Philly, the agent didn’t hesitate to reach out to Indy before anyone else.
Meanwhile, the Eagles were going through their divorce from Pederson and starting up a new coaching search. In doing so, Philly gained clarity on a couple things.
First, by interviewing a slew of candidates, the Eagles’ brass got outside affirmation that they had two quarterbacks, both Wentz and Hurts, who NFL people thought they could potentially win with. Second, saddling a new coach with all that would come with an attempt to reestablish Wentz as the face of the franchise would be a tough ask. Among the things to consider …
• When Wentz was at his best, he had a good cop (Pederson), medium cop (Reich) and bad cop (ex-QBs coach John DeFilippo) working with him. After Reich left for Indy and DeFilippo for Minnesota post-Super Bowl, the Eagles promoted Mike Groh to OC, and Groh assumed the bad cop role. He and Wentz clashed and Groh was fired as a result, while Press Taylor, who Wentz was close with, ascended. As a result, perception in the building grew that the Eagles were coddling him, and that Wentz couldn’t handle hard coaching.
• In the locker room, Wentz struggled to connect with some teammates. It wasn’t that Wentz was a bad guy (in fact, he’s commonly seen as a really good-hearted guy off the field). As I’ve heard it, it was more that he just couldn’t relate with every corner of the locker room. And Foles’s place as a pied piper among the players—a guy who could build strong relationships with everyone—only highlighted the issue.
• Wentz’s Type A personality was part of the equation too. If teammates weren’t working to his standard, that could be an issue. He wanted the why from coaches when they were telling him what to do. And he could be stubborn.
This stuff, by the way, isn’t totally uncommon with star quarterbacks. But, again, when the quarterback’s play doesn’t justify it, that’s a problem—and it was in this case.
Things worsened in 2020. The Eagles took Hurts 53rd in April, a move that completely blindsided Wentz. And, as I understand it, the pick was taken by him, right or wrong, as a message that he might not be quite as secure as he thought he was when he signed his four-year, $134 million extension a year earlier.
Then, the season played out and, with an aging and injured offense around him, Wentz cratered. Hurts was elevated to backup in Week 2, and put on the field in a Wildcat package, which only led to Wentz asking more questions, since he ran the same zone-read concepts Hurts was running both at North Dakota State and in his early days as a pro. And by then, Pederson and Wentz’s relationship—remember, Pederson had been the good cop—was fracturing.
Wentz was benched in a Week 13 loss to the Packers, after posting a 57.4 passer rating through three and a half quarters, and didn’t play another snap for the Eagles after that. He and Pederson communicated only via text after the coach made the benching permanent later that week, and Wentz didn’t address the Philly media again.
And after the request for a fresh start came from Wentz’s camp, the Eagles were forced to confront the reality of the situation. They could bring Wentz back—and know he wouldn’t be all-in, and create a dynamic in which he’s disgruntled, making more money than everyone, and coming off a really bad year—and hope for the best in the locker room (this wasn’t exactly Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers airing grievances), with the risk being that he could struggle again or get beat out by Hurts, which would kill his value altogether.
Or they could build around Hurts, or a new rookie quarterback, and if that worked out, start the clock over in having a quarterback on a rookie contract, which would help get Philly through its cap issues in what’ll be a cap-sensitive time.
Add the intensity of scrutiny in the Philly market to a new coach coming in, and Roseman and the Eagles were ready to face the difficult fact that Wentz would be better off elsewhere and, by extension, the team probably would be too.
With his agents having taken the temperature of the market, the completion of the Matthew Stafford deal in Detroit provided a jumping-off point for Roseman and the Eagles to start taking calls and, as was expected, interest was tepid.
The Eagles’ initial ask for the type of return Matthew Stafford brought the Lions drove some teams away, but also helped crystallize the field. Wentz’s camp knew the Colts were interested and believed the Bears would be making a serious run. Meanwhile, DeFilippo, now the Bears’ pass-game coordinator, who had been charged with working with Wentz on mechanics in Philly, communicated to the Chicago brass that he believed Wentz was fixable, and gave the team his institutional knowledge on the player and person.
The result: After monitoring the situation for a period of weeks, a combination of factors kept the Bears from making it to the stage where they put an offer in front of Roseman.
That left the Eagles and the Colts in something of a stalemate, where Indy had made clear how far it would go. The trust between the two sides—the Eagles obviously know Reich well, and Colts GM Chris Ballard and Roseman have a strong relationship—kept that stalemate from ever becoming contentious. Still, more than two weeks had passed since the Stafford trade, and plenty of back-and-forth had happened. That led Ballard to tell the Eagles early last week that he wasn’t willing to wait forever. His offer had an expiration date.
And thus, the trade got done.
For the Colts, the comp for the return was the 2013 Alex Smith trade. The Chiefs got him from San Francisco for two second-rounders that March, a couple months before then new Kansas City GM John Dorsey brought Ballard aboard as his top lieutenant. Smith, like Wentz, was 28 when he was traded and fresh off of being benched.
And yes, the Wentz contract comes with risk. His $25.4 million this year is fully guaranteed (essentially what Philip Rivers got from Indy last year), and $15 million for next year will be due in mid-March, meaning they’d have to pay him $40.4 million to get out of the deal after one year, while he’s due a total $47.4 million over two. But if it works out? Then, the Colts have him under contract for four years at $98.4 million, which (if you’re getting a franchise quarterback) is a very reasonable $24.6 million per.
As for the Eagles’ side of it, being here period, after the ability Wentz flashed his first two years, is not ideal. At all. In any way. And they had to get past that fact to get here—and be honest with themselves that it was probably best for everyone that they split up, and that Wentz’s best shot to resuscitate his career was not going to be in their locker room, with their organization or in the searing media spotlight of their city.
Once you do get past that? The Eagles now move forward with Hurts and the sixth pick, and I’m told they will consider taking a quarterback there. Roseman joined the Eagles in 2000, and that year Philly also had the sixth pick. They’ve had a top-10 pick without having to trade up for it just once since then—they picked fourth the year Andy Reid got fired and wound up with Lane Johnson. Suffice it to say, they don’t plan on picking this high again, so they plan on grinding hard on every option with the pick, QBs included.
The return for Wentz is, well, fine. If you think Wentz will start all year next year, the Eagles will get a one and a three. And if you thought the Lions got an extra first-round pick for taking on Jared Goff’s contract in the Stafford trade, you could convince yourself that Roseman came close to getting the initial asking price. If Wentz’s unraveling continues, then the Eagles get a two and a three for a player whose value, by the definition of that result, was sinking.
Which brings us to the real winner here: Wentz himself.
I have no idea whether he’ll succeed in Indy. But I do feel strongly that, given all the history in Philly, and presence of Reich and an outstanding young roster in Indy (plus the difference in the climate around football in both markets relative to who Wentz is), he’s got a much better shot there than he would’ve trying to run it back with the Eagles.
Ultimately, it’s what’s best for him and, going back to putting him on that podium in Minneapolis on that February night in 2018, I do believe that the Eagles’ intentions have always had what’s best for Wentz in mind.
But no one could’ve predicted what, three years later, that would mean.
WASHINGTON'S WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE
If you’ve been around scouting types, you’ve heard this complaint in the past: General managers don’t get second chances the way head coaches do. And that grievance is, for the most part, rooted in truth.
Fired GMs don’t dive back into the director level of NFL scouting departments with nearly the same regularity that fired head coaches become coordinators again, and far more fired GMs than fired head coaches wind up out of football altogether.
That’s why Washington’s new structure intrigues me so much. Last year, between the nickname change and revelations of a toxic workplace (which went all the way up to the ownership suite), the organization went through as a full a reset as you’ll see in professional sports. A new coach, Ron Rivera, was ushered in to lead the football side; a new president, Jason Wright, was hired to lead the business side; and just about everything that long needed to be reckoned with was reckoned with.
Over the last two months, a second phase of that process was launched, with the team detonating the top of its scouting department and starting from scratch. In doing so, as I see it, they preyed on that no-second-chances-for-fired-GMs dynamic and maybe, just maybe, found a market inefficiency in rebuilding the personnel operation. Just consider …
• New GM Martin Mayhew was the Lions’ GM from 2009 to ‘15, building a playoff team in 2010, and one that went to the playoffs a year after his ouster.
• New EVP of football/player personnel Marty Hurney was the Panthers’ GM from 2002 to ‘12 and again from 2017 to ‘20, twice building Super Bowl teams.
• New director of pro personnel Chris Polian was the Colts’ GM from 2009 to ‘11, going to a Super Bowl and making the playoffs twice in that time.
• New senior director of player personnel Eric Stokes was assistant GM in Miami from 2014 to ‘15, and ultimately wound up out of the job as a result of GM Dennis Hickey being fired.
This is not usually how scouting departments are built. Normally, a new GM is hired, and younger guys connected to him come along with promotions. In this case, Washington has collected people who’ve been in these roles before and bring an ability to lean back on those experiences.
“This has come up several times in our conversations already, about things going on with the team currently, just in our meetings,” Mayhew said on Saturday. “Our experience in those conversations always comes up. Eric can say ‘When I was in Miami, this happened.’ Chris can say, ‘When I was in Indianapolis, this is how it played out.’ And I can talk about Detroit and Marty can talk about Carolina. So that experience is very valuable.
“We’ve all made mistakes. Anybody who’s had this job has made mistakes. And we’ve all learned from them. I think we do a very good job of bouncing ideas off each other. I think one good thing about all of us is we’re very opinionated. None of us hold our tongue or hold back. We all have opinions on things, and we will get them out on the table, and get them out and discuss them.”
“I certainly, speaking for myself, think it’s helped me,” Hurney said Friday. “And I’ve had two chances to do that. You start, when you first get let go, by looking at all the things you did wrong. And then after a while, you start looking at the things you did right, and you start getting more confident in the things that you did right. And you look at how to improve the things you did wrong. For me, it was a terrific help.”
On paper, Mayhew and Hurney are equals—both reporting to Rivera in Washington’s self-dubbed “coach-centric” model. And they swear to the fact that, in practice, it’s that way too.
So when I asked who’s in charge, I got a pretty straightforward answer.
“Ron’s in charge, actually,” Mayhew said. “Marty and myself both report to Ron. Ron has the ultimate say. He makes the final decision. It’s going to be the two of us working with Ron, making recommendations of what we think should happen. And Ron makes the ultimate decision.”
Mayhew added that, “Our jobs are very similar and very loosely-defined roles. There hasn’t been anything that’s [like] I’m definitely in charge of this area, Marty’s definitely in charge of this area. I think we work very well together.” And the truth is, if Mayhew (55) and Hurney (65) were younger and still climbing the ladder, or didn’t have a relationship, that might be a problem.
Age and experience have made each secure in who he is, and that brings us back to the benefit of having this sort of knowhow in the building. Along those lines, both guys brought specific examples to illustrate what they’d learned from previous failures as GMs.
For Hurney, it relates back to the clogged cap that helped lead to his initial ouster from the Panthers in 2012 and his relationship with then Carolina cap chief Rob Rodgers, who happens to be in Washington now, too.
“He has a very good feel for the numbers,” Hurney said. “Sometimes I think, at least in my case, I would get emotionally involved in trying to get a player, trying to make the team better, because that’s what you’re focused on—winning games. I learned that, Hey, listen, this is his area of expertise. He knows how to translate a player’s résumé to what he should make and the contract negotiation part of it. And I think he would tell you the second time around was much better. Overall, and big picture-wise, that’s what I’ve learned.
“People have their areas of expertise, and not that you don’t give your opinion, but you listen and let them do their jobs. That was one of the big things I learned from the first time around.”
Mayhew’s example wasn’t totally dissimilar—it also came over time, and proved true from one experience (Detroit) to another (San Francisco, where he was the last four years).
“One thing that I’ve learned is we have to be fully aligned and fully on the same page,” Mayhew said. “That’s not just coaches and the personnel department. I’m talking about the players have to be fully bought in, ownership has to be fully bought in. And I saw that firsthand in San Francisco in 2019, the way that season went, and also the start of this past season. Obviously didn’t go the way we wanted, but the alignment was definitely there.
“And everybody was on board. Everybody was doing their part in moving toward that common goal. You really can’t say that about the entire time that I was in Detroit. There were fits and starts. Times when things worked well and we were all communicating well and things were moving in the right direction. But it wasn’t consistent enough.”
In that way, Mayhew contended that he could connect the Super Bowl team he played on in Washington in 1991 and that San Francisco team of 28 years later. “That’s part of what excites me about working with Marty, working with Ron, is to see that process, see that setup happen again,” Mayhew said. “I want to be a part of it.”
And that’s really going to be happening in earnest in the coming days, as Rivera’s coaching staff starts presentations for the new scouting department, with plans to detail the schemes and spell out prototypes for every position, something that also highlights how early in the process of melding the operation together Washington really is.
But the hope is that, given the experience of the guys involved, all of this comes together relatively quickly. Because while on one hand, Hurney affirmed that being part of the reinvention of the Washington Football Team has special meaning to him and Mayhew, given their deep roots with the organization (Hurney being from the area and Mayhew having played there), Mayhew was quick to remind me this isn’t a total rebuild.
“I wouldn’t call it a blank canvas,” Mayhew said. “We’re not coming into a situation of a team that was 1–15 or 2–14 last year that has no talent. To me, that’s what a blank canvas is; you can start anywhere and put it together. I think we have some areas of the team that are very strong, and we’re going to build around those areas. … We’re not at a point where I was when I first took over in Detroit or when I first got to San Francisco. We’re much further advanced than that, and we just want to build on what we already have.”
Which, of course, is what someone who’s been there before might say.
You really had to live through Tebowmania to understand it, because it’s pretty hard to explain what happened in Denver in 2011 to those who weren’t there to see it. And the coach of the Broncos that year, John Fox, is living proof.
At that point, in his first year in Denver, but his 10th as an NFL head coach, Fox figured he’d seen just about everything in pro football. He’d been to the Super Bowl with three teams over a couple decades in the league. He’d coached future Hall of Famers like Michael Strahan and Julius Peppers. He’d coached for the last version of the L.A. Raiders and the first version of the St. Louis Rams.
But nothing was quite like that weird, wild fall and winter of 2011.
“I coached in this league for 30 years,” Fox said on Friday. “It was probably the most fun and interesting, just-great-to-be-a-part-of season I’ve ever been involved in. There were probably four games that season where with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, you’re like, There’s no way we’re winning this game. And sure enough, we found a way. And at that time, Tim was the quarterback. I mean, it was just remarkable.
“It was almost like divine intervention. It was crazy.”
This week, Tebow retired from pro baseball—he was a Mets farmhand for four seasons, moving up a level each year—at 33 years old. The former Heisman winner made it to triple-A in 2019 and was on the big club’s spring training roster last year, before COVID-19 delayed the major league season, and claimed what would’ve been his fifth minor league season. Tebow’s run as a baseball player was seen as a circus act at first, but he held his own, all things considered, for an extended period, and he should be commended for it.
That said, he’ll be remembered most as a football player, and for so much more than just his ability to play quarterback, because his story is about more than playing quarterback.
To be sure, Tebow’s place in college football history is secure. He won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships at Florida, which has his statue standing right next to one of fellow Heisman-winning Gators quarterback Steve Spurrier. His ascent at that level coincided with the mainstreaming of social media, which only contributed to his celebrity as an SEC icon.
His place in pro football is more complicated. He spent more time collecting paychecks as an outfielder than he did as a quarterback, and yet no NFL fan who lived through 2011 will ever forget what #Tebowmania was like. But for the people who were involved in it, there was a whole lot more to it than just the memes and singular moments produced by it.
“It was something where, as coaches, you always say, we want to do what players do best,” said Mike McCoy, Tebow’s OC in Denver. “What you try to do as coaches, as a coordinator, is design a system around who the quarterback is. But you need everyone to buy in. One thing I’ll always remember, the receivers that were there, they all bought into the change. They were very unselfish, played their tails off every day and they knew they were gonna block more than not.
“The game against Kansas City, we ran it 53 times. They didn’t blink. And we were winning games because everyone was buying in. In the fourth quarter, in all those games, we were finding a way. It may not have been pretty for three quarters, but in the fourth quarter, because of how they bought in, defense, kicking game, offense, everyone was dialed in and everyone fed into everyone else.”
The amazing thing, as Fox tells the story now, is how many times the season was on the precipice of not happening the way it did. You probably know about comebacks from double-digit deficits in Miami and at home against the Bears, and the playoff miracle against Pittsburgh. What you may not know is how close the Broncos were to having Brady Quinn, rather than Tebow, as their starting quarterback.
That story unfolded with Denver falling behind in the second quarter of a Week 5 home game against the Chargers and the Broncos quickly hurtling toward a 1–4 start.
“Kyle [Orton], it’s right before half, and we throw a diagonal towards our bench, and the linebacker drops the ball,” Fox said. “And I’m like, ‘O.K., we gotta make a change.’ And I’m on the headset, and I say, ‘Who do you think we ought to go with?’ I won’t mention names, but all my offensive staff, they’re saying, Brady Quinn, Brady Quinn, Brady Quinn. So I’m sitting there and I look around the stadium, and I already know how much love they have for Tim.
“There was a certain population of Denver that was like, How come these idiot coaches aren’t playing Tim Tebow?”
That led to Fox going with his gut, putting Tebow in and telling his staff in colorful language to punctuate the move. What followed was trademark 2011 Broncos. Denver had one first down on its first three possessions of the second half with Tebow in, and that one came on a 12-yard Willis McGahee run. And then, with seven minutes left, stuff, so to speak, started to happen. And a 26–10 deficit evaporated and Tebow was throwing into the end zone as the clock expired on a 29–24 loss.
The aftermath, to Fox, was just as weird.
“We lose the game, it’s a division game, we’re walking out of the stadium, and they’re chanting for him,” Fox said. ‘Then, if you’ve ever come out of that stadium, at Mile High, it’s like the fans are up above on this overhang, and these people are going crazy. And we lost the game! It was almost similar to the walk-off, overtime touchdown against Pittsburgh. It was that crazy. And we lost. For a guy to command that kind of fan support was kind of amazing, in a loss. That was when we kind of thought, we might have something here.”
The Broncos did. But while, on one hand, they had strange and sublime comebacks against the Dolphins, Raiders, Bears and Chargers (in the rematch), Denver also got a pretty unremarkable level of passing game as part of the deal—which contributed to a three-game losing streak. The first two losses were blowouts, the third came with Tebow throwing for 60 yards on 6-of-22 passing in a 7–3 defeat to, yes, Orton and the Chiefs.
Yet, through more twists of fate, the Broncos backed into a division title at 8–8, meaning they hosted the 11–5 and defending conference champion Steelers in the playoffs. Which was the point where, finally, the plug on #Tebowmania was close to being pulled.
“Our offense was terrible, defense was pretty good, so we had to do something,” Fox said. “So what I approached Tim with was, We’re gonna experiment this week in preparation with Brady Quinn on third down. You’ll be the first- and second-down guy. And we practiced that way a little, Tim had a good week and we went into the game. And he was just on fire. He played really, really well in that game.”
In relative terms, that is. Tebow wound up completing just fewer than half his throws (10-of-21), but had a career high 321 yards passing, the second-best passer rating of his career (125.6), rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries and accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), the final of which wound up being the time capsule for this whole … thing.
Most of you remember that one: Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on a post, Thomas stiff-armed Ike Taylor and went 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown. And just before it happened, on the first play of overtime, then Denver quarterbacks coach Adam Gase, up in the booth, saw the Steelers’ safeties creeping up and created a moment all the coaches will take with them forever.
“Tim’s approaching the line, and Adam goes, ‘Oh my God, it’s over! It’s over!’ “ McCoy said.
And it was, in more ways than one. Two months later, the Broncos successfully made a run at Peyton Manning, and that was it for Tebow in Denver. Fox says now that the Broncos had trades in place with both the Jets and Jaguars, and gave Tebow a choice. The coach advised Tebow to go to the Jets, because he’d talked to Rex Ryan and felt like Ryan had a plan for him, whereas he felt like the owner—not the football people—wanted Tebow in Jacksonville.
The Jets, for their part, thought after having been through the Brett Favre circus years earlier, that they’d be equipped for everything that would come with Tebow, and liked what he could give them football-wise.
“We brought him in because we’d lost Brad Smith in free agency and wanted another option with a quarterback that could make plays with his feet,” then Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum said. “We brought him in as a complement to [Mark] Sanchez. And I give Rex a lot of credit, from the standpoint that he wanted to put pressure on defenses with someone that could make plays with the ball in his hands.”
Unfortunately, for everyone, it didn’t work out that way. The fit was awkward from the start and the hoopla Tebow brought with him—which is exactly what most of us remember from that Denver season—became way more burden than benefit.
“And then when he got there, they didn’t really use him right,” said Fox. Ryan wound up falling on the sword for that, when Fox asked him about it years later. But even with the success he and the Broncos had after signing Manning, (“I don’t regret that decision, that was a no-brainer”), there was a little tinge of regret there.
“My point is, it kinda ended bad for Tim,” Fox said. “And I’ve since then felt bad about that.”
The Jets cut Tebow in April 2013. After that, all the reasons why Fox and his Denver staff nearly turned to Quinn over Tebow twice wound up being reflective of a lingering league consensus that Tebow just wasn’t an NFL quarterback. He signed with the Patriots in June 2013 and didn’t make the team that August. It was two years before he got another shot, in the spring of 2015 with Chip Kelly and the Eagles. His fate there—let go at the end-of-summer roster cutdown—was the same. And that was that for Tebow in the NFL.
How will he be remembered? As an all-time college football great and the ultimate NFL enigma. As a bridge to the option/college spread becoming more prevalent in the pros. As one of the original social media stars—capable of igniting discussion with his presence alone—and most polarizing figures in sports over the last decade. As someone who was clearly unique, and someone who was revered by some and not very well-liked by others.
And on that last point, this much has always been very clear to me. Just as Tebow had his fans and his detractors, there were those he played with and for who loved him, and others who were rubbed the wrong way by the whole thing, which only adds layers to what’s one of the most fascinating NFL stories I’ve covered.
Of course, as fast as it came, it was gone. But almost a decade later, as Tebow hangs up a different type of cleats, this much I know: We won’t ever forget it.
The Panthers sure are motivated to get better at quarterback. I asked one well-placed source this week about something I’d heard for about a month now—that owner David Tepper was consumed with the idea of finding a long-term answer at the position. “More like obsessed,” was the response I got. And so the idea of Deshaun Watson becoming a Panther? Obviously, that is of great interest to everyone in Charlotte, with the boss being at the top of the list. But the underlying fact here is that a year after signing Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract, Carolina’s already looking to move on. And the main reason for it, as I’ve heard it, is that he’s very clearly shown the physical limitations that limited interest in him as a free agent last year. The problem, for the Panthers, is that $10 million of Bridgewater’s $17 million base for 2021 (he also has a $250,000 workout bonus and $750,000 in per-game roster bonuses) is already fully guaranteed. And if he’s cut, unless he can find someone to pay him more than that, another team could just pay him the minimum and let the Panthers pick up the rest of the tab. So what will Carolina do here? My best guess is they’ll continue to monitor the Watson situation for the next two months and, if the Texans stick to their guns, look hard at trading up from No. 8 for a quarterback. And my one tell on that would be here: Carolina was very involved on Stafford, and not at all on Wentz, which tells you they’re not just going to swing at whoever’s available.
I think Sam Darnold is the next quarterback we’ll be talking about. But it might not be for a little while. Part of the process for the Jets is going to be assessing the quarterbacks that’ll be available with the second pick, and comparing them to Darnold, and seeing them throw is part of that equation. The problem? There’s no combine for that, and no private workouts allowed (at least as of now), which means pro days will be the first, and maybe only, shot the Jets have to check that box. Here are the relevant dates, along those lines …
• March 12: North Dakota State pro day (Trey Lance).
• March 26: BYU pro day (Zach Wilson).
• March 31: Ohio State pro day (Justin Fields).
A big part of this equation for the Jets is going to be whether they reach the conclusion that an upgrade would be available to them at No. 2. They’re not at that point yet. If/when they get there, Darnold will be available. Until then, teams will have to wait on the former third pick.
The Jets’ situation underscores this point: I don’t think the Niners and Raiders are planning to move their quarterbacks. And I use the word “planning” because I believe it’d take a major upgrade at the position to get those teams to move off their spot. Maybe it’ll happen, but I don’t think getting Jimmy Garoppolo or Derek Carr should be anyone’s strategy. The Niners’ tepid interest in Stafford was in large part due to the fact that they’re perfectly O.K. going forward with Garoppolo, who’s got two years left on a deal that’s matured into a very team-friendly one. As for the Raiders, teams that have called on Carr have found that he’s simply not available. And because Jon Gruden’s always had a wandering eye at quarterback, it’s hard to rule out the idea that if, say, Watson is available, the Raiders would reverse course. But for now, it seems like they’re more dug in on keeping Carr than they’ve been the last couple years (and Carr’s deal has matured the same way Garoppolo’s has). Now, as for Marcus Mariota? The Raiders are fielding calls on him. Mariota’s contract is unique—he’s due $10.725 million in base salary in 2021, and $625,000 for every game in which he plays more than 60% of the snaps. But that incentive money, which is capped at 12 games (max: $7.5 million), won’t hit the cap for the Raiders, or another team, until 2022. And he’s up after 2021. All of which means that a team trading for Mariota might want to restructure/extend Mariota before pulling the trigger. Either way, the Raiders are working on a timeline on that one, with the team’s cap commitments for 2021 exceeding $200 million and, depending on where the cap lands, the expectation being that they’ll have to shed some players to be in compliance. Knowing Mariota’s fate could, for obvious reasons, affect the fate of other pricey players on the roster.
Mac Jones is going to be one of the most interesting draft cases. All 31 teams in attendance at the Senior Bowl had the chance to do a 15-minute speed-dating interview with the Alabama quarterback, but maybe the most interesting anecdote I could possibly give you on him from that week in Mobile comes from his Heisman Trophy winning receiver DeVonta Smith. One team asked Smith, point blank: Tua Tagovailoa or Jones? The question was barely finished before Smith answered: Mac Jones. He was bold and definitive about it, as I heard it. And of course, it’s logical to some degree. Jones was Smith’s quarterback for his historic, 117-catch, 1,856-yard, 23-touchdown season. But to me, it’s notable because it feels almost like Jones is going to have to answer for Tagovailoa’s so-so rookie year, in that both guys had an obscene amount of talent (headlined by a better receiver group than probably a handful of NFL teams) around them. So where could Jones be better than Tagovailoa? He had a rep for being a little more studious than his predecessor at the position, and he has a little better sense and feel when things get muddy around him (though that didn’t happen much behind a Bama line fully stocked with future pros), despite not being quite as athletically gifted as Tagovailoa. Conversely, that physical skill set is a factor—and why some teams do not think he’s a first-rounder. We’ll see where this goes. But either way, how Jones is graded out by teams should, in a certain way, be revealing of what those teams value at the position.
I think the NFL is going to continue to mine the college game for coaches. We saw one example over the weekend with Sean McVay dipping into Stanford coach David Shaw’s staff to find a new offensive line coach (Kevin Carberry). It’s not the first time McVay’s considered a college name for a prominent spot on his staff (Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard was interviewed/very much in the running last year for the job that went to Brandon Staley), nor is McVay the only coach looking hard at the college level for names. So here are a few NFL fans should get familiar with …
Florida State O-Line coach Alex Atkins: The Rams expressed some interest in Atkins for their OL coach opening, and it’s notable here that there’s a dearth of minority offensive line coaches in the NFL.
Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott: The results really tell you all you need to know about Elliott. He’s just been tough to pry from the Tigers—having turned down some head-coach interest at the college level and coordinator interest in the pros (from the Titans and Dolphins this year).
Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko: He was a short-list candidate in Cincinnati to be Zac Taylor’s defensive coordinator in 2019, before pulling his name out. The belief is he’ll be a college head coach or NFL DC soon.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman: Freeman, 35, just got to Notre Dame after spending four years as Luke Fickell’s DC at Cincinnati. Fellow Ohio State alum Mike Vrabel tried to hire Freeman last year as his outside linebackers coach. An NFL future is there for him if he wants it.
Ohio State WRs coach Brian Hartline: The ex-Dolphins receiver drew pass-game coordinator interest from Eagles for the second consecutive year, while Miami, Buffalo and Detroit showed interest in him for position coach jobs as well. The talent development at Ohio State has been top-notch—there are two potential 2022 first-rounders on the roster.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton: Hazelton has NFL experience (with the Jags from 2014 to ‘16), and was coordinator at North Dakota State, Nevada, Wyoming and Kansas State before getting to East Lansing. The 47-year-old has been a resource to pro coaches looking to slow spread concepts coming to the NFL in recent years.
Cal OLBs coach Keith Heyward: Like Freeman, the 41-year-old just arrived in a new job (coming from Oregon), but is on track to continue getting NFL opportunity. He’s been interviewed by the Cowboys and Vikings in recent years.
Georgia Tech assistant HC/run-game coordinator Brent Key: The 42-year-old has a good record of producing pros (he was Bama’s OL coach from 2016 to ‘18), and is well-respected enough that an opportunity should come.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley: Locksley has become very involved in the NFL’s efforts in the area of diversity hiring. And that, plus his work as OC at Alabama, led to some teams being interested in interviewing him for offensive coordinator jobs.
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees: The ex-Irish quarterback/coach’s son got the attention of the NFL quickly—at 28, this was his first year as Notre Dame’s OC, and his ability to implement pro-style concepts into the offense prompted teams to consider him for QB coach jobs. He chose to stay in South Bend. Opportunities will likely keep coming.
Texas A&M DBs coach T.J. Rushing: A former Colts and Lions safety, Rushing has worked his way up in the college ranks, and drew interest from the Bengals last year and three more teams this year.
Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods: Woods played seven NFL seasons before returning to his alma mater, where he’s coached the last 13 years. And word on the job he’s done there is out, with NFL teams (the Rams were one) kicking the tires on his NFL aspirations.
Cuts are going to happen in phases over the next couple weeks. We saw some notable names let go this week. Philly cut DeSean Jackson. Green Bay let go of Christian Kirksey and Rick (formerly Ricky) Wagner. Carolina cut K.K. Short and Tre Boston. But the truth is, the real bloodletting may be a couple weeks away. We know now, per a league memo this week, that the cap will be set at a minimum of $180 million. That’s up from the previously stated minimum of $175 million. What we don’t know is whether the television deals will get done before St. Patrick’s Day and, if they do, how that’ll impact the cap. And while it may not seem like a huge deal, going from $180 million to, say, $200 million, that could mean a team having to cut four good players or a couple outstanding ones to get in compliance. So the cuts you’re seeing, for now, are guys would be gone under a team’s plan to get itself under a higher cap—and guys who might’ve been gone even without the pandemic rocking NFL economics. The closer calls (and, in many cases, better players) are the ones teams are pausing on now, to see how all this shakes out.
Terry McLaurin could be getting some help from a familiar face. What Richard Sherman said about Washington’s No. 1 receiver this week definitely caught my eye. “If he had anybody else beside him and they couldn’t just double him and cloud him all the time he’d be special, but that’s the hard thing, they can’t find anybody else,” Sherman said on his podcast with Cris Collinsworth. “They’ve got a bunch of guys who kind of flash, but he plays hard. He’s one of the better up-and-coming wideouts in the league.” So here’s a name to watch: Panthers WR Curtis Samuel. Samuel played for Washington coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner in Charlotte, and brings the sort of “positionless” flexibility to an offense that Turner’s sought (2020 rookie Antonio Gibson is a great example of that). And a nice benefit here: McLaurin and Samuel have known each other since high school, with both being parts of Ohio State’s 2014 recruiting class. They played together for three years in Columbus and, stylistically, would complement each other very well.
My take on Ben Roethlisberger: Be patient. The Steelers haven’t historically asked older players to big pay cuts on the back end of their careers, and so trying to get one from Roethlisberger was never going to be simple, even if it seemed that way earlier in the offseason. And if Roethliberger’s willingness to play ball with Pittsburgh is about creating cap space, and not giving back cash, that’s understandable: This could well be his last bite of the apple financially as a pro athlete. The question then becomes whether the Steelers would truly be willing to move on from their quarterback of 17 years, who is now the NFL’s longest-tenured player at the position. Some of that might relate to what they plan to do to get under the cap, and whether it involves taking their medicine now or just continuing to kick the can down the road (if they take their medicine now, presumably, moving on from Roethlisberger would be easier). Some of it may also relate to the sudden potential availability of quarterbacks like Darnold, which could give the team a shot to get a long-term answer at the position, something that’s always tough to find if you’re typically drafting in the 20s. One thing is for sure: The longer this lingers, the more time the Steelers have to evaluate non-Roethlisberger option at the position as they consider their spot against the cap. And I think that really illustrates the message GM Kevin Colbert was trying to get across when he said this a few days ago: “We’d like to see Ben back for another year if that can work, but there’s a lot of work to be done to see if that can happen. There may need to be decisions that are made on both sides for that to happen.” We’ll see how Roethlisberger responds to that little piece of leverage exerting.
The Rams definitely do things differently than everyone else. You’ve heard us reference it a few times this month: The Rams were the only team in the NFL that didn’t have anyone at the Senior Bowl in January. Why? Well, there were a number of factors. One was the situation in Southern California with COVID-19 restrictions, where it would have been more complicated for some of their staffers to go than almost anyone else. But there’s also an effort they’ve made in recent years to be leaner at events like this one. The Rams’ presence in Mobile hasn’t exactly been robust in recent years to begin with, and at last year’s combine, the only coach they sent was Sean McVay (and he was really just there to handle his media obligations). This, to be sure, is against the grain. Scouts and coaches have always valued getting their own eyes on prospects, and having the chance to interview them face-to-face. In a year when chances to do that will be cut way back, the Rams went the other way, favoring their new processes they’ve developed in recent years. We’ll see how it works out for them, and whether or not it hampers their ability to hit on mid-round picks, which has been vital to their success, given their lack of first-round picks the last half-decade.
I wish San Diego still had a team. And I hope they get one again. Selfishly, that city was an outstanding one to visit for work, and I miss going there. That’s why seeing news of the ongoing demolition of old Qualcomm Stadium (or The Murph, as my generation knew it) in the San Diego Union-Tribune hurt just a little bit—like this gave finality to the NFL’s exit from that market four years ago. I get why it happened. The Chargers didn’t want to foot the bill for a new place, the city didn’t help them and the league wasn’t going to go the extra mile to save a market a little bigger than Kansas City and a little smaller than Nashville, with another NFL market a couple hours away. Still, there’s a ton of money there, everyone loves going there and I was secretly hoping a couple years ago, when it looked like Oakland might kick them out, that the Raiders would illuminate all of that by making San Diego it’s temporary home for 2019. Didn’t happen, and pro football may never go back there. Which, to me, is a shame. For reasons both selfish and non-selfish.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1) That was a really good college basketball game Sunday between Ohio State and Michigan, even if I didn’t like the result. It’s easy to see how well-coached and put together both teams are.
2) I don’t know how the Deion Sanders era will play out at Jackson State. But I do know as I’m writing this that Jackson State/Edward Waters is on one of my two office TVs right now. Which I guess is kind of the idea of the hire.
3) More tragic details have emerged in the death of Vincent Jackson, and I think if there’s one thing we can all take from it: Check in on our people. This has been a rough stretch for everyone. Some might need help, and just aren’t saying anything to you about it.
4) I don’t care that it didn’t really work. That rink the NHL built at Lake Tahoe looked goddamn magical to me.
5) Novak Djokovic tore an abdominal muscle and then advanced through five rounds of the Australian Open on his way to winning the tournament for the fifth time. I don’t think I’ve ever torn an ab muscle. But I’d assume it’s pretty painful. And might hamper your ability to dominate your sport. Or maybe not.
6) I took my kids skiing on Saturday. And I’d still maintain there’s nothing that clears your head better than being out there on two sticks.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
I’m old enough to have been a Big Ten student when Antwaan Randle El was Indiana’s full-time quarterback.
Speaking of my age, I can’t believe Happy Gilmore is 25 years old. Or that Rich Ohrnberger saw The Waterboy in middle school. (That one came out fall of my freshman year in college.)
Not gonna lie, this made me wonder if the Mexican league is on TV.
Mel Kiper can take a bow. This is actually really good analysis from Kiper, at a time when Brady making an NFL roster was no sure thing.
And now Brady’s famous enough that this tweet brought home around 200,000 likes (as of 11:30 p.m. ET on Sunday).
That’s not very nice.
It’s weird to me that kids feel emboldened to act like this to any adult, let alone an NFL quarterback.
Congrats to Patrick Mahomes and his fiancé Brittany …
… and this big life event for the Mahomes family also happened to highlight a pretty cool relationship that the Chiefs’ quarterback has with his adopted home city.
Last laugh goes to?
Whole thing remains weird.
But I do think Wentz was earnest with this farewell, and I can say he did write that thank you to Philadelphia himself.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Carryover cap money is usually overlooked, but shouldn’t be this year. This year, it really matters, and it’s worth educating yourself as to why.
Mike Florio did a nice job laying it out plainly the other day.
We’ll see you later today for the MAQB.