MMQB: Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Aaron Rodgers and Inside the Biggest Stories on Draft Night

Why the Bears traded up, how the 49ers decided and what the Packers' GM plans to do now. Plus, takeaways on Mac Jones, Davis Mills, DeVonta Smith and many more leftovers from the draft.
By Albert Breer ,

Matt Nagy and Ryan Day have a lot of history with each other—and it goes back to well before either guy had a whistle around his neck. Both came to the Atlantic 10 in 1997, and by the fall of 2000, the two quarterbacks, the former at Delaware and the latter at New Hampshire, were very familiar with one another. And it was no surprise to either that when their teams faced off for the last time, their senior years, the game was a barnburner.

Nagy’s second-ranked Blue Hens came in with a shot to get to No. 1, with top-ranked Georgia Southern’s having fallen earlier that November day. But down seven, with less than two minutes left, Day rallied the Wildcats, executing a perfect hook-and-ladder from midfield for the game-tying score. The two then traded touchdowns in overtime, the Blue Hens missed their PAT, the Wildcats hit theirs, and Day and UNH scored the 45–44 upset.

Twenty-one years later, why does that matter?

That experience in the A-10 bonded Day and Nagy, and they’ve stayed in touch since. And that bond, during the last 13 months, helped deliver the Bears a new franchise quarterback.

Nagy and Day got to know each other better through camps and combines as they rose through the ranks after that epic game. They stayed in touch through the years, and bounced stuff off each other enough to build a level of mutual respect and trust. And so it was that last March, as the U.S. shut down, Nagy was in his home office looking at Day’s Ohio State prospects and decided to give his old buddy a call.

They went through all the big names you’d remember from the 2020 draft: Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, J.K. Dobbins. And after getting all those boxes checked, Nagy had one more lingering question from having watched all that tape.

Courtesy of the Chicago Bears

“Hey, how about that quarterback of yours?” Nagy asked.

“Dude, he’s a generational talent,” Day responded.

“Wow, that’s pretty powerful,” Nagy said. “What is it about him?”

“He’s 6' 2", 220 pounds and can run a 4.4 40,” Day said. “And he might be in the 4.3s.”

“That’s wild,” Nagy said.

Even wilder—he’d be Nagy’s new quarterback less than 14 months later.

Nagy had no idea how well he was about to get to know Justin Fields.


The 2021 draft is in the books and, naturally, we’ve got a lot to get to. In this week’s MMQB column, you’ll find …

• How the Niners landed on Trey Lance as their QB of the future.

• Packers GM Brian Gutekunst on the Aaron Rodgers situation.

• The way the Jets’ coaches went about sizing up Zach Wilson. (Literally.)

And you’ll also get a boatload of post-draft nuggets in the Ten Takeaways section. But we’re starting in Chicago, with a Bears team that was lying in the weeds on the quarterback class, and wound up striking to catch a freak athlete falling down the board.


The conversation stuck with Nagy to the point where, by the summer, he was quietly hoping for the Big 10 to get its season going, after the conference had initially canceled it, so he could watch more of Fields. And once that happened, the Bears coach made a point of catching the Buckeyes on TV from the team hotel if he could fit it in around meetings—earlier afternoon or night games were most conducive to his schedule.

He kept liking what he saw, and kept Day’s “generational talent” line in the back of his mind.

“The one thing from afar I always noticed was how crazy tough this kid was with all the shots he kept taking,” Nagy told me over the phone Sunday night. “He just kept coming back in and making plays. And to have a guy that was such a dual threat, and yet he’s a competitor, he’s a leader, his teammates love him, he’s obsessed with the game—when you hear all that, how do you not get excited about it?”

Nagy sure was. But with the Bears’ season winding down, and it clear that the team was going to overhaul the position, the coach thought it best he keep his feelings to himself, so as not to color the opinions of others.

Once the Bears were bounced from the playoffs, it looked unlikely they’d have a shot at Fields anyway. Chicago was picking 20th. Surely, Nagy thought, Fields would go inside the top five picks or so. The idea of getting him seemed more fantasy than grounded in any level of fact.

“We knew we were sitting at 20, and you have no idea where guys are going to go,” Nagy continued. “And so I think what [GM] Ryan [Pace] and I tried to do—let’s just have a real clean slate with all these guys and in particular the guys in the first round. Let’s start with a clean slate, and let’s do it on our own, and see how this thing goes and spend a lot of time watching tape, completely dissecting these guys.”

So if Day’s putting Nagy on to Fields jumpstarted the idea of the Bears’ taking another swing on a franchise quarterback, this is where turning it into a reality got real. And through the process, Nagy’s initial thoughts were only cemented.

These are the things that led to the Bears’ bold Thursday night trade. Chicago sent its fifth-rounder this year, and first- and fourth-rounders next year to the Giants to move up nine spots, and get in position to, maybe, fix the quarterback position once and for all. If it works, Nagy and Pace will have new leases on life in Chicago. If it doesn’t, that’ll be curtains for them. There’s really no in between.

And there was no lack of work done to make both Nagy and Pace comfortable that this was absolutely the right thing to do, work that led the Bears’ bosses to a number of conclusions.

The game tape had clues on Fields’s aptitude. One thing Nagy likes to do when studying quarterbacks is to tag, in his words, special play, “where it’s just different, it’s rare,” and in studying Fields he found himself continuously tagging the tape.

But there was one play that stood out above the others: one he refers to as Play 57, given that it was the 57th offensive snap of Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl rout of Clemson. There was 5:04 left in the third quarter, the Buckeyes were up 35–21 and in second-and-10. And yes, the played ended in a 56-yard touchdown strike to Chris Olave. But for Nagy, everything else that led to the throw is what was important.

“It’s just quarterbacking 101,” Nagy said. “It was a pure progression play where they took it away front side. In time and on rhythm, with a guy in his face, because these pockets in the NFL are never clean, there’s just too many good rushers. He started to his right, and after his first step and a half, he noticed it was taken away and it wasn’t there. So then he came back in the middle of the field, and then right from the middle of the field to the deep post route, on time with a guy in his face.

“He kind of slid left and he hosed a post route over the top for a 60-yard throw for a touchdown. And you see those over and over, and that one was special because it was a big-time play in a big-time moment. And it was really just a beautiful throw, great footwork, great eyes. Things weren’t perfect and he made the play in stride.”

And that those things were happening in high-leverage situations mattered to Nagy. In fact, one of the first exercises Nagy did with Fields, and the rest of the quarterbacks, was a simple one that even you or I could pull off: He looked at how many games like that each prospect had, and how many they won. Fields’s record showed that in 22 starts, he’d beaten eight ranked teams and didn’t stop swinging in the two games he lost either.

The toughness shined through in those spots, too, whether it was a shot to knee against Michigan his sophomore year, the infamous hit to his ribs against Clemson this year or how his next throw was for a touchdown after both of those collisions. Or how Ohio State wound up winning both of those games.

“One of the first things I like looking at is who’s your competition, who are you playing against?” Nagy said. “Who are you beating, and who are you losing to?”

The answer, in Fields’s case, was the best in the country on both counts.

Which left Nagy and Pace to dig into who Fields was as a person. This is where Nagy dipped into his past—remembering how in Kansas City in 2017, when Nagy was Chiefs offensive coordinator, Andy Reid handled the process that ended in the team landing Patrick Mahomes after a trade up on draft day. Reid called each of the high-end draft quarterbacks in to K.C. for a day full of meetings, on the premise that meeting with them for seven or eight hours continuously would force them, eventually, to show who they were.

Because you can only put on an act for so long.

COVID-19 restrictions, of course, prevented teams from doing that kind of recon this year. But the Bears tried to make up for it by maxing out their allotted Zoom meeting time with the quarterbacks, and came away with an impression of Fields that differed from public perception that was, around the same time, really starting to pick up some steam.

“You see a guy who’s very consistent with his tone,” Nagy said. “You look at him, and he’s just focused. He has these blinders on. … [But] what I thought was really interesting, and same with Ryan [Pace], when you talk to him, the second you started talking about X’s and O’s, the second you started talking about football, he really started lasering in, perking up. You really saw his personality start to show. He was extremely comfortable in that world.

“That was neat to see happen. And then of course with me talking to Ryan [Day] as well, you get how much he’s growing. The other part is where his ceiling is, where he can get to, that’s the fun part. And that’s where we go and draft these guys, and now it’s our job to make sure that we develop them.”

And seeing that part of Fields, really, made the narratives floating around about him irrelevant to the Bears. “I pay zero attention to that,” Nagy said. “When you have the connections and ties that we have, way better than whatever was said to him, that’s zero concern. We know the real stuff.”

Which left Nagy with one thing to do: see Fields throw live. And it’s not exactly a surprise to anyone that the quarterback looked good in shorts, but it was still a necessary final step before the Bears made their daring play for the ex-Ohio State star.

“The one thing with Justin, his arm is super strong, but there’s some guys like that, when the ball comes out of their hands, they have a little bit of a wiggle with the ball and it tailspins a little,” Nagy said. “This kid throws a tight spiral. Justin’s spiral, when the ball comes out and he hits it the right way, that ball, man, the revolutions on that spiral, it’s spinning. You can just feel it.”

Nagy again cited the Olave touchdown to drive home his point. “This throw right here, Play 57, he just let that bad boy rip. And it was perfect.”


On draft day, Nagy knew the plan that Pace had laid out, with the two having reached common ground on what Fields could do for everyone in Chicago. If Fields got past the 7-8-9 stretch, with the Lions a serious trade-down threat, and the Panthers and Broncos in play to take quarterbacks on their own or trade out, then the Bears would get aggressive.

The Cowboys, at No. 10, were willing to trade down, but didn’t want to go too far, because of the makeup of a draft class that started running thin in the late teens. Dallas wound up moving down two spots, to No. 12, and scooping up Penn State LB Micah Parsons there, with the Eagles coming up for receiver DeVonta Smith. And Smith’s being off the board opened the usually trade-down-averse Giants’ minds up to a deal.

In the end, putting the future first on the table got Giants GM Dave Gettleman off his spot.

And as exhilarating as landing Fields was for everyone involved, Nagy was quick to emphasize in the aftermath that Andy Dalton remains his starter, and that he has no problem pulling from his 2017 playbook—that was the year he and Reid redshirted Mahomes and stuck with Alex Smith all season—to draw the blueprint.

“The way that grew, and just organically happened between Patrick and Alex, I’ll never forget it,” Nagy said. “And so here we are in a situation right now with Andy and with Nick [Foles] and with Justin, where Justin is able to come in and just, first off, learn the simple things of how to be an NFL quarterback. Him being on the grass and playing football, that’s easy, that’s what he’s done his whole life.

“But there are so many things that go into being a great quarterback, that are not just on the field but off the field, that he’s gonna be able to learn from Andy and from Nick. And that’s where I think, if you look at the certain situations, some guys make it and some guys don’t. And it’s our job as coaches to make sure we put them in the best possible environment so he can reach that ceiling.”

It’s also Nagy’s job to evaluate not just the good, but the not-as-good from his own past, so he’ll take stuff from his experience coaching Mitchell Trubisky, the same as he is from having worked with Mahomes. Primarily, through that work with Trubisky, Nagy learned the importance of clear and consistent communication not just between individual coaches and players, but also groups of coaches and players. “There’s just got to be constant communication, that we’re all speaking the same language.”

On top of that, there’s the technical stuff as well, with Nagy hoping to tighten up Fields’s release and mid-range accuracy.

The good news is little things with Fields keep showing up—like how he carried himself confidently when he arrived at Halas Hall on Saturday and maintained eye contact with everyone he spoke with throughout the day. And the idea of adding those to the big things Fields has in spades was enough to give Nagy and Pace a good moment to end the first night of the draft with, some three hours after they landed their new quarterback.

Worn out by a long day, the two guys looked at each other, and Nagy blurted out, “Let’s make this happen.” And really, those four words only acknowledged the naked truth.

For this to work, draft day has to be a beginning, not an end.

“That’s where, in the end, all these coaches, all these players, everyone says—that’s what it’s all about,” Nagy said. “It’s about us being great developers at every position, but specifically with Justin. We need to make sure we surround him with as much of a development plan as we can give him so he can succeed. But it feels good. It feels good that Ryan and I did this together. You never know how it’s going to go that night, but we felt good at the end of the night that it got done. And now it’s time to make things happen.”


Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

HOW, AND WHEN, THE 49ERS FELL FOR TREY LANCE

A week ago Monday—a week after Trey Lance’s second pro day in Fargo, which was staged for the 49ers’ benefit—San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan convened a meeting to work toward a decision that would close the book on the 2021 draft’s biggest story line. And out of nowhere, Shanahan, so to speak, popped the question on the 49ers’ personnel chief.

“Hey,” he asked, “you ready to roll with Trey?”

“You aren’t f------ with me, are you?” John Lynch responded.

“And I don’t say that word,” Lynch said over the phone late Saturday afternoon. “That was out of character for me. But I was very excited.”

So with that exchange, the course was set at the game’s most important position for a franchise that was in the Super Bowl with a different quarterback just 15 months ago.

Lance is a Niner, and his arrival is as big a swing as I can ever remember a contending team taking—maybe even a bigger one than the Broncos took on Peyton Manning, coming off four neck surgeries, in 2012. Unlike Denver back then, San Francisco had a guy in house it had paid at a franchise-quarterback level who led the team to the game’s biggest stage and remains in the prime of his career.

Bottom line, Shanahan and Lynch didn’t have to do this. They could’ve added Micah Parsons to the defense or Rashawn Slater to the offense at No. 12, kept their future firsts and prayed for better health for Jimmy Garoppolo. Those guys have job security, and, after an injury-riddled 2020, no one was calling for any sort of shake-up.

If this works, Lance could take Shanahan’s best-in-class scheme to another level, and the Niners could challenge to be to the next decade what the Patriots were to the last two.

If it doesn’t, it’s squarely on Lynch and Shanahan, and they know that.

That’s really what I love about it. Most people would tell you staying course with one of the best rosters in football, chock full of still-ascending players, would be a smart play. Instead, the guys in charge in San Francisco are pushing to see where they can take the operation—and the risk in the bold trade to land the third pick is only punctuated by the decision to take the raw, talented Lance.

It’ll be fascinating to see where this all goes. But even before then, there’s a lot to sort through. So Lynch and I dove into all of it.

The 49ers were so successful in keeping their intentions quiet that even owner Jed York might’ve guessed wrong last week. Indeed, when I asked Lynch whether, as he and Shanahan went to meet with York on Tuesday, he believed his boss thought the pick was Alabama’s Mac Jones, as had been widely speculated, his answer confirmed it.

“I think he did,” Lynch said, laughing. “I think he did. It’s not like we were trying to keep secrets [from him]. We’re really honest. We just wanted to let the process play out. And you never know what can happen, you know?”

There was also design to that part of it. Lynch and Shanahan first talked about trading up back in January, during meetings to wrap up the season. “We’ve been open about it. Jimmy’s been tremendous when he’s been healthy. And he hasn’t, to this point, been able to stay healthy enough. That causes you to say, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity where it looks like there’s a very strong quarterback class.’ ”

From there, the first move was for Shanahan to deploy a handful of coaches, and Lynch a small group of scouts, to watch the quarterbacks in the draft class. Shanahan didn’t give the coaches any opinions on the passers through that process, and Lynch didn’t give his thoughts to the scouts. And that wasn’t about secrecy. It was about getting to the truth as each of the two men’s lieutenants saw it.

“I really believe in consensus building,” Lynch said. “I want everyone’s opinion, and I think if everyone already knows your opinion, they’re not going to give you their opinion. Or they’re going to kind of move towards you, particularly if you’re the guy in charge. That’s not the way our staff is, but with this decision, we wanted honest feedback.”

After that? Well, to steal Lynch’s word, effing with everyone might’ve become a side benefit.

“It became kind of fun,” Lynch said. “Because just sitting back and watching people make stuff up—I can’t believe this guy’s saying this! It’s impossible to keep anything a secret these days. It’s not like we were trying to mess with people or anything, but it was like, We’ve gone this far, let’s keep this thing quiet.

So sure, that conversation with York was an important one. But the most important discussion with the owner came well before that. And that was getting sign-off on the trade up, and approval for the guys to hold onto Garoppolo to give the rookie some runway to develop.

Remember, Shanahan sat Garoppolo himself for a month after trading for him in 2017, and that was with a team that was winless and hopeless, and a quarterback who had already been in the league for three and a half years. That’s why it makes sense that Shanahan and Lynch would at least like to get Lance some reps before jettisoning a quarterback they’ve won with the last three years. But it also meant York’s agreeing to stay on the hook for $24.6 million for Garoppolo.

“That’s first and foremost,” Lynch said. “Really, that started crystallizing when we decided to make that trade. ‘We want to make this trade, but we also have another ask.’ And he was like, ‘O.K.?’ And Jed was like, ‘All right, do it if you think that’s the right thing.’ I learned long ago that you don’t go to someone and say, ‘Hey, we do this, what about this, this and this?’ You do all the homework. So we worked with [VP] Paraag [Marathe] and made sure we could fit it in the cap, and said, ‘Hey, this is our dream scenario. Can we do this?’

“By the time we brought it to Jed, we had all the answers. But still, that’s a big decision for an owner. And he backed it 100% because he wants to win. We felt that gave us the best chance to win. I think people sometimes get cynical and say why didn’t you commit 100% to [keeping Garoppolo]? Because you never know what’s going to happen. What if someone came here and said, ‘We’ll give you six ones?’ ”

With that approval, the process reached its final stages. But the truth is, the intrigue with Lance in particular started well before that.

In fact, this qualifies as another piece of NFC West business done from Cabo this offseason. That’s where Shanahan was in January during the early siloed-off study of the quarterbacks by the coaches and scouts. Lynch and assistant GM Adam Peters had sent him cutups of the top guys in a specific order to work on from Mexico, and, on a sleepy Sunday night, the GM’s phone rang with an international call coming in.

“Hey, man, this Trey Lance—I’m getting real invested in this and the possibilities are really cool, where we can go,” Shanahan told Lynch. “I really like it. I want to send you some stuff. I want to see if you feel the same way.”

The next morning, a bunch of Lynch’s coworkers made comments to him about how tired he looked. It was because he’d been up until 2:30 the night before, going through Lance’s tape and Shanahan’s notes, and matching them with his own.

“Kyle, what I love about him, I think it’s what makes him good,” Lynch said. “He really gets a refined vision for, ‘O.K., here’s how I would use this guy.’ So you watch the tape and the comments that go with it, and I always think of comments throughout the year he makes. Our comments were really aligning. What we try to do is not look at each other’s comments until we both do the evaluation. Then when you combine them, and when they’re very aligned, now we’re cooking with gas.”

Which is why when I asked whether Jones had the lead on March 26, the day of the trade, Lynch was reluctant to concede that—because the video exchange of late January stuck with him.

“People say that—and we liked Mac a lot,” Lynch said. “Mac’s film was excellent. It was damn near flawless. He played so well. But I’m also telling you in January, Kyle sends me this tape and we really wanted to give it its process.”

The last pieces to the puzzle tied to getting to know Lance as a person. This, as it turns out, would be where the 20-year-old won over a bunch of teams, the Niners included.

The other parts they’d seen. By then, Lynch says he and Shanahan believed the guy was a fit for the offense, which “was about the natural rhythm that Trey plays the game with. The things that make for a good passer. And that’s what most of it was on. Then kind of the cherry on top was—the ‘And we can do all this’—was he’s a very, very powerful athlete.” They also had considered the upside the last part of that provided.

But seeing a guy as a franchise quarterback also means learning who he is.

“I knew this kid was a great kid, and you see the grit on tape, but I wanted to feel the grit,” Lynch said. “And so the way it manifested itself is when we talked about, Well, how the heck did no Division I school give you a scholarship? The big-time schools, how’d they overlook you? Everything looked great at North Dakota State, and he wouldn’t change it. He loved it. And to see that bothered him. He loved North Dakota State, but he was like, ‘Yeah, I went to camps at this place and this place, and I was the best player at that camp,’ to see a little conviction and belief in himself, because you hear it, that was good.

“I joke around: I love nice football players, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re not looking for choir boys. We look for people who can win. You’ve got to have toughness; you’ve got to have that kind of chip on your shoulder.”

And it was clear Lance had that.


Jimmy Garoppolo reacts after a sack in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

All this puts the Niners on interesting, parallel tracks.

On one hand, you don’t make a move like this without thinking it’s going to give you stability at the game’s most important position over the long term. And Lynch certainly sees in Lance a guy who could be the Niners’ quarterback for the next 15 years.

On the other, he and the rest of the brass didn’t envision getting just about every free agent back in March, and that happened, which put the GM in a position where he’d need to protect the short-term interests of what he believes is a championship roster in the here and now, even if it meant keeping the quarterback he just worked to replace.

“Absolutely. And Jimmy’s won here,” Lynch said. “When he’s played, we’ve won. We know we can win with him. And yeah, that made the whole decision in the first place hard. I think it gives us the best chance, first and foremost, to win. I feel like we have a team that’s ready to. As an ownership, to have that commitment to allow us to do this, it really makes for a good situation. That just gives us a chance. Then we’ve got to go do it. We’re excited.

“I think aside from Trey, our draft was very exciting. Everybody feels that way after the draft, but I feel like we’re a lot better football team after free agency, after this draft. I’m very excited with where we’re sitting. And we’ve got to put the work in. We’ve got a chance. Now we got to go do it.”

And if too many quarterbacks is their biggest problem after all this? That will put everyone in San Francisco in a decent spot.


Packers GM Brian Gutekunst at the 2020 NFL combine.

Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

“WE’RE NOT GOING TO TRADE AARON RODGERS”

The first thing to know about the Aaron Rodgers situation—which simmered for a while and boiled over Thursday with a flurry of reports on his unhappiness emerging hours before the draft—is that it may have seemed to come out of nowhere for the general public, but the Packers and the quarterback’s camp have been managing it for a while.

Were the Packers surprised by Rodgers’s discontent? Sure, they were.

But they’re past that now.

“I don’t know the timeline, but this has been going on for quite a while, since the season ended,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst told me late Sunday afternoon. “Yes, we were surprised by it. But at the same time, we’re very committed to working through all the things we need to get this thing righted with him and get him back as our quarterback.”

If you follow the NFL, you know the score on this one. Rodgers first hinted at a problem back in January, with what felt almost like a farewell press conference that no one asked for following the team’s playoff ouster. In the months to follow, given several chances to clarify what he said or back down from the idea he could be finished in Green Bay, the reigning MVP only doubled down on what he’d said before.

But what we saw Thursday took things to a completely new level. And now a lot of what has happened behind closed doors the last three months is out in the open—from Rodgers’s wanting out to the Packers’ efforts to get him back in.

Those efforts are ongoing, and that was my main takeaway from the conversation with Gutekunst. He acknowledged there have been “multiple” meetings with Rodgers to try to mend the situation, and having No. 12 in green and gold in September remains the singular goal.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s absolutely the goal. We have a really good football team, and he’s the centerpiece of that. What we’re trying to accomplish, he needs to be a part of this. We want him to be a part of it. So yeah, the goal is to get him back in here right now and for the long term.”

Here’s some more of what I took away from talking to Gutekunst.

Jeff Haynes/Sports Illustrated

Gutekunst doesn’t see this as a lost cause. When asked him whether he believes, from the tone of those meetings, that the situation is fixable, his answer reflected that: “Yeah. I’d say from the beginning, I think this is very much fixable and salvageable. It’s just going to take some time and effort on both parties’ parts. Like I said, we’re really committed to doing that and getting to the right place where he comes back here as our quarterback.” As for what it will take, Gutekunst said, “We’re working through that right now. What I will say is the organization, the entire organization—[president] Mark Murphy, myself, Russ [Ball], Matt [LaFleur]—this whole organization is committed to however we need to do to get that accomplished.”

He’s willing to give Rodgers a market correction. Thanks to a deal Rodgers signed three years ago that was front-loaded with a $57.5 million signing bonus and $66.9 million in Year 1, his remaining numbers are now relatively low ($73 million on the three years left), and there’s not a dollar left guaranteed. That, and Rodgers’s trade value, gives the Packers flexibility to move on with Jordan Love pretty much whenever they please. Which is likely why someone in his spot might get pushy about getting a new deal. But for his part, Gutekunst said the Packers are willing to take care of Rodgers on that front. “Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “We’ve been working on it for quite a while now. I don’t think that would be something standing in the way.”

He was there for the Brett Favre saga in 2008, as a Packers scout, but sees this as different. Now, I’d say there are some parallels—from the quarterback’s desire for the team to be aggressive in building around him, to the presence of a young first-round pick behind him—but Gutekunst was quick to point to a notable difference. “I don’t know if I’d really compare the two situations all that much,” he said. “In 2008, I wasn’t as close to it as probably some, but in 2008 the team was moving on. At that point, they had chosen to move on. Whereas here, that’s not the case. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of comparisons. I know that when Ted [Thompson] was going through it, I always admired that he was always trying to do what was right for the organization and the players as well.” And Gutekunst believes what’s best for the organization, and the players, in this case is to have Rodgers where he is now, on the Green Bay roster.

Gutekunst isn’t taking any of this personally. And he could, for sure. Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported the other day that Rodgers wants the GM fired—I haven’t been able to confirm that independently—and most people in Gutekunst’s spot, in any line of work, wouldn’t be pleased with that. But Gutekunst is doing his best to keep a level head about the whole thing. “Yeah, you obviously don’t want to hear those things,” Gutekunst said. “But at the same time, Aaron’s never said that to me, and I haven’t heard him say that publicly. So I think it’s a little unfair. I don’t know where that’s coming from.” The GM then added that last week “I had a lot on my plate and that was all I was focusing on,” but he emphasized that he wasn’t taking any of it personally. “I don’t have any personal animosity. This is not about me,” he said. “This is about the Green Bay Packers and what is right for the Green Bay Packers.”

And again, it’s pretty clear that, as Gutekunst sees it, the right thing for the Packers remains bringing Rodgers back. So when I asked him whether he could envision any scenario where he’ll trade Rodgers, he didn’t miss a beat.

“We’re not going to trade Aaron Rodgers,” he answered.

From there, he said that it’ll be a focus of the organization’s, and his, to get the Rodgers situation taken care of in a way that it won’t become an annual thing, like the Favre saga once was.

Can they make it happen? I honestly don’t know.

“I’m always glass half full,” he said. “But I’m very optimistic on this, and we’ll continue to work through these things to get him back to playing for us.”

Until then, this will be a front-burner story in the NFL, and I know the Packers know that. So just as Ed Werder and Rachel Nichols used to camp out on a front lawn in Hattiesburg, Miss., there’ll be a ton of attention on Rodgers’s whereabouts for the start of OTAs later this month, veteran minicamp in June and training camp in July.

I’d say stay tuned, but I already know everyone reading this will.


Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

HOW THE JETS DECIDED ON ZACH WILSON

This was a different type of draft year, and everyone had to get as creative as they could. So back on March 29, at BYU’s pro day, with the Niners-Dolphins trade going down, Zach Wilson getting ready to throw and the tectonic plates of the 2021 draft shifting, Jets coach Robert Saleh ran down BYU alum Fred Warner, his former star middle linebacker from San Francisco, with a bit of a weird request.

Warner was there to support Wilson and the rest of the Cougars trying to make their case to all the NFL teams there that day. He also served as a human measuring stick.

Hey Fred, can you go give Zach a hug real quick?

The first-team All-Pro obliged his old defensive coordinator, and in doing so helped Saleh, GM Joe Douglas and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur put the final piece in place for the Jets’ decision on what to do with the second pick. The 6' 3", 230-pound Warner is roughly the same size as Patrick Mahomes, and, as he approached Wilson, who’d faced questions about his size, the Jets’ brass could actually see it.

Wilson was eye-to-eye with Warner, he had broad shoulders that measured up with a linebacker’s and confirmed what the Jets came in believing: that he had plenty of room to grow physically and could eventually show himself to be like the other big people in his family (his dad was a Utah defensive tackle, and he has one brother who’s a BYU linebacker and another who’s verbally committed to be one in 2022).

Right around that time, medical clearance came for the Jets, too, something that was important, given that Wilson had surgery on his right shoulder two years ago, and thus the final pieces were put in place for the 21-year-old to become the latest big swing that New York’s star-crossed football franchise has taken.

And obviously there’s a strong belief in Florham Park that this will be different than Mark Sanchez or Sam Darnold, or even the relatively successful Chad Pennington. They wouldn’t have done this if they didn’t feel that way. So how did they get there? A few weeks back, we detailed the Jets’ decision to deal Darnold and search for their next QB from GM Joe Douglas’s perspective. Now, we’re giving you how the coaching staff worked through this—and signed off on Wilson with the No. 2 pick.

• Saleh and his staff got going on the quarterbacks about a month ahead of starting on the rest of the draft class, a couple of weeks after arriving in Jersey in January, mostly because the Darnold situation combined with the team’s holding the second pick in a quarterback-rich year demanded that. Saleh studied the five quarterbacks who wound up going in the first round. LaFleur, QBs coach Rob Calabrese and pass-game specialist Greg Knapp did that and went deeper into the class, too, through the whole second tier.

The head coach directed his assistants not to talk to one another about the quarterback group to keep opinions on each player unaffected, and, when the staff reconvened in late February with their independent evaluations of the class, a consensus was reached that the top two were clear—Trevor Lawrence and Wilson. And that was with the offensive coaches drilling down on technical details, and Saleh clearly seeing Wilson’s fearlessness, bravado, timing, accuracy and just how smooth he looked as an athlete.

• This is going to sound bananas, but the Jets’ coaches actually discussed, at that point, how they preferred Wilson to Lawrence as a fit for their offense. Why? Wilson’s tape showed a very clean translation to the Shanahan style of offense. You can see him go through reads—1, 2, 3, out! Lawrence, conversely, played in an offense heavy on RPOs. That’s not a knock. Justin Herbert played in an RPO-heavy system in college, too, and was obviously fine.

It’s just that picturing Wilson running LaFleur’s system was easy, because BYU’s offense carries so many similar West Coast principles. And Wilson also had traits that the offense values, starting with a lightning-quick release and good balance throwing on the move.

• The next step was the Zoom meetings, and one thing in particular stuck out about Wilson in that setting. While his ADHD was at one point a story line, the quarterback showed uncanny, Rain Man–like recall. It shined through in particular during his Zoom meetings with the Jets, and as Knapp took him through the BYU tape. Or, more accurately, Wilson took Knapp through it.

If you’ve watched coaches’ tape before, you’ve seen how, before a play is shown, a shot of the scoreboard comes up to establish the point of the game the play is taken from, down-and-distance, etc. Well, at one point, in a meeting with Wilson, Knapp had the screen frozen on such a frame. Wilson immediately told him what was coming. He took him through the play call. He took him through the defense’s call. He told him how a certain corner would usually be in the coverage associated with the call. He explained his throw. Then, he told him why the coaches called the play and how it was worked into the practice week.

Suffice it to say, that impressed the coaches, and it wasn’t the only time it happened. Again, the formation presnap wasn’t even on the screen yet.

• Another part of the process was determining whether Wilson would be equipped to deal with New York. There were two reasons, primarily, the Jets eventually came to the conclusion that he’ll be fine. One, less than a year ago, he dealt with his coaches at BYU, disappointed in how 2019 played out, opening up a quarterback competition—and responded with one of the most finely quarterbacked seasons in school history. And two, Provo’s not New York. But BYU and Utah football are a big deal in that state, so he did have some “fishbowl” experience.

The Jets also got feedback on his personality and developed their own opinions as to how it would play in New York. Wilson’s throwing coach, former NFL QB John Beck, was a tremendous resource along the way, too, telling the team he’d never seen a more natural thrower at that age, or a quarterback who could throw that effortlessly off-platform, but also that he was a smart kid with enough of a cocky edge, and self-awareness, to take slings and arrows in New York.


Now, here’s one thing that really stood out to me, on how the Jets are going to handle Wilson going forward: They don’t want to put the weight of the world on his shoulders. In fact, if you watch the phone call the Jets made to Wilson after making it official, it’s right there. “All you gotta do is be yourself, nothing more, nothing less,” Douglas told Wilson, before Saleh got on the phone and added, “The biggest thing I want to tell you, just remember this, this organization is going to lift you, not the other way around.”

The point was emphasized with the Jets, soon thereafter, trading up for guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, then taking receiver Elijah Moore and tailback Michael Carter.

And the concept really does show awareness of where things went wrong with Darnold. The Jets aren’t going to ask the world of Wilson right away (though the plan is to prepare him to start Week 1, as would be the case with anyone on the roster, and the reality is he likely will start). They’ll ask him to be, to steal a phrase from my old NFL Network colleague Bucky Brooks, the trailer and not the truck as a rookie, and allow him to grow from there.

A team with that idea going in is a good place for any quarterback to start. We’ll see if that situation eventually adds up to better results at the position than the Jets have gotten of late.


Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

TEN TAKEAWAYS

The Patriots’ taking Mac Jones, I think, relates back to a point we made last week. And that point is on New England’s overall approach to the position. If you circle back to the numbers, we gave you these facts: The Patriots’ quarterback spending hasn’t exceeded 14% of the salary cap since Bill Belichick’s first year, 2000, when Drew Bledsoe was still on the books, even at a time when eight or nine teams exceed that number on an annual basis. Having a quarterback on a rookie contract will keep that figure low. And if Jones hits, it’ll become a major advantage for the team in the flexibility it’ll get with which to build the roster. It’s also worth reiterating a note from my Friday column that the Patriots’ passive approach to their quarterback pursuit this offseason carried over to draft day. One team in the upper reaches of the first round called them as the draft was going on to circle back on a trade-up inquiry from beforehand (New England had called just about everyone earlier in the month to explore dealing up), and got a response that equated to “We’re good.” And when the Giants went on the clock at No. 11, even with Belichick’s strong connection to owner John Mara and coach Joe Judge, the Patriots didn’t even call New York as it worked out the trade with Chicago that set up the Bears to take Fields. All of which confirms that New England was committed to taking a disciplined approach and if, say, Washington leapfrogged the Pats to get Jones, they probably would’ve just pivoted and taken someone like Zaven Collins (seen as a 3–4 fit and a potential Dont’a Hightower by some, and a bigger Jamie Collins by others) at No. 15, and doubled back with maybe Stanford’s Davis Mills in Round 2. Now, that doesn’t mean they didn’t like Jones a lot. They did, obviously, with his accuracy, ball security and experience having run a complex system all parts of the equation, with the side benefit of him having experience in the Patriots’ system (Brian Daboll used a lot of New England’s terminology at Bama during Jones’s redshirt year in 2017) in there, too.

Speaking of Mills, I wouldn’t read a thing into his being Nick Caserio’s first pick as Texans GM, beyond what we already know. It’s been clear for a while now that Houston isn’t as hard-line as it was earlier in the offseason with its resistance to trade Deshaun Watson, and I don’t think that’s changed. Maybe he’ll be dealt while his legal situation is still ongoing. Maybe the Texans are better off waiting to do it, until there’s some clarity. (Doing it now would probably mean selling low.) Maybe the Texans will make another run at repairing the relationship (I don’t know if that’s possible). But this much I feel comfortable saying: How Caserio deployed the 67th pick, while interesting, wasn’t some sort of tell on where the Texans stand. Fact is, the Texans had one quarterback, Watson, in limbo going into the draft, and another, Tyrod Taylor, on a one-year deal. Beyond that, there’s really no experienced depth. And with Mills, who’s battled injuries but has very real potential, the Texans drafted a player who, had he returned to school and put together a strong, healthy 2022, very easily could’ve wound being the first quarterback taken in next April’s draft. Is it a sure thing that he’ll show up on the grass when he gets to Texas? Of course not. But with the 67th pick, and given the Texans’ current quarterback situation, it was worth the gamble with a retooling year ahead (especially given how Mills did in an interview setting with teams). The Texans are betting on the come, to be sure, but in this particular year there was a lot of that, anyway.

On the topic of 2022 draft’s quarterbacks, the cupboard isn’t bare. But it’s not exactly full, either. And the best comparison to where we are now on that would be 2018 going into 2019. In the summer of 2018, I did a column identifying quarterbacks to watch for the following year’s draft, and this was who made the list: Drew Lock, Jarrett Stidham, Will Grier, Justin Herbert, Ryan Finley, Trace McSorley, Daniel Jones, Clayton Thorson, Shea Patterson, Tyree Jackson and McKenzie Milton. In the lead-in to that column, I wrote, “This year, it’s anyone’s guess” who would wind up in the first round. One player from that group, Jones, went in the first round in 2019. Two others who weren’t starters the year before, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, ended up joining Jones in Round 1. And that’s what we’re looking at going into this year, with names like Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, USC’s Kedon Slovis and Georgia’s J.T. Daniels being thrown around. It really is anyone’s guess who winds up going in the first round, as opposed to where we were a year ago (with Lawrence, Fields and Lance) or the year before (with Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa). Which is one reason why some teams felt the need to be aggressive this year.

DeVonta Smith’s case is going to be an interesting one. You’ve seen Smith’s weight from the medical combine in Indy: 166 pounds. You probably, one way or the other, have a take on it. You might also know that only two receivers in the 10 drafts between 2011 and ’20 who were under 6' 1" and 200 pounds went in the top 10, and those two selections (Tavon Austin and John Ross) fell well short of expectations. And you may have heard me point to Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce (173 pounds at the 1994 combine) as a comp for Smith. Now, we’ll give you two interesting pieces of information from his Alabama days that I think are important as to his future and what the Eagles are getting in the 10th pick.

1) Bama tried to put weight on Smith during his four years in Tuscaloosa, and by his second year on campus, it became clear to those there that Nick Saban had made peace with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen the same way it routinely would with other players. “He’s gonna be 165 pounds, no matter what,” Saban said in meetings going back to Smith’s sophomore year. The focus from there, for Saban and the strength staff, was in helping Smith get faster and stronger, not necessarily bigger.

2) At his size, it’s worth mentioning that toughness was never a concern for the Tide staff. And one piece of proof on that: Saban moved Smith over to defense for a short period of time in 2018. It was for only a few practices, but Bama caught the injury bug at corner and needed reinforcements. With a historically deep receiver corps (as the 2020 and ’21 drafts would show), the coaches felt comfortable looking for an athlete there to fill in. That led them to Smith, because of his long arms, and willingness, as displayed on special teams, to deliver and receive contact. I’m told, over that short period, Smith showed potential as a press corner and didn’t look even a little out of place.

On the first point, Smith is different. On the second point, Smith is different. And his production is different, too—otherwise, he wouldn’t have become the first Heisman-winning receiver in 29 years. That’s good. Because he’ll have to keep being different to make it. Yup, I like the Bruce comp. It’s also telling that you’ve got to reach back 27 years to find it. So we’ll see. What I can say is that there are a lot of people who believe he’ll make it happen. “We asked all the SEC guys who the best player they played against was over the last couple months,” said one NFC exec. “All of them, every one, said DeVonta. And the Bama guys all said, ‘He’s the best football player I’ve ever been around.’ ”

Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s slide only became more fascinating the more I dug into it. Full disclosure: I mocked him 23rd to the Jets. So I was way off (he went 52nd), and I had a lot of company. I’ve mentioned in a few places since, and I touched on this before the draft, the struggle that the Cardinals had in finding an on-field home for last year’s freak hybrid, Isaiah Simmons, did scare some teams from taking guys like him high this year. Active for all 16 games, Simmons started just seven for Arizona (and those seven were more situational, spread throughout the season) and played just 34% of the snaps on defense in 2020. But if you look deeper, there’s a development in the college game that’s made it tougher for NFL teams to scout these types, too. At the NCAA level, with the depth of corners suffering (there’s a bigger story there, too, on how more athletes choose to play receiver than corner), a new position has emerged—what football people call the “overhang to the field” linebacker. That ’backer plays in space and can be asked to cover the slot, to make a play in the run game or to blitz. It’s usually a smallish, explosive, fast guy at maybe 220 or 225 pounds. Some examples of these types, like BYU overhang turned 49ers star Fred Warner, really work out. Others, like ex-Clemson star Dorian O’Daniel, don’t quite as much. The trouble with them is that in the NFL there are specialists (nickel corners, nickel ’backers) who do what they do; so eventually they have to settle into the linebacker spot. And on their college tape, there usually isn’t a lot of evidence of them filling gaps in the run game, or diagnosing run/pass in play-action. So you’re often having to figure out whether they can do that stuff after drafting them. For 3–4 teams, drafting these players (unless they’re in a Patrick Chung type of safety role) is a nonstarter. And even for 4–3 teams, there’s an adjustment. The good news is the Browns do have an overhang-style role in their 4–3 for Owusu-Koramoah, one that Mack Wilson, Malcolm Smith and Sione Takitaki played last year in Cleveland. That’ll give the wildly athletic, playmaking Owusu-Koramoah a starting point. But to really become a star in the NFL, he’ll have to make like Warner did and get good at the rest of the equation in becoming a pro linebacker.

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The Jaguars’ draft class, past Trevor Lawrence, is fascinating in its connection to new coach Urban Meyer. The first two picks (Travis Etienne being the other one), of course, speak to Meyer’s relationship with and respect for Dabo Swinney’s program at Clemson. And three of the four picks that followed—Georgia CB Tyson Campbell, Stanford OT Walker Little and USC DT Jay Tufele—were players who Meyer recruited and offered scholarships to when he was the coach at Ohio State. Now, ex-college coaches reaching back into their past to find pro prospects isn’t always a good thing. But we saw Pete Carroll do it in Seattle, and the result was a three-year span in the draft that built the foundation of a run of championship contention unlike anything the Seahawks’ franchise had previously experienced. Getting Richard Sherman in the fifth round in 2011 was probably the best example. Sherman was recruited as a receiver out of Dominguez High in Los Angeles, and Carroll, down the road at USC, didn’t wind up offering him. Then, he got to see Sherman evolve over four years and switch positions. And coaching against him, Carroll got to see a player, very raw at the position, who he’d known for years, start to show the makings of being the type of long, feisty, physical corner the coach has always valued. Meyer, of course, has to be hoping he’ll be able to tell similar stories about Campbell, Little and Tufele down the line.

Carolina’s trade-down spree wasn’t an accident. After a flurry of a franchise-record five draft weekend trades, the Panthers went from carrying eight picks into the draft to making 11 selections, while also replacing the 2022 fourth-rounder they dealt away as part of the deal for Sam Darnold. Here’s the fallout of deals with the Bears, Browns, Eagles, Texans and Titans …

The Panthers gave up eight picks: Nos. 39, 52, 73, 89, 109, 113, 151 and 191.

The Panthers got 12 picks: Nos. 52, 59, 70, 83, 89, 109, 126, 158, 166, 204, 232 and a 2022 fourth-rounder.

I’m not gonna get tangled up in the particulars of each trade, but if this looks a little like how Jimmy Johnson used to approach the draft, that checks out—Matt Rhule was on the ex-Cowboys and Dolphins coach’s boat off Key West talking ball a few weeks back. And if you think there’s a little Seahawks feel to it, that makes sense too, since that’s where new GM Scott Fitterer came from. So while much of this offseason in Charlotte has been hyperfocused on quarterback, and owner David Tepper is a part of that, the decision not to go with one at No. 8 (which we explained in the Friday column) added to the effort to methodically build depth across the roster, starting with South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn, is a good illustration of the approach Rhule and Fitterer are taking to remake the team for Rhule’s program.

The Bengals’ decision at No. 5 will be an interesting one to follow. From the start, there were three guys who Cincinnati considered for the fifth pick, each of whom the team’s brass saw as a true difference-maker, and each capable of making a difference specifically for rehabbing franchise QB Joe Burrow: Florida TE Kyle Pitts, Oregon OT Penei Sewell and LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase. So what made Chase the pick? With a feeling Pitts would be gone by then (and he was, to the Falcons at No. 4), the internal debate between Sewell and Chase was extensive, as you might expect, and the Bengals were trying to look at the draft as a mosaic (with OL coach Frank Pollack active on the road, going to the pro days of a ton of expected Day 2 linemen to see whether the team could address that need later on). In the end, the Bengals saw Chase as capable of being a true X receiver, who was consistently productive in the biggest games and against the best competition LSU played in 2019. His hands, awareness and ability to win in 50-50 situations (understanding the nuances of route running, when to show his hands, etc.) were all A-plus. And he got a nice recommendation from his ex-Tigers teammate too. Burrow told the Bengals staff that in the offseason leading up to LSU’s national title run, “If I was doing something extra, Ja’Marr was always with me doing something extra,” which helped ease any questions on Chase’s opt-out year. Burrow also fielded a direct question from the Bengals’ staff: On a scale of one to 10, if we drafted Chase, how excited would you be? “Ten,” Burrow answered. So Chase is a Bengal. Having passed on Sewell, the team understands part of the equation in assessing this pick will be how the three linemen the Bengals did draft (second-rounder Jackson Carman, fourth-rounder D’Ante Smith and sixth-rounder Trey Hill) play. But as for the sense I’ve gotten on Chase? I can say the Bengals were at peace with the call to take him throughout the day on Thursday, and Burrow, who got a heads up it was coming, couldn’t have been happier to see it happen.

Speaking of opt-outs, the tote board gives us some interesting results on the impact of those decisions. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert got crushed for saying this a couple of weeks ago:

“As I stated in the summer, if a player chooses to opt out for whatever reason, that’s their decision and we will respect it. However, if a player played in 2020 and those players are of equal value, the one that didn’t play and the one that played, we’ll take the one that played because we don’t know what the opt-outs will be like in their first season back in football. We believe it’s hard to sit this game out. Sometimes it happens because of injury, but this time it was pandemic-related, for the most part. But we will take the players, again, if they’re close. It’s not to say we’re not gonna draft somebody that opted out. I couldn’t say that. But if I have a choice and we have a choice, we’ll take the one that played if their value is close.” So how did it actually play out? Seven opt-outs went in the first round.

• Chase, Bengals, fifth.

• Sewell, Lions, sixth.

• Penn State LB Micah Parsons, Cowboys, 12th.

• Northwestern OL Rashawn Slater, Chargers, 13th.

• Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, Titans, 22nd.

• Miami DE Greg Rousseau, Bills, 30th.

• Washington DE Joe Tryon, Buccaneers, 32nd.

And Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman, drafted 27th by the Ravens, opted out, then back in, then back out, so the number sits at about seven and a half. So, really, it didn’t affect the first four two much, and you can say five because Farley’s back problem was a much bigger reason for his fall than his opting out. But Bateman and Tryon were probably dinged a little. Others, like former Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman, who signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent, were hurt more. Which is to say, yes, it was a factor for teams—and I can understand if you were using it as a tiebreaker. Which in turn really colors the whole thing. For guys where it was so obvious what they could be as pros, there wasn’t much fallout. But if you were a little lower down and had clustered players together, it’s easy to see why you’d go with the guy who’d played last fall versus the one who didn’t, without passing judgment on anyone’s COVID-19-related decision.

I’ve got more leftovers from draft weekend. Want some?

• The Saints sniffed around on trading up for one of the draft’s top corners. My sense is they were bargain-shopping a little (I heard from a couple of teams that they weren’t going to put a third first-rounder on the table to jump from No. 28), which is why they were never particularly close on a deal. But had they gone up, I’m told they liked both Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Horn, either of whom would have given them some flexibility with Marshon Lattimore (both the contract and his legal situation).

• My take on the Titans’ grabbing Farley: Their confidence in their doctors was high, after 2019 first-rounder Jeffery Simmons proved a huge success story, coming off a torn ACL that robbed him of the chance to do much during the predraft process. I also know that Tennessee viewed Farley as among the best defensive players in the class, regardless of position.

• The Lions’ draft class was big … literally. In fact, it wasn’t until the team’s fourth selection, CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, that new Detroit coach Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes took a player who weighed fewer than 290 pounds. And that’s not by accident. Campbell’s fingerprints are very much there, as are Holmes’s, in the team’s emphasis of building through the lines of scrimmage.

• Jaylen Waddle’s selection at No. 6—the comp his old OC Steve Sarkisian gave me on him was Reggie Bush (which is interesting)—could result in some trade fallout. I’d think the Dolphins will get calls on return man–receiver Jakeem Grant, who may be a little redundant with what Waddle is going to bring to the table. Grant is set to make $4.15 million this year.

• Speaking of the Dolphins, I think their second pick, LB Jaelan Phillips, could wind up being a grand slam for the team. I don’t believe I talked to a single scout the last month who didn’t think Phillips was the best rusher in the draft and a top-10 prospect on tape. The background is a little scary, of course. But he was seen generally as a good-hearted kid doing his best to keep his demons at bay and was very open with teams about that.

• This time of year, there are changes in scouting departments, so I think you’ll see some shuffling. The Panthers are one team to watch. They could bring in a new assistant GM or VP of player personnel, and Bills director of player personnel Dan Morgan, given that he’s a former Panther linebacker and ex-coworker of Fitterer’s, would be one name to watch, as would Kansas City’s Ryan Poles and Philadelphia’s Ian Cunningham.

• The Raiders would be another team I’d have an eye on in that regard. And teams with new GMs will probably keep tweaking—I’ve heard Holmes could bring Panthers scout Mike Martin to Detroit in some sort of elevated role.

• The Ravens took two players, in Rashod Bateman and Jayson Oweh, with some boom-or-bust potential. To be fair, as we said, this was a very boom-or-bust year in general, considering the circumstances. It’ll be fascinating to see how those two wind up doing in a very strong, winning program.

• Given Belichick’s relationship with Nick Saban, the Patriots’ trade-up for Christian Barmore in the second round is fascinating. It at least shows that Saban’s public defense of Barmore (which he expressed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot) mirrored what he told people privately. Because if anyone’s getting the truth from Saban, it’s Belichick.

• Want three names to watch for 2022? Of course you do. LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr., Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama OT Evan Neal are three with freakish ability who have already gotten the NFL’s attention and likely have a first-round future.


SIX FROM THE SIDELINE

1) I’m still kicking myself for not realizing a Bob Baffert horse was a 12-1 shot to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Feels like that’d be the easy bet on the board—and, sure enough, Medina Spirit won.

2) Because I’m a sicko, I have the FCS playoffs on the office TV right now, and found out in the course of putting it on that North Dakota State was ousted from the bracket earlier on Sunday. Why am I telling you this? It’s just the second playoff loss for the Bison in a decade, with the other coming in 2016, the year after Carson Wentz left. NDSU won national titles in 2011, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’17, ’18 and ’19, and might’ve won another, behind Lance, if this weird year didn’t make it impossible for the quarterback to both play his college season and prepare for the draft.

3) Jaromir Jagr is still a pro hockey player. That’s right. And, at 49, he helped the Czech team he owns to a championship over the weekend. I was in fifth grade when that dude was an NHL rookie. He must really love to play.

4) S/o to my good buddy Rich Eisen for all his Run Rich Run campaign does for St. Jude. There is no better cause to give to than to help sick kids, and Rich has done so much good in that regard with something that started as a combine stunt.

5) This Manchester United story is wild.

6) I’m proud to be among the 100 million Americans who are fully vaccinated. It’s truly amazing what all the medical professionals have done to get us here. Here’s hoping every last one of them knows how appreciated they are.


BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

People on social media love to discuss what will and won’t age well. And I’m with Robert here: I think it’s fair to say that acting like Tom Brady was just some dude on a great team in 2020 will age poorly.

I love Mike Tirico—great dude. But, I mean, are we supposed to believe that Rodgers was really “disappointed that news has come out on this rift”? There’s a 0% chance he didn’t know what was coming.

Josh Myers was the Packers’ third-round pick and, presumably, will be snapping to someone in Green Bay this summer. Whether it’s Rodgers or not, I don’t know.

I thought this was funny and then …

… I realized Mac Jones took that shot at himself. Which, I’ll be honest, makes me like him more.

This was good too.

But our guy Andrew Hawkins had the best Mac tweet of the weekend.

The draft brought a lot of gold …

… to the internet.

And while we’re on Trevor, yup, getting to bring his Alvin Kamara-like buddy with him to Jacksonville isn’t a bad deal.

Best moment of draft night: Kwity Paye, whose story is flat-out incredible, retiring his mom on national television.

I love draft call videos. Can’t get enough of them. I think this was the best one of the weekend.

Chargers social media team: underrated.

I feel like we had to address the Tebow tight end story somewhere. So this is where we’ll do it.

This was verified at the Run Rich Run event. Mike Vick = still a freak show.

It really is, until you consider what a steamroller that program is (as we said a minute ago).

So cool that the Chiefs did this.

Congrats to the Berry family! Safe to say the Browns’ GM will remember the 2021 draft for more than just Greg Newsome II.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Rookie minicamps are this coming weekend and next weekend—which really is the start of football practice for NFL teams. And it’s hard to believe we’re already there, with OTAs right after that and veteran minicamps starting to roll out in about a month.

Camp is less than three months away, and kickoff is four months and change from now.

More SI Daily Covers:
• In the Shadow of Tom Brady: What It Means to Be Pick 199
• Who Is Prospect X? The 2021 NFL Draft’s Deepest Sleeper
• Trey Lance Is Just Different
Alex Smith Healed Enough To Walk Away

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