• Plus, RG3’s return, Gronk is (probably) coming back, Matt Ryan nears an extension, the dancing punter gets cut, and the Titans get an upgrade in uniforms
By Andy Benoit
April 06, 2018

The week’s 10 biggest stories in the NFL, and the impact of each...

10. Lamar Jackson Pro Day Reaction

Louisville’s pro day was last week, but questions about Jackson have persisted.

Our Jonathan Jones wrote a great piece earlier this week about the active role Jackson’s mother has taken (and continues to take) in her son’s football career, and what it could mean for Jackson’s draft prospects. Perhaps just as telling about Jackson’s draft prospects is the Brandin Cooks trade to L.A. (spoiler: that’s Story No. 1 on this week’s list). The Rams are trading draft picks for potentially expensive veteran stars because Jared Goff, still on his rookie deal, is drastically cheaper than even a middle-tier veteran QB. The cap savings with QBs on their rookie deal is a huge financial advantage that teams are playing to more and more. The Seahawks had great success building around Russell Wilson from 2012-15. The Eagles are benefitting from a cheap Carson Wentz. Because having a quality QB on a rookie deal means the freedom to sign two or three other marquee players, and because with first-rounders those four-year rookie deals can be extended to a still fairly cap-friendly fifth year, there is more incentive than ever for teams to reach for a quarterback in Round 1. It’s good news for Jackson and maybe even Mason Rudolph. With quarterbacks, teams sometimes aren’t drafting the player as much as they’re drafting the position.

• LAMAR JACKSON, HIS MOTHER, AND THE PLAN THEY’VE ALWAYS HAD: A look at their past, and how it is shaping their unique approach to the NFL draft.

9. Titans New Uniforms

Most notably, new helmets! Out with the old, in with the blue.

I love Tennessee’s new look. After the Bills and Chargers changed uniforms a few years ago, seven of the NFL’s 32 teams had white helmets. That’s too many. This new, duller shade of blue makes the Titans look more intimidating.

8. Raiders Cut Marquette King, the Dancing Punter

King was a 2016 second-team All-Pro and one of the best known specialists in the league. He has since signed with Denver.

I would love to hear how this news was broken to King, as Gruden can’t speak to the players yet. Too bad. I envisioned him sitting Kind down and saying, “You’re getting dumped, but it’s not you. It’s your personality.”

7. Falcons Nearing Extension With Matt Ryan

After Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins reset the QB market, the Falcons QB is next up to become the NFL’s highest-paid player.

Gary Gramling made a great point on our MMQB 10 Things podcast recently: Remember that when Ryan was coming out of Boston College in 2008, the concern was that he might not be an accurate enough passer. That’s hard to imagine now—Ryan is one of the game’s preeminent timing and rhythm throwers. Locking him up for another few years is a no-brainer. You could argue that Atlanta, with its fast, young defense and star-studded running and passing game, should be the NFC’s Super Bowl favorites entering 2018.

• THE QUESTIONS FOR THE TOP SIX QB PROSPECTS: And looking for answers when it comes to the passers in this year’s draft.

6. League Office Sharing Next Gen Stats

The NFL will share the past two years of their player tracking data with all 32 teams. The data is collected from RFID tracking devices in every player’s shoulder pads.

This is interesting advanced data since it’s not judgement-based. Something to keep in mind, though: You don’t always get apples to apples when comparing NFL player data. Different schemes and supporting casts can greatly impact how a player approaches the game. That’s why coaches use advanced data as background and filler, but never as a replacement for film study.

5. Offseason Workouts Begin

The Cardinals and Bears began offseason workout programs on Tuesday. (All NFL teams will get going by April 16.)

With the CBA limiting practice times and offseason work, these programs are more important than ever. Which teams can be most efficient with the time? And which teams can be most creative with fudging the rules? I heard a story about a coach in the early 2000s (which, granted, was under a different CBA and with a league-friendlier NFLPA) who got around a rule that prohibited offense vs. defense drills by teaching his trainers and administrative staffs some defensive schemes. Those trainers and administrative staffers formed an 11-man unit for the offense to work against. So, technically, there was no offense vs. defense. A trainer once got run over by a fullback, but other than that, it sounded like everything worked out fine.

4. David Johnson Is Back

The Cardinals star running back has been fully cleared from his 2017 wrist injury and was recently filmed doing kettlebell lifts.

The Cardinals have a ton of needs on offense, but with a veteran QB (Sam Bradford, fingers crossed) and an upper-tier defense, reincorporating a superstar like Johnson could be enough to make them playoff contenders in 2018. It will be interesting to see how GM Steve Keim approaches this draft.

3. Gronk Not Done Yet

After teasing that he might retire after the Super Bowl, Rob Gronkowski said he is “pretty certain” he will return this season, although the burgeoning trade rumors mean there’s a chance it won’t be with the Patriots.

I’d be surprised if Gronkowski isn’t a Patriot in 2018. Two years ago, Bill Belichick told me that, next to quarterback, tight end is the most intellectually challenging position in New England’s scheme, and he had great admiration for the mental workload Gronkowski handled. Teammates and coaches love Gronk—when he’s at work, he’s the consummate professional. Even if Gronkowski has grown unhappy as a Patriot, it won’t impact how he approaches his craft. And let’s not forget: He still performs that craft better than anyone, and on an affordable contract (cash of $8.9 million, cap hit of $10.9, according to Spotrac). With Brandin Cooks gone, Gronkowski and Chris Hogan are New England’s lone vertical threats (assuming Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson remain ancillary backups, which is likely.) The only way Gronkowski becomes even a little bit expendable is if the Patriots decide to go all-in on the underneath passing game they featured a few years ago. With Julian Edelman 32 years old and coming off a knee injury, I doubt they commit to that approach—or any particular aerial approach—until the regular season.

2. Ravens sign RG3

Baltimore added Robert Griffin III on a one-year deal to backup Joe Flacco, replacing Ryan Mallett.

Football-wise, this is a big change for the Ravens. In Ryan Mallett, they had an ersatz Joe Flacco. Stylistically, their offense didn’t change when Mallett came in. Now, their offense will change nearly 180 degrees if backup Robert Griffin takes the field. (That’s a big if, by the way. Griffin couldn’t make an NFL roster last year, there’s no promise he’ll ultimately make Baltimore’s). The Griffin signing also reopens the Colin Kaepernick debate. It’s hard to imagine the Ravens truly believing that Griffin is the superior player. Griffin and Kaepernick have similar flaws, but Griffin’s are worse. Plus, Kaepernick’s strengths are more dynamic than Griffin’s. The Ravens’ most honest argument, which they can’t publicly make given their role in the ongoing Kaepernick collusion case, is: If we sign Kaepernick, we get waves of protesters against him and the legions of media that come with it. That’s disruptive, and Kaepernick isn’t far enough ahead of Griffin as a player to justify it. This story is likely to get bigger before it gets smaller.

• WILL RG3 REBOUND IN BALTIMORE?: Or is he just another placeholder for the Ravens’ lukewarm offense?

1. Patriots trade Cooks to the Rams

The Patriots traded WR Brandon Cooks and fourth-round draft pick to the Rams for the 23rd overall pick and a sixth-round pick in this year's draft.

For analysis, read this Peter King article. Or this Albert Breer article. Or this Andy Benoit article. Or, for a Patriots perspective, this Conor Orr article. The MMQB was pretty thorough on this one.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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