Since this is going up on Christmas morning, I thought we’d start the mailbag this week with a tone of positivity and hope. And to get you in the mood, I’ll give out 10 NFL gifts (before we answer some rather negative questions below).
1) Good health to JJ Watt. You guys heard the news. He’s planning to play a little more than two months after suffering a torn pec, which is a pretty crazy timetable for recovery. At 30, I know he’s felt his football mortality, and the fact is we just haven’t gotten to see enough of an all-time great over the last few years. Here’s hoping a guy who I think is one of the really good ones balls out in the playoffs
2) Same to Cam Newton. Back in 2015, in winning the MVP and getting to the Super Bowl, it looked like Newton was starting to realize his immense potential. Four years later, I think it’s fair to ask if we’ll ever see that guy again. I found Newton to be pretty introspective when we sat down this summer. He knew he had to adjust his game, and he was trying to. He was in a good place. Regardless of what it takes, I hope he finds himself in a place like that again, football or no football.
3) Notoriety to the Ravens coordinators. John Harbaugh deserves serious coach of the year consideration, because he’s been open to big-time innovation and all the associated risks that come with it—last year on offense and this year on defense. But the guys implementing the change, and managing that risk, are OC Greg Roman and DC Wink Martindale. Both have been awesome in developing young guys, and adapting their schemes to work for everyone, while catching the league off balance.
4) Stability for Lamar Jackson. You guys know how this works. Team has a great year, staff and roster get picked clean, young quarterback feels the effects in the aftermath. So my wish for Jackson is that with whatever Baltimore loses in 2020 (and Roman’s at the top of the list), the Ravens have a suitable plan to make up the difference. Because it’s good for the sport, and all of us who love it, when a player like Jackson is in a good spot to succeed. The good news is that Jackson plays for a Top 5 organization, so there’s a good chance this wish gets fulfilled.
5) A fresh start for Redskins fans. We’ll have more on this in the questions—I don’t want to get to negative here, like I said. But it’s pretty clear that the organization is sideways, has been sideways, and that’s even with their share of promising young coaches (Kevin O’Connell) and executives (Kyle Smith) on hand. My guess is the empty seats in Landover, and general fan apathy in the DMV, will be what finally gets through to ownership there.
6) A starting receiver for Carson Wentz. It’ll have to be DeSean Jackson, because he’s really the only one who’s been out with a shot to get back. A speedy recovery by Zach Ertz wouldn’t hurt, either. One thing that we have gotten out of this, though, is a look at Wentz having to cover up his team’s holes. I wasn’t sure he could do that—there aren’t many quarterbacks who can, consistently—but he’s sure shown an ability to the last three weeks,
7) A lineman or two for Kyler Murray. The Cardinals quarterback was a blast to watch as a rookie, and validated the decision made by GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury to bail on a quarterback a year after trading up in the first round to get him. If Arizona can get a little better up front, that offense is going to be interesting in 2020.
8) Apologies to Mike Mayock. I think there are a few people who owe him one, those that dismissed him as a TV personality in over his head. Since then, he’s put together perhaps the NFL’s most impressive rookie class and has the Raiders in position to strike again in April with a war chest of picks. For a football standpoint, that team is heading to Vegas in pretty good shape.
9) Job security to Anthony Lynn. You’ve heard the murmurs that Lynn might be in trouble, and that it would be for business reasons—it’s not exactly a secret that the Chargers haven’t found their footing with the populace in Greater LA. And yes, the Chargers are 5-10 right now. But Lynn’s done so much good there, managing injuries, keeping his team engaged in trying circumstances, and doing the job of head coach at a very high level. In my opinion, he’s earned the right to lead the team into the new stadium, even if that makes it tough to fill it.
10) Peace to CJ Beathard’s family. And I think that’s one we can all get behind.
On to your questions!
From Respect the process (@JackChangBoston): DPOY who ya got?
Hey Respect – Give me Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. I’m not sure there’s a more consistent player at any position than Gilmore has been for New England this year. And he gets bonus points for how much the Patriots ask of him. The same way Darrelle Revis used to “change the math” for Rex Ryan in game-planning and calling a defense, Gilmore changes it for Bill Belichick, and Belichick’s defense has been football’s best in 2019.
I’d also consider a couple younger brothers of established star defenders—Steelers OLB TJ Watt and 49ers DE Nick Bosa. Both have been a center of their team’s rebirth on that side of the ball, and each has been a constant presence from a pass-rush perspective. And if you want a couple other sleeper types, I think Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey and Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick deserve mention here too.
All five of those guys, by the way, play for Top 5 defenses.
From Jay (@RedskinsCult): Names we should be hearing for the #Redskins new HC?
Jay! I think that all depends on what happens with Bruce Allen. If he’s retained as team president—and I think owner Dan Snyder’s efforts to get a new stadium have played into this—then my guess would be it’d be a second-chance type like ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy or ex-Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. Those names wouldn’t fire up the fan base, but given where the Redskins are, they’d be sensible.
If Allen’s out, and there has been word that the Redskins have kicked around the idea of hiring an over-the-top type (along the lines of an EVP of football operations) to set the on-field agenda, then I think the structure will dictate where they go. To get a big college name, like Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley or Baylor’s Matt Rhule, they’d almost certainly need to give that coach say in how the place is shaped, mostly because of the tough history in DC.
From Mbappè (@ModricGOAT): Should the Colts take a QB in the draft? If so, who would be the best fit in their offense?
Mbappè, for one reason or another, I have Indy checked off in my head as a potential Tua team. Obviously, much of the fate of the Alabama quarterback is going to be determined by what the doctors who get to check him out in February and March say. And there sure is the chance that some of those doctors are going to make the decision for their football people.
But before Tagovailoa dislocated his hip, he was probably ahead of LSU’s Joe Burrow for NFL teams. And despite the history this decade of injured college quarterbacks becoming injured NFL quarterbacks (Sam Bradford in 2010, Jake Locker in ’11, Robert Griffin in ’12, Marcus Mariota in ’15, Carson Wentz in ’16, Deshaun Watson in ’17), someone’s gonna see the risk in drafting a player Bama coaches told scouts compares to Drew Brees as worth it.
I love the fit in Indy. With Tagovialoa in the saddle, Bama ran one of the most innovative RPO packages in the sport, and rode it to two record-breaking years. Frank Reich, as you guys know, is excellent in that area. And I know they still like Jacoby Brissett. But if Tua is sitting there for you in the middle of the first round, it might be hard to say no.
From James Cummins (@jcitfc79): Will the winner of the NFC East win a playoff game?
So we can actually project this forward, James. Either the Cowboys or Eagles will host the loser of the Seahawks/Niners game in 10 or 11 days. I think San Francisco probably wins the West on Sunday night—despite all the hubbub over Marshawn Lynch’s return, Seattle’s still awfully beat up—and I think Philly beats the Giants. So can Philly beat the Seahawks at home?
The answer to that question is yes, they can. In fact, just a month ago, the Eagles were close—losing 17-9 to the Seahawks just as the injury bug was bearing down on them—and I think they’ve been a lot better since the second half of the Giants game in Week 14. Now, I’m not sure that I’d pick them in that game. But I certainly think they’d have a shot.
From Fold47 (@fold47): Will Brady sign with the Chargers or New England?
Fold, I think Tom Brady staying is more likely than Tom Brady leaving, and that’s even if things don’t look particularly rosy on that front right now. The reason is real simple: Options. Will the Patriots have a better option than Brady in March? Will Brady have a better option in March than the Patriots?
See, it’s pretty easy to sit here in December and say it’s over. It’s harder to make an actual decision like this, and my feeling is that the best call for both when we get there will be to stay together for another year, in part because I do believe Brady will play well into January.
But it’s also because I’m not sure the Patriots are ready to go all-in on Jarrett Stidham, gamble, or there being someone there for them in the draft, or a stopgap at the position like an Andy Dalton type. Nor do I think it’d be that appealing for Brady to uproot and assimilate to a new team, new building, new coaching staff and new locker room in his 21st season at 43 years old. (I’m also, for the record, not ruling anything out—even retirement.)
From Diane M (@MetsSouthFla): Shurmur definitely out?
Diane, the Giants have a bunch of decisions to make. And I’d say the likelihood is that Pat Shurmur’s gone. Then the question becomes what happens with GM Dave Gettleman, and I’d say that’s uncertain too. It is worth mentioning that the team has played a lot better the last two weeks, and knocking the Eagles out of the playoffs could give John Mara something to think about next weekend.
From Cam Shirkey (@Big_Shirk): Do the Raiders make any changes at QB this offseason?
Cam, I’d say the Raiders’ approach will likely be the same as last year—Derek Carr goes into the offseason as a quarterback they feel good about, and an they’ll keep an open mind on potential upgrades. Last January, Oakland quietly positioned itself prior to the Senior Bowl to coach the game’s best quarterbacks (both the game’s Top 50 picks, Daniel Jones and Drew Lock, were on Jon Gruden’s South roster). The Raiders then did private workouts with Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray. So they were considering their options.
It doesn’t mean they’ll take one. Carr gives them the flexibility to keep waiting. And his contract has aged into a middle-of-the-road quarterback deal, meaning it’s not back-breaking financially for the Raiders to kick the can down the road with him. Not a bad spot to be overall, with the team set to have two picks right in the middle of the first round.
(By the way, as we’ve mentioned before, the Raiders had the top quarterbacks ranked like this: Murray, Lock, Haskins, Finley.)
From Kim Boughton (@boughton_kim): Do the Browns make a head coaching change and if so, who are the front runners? Who is in charge? Haslams or Dorsey?
Kim, I think it’s more likely than I did a month ago—and this is coming from someone who really likes Freddie Kitchens and thinks he can grow into a good head coach with time. The problem is the Browns are in the window of opportunity that the Rams and Eagles have taken advantage of the last few years, with their quarterback on a rookie contract and a number of expensive vets (Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham) around him.
If Kitchens is gone, I think Jimmy Haslam will be more involved, given that he let John Dorsey run the show last year. And it’s worth mentioning that Haslam has A) Long had a fascination with the Patriots; and B) Specifically had a curiosity with Josh McDaniels.
(Quick nugget on that: perception league-wide was that Haslam hired Mike Lombardi as GM in 2013 on the recommendation of Bill Belichick, his old neighbor on Nantucket. So if Belichick makes another call …)
From Sigmanor107 (@RobertSignorel4): Any chance we see Damien Harris this week?
I hope so!
(Backstory: I really liked Harris coming out of Alabama, and remember some scouts believing he’d have been a first-rounder if he’d come out in 2018. Instead, he stayed, and Josh Jacobs became Alabama’s featured guy. I figured if anyone really knew why, it’d be Belichick, given his relationship with Nick Saban. So maybe the Patriots stole him? That’s why I picked him as a surprise breakout rookie back in August on several TV and radio shows. Let’s just say that hasn’t happened. But there’s still time, I guess!)
From Tyler Schmidt (@teachgeek90): Should the Vikings regret signing Cousins?
Tyler, I’d say no, and that’s mostly because I look at the situation they were in, not some made-up circumstance where there was this slam-dunk option out there, and completely understand why they did it. Teddy Bridgewater was hurt. Case Keenum was a stopgap, and about to get $18 million per year. Other free agent options? AJ McCarron? Mike Glennon? I’d rather have Cousins at $28 million per.
As for the draft, Minnesota had the 30th pick, and the one that’ll hang around their neck, as it has for a lot of other teams, is Lamar Jackson. It’s really tough to criticize them for not going all-in on him. He was seen as raw, and they had a roster loaded with guys smack in the middle of their primes. What they could’ve done: Drafted Jackson and developed him behind Cousins. Maybe he’d have won the job by now, and we’d be talking about something completely different with them.
So, given the circumstances, I think Cousins made sense for them as an option at quarterback. And if I do have a problem with it now, really the only one would be how it probably prevents you from drafting for the future at the position, which is what you would’ve been doing with Jackson.
From Mike B (@CoachMikeB23): Are you hearing anything new about the Cowboys coaching search? Who do you predict will be coaching the team in 2020, and are there any assistants you think they might retain?
Same names as I’ve given you, Mike. Lincoln Riley. Urban Meyer. And we’ll see after that. I think the Joneses are going to shoot for the moon because of the place their roster is right now—with a ton of guys in the prime of their careers on big contracts. Which naturally brings me to your second question.
I think the Cowboys have two coordinators that they like a whole lot—one has the title (Kellen Moore) and the other has had the role (Kris Richard) for a couple years. In fact, I know the Joneses regard both as future head coaches. And in an ideal world, they might have a new head coach come in and keep one or both. But if they’re going big-game hunting, whoever the next guy is will have the leverage to demand final say on staffing.
Remember when Matt Rhule walked last year because the Jets insisted he bring Todd Monken aboard as offensive coordinator? Rhule’s leverage was a job he liked at Baylor, and the fact that it wouldn’t be his last NFL opportunity. So he walked away. Guys like Riley and Meyer certainly have that kind of leverage too.
From Markagain (@Markagain5): Trubisky still the starter and Nagy still the coach next year? Or do Bears draft another QB?
I’ll answer yes to both questions. I don’t think Matt Nagy’s job is remotely in jeopardy, nor should it be. I wouldn’t speak in absolutes on Mitch Trubisky—the Broncos might not have walked away from Tim Tebow in 2012, for example, were Peyton Manning not available. But based on his progress to this point, and there has been some, I’d say Ryan Pace stays true to his investment, and is more likely to bring competition rather than a replacement.
So maybe that’s having someone like Andy Dalton on hand if Trubisky falters early. Maybe it’s, say, a Jake Fromm on the Friday night of draft weekend. We’ll see what happens.
From Brian Goodwin (@brian22goodwin): Hey Albert. Should we be looking at this season as one of Josh McDaniels' more impressive as a playcaller? Few weapons and a banged up o-line means his creativity is really called upon. Curious your thoughts. Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas, Brian. To me, the win over the Bills on Saturday had McDaniels’s fingerprints all over it. The Patriots called 35 runs to 33 passes, and much of the pass game was play-action off the run game. It was creative. It had rhythm. And for the first time in a while, New England’s offense looked like it had purpose in what it was doing. So yes, I think he deserves a lot of credit for it.
And he may wind up in Cleveland or Carolina as a result.
From Cap Space=$3,571,193 (@patscap): In the CBA extension talks has there been any discussion of changing how the franchise tag number is calculated?
Miguel, I’m assuming it’s come up as they’ve chipped away at issues on the periphery, and I do think it’s possible you’ll see adjustments in how they compute the tag numbers, as there were in 2011. What I don’t think you’ll see is wholesale change in or elimination of the franchise tag. The reason why has everything to do with priorities—those of the league, and those of the players.
The reality for players is the tag affects very few individual guys directly. And while it does work broadly to depress the market (not unlike max contracts in the NBA), it doesn’t have near the effect on the rank-and-file that minimum salaries, performance bonuses, benefits and work rules do. So it’d be down the list for players. For owners? It’s more important, as an overall market force, and to keep cornerstones (i.e. quarterbacks) in place.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And be sure to come back to the site tomorrow for my annual Future GMs list.
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