Mailbag: The Five Potential Shockers of Free Agency

Plus, reader questions on whether the Colts will trade Jacoby Brissett, Derek Carr’s future in Vegas, gauging Washington’s interest in Tua, and much more.
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From Chad (@ChadDvc4828): Biggest shocker of the FA period.. In your opinion...

A few things, I think …

1) I think offensive linemen are going to get paid, because they always do. Look for Titans OT Jack Conklin, Patriots G Joe Thuney, Lions C/G Graham Glasgow, and Saints G Andrus Peat to be comfortably in the eight-figures-per category, with Redskins G Brandon Scherff likely back with his team on the franchise tag and Colts LT Anthony Castonzo on a big new deal with his. Andrew Whitworth will also make eight figures, at 38 years old. Kelvin Beachum and Bryan Bulaga are two more 30-somethings that could approach that. The bottom line is there just aren’t enough these guys to go around, so the good ones get compensated.

2) I think it’s possible that Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake scores a bigger deal than Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, which would’ve been an insane thought six months ago. Drake’s more versatile, and more of a 21st-century back than Gordon is.

3) I think Dallas’ Byron Jones could wind up becoming the highest-paid corner in league history by a healthy amount, on the same principle that has all those linemen getting paid—there just aren’t enough good cover men to go around. (He, of course, will be a very temporary record-holder, with Jalen Ramsey in a contract year.)

4) I think Steelers NT Javon Hargrave could get into the $14 million-per neighborhood. He was a really, really good player in Pittsburgh last year, and there’s a thought out there that he’d flourish in a scheme that sends him upfield more (having more time on passing downs, after being behind Stephon Tuitt and Cam Herward in Pittsburgh, should help too).

5) Rams LB Cory Littleton is the other guy who may make more than you think. He could get close to what Kwon Alexander did last year.

From Kevin Hudson2329 (@kevin25675538) What’s the chances Colts trade (Jacoby) Brissett for a better draft pick?

Brissett is due almost $16 million in cash in 2020, and seeing as how the market is flooded with veteran quarterbacks, it seems unlikely that Brissett has real trade value. Which means the Colts would have to really, really dislike him to deal him away, especially with as much cap space as they have. I don’t think they dislike him that much. I just think they’re looking for an upgrade.

Also, it helps having someone with Brissett’s knowledge of and background in Frank Reich’s offense, particularly if the Colts are drafting a quarterback high. Conversely, having him around as a depth piece would be good if Indy signs, say, Philip Rivers. So, yeah, keeping him around makes sense.

From bj (@awiggy000): Do you think the redskins would actually pick Tua?

I don’t think the Redskins will. I still think the most likely scenario has Washington taking Ohio State DE Chase Young with the second overall pick. In fact, some who know Ron Rivera well consider that a lock already. Me? I think it makes sense for the Redskins to examine all their options, while generating perception that they’re serious about taking a quarterback in that spot (even if they’re not). One, it’s an effective way to smoke out potential trade suitors who might be eyeing Tua Tagovailoa, and they’d see the absolute maximum they could get for their pick. Two, it should do a little something to light a fire under Dwayne Haskins as he acclimates to a new coaching staff. And three … Who knows? Maybe they’ll think Tagovailoa is just too good to pass on? At the very least, you want to know what you’re passing up. Add it up, and it’d almost be negligent if the Redskins didn’t do it this way.

From RIP MAMBA & GIGI (@raider_chucky): What is Derek Carr's future in las vegas? are the Tom Brady Rumors for real or fiction?

I look at this like I saw me and my wife’s situation when we were looking for a house. We were in the city on a month-to-month lease. I didn’t know it at first, but that wound up being an enormous leverage point for us. We weren’t pigeonholed into a certain timeframe, so we could wait for the market to bear something that we loved that was priced right. In the end, it really worked out for us.

That, I believe, is where the Raiders are with Carr. Having him on a long-term deal that’s past its guaranteed money allows the team to continue forward with him—a good, winning quarterback (our apartment in Boston was a winner too)—and comb the market as they go. Wanna know how Christian Ponder gets drafted 12th overall? It happens when a team is locked into a single year, having to get their guy right now. The Raiders’ situation is the opposite of that. When the right guy/price presents itself, they can move.

And yes, I do think they’ll fully investigate Brady. Signing him may be another matter, but they’ll be in contact with the quarterback’s camp, I’m sure.

From BigDaawwg (@sconnieJosh): Does GB sign a FA TE? Does Denver draft a 1st round WR?

S/o to Big Daawwg, for going with two A’s, two W’s, but only one G. Very solid move.

I think the Packers are in play for tight end help, and it’s one of two positions (linebacker’s the other) where they could swap out their one veteran for another. The Packers don’t owe Jimmy Graham a dime until the start of the offseason program, which gives them the flexibility to go pursue an Austin Hooper or Eric Ebron, and make a decision on Graham thereafter.

As for the Broncos, I’d say corner and tackle might’ve been bigger needs than receiver. But with the acquisition of A.J. Bouye, and the fact that the top four tackles—Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs and Jedrick Wills—have risen to the point where it’s unlikely any of them will be available at 15, the chances that they take a swing on a receiver to help Drew Lock isn’t out of the question.

From Richard Ito (@rich_ito): What are the Jags going to do with Yannick?

Step 1 will be franchising him—and dealing off Bouye on Tuesday allowed the Jags more breathing room with which to do that. And then the Jaguars will have to make a decision. Clearly, Ngaukoe is not enthused about remaining in Jacksonville. Given his tweet the other day, he won’t be reporting to the team any time soon (their first mandatory activity isn’t until June). After that, the idea they’ll keep him past this year is murky at best.

So what do you do? It’s tough, but I think you have to at least figure out what you might be able to get for him in a trade. The history there—remember, things went sideways with Tom Coughlin last summer, when Coughlin suddenly declared the team had made its final and best offer just days into talks—is not good, and the situation has a chance to be a distraction as Doug Marrone and Co. try to turn the page on a messy couple years.

That said, there are a lot of jobs on the line in that building right now. So the idea of acquiring future assets for a current star might not be as appealing as it is in other NFL locales.

From DefenseWinsRings (@ChiefCardinalkc): Is this your dream career? Do you still wake up with that joyous feeling most days or does it become just a job?

Defense, thanks for asking that question—and I’ll tell you how I know I’m in the right career. When you become a parent, I feel like there’s this natural guilt you get when you’re away from your kids. And I get that when I’m working, like anyone else would. But one reason why is that a lot of time what I’m doing is what I’d probably be doing if I was free, and that’s following football.

There are parts of it that do feel like a job, but football was always my favorite sport and I chose to pursue journalism as a teenager, so this has all worked out pretty well. That’s why I try not to complain about the job itself (air travel is a different story)—being able to make a living doing this is a pretty good deal.

I’m not changing the world, of course. My wife, in fact, has a job that’s way more important than mine (she’s a nurse in the cardiac ICU at Boston Children’s), and it’s really helped having that constant perspective. But I do consider myself lucky to be doing what I do, and work relentlessly to make sure I can keep doing it.

From Jake Wakely (@Wakes3019): Who’s the most likely selection for the Bills at 22? Do you see them as a trade up candidate for a WR?

Jake, it’s way too early to nail down a single name for the Bills, because they’re so far down the draft board. But it’s not too early to look at that position—Buffalo did a lot of recon in Indy on the top guys at the position, and held formal interviews with top guys like Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy. One goal of the brass this offseason is pretty simple: score more points. Having a legit No. 1 receiver would help, given all the complementary weapons they already have on hand.

Could they get Lamb or Jeudy at 22? It’s unlikely, but not impossible. I think the top guys could slide a little due to two factors: One, the receiver group is so deep that some teams will say, “Let’s take our (pass rusher/tackle/corner) here, and come back and get a receiver in the second or third round.” Two, recent history with second-round receivers (Michael Thomas, D.J. Chark, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf) is pretty good.

We’ll know more soon, of course. What we know is the Bills want and will be able to get receiver help. The question is when and at what level the talent is.

From Matthew Head (@matt8272): What does the proposed CBA mean for teams like the Jaguars and playing international games?

Matthew, I think going to 17 games gives the NFL the flexibility to cast a wider net internationally, simply because it gives the league more inventory with which to work and it softens the blow of losing a home game for every team (since even in years when they’d give one up, they’d have eight of them). And I have heard about how they could put this new advantage to work.

One idea that made sense to some in the league was to go to eight international games (there are five now) and put every team on a four-year rotation. Within those four years, every team would give up one home game to play abroad, play another game abroad as the road team, and have one conventional home game and one conventional road game as its 17th game. I think that makes sense.

The NFL plays four games in London now, and one in Mexico City. Such a plan would give them the chance to either play more in the UK (which they might, given investment in the new Tottenham stadium) or explore France or Germany, or even Brazil or China. The underlying, and obvious, factor here is how motivated the owners are to continue expanding the NFL’s footprint internationally. This gives the flexibility to do it.

As for the Jaguars, they’re sort of separate to all of this under their current setup. If they keep playing multiple home games in London, it’d probably be in addition to whatever plan the league sets in motion for the other 31 teams. And if they move there eventually then you’d have to reconfigure the above.

From BrutusnutGaming (@BrutusnutGaming): Jet fans all over the globe were begging to for Gase to be fired. Now that we are in year 2, what can you tell us that will help us sleep at night and why can Gase be the guy???

Well, Brutus, the Jets did come on at the end of the year, and overcame an awful start that could’ve caused the locker room to check out on its head coach. That didn’t happen, the team went from 1-7 to 7-9, and that’s a credit to Gase and his staff. And Sam Darnold played reasonably well down the stretch, considering the line he was playing behind, and getting Darnold going was a reason why ownership picked Gase in the first place. So I don’t think it’s time for sweeping proclamations, one way or the other. The jury’s still out, as it usually is with a coach coming off his first year.

Now, GM Joe Douglas will go about reworking the offensive line—I’d expect the Jets to be aggressive in both free agency and the draft in that area—and trying to find corners and pass-rushers for the defense. And down the line, the interesting thing is that it might be Woody Johnson, still serving as US Ambassador to the UK, coming back to the states and making decisions on guys he didn’t hire.

But I do think Gase deserves more time to show he can still be what so many people saw in him before he became a head coach in the first place, all those years ago in Denver.

From Coldwater (@king_of_fillory): Which new head coach do you see having the biggest impact on their team this season?

I love the Matt Rhule hire in Carolina, but I think this is going to be a pretty major rebuild from a roster standpoint, so it might take a couple years for the Panthers to get there. At both his collegiate head coaching stops, he was a little slow out of the gate—he went 2-10 in 2013 at Temple, and 1-11 in 2017 at Baylor—before his program took hold and changed everything. The Panthers’ trajectory could be similar.

Ditto for Ron Rivera. He’s exactly what the Redskins need, but it might take a year or so of roster building to turn things around.

So give me Mike McCarthy in Dallas. I think that is a 12-win roster and he should be able to get that out of them. He’ll be a positive for Dak Prescott, and the Joneses are going to supplement what’s already on hand there aggressively, given their own view that the team is very much in a championship window. And since this isn’t McCarthy’s first rodeo (like it is for Joe Judge and Kevin Stefanski), his acclimation time should be fairly minimal.

From Burt Party (@Burt_Party): Rank the top OTs in the upcoming draft.

OK, Burt! I actually think the tackle group was one of the stories of the combine—the top four guys helped themselves immensely, as did others at the position (like Boise’s Ezra Cleveland), and that spot is now seen as one of the legitimate strengths of the draft class. In fact, as I see it now, I think there’s a decent chance the Top 10 picks could be fairly easy to figure out …

• Four elite defensive players: Ohio State DE Chase Young, Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons, Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah, Auburn DT Derrick Brown.

• Top four tackles: Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs.

• Top two quarterbacks: LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

As for how you’d stack the tackles, I think you’ll have a lot of different opinions on that (whereas there’s a strong consensus Burrow’s the top QB, and Young’s the best of the defensive players). One scout who’s an expert in the area of offensive linemen said—strictly as players—he sees it like this: Wirfs, Wills, Becton, Thomas, in that order. But that doesn’t mean they’ll come off the board that way.

One thing that could factor in is where on the line each guy projects in the pros. Wirfs could wind up being a left tackle, a right tackle or even a guard. Wills is seen as a right tackle. And Thomas and Becton are more the pure left-tackle types, which should give them a little bit of an edge in the race to see who goes first.

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