The music has stopped on the Offseason of the Quarterback. We can now say that what we suspected to be the case (what feels like a lifetime ago, well before we all wound up in quarantine) has proved true: This was the rare year when supply at the game’s most important position outdistanced demand.
It’s proved through the unemployment of Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl XLVII MVP cut last week, and Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP let go after the team that took him first in 2011 couldn’t find a trade partner. Also available, though still on a roster, is Andy Dalton, who led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first five NFL years, and whose best option now may be staying as a bridge and mentor to his presumed replacement, Joe Burrow.
Then, there’s Jameis Winston.
Like each of the three guys named above, Winston was a highly drafted Day 1 starter. Unlike the others, we still don’t have a clear picture of what he is as an NFL player. He’s the only one of these four that didn’t make it to a second contract with his first team, and he’s also the only one still in his 20s, having just turned 26. And his job uncertainty is indicative of that relative glut of quarterbacks that clogged the market last week..
In past years, someone with Winston’s talent would be worth taking a flyer on, the way the Eagles did years ago after Mark Sanchez flamed out with the Jets, or like the Niners once did on Jaguars washout Blaine Gabbert, or as the Titans did last year on Ryan Tannehill. Even Josh Freeman, a much more spectacular Bucs bust, got another go-around, being traded to the Vikings, where he got to start right away (that didn’t last long).
Now? Try and find a spot for Winston, and you’ll see the problem for a player who may have led the league in picks last year (30!), but also led it in passing yards (5,109), and still has the talent that once made him a national champion in college and the first pick in the 2015 draft.
The two teams with presumed openings—the Chargers and Patriots—have been patient in waiting for the market to shake out. New England is likely to spend 2020 (as they carry a $13.5 million dead-money hit from Tom Brady’s last deal) straightening its quarterback financials out, meaning they’d probably only be interested in thrift-priced throwers. The Chargers, meanwhile, are eyeing the draft class, with Tyrod Taylor there as the bridge.
Vegas would’ve been perfect, like Tennessee was for Tannehill last year, but the man supplanted in Nashville last season, Winston’s draft classmate Marcus Mariota, already took the spot there. Jacksonville and Denver have depth-chart openings but may not want to inject Winston into the mix with young quarterbacks they like.
And that leaves what, to me, might be the best option for Winston: going to a stable, winning franchise with an entrenched starter, where he can learn and develop for a year, and prove his growth as a person, something those in Tampa swear they saw over the last couple of years, even as his shortcomings as a player persisted.
He and GM Jason Licht talked on Friday, a sort of goodbye, and it was affirmed again to Licht that Winston had, deep down, grown into a good man, right from the start of the conversation, when Winston, at a professional low point, began by asking about Licht’s wife and kids. Licht told Winston he was proud of his progress as a person. Coach Bruce Arians has gone to bat for Winston with other teams since.
And yes, it’s understandable why Winston is still out there, given the way things ended in Tampa, with all those picks, and given his off-field issues from years ago, and that he needed all that growth as a guy. And that’s part of the whole thing with this year’s very different shuffling of quarterbacks across the NFL landscape.
It’s not that Winston can’t fix what’s gone wrong for him before. It’s more that there were so few options out there that, really, there was no need for other teams to bet on him being able to do it. Which has left him in this sort of strange spot.
On to your mail…
From RIP MAMBA & GIGI (@raider_chucky): What did you think of the Las Vegas raiders FA and what are targets for them at 12 and 19?
Mamba, I like that Vegas (still getting used to that) made moves early in free agency to shore up issues at corner (Eli Apple) and linebacker (Nick Kwiatkowski, Cory Littleton), because that gives them the flexibility not to press needs in the draft—and they do go into April with a surprisingly small grocery list. That opens things up for them to go with (cliché alert) the best available players with five picks in the Top 100 (12, 19, 80, 81, 91).
The one remaining hole is for a receiver. Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow are nice pieces, but the Raiders could use some more at the position. The good news? They’ll likely have a shot at Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or maybe even a choice between them at 12, and, if they want to wait, there’s so much depth at the position, there should be good players available through all five of the aforementioned picks.
That all underscores the fact that, after a really strong 2019 offseason, Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have that roster in better shape than you may think.
From S Crossover (@S_Crossover): How does the outcome of the Robby Anderson situation impact the Jets draft intentions, if at all?
Hey S, I don’t think it shifts what Joe Douglas’s strategy would be at 11. My sense is the Jets’ preference all along, even with the flurry of free-agent additions, would be to get a cornerstone for the offensive line there. And with four top-shelf tackles likely worthy of going in the top half of the first round—Louisville’s Mekhi Becton, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs—there’s a good shot that’ll be an option when their pick comes up. (If all four are gone, all bet are off.)
Where I do think the loss of Anderson to the Panthers could push the Jets a little is on Day 2 of the draft, where they have three picks (48, 68, 79). Maybe Douglas would be more likely to spend that second-rounder on a receiver now (that second-rounder, by the way, is right around where Michael Thomas and A.J. Brown were drafted in recent years). But even there, Douglas isn’t exactly the panicky type, and I don’t see him pressing a need because of one defection.
From shaun cohen (@casperswd): Is the signing of Hoyer the sign that Stidham is the starting QB for NE for next year?
Shaun, I don’t think Jarrett Stidham will be handed the starting job, but I do think he’s the odds-on favorite, as it stands today, to be the Patriots’ starter. And I know that sounds crazy to a lot of people, because he was a fourth-round pick. But the potential here can be tied into New England’s approach of late in trying find distressed assets at the position—guys who have ability and may be underdeveloped. So follow me here…
• Stidham was, depending on recruiting service, ranked the No. 1 or 2 quarterback in the high school class of 2015.
• Stidham became Baylor’s starter as a true freshman, throwing for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns against two picks before an injury ended his 2015 season.
• Baylor coach Art Briles was fired when a sexual-assault scandal exploded in the months to come, and Stidham transferred to Auburn.
• Stidham played for Gus Malzahn at Auburn, in an offense that was ill-fit for his skill set. Still, he emerged as a potential first-round prospect after a strong 2017, then leveled off in 2018. He declared following that season, with most NFL teams believing it was because of a philosophical divide with the coaching staff.
Put that together and it’s not hard to see where an NFL team might think there could be a first-round talent that went a little sideways in there—and the returns from Stidham’s rookie year in Foxboro have been promising. Again, I’m not saying Stidham’s going to be a star. All I’m saying is it’s not that far-fetched to think he could grow into a lot more than your normal fourth-round quarterback would.
And so I fully understand why the Patriots would want to see this one play out.
From Bill (@BillKahanKapri): What’s better fit for the Pats? Cam and his experience or Jameis and his youth and ceiling potential.
So here’s the second part of the equation, Bill: I don’t see them making any major financial commitment at the position in 2020, barring something perfect falling out of the sky. Before releasing Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots were less than $3 million under the salary cap, and part of that is the $13.5 million in dead money they’re carrying that’s left over from Tom Brady’s last contract.
My belief is that the Patriots’ post-Brady plan has 2020 as a year to get younger and get finances straightened out, and both should be apparent in how they handle the quarterback spot. One player I’d heard they sniffed around a little was Kyle Allen, who was traded from Carolina to Washington on Monday, and he’s another one that falls into the Stidham/Hoyer category economically.
Will it hurt them in 2020? If Stidham doesn’t develop, and Hoyer is out of gas, maybe. But my reading of it would be that the idea is find the next guy, and in doing so generate the sort of advantage (whether that’s with Stidham or someone else) that the Rams, Chiefs and Eagles have parlayed into Super Bowl appearances. Doing so will allow Belichick to build differently, and I’m fascinated to see what that’ll look like a couple years from now.
From Craig R (@CFR624): What's the latest on Clowney? How do you see the #Seahawks pass rush FA plans unfolding?
Craig, I think two things are at work here. One, Clowney’s injury history (he’s had microfracture surgery) is such where he’s getting dinged for the same reason Cam Newton is—an inability to meet with team doctors makes it difficult to prove that he’s not an enormous medical risk. Two, I think his financial expectations were a little unrealistic to begin with, and that’s not a knock on him as a player.
I know it was fairly well known in Houston that he wanted to join Frank Clark and DeMarcus Lawrence in the $20 million club after being franchised in 2019, and the Texans were never going there. That, plus clashes with coaches, led to the trade to Seattle, and he was good-not-great for the Seahawks (he actually had fewer sacks than one of the “parts” in his trade, Jacob Martin). So if you’re paying him what he wants, you’re doing that based on potential, and it’s tough to pay someone as banged up as Clowney’s been on that basis.
All of that is why I think the likelihood is he’s back in Seattle, maybe on a one-year deal.
From Joe (@Breshlo): Heard anything about the schedule??? Usually have preseason released around now and regular season in about 3 weeks. This timeline going to stay in line with history???
Good question, Joe. This one’s probably tough for the league, and maybe because of the new stadiums as much as anything else. Stadium construction in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas has been deemed “essential” by the respective governors of those states, meaning they’re moving forward as so many other things shut down. But it’s hard to say what comes next, and how those projects might be affected in the coming weeks.
The easy thing for the league to do in both cases would be to backload the Raiders’, Rams’ and Chargers’ exhibition games into the last two weeks of the preseason, even though the L.A. stadium is set to open way earlier than that (there’s a Taylor Swift concert scheduled there for late July). And my guess would be that’ll be something they consider.
From SM (@gamerollerb): With the official top 30 visits canceled, what’s the replacement this year? FaceTime? Is there a limit on prospects you talk to?
This is one thing the NFL did put into motion pretty quickly after canceling the pro day circuit, which didn’t happen fast enough. Teams are now allowed to video conference/call players through the day before the draft. Those calls can last up to an hour, and teams can call any player up to three times in any given week.
That’s not perfect, of course. But I do think the league had the right idea here: Give teams different avenues to get to know the players without putting them in position to wear the kids out. If you have enough interest in a player, you can just keep up with him through the entire process. If there are just a couple loose ends you need to tie up with a kid on his report, you can do that too.
I’ll also say that some teams are still holding out hope the draft gets pushed back. Some of these, of course, are multi-million-dollar decisions for franchises, and it’s not just the process of getting to know players that’s been thrown into a blender. It’s also holding draft meetings, meeting with coaches and doctors, putting together draft boards, and aligning on strategy that might include trading up or down with other teams.
Now, I don’t think the NFL will move the draft back. But I can see why teams want that.
From Sam Stein (@Samuel_Steinuel): Is it too late for the Texans to fire Bill O’Brien and veto the Hopkins trade?
Sam, the crazy thing is that O’Brien has won the AFC South four of the last five years, and has a young franchise quarterback in place. He’s done it amid injuries, and the pre-Watson quarterback unrest, and I think a lot of fan bases would trade for the position that O’Brien has the Texans in going into his seventh year.
I do understand the dissatisfaction with the team-building aspect of the job he’s done. Hopkins is a big-time talent, as is Clowney. But both clashed with O’Brien—and, again, we can argue about some of these wounds being self-inflicted—and wanted to get paid, and it’s one thing to carry an off-the-program guy on your roster, it’s another to reward him with a new contract. So the Texans moved on from both.
I don’t know if what O’Brien and EVP Jack Easterby are doing will work. But I would say that O’Brien deserves the chance to see it through, based on what he’s gotten done on the field thus far. And yes, I understand that the plan hasn’t gone over well on social media or with the fan base.
From Chris Gilmore (@CMGilmorePastor): How much success will we see by Rivers at Indy?
Indy has to stay healthy around Phillip Rivers—offensive-line attrition was probably the biggest mitigating factor in his decline in L.A.—but I think he’s got a real chance to have a nice couple years there. The Colts’ line has a shot to be one of the best in football in 2020, and the defense should be much improved, meaning there’ll be less on Rivers to carry others than he’s been used to the last few years.
Overall, the idea in bringing Rivers in was to plug in a solid player with experience in the system so the team could keep building its program as it has the last three years without major disruption. That, the thought goes, would buy GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich time to find their next long-term answer at the position. And part of that is having a strong enough roster where the quarterback doesn’t need to be, well, Andrew Luck.
To me, I think it’s a good, pragmatic way to go forward for the Colts, given how the stunning retirement of Luck threw things off-course last year. I also think Rivers stands to be a beneficiary of it, in how they’ll deploy their quarterback.
From JAY CHEEMA (@JayCheema): With @TomBrady going to the @Buccaneers, where do you rank them in the NFC?
Fun question, Jay, so I’ll throw my take out there on this without giving it too much thought. Before Brady signed, I’d have told you my top three teams in the NFC would be the 49ers, Saints and Eagles, in some order. I think right now those teams are well-rounded, well-coaches, have the draft capital to shore up any remaining issues and are battle-tested. And as of this moment, I wouldn’t move the Bucs into that group.
But I’ll put them in the next tier (Packers, Vikings, Cowboys, Seahawks), because they were plenty competitive last year, finishing 7-9, and just shored up their biggest statistical problem (turnover ratio) with a single signing. There’s still, of course, room to grow—Brady might, and very well could, galvanize the team, and elevate the play of individual players on offense. It could also go the wrong way, if Brady shows his age.
The fun part is (coronavirus permitting) that we’ll all get to see the whole things play out just a few months from now.
From K.D. Rogers (@Kdkeylockman): What would you think if the Dolphins passed on Tua, and drafted Simmons at 5, two offensive tackles with the next two, and someone like Jalen Hurts in the 2nd? Give him a year behind Fitz, and see what he can do under their new O coordinator.
KD, what you’re saying may sound crazy—and I’ll be honest in saying I haven’t talked to many coaches or scouts who think Hurts is a franchise quarterback—but there would be logic to handling the draft that way. And I’m here to take you through that.
Say you’re the Dolphins, and you don’t like Tua Tagovailoa’s medicals, and Justin Herbert’s too inconsistent for you to bank our career on (which is what you do when you draft a QB in the top 5). In that circumstance, it makes sense to continue filling out your roster, and there are options this year for blue-chip defensive players and front-line offensive tackles in the first half of the first round. Grabbing a couple of those would makes sense for Miami.
Then, you could still take your swing on Day 2 by drafting Hurts, who at the very least, even if he may never be quite a good enough passer, is the right kind of kid and one who’s continuously improved as a quarterback. That might work out, it might not. And the beauty of it is that taking him doesn’t preclude, in any way, drafting another one in 2021. Which is why, if, again, you don’t like Tagovailoa or Herbert, I’d endorse this plan.
From Jay (@RedskinsCult): What is the trade value for Trent Williams?
Jay, my understanding is there have been suitors out there for Trent Williams. The trouble is—and I’ll be very clear about this—almost 100% his contract situation. Last year, word circulated that Williams asked the Redskins for quarterback money. And the Redskins found interest over the last few weeks in Williams, only to have suitors push away from the table when apprised of the seven-time Pro Bowl tackle’s financial demands.
Thing is, asking another team for a first- or second-round pick for a player is a lot. You’re giving up a piece of capital that can bring in a young, top player under cost control for the next four or five years—or maybe multiple players, if you trade for, then move the pick. So the player being dealt for has to be good and really valuable to begin with. But if, then, that player wants to break the bank, too? And if he’s in his 30s? Again, it’s a lot.
That’s not to say Williams may not have a legitimate beef with the team, or that he isn’t worth more than he’s making. It’s just that if he really wants to be traded, he has to realistic about it, and work with the team here, since he’s under contract. If he’s more worried about making top dollar? Then play the year out, and hit the market next March. It’s that simple.
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