Lots of stuff going on right now, so we’ll get right to your mail this week …
From Max (@max_schein): Can you see a Dabo, Trevor Lawrence, Etienne combination with the Jets, with Joe Douglas’s college connections?
Max, I like your ingenuity here—but I don’t think so. I’m not sure Dabo Swinney, if he does have designs on going to the NFL, would be a great fit in New York, nor do I believe he’d leave college to go somewhere where he’d be answering to a general manager. But the idea that Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne could wind up, say, the first and 33rd picks to the Jets in April? Not the most implausible idea in the world.
And on top of that, I think your idea of Douglas’s dipping into the college ranks to find his next head coach isn’t implausible either. The Jets’ GM cut his teeth as a road scout in Baltimore and is one of the league’s most connected personnel men at that level of the game. Also, really, there isn’t an obvious guy to tie to Douglas from Baltimore, Chicago or Philly. And the early success of Matt Rhule in Carolina could be a motivator for teams to consider college coaches.
The Jets took a swing at Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and flirted with Kliff Kingsbury in 2018.
Maybe this time, they’ll go further with the idea. For now, Adam Gase will get a shot at hanging on to his job, with owner Woody Johnson’s return from the U.K. looming over everything.
From AJ (@Klefas): Unless the Jets play themselves, there is a high probability they will get the #1 overall draft pick in 2021. Will they grab Lawrence? Probably! If so, Darnold's got one more year on a rookie contract. What can they get for him?
AJ, like I said Monday afternoon, whoever gets the first pick almost certainly isn’t trading it. So yeah, I think if the Jets have the first pick, then Lawrence will be a New York Jet and Sam Darnold will be somewhere else in 2021. And for that Monday-afternoon column, I did ask around on what sort of return Darnold might bring if Douglas were to deal him in the spring.
The three answers I got were right in the same zip code. One was that the Jets should get a little more than the Cardinals did for Josh Rosen—Arizona landed a 2 and 5 for their 2018 first-round pick. Two more suggested a team with an older starter (like Pittsburgh) could flip a late first-rounder for him, with one of those two people saying if not a late one, maybe a pair of second-round picks (that was the freight for Alex Smith in 2013).
So let’s say the Jets get the first pick and the Steelers wind up trading, for argument’s sake, the 28th pick for Darnold in the spring. Then the Jets would have two first-round picks to pair with Darnold, and Pittsburgh would have two years left on Darnold’s contract with which to set up a transition from Ben Roethlisberger to a quarterback more than 15 years younger.
That sounds like a win-win to me, if you think Darnold can play (and I do).
From AD in Texas #D4L (@doogiehowser03): Where do you see the Browns ending up this year? Wild card?
AD, right now, I see two playoff teams coming out of the AFC East, and I see both Baltimore and Pittsburgh making it out of the North, which would leave a single wild card for Cleveland to contend for if it doesn’t win the division (and I think it’s probably a year away from having a real shot to overtake the Steelers or Ravens).
So now we’re talking about the Browns having to outdistance, in all likelihood, the Raiders and the Titans or Colts (whichever team doesn’t win the South) for the final wild-card spot in the conference. Of course, a lot can change between now and the stretch run. But that’s how I see it right now. And I think the Browns have every reason to think they can keep up with those three teams—they beat Indy pretty soundly on Sunday.
Even better, I think a real foundation is being laid there. I know Browns fans have heard this before, but the future looks bright.
From Smee (@SmeeSir): Are the Panthers for real?
Smee, by “for real,” do you mean a playoff contender? If so, no, I don’t think the Panthers will wind up in the NFC’s field of seven. But if what you mean by “for real” is a team that’ll be competitive all year, maybe pull some sort of season-shifting upset and set a strong base for what Matt Rhule is trying to build there long-term, then yes, they are for real.
I’ve heard two terms used a lot out of Carolina the last six weeks: toughness and buy-in. Rhule’s getting a lot of both from his roster. And that’s been reflected every week. All five of the Panthers’ opponents thus far fancied themselves playoff contenders coming into the year. All five got all they could handle from Carolina. The Panthers fought back from double-digit deficits to make their first two games interesting in the fourth quarter and have won their three games since.
And that’s coming from a roster most had ticketed for four wins or so before the season, and with an offseason that figured to hamper the efforts of first-year coaches to get their programs started. When things get back to normal, and the Panthers get another offseason to stock the roster and work together (in-person)? You’d figure Carolina will get really interesting then.
From phil laciura (@PLaciura): Is this Matthew Stafford's final year in Detroit?
Phil, I don’t think anyone can answer that without knowing who’ll be running football ops and who’ll be coaching the team in 2021. And that’s not to say GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia are 100% gone, but there’s obviously a chance they will be. So if the Lions play well enough for Quinn to get a sixth year and Patricia to get a fourth year, chances are Stafford will be a big part of it and around next year too. If not? All bets are off.
There are two other things that are interesting here. One, Detroit did kick the tires on quarterbacks in the draft the last two years. In fact, the Lions were one of two teams (Washington being the other) that the Giants were worried about taking Daniel Jones between the sixth and 17th picks in 2019, motivating New York to take him with the earlier of their two first-round picks. Two, Stafford’s due just $43 million in cash in 2021 and ’22, the last two years of his current contract. That makes him very tradeable.
That said, I think Stafford still has the ability to be a top-10 quarterback, he doesn’t turn 33 until February and it’d be really tough for me to part with him, if I’m the Lions, and I’m not getting Lawrence or maybe Justin Fields. I think he’s still got plenty left.
From Scott Thompson (@ScttThmpsn): Is Justin Herbert for real? What do you see as his most likely career trajectory?
I want to be careful not to jump to too many conclusions based on four weeks of evidence, but there is plenty to take from Herbert’s first month as an NFL starter. The physical ability is easy to see. He can run, has a hose, is able to throw the from awkward body positions and has already shown a lot of toughness playing behind a line that is, to put it nicely, a work in progress.
So that’s your baseline, and I’m giving it to you acknowledging we’ve seen quarterbacks burst out of the gate like this in the past and not show themselves capable of sustaining it.
There’s a lot to build on here, to be sure, and you almost see a little Roethlisberger as a Steelers rookie in his game. And the even better news is that the Chargers’ situation around him could be, with a little injury luck and help on the offensive line, a really good one. The defense has great young building blocks in Joey Bosa, Kenneth Murray and, if he can and stay healthy, Derwin James. The skill talent is fantastic. If they fix the tackle situation, the team should be in a really nice spot to take advantage of Herbert’s rookie-deal window.
From Nick Robinson (@NickRobinsonUW): Is A Lynn squarely on the hot seat after the last couple of weeks?
Nick, I don’t think so. Anthony Lynn is beloved in the Chargers’ organization. But there are some facts that can’t be ignored here. And the most important one involves his contract—Lynn signed a four-year deal in 2017 that was set to expire this year. Faced with a head coach going into a contract year after the 2019 season, the Chargers extended him, but for just one year.
So now Lynn is under contract for this year and next year, meaning the Chargers will be in the same spot after this season that they were after last season, facing the prospect of sending their head coach into a lame-duck situation. If anyone can deal with that, it’s Lynn. But usually, you don’t want to keep Band-Aiding your head coach’s contractual status, and so these things can create decision points.
Long story short, I think because of that, the Chargers will arrive at one of those decision points with Lynn after this year. They’ll have to decide to extend him long-term or walk away. That’s why I think Herbert’s play over the next two and a half months will be very important in dictating the direction of the franchise. If he keeps getting better, the Spanoses will be motivated to lock up their head coach for the long haul. If not? The contract situation could make things awkward.
From william horn (@ravensman10): Do you see the Ravens making a trade by the deadline, and if so who would you want to see in a Ravens uniform and why?
Because GM Eric DeCosta loves his draft picks, I think it’d need to be another Marcus Peters type of opportunity—where Baltimore swoops in to take advantage of a weird situation within another team. And its roster is fairly complete, so I’m not sure exactly where it’d be wanting for help. Maybe another safety. Maybe another pass rusher. But only if the right situation presented itself.
Would it be worth it to wrangle, say, Bradley McDougald from the Jets or Jacob Martin from the Texans? Perhaps. But for right now, I’m not sure I’m seeing the pressure point where DeCosta would be forking over April capital for a November/December return. That, of course, is subject to change.
From Alfred (@Alfred9MJ): Do you see any changes in Cowboys staff if they have a below .500 season? Thanx!
Alfred, I don’t think there’s any question that Mike McCarthy could make changes on the staff post-2020 if the team doesn’t make playoffs—he did similar things in moments of duress in Green Bay, too, shuffling staff members and responsibilities on a fairly regular basis. And that brings two areas into sharp focus.
The first is the obvious, and that’s defensive performance. If the Cowboys don’t improve on that side of the ball, Mike Nolan—a respected, veteran coach, who’s back in a coordinator role for the first time in six years—would clearly be in the crosshairs. And George Edwards’s presence on the staff (Edwards was Mike Zimmer’s DC in Minnesota the last six years) makes in-season changes in staff structure possible, too.
The second is less obvious, but worth keeping an eye on. McCarthy inherited offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Moore is regarded as a rising star in the coaching profession and is a favorite of the Jones family, but it’s not impossible to see McCarthy eventually wanting to assume more control over the offense, which would open questions about how Moore would fit into the equation. And maybe about whether he’d want to stay.
Interesting times in Dallas, for sure.
From David Rose (@bigrose9): Where would you rank Diggs in your top-10 WR list?
David, if we’re looking at the position in tiers, I’d say Stefon Digggs is probably in the second tier of receivers. The top tier, to me, has Julio Jones, Mike Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins and Tyreek Hill in it. So Diggs’s being in my second tier would put him somewhere in the back half of the top 10, with guys like Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Davante Adams.
He’s a really good player, no question. And he was worth what Buffalo gave up to get him.
From Chris in Philly (@ciphilly): Who will the Giants hire as GM after Gettleman “retires”?
Chris, I think it’d be either an in-house promotion or someone connected to Joe Judge.
On the in-house side, Kevin Abrams has long been next in line to be general manager, and has a very diverse skill set and a good way about him that would lend as a nice counterpoint to the intense head coach. College scouting director Chris Pettit is another one in the building who’s regarded as a rising star in the personnel ranks. And assistant director of player personnel Tim McDonnell is really good, too (and John Mara’s nephew).
Outside the building, I’ve mentioned Monti Ossenfort’s name a bunch. He was Titans GM Jon Robinson’s successor as Patriots college scouting director, and joined Robinson in Nashville last May as the team’s new director of player personnel. He has a strong relationship with Judge, so he’d be one to watch.
From Andrew Neill (@ToxicDeath): Can the Cowboys compete with Dalton under center? Presuming their defense becomes even average?
Andrew, yes, they can, and I think in a way the rest of the season will now become a referendum on the rest of the roster. Andy Dalton made the playoffs five years in a row with a really good roster around him in Cincinnati, but couldn’t keep the pace up when attrition, both on the staff and in the lineup, hit the last few years. So in a way, plugging him in as Dallas’s starter should give you an idea of how good the Cowboys really are.
The Cowboys have a hefty level of investment in their veteran core, and that’s even after factoring Dak Prescott and Tyron Smith (also out for the year) out of the equation. So I think putting Dalton in will give them a really interesting read on how good the group they’ve put around Prescott is, and maybe be a tool in making some of the tough cap decisions the team has coming in the spring.
From Moose Block (@moose_block): Any chance Andrew Luck plays in 2021?
Moose, I was actually talking to someone in Indy about this the other day—just where the team would be if Luck hadn’t retired—and he said, Maybe he’ll just resurface in March. He was joking, of course (before anyone tries to turn that into a headline). But it’s definitely a fun idea.
My impression is that Luck is really enjoying his retirement, and I have no reason to believe that he’d reverse course and come back. That said, he’s only 31 years old, and that’s a pretty good team that holds his rights. So I guess you should never say never.
From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Who will be the next HC and GM in Atlanta? Is that a full teardown and rebuild situation?
Matt, I think this is likely to be a teardown. The Falcons have six guys with cap numbers over $10 million for this year and three of them are over 30. And there’s a good chance Atlanta is in a position to draft a quarterback in April—and if it gets the first pick and the chance to take area native Trevor Lawrence, these opening suddenly become very, very attractive.
I also think Raheem Morris deserves a fair audition for the job, so we’ll see how he does.
Beyond just Morris, it’s way too early to know where this is going. Would the Falcons take another shot at Patriots people like Nick Caserio and Josh McDaniels after 13 years with Thomas Dimitroff at the helm? Are they ready to look to the college ranks again, all those years after the Bobby Petrino experiment blew up on them? These are fair questions to ask, and the Falcons have plenty of time to answer them.