Mailbag: Where Will Sam Darnold Be Playing in 2021?

If the Jets can land Trevor Lawrence, expect them to have several suitors for their current quarterback. Plus, when will Bill Belichick stop coaching, will we have a full season, what changes do the Colts and Bears need to make and more.
Author:
Publish date:

It’s Week 10. Let’s roll …

nfl-mailbag-jets-sam-darnold-2021-team

From Grass (@AGrassey0205): Where is the most realistic destination for Sam Darnold next season and what is the cost going to be?

Grass, I’ve kind of gone on the assumption that it’s going to be right at or a little richer than the two and a five Miami brought home for Josh Rosen. Yes, Darnold’s more accomplished and has a better reputation than Rosen. But there was still plenty of hope for Rosen in the spring of 2019, and at the time Rosen had four years left on his rookie contract, whereas Darnold will have the final year and a decision on the fifth-year option left—a fifth-year option that will be worth around $25 million and, per the new CBA, fully guaranteed.

But the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think that the price could wind up rising in time, because I think there’d be a lot of interest in Darnold. I could see Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco among the suitors, and I’m assembling that list without including New England, because I think with that level of interest, there’d be no need for the Jets to even think about trading him to a division rival.

I still like Darnold a lot. I think the league does, too. And I think the Jets do, as well, just not enough to pass on Trevor Lawrence if he’s sitting there for them.

From John DePriest (@johndepriest790): Is this Bill Belichick’s last season as head coach?

John, I’ve felt for a while now like the Patriots’ job will be Belichick’s last. I just think he recognizes how hard it is to establish a program, and on top of that how difficult it would be to reestablish the sort of program he wants to run somewhere else in 2020 (Foxboro’s always been a tough place to work, and Belichick’s acknowledged he’s hard to work for). Plus, after 20 years, Foxboro’s turnkey for him—which is not a small factor for a coach who’s 18 months away from his 70th birthday.

So that gives me the groundwork for my answer to your question: I think Belichick still loves coaching and doesn’t want to give it up. And since I do believe New England is where his NFL coaching career will end, meaning taking a break would basically be out, I think he’s got a few years left. Which is me telling you that, no, I don’t think this will be his last year as head coach.

Now, you’ll notice there that I said his NFL coaching career. I don’t think it’s impossible to think that he could resurface in a role like the one Bill Parcells held in Miami in his 70s, where he’d set the agenda for an organization and hire people he trusts to run the day-to-day show. Behind the scenes, on the NFL job market, he’s played kingmaker for a bunch of guys who’ve become GMs and head coaches, which tells me he’d like that kind of Parcellsian role.

From T Allan (@BreakerTAllan): Are we going to have a full season?

T, I think we will, yes. And I say that because I think the NFL will throw everything but the health of safety of its employees overboard to make it happen. I know it sounds harsh, putting it that way. Here’s what I mean: I don’t think the league is going to let a team having an outbreak and having to go with a skeleton crew push the train off the tracks, nor do I think it cares if a team has to play without its quarterback in a big game.

Again, the NFL just wants the games to get played.

So do I think the league will continue to have problems with COVID-19? Yes, as long as America is having problems with COVID-19, the league will too. But by being over-the-top careful with any sign of the virus’s existence within a team—we’ve seen it with the Steelers and Niners over the last week—the NFL serves two masters. It’s prioritizing the health and safety of players and staff and it’s giving itself the best shot of playing 256 plus 13.

In short, I don’t know if this NFL season’s going look like a Ferrari or a Yugo at the end of the season. But I do feel confident that whatever it is will be pushed over that finish line.

From Andrew Carten (@Samson2509): What’s Jakobi Meyers’s ceiling as a WR?

Good question, Andrew! Meyers looks like a real find for the Patriots—he flashed in camp as a rookie in 2019, and has steadily improved since, and all that progress was groundwork for his 12-catch, 169-yard effort Monday night against the Jets. This didn’t just come out of nowhere. That he’s a former quarterback is no mistake, and the type of receiver he is (a strong route-runner with great awareness) fits New England perfectly.

I don’t know what his ceiling is, but I do know that the Patriots have harvested guys both from the bottom of the draft and the ranks of the undrafted (David Givens, Julian Edelman) at the position before who came along gradually, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he winds up finding a long-term role there. He’s 100% their kind of guy.

From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): What are some realistic QB options for New England next season if they can’t get one in first round of the draft?

Craig, the free-agent crop is pretty limited. Obviously, Cam Newton’s one of the names in there, with guys like Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston. Mitch Trubisky’s there, too, if you want a reclamation project. And as much as the Patriots value knowledge of their specific system in a quarterback, Jacoby Brissett’s another name who will be out there that might make sense as some sort of bridge.

Then, there’s the trade market. Sam Darnold would be great, but I have a really hard time seeing the Jets trading him to the Patriots, particularly because—should they land the first pick—I think they’ll really have a market for him and won’t have to do that. Jimmy Garoppolo could be another option, one that I think would make a lot of sense, but that’s all contingent on San Francisco’s seeing a better option out there.

And yeah, I know that paints a bleak picture. But I can give you a little ray of light here, too. Coming into the fall, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance were seen as the three first-round quarterbacks for 2021, each with a shot to go in the top 10. Now? Now, we’ve got three more names that at least should merit Day 1 consideration: BYU’s Zach Wilson, Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask. Which means there may be options for a team like New England later in the round.

The Albert Breer Show is back on its own podcast feed! Subscribe for Albert's insight and info, with guests including the biggest names in football.

From Tyler Schmidt (@tyler_schmidt03): What’s wrong with the Colts’ run game? Is it the backs? O-line? Coaching?

Tyler, I think it’s a little bit of a bunch of things. The Colts have been banged up at tackle and tight end. Marlon Mack’s out for the year. And the passing game’s limitations in getting the ball downfield have allowed defenses to stack the box on Indy.

But in a perfect world, this is fixable. I do believe Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni have answers, and I think Jonathan Taylor’s going to be one. Yes, I know. His ball security issues from college have persisted, and there’s no quicker way for a rookie back to fall out of favor than by putting the ball on the ground. Still, I think those problems can be fixed, and Taylor has potential to be a 1,500-yard back as a pro. So he’s part of the solution.

The other part, of course, is going to be staying healthy. Because when that line is healthy, it’s as good as any in football.

From William (@William37414074): Possible options for the Colts at QB next year ... whether it be Rivers, a trade or through the draft?

William, wouldn’t it be something if the Colts, of all teams, wound up with Darnold—after trading the third pick to the Jets and watching them take him, less than four years ago? Darnold would check a lot of boxes for the Colts, too. He’s only 23 years old and is the kind of athlete that Frank Reich likes at the position. And culturally, he’s a really strong fit for that organization.

Garoppolo’s name is another you might hear, but I’m not sure I’d buy that one. The Colts and Niners did a blockbuster deal back in March for DeForest Buckner, and in the process a lot of ideas and concepts were discussed. The Colts could’ve put in for Garoppolo as that whole thing was going, because, remember, that was when Tom Brady’s camp put feelers out for his hometown Niners. That Indy didn’t express more interest then tells me they probably won’t when we get to the offseason.

And adding this up, I think it makes the draft the most likely place for Indy to find its next quarterback. My understanding is they are doing a lot of work on the class. It’s obviously too early to know where they’ll be picking or what their options will be. But I do think it’s fair to say that the aforementioned emerging depth of the position in next year’s class is a plus for them.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) with head coach Kyle Shanahan against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

From adam (@GeraldBag): Could you see Shanahan moving way up to get a QB?

Adam, I think Kyle Shanahan has confidence in his ability to make it work with a lot of different quarterbacks, which is to say I think he’d have to see a guy as super special to make a massive move up to get him. Remember, this is the guy who made Matt Schaub a 5,000-yard passer, helped Robert Griffin III put together a historic rookie season, developed Kirk Cousins, was on track to get to the playoffs with Brian Hoyer, coached Matt Ryan to an MVP and went to a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo.

Please read that sentence back—and realize that’s a staggering track record over about a dozen seasons. It also informs my thinking on where they’re going next.

I don’t think they’ll throw Garoppolo overboard just to throw Garoppolo overboard, to be clear. His deal has matured into a bargain for the team, and his background in the system, as constituted in San Francisco, has real value. But I do think the Niners’ eyes will be open on the quarterback market in March and April. So if they see Fields or Lance as Patrick Mahomes, then maybe they’ll make a move. Or maybe the opportunity to trade for someone like Darnold, who I believe would be a fit, would be too good to pass up.

From Jerrad Wyche (@JerradWyche): Does Nagy finally give up play-calling after the Week 11 bye? How bad do the Bears need to finish for him to be on the hot seat?

Jerrad, I honestly don’t think Matt Nagy’s play-calling has been the issue. The offensive line has eroded. And when you have that problem, and you’re trying to get by with a bus-driver type at the quarterback position, the results you get are the results you get. And it’s a shame because I do now think that the sand in the hourglass on a championship-level defense is running low.

I still believe Nagy’s the right guy there, and they need to find a way to get the quarterback and the offensive line right this coming spring. In my dream scenario for Chicago, it will flip a two and a five for Darnold, and draft a tackle (maybe Rashawn Slater, Jalen Mayfield, Walker Little, Liam Eichenberg or Alex Leatherwood) in the mid-first round, and maybe sign a big-time interior guy in free agency. Then, the Bears are all in for 2021, to take one last shot with that defense.

And if they do it that way, they’ll get a very clean evaluation on where they stand with Nagy, with the final year of his contract looming the year after next.

From Nick Robinson (@NickRobinsonUW): Are Telesco and Lynn tied to each other? If not, who is more likely to be let go?

Nick, I think we saw in 2017, and before that in 2007, that the Spanos family doesn’t feel the need to conduct a full-on reset every time change is necessary. Just like Tom Telesco survived the ouster of Mike McCoy, ex-GM A.J. Smith once survived the firing of Marty Schottenheimer. So I don’t think it’s impossible that we could see a change in coaching but not personnel, or personnel but not coaching.

Anthony Lynn’s in an interesting spot. He led the team through a very difficult period, moving from one city to another and spending three years in a soccer stadium with no real fan base to fill it, only to have their first year in their new permanent home be this COVID-19-racked campaign. Through it, he posted two winning seasons in his first three years and won a playoff game in Baltimore. All that counts for something.

The issue, I think, is that contractually the Chargers are at a decision point with Lynn, and they’re headed into a critical period of opportunity, with a young franchise quarterback on a rookie deal. And if this is fish-or-cut-bait time, it would seem Lynn needs some positive momentum to build on over the second half of the season. As for Telesco, the Chargers’ roster is in really good shape, so it’s hard to forecast how much blame he’d take if things come undone.

From Richard St. John (@RichardVersus): What do you think it would take to consider the remainder of the season a “success” for Zac Taylor and the Bengals?

Richard, I’ll give you a list.

1) Continued development from Joe Burrow. He’s everything the Bengals thought he was when they tied their future to him in April. So continued incremental improvement is a fair expectation.

2) Improvement from the young players on the offensive line, and in particular left tackle Jonah Williams and left guard Michael Jordan, who’ve both missed some time. Former first-rounder Billy Price’s reemerging as a viable long-term answer at center would be a bonus. Regardless of what happens, Cincinnati needs to have something to build around up front, with change on the line coming in 2021.

3) More from the defense. Lopping off Carlos Dunlap gave the group a jolt, and those guys responded with a really strong effort against the Titans before the bye. The personnel Taylor and his staff inherited on that side of the ball wasn’t great, so the defense hasn’t been either the last year and a half. But there are some interesting young vets (Carl Lawson, Vonn Bell and William Jackson) there to work with now.

And, as is the case with the Chargers, the Bengals are entering an important period, with a star quarterback now entrenched and on a rookie deal. It’s on everyone in the organization to be in a position to take advantage of that.

From R.B. (@Sports_Fi3nd): Do you believe that the Justin Fields can close the gap to be QB1 over Trevor Lawrence by the end of the CFB season for the 2021 NFL draft?

R.B., I don’t think so. Lawrence, in the eyes of scouts, is in the John Elway–Peyton Manning–Andrew Luck stratosphere—Trent Dilfer actually used Elway as a Lawrence comp on my podcast a couple of years ago—so I’d say I’m 99% sure that the Clemson star will be the first pick in April, assuming he comes out of school.

That said, Fields is coming down the stretch with a vengeance. Through three games, he has as many touchdown passes (11) as he does incompletions, and if you’ve watched Ohio State’s games (as you know I have), you can see a quarterback who’s in complete command. Fields is a phenomenal athlete, and might run 4.4 in the spring, and he’s done what he’s done over the last month without even doing much with his legs.

I do think Fields would be No. 1 in a lot of classes. He’s probably a better prospect than Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield or Jared Goff were when they went first. So if he doesn’t go first, and I don’t he will, it’s not any sort of reflection on him—it’s more about the year he’s coming out than anything else.

Fantasy Football, Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

From Moose Block (@moose_block): The NFL is loaded with some great young QBs. Is their success because of defensive rules changes or the evolving college offenses?

Moose, I could give you a full story on this one. Since we don’t have time for that here, I’ll give you the bullet-pointed version instead.

• Quarterbacks are developed like golfers now, so they’re more advanced at a younger age.

• The proliferation of seven-on-seven leagues, in addition to conventional football season, means quarterbacks are throwing the ball more than ever before as they grow up.

• Offenses have become simpler in high school and college, allowing talented players to get on the field faster, which, again, means more game reps before they get to the NFL.

• Offenses at those levels are more inventive in showcasing what a young quarterback does well, which allows them to develop their strengths into elite traits.

• Offensive coaches in the NFL are more open-minded and will to meet young quarterbacks halfway—implementing concepts they’re familiar with to shorten the learning curve.

• That open-mindedness also extends to evaluating quarterbacks of different shapes, sizes and styles. Which in turn leads to the NFL casting a wider net. And if you’re picking from a larger pool, the players picked have a better shot at success.

• Rules on defense have only worked to help the passing game.

And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more. That might be something I have to dive into down the line.