It’s the first mailbag of the 2021 offseason! Let’s Go …
From Craig M (@Dolfan2334): Sad news about Marty Schottenheimer. Much respect for this man!! Which of his coaching stops do you think he’ll be most remembered for?
From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Did you cover any of Marty Schottenheimer's teams over the years?
Thanks for the questions, Craig and Matt. And I’ll start with the first question here: To me, it would have to be the sustained success that stretched from Cleveland to Kansas City. He was in those places for a total of 14 seasons, made the playoffs 11 times, posted nine double-digit win seasons and made three conference title games. The low-water mark was a 7–9 year his final season in K.C. That was also his first losing season, coming, again, in his 14th year an NFL head coach.
And he did this in the AFC in the era of Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly, with a string of good-not-great quarterbacks (Bernie Kosar, Steve DeBerg, Elvis Grbac, and Joe Montana at the very end of Montana’s career). Along the way, he helped develop future Super Bowl-winning coaches Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Bruce Arians and Mike McCarthy, while also having guys like Hue Jackson, Wade Phillips and Tony Sparano on his staffs.
In the end, when you add his Washington and San Diego years in, he was a head coach for 21 years in the NFL and had just two losing seasons. No, he never got one of those teams over the top, but he won a lot of games (his total of 200 ranks eighth all-time), helped a lot of people along the way and leaves a pretty awesome legacy.
As for the second question, Matt, I’ll always remember the 2005 and ’06 Chargers teams that I saw play live in my first two years covering the NFL. I was on the Patriots’ beat back then. The former laid a beatdown on New England in my fourth game covering the team, one that was so bad, in fact, that it made me wonder if I’d just missing getting to be around the dynasty (yeah, shouldn’t have been a concern). The latter I got to see in the Marlon McCree playoff game. That still might be the most talented team I’ve seen play in person.
That wound up being Schottenheimer’s final game as an NFL head coach. The Chargers had a loaded roster coached by a loaded staff that thoroughly outplayed the Patriots that afternoon. It sort of feels like a shame now that we didn’t get to see that team advance, because I think there’s a really good chance it would’ve won the whole thing if it could’ve gotten past New England.
It also sort of illustrated how Schottenheimer’s career went in the league. His teams were always really, really good, but seemed snakebitten on stages like that one. The nice thing is, as I see it, his legacy is much deeper than that.
From Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25): Latest on Sam Darnold? Best fit? Best return package for the Jets? Who is starting QB this September if you had to guess?
Paul, in Monday’s column we had the latest: The Jets heard from four teams about Darnold in the aftermath of the Matthew Stafford trade, and those four teams were essentially told that the Jets are still digging through the evaluation process. Which, of course, is not a no. And while I don’t think they’re in any rush, that tells me that soon enough they’ll be fielding offers.
Back in the fall, when it looked like the Jets were going to wind up with Trevor Lawrence, I did some asking around on Darnold’s value. The answer I got was that they’d probably be able to extract a little more than what the Cardinals wound up getting for Josh Rosen during the 2019 draft. Arizona, you’ll remember, wound up with a second-round pick and a fifth-rounder. So maybe it’d be a two and four, or a two and a three. Or maybe it’ll be more than that depending on what happens with Carson Wentz.
As for the last question, and this is just a hunch (truly): I’ll say BYU’s Zach Wilson.
From Kevin Pickett (@kpick38): Who do the Patriots target in free agency??
From Martin Norwell (@MartinNorwell): Left field selection for the Pats at QB?
Kevin, let’s start with your question. I think it could be instructive for Patriots fans to wind the clock all the way back to the offseason of 2001 in New England. That spring, they mined the market for second-wave names like Mike Vrabel, Bryan Cox, Anthony Pleasant, Roman Phifer and Terrell Buckley. Some had background with Bill Belichick. Others didn’t. Many wound up playing important roles in the dawning of a dynasty.
Now, the prices back then were different than they are now. But with the cap likely to drop in 2021, there’s a good chance more than half the NFL’s players will be handcuffed by the league’s own (reasonable) pre-pandemic planning for the cap to keep rising. Some of them will be bleeding on to the market. The result, in my opinion, will be supply outweighing demand. The Shaq Barretts and Kenny Golladays of the world will get theirs. But the middle class, in all likelihood, will get squeezed out. And that should create opportunity for New England to make like 2001.
Now, it won’t be easy. Shopping at that level of the market means a higher probability of misses, and lesser chance of big hits, because those guys aren’t immune to market conditions for a reason. But it could mean landing on players like Rams TE Gerald Everett, Bills LB Matt Milano or Saints DE Trey Hendrickson, who may have untapped upside.
As for the left field selection, I think it’s hard to find left-field quarterbacks—attention on the position doesn’t really allow for guys to slide under the radar. So I’ll give you Raiders QB Marcus Mariota as my answer there, which would give the Patriots the chance to throw a dart on a guy with upside while still perusing the draft class for another answer.
From JT Barczak (@jtbarczak): Who is the Bears’ starter at QB in 2021?
Straightforward question, JT, so I’ll give you a straightforward answer: Carson Wentz. And I don’t feel great about giving you that answer right now, mostly because the way the Wentz situation has played out, in general, doesn’t lend itself to easy answers. I believe the Eagles overshot the market to begin with by asking for the Lions’ Matthew Stafford return for Wentz. I also think their insistence on coming away with a first-rounder-plus is why things have slowed.
Both the Colts and Bears are interested, but there are hang-ups for both. My sense is Indy would want this to be more of a two-year flier than a full-on marriage to Wentz, and it’s important to remember that the Colts didn’t put their first-rounder on the table for Stafford—which shows the sort of discipline GM Chris Ballard is operating with. As for Chicago, mortgaging future assets might be a tough sell to ownership, given that the team’s football brass will be fighting to keep jobs this year.
I also think the experience the coaches in both places (Frank Reich in Indy, John DeFilippo in Chicago) have with Wentz cuts both ways. They know the good. They understand the ins-and-outs of what Wentz needs fixed mechanically. They also know how he’s reacted to hard coaching in the past, and how, over his first two years, the Eagles were able to scheme around some of the weaknesses in his game.
I’m fascinated to see where this goes.
From JV (@jessvegs): With Stafford out of the equation, what does Washington do at QB now? Carr? Trade up for Fields? Darnold?
JV, since you asked the question, Washington did re-sign Taylor Heinicke, but I think the Football Team will still continue aggressively looking at just about everything. They offered a first-rounder and third-rounder for Stafford, a haul close to what Carolina was willing to give up for him. And they’ve inquired on Carr—who, to this point, has not been made available by the Raiders. I’m also relatively certain that, picking 19th, Washington won’t get Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or Trey Lance without trading up.
But if you add all those things up, the desire to go get a quarterback added to the way the winds are blowing on the draft class, it’s pretty easy to see where Washington would be a trade-up candidate here. Especially when you consider that the 2022 draft class, as of right now, doesn’t have even one slam-dunk first-round quarterback. In that way, this year is like 2018, and we saw three trades up within or into the top 10 to get QB that year.
From Ezra Cohen (@ezraekev): Who was the quarterback who improved the most this year? Best trick play?
Ezra, I think the most improved quarterback in the NFL in 2020 was Josh Allen, and that’s a credit to GM Brandon Beane for seeing the capacity for growth in Allen three years ago, coach Sean McDermott for creating the right sort of program for that growth to take place in, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and QBs coach Ken Dorsey, for being in the weeds of that growth manifesting.
Most of all, it’s a credit to Allen, who, for some reason, became a target from before he even played a game. Turns out, he was the right kind of guy, and the right kind of worker, to make that kind of growth happen all along.
As for the best trick play, I’m going with this one, from early October—it’s a throw off a reverse from the Browns, and the reason I’m picking it is because the degree of difficulty on that throw, from Jarvis Landry to Odell Beckham, is pretty high, especially considering that it’s not like the Cowboys absolutely busted on the back end in the face of it.
From L. E. D. (@lredeugene): Which of the opt-out players are going to have the biggest impact on their team?
Here’s a list, L.E.D., of who could make the biggest impact coming back (in no particular order) …
Broncos RT Ju’Wuan James: Denver’s offensive line was a surprising bright spot in 2020. Garrett Bolles finally broke through at left tackle. Lloyd Cushenberry was great as a rookie center. Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow are solid at the guards. James could be the last piece in this group going from a nice surprise to a legitimate team strength.
Jets LB C.J. Mosley: Mosley should be for Robert Saleh what Fred Warner was for him in San Francisco—the nerve center of an aggressive, fast-moving defense.
Bills DT Star Lotulelei: The Buffalo run defense was leaky at points in 2020, and the loss of Lotulelei was a big reason why. His return would be huge for Buffalo.
Bears DT Eddie Goldman: This isn’t so much about shoring up a weakness as it is adding another damn good player back into the mix. And Goldman’s still young; he just turned 27.
Chiefs G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: His reasons for sitting out in 2020 were as noble as they come, but it was pretty clear that Kansas City could’ve used him on Sunday night.
Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower: Plain and simple, the Patriots didn’t have a difference-maker in their front seven in 2020. The versatile Hightower can be that guy, in several ways.
From Craig M (@Dolfan2334): Do you think Todd Bowles would have been hired as a HC this year if the NFL had different rules, not allowing any HC hires to happen until AFTER the Super Bowl has been played?
Craig, it’s possible—because at that point, we’d have what Bowles did in the playoffs as a point of reference. And you could make the argument that Bowles was one of the most impactful figures of this January and February in the NFL, in what he did to combat the Saints, Packers and Chiefs on his way to a championship.
The more interesting question might whether he would’ve gone. As I’ve heard it, there’s been a sort of expectation that Bowles is the coach-in-waiting in Tampa, and that Bruce Arians would like to eventually pass the operation down to him. Arians has said himself that it’s not happening now. But the head coach will be 69 this year, and already retired once, so it’s fair to say that handoff could happen in the not-too-distant future.
From Edward Kayal (@_Ed_Edd_Eddie_): How highly rated is Trey Lance on draft boards? Is he expected to go late first or early first? And is he a big factor when considering the QB trade market from Carolina and beyond?
Edward, I made a comparison to 2018 earlier in the column and I’ll take that to another
level here: I think Lawrence, Wilson, Fields and Lance, probably in that order, will all go inside the top 10. I believe each of them have the talent to go that high. But beyond that, looking ahead to the 2022 class, the dearth of slam-dunk first-round types should create some urgency for teams trying to find a long-term answer at the position.
In 2018, it meant three teams trading into the top 10 (Jets, Bills, Cardinals) to get quarterbacks and, for the most part, the feeling on the talent in the 2019 class was correct. Two of the three quarterbacks who went in the first round that year (Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins) weren’t even starting for their college teams the year before, and the third (Daniel Jones) was a bit of a late-riser in the process. So the fact that the 2022 class looks uncertain (USC’s Kedon Slovis? Georgia’s J.T. Daniels?) is very relevant.
And because Lance figures to be the fourth of the four to go in the upper reaches, where he lands will become an important storyline for how the 2021 draft goes. I also think, for what it’s worth, Lance is a fascinating prospect—he was borderline flawless in his first year starting (national champion, 28-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio), albeit at the FCS level, then got his second year taken by COVID-19. North Dakota State played just one game this fall, and it happened to be Lance’s first really shaky game, adding a level of intrigue to his evaluation.
I’m not sure, by the way, that’s completely fair, given the weird circumstances of that game. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how the NFL digests all of this over the next two months.
From Jason Kroulik (@crowlick): Albert, do you think the Lions re-sign Golladay, tag him or allow him to leave in free agency?
Jason, my guess would be that the Lions will try to get Golladay signed to a deal, but might have a hard time tagging him because they’re close to the salary cap, and franchising him would likely cost around $16 million. And that means, as I see it, he’ll probably be gone.
From Gary (@NotTheP0lice): Who is the most likely non-Jimmy Garoppolo starter for the 49ers next year? Thanks!
Gary, I think the idea of Lance is a fun one. Physically, he’s got everything you’d want, and a few people told me last summer that the Bison star would be an exceptional fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system. He’s also a really sharp kid, from what I’ve heard, which I think would appeal to the Niners’ staff.
I’ve also viewed Darnold as a possibility. But the interesting twist here—if he’s available, that means Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who were working for the Niners six weeks ago, would be walking away from him. I do think the Niners like Darnold. But that dynamic certainly gives me some pause when asking if they like him enough to hitch their wagon to the 23-year-old.
From Moose Block (@moose_block): Which non-QB in this year’s draft will make an immediate impact on his team?
This one’s relatively easy for me: Oregon LT Penei Sewell. This year was proof again that top-of-the-first-round tackles are a) a decent bet to hit, and b) capable of jumping in right away, and Sewell is considered a better prospect than any of the four guys who went in the top 13 picks last year. Sewell will be a starting tackle for someone in Week 1 and, I’d bet he’ll be a really good one right away.
From Andy Gresh (@TheRealGresh): Who is the best pro football player to turn pro wrestler??
You have Ernie Ladd, Bill Goldberg, Kevin Greene, Wahoo McDaniels, Tito Santana, Steve 'Mongo' McMichael, Ron Simmons. Curious for your thoughts …
Gresh!!! Gotta go with Ron Simmons on the wrestling side, since he was a badass right in my wheelhouse for watching pro wrestling—the mid-’90s. On the football side, definitely McMichael. And by the way, Gresh also said in no uncertain terms that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was not eligible. “Nope. Sorry. 2 months on a practice squad doesn't count,” he tweeted.
Very disrespectful to the Calgary Stampeders, if you ask me.