It’s a quiet time in the NFL, but still plenty of questions to get to …
From J.R. Willis (@thewillisfactor): Should Howie trade Wentz to the Bears regardless of Wentz’s feelings?
From Dan George (@dag54125): Do you think Wentz gets traded this week, and will he be traded to the Bears?
So these two questions tie into one another—and raise, to me, the most interesting element of the Carson Wentz saga. And that’s what Wentz wants. The to-be-jettisoned Eagles QB doesn’t have a no-trade clause, nor does he have much good tape from 2020. But he does have a lot of money due to him over the next two years. The $25.4 million he’s due this year is already fully guaranteed, and $15 million of the $22 million he’s on the books for in 2022 becomes fully guaranteed in mid-March.
As a practical matter, that means the team acquiring him will either pay $40.4 million for one year of him (and that’d be if things went horrifically enough where they’d cut him and give him the $15 million guarantee to go away before 2022) or $47.4 million for two (which would be a really good rate if he regains his early-career form). Add that to the draft-pick compensation he’ll command in a trade, and it’s fair to say the team bringing him in would rather not have him stomp his feet walking through the door.
That, to me, is Wentz’s leverage. It’s understandable why he’d want Indy over Chicago. Frank Reich is there, you can feel good that he and Chris Ballard will be in charge for the foreseeable future, the cap is healthy and the roster is loaded with ascending young talents (including players like Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor to throw/hand off to, and Quenton Nelson to protect you). Conversely, in Chicago, the line needs fixing, your No. 1 receiver’s a free agent, the cap is a little messy and the future beyond this year is murky.
I’m pointing that out as someone who believes Chicago could be really good for Wentz. I think he needs the hard coaching he’s had a tough time with, and Bears passing game coordinator John DeFilippo was that guy for him his first two years in Philly. Also, Matt Nagy’s as solid a quarterbacks guy as you could want, and there are some promising young pieces (Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet). But I’m not the one who needs to be convinced. Wentz is.
As for whether it happens this week, I think it does. But if Philly had the offer it wanted, it—obviously—would’ve happened already. And while I think GM Howie Roseman may have overplayed his hand a little on this one, no one’s better or more creative as a deal-maker, one reason why this is going at his pace.
From Tyler Schmidt (@tyler_schmidt30): If the Colts end up not getting Wentz, who should they target at QB? Should they go to the draft? Brissett?
Again, I think there’s a good chance they do get Wentz, in part because I think Wentz can steer things that way. But if they don’t, I think bringing back Jacoby Brissett as an insurance policy is a good first step. And I do think Sam Darnold would become an option—which would be kind of funny, since the Colts were the team that the Jets traded up with to get Darnold in the first place.
And if it’s not Wentz or Darnold? Well, it almost certainly won’t be Deshaun Watson. Even if he were to become available (and that’s a big if), it’s hard to imagine the Texans would even entertain the thought of dealing him within the division. Derek Carr’s not available, as it stands right now, either. So all this would probably push the Colts’ focus toward the draft.
Which is where I think it’s important to remember Ballard’s history. He was with Kansas City from 2013 until January 2017, when he took the Colts job. He was integral in building that team up, and a key figure in the team’s targeting of Patrick Mahomes. Going into that April’s draft, the Chiefs had the 27th pick. They dealt all the way up to 10 to get Mahomes, with the feeling that they could spare picks with the roster in really good shape, and that roster looking like a good one for a young quarterback to step into.
I can’t say whether the Colts like a quarterback in this draft as much as the Chiefs liked Mahomes in 2017. But certainly, we’re all a product of our experiences. And Ballard had a front-row seat to an aggressive move up the board for a rookie quarterback working out really (really, really, really) well. So I think if there’s a guy out there he likes like that, he wouldn’t be afraid to make his move for him, even if moving up from 21 into the top 10 would cost a lot.
From James Hughes (@JamesX27): Should the @Titans just cut Isaiah Wilson at this point?
James, Titans GM Jon Robinson has a pretty strong batting average through five years as general manager. But this one, to this point, has been a pretty big whiff. As a player, to be fair, Wilson was a stylistic fit—a mammoth road-grader of an offensive lineman. He fit a need, too, with Tennessee having lost Robinson’s first first-round pick, and starting right tackle, Jack Conklin in free agency.
But there were enormous concerns about Wilson’s maturity, work ethic and passion for football coming out of Georgia, and scouts digging through his time there found a guy that acted with a lack of urgency. All of it came to bear in his rookie year. On the doorstep of his first training camp, with instructions to quarantine, Wilson was caught partying at Tennessee State. Less than two months later, he was cited for DUI. He was suspended for violating team rules in December and seen partying in Miami without a mask on over New Year’s Eve, with the Titans days away from a big Week 17 game.
That’s why coach Mike Vrabel said a month ago, “I can’t comment on Isaiah. I wouldn’t even begin to be able to eloquently have an answer for you.” And Robinson said this week, “We did a lot of work on him leading up to the draft. The player that was here in the fall was not the player we evaluated. He’s going to have to make a determination if he wants to play pro football. That’s on him.”
It’s safe to say that if Wilson were not enormously talented, he’d have been off the Titans roster a while ago. And even considering his talent, he’s probably down to his last strike.
From gm18 (@Gm18Louis): Are teams calling the Jets about the possible availability of pick #2?
GM, I’m sure exploratory discussions have happened at one point or another, but I know the Jets aren’t quite there yet on the draft-eligible quarterbacks—their coaches are still working through the tape, and those offensive coaches, led by new OC Mike LaFleur, are going to have a say in what they do at the position.
If the Jets deal Darnold then, obviously, the second pick would almost certainly be off the market and tucked away to either draft his replacement or make a move on Deshaun Watson, if Watson were to become available. If the Jets decide to go forward with Darnold, then the auction could begin, and I do believe there would be suitors, largely because there are more teams looking for a quarterback upgrade drafting high than quarterbacks worthy of going that high (and I believe there are four in that category this year).
Either way, I believe even in the aftermath of losing out on Trevor Lawrence, Jets GM Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh are operating from a position of strength here.
From dean osborn (@deanosborn42): How many more years does Belichick coach the Pats for?
Dean, I feel like I’ve been answering this question forever. For a long time, I’ve felt like he’s had plenty of gas left in the tank, and I still feel that way now. I don’t think he needs to work quite as hard as he used to—which allows for him to do the things a very wealthy man of his age would want to—and I don’t think coaching football really feels like work to him anyway. Talking to people who know him, his passion hasn’t waned, and I do think the challenge of winning in post–Tom Brady New England is energizing for him.
There’s something else here, too. He’s within shouting distance of Don Shula’s wins record. He’s 48 away on the regular-season scoreboard (328–280) and 36 short in combined regular season/postseason (347–311). It’d be hard for him to regain the pace he was on with Brady as his quarterback. But if he can average nine wins a year and grab a playoff win or two, he passes Shula on the combined board in 2024. If he could pace a little faster than that, he could take the regular season lead in 2025 or ’26.
That would also allow him time to add that post-Brady layer to his legacy, and leave the place in better shape than it’s in now for his successor. I do think Belichick’s got at least three or four years left in the tank.
From ᴄʜᴇᴇꜱᴇ ᴅᴏɢ Evergreen tree (@CheeseDog2020): Is Miami a serious player for a free agent QB (or trade) or do they give Tua more time?
Cheese Dog, if I was laying odds right now, I’d say Tua Tagovailoa’s the favorite to be the Dolphins’ starting quarterback in Week 1. But I do think they’ll do what I would do in the situation they’re in: go through the process with Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance the same way they went through it with Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert last year.
That, by the way, doesn’t mean that I’m out on Tagovailoa as a potential franchise quarterback. I just didn’t see enough in 2020 to convince me, if I’m the Dolphins, that I shouldn’t continue to turn over rocks to be as good as I can be at the most important position. Through a good trade and some good fortune, a Miami team on the cusp of the playoffs in 2020 wound up with the third overall pick in 2021. I think the Dolphins would be foolish not to investigate the QBs available there.
Chris Grier and Brian Flores have the Dolphins in a spot now where it could be a very long time before they’re drafting that high again. So I view this as an opportunity for the team—and very rare sort of opportunity—to get a final crosscheck on Tagovailoa, and a shot at upgrading on the fly with a new rookie if the crosscheck (which basically becomes Tua vs. Lance/Wilson/Fields) pushes them that way.
That would be my plan, and Deshaun Watson’s the only veteran quarterback out there who would tempt me to veer from it.
From Hey Hey, it's Ray Ray (@theraybergman): Chances Chargers find OL relief via trade or free agency (Brown), vs invest high draft picks?
Ray Ray, the Chargers are in luck in that this has the promise to be a pretty strong draft when it comes to offensive linemen, with Oregon’s Penei Sewell, Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw all likely in the top 20 discussion, and Day 2 loaded with good prospects. So I think teams like the Chargers and Bengals that are looking for bodyguards for their young quarterbacks can count on there being some good ones available in April.
What’ll be interesting is seeing whether they decide to supplement with veteran help. You brought up Baltimore’s Orlando Brown, on the trade block with a stated desire to play left tackle full-time somewhere (that opportunity won’t be available again with the Ravens, when Ronnie Stanley gets back from injury). And if he were a free agent, I’d definitely consider it. He’s a really good player and did well on the left side after Stanley went down.
But if you’re the Chargers, would you give up your first-rounder (13th overall) for him, then hand him a big contract? Or would you rather pursue, say, New England’s Joe Thuney or Washington’s Brandon Scherff, then address your tackle need with the 13th pick, which would also give you that player at a more affordable rate? To me, the latter sounds more attractive, and gives you the chance to double down on fixing a single area.
From T Allan (@BreakerTAllan): Has any GM been able to get a player on a long-term deal for a set % of the salary cap? Can it be done?
T, no one’s been able to do it. And I think, at least for right now, the ask from quarterbacks that teams consider it will be tabled—there’s just too much volatility with what the 2020 revenue shortfall will do to the cap over the next few years.
Now, getting the television deals done will certainly help and, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll see an influx gambling revenue that could push the cap into a new stratosphere. At that point, I think we’ll probably be talking about the idea again. Owners lean on each other not to break this sort of new ground (given the precedent that could be set), so I think it’ll be tough for a player ever to be in position to actually land that sort of deal. Maybe Trevor Lawrence in 2024. We’ll see.
From Gary (@NotTheP0lice): Which of Zach Wilson/Justin Fields/Trey Lance do you think Kyle Shanahan would like the most? Do you think the 49ers would be willing to trade up into the top 5 for a QB? Thanks!
Gary, it’s a little bit of a tough one for me to answer, but I will give you this nugget—I was talking to a few scouts over the summer about the 2021 draft class, and a couple mentioned to me how Lance’s skillset is ideal for the Shanahan offense. That’s not to say Wilson and Fields aren’t. I think both have traits that would lend themselves to that scheme. It’s just that I heard people who would know say it specifically about Lance.
And, interestingly enough, if the Niners wanted Lance, they’d be, at 12, within striking distance to get him.
From Moose Block (@moose_block): How close is the League to finalizing the new TV deals? How will they differ from the current deals?
Moose, I’m going to be diving into this soon. But my feeling on it off the top is that there’ll be two major differences. One would be a rise in the prominence of streaming services in delivering the broadcasts (and maybe Amazon getting one of the packages exclusively). And two would be the potential that Disney gets the NFL back on ABC and uses that to get itself back in the Super Bowl rotation.
From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): With recent comments made by Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, do you see a shift in the future of QB's having more leverage in personnel decisions?
We’ll wrap it up this week on this question—it’s a good one from Matt, and one I’ve been asked a bunch the last couple weeks. And I don’t think the answer is overly complicated. Both Rodgers and Wilson have grumbled in the past about circumstances around them. Now, those grievances are going public. Why?
Well, I think it at least starts with what they’re seeing elsewhere across the league. The Bucs were super aggressive in getting Tom Brady help—their four touchdowns in the Super Bowl were scored by three players acquired after Brady, who were in Tampa in the first place because of Brady. The Chiefs have been very active in taking advantage of Patrick Mahomes’s rookie contract window. Ditto with Buffalo, with the Stefon Diggs deal being a shining example.
And so, as I see it, I think Rodgers wanted to exert a little pressure on the Packers to operate with more of a short-window mindset (especially after drafting Jordan Love in the first round last year), and Rodgers doing it gave Wilson cover to do the same. Again, this isn’t overly complicated. But if it works for either or both, there’s definitely potential for it to become a trend.