Free agency’s not actually over; it just feels that way. On to this week’s MAQB …
• In this morning’s column, we highlighted Matthew Stafford’s entrance in L.A. But just as interesting, I thought, was his departure from Detroit—and just how much thought and consternation went into the early January trade request that he logged with Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood. “It was tough,” Stafford told me Friday. “When I got drafted there in 2009, I had every intention, like every athlete does, of playing every single snap of my career in a Detroit Lions uniform, and just being there. Obviously, a wild ride over 12 years, and a bunch of great times and tough times too. It just kind of got to that point where it was the best thing for both sides. They were incredible towards me after I talked to them about it. Both the Ford family and the front office were outstanding, and really helped me through the process, and obviously I got to where I am right now. That was a crazy ordeal, but I’m excited to be where I am and have a lot of fond memories of Detroit that I’ll never forget. And I’ll always be pulling for the Lions as long as we’re not playing them or fighting for a playoff berth with them. I do have a lot of respect and love for that organization.” And during the time between the request and the trade itself—a period of close to four weeks—Stafford didn’t sit on his hands. As seriously as he took asking out in the first place, he wanted to be as diligent with assessing where he might want to go (we mentioned back in January that his top three choices were the Rams, 49ers and Colts), even if he didn’t have control over that. “I was definitely doing my homework, just going and seeing who they had up in free agency, who were the guys on the roster,” Stafford said. “I’m a fan of the NFL. I watch football constantly and know what these teams are about from an offensive standpoint, in terms of how they like to play the games. Do I know the terminology? No. But I know how they like to play the game. I wasn’t a free agent, so it was something that was gonna have to work for both teams, and I understood that. I didn’t get my heart set on any certain place. Obviously, I have a ton of respect for Coach McVay, and how Sean gets it done from an offensive standpoint, and with the culture he’s created here in Los Angeles and that was exciting for me. There were a few other teams that were exciting as well, but I’m so happy where I landed. I think it was one of those deals where it was kind of meant to be, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to play for this organization, this team, this fan base. They’ve been really successful in the recent past, and I’m just looking to add to it.”
• ESPN first reported on Monday that Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley will undergo a microdiscectomy Tuesday, which will knock him out of the Hokies’ pro day, and you should pay attention to that because it could impact Farley on two fronts. First, Farley opted out of the 2020 season, so teams were going to want to see him move around physically. Also, the 6' 2", 207-pounder is seen as an athletic freak, and having the shot to test that way would’ve helped him. That shot is now lost. Second, this isn’t his first back issue. In fact, he missed the last two games of his 2019 season with back spasms, and teams were already a little concerned with that (he also tore his ACL in 2017, but that’s less of a problem for him). Add it up, and Farley probably goes from the likely first corner taken to chasing Alabama’s Patrick Surtain on that front, and maybe jockeying for position with South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn too. And it sets up for a very important set of medical checks for April 8 to 10 in Indianapolis for Farley, where some of these concerns could be allayed. For his part, Dr. Robert Watkins, who will perform the surgery on Farley, has told people he expects the 21-year-old to be full-go in time for training camp.
• A restructure of Aaron Rodgers’s contract—which my buddy Mike Silver reported could be coming—would be a really sensible conclusion to give everyone closure on the comments Rodgers made after the Bucs bounced the Packers from the playoffs in January. Why? Well, I can’t imagine Green Bay would go to the 37-year-old with the idea of doing it without presenting him with a plan for how the team would make use of its newfound cap space. If they get there, I’d imagine everyone could move forward with a clear head.
• One deal done last week that really stuck out to me was Joe Thuney’s in Kansas City. In a messed-up market, the ex-Patriot leveraged a market that included his old team in Foxboro, the Jets and the Bengals to get $16 million per year from the two-time defending AFC champions—which is nearly $2 million clear of what Philly gave Brandon Brooks two years ago, and right at $2 million more than Dallas’s Zack Martin got. Thuney also got a third-year guarantee, which is exceedingly rare for a guard. His $15 million base for 2022 becomes guaranteed next March, meaning the Chiefs would either have to cut him then and he’d walk with $32 million for a single year, or he’ll get at least $48 million over three years. And that three-year take blows away what Martin ($44.66 million), Andrew Norwell ($41.5 million) and Brooks ($40.7 million) got in the first three years of their deals. (To be fair, of those four, only Thuney and Norwell were free agents.) It’s an immense commitment It’s an immense commitment from K.C., and one that, I’ve been told, is based largely on Thuney’s reliability as a person as a player. The Patriots have played 90 games, playoffs included, since Thuney was drafted in 2016. Thuney started all of them.
• While we’re there, Denver’s star safety, Justin Simmons, merits mention too as the only player other than Thuney to reset the market at his position (49ers OT Trent Williams did too, technically, but only because a gigantic number in 2026—more than $33 million!—brought the total average per year there). Meanwhile, new Chargers center Corey Linsley matched the $12.5 million per year that the Colts gave Ryan Kelly last year.
• Rodney Hudson is indeed a huge add for the Cardinals, who need strong interior linemen in front of Kyler Murray for the same reason Drew Brees needed them in New Orleans for all those years (yup, it’s height related). So why would Vegas trade Hudson, a stellar player and leader, away? Obviously finances played into their dealing him, but we also told you Monday morning that the Raiders love Andre James, who’s Hudson heir apparent. And they showed it by handing him a three-year, $12.5 million extension. It is, of course, a calculated risk on a guy with two years and one start under his belt. But if the Raiders are right on him, it could well wind up being a big-time bargain.
• One thing the Kenny Golladay signing should do is get the Giants their answer on Daniel Jones. The team has spent high-end free-agent dollars (Nate Solder, Golladay) and draft capital (Andrew Thomas, Will Hernandez, Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley), rewarded their own (Sterling Shepard) and added complementary parts old and young (Kyle Rudolph, Matt Peart, Shane Lemeiux) to surround the quarterback with the right kind of personnel. And now, it’s on Jones to show why he was the sixth pick in 2019, with a very big decision coming in the spring of 2022 (on Jones’s fifth-year option) that’s often proven to be the fork in the road for teams with their young quarterbacks.
• It’s definitely caught my attention how often Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski has brought up his physical state over the last year. He did it again in meeting with the Tampa Bay media on Monday. “I feel like I could play another season right now, if it started,” Gronkowski said. “I feel really good. ... I feel light. I feel flexible. I feel like I can go out and just play some football, and just go out and not be in pain ... run routes and do what I gotta do out there on the field. So I definitely feel like I’m ready to go, to play another full season coming up this year and just take it a year at a time like that.” I won’t ever forget what Gronk looked like in a nearly empty locker room after his last game as a Patriot, Super Bowl LIII—he sure seemed to be a player who’d emptied completely and had nothing left to give. And I know the physical demands of the Patriots’ program (and some of their reluctance to allow players to use the TB12 Method, which had helped him) grated on Gronkowski. So it wouldn’t surprise me if his physical state registered as another win in a year full of them for the future Hall of Famer.
• I’m torn on Alabama WR DeVonta Smith’s decision not to run at his pro day. On one hand, his Heisman-caliber game tape should speak for itself. On the other, there is doubt to how he’ll project and hold up as a pro. He said he’s 170 pounds, and perception holds among scouts that he’d run in the 4.5-range—he’s seen as a fast, but not possessing blinding speed—if he gave it go. So running a 4.4, as I see it, probably would’ve helped, given there’s no assurance that he’ll be the first or even second receiver taken. (He’s battling LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase and teammate Jaylen Waddle on that front.) And if he ran a 4.5? Well, then the same teams that loved him would keep loving him, and the skeptics would remain skeptics. It would’ve been sort of a no-lose situation if you ask me.
• I’m interested to see and hear more on the NFL’s plans for the draft in Cleveland, because the way the draft’s been (prior to last year’s COVID-altered event) really mirrors what you’d see at an outdoor music festival. Are we at the point where that could be pulled off safely? We’re about to find out. And how it goes could be an interesting step toward having fans at games in the fall, or even training camps in the summer.