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Mailbag: Is Kyle Pitts a Generational Talent at Tight End?

Draft season is upon us, and the Florida prospect may go where few at his position have before. Plus, which quarterbacks will go where, what the Broncos and Patriots should do at QB, the future of Sunday Ticket and more.

Free agency’s ramping down. Draft season’s ramping up. And you have questions. I’ve got answers for you. …

Deshaun Watson walks off the field during a game against the Bears

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Is Deshaun Watson untradeable until the lawsuits are resolved?

Tom, I’m getting this question a lot, and let me start with what I said in the MMQB column—I really don’t think it’s appropriate to have a “take” on the legal situation itself. If you do, you’re either indicting Watson or not taking the women’s allegations seriously enough, both of which are unfair at the moment. So I don’t think this is the time or place to take a stand on that.

What I will say is that I believe that this essentially freezes the trade market for Watson, unless the Texans suddenly decide they’re not only willing to trade their 25-year-old quarterback, but take 50 cents on the dollar for him (don’t count on that).

Absent that, Houston would need a historic haul to part with Watson, and, with the amount of uncertainty that remains, I can’t see another team giving up one to get him. In fact, I talked to a couple of teams over the weekend that would otherwise be very involved, and they said that they’ve had to pause their pursuit until they can get clarity on the situation. And, taking all of that into account, we aren’t even to the fact that Houston has been steadfast in privately telling other teams that he’s not available.

So that’s where we are on March 24.

From Meeshie (@Hardycharchar): What should the Broncos do at QB?

Meeshie, I think, for now, having Drew Lock on the roster gives them the flexibility to take a big swing, either at a Watson (if he ever becomes available) or in the draft or to stand pat. Lock is due $1.13 million in cash this year and $1.45 million in cash next year, and has cap numbers of $1.91 million and $2.23 million the next two years. The APY on his rookie deal ($1.75 million) makes him the NFL’s 42nd-highest-paid quarterback. All of that means continuing forward with Lock, regardless of what else happens, is easy for the team.

If I were them, and I know they are doing this, I’d be looking very hard at BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones, and getting a clear-eyed view on who each of those guys are—not only compared to Lock but also whether they’d have the potential to become, say, top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. And that would determine how aggressively I’d pursue any of them.

One thing I think we need to remember here: This really is sort of a restart for Denver, even if it hasn’t been positioned like that. The Broncos have a first-year GM with a coach who hasn’t been to the playoffs going into his third year, which certainly would indicate that Vic Fangio is going to be under evaluation this year, and Denver could well decide after this year to let George Paton bring in his own guy. So Paton’s evaluation of Lock, who he’s not tied to, and the quarterback class is what will determine where this goes.

And I say that with the knowledge that Paton is very collaborative and will work with his coaching staff on all those decisions—so it’s not like he won’t be seeking input from others.

From Logan Williams (@IndieWolverine): If Justin Fields falls to No. 7, do you think the Lions would be more likely to take him or trade the pick?

From Mike Durand (@MikeyD_31): Are the rumors of the Patriots being really high on Justin Fields legit or is it fool’s gold? The way the roster is set up, a lot of folks are speculating the Patriots could trade up in the draft to get their guy. I’m just curious as to the validity of these rumors and this talk.

Logan and Mike, I get a lot of questions on Fields for obvious reasons, so let me start here—I think he has first-pick talent. The Ohio State folks are expecting him to run in the low-4.4s next week at his pro day. His arm strength is undeniable. He has high-end natural accuracy. And yes, there’s a downside here. He, at times, tried to do too much (Indiana, Northwestern), and he still has a lot to learn, like any young quarterback.

But he’s tough and competitive and is a lead-by-example type who showed he could use his voice when it was needed last year. He was a worker in the weight room, and in bringing guys together to throw the last couple of years, and if he can take that work ethic into the classroom in the NFL, he should be able to get where he needs to in terms of getting to see things faster and anticipating better.

A couple of teams have compared his situation to Justin Herbert’s to me, in that he may be suffering from a little overexposure—because people have had a long time to pick him apart—and I think that’s probably true. My guess now is Fields will be the third quarterback taken, and that’ll be largely because this is a really strong year at the position. Herbert, for what it’s worth, was the third QB taken last year (after Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa).

As for your specific questions, I think the Lions would very much consider Fields at No. 7 if he were to fall to them there, and likely would get calls at that point from teams looking to leapfrog Carolina to get him. As for the Patriots, I certainly think it’s possible they’d be one of those teams looking to go up for him, and plugging the holes they have in free agency gives them a little more flexibility to move picks to do it. I’m not sure if they like Fields enough to consider that, but obviously, it’ll be something we’re looking into as we get closer to the draft.

Kyle Pitts

From Sad Bengals Fan (@Sad_WhoDey_Fan): In your opinion, is Kyle Pitts a generational talent at TE?

Sad Bengals Fan, I feel like “generational” is a term that’s being thrown around way too much these days—because it implies that guys are once-in-a-generation talent. I think Trevor Lawrence is one of those. Calvin Johnson was when he was coming out. Adrian Peterson and Julius Peppers, too. So I think maybe we should start by raising the bar for that word, generational, in trying to apply it properly.

And all that said, for his position, I think you could argue that Pitts is there. If he runs in the 4.4s at 6' 6" and 246 pounds, as those around him are saying he will, that would bolster the case, because this guy is more than just an athlete—he was a hyperproductive college player. In his final college game, against mighty Alabama, Pitts rung up 127 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against a Tide defense geared to stop him.

My guess is Pitts will be gone in the first six picks or so, and that’s another area where he’s got a shot to be generational. It’s been 49 years since a tight end went in the top five—ex-Broncos Pro Bowler Riley Odoms went fifth in 1972—and only Odoms and the great Mike Ditka have ever gone that high at the position. Only four tight ends (Vernon Davis in 2006, Eric Ebron in 2010, T.J. Hockenson in 2019 and Kellen Winslow in 2004) have even gone in the top 10 over the last 24 drafts.

There’s lots of opportunity for Pitts to smash through some glass ceilings in April, and maybe earn the label of being a truly generational prospect.

From sam (@Vernh727): After all the QBs’ pro days do you expect the Jets to trade Sam Darnold relatively soon or will they wait until draft day like the Cardinals did with Josh Rosen?

From Louie (@Louie_Rock): If the Jets don’t trade Darnold soon after the Wilson and Fields pro days, is it safe to assume that they are sticking with Sam?

I think, Sam and Louie, it’s worth looking again at the nuance to the decision that the Jets have to make on Darnold. The team owes him $4.605 million on this, the last year on his rookie contract, and that’s a really affordable rate for a promising 23-year-old quarterback. The problem is, come early May, they’ll have to make a call on his fifth-year option, which is set at $18.858 million and, under new terms in the CBA, would be fully guaranteed when it’s exercised. That creates a fork in the road. So either the Jets …

1) Decline the option and expose themselves at quarterback in 2022 or …

2) Lock into having Darnold as their starter in 2022, which could be another tight cap year.

And while they’re making this decision, they have the second pick in a quarterback-rich year, with ’22 looking bleak on that front (Spencer Rattler? Kedon Slovis? JT Daniels?). Do they really want to count on being this bad again, with the money they spent in free agency and Robert Saleh leading the team into Year 1 of his new program? Would it even matter if they were, with the draft’s quarterback picture clouded past this year?

All of that is why this is such a massive decision. They can pay Darnold now and lock him in. Or bring in a new guy and have a cheaper quarterback for the next four years and get something back for Darnold. I think the latter is more likely right now (and that Zach Wilson will probably be a Jet). I say that, too, knowing that a lot of Jets people really like Darnold, and think he’s capable of turning this around. But the reality here is painted by all these logistics that mean they either go all in on Darnold here or they don’t.

I’m not sure Darnold’s shown enough, at this point, for GM Joe Douglas and Saleh to tie their job security to him, with Wilson and Fields sitting there for them.

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From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): With the new TV deals in place, what is the future of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package?

Matt, I wish I had a better answer for you. I did ask Hans Schroeder, the NFL Media COO, about this last week (when we talked for the Monday column). Here’s the answer he gave me: “We have two more years with that partnership [with DirecTV]. No further update now.”

Every indication seems to be the likelihood is that AT&T, which owns DirecTV, is going to shift out of the Sunday Ticket business, and it sure appears that the streaming services are going to be in play for this one, whether it’s an Amazon or YouTube, or one of those owned by Disney (ESPN+), CBS (Paramount+), FOX (Tubi) or NBC (Peacock). The NFL’s cognizant, too, that Amazon has experience in this space, having worked with the Premier League in the U.K. on a Sunday Ticket–like experience for soccer fans.

From Frank Maikisch (@FMaikisch): Hi Albert, where is Fournette going to go? Hope he re-signs with the Bucs, but probably won't due to $$. With the right team he could be great IMO.

Frank, I think Leonard Fournette will probably wind up back in Tampa. I’m told he really liked it there, and Tom Brady’s been active in recruiting him back to the team. I get the feeling that if it’s relatively close, the Bucs will wind up keeping him. The Seahawks showed strong early interest, but their move to re-sign Chris Carson would seemingly take them out of the market. The Patriots were the other team involved in the early stages of free agency.

And since Fournette’s a running back, and has had his ups and downs, the numbers are relatively modest, as you might imagine.

From Kevin Crutchfield (@WestrayKnight): More likely the Steelers draft an RB or OL at 24? Thoughts on them finding a partner to trade back once or twice and pick up Javonte Williams in the second round? This OL draft is so deep they don't necessarily need to jump on it right away, do they? Is Alaric Jackson a pro LT?

Kevin, I think part of this rides on what happens over the next few weeks. Maurkice Pouncey’s already gone. Alejandro Villanueva could be, too. And losing your center and left tackle off a line that already had its issues is, indeed, a problem, especially with a quarterback playing behind it who can’t move the way he once could.

To me, and with some young talent already on hand (Kevin Dotson), that means the focus over the first three rounds has to be on finding high-end answers at those positions. So I’d think a combination of a lineman or two early, and then a back like Ohio State’s Trey Sermon or Oklahoma’s Rhamondre Stevenson later on (to pair with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland) would make sense.

And to wrap up here, I’d just warn you not to dismiss the idea Alabama’s Mac Jones could wind up being the pick at 24. GM Kevin Colbert’s mobbed up in Tuscaloosa—it’s part of why he was so strident in pursuit of Minkah Fitzpatrick, who Nick Saban gave teams glowing reviews on—and I think that could have an impact on how Jones is viewed in Pittsburgh. Jones is beloved in that program.