Lots of questions this week about a certain star receiver. Let’s check those out …
From Phillip V. McGruder (@McGruderPmac): Hey Albert! I know KC doesn’t have much cap room ($9 million) to add Julio Jones but it's no secret Andy Reid and Co. were in the market for receivers this offseason. What would it take for the Chiefs to trade for him?
Phillip! I wouldn’t ever rule out the idea that Chiefs GM Brett Veach could get aggressive at the site of a rare opportunity—and maybe that he’d see the shot to land Julio Jones for less than a first-round pick as one of those. And yes, the idea of Jones, if he can still be Julio, on the other end of Patrick Mahomes bombs is tantalizing, especially when you consider the kind of matchups he might see as a result of playing opposite Tyreek Hill.
But I do think the Chiefs are slowly moving into another phase of their build around Mahomes. The quarterback’s cap number bulges to $35.79 million in 2022, and he’s not the only one who’s going to clog next year’s books. Check these ’22 cap numbers out:
• DE Frank Clark: $26.30 million
• DT Chris Jones: $29.42 million
• WR Tyreek Hill: $20.50 million
• G Joe Thuney: $17.80 million
Add that up, and those five count for $129.81 million against the cap. That’s more than double what the same five count against the cap in ’21 ($62.12 million), and the cap isn’t expected to take its next big jump until ’23, when the new TV deals get factored into the equation. Also, Tyrann Mathieu’s a free agent after this year, Travis Kelce’s cap numbers explode starting in ’23, and K.C. is going to have to look at extending Orlando Brown, too.
Now, the Chiefs can keep pushing money forward, and work it into where many teams expect the cap to go once the new TV money is factored in. But it does feel like at this point, with Mahomes off his rookie deal, Veach & Co. are going to have to start to shift their focus to creating a cheaper layer of players to pair with their group of stars. That means starting to value draft picks more, since the draft is where cheap labor is going to come from.
So in that way, adding Jones would further complicate an already thorny cap situation, while taking away from the capital the Chiefs need to solve it.
From Cam Marino (@MarinoNFL): Make a prediction for the Julio sweepstakes. Where does he end up?
Cam, I feel like I need to take the time here to make one thing clear: I love Julio Jones as a player. I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, but he’d be first ballot for me, and I think the reason he’s been able to fight through all the injuries that are weighing down his stock with other teams connects to who he is. He’s a professional in every sense of the word (which is also why, by the way, I don’t think he knew he was on live TV with Shannon Sharpe the other day).
So now that I’ve made that clear, I think he’ll ultimately be traded, maybe for something a little short of what Houston got for DeAndre Hopkins (a second-round pick and a player?).
All things equal, I’m tempted to go with the Raiders here. This is a big year for Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, without question, and Jones could help unlock the potential in promising young receivers Henry Ruggs and Brian Edwards—and take pressure off emerging tight end Darren Waller. Add that to a rebuilt offensive line, Josh Jacobs and Derek Carr (who played better last year than people realize) and you’ve got something.
The problem? One is the cap. The Raiders are just $5.7 million under and have spent much of their offseason trying to get their books in order. Another could be cash—in a year when every team felt the crunch, it’s fair to ask what sort of cash budget Mayock and Gruden are working with, since having empty seats probably affected Vegas (going through a move, and had been waiting for a stadium windfall) more than most. So we’ll see on those guys.
The most fun one, to me, is Green Bay, and what better olive branch to extend to Aaron Rodgers than Jones to pair with Davante Adams. It would require the Packers’ veering from their venerable team-building principles (since they’re very tight to the cap), in mortgaging contracts, but that would actually dovetail with the sort of approach I think Rodgers has been wanting them to take.
And then there’s New England, and I know there’s been buzz on the Patriots. But my understanding is their interest to this point has been very tepid. Maybe if the price drops, that’ll change. And in saying all of this, I failed to get you your prediction, Cam. I really don’t have one. Sorry about that.
From JAY (@flightmarshalls): Who wins the NFC EAST?
Jay, going all-caps on your name and the name of the division seems to show you mean business about this, so I will make a prediction here: I’ll take the Cowboys. I just think last year was a weird year for everyone, and probably a more difficult one than any before to suffer a quarterback injury. I also think it’s a decent sign that the team finished 4–3 after its bye, without a whole lot of hope there (even if the East race wound up coming to them at the bottom of the standings).
The offense, on paper and if healthy, should be off the charts. If Tyron Smith holds up physically at left tackle, there’s not a real hole on that side of the ball, and Dak Prescott has a year under his belt working with Mike McCarthy. And I think the defense will be better, with Dan Quinn bringing in a scheme that foundational pieces like DeMarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are familiar with.
Overall, I believe the division will be a lot better. Both Washington and the Giants should be improved, and Philly could come along with time. At the very least, it should take a record above .500 to win the NFL’s old-money circuit, which would mark a significant improvement over 2020.
From Headlinez (@TreBrownSZN): What are things looking like on the Jamal Adams extension as of now?
Headlinez, I think the Seahawks will find a way to get a deal done, if for no other reason than trading for him and then letting him leave a year and a half later would make absolutely no sense. And with that in mind, Adams has a lot of leverage here, the same way Laremy Tunsil and Jalen Ramsey (both of whom got record-breaking deals for their positions) had a ton after teams traded for them without having an extension in place first.
What’s the price? Next year’s franchise tag number for safeties projects between $13 million and $14 million, so the two-tag equation for Adams comes to around $30 million. Right now, one safety (Justin Simmons) makes more than $15 million per year, and five more (Budda Baker, Eddie Jackson, Kevin Byard, Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins) are at $14 million per or more. So it’s fair to think, given the pelts on Adams’s wall, that he’d be seeking $16 million per or more.
So I’d think to keep the total manageable, the Seahawks would do a four-year deal (rather than five or six), and maybe $64 million to $68 million at that term gets it done. It’s a lot. But he has Seattle in a tough spot here.
From KWC (@WestrayKnight): After having been doubted last season, why does everyone count out the Steelers so early?
KWC, I’m not counting the Steelers out, but I have one very serious reservation about betting on Pittsburgh this year: I’d be worried about that offensive line. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is off to the Ravens, and center Maurkice Pouncey is retired. And just as big is the fact Mike Munchak’s been gone for a couple years now (no offense to new line coach Adrian Klemm), which means there are fewer guys in the room Munchak developed now, and those he did are further separated from his tutelage.
That’s important because rather than taking big swings on veterans or draft picks, Pittsburgh has chosen to lean back on its farm system and is going to need big steps forward from former mid-round picks like Chukwuma Okorafor and Kevin Dotson.
Now, if you’re telling me that will work out, then I can buy the Steelers as a real contender. But absent that, I have a really hard time with that idea. Teams with shaky offensive lines that contend are exceptions, not the rule. And that goes especially for teams with aging quarterbacks, with Ben Roethlisberger’s draft classmate Eli Manning a prime example of that.
From Tom Witochkin (@Coach_TommyG): What's the ceiling/floor for WFT? With a 17-game schedule, the homer in me thinks if everything falls their way, 11 or 12 wins is the absolute ceiling. Ten is the rational ceiling, but I don't think their defense/upgraded QB room will allow them to win fewer than seven games.
Tom, I think you’re on to something here. To me, Washington’s sort of a low-volatility stock for the 2021 season. They should be top-of-the-league on the defensive line and very competitive on the offensive line, and generally if you’re solid along the lines of scrimmage, you’re going to be in most games you play. That should very naturally set their floor at a higher point than most teams.
What keeps their ceiling relatively low is that, with all due respect to Ryan Fitzpatrick, they figure to be good-not-great at quarterback, solid-but-unspectacular at the skill positions, young at linebacker and a little boom-or-bust in the secondary.
And that isn’t a bad thing, by the way. Job No. 1 for Ron Rivera coming in to D.C. a year ago was stabilizing the organization, and he’s done that in short order. Washington’s in a much better place than it had been and now has a very solid foundation to build off of. That should put the Football Team in a spot for a breakthrough year in 2022 if the train stays on the tracks through this season.
From Bored NFL Fan (@boredNFLfan): Albert, would you rather have three Quenton Nelsons on your OL or two Aaron Donalds on your DL? You’re not allowed to subsequently trade any of the clones.
Bored fan, this is a fun question. I think I’d rather have three Nelsons than two Donalds, but that wasn’t an easy decision to make. I just think if you have three All-Pro offensive linemen, you’re going to be really good, particularly because of how hard it’s become to find guys at those positions.
I’d love to have two Donalds, of course, but there are different ways to win on defense than with dominant defensive tackles. To win on offense, you need to be really solid up front.
From Zach Fogelman (@FogelmanZach): What’s going on with Zach Ertz? Will he get moved? And what would need to be given up?
If you’re asking if I think Ertz is available, yes, I think he’s available. But I don’t think GM Howie Roseman is going to do a deal that he doesn’t think brings good value back—if you remember, we were talking about Ertz in the Kelce/George Kittle category a year ago—and right now the league doesn’t see him in close to the same way it did last year.
Having talked to teams, and in part because of his health issues, most say Ertz looks heavier, stiffer and slower now than he did in his prime. He’s also turning 31 this year and is due a lump-sum $8.5 million in this, the final year of the contract extension he signed back in 2016. Now, knowing the kind of guy Ertz is, I’m not going to tell anyone that he can’t rebound from a bad 2020. But at his age, he’d be beating the odds to do so.
So if you’re Roseman, it makes sense to be patient here, rather than just jumping on a late-round pick to move Ertz off the roster. Maybe someone will have an injury. Maybe someone’s tight end depth chart will look different on the practice field over the next month than it looked on paper. Maybe it’ll make sense to try and get him back in the fold to try and help Jalen Hurts.
But what I don’t think the Eagles are going to do is give him away. Which could make for a couple interesting forks in the road (minicamp, training camp) if Ertz continues to stay away.
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