The needle may have moved on public discussion of a potential Deshaun Watson trade over the weekend, but the feet of the one man holding the cards have remained planted. And I’m not sure anyone should expect Nick Caserio to move from his stance soon.
Before we go any further here, it’s important to remind everyone that Watson’s situation, as it stands right now, encompasses things far more serious than what color helmet he’ll be wearing next time he plays. There are 22 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct pending, and 10 women have filed criminal complaints against the quarterback.
That’s why getting what, in January, was fair market value has been difficult for the Texans and their first-year general manager. On the field, Watson, without question, would make the Dolphins, Panthers, Broncos or Eagles better. But if you trade for Watson now, he instantly becomes the face of your franchise, and it’s difficult to predict with any level of certainty how the legal situation will play out. Any general manager or head coach would be putting his own neck on the line in going to his owner asking for permission to make such a trade.
That brings us back to Caserio. With all due respect to J.J. Watt, whatever Caserio does here will be the first franchise-shifting move he makes in a job he worked two decades to get. If he takes less, and Watson is cleared legally in a couple of months, then he’s traded away a 25-year-old franchise quarterback with five years left on his contract at a cut rate.
So, then, what’s the rush to move Watson? Caserio doesn’t owe Watson anything, nor does he owe other NFL teams the chance to acquire him. The argument that it’ll make things awkward for David Culley and the coaches, or Tyrod Taylor and the quarterbacks, is fair. But those guys have already rode that out for six weeks.
The cost for hanging on to Watson for the season would be $10.54 million. The cost for holding on to him past Tuesday would be the 53rd player on the roster.
Bottom line, given Caserio is in his first year as a GM, and given what the haul for Watson would’ve been in January or February, that cost is small in comparison to what a trade should bring for a player like this.
We’re 10 days out from the opener, and, as such, we’ve got lots coming for you in this week’s MMQB. Inside the column, you’ll find …
• A fun look at two first-year head coaches interacting with one another.
• Previewing the 2022 draft quarterbacks with the college season afoot.
• A deep dive into trade names ahead of the 53-man cutdown.
• Some overarching observations from my camp trip.
And, of course, a whole lot more. But we’re starting with the situation in Houston.
On Saturday, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio did a nice job of breaking down the four options the Texans have Tuesday, when rosters across the NFL reduce to 53. One, they could tell him it’s time to play; two, they could put him on IR; three, they could keep him on ice, and essentially go into the year with 52 players; four, they could trade him.
The cutdown is a big reason why the Watson situation bubbled back up to the top of the news cycle the last couple of days, and why it’ll remain there until Tuesday afternoon’s deadline for the Texans to check one of those four boxes. And looking forward to that deadline, and trying to project what might happen, requires looking back at why we are where we are.
• I believe the root of the issue here for Watson remains with ownership, and specifically that Cal McNair didn’t follow through on his promise to loop Watson into the process of hiring Caserio, after involving him in prior stages of vetting coach and GM candidates. Obviously, a lot has happened since then, and not for the better, and the result is an irrevocably broken relationship between a team owner and his team’s quarterback.
• Caserio, to my knowledge, was earnest in his desire to hold on to Watson earlier in the offseason—which I can say was reflected in the way the Texans rebuffed interest back then from other teams. I can also say through that period, and well into March, packages involving three first-round picks (and then some) were discussed by interested teams. The Texans, at the time, were unmoved.
• In mid-March, the first three lawsuits were filed by attorney Tony Buzbee. By the end of the month, the number grew to 21. On April 2, a police investigation was launched. (Watson has denied any wrongdoing.) And while the language the Texans were using publicly had shifted—from “he’s our quarterback” to “we’ll do what’s best for the team”—by then, the market for Watson had changed dramatically.
• Since, some teams I talked to that were interested at the time, and some that remain interested now, have only been willing to entertain a deal that gives them protections by making the draft-pick compensation conditional (with conditions linked to his availability to play). I haven’t gotten any indication that the Texans are willing to tie their return to those sorts of contingencies.
• On Saturday, Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported that the Texans’ price is three first-rounders and a pair of second-rounders. What I’ve heard is vaguer than that—three first-round picks as a starting point, with additional compensation on top of that—but does match up with Robinson’s information.
• And to that “additional compensation,” I wouldn’t assume that another team’s young quarterback (e.g. Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, Carolina’s Sam Darnold or Philly’s Jalen Hurts) would necessarily be seen as an asset by Houston in a Watson trade. I think in at least some of those cases, and maybe all of them, the Texans would much prefer additional picks to the quarterbacks.
• On one hand, I don’t think Watson’s preference being Miami gives the Dolphins any sort of advantage, or leverage, in working to land the quarterback. On the other, Watson does have some control over this, via the no-trade clause he secured in the four-year, $156 million extension he signed less than a year ago.
So looking at that landscape, if you’re Caserio, what do you do?
The comfortable thing might be to find a way to move on soon, give Culley a fresh start with a healthier quarterback room and make the Watson story someone else’s issue. And maybe someone will decide, at the 11th hour, to meet the Texans’ price. Or find a creative way to write conditions into a deal that work for Houston.
Absent that sort of offer, though, it’s really hard for me to see Caserio’s being backed into a corner here. It’s too important to the future of the franchise that it gets the highest price possible for the NFL’s most valuable commodity—a young, under-contract, superstar quarterback. If that means essentially squatting on Watson’s rights, paying him $10.45 million for the year and managing a very weird situation over the coming months, so be it.
A MEETING OF FIRST-YEAR COACHES
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A few weeks back, I had the idea to get a couple of first-year coaches together to discuss the challenges they’re facing and their new lives in charge. That sent me to the schedule, where I saw that the Jets and Eagles would be practicing together at the end of August.
Which was perfect. Both new Jets coach Robert Saleh and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni carry themselves like regular guys, they’re close in age (Saleh’s two years older), and they come from pretty different backgrounds, with Saleh’s having cut his teeth in the Shanahan and Carroll coaching families, and Sirianni’s having roots in systems planted by Bill Parcells and Norv Turner.
The only hang-up was they didn’t really know each other much before last week. But that ended up making it kind of fun. The result is up on YouTube as a part of our new video series, the Hurry Up. And I’d encourage you to go take a look at that, as Saleh and Sirianni take you inside what it’s like to be in their shoes. But if you want a little taste of that here, here’s an edited down version with some of my favorite parts of our conversation …
MMQB: You guys are around the same age, nearly 20 years as coaches, what’s the biggest difference being the guy in charge?
Sirianni: You’ve just got a little bit more on your plate, but you don’t stop doing the things that got you to this position. So I like to think of myself as an expert in quarterback and wide receiver play, well, I couldn’t stop doing that once I became a coordinator, right? And then you think of yourself as an expert in an offensive play and you don’t want to stop that once you get to your head coaching spot. So you’re just adding more hats. And you’ve got to be able to delegate and trust the guys that you hired. But I just think the best thing that I get to do every day is coach players. And I don’t want that to stop just because I’m head coach.
MMQB: So how much of it is wanting to do what got you here, but then balancing that with the idea that this is a completely different job?
Saleh: No different than what [Sirianni] said. You keep grinding. Like for me, the worst position to coach in our entire building is linebackers, [because] I’m in his room all the time. And then [defensive coordinator Jeff] Ulbrich, I’m with him all the time. At the same time, you’ve got to be able to trust those guys because you are going to get pulled away, and you can’t dedicate as much attention to the detail that you want. But you’re straining guys to keep that detail and you’re staying as connected as possible. You are being pulled in many, many directions. It doesn’t make it an impossible task; it just makes it a little more tedious.
MMQB: I’ve heard head coaches say they have to create time during the day, where they close the door and just focus on their work, because, like you said Rob, you’re getting pulled in a lot of different directions. Is there that time for you?
Saleh: There is. If that door’s open, someone’s walking through it—which is welcome for us because we want to welcome people to walk in and talk about whatever’s on their mind. But at the same time there’s moments, and I would imagine it’s going to become even more so now that we’re getting closer to game-planning, where that door’s gotta be closed because you got to focus on the opponent, so you can do what’s best for your players, and that’s to get them ready for Sunday.
Sirianni: I’m laughing. I’m still laughing about the linebackers coach and his struggles. And I think the same thing.
MMQB: So it sucks being the Eagles’ quarterbacks or receivers coach?
Sirianni: Yeah, they get picked on a little bit, but they know what it is and they know what they signed up for.
MMQB: So then how do you guys handle the guys on the other side of the ball? Nick, you with defensive players and you, Robert, with offensive players?
Sirianni: I’ve always felt like I’ve had a good relationship with DBs just because of that interaction in the one-on-ones, so I’ve continued to do that. And I think the thing that you can do with the players and the coaches is just explain it from the offensive point of view. It’s like, Hey, here’s what I’m seeing you guys doing on offensive, here’s why you can’t do that. Or, Here’s why this is really good, what you’re doing, because an offense is looking at this. And so I think when you’re a coordinator or a wideout coach or a quarterback coach and you go and tell a DB something, it’s like, Hey, what are you doing? But as the head coach, you’re allowed to do that. So I feel like I’ve had more of those conversations just because I feel like I’ve been able to help them get a sense of what an offense is thinking or what a wideout thinks or what a quarterback looks like.
MMQB: And obviously you have a quarterback now who is probably the most important draft pick you’ll ever make, so this is really important for you, Robert, right?
Saleh: It is. So it’s the same thing. You’re having a conversation. Zach [Wilson] came into my office a couple of weeks ago and he does that, he goes into everyone’s office on defense, just to ask about scheme. And we had a great discussion about our scheme and how we play three deep compared to our other teams play three deep, and just going through all the different ways we teach man compared to other teams teaching man. And you want to have those interactions. But at the same time, understanding your voice might carry weight, you’re very cognizant of making sure that offense isn’t doing something just because you told them to do something. And you just make sure that you’re constantly staying focused on the style that you want that side of the ball to represent.
MMQB: Both of you just got done working for first-time head coaches. What are you taking from them?
Saleh: For me, it’s delegation and understanding. Kyle [Shanahan], to be honest with you, the way he handles the other side of the ball, I think I’ve taken that. The way he handled me and the conversations that we had and the way he was very careful and very cognizant of the words that he spoke and the things that he gave us to help us evolve on defense, because it allowed us to flow a lot easier. But I thought his leadership skills were phenomenal, and I feel like that’s the best part I’ll take.
MMQB: So in a way, it’s like you want your relationship with [OC] Mike [LaFleur] to be similar to his relationship with you.
Saleh: Very similar.
MMQB: And you, Nick?
Sirianni: I just think Frank [Reich] had a great ability of connecting with everybody in the building, the offensive guys, the defensive guys, offensive coaches, defensive coaches, but then everybody else around the building too. He just had a great way about him as the leader of the organization. I saw that and I feel like I’ve said this before, I got my doctorate degree on how to treat everybody in the building as a leader. And he was just a great example of that. And his messaging to the team. I always thought his messaging to the team, he knew what he wanted to get across. He knew how to get it across. And I just felt like the team always embraced his messaging.
As I hope you can tell, the conversation with those two was a lot of fun—and if you want more (including coaching in a big market, best advice they’ve gotten, and how their private lives are now very public), be sure to check out the full interview on YouTube. And don’t be shy about subscribing to the show while you’re there.
2022 DRAFT QUARTERBACKS
For a few years, we had a summer “Draft Week” in which I would do a piece to preview the coming fall’s quarterback class. It became a fun exercise for me, and I hope a good guide for all NFL fans who may not follow college football as closely, on what to keep an eye on at that level and how it might translate to what we’ll be talking about come the following April.
That would be a pretty comprehensive look at each class, but this, I think, should be taken as a little more of a sneak peek at the group—I haven’t canvassed the league all that extensively on these guys yet, but do have a little bit of a feel for how the NFL views them.
And to get you a good view of each of these guys, I got on the phone with Jordan Palmer—the former Bengals quarterback, and younger brother of Carson—to help me break down what each guy brings to the table. Palmer’s worked with a lot of these kids, going back to high school and (one going back to middle school) through the Elite 11 program and his own personal coaching business (QB Summit), which gives him great perspective on who these guys are.
One last thing before we get started: This class reminds me a little of the 2019 class. Going into that year, we were coming off of a quarterback-rich draft that saw five selected in the first round, and there was potential, but a lot of unknown. The end result? Two first-year starters (Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins) and a dark horse out of Duke (Daniel Jones) went in the first round. Things are similarly wide-open this year.
“This year’s interesting because we don’t have the highly-anticipated future No. 1 pick, like we did last year,” Palmer said. “What we do have is some candidates where if their seasons go the way that it could and should, we could end up still with three, four or five guys in the first round. So if you look at Kyle Trask coming out of nowhere, if you look at Joe Burrow coming out of nowhere, if you look at these guys, Mac Jones coming out of nowhere …”
Palmer then stopped himself, and said, “Well, not coming out of nowhere, it’s Alabama, but Mac Jones started one season, I mean, Kyle Trask had a really good year and he’s a second-round pick. It’s that kind of year.”
Here, then, are the kinds of players with a shot to rise like Burrow, Trask or Jones did, with Palmer’s take on them attached.
Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma (6' 1", 200 lbs., 2020 first-team All-Big 12): “I think it’s kind of a foregone conclusion: He’s going to have big numbers, and he’s going to be in a position to win every regular season game, based off his team and his productivity. And so we’re going to really be able to see how he how he stacks up, honestly, when you get to the playoffs. He’s positioned to have a really big year, and he’s positioned himself to be selected really high in the draft. … Quick release, really accurate. He’s a playmaker.
Sam Howell, North Carolina (6' 1", 220 lbs, 2020 second-team All-ACC): “Sam Howell is potentially the most polished of the group heading into the season. He’s done it for two years now. He’s very, very mature. I mean, he had a beard in high school. And just really clean [as a prospect]. Very, very confident. And the coach he’s playing for doesn’t get enough credit for developing great quarterbacks. But he’s playing for a guy who’s just done it forever. And so there’s just not going to be too many situations that Sam Howell sees that he’s not completely ready for. … I think [Baker Mayfield is] a good comparison. And that’s a good thing. Baker has a very strong arm and is very athletic.”
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati (6' 4", 215 lbs., 2020 AAC Offensive Player of the Year): “When we get to the testing side of things, there’s a chance that Desmond is one of the most impressive athletes at the position entering the draft in years. Size, speed, explosiveness, arm talent. He’s not as fast as Lamar [Jackson]. He’s not as big as Josh Allen. But the sum of all his physical traits, we’re going to look at him entering the draft and say this is one of the more impressive athletes we’ve seen in a long time. … He’s 30–4 as a starter going into a season that returns everybody for Cincinnati, with a chance to play Indiana and Notre Dame. So that’s a guy who could emerge as maybe the top guy when it’s all said and done.”
J.T. Daniels, Georgia (6' 3", 210 lbs.): “I’ve been working with J.T. since sixth grade, and I think he’s poised to have a Joe Burrow–type year, and for two reasons. One, for him personally, he’s actually, I think, a clone of Joe. He is about the same size, about the same arm, about the same athleticism. Joe is one of the most intelligent and confident quarterbacks I’ve been around at his age. I’d say the same thing for J.T. at his age. On the team side of it, think about college football this year—Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida all reload at quarterback, running back and pass-catcher. Georgia is not.”
Kedon Slovis, USC (6' 3", 205 lbs., 2020 first-team All-Pac 12): “It’s incredibly impressive how he stepped into a situation as a true freshman backup quarterback, the starter tears his ACL the first game, and all of a sudden, boom, you go in as a true freshman at USC. And he put together a great year. Last year, they were still working out kinks and lost some receivers in an up-and-down year. But I think he’s positioned to have a big junior year. He’s got talent around him. The level of play in the Pac-12 is less than what it is in some other conferences. And so he should be positioned to have a really solid year.”
Malik Willis, Liberty (6' 1", 215 lbs., 202 lbs.): “Physically, he’s a Ferrari and he’s at a lower-level school, but he’s playing way outside of where anybody at that level is playing. It’s going to be fascinating to watch him play this year as they take on some bigger competition. And I think he’s going to build quite the résumé this year. And maybe the most intriguing prospect in this upcoming draft. … [Physically], he’s Devin White. He’s enormous and he’s all muscle. He’s not Cam Newton, he’s not Josh Allen, he’s Shaq. I mean, he looks like an outside linebacker. And couldn’t be a nicer dude and has great work ethic. I can kind of bet how his year is going to go. He’s going to be a Heisman finalist, is going to have crazy numbers and have a couple of really cool moments. And so fast-forward, it’s going to be a team that says, ‘Hey, that guy’s perfect for what we’re doing here.’”
Carson Strong, Nevada (6' 4", 215 lbs., 2020 Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year): “Very unassuming athlete. Very, very, very athletic, very strong arm, and he pushes the ball down the field probably as well as anybody in college football. He also has a really good tight end and a really good receiver, so they’re going to have put up big numbers. And he starts off playing against Cal, which, I know we sit here and say it’s a Pac-12 team, but when you go to Nevada, most of those kids, had they got offered from a school at Cal, they would have gone there, so you’re still talking about two rosters that are not even. … He’s won, he’s been a conference player of the year. He’s won the conference. So he’s done everything that you can do at this point. He’s got one more season here to really cement that résumé. And he’s going to be an intriguing prospect. But he’s really, really mobile and can push the ball down the field and has a really live arm.”
So that gives you a list of seven to work off of. And just for fun, because I got asked this for my mailbag this week, I asked Palmer if he had a deep dark horse (mine was Boston College QB Phil Jurkovec). His answer: Pitt’s Kenny Pickett.
“Reminds me of Kyle Trask,” Palmer said. “He’s bigger and spins it better than people think. Everybody said the same thing about Kyle Trask when they saw him in person—he’s a lot bigger than I thought, he throws it a lot better than I thought. So Kenny Pickett is a big body, great dude, dynamic personality and a playmaker at Pitt, and I think that he’s going to be able to string together a really solid year as well.”
College football had a sort of soft opening last weekend with Week 0, and things get going in earnest a few days from now. I can’t wait, and hopefully this list will give the rest of you a little something to get excited for in the sport, outside of just the NFL.
I can’t imagine what Sunday night was like for people who live in, and may or may not have evacuated from, New Orleans. What I do know is that the Saints acted fast in finding shelter. Saints beat writer Amie Just did a nice job of summing it up.
And if you read my old friend Jeff Duncan’s column in the Sunday Times-Picayune, the rapid escalation of Ida reflected it really was like reliving a 16-year-old nightmare for those in Louisiana, and actually closely mirrored how quickly the Saints had to react to Katrina in 2005.
Anyway, after arriving in the Dallas area on Saturday night, Sean Payton gave his players the day off on Sunday to get their bearings, and they’re scheduled to resume practice on Monday at AT&T Stadium. Payton’s relationship with the Jones family made that a relatively easy, temporary solution for the team. And obviously, even then, it’ll be tough for everyone to be completely focused with friends and loved ones back in Louisiana trying to stick out the storm. Here’s hoping everyone in Louisiana is staying as safe as possible in an incredibly dangerous time.
The Texans are just one of a number of teams considering trades before the 53-man cutdown on Tuesday. So here’s some of what we’re hearing on that front.
• Houston’s willing to listen to offers for pretty much any of its veterans. Obviously, the rebuild there won’t happen overnight, and it makes sense for Caserio to start building up draft capital. And for as tough as the last year’s been in Houston, there are some proven players that’d be attractive to contenders on that roster.
• Everyone’s seemingly looking for offensive line depth, and the Chiefs (the same Chiefs team that’s line collapsed in the Super Bowl) have become a place for teams to look for that help, which is a tribute to the job Kansas City did rebuilding the position. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (who was doing things more important than football last year) has come up in talks, but he’s got a no-trade clause, making it more likely he’ll be on Kansas City’s roster.
• The Eagles are another team taking calls on offensive linemen—their issues of the last few years staying healthy up front have actually created a situation where they have experienced backups. Philly’s also discussed dealing away some linebacker depth.
• Count the Lions in those two categories, too. OL Tyrell Crosby and LB Jahlani Tavai have been involved in trade discussions.
• And Cleveland would be a third team where you can find a linebacker. Mack Wilson, who’s been up and down, is a name the Browns have taken calls on. The Rams (Micah Kiser) and Cowboys (Jaylon Smith) are two other teams that could deal a linebacker.
• The Patriots have solicited interest in their defensive line depth, with Akeem Spence and Montravius Adams emerging as names that could be dealt.
• And just as teams are looking around for offensive line depth, they’re also digging in and trying to find corners. Baltimore’s well-stocked but might be more hesitant now after trading away rookie Shaun Wade. Dallas’s Anthony Brown was a name to watch, albeit an expensive one (his base for 2021 is $4.25 million), but the chances he gets dealt were diminished on Sunday with Kelvin Joseph’s suffering an injury in the team’s preseason finale.
• The Broncos’ depth in the secondary in general has made them another team getting calls on corners, as well as safeties. Teams have sniffed around on Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Nate Hairston and Saivion Smith.
• The Bills have defensive end depth, so teams looking for pass rush help have been calling Buffalo. Darryl Johnson’s one young player who’s elicited interest from other teams.
• The Bears will listen on Nick Foles, but I’ve also long gotten the sense they aren’t going to send him somewhere he doesn’t want to go.
Having seen 24 teams, I have some overarching takeaways on where the league is. And I’ll give you 10 of those, in quick-hitting fashion, right now.
1) Some teams’ losing the spring for a second straight year has had an impact. Coaches believe more players came in out of football shape than ever before. I had one tell me he believes it takes 10 to 12 weeks to condition a guy for the season, and training camp only gives them seven. And one consensus I found: Some level of reform is needed, where a compromise is reached that gives players more football activity as a runway to prepare, even if it means eliminating part of the spring.
2) I believe that’s why we’re seeing wild variations in how teams are deploying their starters in preseason. Some have decided to sit them out of caution, and to try and replicate last year’s slower ramp-up schedule. Others have tried to cram more work in, through longer practices and reps in preseason games. In both cases, coaches are trying to condition players to avoid injury and endure a 17-game schedule. Which shows there’s no instruction manual for this uncharted territory.
3) The quarterback paradigm in the NFL is changing again, and you can sense the pressure on teams now to be great at the position, rather than just merely good. That’s why the Rams and Niners worked hard to upgrade this offseason, even with established, twentysomething starters in-house. It’s also, I believe, why the Panthers and Broncos made mid-level investments this offseason and kept their options open.
4) Which means we’re probably going to have more upheaval between now and this time next year. Watson’s situation remains in flux. And it sure feels like we could be right back where we were with Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson again after the season—with the Packers, Seahawks and their quarterbacks having found a way to press the pause button … for now.
5) Offensive line depth is a problem across the NFL. No one seems to have enough of them, and it’s one reason why you see young pass rushers flashing in the second half of preseason games. It’s also why this is the one area even the league’s best teams (see: Kansas City last year) can’t afford injury.
6) I had a lot of people bring Tom Brady up to me unsolicited, and in a very reverential way—and, for some AFC teams, it also came with a, See, this is what we were up against all those years sort of tone.
7) A trend defensively: valuing length. Maybe it’s the continuing impact of the Seattle scheme across the league. Maybe it’s more complex than that. But seeing the off-ball linebackers in places like Indy [Darius Leonard, Bobby Okereke] and Arizona [Isaiah Simmons, Zaven Collins] really brought this into focus for me. Of building that way, one GM said, “It shrinks the field for you.”
8) Frustration definitely exists among coaches and execs on the players who are still hesitating on the COVID-19 vaccine. Washington coach Ron Rivera, as you read here a couple of weeks ago, is one. But not the only one.
9) The receiver position is incredibly healthy across the NFL, and the 2020 draft class is proof. When I was putting together camp observations on the Eagles the other day, ’20 sixth-rounder Quez Watkins came up. Philly felt like it was able to unearth him so late in large because the depth of the class pushed guys down. Then, I figured other teams probably found similar benefits. And after looking it up, I’d say Buffalo (Gabriel Davis), Chicago (Darnell Mooney), Cleveland (Donovan Peoples-Jones) and Tampa (Tyler Johnson) would agree.
10) It was really good to see people face-to-face again. We’ve all learned to do our jobs through Zoom and our phones the last year, and I think we’ve all gotten pretty efficient at it. But actually seeing people remains priceless. So thanks to all the teams for jumping through all the necessary hoops to make it happen (and special thanks to the Lions’ equipment guys for helping with my laundry, which always hovers over you on the camp trip like a black cloud).
I like the Eagles’ trade for Gardner Minshew. The 25-year-old arrives in Philly with 20 starts, 5,530 yards and 37 touchdown passes against just 11 picks on his résumé. He’s on the books for $850,000 this year and $765,000 next year. So the team keeps three quarterbacks, and insurance against Jalen Hurts’s slumping or Joe Flacco’s getting hurt, then gets an experienced backup for ’22 at next to nothing. And if he becomes more than that, then great. But at a baseline, landing a quarterback with that much experience, at that age, at that price, for just a sixth-round pick (a fifth if he plays more than half of the snaps in three of the Eagles’ games) is 100% worth it.
While we’re there, the Rams’ shot at Sony Michel is a good example of how GM Les Snead & Co. have managed their assets. The centerpiece of the Patriots’ return for Sony Michel was, all along, a fourth-round pick. First it was a fourth-rounder on the condition that the Rams landed a 2022 compensatory four for letting safety John Johnson walk (in the event the Rams got a three or a five for Johnson, it would’ve been a five and a six). When that was disallowed, thanks to a rule forbidding conditions on compensatory picks in trades, the teams reconfigured the deal to send ’22 sixth- and ’23 fourth-round picks. Either way, all of this was based on the projection that the Rams will wind up with that four for Johnson. So for letting him go, they basically get help in replacing the production of Cam Akers, and short-term insurance while Darrell Henderson (thumb) is banged up. And if Michel balls out in a tailback-friendly scheme, the Rams wind up with a ’23 comp pick to take the place of the ’23 pick they gave up for him. As it stands now, here’s how the Rams are projecting their 2022 draft war chest …
• Their own lotted second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks.
• A comp third-round pick for the Lions’ hiring of Brad Holmes as GM.
• Three comp sixth-rounders (Gerald Everett, Troy Hill, Samson Ebukam).
• A seventh-rounder from Miami from the 2019 Aqib Talib trade.
And all of this works because they’ve been able to draft and develop players like Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp, which allows them to let really good players like Johnson walk. Count up the above, and even without the first-rounder they sent to Detroit in the Matthew Stafford trade, the Rams have 10 picks next year, plus flexibility to add guys like Michel on the fly. Not bad.
The Patriots, as I see it, pulled off something similar here. New England went into the final stages of the preseason like a lot of teams—needing depth at corner and along the offensive line. The Patriots also had a surplus at tailback, and what they saw as a surplus at tight end. Bumps and bruises at the latter position basically narrowed the focus, and from there the remade personnel department went to work in using a strength to take care of a weakness with moves that corresponded.
• Wednesday: Pats trade Michel to the Rams for 2022 sixth- and ’23 fourth-round picks.
• Thursday: Pats trade 2022 seventh- and ’23 fifth-round picks for Ravens DB Shaun Wade.
So they essentially moved two picks up a round and took a flier on a talented, inconsistent rookie who’s under contract for the next four seasons. If it doesn’t work out, really, they’re no worse for the wear, because Michel’s role in Foxboro clearly would’ve been limited with Damien Harris entrenched as the starter and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson’s earning his way into a role. And we’ll see what happens with Wade—who might’ve been a first-round pick in 2020 after starring in a safety/slot corner hybrid for Ohio State, then returned to school on the premise he’d play outside corner (to boost his draft stock) and had the kind of year that killed his draft stock. Clearly, he’s not a replacement for the holding-in Stephon Gilmore. But he gives the Patriots depth in an area they need it, and also scratches the itch Belichick’s had for a while to find a bigger inside corner who can match up with tight ends.
The social-media stir over Lamar Jackson, in my mind, was largely misplaced. Is there a book on Jackson going into Year 4? Absolutely. Does that mean the NFL’s figured him out in a way that’s so uniquely different than other young quarterbacks? Not really. I touched base with a few defensive coaches this week to ask about the idea this week, and what came back was relatively simple. Over his first three years in the league, Jackson’s shown to be more accurate throwing between the numbers than on the outside edges of the field, where he can be very streaky. So, as one coordinator explained to me, if you’re a zone team, you might take the defender responsible for the curl-to-flat area and station him closer to the curl, in an effort to make Jackson throw outside. That’s why, from what I understand (and we have more on this coming next week) Jackson worked so hard this offseason on his mechanics and fundamentals, something that’s led to his throwing a tighter spiral and more accurate ball across the board. And if he can improve throwing outside the numbers, and be more consistent there, given the stress the Ravens’ run game puts on opponents (which leads to those opponents’ having to play a simpler game schematically), look out. “He’s streaky,” said one coordinator. “But if they’re running it like they can, and he’s hot, look out, you’re gonna have to outscore them.” So the idea is pretty simple, in those terms. If Jackson’s more consistent throwing it … that’d mean he’s “hot” more often … and look out.
We all loved the great work the NFL Films crew did in showing off The Star, the Cowboys’ over-the-top suburban practice facility that replaced Valley Ranch a few years back.
But there was a subtle message in those shots too—and almost a favor from the Cowboys to other teams in showing other municipalities, “This is what everyone is looking for.” The Vikings and Dolphins have similarly opulent suburban headquarters. The Panthers are building one now, and the Jaguars are about to break ground on their own, while the Rams and Chargers are seeking such permanent Monday to Saturday homes in and around Los Angeles. And in some cases, teams are getting public funding to build these palaces, which is why you should pay attention to this sort of thing …
Bottom line, it’d hardly be surprising if these campuses eventually become hubs for the scouting combine, should the league decide to put the combine on the road. And then, the same way the league dangles the Super Bowl as an incentive for cities and states to help their football teams build stadiums, it could put hosting the combine out there as reason for the public to kick in funds to build practice facilities. Would that wind up being a good deal for the public? History says probably not. But history also tells us that won’t stop owners from using this kind of thing to get themselves more favorable deals, like the one the Joneses got in building The Star.
We’ve all made a lot of how the Buccaneers are bringing back all their offensive infrastructure, and how that means Tom Brady could have an epic season at 44. But we’ve done it a lot less so looking at the Bills’ offense. And then I took a look at it, after Josh Allen torched the Packers on Saturday, and the whole of it is pretty scary looking.
• Ten of 11 offensive starters return.
• WR John Brown is the one not back—his roster spot went to Emmanuel Sanders.
• Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is back.
• So is quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, as is every other position coach.
Word is Allen’s performance on Saturday only reflects the kind of summer he’s had in general. And so I have it down, all this made me think about picking Allen for MVP. I don’t think I’m going to wind up pulling the trigger on that. (Find out who I’m picking in our season preview on the site!) But I’d be very unsurprised if he won it, based on the year he’s coming off of, but also all of the continuity around him. Bottom line, if the Bills’ pass rush is right, and the corner depth holds up, this is a very much a Super Bowl–caliber team. And the once-maligned quarterback is a gigantic reason why.
Teddy Bridgewater’s winning the Broncos’ starting quarterback job should tell you two things. First, as I see it, this is GM George Paton’s and coach Vic Fangio’s saying, implicitly, that the offense is in a spot right now where having a game manager trumps playmaking upside (which Drew Lock has)—and to me that’s an affirmation that Mike Munchak’s work reimagining the offensive line, and the resources spilled into the skill positions (Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Javonte Williams) are adding up in a positive way. Second, and maybe more significantly, it positions Denver as a player on the quarterback market in 2022, if not sooner. In passing on Justin Fields at No. 8—a player they really liked—they kept their options open. And a hard look at the roster shows that a couple of things breaking right could give Denver some of the same selling points it had for Peyton Manning in I’12 for Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers in ’22.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1) I’m genuinely stunned that the Scott Frost era has played out this way at Nebraska (losing to Illinois is not good). Frost helped Chip Kelly build Oregon, then took a UCF program that went 0-12 the year before he got there to 6-7 in his first year and 13-0 in his second year. Then he went to his alma mater, where he won a title as a player … and he’s 12-21 since. I can’t make that make sense. And I know Nebraska’s probably never going to be what it was when I was a kid. But it should be better than this.
2) Speaking of Kelly, his UCLA team looked dynamite against an overmatched Hawaii team on Saturday. This week’s game at the Rose Bowl against LSU should be fascinating.
3) The Yankees are good again? And I might’ve been right about the Sox all along?
4) I think the spike in interest in Formula One is a great example of how leagues can use access—and entertainment vehicles—to drive popularity in their sports.
5) I said when I got the vaccine that it was a personal choice and, quite honestly, I feel like I need to amend that now. Back then, in April, I wanted to be empathetic to pregnant women (as well as women trying to get pregnant), people with serious health conditions and others with legit reasons for trepidation. What I didn’t foresee was politicians’ sewing seeds of doubt in people, or people buying into absurd conspiracy theories birthed in dark corners of the internet. We’re all in this together. Get vaccinated. It’ll mean far fewer people infected and far fewer people hospitalized, and give us all a better chance to learn to live with what’s left of COVID-19 in the aftermath. And if you see this paragraph as political, you’re part of the problem.
6) I don’t know every detail of the Rachel Nichols saga at ESPN, but I know Rachel, and I know the result isn’t good for anyone. Rachel and I competed with one another a lot in my early years at NFL Network, as Northeast-based field reporters. She was tough to go against, had a great nose for whatever the story of the day was and knew how to draw information from people. And through those years, I gained a ton of respect for her, and we became friendly. On top of that, she’s been excellent at every job she’s had since. So here’s hoping all this leads to something better for her.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
Honestly, that was a hell of a kick from Reid.
A three-part saga comes to a close with a happy ending for Isaiah McKenzie. It’s a good example, too, of how some people need a personal event to act—some anecdotal evidence the NFL compiled actually showed that teams that had young staffers get sick (not just test positive) from COVID-19 over the last year wound up having high vaccination rates.
That’s the first angle of it …
… the second was better.
Hard to believe it’s only been two years. Feels like a lifetime ago.
And here I thought it was just the reason why the Colts can’t get out of the first round.
And I totally remember those (props to Luck for talking to those high school kids, though, and it’s good to see him out and about a little more than we have).
I’ll echo Sanchez: Prayers to the families of the 13 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
The Chiefs have done a really good job honoring Terez, who spent a few years on the beat there, and this is an awesome pay-it-forward sort of gesture.
This is the stuff that Fields can do that’s hard to teach—getting away from the rush, keeping his eyes downfield and putting the ball right where he wants it.
And this is Mac Jones doing something it usually takes a while to teach—getting a quarterback to communicate to the receiver with his throw.
And this right here is a pretty good indication of what Trey Lance is able to do right away for perhaps the NFL’s best-designed run game (watch the defenders close on Lance as Raheem Mostert slashes upfield).
Hard not to feel awful for J.K. Dobbins, a guy with a great reputation who was poised for an absolutely monster sophomore year in Baltimore. Here’s to a speedy recovery and big comeback in 2022 for the Ravens’ lead back.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
We’ve now got two weeks to the opener, and Bill Belichick, Matt Nagy and Kyle Shanahan are under no obligation to disclose their plans for their rookie quarterbacks between now and then. And so it’s pretty noteworthy that the three of them handled their final preseason games, and the aftermath of those games, differently.
• Belichick stuck to his script—starting Cam Newton and deploying Mac Jones like coaches do young, developmental quarterbacks (lots of game reps, but mostly against the other team’s backups). He then declined to name a starter for Week 1, despite having called Newton the starting quarterback repeatedly over the last few months.
• Nagy rested Andy Dalton and gave Justin Fields the start Saturday. Afterward, he reaffirmed the plan to start Dalton against the Rams in Week 1. “This is the plan, this is the process, we understand that,” Nagy said. “That's what we've been saying from the very start. But with this, when you look at this thing big picture, we love where [Fields] is at. He's done everything that we've asked him to do.”
• Shanahan unfurled the quarterback shuttle he told us was possible in the August 9 MMQB column on Sunday, moving Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo in and out of the lineup through two full possessions, then going with Lance fulltime for the rest of the half. And to be sure, it definitely seems like Shanahan likes keeping people guessing who’ll be his starter against Detroit in 13 days. “I guess we'll have to see,” he said. “I don't like playing this game, but everyone keeps asking that question. I'm not giving the answer just to satisfy the question. I think we've got a pretty good idea, like I've said all along. I think our team does. We're pretty good with it as long as I can keep surviving press conferences.”
This year’s draft class is a rarity, in that more first-round quarterbacks (three) than not (two) went to contending teams. The result, it turns out, could be pretty entertaining.