Most of the NFL is now on to Week 1—with some roster maintenance mixed in—so let’s dive into what landed in the inbox after cut-down day …
From Alex Murphy (@AlexMurphy1824): Assuming Aaron Rodgers is done in Green Bay after this season ... where does he play next year? Denver?
Here’s the thing, Alex—if this season plays out the way I think it will, the Packers are going to be really, really good. And if they make my picks look equally good, then I’d imagine there’d be a chance he’ll stay in Green Bay in 2022. Something short of winning the whole thing could bring another result, though, and that makes your question a worthy one. So here are a half dozen teams on my radar for quarterbacks next April.
• Broncos: I love the early work GM George Paton has done, and as we’ve said in this space before, the Broncos aren’t far off from where they were in 2012, when they had enough to lure Peyton Manning to the Rockies. Like then, they have promising young receivers, a growing offensive line, a young, raw tight end and young stars on the edge and at corner on defense. I could absolutely see Rodgers looking at this one and thinking it’d work for him.
• Raiders: Another West Coast team and, like Denver, Vegas was on Rodgers’s list in the spring. And for all the problems they’ve had, and there have been lots, the offensive infrastructure there is really strong—with good young talent at receiver (Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards), tight end (Darren Waller), left tackle (Kolton Miller) and tailback (Josh Jacobs). And presuming Jon Gruden’s still around, it’s a good bet he’d love to work with Rodgers.
• Dolphins: Internally, the Dolphins believe they’re ready to contend at the highest level right now, which contextualizes why they’ve sniffed around on Deshaun Watson. And that very naturally puts pressure on Tua Tagovailoa to perform in Year 2. Absent something happening with Watson, he’ll get a full year to prove himself. If he falls short of expectation, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dolphins looking around in 2022.
• Giants: This is a critical year for Daniel Jones. The Giants have invested a lot in their 2021 team—high draft picks, free-agent money, etc. And New York has two first-round picks in ’22, so there’ll be opportunity to build on what they believe is a really good team. If they don’t get more out of the quarterback position between now and then, it’s easy to see a scenario where they’re a player for someone like Rodgers or Russell Wilson.
• Eagles: The Eagles have done their homework on Deshaun Watson, and owner Jeffrey Lurie’s got a healthy desire to get the quarterback position taken care of after dealing off a young one he thought would be there for a decade and a half. Maybe Jalen Hurts will take off in Year 2. But I don’t think the Eagles are married to the idea he will the way they’d hitched themselves to Carson Wentz. And Philly will have flexibility to build around a QB next year.
• Washington: So that’s three of four NFC East teams. If a couple of things hit right for Washington the next few months (hitting on draft picks Jamin Davis and Sam Cosmi, and free agents Charles Leno, Curtis Samuel and William Jackson), Ron Rivera could have a very appealing situation sitting there for a veteran quarterback in 2022. And what better way to usher in the team’s looming rebrand than with a superstar at the position.
And the truth is, if we want to keep playing this game, we can. What if Carson Wentz doesn’t work out in Indy? Or if Jameis Winston can’t deliver for the Saints? Or if the Browns decide not to extend Baker Mayfield? Could the Steelers or Bucs do it logistically if their quarterbacks retire? Are there more I missed? It may seem bonkers to consider that a dozen teams are feasible at this point, but if this offseason showed us anything, it’s that the league as a whole is far more malleable, and volatile, than it’s ever been at quarterback.
From David Licht (@david_licht): How many years before Urban “burns” out again?
David, I get the question. But consider this—Urban Meyer coached six seasons at Florida and another seven at Ohio State. And as we enter the 2020 season, just eight of 32 head coaches have more than four seasons under their belt in their current locations. So if you’re worried about what Meyer will be doing in ’25 and ’26, that even being a question would be really good news for the Jaguars, because he’ll have to win a bunch just to get there.
I do think much of his ability to endure the rigors of the job in Jacksonville is going to boil down to the job he does delegating. And having the NFL’s biggest staff, with both guys he trusts from the college level and guys with extensive pro experience, should help in that regard. I think Meyer would tell you himself he’s become more of a CEO coach—spending time on program-building—than an in-the-weeds offensive coach.
On paper at least, I think that’d allow him to manage himself a certain way.
From Irfan (@Irfannzo): Do you think that three teams from the NFC west make the playoffs, and if so, which teams do?
Irfan, in the MMQB predictions coming out next week, I answered your question with a yes, putting the Rams in there as division champions, and the Niners and Seahawks in as wild cards. And I think the Cardinals will be in the running, too, with a roster restocked with playoff-experienced vets like A.J. Green and J.J. Watt. If I had to guess right now …
I’m sure you won’t hold me to that.
From Hall Joe (@HallJoe15): Mac’s ceiling?
Hall, the comp I got most on Mac Jones that I liked best in the offseason was Chad Pennington, and a lot of people took that as some sort of shot at Jones—it’s not. Pennington was a hyperproductive, heady collegian who measured out at 6' 3" and 225 pounds at the 2000 combine and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds. The similarly productive, smart Jones was 6' 2" and 217 pounds, and ran, unofficially, in the 4.7s at his pro day. Other common strengths: accuracy, pocket awareness, field vision and leadership traits.
Injuries wound up doing Pennington in over time (only once did he start all 16 games in a season). But despite playing for three different coaches, all of whom inherited him (Al Groh was his first NFL coach), over his seven-year window as an NFL starter (2002 to ’08), Pennington went 43–34, got to the playoffs with each of those three coaches, and was the last quarterback other than Tom Brady to win the AFC East before Brady left the division.
I think it’s fair to say, if Pennington had more stability around him, things might’ve played out a little differently for him. And Jones is walking into a better situation than Pennington was back in 2000, so the comp carries as a pretty interesting one for me.
From Adam Moffett (@AdamMoff24): Who leads Bucs in receiving rec yards/TD?
Adam, I think we’re going to see a pretty even distribution there, because now that Tom Brady has a year in the Bucs’ system, it’ll become his system—and when he’s running things the way he wants to, all five skill players are alive on every single play. In a nod to that, let’s say that there’ll be different leaders in each of those categories …
• Receptions: Chris Godwin, 92.
• Yards: Mike Evans, 1,235.
• Touchdowns: Rob Gronkowski, 10.
And I’m laying all this out with the thought, additionally, that Antonio Brown’s going to be a much bigger factor than people realize, O.J. Howard is in the mix now and Gio Bernard is the sort of back (à la Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, James White) that Brady has always valued over the course of his career. Again, the production, as I see it, is going to be spread around. But there’s also going to be a lot of it to go around.
From Juan Garcia (@JuanGarciaGacia): Packers' unsung hero?
Juan, when I saw this question, I immediately thought of Elgton Jenkins. And I’m not saying that it was some secret how good a lineman Jenkins is. He was a Pro Bowl guard in 2020, in just his second year as a pro, so word is out. But his ability to toggle from guard to left tackle this summer, after a collegiate career spent primarily as a center, is rare, and I’m not sure it’s gotten enough attention, based on how massive that is for a Packers team that’s going to be without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari until October (at least).
If you want context, consider the Colts’ situation. Anthony Castonzo retired in January, after completing his 10th season as Indy’s left tackle. That created a massive hole in what was probably the best line in football in 2020. To patch it, the Colts signed ex-Chief Eric Fisher, coming off a torn Achilles, after not drafting a tackle until the 248th pick in April. Until then, their projected starter at the position was Sam Tevi, a career backup they signed in March. Tevi just tore his ACL and is out for the year, Fisher’s on PUP still and Julién Davenport is the for-now starter.
Indy, like Green Bay, has an elite guard, probably the best one in the league in Quenton Nelson. Now, imagine if the Colts could move Nelson out to left tackle for the time being. Then, the Colts would be looking to find a quick fix at guard, which is much easier to do than it is at tackle. And I’m not saying that Nelson can’t do it. But the fact that Indy hasn’t yet tried with such a high-level lineman should bring color to what Jenkins is doing.
So give me Jenkins as an unsung hero. And if you’re looking for a couple of other guys to break through in Green Bay that have been, to this point, a little unsung, throw safety Darnell Savage and edge defender Rashan Gary (both former first-rounders) in the pile.
From Raul (@raulvibe): Best options for Az at CB after Butler’s sudden retirement?
Raul, the bad news is there’s not a whole lot of help out there. Corner was right up there with offensive line as the spots teams were most looking for via trade ahead of Tuesday’s cutdown to 53 across the NFL—a fact that underlines the state of those positions across the league (there aren’t enough corners or offensive linemen to go around). So I don’t think you’re going to find your fix on someone else’s roster. Teams just aren’t selling corners.
The good news is that I don’t think this came out of left field for Arizona. There were rumblings before this that Malcolm Butler couldn’t run anymore, and concern internally that his lost step would get magnified gradually, as the normal wear-and-tear of the season set in. So it’s not like they haven’t been working hard to try and find solutions for that eventuality, which at least prepared them for this.
It starts with Byron Murphy, who’ll have to play to his 2019 draft slot (33rd), and has flashed an ability to be elite as a slot corner and more than competent flipping outside. From there, veteran Robert Alford can play but will have to hold up physically. And really, the swing factor will be rookie Marco Wilson, who has flashed in camp. Those three guys’ delivering would be a way better remedy than some castoff from another team.
From Philly Phanatic (@PhillyPhan1001): Where's the podcast?
Philly!! Thanks for the support. Still working on that, but I’d point you to the Hurry Up, too, our new web show on YouTube, SI.com and all your social channels. We’ll have some elements of the old podcast on there weekly, for sure—this week, we had Charlie Weis and Brady Quinn in to talk quarterbacks. Be sure to check it out.
From Andrew Poirier (@apoirier717): How bad will the Giants be this year?
Wow, Andrew, already out on your favorite team? To me, the Giants are somewhere between a 7–10 and 10–7 team, and the four swing factors are elements you’re pretty familiar with.
1) Are the edge rushers what the Giants think they are? The brass there is pumped about how rookie Azeez Ojulari and veteran Lorenzo Carter have looked. Whether it translates to the regular season or not will be interesting. With Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence inside, those guys just have to provide a thread; they don’t have to carry the front.
2) Where’s the offensive line at? The fact that the Giants just traded for Billy Price and Ben Bredeson doesn’t reflect all that well on the group they have in-house. And regardless of what Price and Bredeson bring, there’s no question that New York needs guys like Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux and Matt Peart to come along.
3) What is Saquon Barkley capable of coming off the torn ACL? If he’s himself again, the reimagined skill group of Kenny Golladay, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, Kyle Rudolph, Darius Slayton, John Ross, et al. becomes that much tougher to defend.
4) How much better is Daniel Jones? Obviously.
So could the Giants be pretty good? Absolutely. There are just a lot of variables to sort through there.
From KWC (@WestrayKnight): Are you surprised that the Steelers and T.J. Watt extension has yet to be announced? Do you expect it to be announced before their opener?
Eh, I thought they’d get it done right around now. So, KWC, if they kick off the season without Watt signed to a new deal, it’d be a mild surprise to me, because I know this has been their top priority, but also because it was always going to be a complicated deal to do.
The reason why it’s complicated is pretty easy to lay out. Joey Bosa’s the highest-paid defensive player in football at $27 million per year, and Myles Garrett is second at $25 million per year. Both of those deals were done last year. After that, there are the three-year-old deals done by Khalil Mack ($23.5 million APY) and Aaron Donald ($22.5 million). And I don’t think many people would argue Watt isn’t in that class.
So if you account for inflation, and look at the makeup of those contracts, T.J. Watt would be well within his rights to ask for $30 million per. That’d be nearly double what any other player on the Steelers’ roster is making. And further clouding the whole thing would be the Steelers’ policies on funding future guarantees.
Now, for what it’s worth, I’ve heard Watt’s ask is closer to $28 million per. So, really, that’s just a markup on Bosa’s deal, and I can’t imagine that’s a deal-breaker, even if it would have an effect on guys who are next in line like Minkah Fitzpatrick. My guess, then, would be they’re going to have to find common ground on structure and guarantees over the next week. I’ll guess that the Steelers find a way to get it done.
From Kevin (@BostAngeles): Did Cam ask to be released when notified he will not start Week 1?
Kevin, I have not heard that he asked for his release. And I can tell you that the likelihood all along was that Cam Newton was either going to be the Patriots’ starter or off the team altogether. Which is to say, yes, I was surprised that Bill Belichick went to Mac Jones after giving the great majority of first-team reps to Newton over the summer. But given the fact that Jones was going to be the starter, Newton’s release doesn’t surprise me at all.
Fact is, once you decide to go with your young first-round pick at quarterback, the makeup of the quarterback room has to be good for that quarterback. There’s a reason why the Bengals let Andy Dalton walk before drafting Joe Burrow, and why the Chargers probably couldn’t have had Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert together, and the Dolphins presented no resistance to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s departure this offseason. Those guys had history as starters with their teams, and that kind of history has a way of looming over a young quarterback.
Similarly, Newton’s really never been a backup, and the fact that he’s a former MVP would have hovered in the background if Jones hit a rough patch early on. It could’ve even created division in the locker room—and that has nothing to do with Newton himself, but the shadow his accomplishments would cast. And a rookie at the most difficult position to play in sports has enough to worry about, without having to think about that.
There’s even a Patriots parallel you can make here. In 2008, ahead of Week 1, the Patriots scheduled workouts with veterans Chris Simms and Tim Rattay for the Tuesday after the opener, after backup Matt Cassel went through an up-and-down preseason. Brady tore his ACL that week. And Belichick canceled the Simms and Rattay workouts when, arguably, he needed more help at quarterback than ever before. Why? Well, because it was important that he show confidence in Cassel. Cassel, of course, wound up delivering in a very big way.
Similarly, 13 years later, very clearly, Belichick sees it as important that he show confidence in Jones. And in letting Newton go, it’ll be easier for him to do that.
From Comedian (@Comedian_Watch): Do NFL GMs believe it will be a significant increase in next year’s salary cap?
Comedian, the big jump won’t come next year; it’ll likely come in 2023. The league and union have already set a ceiling for the ’22 cap at $208.2 million, and based on the influx of gambling money, I think it’s fair to assume they’ll hit that ceiling and set the cap there next year. That’s a big jump from $182.5 million, of course, but it’s actually probably still below where the cap would’ve been, absent COVID-19 (it was at $198.2 million in ’20).
But in 2023? Then the money from the new television contracts will factor into the equation, the gambling money, presumably, will be fully flowing and I think teams will have a lot more money to spend. Which means by then we’re probably looking at a $50 million quarterback somewhere (Herbert maybe?), and star nonquarterbacks having their average-per-year numbers start with a 3.
From Steve Cardenas (@Steve_Cardenas): Will the Eagles trade or release Zach Ertz? If he moves, what team will he end up playing for? Was hoping for a Wentz-Ertz reunion in Indy.
Steve, I think they’re hanging on to him now. Ertz himself mentioned having come-to-Jesus meetings with the team brass over the last few months, and he by all accounts had a monster camp. He’s going into the last year of his contract, so his future remains a little murky. But this idea that he’s done might be a little overblown. Did you know he’s actually more than a year younger than Travis Kelce?
My guess would be if he can stay healthy, the Eagles will try to keep him past this year. But just for now, he’s a really good asset to have as Philly breaks in a new quarterback.
From Joe Barczak (@jtbcubs): So now three of the rookie QB are starting and another (Lance) looks like he will get substantial snaps in a version of a two-QB deal. Is there anyone besides Matt Nagy who doesn’t think Justin Fields is ready? And to sit behind mediocre Andy Dalton much less?
Joe, I understand your frustration, and the frustration of all Bears fans on this. I’d just tell you to be patient, because one of two things will happen. Either Andy Dalton crushes it, and the team contends. Or Fields is going to play sooner rather than later.
And I do think it’s significant that Fields played the last game of the preseason with Chicago’s starters. The whole summer, the goal for Nagy and his staff has been to get as long a look at Fields in the games as possible—one reason why being that the coaches wanted to see how much they’d have to scale back the offense to play the rookies, and what the offense would look like in that context. Well, now they’ve gotten to see it with the starters in there, which gives them a better idea of what going to Fields will mean when the time comes.
I also think you’ll get a significant tell on where all this stands in 11 days, when the Bears kick off their season in Los Angeles. If the team is truly intent on redshirting Fields, then he won’t dress for that game, the same way Jordan Love didn’t dress for any of the Packers’ games last fall. But if they dress him and they don’t dress Nick Foles? It’ll mean they’re comfortable putting him in the game.
In the end, that could be as good a sign as any of how long a leash Dalton has, and how close all of you in Chicago are to getting what you want. But, again, if Dalton goes out there and plays great, then that’d be a really good result, too—because I’d assume you want your team to win, and it’d give Fields more time to develop.
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