The mailbag is a day late, after I wrote two columns from the NFL owners meeting on Wednesday (one on Roger Goodell covering for Dan Snyder, another on Tanya Snyder's "tone deaf" comments), but let's get to your mail ...
From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Would the Packers trade Jordan Love as a way to encourage Aaron Rodgers to stay in GB?
Matt, I think this is a fascinating question for February and March, but not right now. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers under contract for 2022, and Love under contract for ’22 and ’23 with an option for ’24. So you play the year out, and make your run at a championship with Rodgers, keep developing Love and see where it goes.
After that, though, you’re reckoning with Rodgers’s going into the final year of his deal, and Rodgers’s camp negotiated having it like that, by striking the last year of the original contract, to create a decision point. At that juncture, either Rodgers will renew his desire to be dealt, get traded, and Love will become the starter; or Rodgers and the Packers will decide to continue together, and that’d mean working out a new contract.
A new contract, of course, would likely take the Packers and Rodgers past the life of Love’s deal, which would mean the timeline would no longer match up for a smooth transition from the former to the latter, which to me would be plenty of reason to start fielding offers. If the Packers get there, I still wouldn’t give Love away. But I’d definitely listen if other teams were interested.
From PedroSchmith (@MMBEAST4): Does WFT want Deshaun Watson?
Pedro, I actually think Washington would be in on Watson, absent the lawsuit against him. They made a hard run at Matthew Stafford last year. My sense is they feel as if they’re close enough where a top-shelf veteran quarterback could make them a bona fide contender. And Washington does have elements that should be attractive to Watson—big market, promising offensive weapons and cap room to add aggressively in the offseason.
But there is an issue, and it’s the obvious one. Could a team that has the recent record that Washington does, with its workplace, its cheerleaders and everything else, possibly acquire a player who’s facing the sorts of accusations that Watson is?
I seriously doubt it.
From Zach Fogelman (@FogelmanZach): With McVay saying that Akers could make a return in the playoffs, do you think that would make the Rams scarier? Also do you see him coming back this year?
So my understanding is—as Sean McVay told The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue—Cam Akers is on track to give himself a shot to play in January and February. But it really isn’t as simple as just putting a number of weeks on it and counting down. This will be more about the risk/reward when the Rams get to the playoffs (I’ll take the leap of saying they’ll make it there), assuming Akers continues on his current trajectory for a return.
The key question then will be what the parameters are for his return. Will he be limited to, say, 15 snaps in his first playoff game? If those are the rules, set by the trainers, would it be worth the risk to put him out there? Also, will they have a bye (either by virtue of being the NFC’s top seed or making the Super Bowl) with which to test him, without having to eat too significantly into the prep of the backs who they know will be out there?
Bottom line, there are a lot of questions that, because of the nature of an Achilles injuries, can’t be answered until we get a lot closer to the playoffs.
From Penta's Mask (@Pier_Six_Brawl): Is there a trade market for Jimmy Garoppolo?
Penta, I don’t think there’s much of one, and I’m not sure the Niners would really consider it without a significant return anyway. We’ll get to the second part of that in a minute. As for the first part, once the draft passed, gone too was the idea that Garoppolo would bring back some sort of huge return without an extenuating circumstance elsewhere, like an injury or some QB’s falling flat on his face. That’s for two reasons. One, at that point, teams had their quarterback plans in place. Two, cap space league-wide had dried up.
Garoppolo still has $14.73 million fully guaranteed (with per-game roster bonuses on top of that) left on his deal for this year, and there are just two teams league-wide with that sort of space to work with. Those two are the Jaguars and Eagles, neither of whom are trading for a veteran quarterback.
Now, if someone goes down Sunday, is it possible someone could get desperate, and take a wild swing while clearing cap space to fit Garoppolo in? The Sam Bradford deal happened in 2016, so I guess so. But I wouldn’t count on it. I’d say the more likely scenario is that Garoppolo is the Niners’ starter for now, and the team will turn to Trey Lance if it falls out of contention.
From Moose Block (@moose_block): Once Trey Lance is 100% heathy, does he become the full-time starter or will Shanahan play both QBs down the stretch?
Moose, I don’t think he’ll be the full-time starter just yet. His tape to this point in the year hasn’t been great—and quite honestly, it’s really hard to blame him for that. Of the five quarterbacks who went in the first round, it was hardly a secret that Lance had the steepest learning curve. He only started 16 games as a collegian, and because North Dakota State was such a wagon, he rarely had to carry the team, or play in third-and-long or from behind. That means the volume of defense he’d seen coming into the NFL was low.
Could the Niners have thrown him out there in Week 1? Sure. But it would’ve required tearing down the offense and building it specifically for Lance, and that’s where Kyle Shanahan and his staff would have to balance what was best for the team versus the development of one guy. And going to him now would mean changing the offense significantly, and risking throwing away the chance to get back into contention this year.
My beef with this stuff is that the digging I do, and a lot of others do, in the spring usually brings information that should be useful not just before the draft, but also after it. Yet, months of saying a guy might need a redshirt year, and then having the team that drafts him confirm it, are never enough in September and October when fans desperately want to see the promising young guy play.
I do get that. But what’s best for Lance right now is probably what’s best for the team, and that’s waiting until the Niners fall out of the race completely—and I’m not sure that will happen, because they still have a good team—before turning to the rookie.
From Bobby Baccala III (@curtisbaccala55): Are the Dolphins considering another rebuild after the 2020 NFL draft blunder?
From Cane6 (@ejulson6): When will the distinction that is Brian Flores and Chris Grier be fired? Dolphins are a mess. The fan base will revolt if they trade for Watson.
Let’s start with Cane6’s question—because I think Dolphin fans’ love for Tua Tagovailoa is fascinating. It’s been 22 years since Dan Marino’s final season, and they have every reason to be skeptical, having gone through restarts featuring Jay Fiedler, Daunte Culpepper, John Beck, Chad Henne and Ryan Tannehill. And yet, for one reason or another, what I’ve gotten back from them is a fierce loyalty to Tagovailoa. Which is, like I said, interesting.
Now, I can understand if people have an objection, based on the legal situation, to their team trading for Watson. I have no idea what’s going to come of the lawsuits and associated criminal complaints. But obviously there’s a lot still uncertain, and plenty of risk involved. So if that’s enough for you to want the Dolphins to pass, or you just want to see more of Tagovailoa, again, I get that.
That said, there is no question that the selection of Tagovailoa in 2020 is hovering over the futures of Flores and Grier. But it’s not just that. It’s also the trades of young veterans like Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick—those two have made two Pro Bowls each since Miami shipped them off in 2019, with Tunsil now 27 and Fitzpatrick 24—and what’s become of the capital coming back for them.
Miami’s drafted 13 players in the first three rounds the last three years, a haul that’s largely a result of those trades. The 13 players: Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, Jevon Holland, Liam Eichenberg, Hunter Long, Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Robert Hunt, Raekwon Davis, Brandon Jones, Christian Wilkins and Michael Deiter. Eight of the 13 started in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons. A ninth starter in the group (Dieter) is hurt.
Is that foundation good enough? Would swapping out Tagovailoa for Watson, and injecting Watson into that mix—which would cement the current core as the team’s foundation, since Miami would have to dump a raft of future picks to acquire him—flip the fortunes of a 1–6 team? And if the Dolphins can make a miracle run to the playoffs, would Grier and Flores get a fourth year after failing to make the postseason over their first three?
For what it’s worth, I do believe Grier and Flores will almost certainly get that fourth year. But it’s pretty clear after a long build, the honeymoon is over. And the benefits of the teardown those guys conduct are going to have to show.
From MF GREG (@CAPITALG92): TRADE RUMORS....ANY BIG NAMES ON THE MARKET AS WE APPROACH THE TRADE DEADLINE?
We’ll have a full-on trade deadline breakdown to lead Friday’s GamePlan. But I’d say the issue right now is cap space across the NFL. All but 11 teams in the league have less than $5 million in cap space. Lots of contenders already mortgaged their bigger contracts to make it work this year. I think the action will probably be more of the pretty minor sorts of trades we’ve seen the last few weeks.
So that means the Stephen Weatherlys and Kenny Youngs of the world might get moved, but outside of Watson, it’s hard to see many other significant names on the block.
From zachMoney (@fymzach): Will Seattle be buyers or sellers at the deadline?
Zach, I’d say neither. The Seahawks are already without a first-round pick for next year as a result of the Jamal Adams trade, and they have a lot of work to do in adding young talent to the roster. On the flip side, dealing off any veteran pieces probably wouldn’t marry up very well with making the most of what could be Russell Wilson’s final year in Seattle, or an effort to keep him a Seahawk beyond 2021.
The important thing to remember on Wilson is that his decision to report in the spring was seen, really by both sides, as a Band-Aid. They’d agreed to work together in 2021, and it was basically “we’ll see” after that. And I didn’t get the idea there was much movement on the feeling that the contract Wilson signed in ’19 would be his last one in Seattle (that contract runs through ’23).
So that puts the Seahawks in the awkward spot of needing to retool the roster in a few spots, while still having a win-now franchise quarterback. Which means the logical thing would be to ride out the season with the group they’ve got, knowing some big team-building decisions are coming in February and March.
From Justin (@allyearfootball): The Saints desperately need help at the WR position. Any chance at a deadline trade for help?
Justin, I think the hope is some will come internally. Tre’Quan Smith just came back from injury, and while his return on Monday was underwhelming (1 catch, 11 yards), and it looked like he and Jameis Winston had some work to do, there’s reason to believe he could give New Orleans a big boost. Then, there’s the hope they get Michael Thomas back—one of the NFL’s best receivers—which would be huge.
But I can tell you definitively that they’re making calls on receivers.
Brandin Cooks might be an interesting target. He’s got a little more than $1.5 million left on his deal, and has experience in Sean Payton’s offense, and obviously the Saints and Texans haven’t been averse to doing business with each other. That’d be one fun idea, at the very least.
From Chris hunt (@wvabuckeye): Bengals are “crashing” the party as was discussed by others but what do they need to get in the offseason to continue this trajectory?
Chris, you should enjoy the season first! But if you want to skip ahead to where they’ll be going into next year, I think continuing to build balance and depth along the lines of scrimmage is going to be one goal. Getting a younger corner will be important, too. And then there’s All-Pro safety Jessie Bates III—he’s in a contract year, and is very deserving of a new deal. So if I’m the Bengals, I’m doing all I can to extend him, with the franchise tag there as a failsafe.
The underlying thing here is that the Bengals are in really good shape going forward (which starts, of course, with the quarterback).
From Raymond Nuznoff (@raynuzzy): What will it take for the Detroit Lions to avoid going 0–17?
Ray, I think the Lions are going to break through eventually. Dan Campbell’s crew’s only really been blown out twice, once by the Packers and once by the Bengals, and both of those games only got out of hand in the second half. Detroit’s clearly still playing hard, and you’re seeing real player development happen—tailback D’Andre Swift’s ascension is one great, recent example of it.
Do I think the Lions are going to get to six or seven wins? No. But I do think they’ll keep getting better, and win a few. And I even picked them to beat the Eagles this week.
From Houston “Rebuild” Football (@Houstonfootbal3): Following up on your assessment of Nick Caserio, do you believe there is an unsaid amount of pressure on him from Jack Easterby or the McNairs to deal Watson quickly?
Easterby, no. McNair … maybe. It’s no secret that the relationship between Cal McNair and Deshaun Watson is irreparably broken, and it wouldn’t surprise me if McNair is trying to do what he can to get Watson out of town. And that’s probably the one place where he and Watson aligned, with Watson’s having been very clear about his desire for a divorce.
I just don’t think Caserio is of a mind to buckle here. If the market’s not there, he can wait until February when … 1) more teams will likely be interested, 2) he’ll know where any 2022 picks coming in the trade will be in the draft order, 3) he won’t be helping the team he’s trading Watson to make those picks worse; 4) there could be more clarity on his situation, which would mean fewer offers with conditional picks.
Caserio knows this situation will go a long way into defining his time as Texans GM. So I think he’s smart to be patient here, and not take 50 cents on the dollar.
From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Could the Steelers get in on a Deshaun Watson trade?
Tom, I don’t think it’ll happen but wouldn’t totally rule it out either. The Steelers don’t have fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round picks in next year’s draft, and I’m not sure it’d be their sort of move to go all in on Watson in this spot.
Then again, they’ll be flush with cap space next year, and without answer at quarterback. So …
From Brady Skinner (@skinzski): Everyone asks you about football, but no one asks you about you…
Thank you, Brady! I’m doing fine. Hope you’re well, too.
More NFL Coverage:
• Snyder Won't Take Responsibility; Goodell Won't Make Him
• Leaked WFT Emails Show How NFL Sausage Is Made
• 5 Things to Know About the Deshaun Watson Trade Rumors
• Joe Burrow Says This Is Who the Bengals Are Now