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Mailbag: How Bad Has it Gotten With the Lions?

Plus, J.C. Jackson’s contract situation, what the Eagles will do with their three first-round picks, Jimmy Garoppolo’s future, and more!

​​Just as a programming note, we mixed it up this week because of the holiday, switching the mailbag and GamePlan column. So if you’re looking for the GamePlan, it ran Wednesday and will return to Friday next week. And the mailbag is right here, and will go back to Wednesday next week.

Got it? Good. Let’s get to your questions.

From Aaron Korber (@AaronKorber1): At what point will the Detroit Lions be kicked out of the NFL for just being too terrible?

Aaron, the end of that game was brutal. The double-timeout situation—turning a third-and-9 into a third-and-4 inside the 20—was bad enough. And the defensive play-call, because it was more intentional, on that ensuing third-and-4 from the Detroit 11 was even worse. At the snap, the corners on the two receivers to Andy Dalton’s left were lined up 8 or 9 yards off the line of scrimmage, and the Lions were showing pressure.

In that situation, 10 times out of 10, a quarterback of Dalton’s experience is throwing it hot to one of those two receivers. And in that situation, the worst case scenario for Detroit, with 1:54 left and just one timeout in the holster, would be the Bears pick up the first down without scoring—had Chicago gotten in the end zone, at least Detroit gets the ball back.

So what happened? Dalton did just what Detroit’s defense called for him to do, dumping the ball short to Damiere Byrd right away for the first down. He had 7 yards, and was 3 yards clear of the marker before Will Harris dragged him to the turf at the Detroit 4. Three kneeldowns later, and Cairo Santos was lining up for a 28-yard game-winning field goal with a second left on the clock.

It’s tough to excuse all of that, and I say that as someone who believed coming in that Detroit was going to have to give its 45-year-old, first-time head coach (Campbell), and 42-year-old, first-time GM (Brad Holmes) runway to build, based on the state of the team they inherited and their own relative inexperience. I still believe that, by the way, and I also think those guys have already done some good things to lay a foundation.

Holmes and his staff landed Penei Sewell, who’s been up-and-down but carries outsized potential, in the first round, and then defensive linemen Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill on Day 2, and those guys are playing a lot. Also, despite being young and having significant holes in some key spots, the Lions play their tails off for Campbell.

But there’s no question that issues in the gameday operation have been there (remember, Campbell took play-calling duties from OC Anthony Lynn a couple weeks back), and they were highlighted again on Thanksgiving. It’ll be interesting to see how they’re addressed long-term—and whether Campbell sees them as growing pains, or rising to the level where he has to consider changes.

From James (@JamesKMillsIII): What is the likelihood that David Culley goes one-and-done in Houston?

James, this question is lingering in NFL circles, but I don’t think that’s really emanating from Houston, not yet at least. Because Culley didn’t have background with GM Nick Caserio there’s definitely a curiosity on whether or not Culley’s a short-timer in Houston, and if Caserio will eventually seek someone that shares his roots in the New England system.

Culley is 66, and the Texans are 2–8, so I’m not gonna sit here and tell anyone Caserio and the coach he hired are attached at the hip. That said, I think Culley is pretty close to exactly what the franchise needed this year—a coach who’s got a great demeanor, varied experience with different types of programs, and a special ability to connect with people. And coming into the year, what the job demanded, given the circus of the last couple years in Houston, was a person who could come in and calm the waters effectively.

The new staff has accomplished that much. And as I talked to Tyrod Taylor just after the Texans shocked the Titans last weekend, it was pretty clear how it’s happened.

“Obviously, it’s tough losing eight games. It’s tough for coaches, it’s tough for players, it’s tough for the whole organization,” Taylor said. “But we signed up for a full season, so you can’t tap out. Any time you get a chance to line up and play a game, you look forward to winning and competing at a high level. So as far as discouragement, if anything it was frustration within the organization, but never discouraged.

“The guys never lost hope, they put their best foot forward each and every day, right attitude, coming into the building, and just doing the little things right. And knowing that eventually it would turn, there’s just certain things that you can’t do to beat yourself in this league. And we have to keep cleaning those up—penalties, protecting the football. And we’ll continue to keep being the team that we know that we can be.”

That sort of approach only happens if you have the right kinds of people leading, and if there’s one thing Culley and Caserio have done well, it’s infuse the locker room with a lot of those types (Taylor among them). But it also takes the right kind of head coach for the situation, which I think Culley is.

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Of course, over time, if things go according to plan, what the Texans need from the head coach will change. And, sure, it’ll be interesting to see if Culley’s still the right guy then.

From Christian Koulichkov (@BostonBroker33): Will the Pats franchise J.C. Jackson?

Christian, the under-the-radar impact of the Stephon Gilmore trade was how it exposed New England at the position down the line. Yes, Gilmore is in a contract year, and so he was probably gone regardless. But leaving yourself with—outside of Jackson—only Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and special teamer Justin Bethel under contract at the position, and without even at outside shot at bringing someone like Gilmore back, makes it so you need Jackson a lot more than he needs you.

Also, in the offseason, when there were contract discussions between the Patriots and Jackson’s camp, I’m told the divide was so significant between the sides that the talks died right there on the vine—and no one bothered to counter the other’s contract ideas. The feeling at the time was that Jackson was eyeing every dime he could clean off the table as a 2022 free agent and; as well as he’s played this year, I’d guess his goals would remain.

So that gets us to your question. It’ll likely cost the Patriots between $17 million and $18 million to tag Jackson in 2022. The Patriots project to have between $30 million and $35 million in space going into the league year (and that number, obviously, is subject to change with the regular roster moves of February and March). That means, yes, they certainly could tag Jackson.

Will they? I’m not as sure. The Patriots have used the tag 10 times under Bill Belichick. In three cases, it was to retain a kicker. In two more, it was to control a player’s rights that it was planning to trade (Tebucky Jones in 2003, Matt Cassel in 2008). The other five were Asante Samuel in 2007, Vince Wilfork in 2010, Logan Mankins in 2011, Wes Welker in 2012 and Joe Thuney last year. Two of the five, Wilfork and Mankins, wound up staying with the team long-term.

The question is complicated by the market at the position. If the fourth-year star gets to free agency healthy, he’ll be paid like No. 1 corner. Whether you think he’s one or not, that’s just how it goes when good players at that spot make it to the market (see: Jones, Byron). Which means it’d likely cost around $20 million per to keep him, and the Patriots don’t have history of going that far with non-quarterbacks (or even quarterbacks, until the very, very end with Brady).

That, of course, is the long way of saying: Yes, the tag seems like the most sensical stopgap solution for the team, especially considering where it’d be in 2022 at corner without Jackson. But would the Patriots be O.K. taking up half of their available cap space for next with a player who then would be gone in 2023? And if they are, and keep Jackson from the market, would they get the same level of production from him in 2022? These are all fair questions to ask.

From Obed (@Obed08005019): Will [Joe] Judge be fired?

Obed, as of right now, I’d say no. The Maras really like Judge, and would loathe to be one of those ownership groups that flip coaches every couple years. If dumped, Judge would be the third consecutive Giants coach fired after just two years; Ray Handley was the only head coach in the 85 years previous to that run to have a tenure that short with the team.

That said, the Maras also love Jason Garrett, a guy who played for them, and someone they always saw as having the potential to come back and work for the team someday. So that they’d sign off on his firing should get the attention of everyone in football ops in East Rutherford. And that’s even though the writing had been on the wall there going back for a year, that the arranged marriage between the New England and Dallas factions of the Giants coaching staff really wasn’t working out.

Clearly, John Mara’s not pleased with where his football team is, and barring a turnaround over the next seven weeks it’s fair to anticipate some level of change coming. To me, the first question asked will involve GM Dave Gettleman, who could wind up retiring, taking a reduced role with the team or being forced out. Now, I don’t think it’s a certainty that he’s gone—he’s another guy with deep connections to the franchise—but it’ll get more likely by the week if the team keeps going the way it has. And if he is gone, and Judge doesn’t go with him, where the team goes with its next GM will give us a tell.

If the Giants hire someone connected to Judge, like Tennessee’s Monti Ossenfort, then it’d be fair to take that as the Maras doubling down on Judge, and implicitly saying that he isn’t the problem. If the Giants hire someone else, history would tell us that would likely put Judge into a one-year evaluation period, where Judge would probably have to convince the new GM that he was the right guy to move forward with.

There are, obviously, a lot of moving parts here. And we’re not quite to the point yet where any of this is a fait accompli. The Giants still have seven weeks to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve created for themselves.

From Mitch Goldich: (@mitchgoldich): Are the Eagles’ recent extensions the behavior of a team preparing to make three first-round picks, and not of a team planning to trade for a QB making $30 million? Or is that reading too much into things?

Full disclosure—Mitch is one of my editors, and the guy who stays up with me on Sunday nights/Monday mornings (which makes him an absolute hero), and the one who had to listen to my sob story on my computer crashing Friday morning (which is why this is coming to you late) … so the least I could do was answer him Eagles’ question. To set it up, here are the deals Philly has done of late:

• Left tackle Jordan Mailata signed a four-year, $64 million deal (that can go to $80 million if he hits incentives) on Sept. 11, the day before the season started.
• A week later, pass-rusher Josh Sweat signed a three-year, $40 million extension.
• On Nov. 19, and on the heels of Eagles icon Zach Ertz getting traded to Arizona, tight end Dallas Goedert landed a four-year, $57 million extension.
• On Nov. 20, slot corner Avonte Maddox signed a three-year, $22.5 million extension.

And then, earlier this week, starting middle linebacker T.J. Edwards did a more modest, one-year, $3.2 million extension that’ll keep him with the team into 2022.

So, Mitch, do I think it foreshadows anything at quarterback? Probably not. Four of the five guys above came into the league as Eagles draft picks. Edwards is the exception, and he got to the NFL as a college free agent signed by Philly, which means all five of these guys are homegrown. And so GM Howie Roseman is operating like he, and the Eagles, always have: Guys raised in-house, development going to plan, and being aggressive in getting them signed before they can get out to the market.

Part of it, too, is that the Eagles have a very healthy cap situation this year and going forward, giving them plenty of flexibility to do the deals. And that flexibility extends right over to quarterback. Based on the look of the 2022 draft class, my guess would be that they won’t draft one with one of their three first-round picks, seeing as though Jalen Hurts has come along and may have a brighter future now than any of those guys.

Could they trade for one? Absolutely. Owner Jeffrey Lurie is sufficiently consumed with getting the quarterback position righted post-Carson Wentz, and I think Roseman and his crew would at least investigate the idea of Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson in the offseason, anyway.

It’s not a bad place to be, Mitch, with one quarterback in-house you like, and the continued flexibility to get another one if the right opportunity presents itself.

From Not_DB_Cooper (@_Not_DBCooper): Will the Saints run it back with Jameis or will they draft a QB? If they decide to draft a QB, who is the best fit/option?

Coop, I had a really good answer for this one before my computer crashed, so I’ll try and recreate it. The important date to look at is Nov. 12—the day that Jameis Winston underwent his knee reconstruction, after tearing his ACL and MCL on Halloween. A nine-month recovery would mean Winston being available again near the end of training camp next summer, right as preseason games are revving up.

That’ll mean a couple things, I’d guess. One, I think it’ll mean the Saints would be able to get Winston back on a reasonable contract that’ll allow for the team to make another move at the position. Two, if he’s back as a result, it’ll mean the Saints would have to go through a large piece of the process of building the offense, through OTAs and early training-camp work, without Winston out there, making it more complicated to build around him.

That, by the way, doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have a run at a Watson or Wilson in it. Both those guys would be good fits. The salary cap poses serious questions, of course, because the Saints are already up against it (again) in 2022. But we’ve seen Mickey Loomis and that front office pull rabbits of their hats before, so maybe they do it again.

Absent that, I think it’s Winston and competition next year. One veteran name to at least consider would be Baker Mayfield, should the Browns wind up with a Watson or a Wilson or even an Aaron Rodgers—Sean Payton liked Mayfield a lot coming out, in 2018, and Mayfield in 2022 wouldn’t be that dissimilar to Drew Brees in 2006 (they even have the same hometown) as a reclamation project.

As for the draft class, I think any of the three guys that are now considered at the top of a pretty shaky quarterback class—Ole Miss’s Matt Corral, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett—could fit what Payton wants at the position (I think Howell might be the best fit of the three). But taking one in the first round would mean stopping the search for Brees’s long-term successor, and I’m not sure any of those guys would rise to the level where you’d take that kind of plunge on them.

All of which is why I think there’s a pretty decent chance Winston is back in New Orleans in some form in 2022.

From Brian (@fhbrian): Happy Thanksgiving. Years ago [Washington] would regularly add a bunch of free agents, we would expect success, but they'd struggle. The Browns struggles have me wondering if there wasn't a lesson they didn't learn that the league did.

Brian, I think just saying that Washington wasn’t winning back then was because of the wild spending ignores what was the root of the problem—as is the case with most teams that break the bank in March, the Football Team having that amount to spend on the market was at least in part the result of not having anyone in-house that was worth paying.

That’s where I think there’s a distinct difference with Cleveland. Their more recent free-agent forays are to supplement the roster, not build it. The team’s young core (Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Jedrick Wills, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, etc.) is largely founded on homegrown talents, with a second layer (Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller) worked in. And having a quarterback on a rookie contract allowed the Browns to take swings on guys like Austin Hooper, Jack Conklin, Jadeveon Clowney, Jarvis Landry and, yes, Odell Beckham Jr.

The key here is who you’re relying on. If it’s 100% mercenaries from the outside—and remember, most guys become available for a reason—that’s a tough way to live, for a variety of reasons. But if free agents land there around guys that have come up through your program, and have become almost salesmen for it? Well, I’d say that’s where you want to be, with a shot to maximize what the outsiders coming in can bring to you.

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Could the 49ers seriously be considering keeping Garoppolo for 2022?

Tom! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate in England (although I guess I’m not totally sure if you personally do or not).

I’ve been pretty firmly in the camp that the Niners are doing the right thing, in prioritizing what’s right for their young quarterback. We all said until we were blue in the face in the spring that North Dakota State’s Trey Lance was a phenomenal prospect who simply wasn’t quite ready to play in the league. The reason why isn’t difficult to explain—coming into the league, he just hadn’t seen enough, making the learning curve relatively steep.

Why? Here’s the short of it …

• At NDSU, he started just 17 games.
• NDSU is more dominant at its level than Alabama is at its level.
• He was 17–0, and 14 of his 17 games were won by the double-digits. The three that weren’t were won by 6, 7, and 8 points. So he wasn’t in many late-game, have-to-have-it spots.
• Because of that, and being a dominant run guy, he was also rarely in long-yardage situations, or expected to carry the team. In eight of his 16 starts in 2016, he threw the ball fewer than 16 times. In the national title game against James Madison, he threw it 10 and ran it 30.

And none of this is really anyone’s fault—it’s North Dakota State’s coaches’ job to win games, and Lance and that staff figured he’d have one more year than he did (all but one game, a sort of showcase against Central Arkansas, came off the schedule in 2020 due to the pandemic). Which meant he came into the NFL raw. That he was a really sharp kid, with the kind of spotless profile from a character standpoint that made most think he had a great chance to realize his immense potential was a big plus. But that didn’t change the facts here.

Somehow, between then and now, people forgot all that. Given that the Niners already had a quarterback who’d gotten them to the Super Bowl on hand, it always made sense to give Lance the redshirt year he needed. And now that Super Bowl quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, has the team in position to make a run at getting into the playoffs, so this has mostly gone according to plan.

But if Lance isn’t the starter next year? Then, I think there’d be bigger questions to ask, considering what they gave up to get him, and the fact that NFL teams have been way more creative than they used to be (Kyle Shanahan was, in fact, one of the guys who started that, in Washington all the way back in 2012) in getting young quarterbacks out on the field.

That’s why I’m not buying the Niners are truly considering running it back with Garoppolo in 2022, if Lance is living up to expectations.

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GamePlan: Jonathan Taylor and the Value of Great RBs
Five Things We Learned From the Thanksgiving Games
On the Chants at Matt Nagy’s Sons’ High School Game