STOWE, Vt. — No GamePlan this week, but because I love you guys, I’m giving you a mailbag from my ski trip. Let’s go …
From Matt Steinbach (@Matt_Steinbach3): What would you anticipate being the potential trade compensation for Jordan Love if Rodgers were to sign a multi-year extension w/ GB?
Matt, let’s start with the idea that they’d trade Love in the first place, something I actually broached on my buddy Rich Eisen’s show the other day. I think all of this would come down to timing, in a similar way to how the Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 came down to timing—Tom Brady stayed really good for too long, all the way through Garoppolo’s rookie deal, which pushed Bill Belichick to a decision point. Here’s where that sort of dynamic comes into play here.
• Obviously, if Aaron Rodgers is traded or retires, Love stays and likely starts.
• If Rodgers stays in a last-dance type of scenario (which is what 2021 was supposed to be), then the Packers probably keep Love, with Love under contract for 2023.
• If Rodgers stays, and signs, say, a fully-guaranteed, two-year extension, then the Packers would probably have to start listening to trade offers on Love, given that Rodgers’ contractual commitment would run past Love’s.
Now, even in that last scenario, there would be plenty to weigh. On Thursday morning, I hit up a couple execs to ask what Love might bring back in a trade. One said a third-round pick. Another said his initial thought was a fourth-rounder, based on the fact that Love’s NFL tape is “just kind of blah, and there isn’t a ton of it, and he was polarizing coming out.’
So at that point, for a middle-rounder, is it worth giving up on Love? Or would he be more valuable to the Packers as an insurance policy against Rodgers changing his mind again. For all these reasons, I’d say the likelihood is Love is a Packer in 2022. But I don’t see it as a certainty.
From Walt (@91Walt): Any chance my 49ers have Brady as our QB nxt yr?
Walt, I think there’s a chance, yes. My sense is the reason that Brady has left the door open for a return is twofold. One, I don’t think even he knows how he’ll feel about a potential return six months from now. And two, that magic number, 45, was never arbitrary—getting there was a real goal of his.
Remember, making the 12-month commitment to playing right now is not the same thing as saying yes to a team in August or September. So if the Niners came to him then looking to give a championship-caliber roster a shot in the arm, do I think he’d be tempted? I do. And then, the first question would be what sort of shape he’s kept himself in. If you know anything about Brady, you know it’s a good bet he’ll keep a healthy lifestyle, whether it’s for football or not. But staying healthy, and being in football shape, are two different things.
Then, there’s the Buccaneers’ place in all of this. My guess is that if Brady wanted to return to the NFL, they’d take a similar position the Patriots did with Rob Gronkowski when Gronk wanted to come back and join Brady in Tampa—show their gratitude in facilitating a trade. Still, a deal would have to be done, and moving him in-conference might be a little different (and that could intensify if the Bucs keep their core intact and add an impact QB).
And finally, you have maybe the most interesting player in all of this, and that’s Trey Lance. Presuming nothing happens here until summer, and Jimmy Garoppolo is traded relatively soon, Lance would have a lot of runway to show the Niners that there’s no need for them to trade for a quarterback, even if that quarterback is the greatest of all-time. Remember, the Niners gave up a ton to get Lance, so that wouldn’t exactly be a bad result for them.
From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Do you foresee Brian Flores as the Steelers HC succession plan for Mike Tomlin?
Matt, I think Flores was being forthright in what he told Bryant Gumble on Real Sports—saying that his addition to the Steelers’ staff was simply a matter of a few things lining up so that Flores wound up being a really good fit. Pittsburgh’s got a couple star defensive players that Flores stands to make better, and the team is going through its first coordinator change on that side of the ball in seven years, with Teryl Austin promoted.
Between Austin’s Baltimore roots and Flores’s New England roots, and of course the foundation in what Pittsburgh’s been on defense for 30 years, there should be a good mix of continuity and new ideas there. And if I’m T.J. Watt or Devin Bush of Minkah Fitzpatrick, I’m excited seeing what Flores did with guys like Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung in New England.
Now, a few years from now, could Tomlin want a break, and Flores be positioned as a candidate to take over? Sure. Could it happen sooner if, with a new GM in place, Tomlin makes that decision sooner (he’s been in Pittsburgh 15 years, which is a long time for a head coach to be anywhere)? Potentially. But I don’t think there’s any sort of plan in place for the torch to be passed.
From Nick Pastura (@SenorNickyP): Do the Bengals extend Jessie Bates, or TAG him?
Nick, because of Bates’s value to the Bengals, the Bengals’ expected amount of available cap space, and a relatively reasonable tag number for safeties ($13 million), I think there’s a good chance that Bates is, indeed, franchised at the end of all this. And I’d expect the Bengals will say all the right things in the aftermath—that they’re only using the tag itself as a placeholder in order to get a long-term deal done.
Even if 2021 wasn’t his best year, Bates came up big in the playoffs, was second-team All-Pro in 2020, and is a team captain. So there’s no reason to think the Bengals wouldn’t want to lock him up. And Bates, even while saying he doesn’t want to be tagged, has been consistent in saying he wants to stay where he’s at, and helping the Bengals keep building.
Of course, it won’t be cheap, and no one can snap their fingers and make a deal happen. Bates’s agent, David Mulugheta, has a really good track record at the position, having negotiated a number of the biggest safety deals in NFL history (Kevin Byard, Earl Thomas, Landon Collins) with more young guys in the pipeline (Derwin James). So, sure, I think Bates will be a Bengal in 2022. The rest is less certain.
From Ronan Summers (@ronan_summers): Advice for an aspiring NFL journalist?
Ronan, the best advice I can give anyone going into journalism and wanting to cover the NFL is just to be willing to do what others aren’t. Lots of people want to work in sports, and this goes for entertainment too, which means the jobs on the low end are often going to pay less and ask you to work more. And the nature of covering sports—since the games are always when other people aren’t working—is that you’ll be working nights and weekends.
When I first started covering the NFL in 2005 for the MetroWest Daily News, I got the Patriots beat contingent on the rest of my work, covering high schools and helping to put the paper out every night, didn’t slip. More or less, that meant covering Bill Belichick’s team on my own time. So I had to make a decision. I could show up once a week and for games, like some people covering the team did. Or I could be there every day, despite all my other responsibilities, like the reporters at the bigger papers did.
I chose the latter, and it was pretty tough doing it that way for two years, but I’d seen Mike Reiss, my predecessor there (he’s now at ESPN), do it that way. It paid off for him, and it would for me too, and not just with my next job at the Dallas Morning News, but in figuring out what it would take to really be any good at it. And getting to cover just pro football after that seemed a lot easier than maybe it would’ve otherwise.
From N/A (@lonzo_69): Will the Patriots place the franchise tag on J.C if they can’t get a deal done?
Not Available, I’ll be interested to see how the scars from the Joe Thuney situation linger over this one. For those who don’t know: Thuney was among the best guards in football by the end of his rookie deal. He was set to become a free agent in March of 2020, at which point the Patriots tagged him at $14.78 million. With Thuney’s value sky high, and fellow veteran guard Shaq Mason already on a lucrative long-term deal, the Patriots decided to let Thuney play that year on the tag, then let him go in 2021.
They’ll likely get a third-round comp pick for him in this year’s draft. But looking at it now, was all of that worth it? They gave Thuney a massive lump-sum payment in a de facto rebuilding year, then went through 2021 without him, or the player (or players) they’ll eventually get in return via that comp pick. Meanwhile, Mason wasn’t, and isn’t the player Thuney is. Which raises two questions. The first is whether they paid the wrong guard. The second is whether they’d have been better off just trading him on the tag in 2020.
That brings us to J.C. Jackson who, unlike Thuney, happens to play a premium position. To be sure, the Patriots could choose to pay Jackson. But it’d be pricey—even if you don’t see him as a top corner, guys who make it to the market at that position pretty much always get paid. Byron Jones is a great example of that. So if the Patriots aren’t willing to go to, say, $18-20 million per for him, and they do decide to tag him, it’s worth considering a trade.
The alternative would be the potential of a disgruntled player protecting himself from injury in a lame-duck year, then having to wait until 2024 for a comp pick. Which would’ve been the concern on Thuney two years ago. We’ll see if that one affects how the Patriots do business on this one.
From Teppers Fake Brass Balls (@ATh2o88): What is your prediction on what the Panthers do at the QB position this offseason? And will it be enough to save Rhule’s job this fall?
That’s a colorful name you’ve got there, Tepper. And I actually do think the Panthers owner, David Tepper, may have had an inadvertent impact on Carolina’s position with this offseason’s available quarterbacks.
Tepper still hasn’t publicly backed Matt Rhule. My feeling is that it hurt Carolina in its ability to hire staff, for the same reason it could hurt the team with quarterbacks—a lack of certainty regarding where the team will be a year from now necessarily means less stability for everyone involved. Now, maybe even if Tepper were to say something, it wouldn’t have made a difference with assistant coaches and won’t with a quarterback. But the silence certainly didn’t help with the former and won’t help with the latter.
That’s why my feeling is the Panthers will probably wind up with a quarterback who sees opportunity in Charlotte to fight for his viability as an NFL starter. Which is to say my guess is it winds up being someone like Jimmy Garoppolo.
From Comedian (@Comedian_Watch): Are you over the cryptic social media post by NFL players?
Comedian, yes, to a degree, I think reading into what someone’s trying to say in such cryptic messages can be dangerous. But I think these things happen by accident—when Kyler Murray pulled all signs of his connection to the Cardinals off his Instagram page, really, that couldn’t have just been some social-media cleanse. I say that mostly because I think Murray is social media–savvy enough to understand.
For better or worse, this is how that generation of player communicates. I got on Twitter, reluctantly, and for work, in the summer of 2009 (not knowing the full-blown addict I’d become). Murray turned 12 that August. Kayvon Thibodeaux was 8 then. So this sort of stuff isn’t something these guys have had to adjust to. It’s what they grew up with. Bottom line: Most of them know exactly what they’re doing with this stuff.
From D Dub (@DanielW8080): Cousins where is he playing next year?
D, we’ve been over this a few times now, but I really do feel like Kevin O’Connell is going to stick with Kirk Cousins in the short term. The two know each other well, O’Connell having coached Cousins in Cousins’s final year in Washington. And I don’t think that Minnesota is awash in options right now.
So would they be open to an upgrade? Sure, if it made sense. But for now, you could do worse than to have a quarterback who’s spent the better part of the last seven seasons as an entrenched starter and has deep background in your system as you set up a new program.
From Cuse Kyle (@kylecuse315): What’s going on with the Jaguars front office? Shad Khan said they were hiring an EVP and possibility more, but there’s been no movement since.
From Richard Ito (@rich_ito): What’s going on with the Jaguars front office restructure? A month ago it was reported a deal with Rick Spielman was close. Now it’s been complete silence.
Kyle and Richard, I think that’s still on the table—but it does feel to me like the waters have calmed on GM Trent Baalke. And I say that based on Doug Pederson really wanting to give Baalke a chance and put together a real partnership.
We touched on that in the MMQB column this week with Pederson, and he discussed Baalke specifically, and what he’s learned about the GM/coach relationship in general there.
As for how this sets up if/when owner Shad Khan does wind up hiring an executive vice president into the Tom Coughlin role, my sense is that the Rick Spielman-type would be hired to manage the coaching/scouting dynamic and lead the football operation day-to-day. And if Baalke were to remain for more than the short term in that arrangement, having things constructed that way would allow for Baalke to focus more on scouting.
From Joey Bag of Donuts (@joeybagovdonuts): If Mason Rudolph ends up being Steelers starting quarterback this year, how bad will they be?
I don’t think that’d be an ideal situation, Joey.
From Jerrad Wyche (@JerradWyche): Despite the weaker QB class in the 2022 draft, how much will teams weigh taking ‘their guy’ in the first round due to the bonus of having the 5th-year option at their disposal?
Jerrad, that’s often a factor—and it was absolutely a reason for the Vikings in 2014 (Teddy Bridgewater), Broncos in 2016 (Paxton Lynch) and Ravens in 2018 (Lamar Jackson) to trade back into the bottom of the first round to get their presumed quarterbacks of the future. And in the one of those three situations that really worked out, the Ravens are now reaping the benefits of moving up for Jackson. Had the Ravens gotten Jackson one pick later, his contract would be up now.
And sure, maybe this is mitigated a little bit by the fact that those options are fully guaranteed now. But after three years, you should have a good idea on where you stand with your young quarterback. Undeniably, in that spot, having the ability to tack an extra year on his contract is a nice thing for a team to have in its back pocket.
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