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Mailbag: Do the Packers and Chiefs Go After Other Top Wide Receiver Talent?

Could either team make a move for A.J. Brown or DK Metcalf? Plus, Baker Mayfield’s prospects, Brady’s future, Davis Mills’s potential and more.

WEST PALM BEACH-TO-BOSTON—First in-person March owner’s meeting in three years is in the books, and we’ve got plenty to get to coming out of it …

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From Shaun Ferguson (@ShaunFerg02): With the Packers and Chiefs looking to acquire a WR who could be some names on the move? And what would it cost for the big name guys A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, etc.?

Shaun, first things first—I think that Kansas City, with Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling aboard, will be looking more towards the draft for receiver help from here on out, and a deep class should give the Chiefs options (a partial-season redshirt for Jameson Williams might make sense for them in the first round). The Packers may be more likely to acquire a vet, given their need, but I don’t think it’s a certainty there either.

In the case of both guys you mentioned, I understand each is there because he’s going into the final year of a rookie contract. That said, I think their availability would happen because their price tags were too rich for their teams, which means, of course, there’d be a significant cash investment in any one of them, in addition to what you’d have to give up in draft picks. Which would mean, for both teams, you’d sort of be spinning your wheels after spinning off a star earlier in the offseason.

Anyway, I think Brown stays in Tennessee. I’m less sold on Metcalf staying in Seattle, but I’d guess the Seahawks try to get something done with him before a trade would even become a consideration. I guess for the same reasons you named Brown and Metcalf, you could throw Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin in there too, in case their contract situations go sideways between now and the season (and for right now, we don’t have any reason to think that’ll wind up happening.)

From Richard Gonos (@thebiggoocher): Does Baker start week 1 in the NFL?

Richard, I doubt it. Baker Mayfield’s seen as a bottom-half-of-the-league starter, and his price is such ($18.858 million) where you’d have to have a clear opening for him to consider giving him that. His problem lies therein—some teams would be willing to bring him into compete for a job, but no one wants to take on his financials without knowing he’ll be their starter.

That makes, to me, the likely conclusion that the Browns eat some salary and move him for a third-day pick. I don’t think the Lions will want him, and I don’t think Panthers will either. Seattle’s one team I could see making a play for him, if the money’s taken care of, with the idea being that he’d compete with Drew Lock for the job there.

Where else? I don’t know.

From Yuan Wang (@yuanwangs): Did Brady ask the Glazers for an out this year? And is this the reason he hasn't signed an extension with the team?

Yuan, I don’t know if Tom Brady asked them for an out or not. But I don’t think he’ll sign something that ties him to the Buccaneers past this year. My feeling is he’ll want his options open for 2023, and his age 46 season. Will he play then? I don’t know that it’s very likely. I just know only a moron would rule it out.

Hell, I think Brady himself would say that.

Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) runs with the ball as Tennessee Titans defensive end Jeffery Simmons (98) attempts to make a tackle during the first quarter at NRG Stadium.

From Joe Alan Coe (@JoeAlanCoe1): The Houston fan base is split right down the middle over Davis Mills. With many people obviously upset about Watson leaving I think the fanbase is too close to the situation to be objective. What is the sense around the rest of the league and fans in general about Mills?

I view Mills a little like I see Jalen Hurts. Am I sold that he’ll be his team’s quarterback in five years? I couldn’t tell you if he’ll be the guy in two years. But 23-year-olds like Hurts and Mills aren’t finished products, both have shown promise to be more than they already are and at the very least, each makes it so there’s no need for their teams to take a wild swing at a quarterback or overdraft one in the first round.

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I’ll also say this, on Mills: There are teams that would take him right now over any quarterback in this year’s draft class. Which only underscores the importance of the previous point. If the Texans have a quarterback of the same level of, say, Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis, without having to make the same sort of commitment to him (you aren’t usually won’t invest in another QB for a while after taking one in the first round), then that’s a pretty massive win from a flexibility standpoint.

Houston has Mills under contract for the next three years, so this isn’t an unending edge that they’ll have. But for now, it’ll allow them to fill out the rest of their roster armed with the Deshaun Watson draft-pick bounty, be patient in looking for the long-term answer at quarterback, and if Mills becomes that, even better.

From Veera (@Houstonfootbal3): AB- Why is there so much indecision among analysts and draft gurus on the ranking among edge rushers this year? (2) Is the national media narrative on the Texans softening after 2 years of criticism?

Veera, it’s mostly because of what you’ve probably already heard—there’s no Myles Garrett in this year’s group. All of them have holes. Aidan Hutchinson isn’t seen to have the ceiling that the truly elite edge rushers do (although he wound up testing really well, and obviously was hyper-productive as a collegian), Kayvon Thibodeaux is smallish and has a different type of personality, and Travon Walker is more traits than track record, for now.

Then there’s Jermaine Johnson and David Ojabo, and you get the picture. There’s been, and will continue to be, disagreement in how the players should be stacked. And that means the trick for the Jaguars and Lions and Texans is figuring out if there’s a great one in a group that looks, on the surface, to be pretty balanced.

As for the national media narrative on the Texans, that organization painted itself in that corner. Cal McNair and Jack Easterby are reaping what they’ve sown in that regard. But this is setting up to be a page-turning type of offseason for the team, with 11 picks overall, and six of the top 110, in April’s draft, and if you look closely at just the football decisions that second-year GM Nick Caserio has made, there’s definitely some promise there.

From Swift Cutz (@Swift32Cutz): Are there any players that the #Lions are high on at pick #2? Who seems to be the favorite, assuming Hutchinson goes #1? Is a trade back from #2 a realistic option in this years draft?

Swift, I wish I could help on that—I’m a little ways away from getting a good bead on the direction teams are planning to take in the first round. Teams are too. Pro days are still ongoing, and it’s not until the draft meetings thereafter that plans start to crystallize and the NFL’s pre-draft information reservoir starts to fill up.

What I can start to do, though, is project fits, and it’s not hard to know what Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes like. Hutchinson is an obvious one, and not because he could Uber to the team facility from the house he grew up in. The Michigan star checks just about every intangible box in what this Lions regime is looking for. Thibodeaux, as I see it, doesn’t. Like Hutchinson, Walker’s playing style, and motor, make him a fit.

Or at least that’s the way I see it, with a month left until draft day.

Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis during the NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center.

From Rodney In Detroit (@in_rodney): Should the Detroit Lions draft QB Malik Willis No. 2 and sit him for a season?

Rodney, the Lions are a team that’s been connected to Willis, and if they see him as a potential 15-year starter at the position, they absolutely, positively should consider the possibility of drafting him second overall.

What they shouldn’t do is just take a quarterback to take one (see: Minnesota, 2011; Buffalo, 2013), because that’s where teams get themselves in trouble. And so it’s on Holmes and his staff, and Campbell and his, to determine not just whether or not Willis can be a good NFL quarterback, but good enough to compete with the guys like Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes over the next decade or so.

If you don’t think he is (and that doesn’t mean he has to be better than those guys, just able to run with him), then you can’t draft him that high. If you think he is, it’d be hard not to.

From Greg (@panther1gb89): Panthers aren’t going with Darnold again…right?!

Greg, Carolina’s in a tough place with Sam Darnold. They owe him $18.858 million, and every penny is fully guaranteed. He didn’t do much last year, either on the field or in his ability to merely stay on it, to engender confidence. And that means it’ll be impossible (I think) to trade him, and even cutting him won’t do much good since that would green light other teams to pay him the minimum and let Carolina pick up the rest of the tab.

That’s why it seems like, at least for now, the Panthers’ best path forward is to keep him on the roster, and keep hope alive that he can make a difference. Maybe at some point over the next couple months, they bring in Jimmy Garoppolo, and Darnold becomes the guy to hold the fort down while Garoppolo’s getting healthy. Maybe the Panthers draft one and he winds up the placeholder. Maybe they find a veteran to compete for the job with him.

Obviously, that isn’t the best use of the $18.858 million Darnold is due. But it’s where the Panthers are right now.

From Slarko (@Slarko): Think Carr can win us division this year?

Slarko, the Raiders were two games off the Chiefs’ pace last year and added arguably the NFL’s best receiver (Davante Adams) and one of its premier pass rushers (Chandler Jones). The team was in the playoffs last year, and got there with a talented young core headed by guys like Hunter Renfrow, Brian Edwards, Kolton Miller, Maxx Crosby, Andre James and Trevon Moehrig. So Derek Carr should have the resources and the scheme playing for Josh McDaniels to help the Raiders take the next step.

The big question is the obvious one. In the league’s most competitive division, is what Vegas did quite enough? The Broncos got Russell Wilson, then Randy Gregory. The Colts added Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson. The Chiefs, even without Tyreek Hill, are still the Chiefs.

That’s why I’m going to need some time to let the happenings of the offseason in that division marinate, before I make any declarations on what’ll happen inside of it.

From Justin Perry (@justinperr): Podcast coming back?

Justin, I hope so. Stay tuned!

Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) scrambles for a first down in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.

From Travis Spees (@Travis_Spees): What is Jordan Love's future?

Travis, the position the Packers are in with Love right now is fascinating. This year, it makes all the sense in the world for Green Bay to keep Love around—there’s nothing keeping Aaron Rodgers from retiring after the 2022 season. I don’t think he will. But I wouldn’t rule it out either, which means keeping a talented young quarterback on hand for 2023 just in case is smart business.

Where things get complicated will be if Rodgers sticks around for 2023. After next year, the Packers have to make a decision on Love’s fifth-year option for 2024, and that number figures to be at least $20 million, and will be fully-guaranteed at execution. We’ve seen what mistakes with those options have done to Cleveland and Carolina, so it seems pretty unlikely Green Bay would pulling the trigger on it for Love if there still wasn’t a clear path for him to get to the starting job.

That’s where I’d see the opening for the Packers to trade him, between the end of next season and the 2023 draft, so the decision on the fifth-year option is someone else’s, particularly since Rodgers’s guaranteed money runs through the 2024 season. Unless, of course, someone comes along with something unexpected before then (I don’t really see it happening).

From Daniel Opatka (@dopatka): What is your take on the Browns ownership getting a “cold shoulder” at league meetings? How will the Watson contract really impact future guaranteed contracts?

Daniel, I expected they would, and you could definitely hear a little edge in their comments about the Haslams doing what they did. But when it comes to getting angry at one another, there definitely were other subjects (specifically the St. Louis/Rams lawsuit) that led to far more contentious moments among the group of owners.

As for how the Watson deal affects other deals, I personally think that’s up to what happens with the next handful of quarterback contracts. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is up next, with Denver’s Russell Wilson expected to get re-upped, too, probably after next season, and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert both eligible for contracts starting in early 2023. If those guys get fully-guaranteed deals, at least with quarterbacks, we’re never looking back. If they don’t, then the contractual status quo is maintained.

It really is that simple, similar to how it was after Kirk Cousins landed his fully-guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal in 2018. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan followed that spring, and Aaron Rodgers that summer, with contracts that were richer than Cousins’s but lacked the unique structure he got from the Vikings. Which, of course, set the standard for contracts that came in 2019 (Wilson, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff).

From Brian Pelo (@Brian_Pelo): Do you see the Pats hanging onto N’Keal Harry this year, or do you think they try and move him during the draft?

Brian, Harry’s been available for quite some time. His value is, well, just about zero. He’s on the roster bubble, and he was last year, too. He’s making $1.87 million this year, the last year of his rookie deal, is still just 24, is 6’4”, 225 pounds, and did go in the first round, so it’s not like there was never potential there. But he had 12 catches in 12 games last year, and has less than 600 receiving yards for his career.

So he can be had. How aggressive the Patriots are about getting him off the roster could hinge on how the draft goes for him.

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