Another week, more quarterback drama in the NFL.
Russell Wilson didn’t request a trade, but his agent went on the record with ESPN and listed the Cowboys, Raiders, Saints, and Bears as his only acceptable destinations (Wilson has a full no-trade clause). On Thursday, the same day Deshaun Watson sent out a tweet saying, “Loyalty is everything. Don’t you EVER forget it,” reports emerged that Watson had spoken with new Texans coach David Culley and reiterated he wants out of Houston.
Wilson and Watson are just two quarterbacks who are going to dominate the news over the next several months. About half the league is in the mix for a quarterback in one shape or form.
Let’s take a look at what’s going on, with some insight provided by multiple agents connected to the QB market and one AFC executive:
▪ The Texans are dug in and refusing to listen to offers for Watson, which is making his camp all the more frustrated. If Watson is serious about sitting out, he’d incur more than $14 million in fines and lost wages, he’d have to pay back $5.4 million of his signing bonus, and his contract would toll a year.
The Panthers and Broncos want to make the biggest splash at quarterback, but don’t necessarily have the assets (and I doubt Watson is thrilled about Charlotte). The Dolphins and Jets do have the assets, with the Dolphins making the most sense.
I have no problem with a player trying to take control of his career and work his way out of a bad situation. But Watson had better be careful not to sour his reputation. Multiple sources noted a bit of hypocrisy with Watson’s “loyalty” tweet. Where is Watson’s loyalty to the Texans after signing a massive contract extension just five months ago?
▪ As for Wilson, a trade this offseason doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for Seattle. It would leave the Seahawks with a whopping $39 million dead salary cap hit, compared with $32 million with him on the team. Plus, they would still need a quarterback. A trade in 2022 is far more realistic.
The only semi-plausible scenario is to do a post-June 1 trade (which would give the Seahawks $13 million in dead cap in 2021 and $26 million in 2022) with the Cowboys for Dak Prescott or the Raiders for Derek Carr. The Saints and Bears don’t have anyone they could offer back to the Seahawks, and frankly, I have no idea why the Bears are even on Wilson’s list. That team is a mess and Chicago is where quarterbacks go to die.
▪ Ben Roethlisberger had a face-to-face meeting with Steelers president Art Rooney this past week, and agent Ryan Tollner told NFL Network, “They want Ben back and will contact me soon to address his cap situation.”
But it’s interesting that they still don’t have a contract done. It shouldn’t be too difficult. All they have to do is give him a new contract with void years, convert most of his $19 million salary to signing bonus, and they can create nearly $13.5 million in cap space. The fact that they left the meeting without a contract suggests it’s not set in stone that Roethlisberger will be back, or perhaps they are squabbling over dollars.
▪ Bill Belichick’s praise for Cam Newton throughout the 2020 season wasn’t an act. Multiple sources who have spoken with Belichick this offseason said he does nothing but rave about Newton and the effort the quarterback put forth in 2020. The only problem Belichick is concerned with is Newton’s arm strength, with Newton having suffered multiple shoulder injuries in the last five years. In 2019, Newton acknowledged on his YouTube channel that his injuries sapped his ability to throw downfield.
But Belichick did seem to genuinely enjoy coaching Newton, and multiple sources said they would not be surprised to see Newton back with the Patriots, especially if he’s willing to take another cheap contract (though probably not minimum salary again). But everyone also expects the Patriots to draft a quarterback in the first few rounds.
There’s also a chance Brian Hoyer could return in a mentor role. That would put Jarrett Stidham squarely on the hot seat.
▪ Two quarterbacks not getting talked about much: Teddy Bridgewater and Jacoby Brissett. The Panthers want to do something bold at quarterback, and will likely move on from Bridgewater. He has a $17 million base salary ($10 million fully guaranteed) and $1 million in workout and per-game bonuses. It’s doubtful a team will want him for $18 million, but I could see a warm-weather or dome team (maybe the 49ers, Saints, Dolphins, or Falcons) bringing him in as a backup for $10 million. Or the Panthers may just have to eat their guarantee and cut him (with offsets).
Brissett, a free agent, should be coveted for a backup role. The Broncos, Steelers, 49ers, Eagles, Bears, and Saints are all looking for quality backups, though the Steelers, Eagles, and Saints are hampered by tight salary cap situations. The Eagles just brought Nick Sirianni and several assistant coaches over from Indianapolis, and could be a good fit for Brissett behind Jalen Hurts.
Never say never, but I wouldn’t count on Brissett coming back to New England. He didn’t quite click with Belichick and Josh McDaniels the first time.
▪ The Broncos are a wild card. At minimum, they will bring in a veteran to push Drew Lock. At maximum, they will give up the farm for Watson. They have a good roster but have not had a QB for five years. Watch out for the Broncos.
▪ Even though 49ers general manager John Lynch said he has “no doubt” that Jimmy Garoppolo will be his quarterback next season, many around the league still expect Garoppolo to be available. But I think the 49ers would have to be bowled over by a trade offer, and they won’t just cut Garoppolo, who is 24-9 with a Super Bowl appearance with San Francisco. But given his injury history, the 49ers at minimum have to improve their backup situation.
▪ Two sources said Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have started talking about a contract extension, but the sides are far apart. One problem for Jackson is that he still has two years left on his deal and is only making $1.77 million in 2021.
▪ Drew Brees hasn’t announced his retirement yet, which raises questions about whether the Saints and Brees are on the same page. But assuming he retires, the cap-strapped Saints may just sit tight with Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, who is a free agent but should be fairly cheap. One source predicted the Saints will start the season with Hill, and if he doesn’t work out, they can return him to the super utility role and go with Winston. If Winston has a higher market than expected, the Saints can perhaps turn to Brissett, Bridgewater, or Ryan Fitzpatrick as the veteran backup.
▪ The Bears’ situation is tough to predict, with the coach and GM squarely on the hot seat and the roster in transition. The most likely scenario is for them to roll with Nick Foles, and either sign a veteran backup or draft a mid-round rookie. It’s also tough to project a landing spot for Mitchell Trubisky, though certainly the Patriots make sense if he’s willing to take an incentive-laden contract.
IN BRADY THEY TRUST
Buccaneers in no rush to see him leave
A few notes on Tom Brady:
▪ Buccaneers GM Jason Licht declined to say whether the team is talking with Brady about a contract extension — Brady is signed for one more year at $25 million, same as last year — but Licht did say this:
“We would love to have Tom play here — I could speak for [coach] Bruce [Arians], I think — as long as he continues to want to play. If that comes to fruition at some point, then we’d be elated.”
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
▪ Meanwhile, there’s really no reason for the Buccaneers to give Brady a contract extension considering the way they do business. The Buccaneers are unlike most teams in that they have a “pay-as-you-go” approach to the salary cap. Instead of giving signing bonuses that push cap money into the future, they give their top players fully guaranteed base salaries. This ensures the team never has too much dead salary cap money.
Tampa Bay could give Brady a contract extension to lower his cap number from $28 million, but Brady is operating year to year at this point, and there’s no reason to push money into 2022 and beyond if he might not be with the team. It’s certainly not unreasonable to expect Brady to play in 2022, but the Buccaneers have enough ways to create cap space without pushing Brady money into the future. They can sign him to a new two-year contract next offseason.
▪ Multiple reports emerged after the Super Bowl that Brady needed a “little cleanup” surgery on his left knee. But Arians said Wednesday that Brady won’t be ready to participate in a 7-on-7 practice until June.
“I’m hoping we have an offseason for the younger players. Tom doesn’t need it,” Arians said. “He doesn’t have to be out there throwing it anymore. He can be standing there coaching the [expletive] out of them.”
A four-month recovery sure doesn’t sound like a “cleanup” procedure. One of Brady’s friends told me after the Super Bowl that Brady’s knee was more injured than people realized. “When it comes out, all this does is build his legend even greater,” the friend said.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY
These guys didn’t just sit on sideline
Some notes on the final snap count numbers for the 2020 season, per information provided by the NFL Players Association:
▪ On offense, 24 players across the league played in 100 percent of the snaps. Only one wasn’t an offensive lineman: Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Texans QB Deshaun Watson missed just one snap all season.
▪ Chargers guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney led offensive players with 1,173 snaps (100 percent of their team’s snaps). Cowboys guard Connor Williams was second, playing 1,144 of 1,145.
▪ Also on the 100 percent list: Dolphins center — and former Patriot — Ted Karras.
▪ Only four offensive skill players played in 90 percent of snaps: Washington TE Logan Thomas (92.65 percent), Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins (92.3), Seahawks WR DK Metcalf (92.02), and Raiders TE Darren Waller (91.68).
▪ Guard Joe Thuney led the Patriots’ offense (979 of 1011 snaps, 96.83 percent), followed by OT Mike Onwenu (91.59), WR Damiere Byrd (89.12), QB Cam Newton (86.65), and G Shaq Mason (77.35).
▪ On defense, only four players, all safeties, appeared in 100 percent of snaps: the Bengals’ Vonn Bell, the Vikings’ Anthony Harris, the Rams’ John Johnson, and the Broncos’ Justin Simmons. Jets safety Marcus Maye missed one snap all season, and Ravens safety Chuck Clark only missed two.
▪ Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner played the most defensive snaps (1,141 of 1,151) and joined five others in the 1,100-snap club: Jets LB Neville Hewitt, Jaguars LB Joe Schobert, Titans S Kevin Byard, Lions S Duron Harmon, and Maye.
▪ Only five defensive linemen participated in 80 percent of the snaps: Texans DE J.J. Watt (91.51), Buccaneers DE Jason Pierre-Paul (88.71), Rams DT Aaron Donald (84.47), Washington DT Daron Payne (84.29), and Raiders DE Maxx Crosby (83.1).
▪ Devin McCourty led the Patriots’ defense (94.49 percent, 960 of 1016), followed by CB J.C. Jackson (83.76), S Adrian Phillips (73.43), CB Jonathan Jones (71.65), and LB John Simon (69).
▪ On special teams, Jaguars CB Brandon Rusnak led the league with 84.97 percent of snaps. He was followed by Patriots CB Justin Bethel (84.1), Lions LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (83.75), Patriots WR Matthew Slater (83.59) and Bears LB Barkevious Mingo (82.14).
▪ Lions S Miles Killebrew (354), Buccaneers CB Ryan Smith (359), and Bethel (328) were the only players to appear in 300 special teams snaps and zero snaps on offense or defense (Slater only had five on offense).
The pre-draft process is much different this year, with the Combine and most All-Star games canceled, face-to-face interaction not allowed at college Pro Days, and all prospect interviews done virtually. New Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler highlighted this dynamic as the toughest part of not having the Combine. “You’re not able to get the read maybe on players that you would normally have, or the side conversations you would have with players throughout the week,” Ziegler told the Patriots’ website. When also factoring the truncated college football season, one agent told me, “I wouldn’t want to be a team that needs a quarterback in the draft this year,” given how little information the teams will have on the prospects. How, for example, are teams supposed to get a good read on North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, who has played in just one football game since December 2019? … Organized team activities as we knew them are probably history. Both commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFLPA said this past week that the offseason program will likely be virtual again, and the players are happy to be able to work out on their own … The Patriots haven’t produced a great first-round draft pick since 2012, and Bill Belichick has taken plenty of heat for his team’s poor drafting over the past five years. But are the Patriots better drafters than given credit for? Using a metric called “approximate value,” the think tank The 33rdTeam ranks the Patriots 17th since 2015 on a per-pick basis, and 13th in weighted value. The Patriots have found solid mid-round players in Shaq Mason, Trey Flowers, Ted Karras, Deatrich Wise, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Chase Winovich, Damien Harris, and Jake Bailey … J.J. Watt is reportedly down to the Packers, Bills, and Titans as his three choices. We don’t know if Watt wants to avoid the Texans or wants to play against them, but the Titans will have a home-and-home against the Texans in 2021, the Bills will play the Texans in Buffalo, and the Packers won’t play them at all … Lions special assistant Chris Spielman said this past week that owner Sheila Ford Hamp has been sitting in on personnel meetings with GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell, along with Spielman. That’s not exactly giving the new guys the breathing room they need to establish themselves on the job … NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has long portrayed himself as someone who isn’t afraid to scrap with Goodell and the owners. But a fascinating profile by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta portrayed Smith as a patsy for the owners who is more concerned with preserving his own power with the union. One longtime owner said, “If we could, every owner would build a statue to De outside their stadiums. That’s how good he’s been for our business.”