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Sunday football notes

NFL offseason was supposed to produce QB fireworks — Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray — but it’s been a dud

Aaron Rodgers is expected to re-sign with the Packers.Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky, both former No. 2 overall draft picks, were afterthoughts in 2021. Trubisky threw eight passes backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo, and Mariota threw just two passes backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas.

Yet after talking to league sources at the NFL Combine, Mariota and Trubisky have a chance to be a Week 1 starter in 2022.

That’s not a sign of how much the quarterbacks have improved. It’s a sign of how shaky the NFL’s quarterback market is in 2022.

This offseason was supposed to produce fireworks. Aaron Rodgers! Russell Wilson! Deshaun Watson! Kyler Murray!


Instead, with free agency set to begin March 16 at 4 p.m., the QB market is looking like a giant dud.

The top names look like they are returning to their teams. Watson and, suddenly, Jimmy Garoppolo, are shrouded in uncertainty. And this year’s draft class is shaping up to be one of the worst of the last decade. Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett might be the only first-round pick, and NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has him ranked as the 28th-best prospect.

Six teams — the Commanders, Broncos, Panthers, Steelers, Saints, and Buccaneers — don’t have a starting-caliber quarterback on their rosters. The Colts, Texans, Lions, and Falcons are also looking for long-term solutions.

“No stone unturned to find that guy,” Broncos GM George Paton said.

Yet the pickings are suddenly quite slim:

▪ Rodgers, supposed to be the prized jewel of this offseason, is expected to sign a new deal with the Packers. Rodgers and the Packers have had their squabbles, but it was tough to find anyone at the Combine who believed Rodgers will be leaving Green Bay.

▪ Wilson appears to be staying in Seattle for at least another year, as he and Pete Carroll reiterated several times last week they will be back in 2022. Carroll, it must be noted, left the door slightly cracked when he said, “We have no intention of making any move there.” Intentions, of course, can always change. But it still would be a major surprise if Wilson is traded this year, as he has not made any noise about wanting out.


Kyler Murray's back and forth with the Cardinals has been very public after a disappointing end to the season.Ronald Martinez/Getty

▪ Murray let his discontent be known first by removing all Cardinals references from his social media account, then last week with his agent, Erik Burkhardt, releasing a lengthy statement about the Cardinals needing to commit to Murray with a new contract.

Murray and Burkhardt are making noise because they know they have little leverage. Murray might not hit free agency for another four years, with two years and $34 million still left on his deal, then the potential for two straight franchise tags.

The Cardinals have zero intention of moving Murray, and Burkhardt also represents coach Kliff Kingsbury, who just signed a contract extension.

▪ Watson would be another prized jewel, and he still may be. But his legal situation won’t be clarified until at least April 1, when a grand jury is supposed to determine if criminal charges will be filed over the 22 massage therapists who are suing Watson for sexual assault. And the NFL still has to decide whether Watson is going to be suspended, even if charges aren’t filed. The Texans and Watson remain in a holding pattern, and if the law and/or NFL come down hard on Watson, he may have to sit for a while longer.


▪ Garoppolo was supposed to be the surest bet this offseason. He’s an upgrade for most teams, only 30, and has been to a Super Bowl and NFC Championship within the last three years.

But now the 49ers may have to hold onto Garoppolo for a while after he decided last week to have surgery on his throwing shoulder, which will prevent him from throwing until late June or early July, according to GM John Lynch. Not being able to practice this spring will give teams pause about bringing in Garoppolo as their starter. And this latest injury certainly doesn’t help Garoppolo’s reputation as being brittle.

“Right now, Jimmy G is untradeable until he has his surgery, until they know what’s really going on [with his shoulder injury],” said former Chargers team physician David Chao.

▪ Then we get to the draft. This could be the first year since 2013 with only one quarterback going in the first round, and Pickett is no sure-thing prospect. Last year, when five quarterbacks went in the top 15 picks, Pickett might have been a second-round pick.

Lynch confirmed that one reason the 49ers made such an aggressive move to get Trey Lance at No. 3 last season — trading two future first-round picks, and more — was because the 2022 class looked so shaky.

Lance is “more talented than any quarterback in this draft class coming out, and I don’t even think it’s particularly close,” Jeremiah said. “I think he would have been the first pick in this draft.”



Free agent market is thin, too

The Colts are facing a real dilemma with quarterback Carson Wentz.Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

The dearth of high-end options leaves teams scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel, and giving a second chance to quarterbacks who otherwise were on shaky ground.

▪ Falcons GM Terry Fontenot refused to name Matt Ryan his starter, and coach Arthur Smith openly acknowledged the Falcons will listen to trade offers. Ryan has an unwieldy $48.66 million salary cap number, and the Falcons have the No. 8 pick, and could conceivably draft Pickett. The Falcons could save $8.1 million in cap space with a trade before the draft, but nearly $24 million with a trade after June 1.

But a few problems: Will another team want a 37-year-old Ryan, whose performance has been on the decline, for a salary of $23.75 million? Will a team be willing to wait until after June 1 to add its QB? And is Pickett ready to start in Week 1? The Falcons may have to sign a low-cost veteran in that case.

▪ The Colts don’t seem to want to move forward with Carson Wentz, but do they have a choice? He has $15 million fully guaranteed, and it’s hard seeing a better option, unless they go all-in for Watson.

Owner Jim Irsay would deserve a lot of credit if he releases Wentz — $15 million and a first-round pick is a lot to swallow. But for all the talk about the Colts getting rid of Wentz, it’s noteworthy he was throwing with Colts receivers on the West Coast last week, then was back in Indianapolis to meet with his coach and GM. And when asked about Wentz last week, coach Frank Reich defended Wentz and pointed out his improved interception rate last season. It’s also possible talk about releasing Wentz is about getting him to take a pay cut.


“I stuck my neck out for him, so last year I was a big part of that decision to get him here,” Reich said. “I still believe in the person, and I still believe in the player.”

▪ The same logic applies in Cleveland. The Browns would love to get an upgrade, but Baker Mayfield has $18.86 million fully guaranteed this year, and an obvious upgrade probably isn’t available, so the Browns already have told Mayfield he is their QB in 2022. The Panthers also may get stuck with Sam Darnold and his $18.86 million fully guaranteed salary, though they have shown that money is no object.

▪ Trubisky, who turns 28 in August, may get some real action in free agency. He never lived up to expectations in Chicago, but he has an impressive starting record (25-13 over his last three seasons with the Bears), a decent 64-38 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and spent last year learning from Brian Daboll and Allen in Buffalo. Trubisky should get a contract heavy in incentives and a shot to start Week 1 somewhere.

Former Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky should draw plenty of interest this offseason.Bruce Kluckhohn

“If you look at his career history in Chicago, they went to the playoffs, they won a lot of games,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said. “I got nothing but positive things for him, and I feel sure he’s going to get a good opportunity to at least compete for a starting job this year.”

▪ Mariota could get a similar opportunity, and makes some sense for the Broncos. In 2018 he had a decent season in Tennessee with offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, who is now the Packers’ head coach. The Broncos’ head coach is now Nathaniel Hackett, who was LaFleur’s offensive coordinator the past three years and will run a similar offense in Denver.

▪ The Buccaneers may stand pat with Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask, believe it or not. Part of that entails leaving on the light in case Tom Brady decides he wants to come back (though it doesn’t seem likely he wants to play for Tampa Bay again). But the QB market is so weak that the Bucs may as well give Trask, last year’s second-round pick, a chance to beat out Gabbert and show what he’s got.

“We drafted Kyle Trask for a reason,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said. “He fits everything we want to do.”

▪ As for the other free agents, Teddy Bridgewater has been dumped by the Panthers and Broncos the past two seasons, but still could get another seat-holder opportunity, potentially in New Orleans. Jameis Winston, coming off a torn ACL, still should find an opportunity to compete. Tyrod Taylor should still get a backup opportunity. So should Jacoby Brissett. Cam Newton and Ryan Fitzpatrick also are available.


A kick in the butt for Bengals’ McPherson

Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (right) seems to have caught some locker room flak for staying on the sideline during the Super Bowl halftime show.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The Bengals certainly would not have reached the Super Bowl this season without the contributions from rookie kicker Evan McPherson. He kicked five game-winning, walkoff field goals, including two in the playoffs. He was a perfect 14 for 14 in the postseason, and for the season set an NFL record with 12 field goals of 50-plus yards.

So you’d think the Bengals might cut McPherson a little slack for staying on the sideline during the Super Bowl halftime show.

You’d be wrong.

“That’s a sore subject,” Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said last week, via The Athletic. “That’s a real sore subject.”

It’s not like McPherson had to go over a lot of strategy at halftime. He’s a kicker, for Pete’s sake. Watching the halftime show had zero effect on McPherson’s performance, as he hit both of his kicks after halftime.

And McPherson was the Bengals’ hero time and again last year. But apparently that wasn’t good enough for Simmons, the Bengals’ special teams coordinator since 2003.

“He needs to become a better practice kicker and kick better than he has,” Simmons said. “Not that it’s poor, but I think for him to be elite and go over the top, he’s got to kick better in practice and learn new things.”

Give me a break. Simmons, if anything, should be kissing McPherson’s cleats for carrying the Bengals to the Super Bowl.


Teaching lessons

beyond playing field

When new Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett announced his coaching staff last month, it included an unusual position — instructional designer, filled by someone named John Vieira, who has no football background.

“We majored in neurobiology together [at California-Davis], so he was kind of my neurobiology buddy,” said Hackett, 42.

Vieira started as a teacher in Los Angeles, but eventually became a teacher of teachers, implementing new technologies and connecting with a new generation of students. Hackett brought in Vieira to do the same with his assistant coaches.

“How to use different PowerPoints, how to use different testing, interactive testing, and all the different things that he uses when he’s just teaching people biology,” Hackett said. “Seeing the different things that he did and watching those things that he was implementing with the kids that he was teaching — it blew my mind.”

“Any teacher that we’ve all had — your favorite teacher was probably your favorite subject. I want everybody to have football as their favorite subject.”

Extra points

Devin McCourty (left) and Dont'a Hightower could return to the Patriots.Matt Patterson/Associated Press

Lions defensive end and former Patriot Trey Flowers sounds as if he’s going to be a salary cap casualty. Flowers, who played in just 14 total games the last two years because of injuries, is on the books for $17.625 million in 2022, with $1.625 million guaranteed. “He’s everything you’re looking for from the intangibles, and he’s had a heck of a career,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. Flowers, who will be 29 this fall, made $54 million in three seasons with the Lions, but provided just 10.5 sacks. He had 21 sacks in four seasons with the Patriots … NBC Sports Boston reported that free agent safety Devin McCourty is working out and hopes to play in 2022. A league source said the same holds for free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who would come back for a 10th NFL season under the right circumstances. It’s not the strongest year for free agent linebackers, so Hightower, who turns 32 next week, could still have some football left … The NFL Combine is the most important for the team doctors, who perform thorough checks on 324 prospects. It’s important for the scouts to gather measurables and stats. It can be valuable for position coaches to meet prospects face to face. But for most coaches? “It’s a waste of time,” one head coach told me. The 15-minute interviews amount to little more than speed dating and don’t offer much depth. And the drills can be watched at home, and certainly later on tape. I got the sense a few coaches were jealous of Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and other coaches who skipped the Combine … The Bills are going to propose a change to the overtime system that would apply only to the postseason. Instead of sudden death, the Bills will propose a timed period that is played to completion. “You play five minutes of basketball, both teams get it. You know, baseball, there’s the top half and the bottom half,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said. “So a time limit, and we’re talking about the postseason only to play it out. And that way, both teams will definitely have a chance and maybe even more than one possession.” The measure will be voted upon by the owners at their meetings from March 27-30 in Palm Beach, Fla. … The Packers will play in London this fall, making them the 32nd and final team to play overseas … Pretty neat that Josh McDaniels’s first preseason game as Raiders head coach will come in his high school stadium. The Raiders will play the Jaguars in August’s Hall of Fame Game, which is held at the high school field of Canton-McKinley High School, McDaniels’s alma mater. “This is my 22nd year, and I’ve never had the privilege of coaching in that game,” he said.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.