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Sunday football notes

Examining the NFL teams that made a decision at quarterback this offseason

Russell Wilson makes the Broncos instant contenders.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The NFL’s quarterback carousel began spinning on March 8 when Aaron Rodgers decided to re-sign with the Packers. Two weeks later, the carousel is finally slowing down after affecting more than half the league.

Officially, seven teams changed starting quarterbacks this month. But 18 of the 32 teams made a decision on their starting quarterback, or have a big decision still to make.

Let’s take a look the decisions:

Packers: Aaron Rodgers. Jordan Love would be the Packers’ starter if the team believed in him. But the fact that the Packers have instead mended their relationship with Rodgers and signed him to a new contract says it all. It is billed as a five-year, $187 million deal, but it’s really just a year-to-year contract for a quarterback who turns 39 this season. Rodgers will make $42 million this year, then has an option bonus for $58.3 million in 2023, and an option bonus for $47 million in 2024. This contract should ensure that Rodgers will retire a Packer, whenever he wants.

Buccaneers: Tom Brady. Brady reversed course after just six weeks of retirement, and the Buccaneers have since signed or traded for Chris Godwin, Ryan Jensen, Leonard Fournette, Logan Ryan, Shaq Mason, and Russell Gage, with Brady playing the role of recruiter. Brady is under contract for one more year at just $10.4 million plus $4.5 million in incentives. The Buccaneers will surely give him a raise, but it will be interesting to see if any extra years get added. Brady may want to keep playing in 2023, but not necessarily for the Buccaneers.


Cardinals: Kyler Murray. Murray made noise last month about wanting a new contract, and his position is understandable — he makes just $5.489 million this year, $28 million next year under the fifth-year option, and he may not be a free agent until 2026 if the Cardinals use two franchise tags. Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury share an agent, so it doesn’t seem the Cardinals took Murray’s threats too seriously. But let’s see if the Panthers, the most desperate team in the NFL, still take a big run at Murray.


Broncos: Russell Wilson. Wilson, 33, makes the Broncos instant contenders, but it will be interesting to see what they do with his contract, as Wilson is on the books for $50 million over the next two years, about half the going rate for elite quarterbacks. If they’re smart, they’ll get an extension done sooner rather than later.

Commanders: Carson Wentz. Worried about going a third straight year without a franchise quarterback, the Commanders panicked and traded two third-round picks to the Colts for Wentz, while agreeing to take on his entire $28.3 million salary. The Eagles and Colts couldn’t wait to dump Wentz. He’s the Commanders’ problem now, and in a year they’ll probably be looking for another QB.

The Vikings decided to stick with Kirk Cousins under center for the time being.Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

Vikings: Kirk Cousins. The Vikings probably wouldn’t have minded trading Cousins in the final year of his contract. But he was owed $35 million guaranteed this year, and that’s a lot for a quarterback with one playoff win in seven seasons. Instead, the Vikings signed Cousins to a one-year extension that raised his salary to $40 million this year, plus $30 million guaranteed next year. Though billed as a deal that locks in Cousins with the Vikings, the contract should actually make Cousins a little easier to trade next year, as $30 million will look like a bargain compared with other top quarterbacks.


49ers: Trey Lance. With Brady not coming to the Bay Area, the 49ers look to be moving forward with Lance, last year’s No. 3 overall pick. Their attempts to trade Jimmy Garoppolo have been complicated by recent surgery to his throwing shoulder, which will knock him out of practice until training camp. Trade candidates have dwindled, but the 49ers can afford to be patient. They have plenty of cap space despite Garoppolo’s $25.6 million salary, and could get more in a trade during training camp (think QB injury or ineffectiveness) than now.

Steelers: Mitchell Trubisky. Moving on from Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers went bargain shopping for Trubisky on a two-year deal worth $14.3 million. It’s worth a shot for a year — Trubisky is only making $6.3 million this year, he has no guarantees past this season, and he’s a terrific athlete who went 29-21 as a starter for the Bears despite having significant deficiencies as a pocket passer. The Steelers are likely going to draft a quarterback, as well.

Browns: Deshaun Watson. Owner Jimmy Haslam was so desperate for a franchise quarterback that he traded for Watson despite the 22 lawsuits for sexual harassment still outstanding; then handed Watson a five-year, $230 million contract that is fully guaranteed. Watson will likely be suspended for a chunk of games this fall, and the Browns may suffer some business-related consequences for enabling Watson. But the Browns also just got an elite 26-year-old quarterback for the next five years.


Falcons: Marcus Mariota. The Falcons’ pursuit of Watson signaled the end of Matt Ryan’s time in Atlanta after 14 seasons. Ryan leaves the Falcons with an NFL record $40 million in dead cap space, and the Falcons chose to take it all in one year instead of spreading it out. With 2022 as an obvious rebuilding year, the Falcons settled on Mariota for just $6.75 million this year, far cheaper than the $19 million guaranteed owed to Baker Mayfield. Mariota and Falcons coach Arthur Smith were together for five years in Tennessee, though in 2019, Smith’s only year as offensive coordinator, Mariota was benched after six games. Mariota is likely just keeping the seat warm for a rookie.

Colts: Matt Ryan. The Colts were determined to dump Wentz despite not having an answer at quarterback, and came out ahead in the end. Ryan will be 37 in May and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017 or a Pro Bowl since 2016. But the Colts got Ryan for one of the third-round picks they got in the Wentz trade, and Ryan is an upgrade in every way — he’s cheaper ($24 million this year, $29 million next year), a better leader, and a moderate upgrade at quarterback. Word is Ryan isn’t too upset about getting out of Atlanta and finding his way to a playoff contender, either.

The Colts managed to dump Carson Wentz and upgrade at quarterback with a better, cheaper option in Matt Ryan.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Saints: Jameis Winston. After losing out on Watson, the Saints turned back to Winston, who played well in seven starts last year before tearing his ACL. Winston’s contract is heavy on incentives thanks to his injury, and the Saints will probably draft a quarterback this year.


Raiders: Derek Carr. He has been on the hot seat for years, is entering the final year of his contract at $19.8 million, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if new coach Josh McDaniels decided he wanted his own quarterback. Instead, McDaniels has done nothing but support Carr publicly, then traded for his best friend in receiver Davante Adams. A contract extension for Carr should be coming shortly.

Eagles: Jalen Hurts. Texans general manager Nick Caserio said there were a few teams that were quietly in pursuit of Watson, and the Eagles reportedly were one of them. But Hurts showed promise last year in leading the Eagles to the playoffs, and he’s under contract for two more years at a total of $2.6 million. That’s cheap enough that it’s worth giving Hurts another shot in 2022.

Seahawks: Drew Lock? Acquired in the Wilson trade, Lock is the de facto starter. The Seahawks are one potential destination for Mayfield, though the Browns may have to eat some of the $19 million guaranteed salary to facilitate a trade. Lock is only owed $1.45 million this year, so perhaps he can hold down the fort for a year until the Seahawks figure out their next move. The draft is also an option.

Texans: Davis Mills? The Texans could be a landing spot for Garoppolo, who would be a terrific leader on a young team. But Mills actually played well at the end of last season, and is under contract for three more years and just $3.4 million. The Texans will be big players in this year’s draft, but it might make sense to go with Mills for one more season.

Lions: Jared Goff? He went 3-10-1 last year and the Lions were noncompetitive for most of the season, but they are sticking with Goff for another year. It may be because no other team wanted his $26.15 million salary, which includes a $15 million roster bonus that was earned this past week. But the Lions have picks No. 2, 32, and 34 in April’s draft, so don’t be shocked when they draft a quarterback.

Panthers: Sam Darnold? They are in quite the pickle, owing $19 million fully guaranteed to Darnold, whom no one wants. Mayfield could be an answer, but the Panthers probably have no interest in paying him $19 million guaranteed, as well. Another option could be Garoppolo, who is owed $25.6 million this year, but he won’t be ready to practice until training camp. The last option is making a big run at Murray and hoping the Cardinals take the bait. Otherwise, the Panthers would have to draft a rookie and suck it up with Darnold for one more season.


Copycat league strikes again

GMs around the league seem to be following Les Snead's lead, parting with high draft picks in win-now moves.Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

Rams GM Les Snead wore a T-shirt to the championship parade with the phrase, “[Expletive] them picks,” a nod to his history of trading draft picks for proven players. It appears the rest of the NFL is stealing Snead’s idea.

With a month to go until the draft, a whopping 32 percent of picks have already been traded (84 of 262). That includes nine teams who have traded their first-rounders: Bears (No. 7), Broncos (No. 9), Seahawks (No. 10), Browns (No. 13), Dolphins (No. 15), Colts (No. 16), Raiders (No. 22), 49ers (No. 29), and Rams (No. 32).

The 29th pick has already been traded from the 49ers to the Dolphins to the Chiefs. Ten other picks have already been traded at least twice. Pick No. 206 in the sixth round has been traded from the Buccaneers to the Jets to the Eagles to the Broncos. Pick No. 224 in the seventh round was traded from the Texans to the Patriots to the Ravens to the Dolphins.

It has left a handful of teams with a lot of power at the top of the draft. The Texans have picks No. 3 and 13. The Jets have Nos. 4 and 10. The Giants have Nos. 5 and 7. The Eagles have Nos. 15, 16, and 18. The Packers have Nos. 22 and 28. The Lions have Nos. 2 and 32. The Chiefs have Nos. 29 and 30.


Not much on owners’ agenda

Apparently everything was perfect in the NFL in 2021, because the owners will only vote on five rules changes this coming week at their annual meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

“This is the fewest number of proposals I’ve seen in a while, and that’s a good thing,” said Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the NFL’s competition committee. “I think the game is in a really good place.”

For the first time maybe ever, there are no proposed changes to instant replay, or penalty rules, or player-safety issues.

Of the three on-field proposals, two relate to overtime. The Colts and Eagles propose to guarantee one possession for both teams. The Titans propose the same, except that a team can end the game on the opening possession with a touchdown and successful 2-point conversion.

McKay said there has been a lot of momentum toward adjusting overtime, especially in the wake of the Bills’ agonizing loss to the Chiefs in last season’s playoffs. Since the overtime rules were initially changed in 2010, 10 of the 12 OT playoff games have been won by the team that won the coin toss.

“I do think the statistics absolutely warrant whether our OT rules need to be further modified,” McKay said.

The other on-field proposal would make permanent the change from last year that reduced the number of players in the onside kickoff receiving zone from 10 to nine. The onside kick rate was 16 percent last year, up from 6 percent in 2020.

One area that won’t change is the NFL’s emphasis on taunting penalties. McKay said that “at no time did we hear anything” from NFL coaches or the NCAA “that either college football or pro football should be backing up on the issue of sportsmanship.” The NFL reviewed all 61 taunting penalties from 2021 and determined that 56 were correct.

“I do think there will be further clarification in the ways that officials are looking at taunting, so players are clear what is a foul and what isn’t a foul,” McKay said.

Extra points

Tra Blake was named the league's newest referee after spending the last two seasons as a field judge and umpire.Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

A couple of big changes in the officiating department. The NFL named Tra Blake its newest referee, replacing the retired Tony Corrente. Blake joined the NFL in 2020 after a career in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and was a field judge and umpire the last two seasons. And the NFL shared sad news of the sudden death Thursday night of Wayne Mackie, 62, the head linesman for Super Bowl 50 who joined the league office in 2017 as a vice president of officiating. Mackie was in charge of the league’s officiating training and development program, and for the last several years was one of three decision-makers in the NFL’s instant replay command center in New York … The most appalling move the Browns made in their acquisition of Deshaun Watson was crafting his contract to minimize the damage of a suspension. He will make $46 million this year, but $44.965 million comes in a signing bonus that won’t be subject to penalty. Instead, he will only lose a fraction of his $1.035 million base salary. Of course, the Browns may have gotten the idea from the Patriots, who did the same for Tom Brady when he faced suspension in 2016. Brady’s base salary was reduced to the minimum, with the rest paid out as a signing bonus, saving him about $2 million … The Patriots really must not be interested in any free agent receivers, because some of them really aren’t signing for much. JuJu Smith-Schuster got only $2.49 million guaranteed on his one-year deal with the Chiefs, with $7.5 million in incentives. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder got just $2 million, plus $2 million in incentives, on a one-year deal from the Bills. Outside receiver Zach Pascal, with 15 touchdowns in four seasons, got just $1.5 million guaranteed from the Eagles … As noted by Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the Buccaneers now have two players who were named after the same NBA legends, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon — right guard Shaquille Olajuwon Mason, and defensive end Shaquil Akeem Barrett.

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