Lots of questions this week from all of you after the first week of the season! And some answers from me …
From NaptowneJimmy (@naptowne_jimmy): As a Washington fan, I wanted to ask about Carson Wentz, but Trevor Lawrence is the bigger story here. He looked awful for the most part Sunday. What gives? He’s inaccurate, impulsive, and seems to be confused much of the time.
Jimmy, I think the case of Lawrence is going to be an interesting one to track over the course of this year. We all, rightfully, I think, gave him a bit of a pass for last year, given how the situation in Jacksonville devolved into a trainwreck over the course of the fall—I think young quarterbacks are captives of their own circumstances, good or bad, much more than people acknowledge, and Lawrence’s clearly weren’t good. So I think it’s fine to say that the fair thing to do is take everything that happened last year with a grain of salt.
That said, having talked to coaches and scouts who worked against him last year, there was at least one very real concern I’d have, and that’s the feeling that maybe he doesn’t see the field as fast or well as we all would’ve expected. That concern would be compounded by the relatively simple Clemson offense he came from (the learning curve was steep enough coming out for Deshaun Watson that Bill O’Brien retrofitted his offense for him).
What we know on Lawrence is he’s got a fantastic big-game résumé from college, he’s got size, plus athleticism and a hose of an arm, and those things can cure a lot of ills. But a guy not trusting what he sees, or just not seeing it period, can lead to things in a quarterback that you’re citing—inaccuracy, indecisiveness leading to impulsive play, and confusion.
Now, I think he is with the right coach at this point, and Doug Pederson has put a good amount of quarterbacking infrastructure around him, with Press Taylor, Mike McCoy and Jim Bob Cooter all a part of the staff in Jacksonville. Pederson’s work history includes all he did with Carson Wentz early in his career (putting in an offense that weaponized his athleticism and got the ball out of his hands quickly) to minimize similar problems.
So I still have faith that Lawrence is going to make it as an NFL quarterback. But maybe a little less than I did 18 months ago.
From Jeremy Forbes II (@goblueforever3): Are the Dolphins the favorites if Lamar Jackson gets traded after the season?
I think it’s early to say that—but I’d offer up that there’s a possibility Jackson has more control over that situation than you might think.
There’s actually some logic that would have the Ravens putting the nonexclusive tag on Jackson in March over the exclusive tag. Why? Well, because maybe they’ll seek closure on the situation, one way or the other. The exclusive tag, and this is obviously subject to change, projects right now to $45.45 million. The nonexclusive tag projects, and this is also subject to change, at $29.7 million.
That’s not a negligible difference. That’s nearly $16 million. And it’s not just the lump-sum, one-year figure that’s a factor there. It makes a big difference in where the leverage lies in negotiations on a long-term deal, too.
So the benefit of the exclusive tag is knowing Jackson will be on your team next year. The problem is that it then subjects you, if Jackson decides to sit on his hands again, to a $54.54 million tag in 2023, and, at that point, a situation where Jackson would have all the leverage (a third tag after that would be priced over $80 million). Which means if you’re going to put the exclusive tag on him, you’d want to be really sure a long-term deal was getting done.
And the issue with the nonexclusive tag is, of course, that everyone gets a crack at him. But you’re working with a lower one-year number, so you’ll have more breathing room to operate with on the veteran market in the interim, and you maintain matching rights on a contract. That means, if you match, you’re basically letting another team write the contract for you and, in all likelihood, getting that deal done in March, rather than having it drag into July.
Is it possible someone would put together an offer sheet that’s unmatchable? Sure. But based on the rules, it’s hard to do that. And if that were to happen, the Ravens would at least have two first-round picks coming back and a conclusion to this saga. Not a good one, but a conclusion nonetheless—and an answer to whether Jackson wants to be a Raven in the long term.
If he decides after the year he doesn’t want to be in Baltimore anymore? Well, then, sure, there’s the natural connection he has as a Miami native. But let’s wait to see how Mike McDaniel’s first year with Tua Tagovailoa plays out before we dive into all that.
From Jerrad Wyche (@JerradWyche): Through one week how would you rank the 2021 QB class? How do you think their seasons shake out? Some had better performances than others. (Lawrence, Mills, Lance, Fields, Jones.)
Jerrad, this is a good question. Mac Jones has probably been the best to this point, but that’s based on last year, and Jones had the greatest combination of circumstances and playing time last year, which skews this. The question with Jones is going to be whether what you see now is, plainly, what you get. Against the Dolphins, there were points where it looked that way, where you could see some physical limitations (particularly on throws to the sideline). And I think Davis Mills is probably right there with Jones, just based on what we’ve seen.
I’d still take Lawrence first if given the choice, even though the performance hasn’t been there yet. I do think we’ve seen encouraging things from Justin Fields, too. He showed specific areas of growth in the preseason and, like Lawrence, has very real tools. Sunday wasn’t great, but even then he had moments that reminded me of the kid who burst from the medical tent in November 2019 to rip Michigan’s heart out—the scramble touchdown to Dante Pettis, the touch TD throw to Equanimeous St. Brown and a 12-yard run off an avoided sack stick out.
I think with both of those guys, you can bet on the big-game experience, tools and intangibles.
I’m less sure on Zach Wilson. To be fair, he’s hurt, so we can’t see the steps he’s taken this year yet. But last year he was fighting off a case of the yips, which extended his stay on the bench and led to the team’s bringing in John Beck to help him. I think he’s through it. I think Jets OC Mike LaFleur’s got him turned around. But I have to see it first. And with Trey Lance, there are things to like, and some of that’s the situation he’s in, but I don’t how you could give him anything other than an “I” for in incomplete as a grade at this point.
From Ricker81 (@D_Ricker81): Has your outlook on the Giants’ season changed since winning at Tennessee?
Ricker, I try not to overvalue what happens in Week 1, but I’m tempted to just a little bit here with the Giants. I’ll stand by most of what I’ve said the last two months on the Giants, and the approach taken by Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen—that this year is a reset, a time to take on dead money, make sure the slate is clean for 2023 and put down a solid foundation. Thing is, until now, I thought that’d mean taking a lot of lumps.
But if I’ve used the 2018 Bills as a comp for the Giants’ approach this year, and I have, there’s another lesson to be taken from Daboll’s and Schoen’s time in Buffalo. And that’s that there was zero tanking there. In 2017, the first year for Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, the Bills made the playoffs. In ’18, the Bills went 6–10 but finished with a 4–3 flourish (and they were criticized for it then, because it hurt their draft position).
That’s sort of where I see these Giants. Daboll will have them fighting, and improving, and a lot of weeks they’ll be working from a talent deficit, but the idea is for that to be temporary. So it wouldn’t be a shock to me to see them get in the seven- or eight-win range, in a division that was already shaky and might be getting worse with Dallas’s injury woes.
From ChuckieP4Prez (@Chuckie_P): Is C.J. Stroud better than Dak Prescott?
I’m not going to entertain this. Dallas won’t take a quarterback in the first round next year.
From Dan in the 916 (@DanAbsher): Does Dak become Romo 2.0 if Cooper Rush shines in his absence?
I’m a little surprised these are real questions.
From Nick Palazzolo (@NickPalazzolo5): Will Jerry Jones ever relinquish GM duties and just be an owner?
Nick, I do understand this one. And I don’t think Jerry is going to do that. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s necessary either. A few facts …
1) Really, going back to the Bill Parcells era, Dallas has consistently been among the NFL’s best-drafting, most-talented teams. Over that time, the Cowboys have had potential Hall of Famers like DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten, Tyron Smith and Zack Martin pass through and a fleet of multitime Pro Bowlers (Tony Romo, Terence Newman, DeMarco Murray, Zeke Elliott, Sean Lee, Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant) pass through. And the current team has sky-is-the-limit young guys like Micah Parsons and CeeDee Lamb around. Talent hasn’t been an issue there for a long time.
2) The Cowboys have generally been able to find talent to match their coaching, which is an important part of the equation, too. Dan Quinn, for example, had a big hand in identifying Parsons as the team’s target in the 2021 draft. And Kellen Moore, the year before, was involved in CeeDee Lamb’s being the pick. In empowering the coaches this way, another GM-ing box gets checked off.
3) Will McClay is, in a lot of ways, the de facto GM—other teams have pursued him but, for a variety of reasons, he’s chosen to stay put in Dallas. I feel confident saying that if Jerry is going to name a new GM that didn’t share a last name with him, it’ll be McClay. So that guy you’d be bringing in? He’s there already. And if you want an example of his influence, he was a major part of convincing the owner to go with Martin over Johnny Manziel in 2014.
Now, having said all that, there are a few things that have been clunky with Jones’s involvement in football. There always have been. But if you’re talking about the team lacking some of the things, functionally, that a fan sees as a GM’s doing, I don’t think there’s much there.
From Mike Branom (@mbranom): How hot is Steve Keim’s hot seat?
Coming out of the end of last year, it seemed like Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill was about to put everyone on notice. After being routed by the Rams in the playoffs, a season-ending personnel meeting was abruptly canceled, and the scouting and coaching staffs were left in the dark on where things stood. By the end of the week, things were back to normal, and by March, Arizona had done extensions for both Keim and Kliff Kingsbury.
I’m detailing all that because I think so long as the season’s not a disaster, Keim and Kingsbury are probably safe. They’re signed up through 2027, so firing them would mean eating five seasons of money. The team doubled down on Kyler Murray, and Kingsbury’s an ideal offensive coach for who he is, stylistically, as a player.
Bottom line, the Cardinals are too invested in what they’re doing to pull the plug right now, unless things really go wrong. And to be fair, to this point, the Cardinals have taken a step forward in each of the last three seasons.
From txl (@txllel): If Matt Rhule goes 5–12 again this year is his job still safe? Tepper and Rhule keep telling the media this would be a “5 year rebuild.”
TXL, I think that sort of record would put Rhule in peril. And I say that very much believing that David Tepper wants to make this work—he took a big swing on Rhule, handing him a seven-year, $63 million deal in 2020, and the last thing he wants is to be proved wrong.
How do you assess Rhule? There are two things to keep an eye on, both relating to the quarterback. The first is how Baker Mayfield plays. He doesn’t need to be the long-term answer for the Panthers. But I do think Rhule and his staff have to show the ability to get the most out of a guy at the position. The second would be how the team’s young players, and in particular ones picked instead of quarterbacks, come along. Part of the logic in passing on QBs has been to build the roster up for whoever’s playing the position. So it’s imperative that guys like Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn and Ickey Ekwonu are difference-makers.
To me, those things will dictate whether Tepper sees a workable future with Rhule, beyond just wins and losses. And then, of course, there’ll be the potential pull of the college game on Rhule. The Nebraska job is open, and it sure seems like one of the Huskers’ first calls when their search gets rolling will be to gauge Rhule’s interest. To this point, I know he’s really wanted to stay in the NFL. Will that wane, if the right college job becomes available? I don’t know for sure.
Add all that up and, yup, there are a bunch of moving pieces here.
From Scott (@Scott77655366): How concerned should a Bengals fan be about the O-line performance and number of sacks Burrow took? How much of those sacks were on Burrow?
Scott, I think the offensive line’s going to be a work in progress for a month or two. It’s the position group on a football team where cohesion and communication are most important—which is one reason why finding a heady center like Ted Karras to helm the project was so important from the start.
The good news is that there’s a really nice, and recent, example of an overhaul like this working elsewhere. Last year the Chiefs began the season with five new starters on the line (one position, right tackle, wound up reverting to a holdover). The reason for all the change there was the same as in Cincinnati (the line cost the team in the Super Bowl), and the Chiefs knew there’d be some short-term pain for a long-term gain with all the change.
Indeed, early in 2021, the Chiefs had their problems along the line, which was a component in the struggles of the offense overall there. By the end of the year? The line had jelled, and the offense was, once again, a juggernaut. So if I’m a Bengals fan, what’s important to me is what this looks like in November, way more so than in September.
(That said, they have to better limit the damage on Burrow in the meantime.)
From josd (@Jduham): Belichick isn’t known for firing coaches, so when the Patricia as OC experiment inevitably continues to go wrong, what will be the outcome?
Jos, first of all, I’d give all this more than one week to work out. We don’t know what it’ll look like three or six weeks from now, and I don’t think anyone in that building thought it’d be perfect in Week 1.
But if it doesn’t work out, well, then I think this is one component of Bill Belichick not giving Matt Patricia or Joe Judge the title—this way he maintains some flexibility to make changes on the fly. I personally think Nick Caley should be a bigger part of the mix than he has been, and I don’t like the reason that he’s not being that he’s not under contract past this year. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes if the offense keeps struggling. Or if there comes a point, and this may be more likely, where Belichick just decides to call it himself.
All in all, I think there are still a lot of moving parts here.
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