One factor in the Aaron Rodgers situation has to be his backup’s readiness.
Still working through my notes from the last few days …
• I don’t know how big a part of the equation this would play in the Packers’ decision-making, but I can say that I’m not convinced, based on a few things I’ve heard, the Packers believe Jordan Love is ready to be at the wheel for a championship team. Remember, for all this noise, Green Bay was a better fourth quarter away from the Super Bowl in January, and I do think when you’ve got a team like that, if you’re a GM like Brian Gutekunst or a coach like Matt LaFleur, it’s your responsibility to protect said team’s ability to compete for a title. And right now, I don’t get the sense that throwing Love out there would do that.
• I think it’s fair now to say that the class of player most affected by this year’s funky predraft process was the player carrying medical concerns. Tennessee G Trey Smith’s issue with blood clots from a few years back that nearly ended his football career wound up being a difficult one for team doctors to sign off on clearing—so a guy with great football character and a lot of on-field production, who may have been a Day 2 pick otherwise, slipped all the way to the sixth round. (One issue was that his play slipped a bit, which may have been in part because the medication he was on for the blood clots limited how much he could practice during the week.) Alabama LB Dylan Moses is another example. Now, the once-highly-touted Moses’s play flatlined after a promising freshman year, so that was a factor too. But just as big was the fact that he needed to get his knee shot up before every game just to be able to play last year. He wound up going undrafted, and signed with the Jaguars as a college free agent. Now, if this year there had been “30” visits, during which players can meet with team doctors, would it have made a difference? It’s hard to know for sure in individual cases. But what we can say is missing the opportunity to go on those trips sure didn’t help guys like Smith and Moses.
• For what it’s worth—and we talked earlier in the offseason about the Patriots’ more collaborative approach—the circle remained very small on the quarterback decision (the actual decision itself, not the process). And ultimately Bill Belichick was, as you’d expect, the man with his finger on the trigger. To that end, even though I do think New England liked Ohio State’s Justin Fields, only Belichick really knows whether he’d have taken Fields with the 15th pick, if circumstances going into the selection were different (and either both Fields and Jones were available, or only Fields were available). But as for the rest of the draft? One veteran exec pointed out to me how, for the first time in a long time, New England didn’t throw any wild curveballs in Rounds 2 through 7, which was an indicator to him that maybe Belichick was listening more to those around him.
• One interesting thing that appealed to the Bears about Justin Fields was pretty much exactly what appealed to the Jaguars about Trevor Lawrence: He’s used to the sort of searing spotlight that comes with being a first-rounder, because, really, he’s lived under one since he was a teenager. “One of the things that I like looking for, and I know Ryan [Pace] does too, you look for this with a quarterback, is how do they rise up when everyone’s watching, when that moment is just huge?” Nagy said. “Justin’s been doing this his whole entire life. You go back to high school and all these Elite 11 camps he’s been to, and he’s just always had a camera following him. And that’s probably one of the things, when we were able to get him here, after we drafted him, the next day, you could really feel it, like nothing’s too big for this kid. And everything Ryan and I saw on tape, you could see it in person. Every minute that went by when he was in our building in, you could just feel his presence. You could just feel his quiet confidence. You can feel a little chip on his shoulder, which I love. But you can also feel his humility, and you can feel this kid is so eager to learn how to grow and how to be a great NFL quarterback.” And all that stuff will be important in a market like Chicago.
• While we’re there, and given the Rodgers news, and the role last year’s Jordan Love bomb played in it, I do think it’s interesting how communicative teams are being with their veteran quarterbacks in who they might or might not acquire. The Patriots’ taking Mac Jones was no surprise to Cam Newton, and Bill Belichick emphasized afterward, “Cam is our quarterback.” The Jets, meanwhile, handled Sam Darnold carefully as they vetted Zach Wilson and others, before shipping Darnold off to the Panthers. And the Niners were up front with Jimmy Garoppolo, giving him a heads up before making the trade for the third pick. Likewise, Nagy made sure nothing came as a surprise to Andy Dalton on Thursday. “I talked to him earlier in the day on Thursday, and we were just catching up,” Nagy said. “And at the same time I said, ‘Hey, listen man, I have no idea which way this thing may go, you never know, but all positions are open and we can do a lot of different things, including at quarterback. So I just want you to understand that and be aware for that. But I can’t predict anything right now. It’s just too hard.’ You know Andy, he’s a pro’s pro, and he understands it. That’s just how that was. Once it ended up happening and we got Justin, the rest of the night went on, the rest of the draft went on, and then I called Andy and I talked to him. I explained to him that this is where we’re at, and again, without getting into our personal conversation, which is only fair to Andy and myself, he handled it like an absolute pro. He understands.” And I’m sure it helped that the Bears at least told him where they were ahead of time.
• One story that caught some steam in the run-up to the draft was Trey Lance working with John Beck, a former NFL quarterback who now trains quarterbacks with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux at 3DQB, and played for Kyle Shanahan in Washington. Rumors were swirling in April that Lance had gone to Beck at the behest of the Niners, but after I turned over rocks on that, I got more context. Because he had an early pro day, Lance spent a sort of professional-development week near L.A. in March, and his ex-NDSU teammate Easton Stick brought him out to work with Beck. About a week later, the trade happened, Lance scrambled to set up a second pro day for the Niners and it only made sense for him to go back to Beck (he’d done his early predraft work with QB trainer Quincy Avery), since Beck could tell him exactly what Shanahan would be looking for. And when I asked 49ers GM John Lynch point-blank on Saturday about the team directing Lance to throw there, he responded, “Yeah, that wasn’t the case. So, there are some things there. I went to high school with Tom House’s daughter. Kyle’s got to know Tom well through Matt Ryan, because Matt saw him and Kyle took the time to go out there as a coach and he met John Beck. But that’s not our business to tell people, ‘Hey, go here.’ And I know that was a big narrative. Sometimes people will say, ‘Hey what will he do?’ and we’ll say we’ve had good success here. But I can tell you, John’s opinion mattered a lot to us, and so did Quincy’s. I talked to Quincy and he was a tremendous resource—he’s been around Trey a lot. So I’m appreciative to both of them.”
• After draft weekend, the Chiefs’ offensive-line makeover is complete, and there’s a very real scenario, one that might be the ideal scenario, where there isn’t a single starter who was on the Kansas City roster in 2020:
LT: Orlando Brown
LG: Joe Thuney
C: Creed Humphrey
RG: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
RT: Kyle Long
Austin Blythe is another newcomer who’ll be in the mix (at center), as is Trey Smith (mentioned above), while Mike Remmers is really the one holdover from last year. Credit Andy Reid, Brett Veach and the staff there. They certainly didn’t sit on their hands after watching Patrick Mahomes take it in the teeth in Tampa on February 7.
• With 21 fifth-year options picked up on 2018 first-round picks, and Raiders OT Kolton Miller’s having signed an extension to preempt the option, 22 of 32 guys have been taken care of. And that’s bucking what had been the expectation—that because of the anticipation that the cap won’t rise much in 2022, and because these options are fully guaranteed for the first time under the CBA, teams would be more judicious about exercising them. They really haven’t been. In fact, the number of options picked up plus players extended is the second-highest of eight draft cycles since the rookie wage scale went into effect under the 2011 CBA.
Class of 2018: 22
Class of 2017: 18
Class of 2016: 17
Class of 2015: 20
Class of 2014: 23
Class of 2013: 18
Class of 2012: 20
Class of 2011: 21
So what gives? Two things. The first round was pretty strong in 2018. And teams did take the logistics of the injury guarantees (rather than full guarantees) seriously to begin with. “Probably just reflective of the draft class and the fact that the injury/non-injury guarantee element is the only change,” texted one exec. “Yes, you can get out of those deals, but you lost out on the comp pick if you did, so that was a big deterrent. I think people look mainly at the cost of the fifth year more than the guarantee, and it’s still favorable versus the franchise tag,”
• J.C. Tretter made it clear on an NFLPA conference call Monday afternoon that the union’s aim was to change the offseason for good—and eliminate much, if not all, of the spring work that’s been a pretty big part of the rhythm of the NFL calendar. I do think the league is going to fight this one. Why? Well, some coaches, like John Harbaugh and Urban Meyer, have been vocal with the league about the importance of getting work done in the spring. But there’s also this: The NFL strives to be a year-round sport, and May and June would be almost completely dead in pro football without OTAs and minicamps. Which I think Park Avenue would see as counterproductive to their cause, for obvious reasons.
• I really like what Washington, behind its remade, Martin Mayhew- and Marty Hurney-led scouting department, did in the draft, largely because the Football Team let the draft come to it. Linebacker and left tackle were big needs, probably the team’s two primary needs, coming in, and the WFT scored big with two high-upside guys in Kentucky LB Jamin Davis and Texas OT Sam Cosmi, both of whom are raw, gifted athletes with a lot of room to develop. I don’t know if either will hit—I’m not a scout—but I do know how the league felt about those two, and that they were picked right around where most teams expected them to be, which to me is always a good indication a team’s making the most of its situation.
More NFL Coverage:
• Breer: Inside the Biggest Stories on Draft Night
• Orr: Is Urban Meyer ready for Trevor Lawrence?
• Orr: Drafting Trey Lance will define Kyle Shanahan’s legacy
• Vrentas: The Patriots’ post-Brady era begins now