Some fun questions this week, let’s jump in …
From Danny (@BetTheOver85): What would a Jeff Bezos ownership mean to the league, if it happens?
Danny, at an owners’ meeting a couple years back, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told our Jenny Vrentas that he would carry Bezos “piggyback” into the NFL if the Amazon founder wanted to buy a team. There’s been speculation for years that it might eventually happen. If the late Paul Allen’s family ever decided to sell the Seahawks, that would be one logical target for Bezos. Washington would be another, given Bezos’s business interests (i.e., The Washington Post) in D.C.
What benefit would Bezos bring the league? There are really three things to look at here.
1) He’s capable of paying whatever for a team. So, let’s say he pays $4.5 billion for the Seahawks (valued by Forbes at $3.075 billion) or $5.5 billion for Washington (valued at $3.5 billion). That would only boost the values of other teams, in the same way Steve Ballmer’s buying the Clippers for a record $2 billion was a steroid shot for the value of NBA teams.
2) Adding Bezos to the ownership ranks would give the NFL one of the world’s most powerful and influential businessmen, and a pipeline into all of his relationships across the globe and his expertise in areas vital to the NFL like, for one, the future of media.
3) The country club would get just a little more prestigious, which, to these owners, deep down, does matter.
Now, this wouldn’t happen without some entanglements. For one, it’d be best if the completion of any Amazon-connected media deals—whether Thursday Night Football or NFL Sunday Ticket—happen before Bezos would buy a team. Why? Well, Bezos’s shareholders might have questions about whether his relationship with the league was too cushy, other media partners may have issues with bidding against an owner, and the league picking, say, Google over Amazon for streaming rights could be messy.
But ultimately, I do think that stuff would be workable. And that the NFL, collectively, would carry Bezos piggyback into an ownership suite.
From Amy (@Amy11074): Any chance Washington trades up in the draft for their QB?
Amy, this is an interesting question in that Washington (19th) is in the same range that the Bears (20th) and Colts (21st) are, and the issue facing quarterback-needy teams in that area was illustrated by Indianapolis’s deciding to move forward with the Carson Wentz deal rather than trying and move up. The Colts’ consideration for dealing into the top 10 bore two realities: 1) they may have to go way up to get one, and 2) it was going to cost a lot.
The first fact is revealed by the number of teams in the top 10 in play to possibly take a quarterback (eight, all but the Bengals and Cowboys), and the second fact is a function of the first fact. If you presume four quarterbacks are in consideration to go that high (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Trey Lance), that means you have more suitors than players, which equals more teams to climb over, and demand that drives up the value of the picks.
So the Colts chose to deal for Wentz instead.
In the end, it’s possible that one or two of those four slip from the top 10. But betting on it happening is risky, and waiting for picks to become available represents another gamble—because the veteran market could pass you by. In the end, Lawrence is a no-brainer to go first, and I think Wilson’s got a great shot to go second to the Jets. Which, again, will only make getting Fields or Lance more difficult for the Bears or WFT.
In time, Washington’s comfort level in going forward with what they have at the position will be revealed. I’d be surprised if Alex Smith comes back at $19 million for 2021; Taylor Heinicke just signed a two-year deal; the WFT has RFA rights over Kyle Allen and plans to have him back; and 2020 rookie Steven Montez is around, too. They did take a big swing at a major upgrade, in Matthew Stafford. Maybe they’ll take another. Or sign Ryan Fitzpatrick or, if he’s cut, Teddy Bridgewater (who has ties to the coaching staff).
As it stands now? I think Ron Rivera and the new front office are very much keeping their options at the position open.
From NewMAK_0126 (@SouthSideSelf): See any actual viable WR FAs for the Colts with all this money still left to spend? What’s the prevalent thought process around the league as far as WRs coming to play with Wentz in Indy?
Hey New, as I see it, the first question will be whether T.Y. Hilton comes back. The 32-year-old’s been banged up and not quite as productive of late. But he’s plenty capable of being a good complementary piece, if Michael Pittman can become the No. 1 and Parris Campbell can find a way to stay healthy. My guess would be the Colts will let Hilton test the market, and whether he returns will ride on what’s out there for him. The coaches love him, but there’s also a recognition that his legs may be going.
As for potential replacements, should Hilton walk, Raiders WR Nelson Agholor could be an intriguing option for Indy. He should be relatively affordable, averaged 18.7 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns last year, and had his most productive years in Philly with Wentz as his primary quarterback (2017 and ’18). Also, he turns 28 in May, meaning he’s still relatively young and would come with tread left on the tire.
From Patrick Sullivan (@psullivan4): Looking at the roster and opt-outs, was last year coach Belichick’s best year coaching? How did they win any games??
Patrick, I’ve definitely had this thought. Realistically, given the circumstances, how many coaches would’ve gotten that Patriots team to 7–9? My answer would be not many. Clearly, Cam Newton was far from his MVP form of 2015. You could argue a handful of college teams had better groups of receivers and tight ends than New England did. And the defensive leadership was torn up by opt-outs.
Now, the rub is that Bill Belichick was responsible for putting that roster together, so really, he was mitigating a lot of problems that he created.
And because of that, it’ll be interesting to see how player assessment might change in 2021. The Patriots lost a lot of scouting brainpower the last three or four years (DuJuan Daniels to Vegas, James Liipfert to Houston, Monti Ossenfort to Tennessee, Pat Stewart to Philly, then Carolina) before losing Nick Caserio to the Texans. My thought is that there will be some changes in how they do things under new scouting chief Dave Ziegler.
And I’d think if Belichick signs off on that, he may incorporate some fixes based on where things went so wrong the last few years. Quietly, the Patriots have become a very different-looking organization over the last few years.
From Danny (@BetTheOver85): Any update on London/international games this year?
Hopefully, Danny, we’ll have an update on this for you soon. Realistically, this call will probably be made between now and April, when the schedule is released. And Roger Goodell did say that the league was “planning” on the International Series resuming in 2021 at his Super Bowl press conference. But he did add a pretty serious caveat to that.
“We are obviously going to stay in close contact with our partners and make sure we are doing that safely,” he said. “If at any point we don’t think we can do that safely we will make that determination.”
Translation: This is another instance when the NFL is at the mercy of the coronavirus, and where we are globally when the decision has to be made on whether to go forward with playing in London in the fall.
From Maurisse (@MaurisseJ): What is your pro comp for Zach Wilson in this year’s draft? Do you think he is a better prospect out of college than Sam Darnold was out of USC?
Maurisse, I really don’t want to do this, because I know everything that’s attached to saying this particular name, and that it might be a little unfair—but the more scouts I talk to, the more I hear that Patrick Mahomes is the comp, with an asterisk. Wilson doesn’t quite have Mahomes’s otherworldly arm strength or his bulk. But as far as playing style, and the can-throw-it-like-a-shortstop quality, there are a lot of similarities.
As for whether he’s better than Sam Darnold was coming out of USC, it’s easy to say that he is, based on what you’re hearing about Wilson now and what’s become of Darnold. And Darnold’s tape last year, to be clear, was pretty bad. But Darnold was considered by a lot of teams to be the best quarterback in that class and, as is the case now with Wilson, a little raw and in need of development.
Which brings us to the next point, and an important one: Where a quarterback goes matters. The GM and coach who drafted Darnold were gone 13 months after he became a Jet. The roster eroded. And that’s not making excuses. That’s the reality of the situation. I don’t know that the Jets will do a ton better with Wilson if they pick him and put him in the same sort of circumstance.
So, whether the Jets go forward with Darnold or reset with Wilson, it’s going to be on GM Joe Douglas, new coach Robert Saleh and new OC Mike LaFleur to create a much better situation for whoever the quarterback is.
From RickyK303 (@K303Ricky): Albert: When will we know if there will be 16 or 17 games per team next season? Seems like it’s something the schedule makers might be wondering too.
Hey, Ricky. I think this is going to boil down to the television deals getting done. Whispers are that the NFL had hoped to get the new contracts finished by March 1. That’s Monday. I don’t know if they’ll hit that goal, but I do know that it’s important, one way or the other, that they have some sort of closure before setting the salary cap, which has to happen before the start of the league year on St. Patrick’s Day.
Add those factors up, and we should know in the next three weeks or so.
From TanktasticTweets (@TanktasticT): With the No. 2 pick more than likely to be dealt, do you think the Eagles or the Panthers are more likely to make the move up for Fields or Wilson?
Tankstastic, I don’t think the No. 2 pick is more-than-likely to be dealt. In fact, if I had to handicap it right now, my guess would be the Jets will hang on to the pick, take a quarterback and deal off Darnold. I also can tell you that they’d want to see Wilson, Fields and Lance throw at their pro days before making a final call. Those pro days are March 26, March 31, and March 12, respectively. Which means the Jets likely won’t shop the pick, if they ever do, until April 1.
That said, I want to answer your question, and it’s certainly possible the Dolphins, at No. 3, will look to trade out. And if they do, and Deshaun Watson remains a Texan, my guess would be one of the first incoming calls will come from Carolina. We mentioned it in Monday’s column. Word is owner David Tepper is “obsessed” with upgrading the quarterback spot.
As for Philly, my understanding is they’ll take a very hard look at the quarterbacks who might slip to them at No. 6. I don’t know that they’ll feel strongly enough about any of them to deal up for one, particularly with the need to infuse the roster with young talent and cheap labor, which would make them a little more hesitant to part with draft picks.
From michael christopher (@Bigdogz1318): What free agents under the radar could be paid big this offseason and are new coaches allowed to watch film and have those players in building when breaking down tape. Could Darnold and LaFleur do that as Jets make their decision on the QB?
Michael, on your second question, players and coaches can’t do tape work together yet, and I know teams and players are waiting for guidance from the league on how this offseason will work after so much of last year’s offseason was conducted via Zoom.
As for guys that’ll get a lot that might surprise you, here are five:
Bengals DE Carl Lawson: People don’t know how good this guy is. But both he, and Bengals corner William Jackson, are in position to show what the league thinks of them. And line their pockets with cash in the process.
Panthers OT Taylor Moton: I think Carolina will tag him. But if they don’t, the 26-year-old will become one of the most precious of commodities—an accomplished tackle available on the open market.
Cardinals OLB Haason Reddick: Back to being an edge-rusher, like he was in college, Reddick broke through in his fourth year as a pro with 12.5 sacks. And there’ll be teams out there that’ll see that, and connect big grades they may have had on the former first-round pick when he was coming out of Temple four years ago.
Giants DT Dalvin Tomlinson: A 320-pound run-stopping force, Tomlinson should benefit from a draft class that’s a little light at his position. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets eight figures per year.
Saints S Marcus Williams: There’s a good shot Justin Simmons, John Johnson and Marcus Maye all get tagged, which would leave Williams with Anthony Harris as the top free-agent safeties. And put Williams in position to make a lot of money.
From Resistence is Fertile (@AmbienZombie0): Who do you predict is going to “win” free agency? I know Indy, New England and Jax have the most space but which team do you think will add the most big-name guys and give their fans perhaps some false hope à la the Dream Team Eagles.
Resistance, the three teams you mentioned certainly have room to work, and I’d say the Jags and Patriots would probably be better positioned to be free-spenders with other people’s players than the Colts. Why? Well, Indy is going to have to start paying its young talent, and so I’d bet a good chunk of that space is earmarked for megadeals for guys like Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard.
But who’s generally good at this? I’ll give you two teams that one pro scouting director gave me, which you might not expect: The Packers and Steelers. While both are generally conservative, each has a sparkling track record of getting it right when they do spend. Green Bay has Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos on its record. The Steelers have Joe Haden and Eric Ebron, and traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick when a lot of people thought that was a less-than-brilliant idea.
Keep an eye on those two teams. They have cap issues to work out. But with a clogged market, and a host of veterans doing affordable one-year, prove-it deals, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Steelers and Packers get their aging quarterbacks some reinforcements in a smart and reasoned way.
From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Would Dak Prescott prefer another franchise tag?
Tom, right now, Prescott is in an obscenely strong position from which to negotiate. Consider these three potential conclusions Prescott can reach just by doing nothing:
1) The Cowboys let him hit free agency at 27 years old. (This is, by far, the least likely conclusion. Not happening. But it is one of only three ways this can go.)
2) The Cowboys tag him at $37.68 million, and then let him hit the market in 2022 at 28 years old.
3) The Cowboys tag him at $37.68 million this year, and then at $54.26 million in 2022, and he’s a free agent in 2023 at 29 years old, having made $123.34 million over a three-year period before then.
Essentially, what Dallas has to do now is convince Prescott that what it’s offering is better than these three conclusions. So no, another tag is not a horrible thing for Prescott, and I say that even with the acknowledgment that he’s not quite out of the woods in his injury recovery.