The NFC North might be seeing a seismic shift in power, with the Chicago Bears finding a quarterback and the Green Bay Packers perhaps losing theirs.
Great quarterback play has been a dirty rumor in Chicago and a staple in Green Bay for decades.
In one day, we might have seen the start of a massive role reversal.
On Thursday, everyone in and around the NFL began settling in for the draft. Then, a mid-afternoon bombshell: Aaron Rodgers wants a divorce from the Green Bay Packers.
Rodgers, 37, is coming off an MVP season but for reasons well-documented, is furious. Jordan Love, the lack of weaponry, a rift with general manager Brian Gutekunst and so forth. With three years and more than $105 million remaining on his contract, Rodgers is reportedly willing to retire if it means never stepping foot in Lambeau Field again.
In the minutes leading up to the draft, rampant speculation began, specifically around the Denver Broncos. Denver has a good roster, a poor quarterback situation and the cap space to make it work. Ultimately, no deal with the Packers adamant they won’t trade Rodgers.
So how does it all end?
Rodgers will reportedly be happy if he’s dealt to either the Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders or San Francisco 49ers. With the latter taking Trey Lance, that’s out. The Raiders would need to clear cap, but it’s plausible. The Broncos, of those three, make the most sense by a wide margin.
Yet should the Packers deal him, it’s important to note Rodgers doesn’t have a no-trade clause like Deshaun Watson holds. This means he has zero leverage in positioning himself for another situation.
The most sensible landing spot from Green Bay’s perspective is likely the Miami Dolphins. Miami has four first-round picks over the next three years and plays in the AFC. The Dolphins could also trade Tua Tagovailoa in this scenario to garner more draft assets to move in a deal.
In short, the Dolphins have the most avenues to land Rodgers if he becomes available.
However, team president Mark Murphy and Gutekunst can go another route. They can cal his bluff.
If Rodgers wants to retire if the Packers won’t trade him, make him prove it. Green Bay can explain to their future Hall of Famer he won’t be dealt under any circumstances, and if he’d like to quit football and host Jeopardy, they’ll send him a gold watch.
All told, it sets up for a rancorous summer in Green Bay.
In Chicago, though, there will be bliss.
Yes, who could have imagined anything but rancor and pain only a week ago in the Windy City when talking about quarterbacks? Andy Dalton and Nick Foles might have been the saddest quarterback competition we had seen in this league since … Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles.
Then, thunderbolt on Thursday night.
In the NFL Draft’s first round, much-maligned Chicago general manager Ryan Pace made a bold move, going up nine spots from No. 20 to 11 to select the sliding Justin Fields.
Fields, who starred at Ohio State over the previous two seasons, comes to the Bears with considerable fanfare. He’s seen as the savior in a town which hasn’t had a top-flight quarterback since Sid Luckman. And, in a Big Ten city, he’s coming to a town which is well-aware of his capabilities.
Of course, Fields needs to prove himself. He could come to Chicago hailed as a conquering hero and leave meekly, much as Tribusky did. The difference, however, is the Bears were immediately second-guessed locally and nationally for that choice, passing on Watson (nobody criticized passing on Patrick Mahomes in the moment).
In this case, Fields was a distant pipe dream entering the evening who somehow made it to the Bears’ clutches.
If Fields works out, he’ll save the jobs of Nagy and head coach Matt Nagy. If Rodgers is dealt, the Bears become favorites in the NFC North, at minimum, alongside the Minnesota Vikings. It also makes keeping star receiver Allen Robinson intrigued as the two sides work on a long-term deal.
In a league dictated by quarterback play, the Bears may have finally gotten it right. Meanwhile, the Packers, who have enjoyed a pair of all-time talents since 1992, may have watched the final grain of sand slip to the bottom of their contention hourglass.
One day, two players, and a seismic shift in the NFC landscape.
Top 10 draft classes at a glance
1. Chicago Bears (Justin Fields, Teven Jenkins)
2. Los Angeles Chargers (Rashawn Slater, Asante Samuel Jr.)
3. Cleveland Browns (Greg Newsome, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah)
4. Carolina Panthers (Jaycee Horn, Terrace Marhshall Jr.)
5. New York Jets (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore)
6. Jacksonville Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence, Walker Little)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (DeVonta Smith, Landon Dickerson)
8. Detroit Lions (Penei Sewell, Alim McNeill)
9. Buffalo Bills (Gregory Rousseau, Boogie Basham)
10. Atlanta Falcons (Kyle Pitts, Richie Grant)
“There’s no competition there. … It’s just taking another player. It’s like, regardless of position, if we take a player in the third round or first round, I’m not calling a player and saying, ‘Hey, we may take this guy here.’”
– Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman on the pick of quarterback Kellen Mond
The Vikings took some insurance behind Kirk Cousins, who has only a year remaining on his current deal. Spielman’s commentary afterwards is wise in cementing Cousins’ status for 2021, but the pick is also telling. Mond is clearly seen as a potential starter in the coming years.
Kyle Trask will back up Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. Trask was a 2-year old when Brady was drafted into the NFL.
Info learned this week
1. 49ers went with Trey Lance after month of intrigue
It was Trey Lance after all.
Since the 49ers moved up to No. 3 in March, there was rampant speculation about who San Francisco would take. Over the past two weeks, it became clear Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones were the top contenders. Ultimately, general manager John Lynch chose the North Dakota State product.
Lance is a fascinating player. With the Bison, he played one full year and threw a total of 318 passes over three campaigns. In 2019, Lance tossed 28 touchdowns without an interception, completing 66.9 percent of his throws for 2,786 yards. He also ran for another 1,100 yards and 14 scores.
The questions with Lance are his accuracy on intermediate and deep balls, and how much can a team glean from one year against substandard competition? Ultimately, Lance hasn’t played save one game (due to NDSU’s COVID schedule) since ’19. That matters.
Still, the Niners had their choice of Justin Fields, Jones and Lance and decided on the latter to run head coach Kyle Shanahan’s complex offense. While he might sit for a year behind veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, he’ll soon be at the controls. Exciting times in San Francisco.
2. Ravens providing ton of support to Lamar Jackson
It’s time for Lamar Jackson to make the leap as a passer.
Yes, the former unanimous MVP has to make another step in his career progression, and the Baltimore Ravens are giving him every opportunity. The Ravens have added receivers Rashod Bateman (first round) and Tylan Wallace (fourth round) to the roster after signing Sammy Watkins in free agency.
In three-wide sets, the Ravens will trot out Watkins, Bateman and Hollywood Brown with tight end Mark Andrews also in the formation. It’s not the ’99 Rams, but it’s a terrific nucleus for Jackson to beat defenses with.
It’s fair to wonder if general manager Eric DeCosta wants to see Jackson with such a supporting cast before deciding how to proceed with Jackson’s looming contract situation. The former Louisville star and Heisman Trophy winner is eligible for an extension, but perhaps Baltimore simply exercises his fifth-year option and watches 2021 unfold.
If the Ravens go that route, Jackson might get frustrated considering how much he’s accomplished. However, Baltimore wanting to see more passing production makes sense, and the front office has provided ample opportunity.
3. Patriots go all-in with Mac Jones as Brady’s heir apparent
The New England Patriots believe they found their man.
With Alabama’s Mac Jones slipping to No. 15, the Patriots jumped on the quarterback to be their future. After remaking their anemic offense in free agency with tight ends Jonnu Smith and Huntery Henry, and receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, head coach Bill Belichick decided to address the team’s most pressing need.
With the Crimson Tide, Jones posted 4,500 passing yards with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions last year, leading Alabama to the national title.
If any NFL teams was going to feel comfortable with the person and player Jones is, it was always New England. Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban go back to their days together with the Browns in the early-90s. The Patriots have selected a litany of Crimson Tide stars in recent years, and even doubled down this weekend with defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the second round.
Belichick believes Jones can eventually overtake Cam Newton and lead New England back into contention for the AFC East. If he’s right, the Patriots could be a problem soon. If he’s wrong, at 69 years old, this might have slammed his window shut for another championship.
4. Cowboys concentrate almost solely on defense, but with red flags galore
The Dallas Cowboys are well known for not considering character. It’s a reputation well-earned.
In this draft, Dallas took Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round before nabbing corner Kelvin Joseph in the second. Parsons was named in a federal lawsuit where then-Nittany Lions football player Isaiah Humphries claimed he was hazed with simulations of sexual assault. Joseph was kicked out of LSU and had issues with multiple coaching staffs at the collegiate level.
All told, Dallas’ first six picks were all on defense before shifting focus.
Then, on Day 3, the Cowboys selected Marshall offensive tackle Josh Ball, who finished his career with the Thundering Herd after leaving Florida State. Why did he leave Tallahassee? Ball was found guilty of dating violence, striking a female on 11 occasions. When asked about the incidents on Saturday, Ball brushed them aside.
Dallas has seemingly no regard for off-field incidents or character concerns. Bad look.
5. Chiefs continued building fortress around Patrick Mahomes
We all watched Patrick Mahomes get brutalized in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs cleared noticed too.
Kansas City’s offseason has been centered around protecting Mahomes like the treasure he is, starting with the record-setting signing of left guard Joe Thuney and continuing with the signings of veteran guard Kyle Long and center Austin Blythe. Last week, general manager Brett Veach engineered a trade for Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown, solidifying Mahomes’ blind side.
On Friday, the rebuild continued with Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, who starred for three years at Norman and didn’t allow a sack. Humphrey will immediately compete to start, while ensuring Thuney won’t kick inside. Factoring in the return of guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and right tackle Lucas Niang from the COVID opt-out lists, and the Chiefs have an entirely new line.
Many who love football are undoubtedly thrilled with their franchise’s hauls from the offseason. Mahomes might be the biggest fan of anybody.
I loved the New York Giants plan this weekend.
Famously, general manager Dave Gettleman had never previously moved back in a draft, but did so with each of his first two picks on Thursday and Friday. The result was netting 2022 first and fourth-round choices with the Bears deal, before acquiring a ’22 third-rounder from Miami.
Meanwhile, the Giants took receiver Kadarius Toney at No. 20 overall. He’ll join receivers Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton and Kenny Golladay, running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Evan Engram as weapons for third-year quarterback Daniel Jones.
Now, Jones has no excuses. New York is loaded with talent with the Duke product in his second. year of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s scheme. The Giants will get a great look at what Jones can do and if they like the result, fantastic. If not, they have the currency to make a move up in the draft for his replacement, or to trade for a veteran.
Big Blue came up huge in this draft.
Inside the league
One domino we might see fall this offseason regards the Philadelphia Eagles and tight end Zach Ertz.
The two sides seemed destined for a parting of ways earlier this offseason, with either a trade or release being reasonable. Yet Ertz remains an Eagle. Per league conversations throughout the past year, once extension talks broke down quickly in August, last season appeared Ertz’s final in Philadelphia. By the past winter, the expectation hadn’t changed.
However, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman might be willing to keep Ertz through the final year of his contract if he doesn’t get a worthy offer. Does that mean something like a third-round pick in Roseman’s mind? Perhaps. If so, does a team like the Bills part ways with a mid-round selection to nab a playmaker at a position of need?
It’s something to watch as the lull of the NFL calendar takes hold.
Tajee Harris is the sixth running back drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers since the AFL-NFL merger.
Of the previous five, Franco Harris reached the Hall of Fame, while the others (Rashad Mendenhall, Tim Worley, Walter Abercrombie, Greg Hawthorne) never reached a single Pro Bowl.
We’ll see where the latest Pittsburgh runner falls on this spectrum.
Deshaun Watson’s future with the Houston Texans seems more tenuous than ever.
With all the legal issues surrounding the star quarterback, there’s been an ugliness and uncertainty permeating for months. Then, on Friday, the Texans used their first pick — in the third round — to take Stanford quarterback Davis Mills.
Without first and second-round selections and a hideous roster, general manager Nick Caserio could have used the pick to fill a number of holes. Instead, he shored up quarterback. to something you’d see from a smart GM who believes Watson will be around for the long haul.
We learned plenty from the 2021 NFL Draft, perhaps nothing more than what Houston really thinks of Watson’s expiration date with it.