Offseason Drama Already Begun
By Omar Abusin
The NFL is a ruthless organisation where almost no individual’s career is guaranteed for tomorrow, never mind next year. As we approach the end of the 2020 season, it’s inevitably time to discuss the biggest storylines set to dominate headlines in the coming months. Recent events leave us with five major talking points:
Houston, We Have A Problem
There really is only one place to start when it comes to 2021 off-season drama: Deshaun Watson. One of the league’s most supreme talents, an absolute bullet of an arm, superb mobility and football IQ that rivals the best – I must say, I am a little bit of a Deshaun Watson fanboy, and still believe that he is criminally underrated. Who can say for sure that if Deshaun had the weapons Mahomes has at his disposal, he wouldn’t be doing the outrageous things the Chiefs QB is currently doing? Give Deshaun Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins and he’d light the league up.
It is no secret that Deshaun has been neglected and mistreated in Houston. Perhaps the most dysfunctional franchise in the NFL, the Houston Texans traded away an all-pro receiver in DeAndre Hopkins in the off season last year for running back David Johnson, without letting the quarterback know about the deal before it happened. A truly baffling trade. Playing for an organization which does not value him enough to discuss big decisions such as the hiring of a new head coach with him only added fuel to the fire for Watson.
Yet, ultimately, if the Texans were winning football games, none of this would have mattered. Deshaun is 25 and entering his prime. If he wants to become one of the all-time greats, something which his talent would suggest he is aiming to be, he must prioritise winning over anything else. Realistically Watson, who signed a five-year, $156 million contract extension in September – making him the second-highest-paid quarterback behind Mahomes – may end up riding out his contract at Houston, but if he was to to be traded, where would he go?
There would be no end of suitorts, but perhaps the most likely opportunity would fall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Are they willing to trade away their number 1 pick (99% certain to be Trevor Lawrence) for Deshaun? Are they willing to trust an established elite quarterback over a potentially generational talent out of Clemson who is the most sought after player coming out of college since Andrew Luck? The Jaguars certainly have the draft capital and salary cap space to pull it off, but would Watson want to go there?
Foxboro Quarterback Carousel
Moving on, arguably the most polarizing and popular franchise in the NFL are once again likely to be at the forefront of media tongues this off-season. Cam Newton, a former league MVP, and one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in league history, is likely to be on his way out of New England after an underwhelming season with the Patriots. Only 8 passing TD’s and 10 interceptions makes ugly viewing for both Cam and Patriots fans, who failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Cam’s future with the Patriots, and in the league for that matter, seems to be limited. The injuries have undoubtedly taken their toll on his 6’5 frame; the physical impact he has absorbed due to his play style for the past amount of years unsurprisingly having an effect.
Yet, this may not be ‘it’ for the former MVP. Cam still had over 10 rushing TD’s this season and his mobility is still competent enough to compete. Also, COVID 19 took its toll, and he was not the same after returning. It comes down to which franchise now can put faith and trust in Cam to deliver and hit at least 80% of the heights he has hit in the past, which would make him a very valuable commodity for most teams in the NFL.
Bill Belichick has a huge summer ahead of him. The Patriots have publicly disclosed they’re moving on, but you can take what this organisation says with a boat load of salt. Will he opt to keep Cam and give him one more chance to rediscover his 2015 MVP form, or will he part ways with the former Panther and move to secure a player of Matt Stafford or Jimmy Garoppolo’s ilk? It is no secret that Bill and Garoppolo have a mutual respect; in fact, Jimmy G was anointed by BB to take over from Tom Brady before Robet Kraft stepped in and ordered Belichick to trade him, appeasing the GOAT. In the 49ers they may find willing trade partners; shedding Garoppolo’s $26.4 million cap hit in 2021 would result in a dead cap number of just $2.8 million, so the money is there to make a move for a veteran passer.
The emergence of Stafford this off-season has given Bellichick another option to pursue, and this is a match made in heaven. Stafford is a high IQ quarterback and his contract is affordable; the Patriots have the No. 15 overall pick and Belichick has had success in the past working with a veteran signal-caller and developing a system around him that works.
All Change In Atlanta?
Julio Julio Julio. Arguably the best NFL receiver during the 2010’s, Julio Jones didn’t post a single season with less than 1,000 receiving yards since he’s entered the league when playing at least 15 games. He’s one of the most complete and feared wide receivers of all time, and has completely justified the big move up the draft former GM Thomas Dimitroff orchestrated to get him back in 2011 . After spending over 10 years (the whole of his career) in Atlanta, this off-season may be the trigger for change.
As The Falcons move into 2021 with a new Head Coach and General Manager, it could be time to hit the reset button on the roster. This may include some serious transition on offense, moving on from Julio as well as QB Matt Ryan. These two superstars have been mainstays and critical pieces of the Falcons team which became an NFC force, culminating in the loss to Brady and the Patriots in arguably the greatest Super Bowl of all time four years ago.
Although Jones is on the wrong side of 30, his explosiveness and elite playmaking ability have remained at respectable levels, and should he be available there will be a sea of potential suitors for him this off-season. Trading for Jones, for any team, is undeniably a move to win now given his salary and age. A team which pops to mind for this type of deal is the Green Bay Packers…
Can you imagine if Aaron Rodgers is given the opportunity to win another ring with none other than Julio Jones lining up across from Davante Adams? It really would be a beautiful sight to see, Rodgers finally spoiled with such offensive talent after being so bereaved of it his whole career. Whilst the Aaron Rodgers-Davante Adams connection this season was arguably the most potent in the league, the simple fact remains that there is no other consistently productive and reliable wide receiver on the Packers roster, something which perhaps stopped them from making it past the NFC championship for the second season running.
A-Rod Sticking A-Round?
On the note of the Green Bay Packers, their face of the franchise, their quarterback and their leader Aaron Rodgers has also come under the spotlight this off season. After another vintage year, in which he is likely to pick up his third MVP, he finds himself in a position where he may have to decide whether his future lies in Green Bay. After essentially drafting his predecessor in the 2020 NFL Draft with the teams first-round pick (Jordan Love), it seemed that it was a sign that Rodgers’ minor but steady decline over the past few years was making The Packers plan for the future. Understandably, this was something Rodgers felt slightly disrespected by. But now that he’s come off an incredible year, the ball is well and truly in Rodgers’ court.
“I don’t think that there is any reason why I wouldn’t be back,” Rodgers said Tuesday during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show. And it is clear that his desire to win another Super Bowl in Green Bay, after 4 NFC Championship Game losses, burns as brightly as ever.
A Rodgers trade would be sensational for the league, but it is unlikely. Despite drafting Love, A-Rod hasn’t looked as content on the field as he did in 2020 for a long time, and his relationship with Matt LaFleur (4th down decisions notwithstanding) seems respectful.
Brett Farve gave his take on the situation recently, brushing off Rodgers’ ambiguous “everyone’s future is uncertain” statement following the NFC championship defeat, by claiming that it was ‘the heat of the moment’ and that Rodgers would be returning to Green Bay next year. Packers fans can all R-E-L-A-X.
We finish with a story which has been developing for many months now, and reached boiling point in December when Crason Wentz, one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL, was benched for rookie Jalen Hurts. Wentz was having a below par season up until that point, and that’s being generous. Wentz led the league in interceptions (15), sacks (50), and was 31st in completion percentage (57.4), by far his worst season as a starter in the NFL.
Unsurprisingly, being dropped mid-season for a rookie has a quarterback of Wentz’s proven quality re-considering his future. Particularly considering that Hurts gave the offense a shot in the arm since being given the starter role. Hurts was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2019 after completing 69.7% of his passes for 3,851 yards, with 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in his senior season at Oklahoma. The added dynamic he brings with his scrambling ability was seen in Philly this season as he learnt on the job.
Rather conveniently, the firing of Doug Peterson as HC of the Philadelphia Eagles may have saved Wentz’s career in Philly. Before losing his job, Pederson had insisted that the Eagles’ offseason will be “geared towards getting things fixed” at the quarterback position. He was also on record as still having a “ton of confidence” in Wentz. But behind the scenes, Pederson was not so stoic. He lost his job due to ‘philosophical differences’ with Jeffrey Lurie, and it is no secret that the owner wanted a coach who could work with Wentz and get him back on track. This led to the hiring of Nick Sirianni, a guy who worked under Frank Reich in Indianapolis. Reich of course was Carson Wentz’s former offensive co-ordinator for the Eagles when they won the Super Bowl.
In a cruel twist of fate, many media members suggested that Pederson would always be tempted to go back to Wentz as the team’s starter. Some even claimed that Hurts may need to ‘wait for a coaching change before he seizes the starting spot for good.’ It seems ironic that it seems to have come down between a straight choice between QB or HC. Carson looks to have gotten a reprieve in the city of brotherly love for now; it will be interesting to see how long for.
Omar is a part time law student and full-time football fanatic. Whenever he’s not delving into the roots of EU law, he’s delving into the roots of football analytics. His soft spot for the Dolphins stems from his inspiration by Dan Marino. You can find him on Instagram at @omarabusin