Community Tailgate

Community Tailgate: Broncos, Raiders’ Quarterback Plans

With the Broncos and Raiders‘ most recent quarterback plans not working out, the AFC West presents a stark have/have-not disparity at the game’s glamour position. Going into the draft, Denver and Las Vegas have uphill climbs to find passers who could provide hope of matching up with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

Yes, the Broncos and Raiders have enjoyed some success against the Chiefs and Chargers (more so the Bolts) during these two Pro Bowlers’ stays. But this era of roster building has mandated either a franchise QB or a stacked roster is necessary to be a true contender. Denver and Las Vegas meet neither criteria, and the rivals’ current draft real estate does not leave clear paths to acquiring such help.

Holding the No. 12 pick, the Broncos did not match the Raiders’ urgency to add a bridge-type starter. The Raiders (No. 13) have Gardner Minshew signed to a two-year, $25MM deal ($15MM guaranteed). If they are unable to piece together a trade or do not see good value in picking one of the draft’s second-tier options, the Minshew bridge merely extends.

The Broncos, conversely, have only Jarrett Stidham — a player best known as the emergency starter as Derek Carr and then Russell Wilson were parked largely for contractual reasons — as a realistic starter option. While rumors about the Broncos being fine with Stidham beginning the season as the starter have emerged, it is difficult to envision Sean Payton entrusting the career backup/third-stringer to that role without a better option being acquired.

The Broncos are planning to add another arm via free agency or through a trade, but options are scarce at this point. As far as the draft goes, the team has been tied to Bo Nix and J.J. McCarthy. A recent report suggested a “heavy expectation” exists the Broncos will leave the first round with a QB, and while Denver has been viewed as wanting to trade up, the Payton and Wilson trades make this a dicey proposition.

Denver has not held a first-round pick since 2021 (Patrick Surtain). Unless the Broncos want to entertain trading their best player to help acquire draft assets, they would need to return to the treacherous road of trading first-round picks. Denver unloaded two in the Wilson swap and sent the Bradley Chubb-obtained choice to New Orleans for Payton’s rights. That Saints swap also stripped the Broncos of their 2024 second-rounder, creating a daunting task for the again-QB-needy club. Eating a record-smashing $85MM in dead money over the next two years on Wilson’s contract, the Broncos obviously would best benefit from a cost-controlled passer.

The Raiders do hold their second-round pick, but the player they have not made a great secret of coveting is viewed as unavailable. Reuniting Antonio Pierce and Jayden Daniels became a Raiders goal early this offseason, but’s Adam Schefter said this week a climb from No. 13 into Daniels territory is likely impossible. Michael Penix Jr. consolation-prize rumors have surfaced, and while the Washington product is seen by some coaches as having skills in line with this draft’s top QBs, scouts have seen some mechanical issues that could pose a problem for the deep-ball maestro’s NFL acclimation.

It also will be worth monitoring how serious the Raiders’ trade-up efforts will become in the days leading up to the draft. A recent report suggested Pierce was in favor of doing what it takes to move up the board for a long-term answer while GM Tom Telesco was OK with hanging onto draft assets and using Minshew as a full-season starter if need be. That will create an interesting backdrop ahead of the duo’s first draft together.

Trade routes for the Raiders and Broncos also stand to be complicated by the fact the Chargers sit in one of the spots that could be used to move up. At No. 4, the Cardinals hold prime real estate to collect a major haul from a QB-needy team. If the Cardinals opt to stay at 4 and draft a wide receiver, the Chargers suddenly become the gateway team. L.A. will probably not be inclined to help one of its two division rivals climb to 5 for a franchise-QB hopeful — at least, not without increasing the price tag. The Giants and Vikings also have the AFC West clubs outflanked in terms of draft assets, with New York sitting at No. 6 and Minnesota holding two first-rounders (Nos. 11 and 23).

With the 2025 draft class not viewed — as of now, at least — as rivaling this QB crop, the stakes could soon rise for the Broncos and Raiders. The teams have done their homework on this class, meeting with passers that will be difficult to impossible to obtain (Daniels, McCarthy). Nix, who profiles as a player the AFC West teams would not need to craft a monster trade haul for, also visited the Raiders. These teams coming out of Round 1 without a QB raises major questions about each’s viability.

Neither of these franchises has enjoyed much luck drafting QBs in Round 1. The Raiders made one of the biggest mistakes in draft history by selecting JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007 (16 years after drafting quick bust Todd Marinovich). Like the Broncos, the best QBs in team history (Ken Stabler, Rich Gannon, Daryle Lamonica, Carr) were either outside additions or a second-round pick.

Denver’s history here is also checkered, with the franchise having traded 2006 first-rounder Jay Cutler after three years and made the strange moves of drafting a first-round QB ahead of John Elway‘s age-32 season (Tommy Maddox) and then trading up 18 spots to draft Tim Tebow in 2010. These decisions both provided more value than the 2016 Paxton Lynch whiff. Lynch is among the 12 QBs/Phillip Lindsay (the 2020 COVID-19 game against Payton’s Saints) to start for the Broncos since Peyton Manning‘s retirement.

Appearing to reside in the backseat among teams with chances of acquiring draft real estate necessary to acquire one of the class’ top arms, the Broncos and Raiders’ QB situations double as two of the top storylines going into the draft. How will the rival teams navigate their complex tasks of upgrading early in the draft? Weigh in with your thoughts on these situations in PFR’s latest Community Tailgate.

Community Tailgate: Jets’ Future

After Aaron Rodgers spent months attempting to come back from an Achilles tear earlier than anyone before him, the lofty goal of returning this season proved unreachable. The Jets activated their preferred starter from IR, and while Rodgers can keep practicing to close out the season, his next game opportunity will come in 2024.

Rodgers said following his darkness-retreat excursion this winter he was “90% retired,” but the future Hall of Fame quarterback has changed his tune since joining the Jets. Turning 40 earlier this month, Rodgers now hopes to play two more seasons. Having planned a two-year run with the Jets, the four-time MVP is planning to start that clock in 2024 — after this lost season ended four plays in. The Jets’ outlook changed at that point as well.

Pivoting back to Zach Wilson, the Jets saw their season resemble a 2022 campaign that became defined by a losing streak. The Jets tumbled out of playoff contention, partially contributing to the call to shut down Rodgers, and have now started four quarterbacks in at least two games. The team’s playoff drought doubles the longest current regular-season-only streak in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL.

Robert Saleh will soon become the rare coach to receive a fourth season after starting his tenure with three consecutive sub-.500 showings, with Woody Johnson confirming he and fifth-year GM Joe Douglas will be given a mulligan and return in 2024. With Rodgers given significant say in organizational decisions, his recent endorsement — and rumors leading up to it — pointed to Johnson sticking with the embattled HC-GM duo. While Johnson did not mention OC Nathaniel Hackett last week, Rodgers being a long-running supporter of the struggling coordinator — after a three-year Packers partnership — looks to count for the most at this point.

Saleh still will be joining a select few in being retained after three consecutive sub-.500 seasons. Not counting interim coaches, 152 HCs have been hired since 2000. Only five have managed to last into Year 4 without a .500 season in their first three years. Here is that short list:

  • Dom Capers, Houston Texans (2002-05)
  • Mike Nolan, San Francisco 49ers (2005-08)
  • Jeff Fisher, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2012-16)
  • Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars (2013-16)
  • Jon Gruden, Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders (2018-21)

Even going back to the start of the free agency era in 1993, which seems like a decent line of demarcation for modern hiring practices, only one other HC qualifies for this exclusive club. The Bengals gave ex-Jets HC Bruce Coslet a fourth season in charge in 2000, but his three straight losing slates came after a 7-2 mark as a 1996 interim hire. No other coaches hired from 1993-99 meet the criteria, putting Saleh (and the Falcons’ Arthur Smith, should the 7-8 Falcons lose once more and he survives) in rare territory.

For all the Wilson drama to take place during Saleh’s tenure, the former 49ers DC has turned around the Jets’ defense. The team ranked last nearly across the board on that side of the ball in Saleh’s first year. By 2022, the unit had rocketed to fourth place in scoring and total defense. This season’s group has not been quite as good, sitting 16th in points allowed and seventh in total defense (but third in DVOA entering Week 17). Saleh’s defensive chops and Douglas’ ability to provide sufficient pieces — though, predecessor Mike Maccagnan brought in top front-seven pieces C.J. Mosley and Quinnen Williams — have been on display over the past two seasons.

Still, this year has brought a new chapter of Jets drama. Rodgers’ weekly spot on the Pat McAfee Show featured countless updates on a rehab effort that fell short, with the future Hall of Famer’s comments continually forcing Saleh to address various remarks. Rodgers also criticized the team’s culture after The Athletic’s report that indicated Wilson was hesitant to reclaim the starting role. Saleh pushed back on Rodgers’ criticism but also said he always believed Wilson was the team’s best QB option, even as he turned to the since-cut Tim Boyle for two games.

Wilson’s presence has largely defined Saleh’s tenure. The bust-in-progress is 12-21 as a starter and has been benched regularly since November 2022. The Jets handing the former No. 2 overall pick the backup job, while attempting an unusual redevelopment effort, turned out to be a mistake. But the team compounded the error by refusing to bring in a quarterback capable of unseating Wilson once Rodgers went down. Months later, the Jets rank last in offensive DVOA.

A September report pegged ownership as being behind the failure to seek a true Wilson upgrade, which led to the Trevor Siemian practice squad addition. Another report indicated the Jets did not want to add a starter-caliber veteran due to the effect it would have on Wilson. While Wilson is not expected to be part of the 2024 Jets, his three-season tenure — one Douglas greenlit despite the BYU alum’s unusual prospect profile — has been a low point in franchise history.

After another round of ongoing drama and offensive woes, the Jets will bank on a 40-year-old Rodgers bailing them out on the heels of the most significant injury of his career. Considering the ex-Packers (Hackett included) the team brought in this year, it should again be expected Rodgers will have significant personnel sway. Will that be a wise move for the Jets? Weigh in with your thoughts on Jets ownership’s decision to retain its current setup in PFR’s latest Community Tailgate.

Community Tailgate: Patriots’ Post-Tom Brady Struggles

2023 has seen the Patriots continue to struggle in the years following Tom Brady’s free agent departure in 2020. Offensive shortcomings were foreshadowed in the waning years of the legendary quarterback’s time in New England, but they have dragged the franchise down as the search for a long-term successor is still ongoing.

That effort saw Mac Jones selected in the first round of the 2021 draft, and his rookie performance offered optimism he could deliver consistent play under center. Since then, however, the Alabama product has not met expectations and his status as the team’s undisputed starter remained in question through this past offseason. Tensions between he and head coach Bill Belichick went public, and 2023 was viewed as a potential make-or-break-year for both parties.

The Patriots’ bizarre setup with respect to guiding the offense last season – which saw Matt Patricia and Joe Judge share duties on a less-than-familiar side of the ball – was done away with this spring. The return of OC Bill O’Brien brought about optimism for a rebound from Jones and the rest of the unit, but New England ranks last in the league in points per game and 28th in total offense. Over the past two weeks, their struggles have manifested in undeniable fashion: a 38-3 loss to the Cowboys, followed by a 34-0 defeat at home against the Saints.

At no point during Robert Kraft’s ownership tenure had the Patriots lost two games by 30 or more points in a season, a feat which has now been seen in consecutive weeks. Jones has not been on the field by the end of either contest, but he has received a vote of confidence as the starting signal-caller moving forward. How long of a leash he receives will be a storyline to follow, but the same will hold true for the play of the pass-catching corps around him.

Belichick and the Patriots do not have a stellar record when it comes to identifying high-end receivers in the draft, something which has been made painfully clear without Brady under center. The occasional free agent spending spree – such as the one which produced lucrative deals for tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in 2021 – has not proved to be a useful solution. Mike Gesicki represents the latest investment at the TE spot, albeit on a one-year deal, which has yet to yield notable production.

Whispers about Belichick’s job security started to pick up when Kraft essentially delivered a playoffs-or-bust ultimatum in March. While the latter walked back that sentiment to an extent, it very much remains to be seen if the former will be able to dig New England out of its 1-4 hole. Failure to do so will no doubt lead to plenty of attention aimed at Belichick’s intentions; the 71-year-old is reportedly expected to step aside (voluntarily or otherwise) if the current campaign ends in another lack of postseason success.

Defensive consistency has, to no surprise, been a mainstay for the Patriots across Belichick’s tenure. That unit is in danger of suffering a notable step back in effectiveness this year, however, with both Pro Bowl edge rusher Matt Judon and first-round rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez expected to miss the rest of the campaign. Their losses will be acutely felt as the team is set to rely on its defense given the inability of the offense to consistently put up points.

Gaining ground in a division which features the Dolphins and Bills will be a daunting task given the advantage those teams have in the standings and the issues which threaten to consign the Patriots to what would be a third year out of the four since Brady left without a playoff appearance (the lone exception coming in 2021 which included a 30-point loss in the wild-card round). While that era has seen a continuation of the organization’s brain drain on the sidelines and in the front office, the current situation has led to renewed calls for a large-scale reset.

What do you make of the Patriots’ 2023 performances and the overall trends they underscore? Should Jones and/or Belichick remain in place as the key determinants in future success (or perhaps a lack thereof)? Or would the organization be better suited to move in a fundamentally different direction and begin a new era? Have your say in the comments section below.

Community Tailgate: Lamar Jackson

Ozzie Newsome’s final draft as Ravens general manager in 2018 saw the team secure a succession plan for Joe Flacco at the quarterback position. With the Super Bowl XLVII MVP aging and approaching an important financial point in his contract, Lamar Jackson was selected to one day take over the reins of a transitioning offense.

That time came midway through Jackson’s rookie season, when the Louisville product took over for an injured Flacco. He helped lead the Ravens to a 6-1 record and a playoff berth, cementing his status as the starter moving forward. The 2019 season saw Jackson deliver one of the most unique and historic performances in NFL history, which culminated in the league’s second ever unanimous MVP vote. Expectations have been through the roof ever since, but the situation between Jackson and the Ravens has soured recently with contract talks netting little progress over the past two years.

The 26-year-old was thought to be next in line for a mega-extension similar to the ones signed by Patrick Mahomes and 2018 classmate Josh Allen. The Ravens have been prepared to pay Jackson in a similar fashion to those two in terms of annual compensation in the neighborhood of $45MM per season. As time wore on without much traction being gained during negotiations, though, the events of last offseason marked an important turning point.

After being the subject of a bidding war, Deshaun Watson was ultimately traded to the Browns and signed to a five-year, $230MM deal. The surprise from Cleveland’s willingness to part with three first-round picks for him was surpassed only by the fully guaranteed nature of his pact. Many around the league – including Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti lamented the historic investment the Browns made in Watson, acutely aware of how it would likely affect Jackson’s leverage in extension talks.

The previous season had seen Baltimore find itself atop the AFC standings before a reaching a tipping point on the injury front. That included Jackson missing time due to injury for the first time in his career. He was sidelined for the final five games of the year, and the Ravens narrowly missed the playoffs while struggling mightily on offense. Reports then emerged during the summer of 2022 that the two-time Pro Bowler turned down an offer including $133MM in guaranteed money.

That figure would have ranked second in the league, but nowhere near the level of Watson’s deal. New contracts signed by Russell Wilson ($124MM fully guaranteed) and Kyler Murray ($103MM) suggested teams were willing to ignore the Watson accord in terms of precedent on the guarantee front, something GM Eric DeCosta and the Ravens’ front office is holding firm on. Jackson made it clear he would pause negotiations during the 2022 season, one which was expected to provide clarity on his financial future.

Playing on the fifth-year option, Jackson and the Ravens instead followed a similar script this year. The former Heisman winner suffered a knee injury in Week 13, something which was not initially expected to cost him the remainder of the season. That did end up being the case, however, and much was made about his absence extending into the team’s postseason loss. Jackson’s decision to take to social media to elaborate on the extent of his PCL sprain, and later to issue a thinly-veiled directive to the team regarding his impending free agency has likewise not sat well.

Having missed 10 of the past 22 games, injuries have become a talking point with so much at stake in contract talks. That figure could give the Ravens (or any other interested team) perceived leverage, but Jackson has plenty as well. The Ravens are 46-19 in his starts, and 4-9 without him since 2019. The team’s offense has averaged 10 fewer points per game without Jackson during that span compared to the games in which he does play.

A new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken is expected to produce schematic changes compared to Greg Roman, the OC during each of Jackson’s four full seasons as a starter. Regardless of what takes place on that front, the Ravens’ pass-catching corps (which lacks established playmakers outside of tight end Mark Andrews) will be a key area of focus. Additions – such as a long-term replacement for Marquise Brown, whose trade request was quietly granted last spring – will be hard to come by when Jackson takes up a substantially higher portion of the Ravens’ cap, either through a mega-deal or a one-year charge brought on by the franchise tag.

The difficulty in acquiring and retaining pass-catchers increasingly became a point of contention after Flacco turned his 2012 playoff success into a franchise-record extension. Trepidation on the team’s part in terms of looking to avoid a repeat of that scenario would be understandable up to a point, as the Ravens look to keep Jackson in the fold while not compromising an otherwise strong roster.

With the franchise tag being all-but certain in Jackson’s case, this saga could continue for months to come. An offer sheet or tag-and-trade could come into play, depending on which tag the Ravens use and Jackson’s perceived market around the league. Whether he signs his tag is another matter altogether, and sitting out the offseason could lead to a holdout situation similar to Le’Veon Bell in 2018. The then-Steeler skipped the entire campaign, forfeiting millions in compensation (albeit far less than what Jackson would be giving up if he followed suit). Bell still landed a big-ticket deal from the Jets in 2019, so the tactic could prove useful if a repeat were to be attempted.

In the summer, PFR’s readers were split on how they felt this situation would unfold. No option is off the table at this point, from a franchise-record deal to the league’s first ever trade involving an MVP under the age of 30. How do you see things playing out? Which side will concede during negotiations? Where will Jackson play in 2023 and beyond? Have your say in the comments section.

Community Tailgate: State Of The Broncos

Injuries are hitting the Broncos harder than most teams. Starters continue to be moved to IR, with Garett Bollesleg fracture the latest significant issue to emerge. But this is standard in-season fare. Ditto close losses. The Broncos’ bigger-picture problems are not.

The team’s hire of Nathaniel Hackett and trade for Russell Wilson have not produced offensive success; the Broncos’ defense has been largely responsible for their two wins and the team being in position for two more. Hackett and Wilson’s performances keyed both the upset losses to the Seahawks and Colts. Considering what these two figures mean for the franchise’s future, the early returns warrant scrutiny.

Denver cycled through 11 starting quarterbacks between Peyton Manning‘s retirement and the Wilson trade. First-round picks (Paxton Lynch), second-round picks (Drew Lock), free agent signings (Case Keenum) and trades (Joe Flacco, Teddy Bridgewater) did not produce worthwhile solutions, leading the franchise to pony up for Wilson. The Broncos’ eight-asset trade haul — headlined by 2022 and 2023 first-round picks — for Wilson doubled as one of the most expensive in NFL history, and the team committed to the perennial Pro Bowler via the five-year, $245MM ($124MM fully guaranteed) extension in August.

Through five games, the Broncos rank 31st in points per game and 28th in EPA per drive. While the team has mounted productive drives, it is consistently crashlanding in the red zone. This continued Thursday night, when the Broncos were 0-for-4 on touchdowns after reaching the red area. The only two instances of a team going 0-for-4 on TDs in the red zone this season, as’s Field Yates points out (on Twitter), came Thursday and in the Broncos’ bizarre Week 1 loss to the Seahawks. The Broncos have scored touchdowns at a ghastly 21.4% clip in the red zone. That is in last place by a wide margin; the 49ers rank 31st at 40%.

A star quarterback suddenly losing his form at 33 would be one of the more interesting on-field storylines to develop in recent memory, so it is worth speculating whether these rampant issues are Wilson-based or if they are more closely tied to the shift to a new offense. The nine-time Pro Bowler ranks 22nd in QBR, and the latter of Wilson’s two interceptions Thursday helped the Colts tie the game in the final minute. Wilson has rarely opted to use his legs this season; the likely Hall of Famer has 73 rushing yards through five games. That is in line with the new pace he set in 2021 (43 carries, 183 yards), when he missed three games. The Seahawks, who derived considerable value from Wilson’s rushing ability during his 10-year stay, believed Wilson’s run-game reluctancy would increase as he aged. Wilson sits fourth in QB history (behind Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Randall Cunningham) with 4,762 rushing yards.

Wilson’s accomplishments and success leading diminishing Seahawks rosters, at least compared to the franchise’s dominant mid-2010s squads, to the playoffs from 2018-20 point to Hackett being the bigger variable here. The 11th-year passer’s acclimation period to this offense — one that entered Thursday without starting running back Javonte Williams and has played without No. 3 wideout Tim Patrick all season — has been shaky at best. The Broncos’ final offensive play — a fourth-and-1 shotgun set in which Wilson missed an open K.J. Hamler, leading to extensive Hamler post-play frustration — effectively epitomizing the Hackett-Wilson partnership’s first month. Wilson is 2-for-18 on end zone passes this season, per ESPN Stats and Info.

This season has brought Hackett’s first play-calling role since he was fired from his Jaguars OC post during the 2018 season. The dual role of play-caller and game manager proved daunting for Hackett, whose 64-yard field goal attempt decision did well to foreshadow the Broncos’ eventful first month, and a game management assistant (the unretired Jerry Rosburg) is now in place. Situational struggles, as the brutal red zone numbers illustrate, have plagued Hackett since Rosburg’s arrival as well. The last of those produced a notable reaction from ex-Wilson teammate-turned-Amazon analyst Richard Sherman. Hackett rebuilt his career in Green Bay, having a hand in Aaron Rodgers‘ back-to-back MVP awards — and receiving steady endorsements from the future Hall of Famer — and interviewed for four HC jobs this offseason. But his Denver tenure is skidding off track early.

The Broncos rebounded from a 2-3 start in Manning’s first season, shifting quickly to some of Manning’s former Colts concepts to close out that 2012 campaign — a 13-3 season. But that team lost to three division champions, whereas none of this Broncos iteration’s blemishes have come against over-.500 competition. With the Broncos’ new ownership group not having signed off on Hackett, the prospect of a one-and-done HC tenure may be greater.

While these decisions are rare, five coaches (Urban Meyer, Freddie Kitchens, Steve Wilks, Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula) have been fired during or after their first season. Meyer, Wilks, Kelly and Tomsula all lost 11-plus games; Kitchens’ firing came more as a result of dysfunction. Following Thursday’s result, moved Hackett to the top of its first-coach-fired prop odds. With the Broncos tied to Wilson through at least 2025 (due to guarantees), Hackett’s job security will shift to the forefront if his offense continues to produce at this level.

Can the Broncos re-emerge as a more stable operation after their mini-bye? Or have Hackett’s early-season missteps become too big of a concern? How much of the Denver offense’s issues are Wilson-driven compared to the system in which he now finds himself? What does this all mean for the franchise’s long-term outlook? Weigh in on the Broncos’ strange start in PFR’s latest Community Tailgate installment.

Community Tailgate: Where Will Ndamukong Suh Sign?

We recently graded defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as the best free agent remaining on the market, but the only reports we have heard on him this year have concerned teams who are not interested in his services rather than teams who are.

For instance, despite a positive meeting with Suh last year, the Titans are not expected to consider signing the three-time First Team All-Pro this year. And although Suh enjoyed a strong season with the Rams in 2018, Los Angeles is not expected to renew the partnership.

Rumor has it that Suh’s asking price is the major deterrent for clubs who may otherwise be interested in his services. As the No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft, when the old CBA was in effect, Suh landed a massive rookie contract from the Lions that included $40MM in guaranteed money, and his six-year, $114MM free agent deal with the Dolphins ratcheted him further up the career earnings leaderboard.

Even Suh’s one-year contract with the Rams paid him $14MM, so he has never had to “settle” for less than an eight-figure annual income. The 32-year-old is surely content to wait out the market until a team becomes more willing to meet his asking price due to injury or poor performance, so it may be awhile before this situation resolves itself.

We tabbed the Seahawks, Cowboys, Broncos, and Vikings as potential fits, and Minnesota would perhaps be the most likely destination if the club had more cap space. But unless the Vikes make several significant moves to free up some room, they will not likely be able to give Suh anywhere close to the money he wants.

Whoever does get the Nebraska product will add a player who will instantly upgrade the D-line. Suh may not be the same player he once was, but he showed in 2018 that he still has plenty to offer, and the only two games he has missed in his nine-year career were due to suspension rather than injury.

So where do you think Suh will ply his trade in 2019? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to offer a guess as to the contract he might get.

Community Tailgate: How Will DeMarcus Lawrence Saga End?

We heard several days ago that negotiations between the Cowboys and franchise-tagged pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence are at an impasse, and the circumstances behind that impasse are the stuff that offseason drama is made of.

Lawrence, who willingly played out the 2018 season under the franchise tag, does not want to go year-to-year anymore, and he has made it abundantly clear that he wants a long-term deal. The Cowboys are happy to give it to him, but they do not value Lawrence’s skill-set quite as highly as Lawrence himself does. Dallas reportedly would give Lawrence a contract that would make him the highest-paid 4-3 defensive end in football, which would mean an AAV of over $18MM, but Lawrence is seeking a pact that would pay him at least $22.5MM per year (of course, if Lawrence were to sign his franchise tender, he would earn over $20.5MM this year and be eligible for free agency again in 2020).

In fairness to the Cowboys, Lawrence is simply not worth that kind of commitment. The market for premium players in the NFL is reset each time a new extension is signed, so if Player X signs a $100MM pact in August, Player Y, who is good but perhaps not as good as Player X, could very well land a $110MM deal in September. But sometimes, the gulf between Player X and Player Y does not justify that type of raise.

Aaron Donald‘s contract with the Rams, which he signed just last August, pays him $22.5MM per year. Lawrence is not the kind of game-changing talent that Donald is, nor is he as impactful as Khalil Mack, who signed a $23.5MM/year deal right after Donald got his payday. To be sure, Lawrence is an excellent player, but he is just not on the same level.

Further complicating the issue is that Lawrence is trying to leverage the shoulder surgery that he needs in order to continue playing into the type of contract that he wants. Lawrence wants to wait to have the surgery, which carries a four-month recovery period, until he gets his extension, and the Cowboys obviously don’t want to play along with that plan. If Lawrence wants to be ready for the start of the 2019 season, he would have to go under the knife by early May at the latest, and if he postpones the procedure, he may only be hurting himself in the long run.

We would like to know from our readers how you think this saga will play out. The safe money in these types of scenarios is always on the two sides reaching an accord, but that does not always happen. Theoretically, the Cowboys could give Lawrence permission to seek a contract with another club and then trade him to that club if he reaches an agreement, but it is difficult to imagine another team being willing to meet Lawrence’s contract demands and cough up draft compensation to acquire the soon-to-be 27-year-old.

If Lawrence refuses to come to the table, the Cowboys could rescind the franchise tag, which would make Lawrence an unrestricted free agent. But at that point, the market may not be as robust as he would like it to be, especially if he has not had the surgery yet. He could end up having to settle for a one-year pact for less than he would have earned under the franchise tag.

The guess here is that Lawrence and the Cowboys agree to terms on a multiyear pact that will pay Lawrence about $19MM per season, and that the agreement will come in the next few weeks so that Lawrence will be ready to go come September. It appears that Dallas has the leverage, but the club obviously does not want to risk losing a key player while also creating animosity in the locker room and alienating future free agents.

But what do you think the team should do, and what do you think will ultimately happen? Let us know in the comments section.

Community Tailgate: Le’Veon Bell

Nothing’s transpired on the Le’Veon Bell front going into the Steelers’ Week 3 game, continuing one of the most unique sagas in modern NFL history.

Steelers brass bracing for a lengthy Bell absence looks accurate at this point, with no near-future debut date in sight for the two-time All-Pro running back. Rather than angle for more money in his Steelers walk year, Bell is taking a self-preservation stance in avoiding as much punishment as possible in hopes of securing a landmark free agency accord as a result.

But is he making the right decision? Bell will have lost out on more than $2.5MM by the end of Week 3 and stands to lose out on millions more if he pushes the holdout to the Week 10 deadline.

The Steelers placed the ball in his court. They aren’t going to rescind his franchise tag. They don’t plan to trade him, which would essentially place another team in their predicament as the employer of a rental player, and will not set a precedent of enhancing his prorated franchise tag number (once set at $14.5MM).

For now, probably the second-best player on a team that entered the season with the second-best odds at an AFC title is out of the picture despite being presumably healthy. Meanwhile, the Steelers are struggling at 0-1-1. While they aren’t exactly in must-win territory just yet, that time may be fast approaching. But the traditional organization caving to Bell by authorizing any kind of raise seems highly unlikely. And James Conner fared well in Week 1, when Pittsburgh’s game script was not thrust into the pass-heavy mode Week 2 required.

Bell’s banking on recouping the funds he’s currently losing, and then some, with major guaranteed money (which didn’t appear to be on the table from the Steelers, though reports vary on what guarantees were offered in July) come March.

He will be a coveted commodity as a free agent, but at 27 (in February) and with high mileage on his odometer regardless of when he resumes his Steelers career, can Bell expect to land a Todd Gurley– or David Johnson-level contract? Gurley signed his near-$15MM-per-year/$45MM guaranteed megadeal when he had 786 career carries. Johnson inked his three-year, $39MM accord with 429 career totes. Bell will begin his 2018 season with 1,229. That’s a substantial difference from not only his high-dollar ball-carrying peers but from backs who comprised recent free agent contingents. Teams could be leery of Bell slowing down in his late 20s as a result.

Some execs are not viewing the sixth-year player’s holdout as a smart move for his future. But then again, he’s going to draw interest because of his past production. And he’s obviously less likely to suffer an injury while away from the Steelers than playing in games. Although, Bell already has a serious knee injury on his NFL medical sheet — an MCL tear in 2015. The old-school workloads the Steelers gave him during his years as their starter, in addition to his past with injuries (which also includes maladies in the 2014 and ’16 playoffs), will Bell get what he wants come March?

Can these circumstances reach one-year, prove-it deal proportions? Or will Bell cash in due to some teams — headlined by the Colts and Jets — holding cap space and a lack of backfield options on his level? And how will this holdout affect his stock when it does come time to hit the market? What effect does this have on the Steelers’ 2018 hopes? Weigh in on this issue in the comments section.

Community Tailgate: Safety Market

With every team slated to open training camp this month, the strange quagmire that is the safety market remains crowded with proven performers. Three of the top four players from PFR’s free agent safeties list in March are still available four months later.

While other positions feature some key players unsigned as well — like Dez Bryant, Johnathan Hankins, Bashaud Breeland and Colin Kaepernick — the glut of safeties resides as the most interesting because most of the original UFA market’s best players are unattached as camps near.

Eric Reid, Tre Boston and Kenny Vaccaro appeared at Nos. 1, 3 and 4 on Dallas Robinson’s top UFA safeties list, and no member of this triumvirate is yet 28 years old. Both Reid and Vaccaro started for five seasons, with Boston being a full-time first-unit presence the past two years and intercepting five passes for the Chargers last season. Pro Football Focus placed both Boston and Reid in a tie for 30th among safeties last season. While Vaccaro struggled in 2017, he rated as one of the league’s better safeties in 2015 and ’16.

Due to Reid’s involvement in the protests during national anthems the past two seasons, his unattached status hovers over this contingent. The one-time Pro Bowler took one visit, meeting with the Bengals, only it did not go well when Mike Brown reportedly asked the 26-year-old defender if he would continue to kneel during the anthem (this was prior to the NFL’s new anthem policy forcing players to either stand or remain in the locker room during the song’s playing). Reid subsequently followed Kaepernick’s lead by filing a collusion grievance against the league and has not received any other known inquiry about his services since the Bengals summit.

Boston and Vaccaro have, each visiting the Colts. Boston also met with the Cardinals, while Vaccaro spoke with the Dolphins and was scheduled to visit the Jets earlier this offseason. Boston was not pleased with how his visits unfolded. At this point, it’s likely that both players — and some older UFAs like Tyvon Branch or T.J. Ward — will have to wait for preseason injuries or accept low-value, one-year pacts from teams if they are to play in 2018.

Of course, some safeties — like Tyrann Mathieu, Morgan Burnett, Bradley McDougald, Kurt Coleman and Ron Parker — did sign this offseason. But the money was not on the level of previous safety classes.

Excepting Mathieu’s one-year, $7MM deal, five 2017 UFA safeties’ contracts top anyone from this year’s market in terms of average annual value. Tony Jefferson, Barry Church, Micah Hyde, Johnathan Cyprien and T.J. McDonald all signed for at least $6MM per year in 2017, with most of those players not having the resumes of Reid or Vaccaro. Burnett signed for $4.7MM per year, and Coleman received $5.4MM AAV. With the cap having risen by $10MM, the deals completed this offseason were not in stride with the growth.

Theories have surfaced about why this gridlock’s occurred. Obviously, Reid has the most explosive belief about what’s transpiring. Michael Thomas, a special-teamer/safety who signed with the Giants for two years and $4MM, agrees collusion has affected the market. An anonymous agent concurred, saying the likes of Boston and Vaccaro are collateral damage from teams avoiding Reid. An ex-defensive coordinator said this position, despite this being a prime passing era, is not evaluated consistently by teams.

So, which theory is accurate? Is there another explanation for several prime-years safeties being overlooked? Will this be the new normal for this position, one that’s seen four players sign for at least $10MM AAV since Earl Thomas‘ then-record $10MM-per-year deal, or will 2018 be an outlier? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Community Tailgate: Rodgers’ Contract

With Kirk Cousins‘ and Matt Ryan‘s landmark deals completed, the market is seemingly set up for Aaron Rodgers to reset it. He seems to agree, if an airport encounter with Thomas Dimitroff is any indication.

But now that those dominoes have fallen, and the QB market’s per-year ceiling has been raised by $3MM as a result, what will Rodgers’ deal look like?

Cousins ushered the NFL into new territory with a fully guaranteed contract. The Packers’ starting quarterback’s accomplishments dwarfing the Vikings’ new one, he will certainly command more money. But the Packers may not be eager to structure Rodgers’ deal this way — a three-year, fully guaranteed agreement — since he’s under contract through 2019 on his current pact.

Green Bay has Rodgers signed to what became an incredibly team-friendly contract (five years, $110MM), and while it’s virtually impossible to imagine Rodgers getting to the 2019 season on his current deal and the leverage that would come with that position, his through-’19 accord wouldn’t seem to line up with a Cousins-type deal.

Ryan’s contract structure — five years, $150MM — would make more sense for the Packers, and that certainly would be the floor for the two-time MVP that’s probably the most valuable commodity in the NFL. Rodgers is only entering his age-34 season and recently said near-future retirement is not in the cards for him.

The 2005 first-round pick had to wait until his fourth season to start, and top-tier QB peers like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are much closer to retirement than he is. The Packers’ long-term future can still include the two-time MVP, and thus a perpetual Super Bowl window. And with those future Hall of Famers out of the picture at some point, Rodgers could have an even bigger opportunity to burnish his legacy.

Assuming the Packers follow the Falcons’ blueprint here, how much can Rodgers justifiably earn? The quarterback market moved rather slowly after Rodgers signed his extension in spring 2013. Entering the summer of 2017, the NFL hadn’t yet seen a $25MM-per-year player. But now that the market’s rapidly escalated, it sets up well for Rodgers to transport salaries further north.

Ryan’s $30MM AAV comprises approximately 17 percent of the league’s $177MM salary cap. Rodgers’ $22MM-per-year deal actually represented a greater percentage of the $123MM cap (18 percent) in 2013. An 18 percent chunk of the current cap is nearly $32MM, which would be quite reasonable. But with the cap rising, and Rodgers’ value being displayed via his absence last season, he could obviously ask for more. Is any kind of Packers-friendly discount, for the purposes of the franchise optimally building around him, in the cards? The cap’s steady rise and Rodgers’ 2013 contract becoming outdated (currently 10th among QBs) may nix that logic quickly.

Is a contract that is tied to a percentage of the salary cap a viable scenario? If a player was going to pursue that, Cousins may have been the one — a free agent franchise-level passer in his prime. But Rodgers’ immense importance to his team may make him a logical candidate for such an attempt. It would prevent his deal from becoming a bargain as the cap climbs toward (and eventually exceeds) $200MM in the next few years, but the Packers would obviously be hesitant about this type of player-friendly structure.

So, what will Rodgers’ next contract look like? He seems likely to exceed Ryan’s $94.5MM fully guaranteed figure, but by how much? Is he going to push for a $35MM-per-year deal and take the quarterback market to another stratosphere, or is a pact somewhere in between that and Ryan’s AAV where this will end up? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!