September 30th, 2022 at 1:19pm CST by Sam Robinson
As we exit September, trade rumors will become a steady NFL topic. This year’s deadline falls on Nov. 1. That will return cap-space discussions to the forefront. Here is how every team stacks up financially going into October, via Over The Cap.
Cleveland Browns: $35.94MM
Philadelphia Eagles: $10.89MM
Denver Broncos: $10.67MM
Carolina Panthers: $10.47MM
Las Vegas Raiders: $10.35MM
Dallas Cowboys: $9.25MM
Pittsburgh Steelers: $8.64MM
Green Bay Packers: $8.57MM
Indianapolis Colts: $7.97MM
Atlanta Falcons: $7.92MM
New York Jets: $6.97MM
Chicago Bears: $6.84MM
San Francisco 49ers: $6.75MM
Miami Dolphins: $6.51MM
Arizona Cardinals: $6.25MM
Los Angeles Chargers: $5.83MM
New York Giants: $5.49MM
Jacksonville Jaguars: $5.41MM
Los Angeles Rams: $5.38MM
Baltimore Ravens: $4.51MM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $3.87MM
New England Patriots: $3.5MM
Cincinnati Bengals: $3.16MM
New Orleans Saints: $2.86MM
Detroit Lions: $2.64MM
Washington Commanders: $2.58MM
Buffalo Bills: $2.44MM
Tennessee Titans: $2.41MM
Seattle Seahawks: $2.28MM
Kansas City Chiefs: $2.12MM
Houston Texans: $1.64MM
Minnesota Vikings: $1.47MM
The Eagles’ number is certainly far closer to the Vikings’ last-place figure than what the Browns have stockpiled. Cleveland would stand to have room to augment its 2022 roster, via a patient free agent or a trade. That could depend on where Jacoby Brissett has the team stationed going into the Nov. 1 deadline. But the Browns also appear to be preparing for their Deshaun Watson future. Watson’s unprecedented contract spikes from a $9.4MM cap number (2022) to a record-shattering $54.99MM numbers from 2023-26. As that reality awaits, the Browns rolling over cap space to 2023 would be prudent.
With Sterling Shepard‘s ACL tear moving the veteran wide receiver to IR, the Giants will need to both cover that cost ($6.3MM) and add a contract to fill the roster spot. Every team will go through versions of that issue this season, as injuries pile up. The Giants are prepared to eat a significant chunk ofKenny Golladay‘s 2022 base salary ($13MM) to move him, eyeing an escape from his $4.5MM 2023 guarantee. No takers have emerged, though it will be interesting to see if a market for the former Pro Bowler forms once injuries affect more teams’ receiver situations.
September 24th, 2022 at 8:30pm CST by Sam Robinson
The Kyle Shanahan–John Lynch regime has seen some twists and turns alter its quarterback plans. Although quarterback consistency has eluded this duo for much of its six-season run in San Francisco, the plan to circle back toJimmy Garoppolo will keep the 49ers in place as an NFC contender.
Shanahan and Lynch went from passing on QB answer in their first draft — one that saw the 49ers trade down from No. 2 to No. 3 and pass on Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson (and Mitch Trubisky, who went second overall) for since-departed defensive lineman Solomon Thomas — before seeing a long-term starter fall into their laps at that year’s trade deadline. That October 2017 trade, which cost the 49ers a second-round pick (No. 43 overall), is still paying dividends five years later.
The Garoppolo era appears near an end, but the 49ers are suddenly all-in again on a player who spent the offseason, training camp and preseason away from the team. Trey Lance‘s season-ending ankle injury dealt an inexperienced prospect a tough blow, but the Week 2 setback — albeit awkwardly — may have bolstered one of the NFL’s top rosters. Garoppolo’s re-emergence figures to stabilize the 49ers, providing them perhaps a considerably elevated floor. (An early-season Lance benching was already being rumored.) Instances in which a contending team loses a QB1 and is viewed as better for it are not exactly common throughout NFL history; this could be one of the few.
This reality nearly fell apart months ago, as the 49ers came close to trading Garoppolo before his value-hijacking March shoulder surgery. The Browns, Rams and Seahawks later loomed as a destinations in the event the 49ers cut him — this saga’s expected endgame in its final weeks. Although the 49ers have said the plan all along was to trade their four-plus-year starter, he always loomed as unusual Lance insurance. The 49ers drafted one of the most atypical quarterback prospects in league history last year, and the Division I-FCS product’s inexperience made going into the season without Garoppolo a tremendous risk. Yet, that appeared the plan. Lynch’s suggestion to approach Garoppolo with a pay-cut proposal ended up preventing one of the NFC favorites from seeing Lance’s injury leave them with an untenable in-house starter option.
While Garoppolo gives Shanahan a safer option to lead a three-All-Pro offense, the 49ers are in one of the weirder places at quarterback in recent memory. Their No. 3 overall pick will have finished his first two seasons with four starts and 102 pass attempts. Those numbers are not unprecedented by any means, but this is obviously a different situation compared to the likes of Jordan Love or busts Johnny Manziel (eight starts through two seasons) and Paxton Lynch (four). Lance, who could be kept through 2025 via the fifth-year option, remains firmly in San Francisco’s plans (indeed, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that the Niners remain fully committed to Lance, who has a four- to six-month recovery timeline). But this rehab year will nix another shot at in-game development. These chances have continually been taken away from the North Dakota State alum.
Entering 2023, Lance will have just season of regular starter work on his post-high school resume. After redshirting in 2018, Lance tore up the FCS level (albeit with that tier’s best program) with 28 touchdown passes and no interceptions and led the Bison to another national championship. The COVID-19 pandemic led most of college football, save for Division I-FBS, to cancel its 2020 seasons (for the fall, at least). After a one-game 2020, Lance declared for the draft. Despite a highlight reel consisting entirely of redshirt-freshman plays, the dual-threat talent managed to follow fellow Bison standout Carson Wentz by becoming a top-three draftee. But Lance suffered a finger injury in 2021, limiting him during a season in which he was not viewed as a Garoppolo threat.
A sought-after QB prospect having thrown 420 passes in five seasons since high school is historically unusual territory for a player still expected to be a long-term NFL starter. Lance’s misfortune comes after an inconsistent preseason, one that helped push the 49ers to solidify a Garoppolo recommitment. A rocky Week 1 start on a waterlogged Soldier Field enhanced the mystery surrounding Lance’s status. A high ceiling may remain, but after four years away from full-time duty, can the 49ers be sure? San Francisco is also now veering toward Green Bay-Love territory; the 49ers will have gotten next to nothing from a first-round QB contract through two years. Though, Garoppolo’s restructure gives the team some flexibility the Packers lack thanks to Aaron Rodgers‘ record-setting $50.3MM-per-year extension.
Fielding an NFC championship-qualifying team with scant contributions from a No. 3 overall pick highlights the 49ers’ roster strength. Last year’s success and this year’s largely Lance-less operation also magnify the franchise’s decision to trade two future first-round picks to move up nine spots for such an unproven commodity. The 49ers have won in spite of their 2021 Lance- (or Mac Jones?)-motivated decision. It is understandable the 49ers dealt into future draft arsenals to land a quarterback upgrade, as Garoppolo (12th- and 13th-place QBR figures in 2019 and ’21, respectively) maxes out as an above-average option. But the team made a luxury pick with a Super Bowl-caliber roster in place.
Lance’s injury also thrusts Garoppolo’s health history back to the forefront. In addition to the shoulder malady sidetracked his trade market, the ninth-year vet played through calf and thumb issues in 2021, went down with a season-ending ankle problem in 2020 and missed most of the ’18 season due to an ACL tear. The 49ers having 2022 Mr. IrrelevantBrock Purdyand practice squad journeyman Kurt Benkert as Garoppolo’s only backups suddenly becomes a concern. Shanahan’s intermittent success with a rookie UDFA (Nick Mullens) notwithstanding, the team turning back to the trade market — this time to supplement Garoppolo — would make sense.
A backup with multiple years of control could be a priority as well. Garoppolo’s 2018 extension expires in March. The 49ers venturing to two NFC title games in three seasons without a high-end quarterback represents an achievement when considering the position’s rise in stature as rule changes have pushed most teams to build around the passing game. The quarterback that drew scrutiny for holding his team back being viewed as a rejuvenation tool is ironic, but the 49ers did well to forge this compromise. It could go down as a seminal compromise.
But little is settled for the team beyond 2022. After Garoppolo makes another push at a Super Bowl championship, his restructure’s no-franchise tag clause would stand to lead him to free agent market unlikely to include many attractive options (Lamar Jackson is not hitting the market, and Year 23 might actually be it for Brady). At that point, the paused Lance era will return to the 49ers’ front burner. Lance’s uncertain trajectory will be appropriate for a team that has seen its QB situation produce a highly unpredictable contender during the Shanahan-Lynch period.
September 22nd, 2022 at 1:38pm CST by Sam Robinson
Through two games, Saquon Barkley is the NFL’s rushing leader. Barkley’s 236 yards are obviously a big reason why the Giants have jumped out to a 2-0 start. This marks a positive development for Barkley, who lingered as a low-key trade candidate this offseason.
The Joe Schoen–Brian Daboll regime inherited Barkley, who had slid from one of the best running back prospects in modern NFL history to a player whose Giants future was in doubt because of injury trouble. Barkley’s resurgence may need to continue for a bit before the new Giants front office considers extension talks, but on a team that has seen a strange receiver situation cloud its long-term outlook at that position, Barkley could fit as a second-contract piece.
It sounds like the former No. 2 overall pick will be willing to negotiate in-season with the Giants. That was his stance last year, though the early-season ankle sprain he suffered made it three straight years of injury trouble and moved a possible extension well off the radar. Barkley, 25, is now playing on a $7.22MM fifth-year option. Despite Barkley’s injury history, he dropped an early indication he would be willing to play out that option year.
“Any time an athlete bets on himself and goes out there and performs at a high level, you love to see that,” Barkley said, via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “Whether it’s football, whether it’s baseball, whether it’s basketball, I want all athletes to get what they deserve.”
Since the 2011 CBA introduced the fifth-year option, Barkley is just the second running back to play on it. Melvin Gordon played on the option in 2019, doing so after holding out to start that season. He left Los Angeles in free agency in 2020. With Barkley having shown a higher NFL ceiling — one sidetracked by injuries — this situation brings a bit more intrigue. The Giants have not seen one of their first-round picks play beyond five seasons with the team since 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul.
Seven members of the 2017 class, which also includes former UDFA Austin Ekeler, signed upper-echelon or midlevel second contracts with their respective teams. Chris Carson was the only one to do so after reaching free agency. Not all of these contracts have worked out. McCaffrey has battled injuries, and Carson suffered a career-ending neck injury. But most of the recent extension recipients remain on steady trajectories after being paid. This wave of payments cresting after the likes of Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and David Johnson did not justify their contracts has made for an interesting stretch.
These $12MM-$16MM-per-year deals have created a roadmap for a Barkley re-up, though it remains to be seen if the Schoen-Daboll operation views him in that way or will be one to extend a running back. The Giants are not believed to have shopped Barkley, they took trade calls on him before the draft. Barkley’s skillset would make him a candidate for a McCaffrey- or Kamara-type contract. His injury history, and perhaps McCaffrey’s post-extension health issues, could nix that reality. The talented Giants back continuing this early pace and showing the kind of form he did as a rookie (NFL-high 2,028 scrimmage yards) and when healthy in 2019 — behind shaky offensive lines in each season — could change the equation.
The Giants entering discussions with Barkley this season could allow them to lock down their top playmaker and give the injury-prone back some security. Barkley’s 2019 high ankle sprain, 2020 ACL and MCL tears and his 2021 ankle issue threw his career off course, but the team is unlikely to have a big-ticket receiver contract or a franchise-quarterback deal on its 2023 books. Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and perhaps Kadarius Toney, the way that partnership is going, have uncertain post-2022 futures in New York. Ditto Daniel Jones, who did not see his fifth-year option exercised. After entering this offseason in salary cap trouble, the Giants are projected to be in the top five in 2023 space.
If no Barkley extension occurs this year, he would be headed for free agency. A franchise tag, which CBS Sports’ Joel Corry projects to come in around $10.1MM, would then be an option for the Giants. The Steelers went to this well with Bell, twice; the second time caused quite the stir in 2018. The tag would, however, be a way for the Giants to extend this partnership without committing long-term to a player at such a volatile position. Barkley will have banked more than $38MM on his rookie contract, separating him from most modern backs. Through that lens, an extension would be less financially important for his future. Should Barkley be on a Pro Bowl pace by midseason, it would be interesting to see if he would entertain an extension in the $12MM-AAV range — especially with the cap rising again — or push this situation to the March 2023 tag deadline.
Barkley hitting free agency next year would, should he avoid a severe injury this season, place a top-tier running back in a crowded marketplace. Kareem Hunt, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery and Damien Harris are among the running backs on expiring contracts. We have a long way to go before the prospect of Barkley hitting the market emerges, but his nice start to a contract year opens the door to a few possible futures. Which one will end up transpiring?
On this date in 2018, the Josh Gordon saga ended in Cleveland. Following six-plus years of controversy, the Browns shipped the embattled wideout to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick.
A second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, Gordon quickly made a name for himself in Cleveland. Following a productive rookie campaign, the receiver exploded in 2013. Despite missing the first two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Gordon finished the year with 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns, earning him first-team All-Pro honors.
Gordon was slapped with another suspension prior to the 2014 campaign, but the ban was reduced to 10 games and the receiver proceeded to average about 61 yards per game in his five appearances. The NFL laid down the hammer the following offseason, suspending Gordon for the entire 2015 campaign. He was set to return after sitting out the first four games of the 2016 campaign, but he ended up stepping away from the NFL for the entire season.
He was finally reinstated late during the 2017 campaign, and after spending two years away from the game, Gordon finished with 335 receiving yards in five contests. There was hope that he’d emerge as a main piece in Cleveland’s offense for the 2018 campaign, but he quickly found himself in the dog house. While the organization publicly stated they were frustrated with Gordon’s hamstring injury, some in the Browns’ organization reportedly believed Gordon slipped in his recovery program, and it was his rampant off-field issues that finally prompted the Browns to cut the cord.
The Browns later indicated that they were prepared to cut the wideout, but a trade market naturally developed. Cleveland preferred to send Gordon to the NFC, with Dallas, Washington, and San Francisco emerging as potential suitors. While the Browns were seeking a sixth-round pick, New England ponied by a fifth rounder and acquired the receiver on September 17, 2018.
It was a low-risk move for a Patriots team that had previously gambled on reclamation projects, and it was assumed the wideout would have the shortest of leashes with BillBelichick in charge. From an on-field perspective, the Patriots were in desperate need of receivers. With Julian Edelman sitting out the first four games due to a suspension, Tom Brady was eyeing Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett as his top wideouts. Gordon immediately came in and produced, finishing with 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns.
Gordon once again stepped away from the NFL towards the end of that season, with the NFL later revealing that he was facing an indefinite ban for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement. The Patriots proceeded to move on and win the Super Bowl without Gordon’s services.
The wideout returned for the 2019 season, and he started each of the Patriots first six games, collecting 20 receptions for 287 yards and one touchdown. A knee injury landed him on IR, and the Patriots ended up cutting bait with him in October. He later caught on with the Seahawks, but he hauled in only seven receptions in five games before getting hit with his fifth career suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon sat out the entire 2020 campaign before reemerging with the Chiefs last year, where he got into 12 games. He signed with the Titans practice squad earlier this month.
There was hope that Gordon may be able to revive his career in New England. While the receiver showed that he could still be productive when he was on the field, he also continued to prove that he couldn’t be counted on from an off-field perspective. Four years later, the 31-year-old is currently fighting to keep his career alive.
September 15th, 2022 at 11:05am CST by Sam Robinson
Week 1 injuries are starting to affect teams’ rosters. Starters and role players are being placed on injured reserve, a status that continues to evolve via offseason NFL rule changes. More adjustments took place in 2022, which shook up the IR setup of the past two years.
In 2020 and 2021, players placed on IR after the roster cutdown to 53 were permitted to return after three games missed. Teams also were granted considerable flexibility in terms of IR-return volume. After the pre-2020 rules had placed strict limitations on the number of players teams could activate from injured reserve during a season, the NFL — due to the roster uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic caused — removed the limit of players who could return from IR. Limitations returned this year.
Eight injury-related activations can occur per team over the course of the 2022 season. These apply to players placed on teams’ injured reserve, reserve/non-football injury or reserve/non-football illness lists. The NFL, which removed the reserve/COVID-19 list as a 2022 roster designation, also raised the floor for mandatory games missed due to IR from three to four. Any player moved to IR this week cannot return until Week 6.
While the eight-player rule will reinsert strategy into the IR equation for teams, this maximum is far less restrictive than it was not long ago. For years before the 2012 season, a player being placed on injured reserve meant he was done for the season’s remainder. From 2012-16, teams could bring one player off IR. The player must have missed at least eight games before returning, however, and was not permitted to practice for six weeks. In 2017, two IR-boomerang slots were allowed. The eight-week waiting period remained, but teams could move two players from IR back onto their 53-man rosters.
The 2017 change led to more strategy regarding which players teams would prioritize. That system lasted for three seasons. The March 2020 CBA ratification was to allow three players to be activated from IR per season, but the eight-week waiting period was to remain. The pandemic prompted the league to make sweeping changes five months later, with the August 2020 COVID-related CBA revisions opening the floodgates for in-season activations.
This year’s changes also will enable teams to use two IR-return slots on the same player. Although the league’s first two 2020s seasons featured unlimited activations, players could only be brought back from an injury list once per season. If a player were activated and then placed back on IR, he was done for the rest of the year. In 2022, teams are allowed to activate a player from IR twice (but not three times). If a team were to activate a player off IR twice this year, each move would count toward that team’s eight-activation limit.
September 10th, 2022 at 4:30pm CST by Sam Robinson
The Russell Wilson era doubled as the peak of the Seahawks’ 46-year existence. The third-round pick Seattle invested in 10 years ago helped the team build a championship nucleus, and after most of the defensive cogs from the back-to-back Super Bowl teams departed, Wilson’s development as a passer kept the Seahawks in the playoff mix. This season will look quite different for the franchise, which bailed on the prospect of an 11th Wilson season and third extension.
Hours after Aaron Rodgers‘ Packers recommitment, the Broncos pulled the trigger for Wilson. Pete Carroll‘s Combine comments indicating the Seahawks had “no intention” of trading the top quarterback in franchise history came after GM John Schneiderhad opened trade talks with Broncos counterpartGeorge Paton. The Wilson-Carroll relationship had steadily deteriorated, and the Seahawks became leery of what it would cost to give their star QB a fourth contract. The noise Wilson made about the team’s offensive line and the trade-destination list that surfaced in February 2021 irked the Seahawks, and the 11th-year veteran was unlikely to do another Seahawks extension. This all led to the HC-GM combo that drafted Wilson dealing him for major draft capital with two years left on his contract.
Being willing to part with three first-round picks for Wilson, the Commanders may have presented the best trade package. But Washington was not a Wilson-preferred destination. Although the Bears, Cowboys, Raiders and Saints were on Wilson’s initial 2021 destination list, the Broncos and Giants were quietly added late last year. The Giants and Saints called the Seahawks this year, but Wilson — one of the few NFLers with a no-trade clause — had zeroed in on Denver. For the first time since Matt Hasselbeck‘s 2011 exit ushered in Tarvaris Jackson as Seattle’s starter, the Seahawks have a foggy future at the game’s premier position.
Carroll’s run-heavy M.O. and the Seahawks’ penchant for skimping on offensive linemen (Duane Brown excepted) gnawed at Wilson, the centerpiece of middling rosters over the past few seasons. Seattle attempted more run plays than any team over Wilson’s tenure. Some of those were Wilson scrambles, but Brady Henderson ESPN.com notes team ranked 29th in designed pass-play rate since 2012. That number only climbed to 21st since Wilson broke through as a passer in 2015, making atypical use of a top-tier quarterback contract. Since the “Let Russ Cook” start to the 2020 season preceded a midseason swoon, Carroll largely went back to his preferred style.
Wilson’s extension talks in 2015 and 2019 generated a number of headlines, and each resolution produced a big number ($21.9MM per year in 2015, then-NFL-high $35MM per annum in ’19). Seattle could not recapture the formula it had when it capitalized on one of the great bargains in NFL history; Wilson’s four-year, $2.99MM deal that was on the team’s books as it claimed consecutive NFC championships. During Wilson’s second and third contracts, however, he became one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
Since a 2015 season in which Wilson broke through for 34 touchdown passes (after tossing 20 in 2014), his QBR figures have ranked fourth, 15th, 10th, 11th, fifth, eighth and 10th. The final number came despite Wilson struggling in the games immediately following his finger surgery. Wilson made the Seahawks one of the NFL’s highest-floor teams, though rosters that were not on the level of the 2013 and ’14 squads continually ran into first- or second-round obstacles following Super Bowl XLIX.
Some Seahawks staffers viewed Wilson as declining, at 33, but trading him forfeits the franchise access to the NFL’s most common championship route. Carroll opting for a restart/transition year is a bit curious, considering he is the league’s oldest active HC (71 next week). The strategy will apply considerable pressure for Carroll (signed through 2025) and Schneider to strike gold again. Two first-round picks next year — when a far better QB class is expected to emerge compared to 2022 — will help Seattle’s cause, but the odds are against the Seahawks finding a player capable of Wilson’s performance level. The Seahawks also may see the Texans and Lions, each holding two first-rounders without a clear long-term QB plan as well, outflank them in the 2023 draft.
Schneider sought Lock, having liked the former Missouri prospect in 2019, but the failed Broncos starter not beating out Geno Smith represents an early warning sign of the post-Wilson road the Seahawks are about to travel. Lock and the other below-average brigade of Broncos quarterbacks hindered Fant’s progress, but the former No. 20 overall pick may find footing difficult with Smith and/or Lock (again). Harris, 31, became a steady contributor in Denver, moving into a starter role and helping Vic Fangio‘s defense as an inside rusher and frequent passing-lane deterrent. Harris’ 19 passes defensed during his starter years (2019-21) lead all defensive linemen. Harris’ three-year, $27MM Broncos-authorized extension runs through 2023.
Nwosu will move from Joey Bosa‘s sidekick to a player that will be expected to produce as a No. 1 edge rusher. Swapping out Carlos Dunlap for a younger talent, the Seahawks will bank on Nwosu taking a step forward. Even with Bosa drawing O-lines’ attention, Nwosu registered just five sacks in 17 games. Nwosu’s 30 pressures did rank 31st last season and were six more than any Seahawk logged in 2021. A second-rounder out of USC, Nwosu should be coming into his prime. He will not turn 26 until December.
A hybrid player who should fit as the Seahawks transition to more 3-4 looks, Jefferson is back after two years away. Seeing time at D-end and D-tackle, Jefferson started 24 games for the Seahawks’ 2018 and ’19 iterations. He made 17 starts for the Raiders last season, totaling career-high numbers in sacks (4.5) and quarterback hits (16).
While Jefferson should be a rotational cog in Seattle, Blythe looks set to go from seldom-used Chiefs backup (12 offensive snaps behind Creed Humphrey last season) to a full-time starter again. This could be an upgrade for the Seahawks. Blythe started at center and guard for three straight seasons with the Rams, including their Super Bowl LIII-qualifying squad. Pro Football Focus graded him as a top-11 guard in 2018 and top-11 center two years later. Blythe, 30, has a clear comeback opportunity for a team that will make no secret of its desire for a smashmouth approach.
This season brings 11 starting quarterbacks on rookie salaries, two more on fifth-year options and 19 tied to veteran deals. The veteran contingent now houses nine QBs earning $40MM-plus on average. Four more are tied to contracts worth more than $30MM per year. Tom Brady, who has a few income streams and a lavish FOX contract awaiting him, and Ryan Tannehill come in just south of $30MM AAV. Jameis Winston signed a two-year, $28MM pact, while Marcus Mariota — who has not been a full-time starter since October 2019 — signed a two-year, $18.75MM accord in March. Mitch Trubisky signed a two-year, $14MM Steelers deal. Then, there is Geno Smith, a 10th-year veteran who will be a 2022 starting quarterback on a $1.26MM base salary.
Smith, 32 next month, will make his first Week 1 start since 2014. Knocked off his Jets QB1 perch in 2015 (the IK Enemkpali incident), Smith not only never regained any footing with the Jets; he kept signing with teams who employed historically durable quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson). In what looks like a transition year in which the Seahawks will be connected to college quarterbacks, Smith returns. Discipline for his January DUI arrest may loom, however, though it is not a lock punishment comes this year.
Largely unimpressive with the Jets, the veteran backup fared better than expected in his midseason Wilson relief effort (68% completion rate, 5-1 TD-INT ratio, 7.4 yards per attempt). It would seem Lock will work his way into some starts this season, but Smith does profile as the better fit for a conservative offense. For now, Smith will make one of the stranger Week 1 re-emergences in modern QB annals. Although this $3.5MM number is a raise for Smith, the salaries Mariota, Winston and Trubisky are earning illustrate the rest of the league’s view of him. Smith also re-signed in mid-April, after the Browns chose Jacoby Brissett — who is also out-earning Smith — to fill in for Deshaun Watson.
The Seahawks kept passing on the quarterbacks that fell to this year’s third round; they did not view Malik Willisas NFL-ready. Waiting for a superior 2023 class makes sense, and Carroll said post-draft the Seahawks were unlikely to make another QB trade this offseason. They stuck to their guns.
Seattle let Carolina have Baker Mayfieldfor a conditional 2024 fifth-rounder and showed no interest in parting with an asset for Jimmy Garoppolo. The Seahawks did homework on Garoppolo and lurked as a landing spot for the former Super Bowl starter in free agency, but given how diligent Garoppolo’s camp was in attempting to find a team that would pay more than the money he is now tied to with the 49ers ($6.5MM salary; $15.45MM max value via playing-time incentives), it looks like the Seahawks were not willing to offer too much money. Garoppolo and Mayfield have obviously proven much more than Smith; that could have impeded Seattle’s 2022 plan.
Dealt repeated injury blows, Penny made an 11th-hour push for some second-contract cash and will be Seattle’s Week 1 starter for the first time. As fantasy GMs observed, Penny exploded for four 130-yard rushing games in his final five contests and finished with an NFL-leading 6.3 yards per carry (on 119 totes) in his fourth season. The surprise 2018 first-rounder has missed 28 career games, but the Seahawks offered lower-middle-class running back dough to see how legitimate that season-closing stretch was.
Acquiring Diggs from the Lions in a low-level pick-swap deal has been the better Seahawks safety trade of recent years. The Seahawks, who have not seen their blockbuster Jamal Adams trade and record-setting extension come close to justifying the cost, now have the league’s most expensive safety tandem. Both Adams ($17.5MM per) and Diggs ($13MM AAV) are among the NFL’s 10 highest-paid safeties. With Adams’ hybrid skillset often luring him away from the traditional safety range, more back-line patrolling is required of Diggs. Going into his age-29 season, Diggs has now secured three contracts. He will be a vital piece for a Seattle defense bringing pass-rushing and cornerback uncertainty.
The Broncos nearly kept the Wilson-Dissly pairing alive, pursuing the fifth-year veteran in free agency. Dissly appeared surprised by the market that formed for him. Suffering major injuries in 2018 and ’19, the former fourth-round pick has never topped 300 receiving yards in a season. The Seahawks valued Dissly’s run-blocking skills — more than most envisioned anyone would — and he will team with new receiving tight end Fant. Woods turned 35 shortly after re-signing. The NFL nomad (seven city changes since being a 2010 Saints draftee) has found a home in Seattle, starting 16 games in 2021. PFF graded the 12-year veteran as the No. 4 run-defending D-tackle last season.
Wagner is closer than Wilson to first-ballot Hall of Fame status, having been a first- or second-team All-Pro eight times. The decorated middle linebacker has more first-team All-Pro nods (six) than any active player save for new teammate Aaron Donald (seven). Wagner, 31, outlasted every Legion of Boom member (by multiple years) on Seattle’s defense and will be the centerpiece defender associated with this Seahawks era. While the LOB may be remembered more for the Super Bowl years, Wagner’s longevity bettered each member. His return from a 2014 injury ignited the Seahawks to a charge that keyed a second straight NFC championship. Last season, Wagner notched a career-best 170 tackles. He will be difficult to replace.
Like Wilson, Wagner signed three Seahawks contracts. Agentless during the third negotiation, Wagner topped C.J. Mosley‘s Jets deal — which came in well north of anything before it at the off-ball linebacker position — with a three-year, $54MM pact in 2019. Wagner did not want to leave Seattle, but the team avoided a $20.35MM cap number via the release — which came hours after the Wilson trade. Jordyn Brooks is now in place as the Seahawks’ top linebacker, but fourth-year backup Cody Barton will make a big responsibility jump this season.
For the second straight year, a team gave a Seahawks starting corner an eight-figure-AAV deal. The Jets followed the Jaguars (Shaquill Griffin) by handing Reed a three-year, $33MM pact. Reed does not have a lengthy run of starter-caliber play but caught on in that role with the Seahawks in 2020. Seattle found Reed via waivers that year and used him as an outside starter in 22 games from 2020-21.
The Seahawks paid Richard Sherman in 2014, but the Carroll-years formula remains: low- or mid-level draft investments stock this position. The team passed on paying Byron Maxwell in 2015 and let Justin Coleman walk in 2019. Griffin and Reed have now come and gone, leading to more cheap labor via Day 3 draft choices.
Carson’s neck injury continues an unfortunate run for the Seahawks, who also lost Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril to career-ending neck issues. Seattle’s top post-Marshawn Lynch option, Carson overcame his seventh-round status to tally two 1,000-yard seasons. He was the lead back on three playoff teams. Carson did well to collect a two-year, $10.4MM payday in 2021, joining a host of 2017 running back draftees in signing notable second contracts. He collected $5.5MM guaranteed and will see up to $2MM of his 2022 base salary via the CBA’s injury-protection benefit.
Changing up its defensive scheme, Seattle swapped out nearly its entire edge-rushing crew. Dunlap became a critical part of the team’s mid-2020 defensive turnaround, arriving via trade from Cincinnati. Dunlap notched 13.5 sacks as a Seahawk. Green led the 2021 team in QB pressures with 24, while Hyder and Mayowa did not contribute much to last season’s cause. Dunlap (Chiefs), Green (Texans) and Hyder (49ers) caught on elsewhere.
The Seahawks have not had success with a homegrown tackle since their 2010 Russell Okung selection (No. 6 overall). They relied on Duane Brown, obtained via 2017 in-season trade, after Okung’s departure led to blindside instability. Brown kept going into his mid-30s, but his training camp hold-in measure only produced a slight adjustment last year. The Seahawks met with veteran tackle Trent Brown early in free agency, but he re-signed with the Patriots. Instead, Seattle will replace both its tackles with rookies, moving on from Brandon Shell (21 Seattle starts) as well.
Cross and Lucas are ticketed to start against the Broncos, marking the first time in decades a team will have gone with two rookie bookends. This could be the start of a long era of Cross and Lucas. April was the first time the Seahawks had chosen even a Day 2 tackle since 2016 (Germain Ifedi); that undoubtedly caught Wilson’s attention from afar.
Seattle used the first Wilson-generated first-rounder on Cross, this year’s third tackle taken. Cross spent most of his time in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Mississippi State, making for an NFL adjustment. That said, Cross earned first-team All-SEC acclaim as a sophomore last season and was PFF’s No. 2 SEC run blocker in 2021. As should be expected from a top-10 pick, Cross offers the kind of upside at the position the Seahawks have not possessed since Okung.
Lucas is a Seattle-area talent whom Leach recruited to play at his previous program. The Washington State product will not need converting to right tackle; he started there for four seasons at the Pac-12 school. These two could use this season to develop ahead of 2023, when the Seahawks will be expected to make their quarterback investment.
Walker is battling a hernia issue that is expected to delay his debut. The Wake Forest part-timer turned into a force at Michigan State post-transfer, totaling 1,636 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Penny’s one-year deal aside, Walker profiles as the Seahawks’ long-term backfield starter. Mafe notched two sacks in Seattle’s preseason opener, forcing a fumble, and is projected to be a rotational rusher behind Nwosu and Darrell Taylor. The Seahawks missed on L.J. Collier, and Nwosu has not proven much yet. Mafe (seven senior-season sacks) will need to be a regular piece this season.
Woolen looks to have beaten out the non-Sidney Jones veteran wing of the Seahawks’ corner contingent and last year’s Jim Thorpe Award winner (Bryant) to be a Week 1 starter. Woolen’s measurables beat out nearly every corner in NFL history (6-foot-4, 4.26 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical). ESPN had the converted receiver ranked as a mid-third-round pick. Bryant moved from the outside to the slot during camp. The Seahawks were unable to steadily staff that position in the years since Coleman’s 2019 exit. Back with the team, Coleman could man the job to start the season. But Bryant, who allowed just a 44% completion rate as a fifth-year senior, should see extensive time.
The move away from their franchise quarterback freed up a long-term salary slot, but Schneider expressed amazement at where the wide receiver market had gone this offseason. Months after the Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill deals shook the receiver landscape, the Eagles and Commanders set the market for fourth-year receiver extensions. The Seahawks, after shutting down spring trade inquiries (most notably from the then-receiver-desperate Jets), followed that framework and kept Metcalf.
Route-tree issues and general rawness dinged Metcalf coming out, dropping him to the No. 64 overall slot. The Seahawks helped Wilson with this find, with Metcalf joining Tyler Lockett to form one of the league’s top receiver pairs. The size-speed freak reached just 967 receiving yards in 17 games last season, but he added 12 touchdowns. College teammate A.J. Brown secured more in per-year salary ($25MM) and guaranteed money ($56MM), though Metcalf’s guarantees will spike to $43MM by May 2023.
Lockett will turn 30 in September and will be remembered as one of Wilson’s wingmen. It is not yet known which quarterback Metcalf will be primarily associated with, and he may have drawn the worst QB situation of all the 2019 receiver extension recipients. But the Seahawks, at least, have receiver certainty. Their low-salary QB picture — a payroll wrinkle that could remain in place through at least 2026, and that is only if a rookie arrives next year — could accompany two big-ticket receiver contracts for a while. Lockett’s $17.25MM-per-year deal — agreed to in April 2021 — runs through 2025.
Eight years after the first set of fifth-year options could be exercised, the Seahawks finally saw fit to move a rookie contract to Year 5. Fittingly, for a team that traded out of Round 1 several times or missed on first-rounders during this timeframe, it is another team’s draftee that will see this bump. Fant’s back-to-back 600-plus yard seasons in Denver, which had some notable trouble staffing its QB spot pre-Wilson, were considered underwhelming. The Seahawks have not had a tight end reach 600 yards since Jimmy Graham in 2016.
Donatell was close to joining Seattle’s staff, but the longtime Vic Fangio right-hand man understandably accepted another DC gig in Minnesota. The Seahawks will still import Fangio concepts under Hurtt and Desai, the latter having worked under Fangio during his Chicago stay. Hurtt, 43, was with the Bears during Fangio’s first two Chicago seasons (2015-16) before coming to work for Carroll. With the Seahawks ending their 10-year Wagner partnership and facing questions at D-end and corner, Hurtt inherits a fixer-upper. The Seahawks ranked a surprising eighth in DVOA last season, but Norton’s defense checked in 21st.
The top of Seattle’s payroll reveals how much changed this year. Expectations are unusually low for one of the league’s steadiest franchises, and soon this reset will prompt thorough examinations of the college game’s top arms. Pursuits of the NFC’s seventh seed ended with 9-8 Bears and Eagles teams commandeering those slots over the past two seasons. Given the conference’s depth entering this season, it is not out of the question the Seahawks can hang around.
Of course, before those hopes can be considered realistic, this Seahawks season begins with a NASCAR-style vibe. Their biggest game may well be first on the schedule.
September 9th, 2022 at 10:35pm CST by Sam Robinson
Compared to the Alex Smith-led seven-win 2020 Washington edition that won the NFC East, Washington’s seven-win 2021 flew well under the radar. Dak Prescott‘s return predictably raised the bar in the division, which produced a historically bad collection of teams in 2020. Washington will have a third team name in four years and a sixth Week 1 starting quarterback over the past six. But coaching-staff continuity exists. And the Commanders’ receiving corps stands to be deeper than it has been since the Pierre Garcon–DeSean Jackson–Jamison Crowder period.
Of course, all eyes will be on the team’s third QB1 trade acquisition since 2018. The outcome of that deal probably determines how much longer Ron Rivera‘s staff lasts with the team.
Acquired QB Carson Wentz, 2022 second-round pick, 2022 seventh-rounder from Colts for 2022 second- and third-round picks and conditional 2023 Day 2 choice
Jim Irsay had made it no secret he wanted Wentz gone, limiting Colts GM Chris Ballard’s leverage. It is not known what other teams were in the Wentz market. Despite what appeared to be a limited market, Indianapolis sent Wentz to Washington for a surprising haul. The Commanders initially offered fourth- and sixth-rounders for Wentz, but Ballard drove them to a third, a conditional third that could climb to a second, and a 2022 Round 2 pick swap that allowed the Colts to move up five spots. Similar to the terms of 2021’s Eagles-Colts Wentz deal, if the QB plays 70% of the Commanders’ snaps this year, the 2023 pick becomes a second-rounder.
Wentz’s stock has undoubtedly plunged since his would-be MVP season in 2017, but there are multiple ways to look at his Colts season. On one hand, the Colts equipped him with his old offensive coordinator (Frank Reich), a strong O-line and the runaway rushing champion (Jonathan Taylor). The Colts also trotted out a receiving corps that featured Michael Pittman Jr. and, with T.Y. Hilton aging and Parris Campbell again injured, little else of consequence. Wentz, 29, still threw 27 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and rated ninth in QBR — his highest finish since slotting first in 2017.
Taking issue with Wentz’s leadership, erratic play and refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19, issues leading to a late-season Colts collapse, Irsay ordered his staff to ditch the six-year veteran — who cost Indy first- and second-round picks. Although the Commanders were high on Wentz’s arm strength and 6-foot-5 frame, he was far from their first choice. Wilson and Aaron Rodgers could not be acquired, and Washington even sent out anAndrew Luck feeler. The former Colts star appears to be content in retirement. In Wentz, however, the team probably has its best quarterback since before a pre-injury Alex Smith.
This represents Rivera’s first big swing at QB in Washington. He inherited Smith and Dwayne Haskins and passed on a trade-up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones in 2021. March’s deal included the Commanders taking on all of Wentz’s salary. Washington’s decision immediately produced a fair amount of criticism. As unpopular as Wentz has become, he does have nonguaranteed salaries ($20MM, $21MM) in 2023 and ’24. And he also fared decently (11th in QBR) with a 2019 Eagles team riddled with receiver injuries. But this Commanders setup profiles as the North Dakota State product’s last chance to be a locked-in QB1.
Depending on Curtis Samuel‘s health, the Commanders have given Wentz perhaps the best receiving corps of his career. How this season goes could well determine if Rivera has a post-2022 future in Washington. That is a lot of hope to place on a player the Eagles and Colts jettisoned in consecutive offseasons, but the Commanders were short on options. The Cousins-Bruce Allen falling out led the team’s only recent franchise-QB hope out of town, and Smith’s injury wrecked the subsequent plan. Haskins did not pan out, and Fitzpatrick was a low-end stopgap. Since Cousins’ 2018 exit, Washington has started an NFL-most 10 quarterbacks. Not much is expected of this Commanders team; Wentz silencing swaths of skeptics would change that.
Like Wentz, Washington circled to retreads at guard. The Commanders are team No. 3 for Norwell and No. 4 for Turner; each is an eight-year veteran that has history with Rivera. These signings — Norwell in March, Turner in May — reunite the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 guard tandem. With Joey Slye at kicker and Samuel making it three ex-Carolina cogs who will start for the Commanders’ offense, Panthers North headquarters appears to have moved from Buffalo to Washington.
Norwell, 30, fetched a monster free agency deal from the Jaguars in 2018. That came after the Panthers prioritized Turner — via a four-year, $45MM deal — and let Norwell walk. Jacksonville did not see Norwell replicate his contract-year All-Pro season, but Pro Football Focus still gave the former UDFA top-30 grades from 2018-20. Norwell nevertheless took a pay cut after the 2020 season. Last year, Norwell dropped outside PFF’s top 40 at guard.
Turner’s market appeared more limited than Norwell’s. The Chargers punted on their UFA deal with the longtime Panthers starter in 2021, and the Steelers did not show interest in extending their partnership beyond one year. After the former third-round pick submitted a rough 2020, which included seven injury-induced absences, the Steelers received 17 starts from their rental guard. Turner, 29, was viewed as an upper-echelon guard for most of his Carolina tenure. Upon rejoining Rivera and OC Scott Turner in D.C., however, Turner did miss a month of training camp due to a quad injury.
While neither Turner nor Norwell at this juncture of their careers profiles as a long-term solution, Rivera’s old charges do give his current team one of the NFL’s most experienced guard duos. Norwell has 111 career starts, Turner 106. Swingman Wes Schweitzer (54 career starts; 18 with Washington) offers considerable experience as well.
Although Brandon Scherff‘s seven-year Commanders tenure is over, the team is still banking on veterans up front. Leno joins Norwell and Turner as a ninth-year veteran. Right tackle Sam Cosmi represents the team’s only rookie-deal O-line starter; the rest of the group has a combined 29 seasons’ worth of experience. Backups Schweitzer and Lucas are also veteran-contract players.
PFF’s numbers are not the end-all, be-all, but the advanced metrics site gave Leno a career-high grade and slotted him as its 12th-best tackle last season. That marked a staggering bounce-back year for the longtime Bears left tackle, whom Chicago cut shortly after the 2021 draft. Washington took a $5MM flier on Leno last year and will now look to him to be a longer-term answer. Washington had cycled through blindsides since the 2019 Trent Williams fiasco, going from Donald Penn to Lucas to Leno. The former Bears seventh-rounder started 17 Washington games and, reminding of Morgan Moses, has not missed a contest since his 2014 rookie year.
Leno now tops the Commanders’ cost-controlled O-line, which ditched Scherff’s franchise tag redux cap figure this offseason. While no Commanders blocker is attached to a top-five salary at his respective position — Leno’s comes in 18th among left tackles — Chase Roullier‘s $10.13MM-per-year deal does rank sixth among centers. Post-Scherff, the Commanders are counting on Leno and Roullier to lead the way.
Moving the number of ninth-year vets on the Commanders’ O-line to four, Lucas worked as Washington’s right and left tackle at points during his two-year tenure with the team. The Rivera-era acquisition could fill in with Washington’s 1s, as he did 15 times from 2020-21, but Leno-Cosmi is the team’s preferred tackle configuration. PFF gave Lucas and Cosmi near-identical 2021 grades, slotting each inside the top 30 at the position. Lucas, 31, has played for five teams since coming into the league as a UDFA. He should be nice depth for an O-line flooded with experience.
McKissic backed out of a two-year, $7MM Bills agreement to sign with his previous team. Considering where the Bills and Commanders are viewed leaguewide, that represented an interesting decision from the veteran passing-down back. Bills GM Brandon Beane was no fan of the Commanders continuing to pursue McKissic after his Bills agreement emerged, but the four-team veteran will stay put. With Brian Robinsonout for a while, Antonio Gibson and McKissic stand to be the backfield’s regulars. McKissic, 29, provided a nice outlet option for Smith during his comeback year, catching 80 passes (by far the most among running backs in 2020) for 589 yards. An injury shortened McKissic’s 2021 campaign.
Becoming a haven for veterans whose previous teams did not prioritize them, Washington went to the retread well with McCain shortly after his Miami release. The longtime Dolphin started 16 Washington games and intercepted a career-high four passes. The 29-year-old defender is part of an experienced secondary, which features seventh-year cornerbacks William Jackson and Kendall Fuller, and has restabilized his career as a Commanders safety.
PFF graded Washington’s O-line sixth overall last season. Generally teams with upper-crust O-lines do not produce poor records, though Washington being saddled with a full season of Heinicke does differentiate its previous situation. But the best Washington O-lineman is now gone, ending another two-franchise tag saga.
Scherff’s two-tag period did not produce the fireworks Cousins’ did, and his free agency run received a fraction of the interest Cousins’ generated four years ago. But it will be a tough ask for the Commanders to replace the five-time Pro Bowler. Turning 30 last December, Scherff had neither received a long-term contract nor enjoyed a free agency bid. His atypical contractual path aside, the former top-five pick delivered on Washington’s 2015 investment.
Washington is believed to have offered Scherff a deal that made him the league’s highest-paid O-lineman. Considering the second of Scherff’s franchise tags was worth $18.04MM — a salary that bettered Joe Thuney‘s then-guard-high AAV figure by more than $2MM — the Iowa product moved into a high-leverage position. His age and injury history (22 missed games since 2018) perhaps contributed to a Jaguars deal worth “only” $16.5MM on average. Scherff’s fully guaranteed money ($30MM) does not top the market, either. But a panel of anonymous NFL execs, via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, rated Scherff as the league’s third-best interior O-lineman this offseason. This type of talent is rarely available in free agency mid-prime, illustrating Scherff’s strange path out of Washington.
Washington began the 2020 season with Ioannidis, Settle and Ryan Kerrigan as backups. Known for the four first-round picks leading the unit, that acclaimed D-line brought rare depth as well. Ioannidis, who missed most of the playoff season due to injury, led the 2019 squad in sacks with 8.5. Settle capitalized on Ioannidis’ injury and recorded five sacks in 2020. That season undoubtedly helped him score a two-year, $14MM Bills deal. Ioannidis, who had signed a three-year extension worth $21.75MM Washington extension in 2019, was not happy about the way his D.C. exit went down but received a one-year Carolina offer to rejoin his college coach (Matt Rhule).
Collins, 28, came back from a 2020 Achilles tear and worked as a linebacker/safety hybrid. The Commanders wanted retain him, just not on a team-high $16.1MM cap number. Washington’s previous front office overpaid for the ex-Giants safety in 2019, with Collins (via a six-year, $84MM deal) becoming the first safety to crack the $14MM-per-year barrier. Collins did well as a first-time free agent, but the Rivera regime bailed halfway into the deal. McCain and Kamren Curl have become the team’s safety tandem. With Scherff and Collins gone, the Commanders cleared some big cap numbers off their payroll. They will be hit with $5MM-plus in dead money next year for the Collins cut, however.
After Josh Doctson showed he would not live up to Washington’s first-round investment, the team found a safety net in McLaurin. The 2019 third-round pick producing amid this historic stretch of quarterback instability revealed the Bruce Allen regime landed a gem on the way out. It was up to Martin Mayhew and Co. to determine McLaurin’s value, and that determination helped set a key 2022 market.
McLaurin, 27 next week, amassed 3,090 yards over his first three seasons. That came in just behind D.K. Metcalf for the most among the 2019 receiver class, and McLaurin’s 67.2 yards per game tops the higher-profile Seahawks weapon. After ditching the Commanders’ OTAs early and holding in at minicamp, McLaurin secured a deal that will both reward him for carrying Washington’s past three aerial attacks and may allow for a late-prime payday.
The Ohio State alum’s $23.2MM-AAV figure sits ninth among receivers, but it ranked higher at the time of signing. Washington’s extension came after Philadelphia’s $25MM-per-year A.J. Brown deal, but McLaurin’s pact did better to set the market. The Seahawks, 49ers and Steelers gave their top receivers deals in the weeks following McLaurin’s, with Metcalf and Deebo Samuel signing three-year deals that narrowly topped McLaurin’s AAV and Diontae Johnson scoring a lower-priced two-year accord.
With the Commanders’ modern receiving success coming from free agents (Jackson, Garcon, Laveranues Coles) or trade acquisitions (Santana Moss), it has been a while since the team landed a 1,000-yard talent in the draft. The franchise will bank on McLaurin, with a likely quarterback upgrade, anchoring its receiving corps through his age-30 season.
Being unable to staff its No. 2 wideout job during McLaurin’s tenure, Washington devoted its top offseason resource in an attempt to do so. The team’s receiver interest became known pre-draft, but rather than reunite McLaurin with ex-Ohio State teammate Chris Olave at No. 11, Mayhew and Co. took a risk by moving down. The Commanders made Dotson the fifth receiver chosen, acquiring third- and fourth-round picks to help the Saints climb five spots.
Adding a third former Buckeye receiver to the McLaurin-Samuel stable could have created a Commanders fan hub in central Ohio, but Dotson does give the team an All-Big Ten trio. Following a 1,182-yard, 12-touchdown junior season (one that did not feature bowl-game stats due to early draft prep), Dotson posted a 4.43-second 40 time at the Combine. Dotson is viewed as a quality route runner, which helped a 5-foot-10 prospect rise to the top half of the first round. The Commanders have a $20MM-plus wideout, a $10MM-plus wideout and a first-round pick invested here. The franchise needs to see non-McLaurin production this season.
Passing on the Ohio State receiver triumvirate, the Commanders did expand their Alabama defensive tackle pipeline. Mathis’ arrival also could point Daron Payne out the door in 2023. Mathis is now under contract through 2025, joining Jonathan Allen in being signed long-term. Rivera said Payne was an extension candidate at the Combine, but nothing emerged on that front. Mathis’ arrival probably had something to do with that.
Washington has big contracts likely on tap for Montez Sweat and Chase Young, with the latter a better bet to cash in, and Allen already signed to a top-five D-tackle deal. The team rebuffed Payne trade inquiries this offseason and still has the option of a 2023 franchise tag. But the team is not expected to have much cap space next year (barely $8MM, though it is obviously early here); a tag would eat into that. Payne may have to land his second contract elsewhere.
Obtained with one of the picks from the first-round trade-down, Robinson was quickly moving toward the Commanders’ RB1 role. The carjacking incident, during which Robinson sustained two gunshot wounds, changed the team’s plans. But the former Crimson Tide rusher somehow has a chance to return before the midseason point. Robinson (1,343 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) turned his extra senior year — via the COVID-19 eligibility tweak — into a Day 2 draft landing. Robinson operated as an Alabama backup during his previous four seasons, sparing him some wear-and-tear. Whatever Robinson can provide in 2022 will be a bonus, considering the scary incident that had him hospitalized in August.
Before his junior year, Howell was a first-round prospect. He finished his underclassman seasons with a 68-14 TD-INT ratio. But after the Tar Heels’ skill-position group (featuring Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dazz Newsome and Commanders 2021 draftee Dyami Brown) departed, Howell’s stock plummeted in 2021. Still, the 6-1 quarterback landed in late-first-round rumors — as part of a class that mostly did not impress NFL evaluators — but waited longer than the Desmond Ridder–Malik Willis–Matt Corralcrop. Landing Howell in Round 5 nevertheless represented nice value for the Commanders, who can place him on the developmental track behind Wentz and Heinicke this season.
Changed team name from Washington Football Team to Washington Commanders
Young’s status perhaps deserves some more attention. The 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year did not produce on that level last season, tallying just four quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks. It is certainly possible Young was playing hurt, considering the impact he made as a rookie. The ACL tear he suffered in November will lead to him being out of the mix for almost a year.
Rivera called Young’s ACL tear more severe than Logan Thomas‘. Washington’s starting tight end is questionable for Week 1, returning to regular work despite going down a few weeks after Young did. Young underwent reconstructive surgery that required a graft from his left patellar tendon, and a recent report indicated he will be out longer than the PUP-mandated four-week timetable. This absence could severely limit the Commanders’ pass rush.
Sweat can more than hold his own, but the team has 2020 seventh-rounder James Smith-Williams (2.5 sacks in two seasons) set to be Young’s primary replacement. That will be a tough ask. While the team has Sweat and its talented interior-line trio to fall back on, this D-line may not look formidable again until Young returns.
It will be interesting how the Commanders proceed with Sweat. The team’s No. 2 pass rusher is ahead of its No. 1 for an extension, timeline-wise. Saving a big 2024 payment for Young could complicate a 2023 deal with Sweat. The Raiders and Titans have two edges making north of $16MM per year, but with the salary cap’s climb restored this year, Sweat will likely be aiming higher. Only one team — the Chargers — has two edge defenders earning north of $20MM annually, but the Bolts are not responsible for the guarantees on Mack’s deal. The Bears paid those. By operating as the Commanders’ lead rusher for a chunk of this season, Sweat (21 career sacks) can raise his value ahead of contract talks.
Even as well-regarded staffers like Rivera, Mayhew and team president Jason Wright are leading the team now, Snyder’s presence still overshadows his franchise’s football matters. Early in his third decade in charge, Snyder has become one of the least popular owners in American sports history. His 2021 offseason, which featured a $10MM fine and de facto suspension after an NFL investigation into sexual harassment allegations from 15 ex-team employees, preceded a rockier 2022. The NFL is believed to have nixed the planned written report associated with the Washington investigation.
From 2020-21, Washington’s defense fell from third to 27th in DVOA. Young’s absence undoubtedly factored into that freefall, but the team paid up for its starting corners (Jackson and Fuller) and has first-round picks at nearly every front-seven position. The Commanders have no shot to be an NFC factor if Jack Del Rio‘s troops deliver a similar performance.
Rivera is a fixture toward the top of “first coach fired” odds, and a third straight sub-.500 season would mean five such seasons in a row for the former NFC champion HC. Quarterback luck has betrayed the popular coach since Cam Newton‘s injuries started to mount. While the Commanders can escape the Wentz contract free of charge in 2023, would the organization allow Rivera to be around by then if this QB plan fails? If made available next year, however, this job might not be the most popular for aspiring coaches.
As a competitive team with an older roster, the Buccaneers have seen plenty of turnover in recent years. However, heading into the offseason, the team was facing the biggest departure of all: Tom Brady. The QB’s retirement and subsequent decision to unretire ended up working out for the Buccaneers, but it also highlighted how reliant the organization is on the future Hall of Famer. So, it wasn’t a huge surprise when most of the team’s offseason moves seemed to be an attempt to pacify Brady, especially with BruceArians stepping down as head coach in favor of ToddBowles.
Despite these significant changes (and non-changes), the Buccaneers were able to maintain continuity this offseason, and that should set them up for another deep postseason run in 2022.
The Buccaneers have welcomed in a number of former Patriots players since Tom Brady first joined Tampa Bay. This year, they acquired the QB’s former right guard in Shaq Mason for a fifth-round pick. This was a low price to pay for a lineman with Mason’s experience, especially a lineman who Brady trusts. Mason has missed at least one game in each of the past four seasons, but he’s been plenty productive when he’s on the field. Pro Football Focus ranked Mason fourth among 82 qualifying guards in 2021, the sixth-straight season he’s finished with a top-1o score. Mason will lead a new-look guard corps in 2022.
Tom Brady has never had an issue attracting wide receivers to his squad, and that was certainly the case this past offseason. The Buccaneers first stole a receiver from a division foe when they inked former Falcons wideout Russell Gage to a three-year deal. The 26-year-old has finished each of the past two seasons with 700 receiving yards, and he was expected to slide in third on the depth chart behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Later in the offseason, the Buccaneers managed to add another former Falcons wideout in Julio Jones. The former All-Pro receiver hasn’t compiled more than 1,000 yards since 2019, and his numbers dropped off during his only season in Tennessee in 2021, as the veteran finished with career-lows across the board (31 receptions, 434 yards, one touchdown). Still, his track record should give him the nod on the depth chart ahead of Gage. Either way, when considering Godwin’s ongoing recovery from his ACL tear, it’s clear why the organization wasn’t going to deny too much depth at the position.
Elsewhere on offense, the Buccaneers needed to find at least one body to replace the departed Rob Gronkowski (retirement) and O.J. Howard (left in free agency). In came Kyle Rudolph, who should be able to soak up some of those offensive snaps. The veteran had a three-year stretch between 2016 and 2018 when he averaged more than 660 receiving yards per season, but since that time, he’s seen that number drop to 319 yards per year. Of course, the 32-year-old tight end won’t be expected to pick up a ton of yardage, and he’ll provide Brady with another big TE target (in addition to Cameron Brate) to throw to in the end zone. On the offensive line, Fred Johnson has only started eight of his 23 games, but his ability to play both tackle and guard earned him a spot on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.
Defensively, the team did some work to add to their defensive line when they inked Akiem Hicks to a one-year pact. The former Pro Bowler has battled injuries recently, missing 20 games over the past three seasons. His versatility makes him an asset on any defensive line, and he’ll likely see some time at defensive tackle in 2022. Regardless of his role, he’s good for at least a handful of sacks. Otherwise, the team added a few veterans to their secondary, with both Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan expected to play depth roles in 2022. After starting 14 games for the Falcons in 2020, Neal started only five of his 15 games in 2021, but he still finished the campaign with 72 tackles. Ryan, who made a name for himself as a cornerback with the Patriots, has transitioned into more of a safety role in recent years, including a 2021 campaign where he finished with a career-high 117 tackles in 15 starts for the Giants.
Whlle Tom Brady and his top two receivers will be back in 2022, the offense will look a bit different. The biggest loss comes at tight end, as future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski decided to call it a career. After returning from a brief retirement to appear in 16 games for the Bucs in 2020, Gronk once again dealt with injuries in 2021. Despite sitting out five games, the tight end still managed to finish the season with 802 receiving yards, his highest total since the 2017 season. Gronk also continued being a force in the end zone, hauling in six touchdowns. While O.J. Howard never really clicked with Brady, he’s another notable loss at the position, and the Buccaneers will be hoping some newcomers (primarily veteran Kyle Rudolph and rookie Cade Otton) can pick up some of the slack in 2022.
Antonio Brown‘s tenure with the Buccaneers truly came to an end during his sideline outburst in Week 17. The wideout was officially released in early January. Brown was productive in 15 games across two seasons with the Buccaneers, collecting 1,208 yards and and eight touchdowns. Tampa Bay already added Russell Gage and Julio Jones to their WRs room, and the duo should be able to replicate Brown’s production without the headache. Another notable offensive loss was in Ronald Jones, who started 25 games for Tampa Bay over the past three years. After leading the Buccaneers with 978 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2020, Jones found himself behind Leonard Fournette on the depth chart in 2022. The Bucs will now pair Fournette with rookie third-round pick Rachaad White.
On the offensive line, Brady will have to get used to a pair of new starting offensive guards. Despite earning his first career Pro Bowl nod in 2021, Ali Marpet decided to retire after seven NFL seasons. The offensive guard started each of his 16 games in 2021, with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s seventh-best guard. Alex Cappa, who started 17 games last season, was 19th on that same list, and that’s a big reason why the former third-round pick was able to secure a $35MM deal from the Bengals. Trade acquisition Shaq Mason will slide into one of the starting guard spots, with rookie second-round pick Luke Goedeke also getting a nod.
Defensively, the Buccaneers chose not to re-sign a pair of big-name players. Ndamukong Suh hasn’t missed a start for Tampa Bay over the past three seasons, collecting 14.5 sacks in 49 games (including six sacks in each of the past two seasons). However, he already saw a reduced role in 2021, with the defensive lineman getting into a career-low 63 percent of his team’s defensive snaps. He also didn’t earn the highest praise from Pro Football Focus, with the site ranking him 73rd among 108 qualifying interior defenders. It’s a similar story with JPP. Jason Pierre-Paul started each of his 12 games in 2021, but after averaging more than 10 sacks per season through his first three years with the organization, he was limited to only 2.5 last year. Both veterans remain free agents.
Jordan Whitehead was a fourth-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2018, and he’s started 55 of his 59 appearances since entering the NFL. That includes a 2021 campaign where he started 14 games while compiling 73 tackles, eight passes defended, and a pair of interceptions. He also graded as PFF’s 27th-best safety (among 92 qualifiers), earning him a two-year contract from the Jets.
While the Buccaneers let a lot of players walk, they also made sure to maintain some continuity on both sides of the ball. The most notable re-signing was wideout Chris Godwin, who has transformed into one of the NFL’s most consistent receivers and one of Tom Brady‘s preferred targets. Despite an ACL tear that ended his 2021 season prematurely (and could end up lingering into the 2022 campaign), the organization still felt comfortable giving him a three-year deal worth $60MM, including $40MM guaranteed. Assuming Godwin fully recovers from his injury, that contract could prove to be a bargain in later years.
The Buccaneers also re-signed Leonard Fournette to a three-year, $21MM deal. This was a significant investment after the RB was cast off in Jacksonville, but following a so-so first season in Tampa, Fournette came into his own in 2021. The running back finished last year with 1,266 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, and he’ll continue to be an important part of Tampa Bay’s offense for the foreseeable future.
Elsewhere on offense, the team re-signed some depth pieces. Breshad Perriman‘s return to Tampa Bay during the 2021 season saw him finish with only 167 receiving yards in six games, and the veteran will provide the team with an experienced end-of-the-depth-chart piece. The same goes for veteran running back Giovani Bernard. The former Bengals pass-catcher finished his first season in Tampa Bay with only 181 offensive yards, but he’ll stick around for the time being as some extra depth. Blaine Gabbert is back for another season as Brady’s backup, with the veteran having attempted 27 passes over the past two seasons.
Ryan Jensen hasn’t missed a start for Tampa Bay since joining the organization in 2018. He inked a three-year, $39MM deal with the Buccaneers back in March, but his 2022 season was derailed by a knee injury during training camp. While the injury was described as severe, the Buccaneers still carried him to their 53-man roster before placing him on IR, keeping the door open to a potential return. For the time being, 2021 third-round pick Robert Hainsey will fill in at center. Josh Wells has seen time in 53 games over the past three seasons, and he’ll continue to serve as Tampa Bay’s primary swing tackle in 2022. Aaron Stinnie had a chance to make the roster as a backup guard, but a torn ACL will sideline him for the 2022 season.
On defense, the team brought back a pair of important pieces. Carlton Davis has started 50 of his 51 games with Tampa since being selected in the second round of the 2018 draft, although he’s missed 14 games in those four seasons. He was limited to 10 games in 2021, leading to only 39 tackles, one interception, and 11 passes defended. Even with the limited snaps, he still ranked 21st among 116 qualifiers at the position, per Pro Football Focus. The 25-year-old was brought back on a three-year, $45MM pact. William Gholston has served in a situational role for the Buccaneers, with the nine-year veteran starting 78 of his 136 career games. He started 10 of his 17 appearances in 2021, finishing with a career-high 4.5 sacks.
The Buccaneers ended up dealing their first-round pick for a handful of selections, including the first pick of the second round. With that selection, the organization decided to add Houston standout Logan Hall. The defensive end had a breakout campaign in 2021, finishing with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. The return of William Gholston means the organization won’t need to lean on their top rookie, but Gholston’s age means Hall should find himself in the lineup sooner than later.
The team will be leaning on their other second-round pick. Central Michigan offensive lineman Luke Goedeke wasn’t considered a first-round prospect, but he was certainly the best of the rest, making him a solid pick for Tampa Bay at No. 57. Despite mostly playing offensive tackle in college, Goedeke will start his NFL career as an offensive guard, where he’s expected to start opposite Shaq Mason.
With their next two selections, the Buccaneers added a pair of skill players who could end up seeing roles in 2022. Rachaad White had 1,462 yards from scrimmage for Arizona State in 2021, and that performance made him the fourth RB off the board in the draft. Leonard Fournette is the only RB standing in his way on Tampa’s depth chart, and the rookie should at least see a minor role in 2022. Cade Otton was never an offensive powerhouse during his four seasons at Washington, hauling in 91 catches for 1,026 yards and nine touchdowns in 31 games. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Otton has the size to play TE in the NFL, and if Cameron Brate or Kyle Rudolph struggle, the rookie could be inserted into the offense. Sixth-round tight end Ko Kieft also made the 53-man roster, and the rookie is clearly in the team’s future plans at the position.
Jake Camarda was the second punter off the board following a 2021 campaign where he earned a CFP national championship and his second-straight first-team All-SEC nod. The rookie will be Tampa Bay’s starting punter heading into the season. Zyon McCollum had 50 tackles and three interceptions during his final season at Sam Houston State, and the rookie will likely spend most of his rookie season on special teams. Seventh-round defensive end Andre Anthony was cut at the end of the preseason.
Tom Brady dealt with retirement rumblings long before he was on the Buccaneers, but the future Hall of Fame QB definitively announced his retirement shortly after the Buccaneers were eliminated from the postseason. 40 days later, he announced he was reversing his decision and returning for the 2022 campaign, helping the organization temporarily avoid the major hole they were facing at QB.
His sudden about-face was surprising, and plenty of pundits are still theorizing about Brady’s reasoning. Following the bombshell report surrounding the Dolphins’ tampering scandal with Brady and former Saints head coach Sean Payton, it seemed like the QB was still keeping an open mind when it came to potentially playing elsewhere. Further, there were whispers that Brady had grown wary of head coach Bruce Arians and was pushing for a change on Tampa Bay’s sideline. We’ll probably never know if Brady’s “retirement” was an attempt to strong-arm the organization into a trade or a coaching change, but it was certainly interesting when Arians ended up stepping down as head coach.
For Arians, the coach made it clear that he was prioritizing a clear succession plan for the organization, and he felt it was the right time to hand over the reigns to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Bowles struggled during his last head coaching stint, going 24-40 in four seasons with the Jets. However, the Buccaneers will continue to be competitive as long as Brady is on the roster, and Bowles has drawn a lot of recent praise for guiding Tampa Bay’s defense. The continuity should allow the Buccaneers to maintain their winning ways in 2022, and Brady’s opportunity to truly guide the offense (alongside OC Byron Leftwich) should placate the QB.
It was an easy choice for the Buccaneers to pick up Devin White‘s fifth-year option. After earning a second-team All-Pro nod in 2021, the linebacker followed that up with his first career Pro Bowl appearance in 2021. White finished last season with 128 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and he appears to be a primary part of Tampa Bay’s defense for years to come.
The Buccaneers are loaded once again, and it wouldn’t shock anybody if Tom Brady and his teammates are holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. Still, this offseason showcased how fleeting a team’s contender status can be, and Tampa Bay could be facing a long rebuild whenever Brady finally decides to hang up his cleats.
September 8th, 2022 at 10:10pm CST by Sam Robinson
The Cowboys followed their third NFC East title in six seasons with an offseason in which mainstays departed. Amari Cooper, La’el Collins and Randy Gregory‘s exits then preceded Tyron Smith suffering a second severe injury in three years. Although Dallas’ 2021 defensive resurgence should provide a reasonable safety net to protect against the changes that have unfolded on offense, this rather popular team is facing some questions as it attempts to become the first back-to-back NFC East champion since the early-aughts Eagles.
Dealt WR Amari Cooper and 2022 sixth-round pick to Browns for 2022 fifth- and sixth-rounders
This trade did not age well, but the Cowboys cannot be completely faulted for failing to predict one of the biggest positional-market booms in many years was imminent. Cooper carried a receiver-high $21MM cap hold in 2021, and the Cowboys constructed his 2020 contract to allow for post-Year 2 flexibility. Dallas took the de facto opt-out. That both generated a low-level return and, thanks to injuries the team was already battling and later encountered, Cooper going to Cleveland in a pick-swap deal began this Dallas offseason on a low note.
Cooper’s per-year salary has dropped from a top-five receiver figure — at the time of the trade — into a tie for 12th. With three nonguaranteed years left on the deal, the Cowboys had the Pro Bowl target locked into that price for the rest of his prime. Cooper’s route-running chops and big-play ability resurrected a fast-fading 2018 Cowboys season — which produced the team’s only Dak-era playoff win — and the former top-five draftee undoubtedly helped CeeDee Lamb‘s progress.
Before a modest trade sweepstakes ensued days ahead of the Davante Adams trade setting the receiver market ablaze, the Cowboys considered cutting the eighth-year veteran. But the team opening with the Buccaneers and Bengals may highlight the void the Cooper trade and Gallup injury created. And the light trade return — a shell of the hauls the Packers, Chiefs, Titans and Ravens received in their deals for admittedly better or younger performers — does not help matters. The inconsistency Cooper displayed had him well off the first tier at his position, which surely factored into the Cowboys’ decision to move on. But the five-time 1,000-yard wideout aided Prescott’s development as well. Even coming off a down 2021, Cooper will likely be missed this season.
Excepting the safety positions, Dallas should trot out 20 homegrown starters against the Bucs. UFAs filled in some gaps this year, however. The two most pivotal additions are currently on the team’s practice squad.
Peters’ P-squad status notwithstanding, this marks by far Dallas’ most important free agency add. Although the team is giving the likely Hall of Famer a ramp-up period, it will mark a bit of a strange turn if/when first-rounder Tyler Smithslides to left tackle for a one- or two-game period and then moves back to a position at which he has far less experience. Dallas drafted its younger Smith blocker as its left tackle of the future, and while the Tulsa product starting at two positions in his first NFL month will be odd, Peters’ presence should make that early instability worthwhile.
The Tyron Smithavulsion fracture dealt the Cowboys a severe blow, but it is not like the team should have expected an extended stretch of good health from the future Hall of Famer. Tyron Smith missed 14 games two seasons ago and has missed 32 in total since 2016. The other current Cowboy tackle ticketed for Canton remains a top-shelf blindsider when healthy, as his five Pro Bowls during that injury-affected stretch show, but the Cowboys have needed insurance here for years. Peters, 40, will provide it for now. But the longtime Eagle has also missed 20 regular-season games since 2017. Also when factoring in Tyler Smith’s status, the left side of Dallas’ offensive line could be touch and go this season.
Tyron’s injury will give Peters a chance to become the fourth tackle to play an age-40 season, following Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, 20-year veteran Ray Brown (1985-2004) and Andrew Whitworth. Peters (nine Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro nods) performing what could be his final NFL assignment well — for perhaps the NFL’s highest-profile team — will be an obvious boon for the 19th-year veteran’s chances at a first-ballot induction.
Peters bounced back from his eight-game 2020 with an anonymous 15-game run in Chicago, as the Ryan Pace–Matt Nagy regime’s wheels were coming off. Pro Football Focus graded Peters as a top-25 tackle last season. The Cowboys will pine for one more season on that level, as it would keep their hopes of bringing Tyler Smith along slowly. Connor McGovern, who was holding his own against the younger Smith in this summer’s left guard competition, represents a nice swingman once Peters takes over on the left side.
The Randy Gregory snafu and Von Miller derby ending in Buffalo led the Cowboys to Fowler, whose value had cratered after an uninspiring two-year Atlanta stay. Despite this being Year 8 for the former top-five pick, Fowler only turned 28 last month. He delivered intermittent production with the Jaguars and Rams, peaking with an 11.5-sack year alongside Aaron Donald — an arrangement that has catalyzed other pass rushers, including Miller — in 2019. The Falcons gave Fowler a three-year, $48MM deal in 2020. The edge rusher’s two-year output: 7.5 sacks, 16 QB hits. The Cowboys planning a rotational role for the former Dan Quinn-era Falcons pickup is more sensible than starting him, and he is still young enough to bounce back. This could be a make-or-break season for those prospects, however.
While the loose connections to Bobby Wagner generated interest, the Cowboys were not a serious contender for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Barr and Micah Parsons on the same defense nevertheless intrigues, though obviously not as much as it would have if Barr’s 2010s version were here. A college edge rusher, Barr transitioned to a 4-3 outside linebacker role under current Dallas assistant George Edwards in Minnesota. Parsons’ time as a rusher could open the door for more Barr looks on the second level.
Camp struggles exposed the Cowboys’ low-key Greg Zuerlein replacement plan, and Maher — following the exists of Lirim Hajrullahu and rookie UDFA Jonathan Garibay— is back. The multi-stint CFLer remains tied to that eye-popping 60-yard field goal record, and until Justin Tucker kicks a third from that range, Maher is the only player to make three 60-plus-yarders. Of course, Dallas cut Maher late during a 2019 season in which he made a franchise-record 63-yarder but connected on fewer than 67% of his tries. After a 16-for-18 Saints showing as part of their 2021 kicker carousel, the 32-year-old specialist has a second shot in Dallas.
Gallup, 26, is two years younger than Cooper. Choosing the sidekick over the more accomplished lead actor — at a near-$9MM-per-year discount — makes sense for the Cowboys. They just better be right about Gallup’s trajectory. With Cooper gone, Gallup has a clear runway to be Lamb’s wingman. The TCU product combined for 1,950 yards from 2019-20, giving the Cowboys a good indication of his capabilities. Injuries threw Gallup off track last year but also kept him within Dallas’ price range.
Contract-wise, this could be a steal. It satisfies the Cowboys’ desire for longer-term deals and, if Gallup returns to his pre-ACL-tear form, will age well enough this could be a pact that is one day talked about like Darren Waller‘s wildly team-friendly Raiders contract currently is. The former third-round pick could have priced himself out of the Cowboys’ range by staying healthy during his contract year, but his foot and knee maladies prevented that. Gallup tying himself to Dallas through 2026, rather than go with a shorter-term accord and attempt to cash in again as the salary cap rises, could limit his career earnings. Even as Gallup — after 2022’s receiver-market earthquake — sits as the league’s 29th-highest-paid receiver, collecting $23MM after a two-injury season should cushion the blow of potentially outplaying this contract.
Although the Cowboys did not plan it this way, their defensive end strategy resembled the Gallup-over-Cooper receiver call. Gregory’s last-minute Denver defection left an edge void the team opted to fill collectively. Armstrong flashed as a pass rusher in his contract year (five sacks and 12 QB hits, both of which topped his previous three years combined). He will join Fowler and second-rounder Sam Williamsin complementing DeMarcus Lawrence.
Waived by the Lions and ending up on the Ravens’ practice squad in 2020, Kearse took a low-cost Cowboys contract (one year, $2.75MM) and bettered his value. PFF slotted the former seventh-round Vikings pick as a top-15 safety, giving the Cowboys something to work with on a back line that had cycled through some middling-at-best personnel in recent years. Kearse made 101 tackles (nine for loss) and added two INTs and 10 passes defensed in 2021. The Jevon Kearse nephew was a key part of the Cowboys going from allowing a franchise-record 473 points in 2020 to ranking second in 2021 defensive DVOA.
With Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee on last year’s team, Hooker was less impactful compared to Kearse. But the former first-round pick — a top-30 PFF safety, albeit on 474 snaps — will be asked to do more this season. The ex-Ohio State star, who signed with the Cowboys just before their 2021 training camp, is still just 26. September will mark the two-year anniversary of the Achilles tear that ended Hooker’s Indianapolis run. A future in which the former first-round pick raises his market considerably this season exists, should Quinn harness a healthier Hooker’s talent.
Vander Esch began his career on a course similar to 2018 classmates Shaquille Leonard and Derwin James, joining each as a rookie-year Pro Bowler. Instead of joining that duo with a market-topping extension, Vander Esch saw injuries crush his value. This $2MM deal, with $1MM in incentives, represents a massive disappointment from where Vander Esch was earlier in his career. LVE’s cervical spinal stenosis condition preceded a 2019 neck injury that required surgery, and the young linebacker broke his collarbone in 2020. These issues complicated the former 140-tackle standout’s path. Vander Esch played 17 games in 2021 but logged a career-low 58% defensive snap rate. His career path is in flux.
The Cowboys sticking by Gregory for nearly seven years, amid four suspensions, and observing their plan for the rest of the ex-second-rounder’s prime go awry so publicly was certainly an early offseason blow. Parsons represents envied rush assistance, as he brought frequent havoc and tantalizing potential as a part-time edge defender, but Gregory showed Pro Bowl-caliber form for a while last season. Losing him and seeing the Bills swoop in for Von Miller led the Cowboys to go with a non-star-studded path opposite Lawrence.
Gregory objected to language that could have seen his guarantees void in the event of even a mere fine. Gregory’s agent described that clause as an extreme rarity, and the veteran edge rusher cursed the Cowboys — whom he felt inserted the language late in the process — on his way out. Cowboys pushback indicated the team has this clause in other non-Prescott veterans’ deals, but after Gregory said he would stay if Dallas matched Denver’s five-year, $70MM offer, the damage was beyond done.
The 2011 CBA’s stricter substance-abuse policy nearly led Gregory out of the league. The extended hiatuses (a staggering 52 suspension-induced absences from 2016-20) also limited Gregory’s wear-and-tear, making the 29-year-old’s status on a $14MM-per-year deal valuable. A calf injury and a COVID-19 contraction forced Gregory to miss five more games in 2021, and two offseason surgeries followed. But the Cowboys were willing to make this bet to fortify their other D-end spot after Gregory notched six sacks, 17 QB hits and three forced fumbles last season. When the team attempted to pivot to Miller — a Dallas-area native who wanted to join his hometown team — a lowball offer derailed those talks.
The likely first-ballot Hall of Famer said the Bills’ offer of three guaranteed years eclipsed what the Rams and Cowboys proposed. The Cowboys simply sent their Gregory terms his way, per Miller. The Rams also outflanked Dallas here, offering the former Super Bowl MVP a contract that bettered the three-year AAV on the Bills’ proposal. Miller, 33, said he would have taken less to sign with the Cowboys, “but not that much less.”
Connections to Za’Darius Smith and Jason Pierre-Paul followed, but the Cowboys stood down. They ultimately decided to save money here. This is a cost-controlled defense; Lawrence is currently the only Cowboys defender making more than $6MM on average. Parsons will certainly help the Cowboys’ pass-rushing cause, but the team passing on pairing the Defensive Rookie of the Year’s low-cost deal with a veteran Miller pact — thus creating a lethal Miller-Lawrence-Parsons troika — could be second-guessed for a while.
Terence Steele, who gained extensive experience during a 2020 season in which Collins missed, is stepping in for the talented blocker. The Cowboys did well to sign Collins — a first-round talent who saw a pre-draft controversy cause him to go undrafted — and were also correct in moving him from left guard to right tackle. Collins, 29, became one of the NFL’s best right tackles. The LSU alum had signed a five-year, $50MM extension in 2019, and PFF slotted him as a top-15 tackle in 2019 and ’21. But Collins did miss 21 games from 2020-21. Steele is also a former UDFA, but no extenuating circumstances caused him to drop to that level. The Cowboys are high on Steele, whom PFF rated outside its top 50 in both 2020 and ’21, but they appear to be taking a bit of a risk here.
Boldly announcing the Cowboys would not pass up a need to add a prime young talent up front this year, Jerry Jones made good on that via the Smith choice. The draft’s fifth tackle taken, Smith is expected to have the aforementioned guard assignment as an NFL intro — a challenge his first-round contemporaries will not have. The Conference USA product did not play guard in college and struggled with penalties while at his natural position, committing a whopping 12 holding infractions during his final Tulsa season. But a Tyron-to-Tyler transition is expected to take place.
Still attached to the eight-year, $97.6MM extension he signed in 2014 — by far the oldest active NFL contract — Tyron Smith has two seasons remaining on that deal. The Cowboys can get out of the savvy contract for barely $4MM in dead money, in a post-June 1 cut scenario. But given this organization’s draft-and-extend penchant, the team doing another Tyron accord is not hard to envision. Even factoring in the 12th-year blocker’s injuries, he remains an elite player. Prescott and Elliott’s numbers with and without the All-Pro left tackle reflect it.
Tyler Smith showed flashes in the preseason and should be able to hold off McGovern at guard. How the youngster fares could determine the team’s 2023 Tyron plan, but the promise of the two first-rounders teaming up — which remains a possibility for December and beyond this year — may be too difficult to pass up. Tyron has a manageable 2023 cap number ($13.6MM) as well.
Williams racked up stats at the JUCO level, compiling 17.5 in 2018, and proved it translated to the SEC in 2021. Williams’ Ole Miss-record 12.5 sacks last season moved him up draft boards. Observing how the Cowboys utilize he, Fowler and Armstrong, while mixing in Parsons, will be an interesting early-season plotline on Quinn’s unit.
While Tolbert’s role is uncertain, the Cowboys could use the small-school product to contribute while Gallup and Washington are sidelined. Otherwise, low-profile receivers will flank Lamb. The 6-foot-3 target dominated at his Sun Belt program (1,474 yards, eight TDs, 18.0 YPC in 2021), but moving from that level to being an NFL regular from the start obviously represents a big leap. Players like Will Fuller and T.Y. Hilton remain available; the Cowboys will go with inexperience alongside Lamb to start the year. Tolbert being a No. 3 to Lamb and Gallup, once the latter is ready, will be a more reasonable rookie-year gig.
Lawrence’s thanks/no-thanks response to a Cowboys pay-cut proposal proved shrewd. The team backed down and gave its top defensive end a deal that includes $30MM fully guaranteed. This adjustment both rewarded Lawrence, whose 2019 extension was done with guarantees, and dropped his 2022 cap hit from a steep $27MM perch. Since the Cowboys turned Lawrence’s second franchise tag into a long-term extension, his production has decreased. He has not topped 6.5 sacks in a season since the extension. But PFF graded the veteran as a top-five edge rusher — in a season abbreviated by a September foot injury — in 2021. Post-Gregory, the 30-year-old D-end will be needed.
As fantasy GMs are discerning, Schultz will be a vital part of Dallas’ post-Cooper attack. Even as Gallup returns from his late-December ACL tear, the receiving corps the Cowboys hoped to trot out in 2021 — Cooper-Lamb-Gallup-Wilson — became unusable quickly due to Gallup’s setbacks. Schultz began to pick up the slack for Prescott and help the Cowboys after Jarwin’s injuries spoiled the initial Jason Witten successor’s 2020 extension. Schultz came through with an 808-yard, eight-TD 2021 and became a priority — being tagged over Gregory, whose tag would have been $17.9MM — ahead of free agency.
Schultz, 26, sought a shorter-term commitment, whereas the Cowboys continue to push for five- or six-year extensions. No deal transpiring means the fifth-year tight end can use Dallas’ receiver situation to his advantage and position himself for a monster 2023 free agency payday. The Bills took Dawson Knoxoff the 2023 market this week, and the Dolphins may be set to reduce fellow tagged tight end Mike Gesicki‘s value in Mike McDaniel‘s offense. Of course, the Cowboys can re-tag Schultz for roughly $13MM next year. The team went to the two-tag well with Lawrence and Prescott (the latter as a procedural move) recently.
Frequently being asked about his support for third-year HC Mike McCarthy, Jerry Jones is not shy about sharing it. That said, the Payton prospect stands to linger. The Cowboys would have to send the Saints compensation, as Payton is under contract through 2024, but the former Dallas assistant has been an oft-rumored Jones target. A Payton confidant indicating the Super Bowl-winning coach would be interested in the Cowboys, Chargers or Dolphins (perhaps on the level this time) likely tripped the most alarms in Dallas.
McCarthy is also a Super Bowl champion HC, but Payton’s offensive acumen — which turned Drew Brees from an up-and-down Chargers passer into an all-time great as a Saint — is held in higher regard. And the Cowboys have been in a rather famous rut, at least regarding deep playoff runs, under their post-Jimmy Johnson leaders. Until McCarthy is confirmed to return, the potential Payton-Cowboys reunion will be a must-monitor coaching story.
The Commanders and Giants’ statuses look to again give the Cowboys an advantage, though the Eagles have improved their roster in many places. The Cowboys ranked first in DVOA last season, but the unraveling against the 49ers ended a 26th straight season shy of the NFC championship game. Among NFC teams, only the Detroit and Washington match that streak. Prescott’s four-year, $160MM extension will produce a major cap spike — to $49.13MM — in 2023; two void years are already on the deal to spread out the cap hit. That matter adds to 2022’s importance.
But the losses of three impact starters, along with the Smith injury, has inserted more doubt into the Cowboys’ 2022 equation. The team’s Jerry–Stephen Jones front office setup is not going anywhere, adding an unnecessary hurdle — at least compared to the franchises with quality traditional GMs — annually. Will this year’s Cowboys team surprise skeptics with a deep playoff run? If not, Jerry Jones will hear calls to bail on his current HC much quicker than he did Jason Garrett.
As one of five NFL franchises entering last year with a new head coach and one of two who replaced their general manager as well, the Falcons saw middling results to start the Arthur Smith-Terry Fontenot era. At 7-10 in 2021, they surpassed the accomplishments of two of those other franchises, with the Jets finishing 4-13 and the Lions finishing 3-13-1, but failed to reach a winning record like the other two (9-8 Chargers and Eagles teams).
In Year 2 under Smith and Fontenot, though, it appears that it is time for a reset. The team moved on from former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and toward a new path to success. Although the NFC does not appear quite as daunting as the deep AFC, this still looks to be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Falcons.
From a team identity standpoint, Ryan’s departure cannot be overstated. The star out of Boston College has been the face of the franchise ever since he completed his first-ever NFL pass attempt for a 62-yard touchdown to wide receiver Michael Jenkins back in 2008. For 14 years, Ryan ensured the Falcons had an answer behind center, starting 222 of a possible 225 regular-season games. That start total tops Steve Bartkowski‘s previous Falcons QB standard by 101.
The franchise’s only MVP winner, Ryan obviously holds countless franchise records. The former No. 3 overall pick performed admirably through Atlanta’s low seasons as well as its highs. Injuries and a lack of surrounding talent have limited his win totals over the years, but the resilient quarterback still managed to win 120 games over his 14 seasons. Ryan’s MVP season fueled his team to Super Bowl LI. He threw 38 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions en route to a league-leading marks in quarterback rating (117.1) and QBR (79.6) that year. Perhaps a perfect display of Ryan’s consistency amid his team’s shortcomings: two years later, Ryan nearly matched his MVP output with 35 TD passes and seven INTs. The team’s record that year: 7-9.
Going into the 2021 season, talk had already begun surrounding Ryan’s future. Many posited it would be wise to trade away the veteran quarterback to build up trade assets to replace him, but owner Arthur Blank insisted that Ryan would remain on the team for 2021. The team eventually restructured Ryan’s contract to lower his cap hit for last year, effectively making him even more difficult to deal in the future.
Now, the Falcons are staring at two possibilities concerning this season at quarterback. It could be territory the team has not traversed for most of the 21st century. Excluding a transitionary 2007 season that saw games started by quarterbacks Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich, the Falcons have gone into 19 of their previous 20 seasons knowing that either Michael Vick or Ryan would be their starter. Atlanta will hope that 2022 is another transitory situation that will lead to the next long-tenured quarterback in red and black.
Another Falcons trade took place in the weeks after the draft, bringing in a new receiving target for Ryan’s replacement. Edwards, a 2020 third-round pick, took a big step forward in his sophomore season, partially due to the departure of teammateHenry Ruggs. With no Calvin Ridley and rookie first-round pick Drake London easing himself into the NFL after a college injury and a minor preseason malady, Edwards has an opportunity to see extensive time. Pitts is likely to hog most of the targets, as London and Edwards are brought up to speed, but the door is wide open for Edwards to become a regular Falcons contributor in his third season. Two years remain on his rookie contract.
Once again, the biggest headline here comes at quarterback. The Falcons reunited Mariota with Smith, the Titans’ offensive coordinator during the former No. 2 overall pick’s last season in Tennessee. The team signed the 28-year-old on the same day it traded away Ryan. The sequence of transactions made it clear that Mariota was brought in to be Ryan’s successor. The intention came to fruition when Mariota was named the team’s starting quarterback two weeks before the preseason.
Atlanta also used its free agency money to bring in some immediate help on defense. The team signed Hayward and Carter four days apart, solidifying starters at corner and outside linebacker, respectively. Hayward’s best years came during his time with the Chargers when, over a two-season period (2016-17), he racked up 11 interceptions and an incredible 42 passes defensed. While 11th-year veteran has not been able to recreate that production since, he remains a reliable outside cornerback — whom Pro Football Focus slotted as a top-15 player at the position last season — who will immediately stand in opposite AJ Terrell.
Carter is a younger defender who delivered decent production when healthy over his four years in New York. The former Giants third-round pick is expected to start alongside fellow free agent addition Evans and Mykal Walker. Evans was brought in to compete with and potentially replaceDeion Jones. The latter’s IR stay, which comes after an offseason shoulder surgery, has tabled that matter until at least October. Evans was a full-time starter for much of his rookie contract after being drafted in the first round by Tennessee. As Mariota is reuniting with Smith on offense, Evans is linking back up with ex-Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
On offense, the Falcons added some depth. Williams is set to reprise his usual role as a No. 2 running back, this time behind Patterson. Williams’ presence as a veteran backup rusher should be advantageous for the development of rookie Tyler Allgeier. Atlanta also brought in some strong backup pieces for the offensive line. Ifedi will be a solid substitute for tackles Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary, if needed. A swingman in Denver and a backup in Chicago, Wilkinson was on the verge of supplantingJalen Mayfield at guard during camp. Mayfield, however, will begin the season on injured reserve.
Atlanta has experience in long-term relationships with kickers. The team enjoyed 11 strong years out of place kicker Matt Bryant and nine years with punter Matt Bosher, moving on from both in 2019. That year brought Koo’s Falcons introduction. Koo joined the team in Week 10 and, after converting 23 of his 26 field goal attempts, never relinquished the kicking job.
Over the next two seasons, Koo improved on his three misses from 2019 and charted a course to the top of the NFL’s accuracy list. Koo converted 64 of 68 field goal attempts from 2020-21, earning Pro Bowl acclaim in 2020. His 2020s conversion rate of 94.12% tops the NFL. This accuracy led to a nice extension, which made Koo the league’s third-highest-paid kicker. In a time when kickers are on the shortest of leashes, this long-term commitment shows a good amount of faith in the South Korean-American kicker.
The Falcons brought in Patterson last year on a one-year deal to supplement the receivers room and solidify the return game. Little did they know they were signing their starting running back. Over the first eight years of his career, Patterson enjoyed fairly limited success as a receiver with immense success in the return game. Patterson has been named a first- or second-team All-Pro kick returner in all but three seasons of his career and made four Pro Bowls. Tied with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for the most kick-return touchdowns in NFL history (eight), Patterson added another dimension to his game in Atlanta. The Falcons will see if he can replicate that effort.
In one year with the Falcons, Patterson nearly doubled his career carries and nearly tripled his best single-season rushing output. Despite his increased role as a rusher (153 carries, 648 yards, six touchdowns), Patterson also put up career numbers as a receiver. He tied a career high in receptions (52) and set a career-best mark in receiving yards (548) and touchdown receptions (five). While Patterson’s age made this a rather odd breakout, his career as a returner and gadget player limited the tread on his tires. The Falcons can also punt on this deal after one season, should their 31-year-old back fall off his 2021 pace.
Atlanta was able to bring back a few defensive contributors in Harris, Oliver, and Rush, all of whom have started games for the team in recent years. Harris started every 2021 game for Atlanta at strong safety, before a torn pectoral muscle shelved him for last season’s final four games. He is set to start the year as a backup, with the Falcons lining up the younger Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant at the safety spots.
After starting for much of his second and third seasons, Oliver saw his contract year cut short when he suffered a knee injury in Week 4. The Falcons are giving him another opportunity to earn a new contract, but his new platform year will not start on time. The team placed the former second-round pick on IR last week, sidelining him for at least four games. The Falcons signed Rush to their practice squad last year when he was cut from the Titans. He was eventually promoted to the active roster and started six games near the end of the season for Atlanta. After earning his first career starts with his seventh NFL team in three years, Rush is expected to start at defensive tackle for the Falcons to begin the year.
The Falcons have commenced what may be viewed as a rebuild. Any rebuild is going to see a change of the guard, and a notable talent exodus took place in Atlanta this offseason. In addition to the Ryan trade, the team allowed McCarron and Rosen to follow the starter out of town. McCarron’s time in a Falcons uniform was limited to the preseason; a torn ACL led to the ex-Bengals backup missing the 2021 campaign. Atlanta has since refilled the room with Mariota and third-round rookie Desmond Ridder, with Feleipe Franks being the lone holdover.
Both of Koo’s specialty mates are gone as well. The departures of Morstead and Harris led to the additions of Pinion and Brinkley. Morstead spent 12 seasons in New Orleans and arrived just partway through last season, but Harris had spent his entire 10-year career in Atlanta, earning his first Pro Bowl nod last year. The Chargers added have since added Harris as their long snapper.
Some of the defensive additions above look much more necessary with the departure of starters like Davison, Fowler, Harmon, Means, and Moreau. Rush should step up now to replace Davison in starting alongside Grady Jarrett, Carter should be able to make up for the loss of Fowler and Means in the pass rush, and Hayward will lessen the loss of Moreau immediately.
The offensive weapons that departed should, for the most part, be replaceable; they were mostly in backup roles with the team. Hurst will be the hardest to replace, but his talents became far less necessary with the quick emergence of Pitts. The Falcons will hope that Williams and Allgeier will be able to replace the production of the team’s second-leading rusher from last year, Davis, who departed for Baltimore in free agency.
Gage’s departure may hit harder; he had risen to a key place in Atlanta’s aerial pecking order. As Ridley’s surprising midseason departure left Ryan without both his standout starters, following the Julio Jones trade, Gage became his No. 1 wideout. After a 770-yard season, Gage received a three-year, $30MM offer to join the Buccaneers, keying a full-on Falcons reboot at the receiver position.
The Falcons approached the 2022 draft with a rebuild in mind but still were able to utilize their picks to fill some recent holes.
Many considered London the best wide receiver in the draft. Using a top-10 pick on a receiver for the first time since 2011’s Jones trade-up, the Falcons concurred. It says a lot about London’s abilities that he was the first receiver off the board at No. 8 overall; an ankle injury forced the 6-foot-5 weapon to miss the last few games of his final season at USC. Before his injury, London led the nation in receiving yards, contested catches, and missed tackles. He should be perfectly set to make up for the production lost via Gage’s departure and Ridley’s suspension. London should pair well with Pitts for years in the future.
Trades helped Atlanta to double down on pass rushers on Day 2. The team traded its original second-round pick, along with a fourth-rounder, to move up five spots and select Ebiketie. Fontenot utilized the extra third-round pick acquired in the Ryan trade to select Malone. After transferring from Temple, Ebiketie led the Nittany Lions with 9.5 sacks, more than tripling the production of the team’s next-closest defender. Malone’s best season came in 2019, when he racked up 11.0 sacks as a junior, but the five-year Hilltopper was able to produce 32.5 sacks and 59 tackles for loss during a career that included an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
Aside from that early draft commotion, the weekend went fairly according to plan. The Falcons used the additional second-round pick acquired in last year’s Jones trade to add some young linebacker talent in Andersen. They also selected the second quarterback of the draft in the third round, adding Cincinnati’s Ridder. Mariota was named Atlanta’s starter, but Ridder could, and should, be viewed as the team’s future at quarterback. Given the Falcons’ status as a rebuilding squad, it would not surprise to see Ridder make several 2022 starts.
In the later rounds, the Falcons took a few stabs on offense. In the fifth round, they nabbed 2021’s Division I-FBS rushing touchdowns leader (Allgeier). As a fourth-year sophomore, Allgeier finished third in the nation with 1,606 rushing yards to go along with 23 touchdowns. With Patterson a rare 10th-year running back and Williams having not enjoyed a regular role since 2019, a path to Allgeier earning a notable playing time as a rookie may not be particularly daunting.
Three of the 13 Falcons undrafted free agents ended up surviving the final roster cuts last week. Wide receiver Jared Bernhardt made headlines by making the 53-man roster despite only playing the sport for one year. Bernhardt was a lacrosse player at Maryland for five seasons, earning the Tewaaraton Award for the nation’s best collegiate lacrosse player. He left the Terrapins as a graduate transfer to start at quarterback for Ferris State and led the Bulldogs to a 14-0 season that included a Division II championship. The Falcons also kept rookie UDFAs in defensive tackle Timmy Horne (NC State) and linebacker Nate Landman (Colorado).
Atlanta brought back two of its big men on three-year extensions. Despite the Falcons jettisoning many pieces from their Super Bowl LI core in recent years, the Fontenot regime re-signed two of those cogs to third contracts.
Jarrett, 29, has been a Falcon since arriving as a 2015 fifth-round pick and, after completing his rookie season, has been a mainstay in the middle of the Atlanta defense. He improved year after year until, in 2019, he made his first Pro Bowl with a 7.5-sack season. Jarrett’s production has dipped in recent years, but he is still an important piece of Atlanta’s front seven and should continue to hassle opposing quarterbacks going into his eighth season.
Matthews is another career-long Falcon, playing in Atlanta one year longer than Jarrett. Matthews, 30, has been one of the NFL’s most dependable tackles. Besides the second game of his rookie season, Matthews has started in every possible game of his career without fail. The blindside blocker even earned a Pro Bowl in 2018, triggering his first contract extension — a five-year, $72.5MM pact. The left tackle market has climbed in recent years, producing a few $20MM-AAV players. Matthews did not see his second Falcons extension land quite on that level, but he did receive a substantial raise. The former first-rounder’s $18.5MM average salary ranks fifth among left tackles.
One of the toughest absences the Falcons will have to deal with is that of their top wide receiver. Ridley made headlines in March after it was announced that he had wagered $1,500 betting on NFL games. The betting reportedly occurred “during a five-day period in November 2021,” a span in which it has been determined that Ridley was away from the team after being placed on the non-football injury list.
The 2018 first-round pick was placed on the NFI list due to personal matters and mental health, and rumors were starting to emerge linking him to trade possibilities. It was reported that the wagers consisted of parlay bets with some including the Falcons to win. As a result of the activity, the NFL suspended Ridley for at least the 2022 season.
Ridley’s 1,374 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, as Jones battled hamstring trouble, looked to move him closer to a Falcons extension. But the 2021 NFI absence and offseason suspension cloud his future with the franchise. Rather than hit free agency after five years, Ridley’s rookie contract will toll to 2023. Considering the Falcons were close to trading him to the Eagles — before it was known he would be banned for 2022 — it does not appear Ridley’s $11.12MM fifth-year option salary is firmly in Atlanta’s plans for 2023. In his absence, Mariota will have to rely on Pitts, Patterson, London, Edwards, and Olamide Zaccheaus to be on the other end of his passes.
After having the 14th and 31st overall picks of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Falcons had two decisions to make in terms of fifth-year options this past offseason. Atlanta had used the picks on Lindstrom and McGary, respectively, relying on both players as starters on the offensive line ever since. Back in May, the Falcons divided the pair, timeline-wise, by keeping Lindstrom through 2023 but turning McGary’s 2022 season into a contract year. Neither decision was necessarily a surprise. Lindstrom has improved with each year of play in the league, while McGary has struggled to find the same upwards trajectory.
While Ryan still would have been out of the picture, Watson would have changed the Falcons’ rebuild plan. The team, which also joined the Saints and Panthers in being a Watson finalist, was prepared to part with the historic trade haul (three first-round picks and change) to land the quarterback. The Falcons were not comfortable with the guarantee figure the Browns offered and stood down. This keeps the Falcons’ future draft arsenals intact and allowed them to largely evade the Watson-generated criticism avalanche that has come the Browns’ way. It also leaves the Falcons without a surefire long-term quarterback answer, though the team will soon begin seeing if Ridder can be that player. Still, Atlanta’s Watson interest led to the point it became a significant NFL what-if sequence.
Selling the face of the franchise sets the Falcons up for a rebuild, but the additions made through the draft and free agency seem to indicate Fontenot and Smith are aiming for quite a quick rebuild. The offense is littered with young talent in Ridder, Allgeier, London, and Pitts. All the holes on defense created by departures were filled with capable, productive veterans.
If the youthful skill-position nucleus can develop quickly (as we’ve seen often in the NFL, lately) behind an experienced offensive line, a veteran defense, and a strong core on special teams, Atlanta’s rebuild could be finished in a year or two. For now, though, fans will have some new faces to get used to and, in a year that isn’t likely to bring much success, can try to pinpoint the next few moves necessary to urge this team toward long-term success.