Considering Cam Newton‘s 2020 struggles coupled with the Patriots’ decision to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback, many assumed rookie Mac Jones would take over as New England’s starter in 2021.
Not so fast.
Following the draft, BillBelichick came out and said Newton would remain the team’s starter until he was unseated. Belichick has stuck with that sentiment throughout the offseason and into the preseason, even if the former MVP’s hold on the starting gig has started to show some cracks.
For starters, earlier this month, we heard that Jones had narrowed the gap between himself and Newton with a strong training camp. Then, Newton was recently sidelined due to a “misunderstanding” over COVID-19 protocols. While Newton’s absence stemmed from a team-approved visit to an out-of-state doctor, NFL Network’s Mike Giardi recently tweeted that there was “a level of frustration internally” with the entire situation. In fact, one member of the organization told the reporter that Newton’s recent absence “opened a window of opportunity” for the rookie, and Belichick acknowledged earlier this week that Newton’s absence would provide Jones with a chance to show what he’s got.
Naturally, Belichick surprised a few when he went back to Newton as the starter during today’s joint practice with the Giants. As Jeff Howe of The Athletic wrote, this decision gave “off the appearance nothing has changed in the race for the No. 1 job.” So, just more confusion in regards to the starting gig.
Jones has earned glowing reviews for his consistent play during practice, while Newton has merely shown glimpses of consistency. The duo has been relatively even during their preseason contests, and their statistics only help to cloud the quarterbacks depth chart.
There are merits to starting either one of the two quarterbacks. Newton didn’t get a fair shake during his first season in New England; he got a late start to training camp, dealt with a depleted set of offensive weapons, and had a bout with COVID. On the flip side, he guided the Patriots to one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL. While there could still be some upside with Newton, the consensus opinion seems to be that his 2020 performance is more indicative of his future production than his standout campaigns with the Panthers.
The main argument in the pro-Jones camp is that he’s not Newton, but there are some other reasons to believe in the rook. While Jones certainly isn’t (and probably will never be close to) Tom Brady, the 6-foor-3, big-armed quarterback would appear to be a better fit in Belichick and Josh McDaniels‘ successful offense. Jones has also impressed with his decision making and ability to grasp the offense. On the flip side, we shouldn’t put a lot of stock in practice and preseason. Plus, Belichick traditionally buries his rookies; Jones probably wouldn’t be an exception.
While we’ll likely get our answer in the next few weeks, we’re putting the question out to you: who will be the Patriots starting QB to start the 2021 season? (In before someone jokes about Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham taking the reigns). Let us know in the poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments.
This past week we asked you which rookie running back would finish with the most yards in 2021, and now we’re turning our attention to the wide receivers. This year’s wideout class was a great one, with three going in the top ten picks.
Two more then went later in the first round, and then five were off the board in the second. The crop included reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, and LSU star Ja’Marr Chase who was reunited in Cincinnati with college teammate Joe Burrow.
Chase became the first receiver off the board when the Bengals nabbed him with the fifth overall pick. He should already have great chemistry with Burrow, so he’s got that working in his favor. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are still there, but the team moving on from A.J. Green this offseason means Chase should see plenty of opportunity right away. Will his rapport with Burrow and a potentially improved Cincy O-line be enough for him to seize the rookie receiving title?
The following pick, the Dolphins took Jaylen Waddle from Alabama at number six. Waddle is also reconnecting with an old college quarterback as he’ll re-team with Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. His blazing fast speed gives him plenty of upside, although working against him is the fact that he missed a good chunk of the 2020 season due to injury. Will Fuller will have to sit out the first game of the 2021 season with a suspension, but DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki will also be competing for targets.
Smith *also* is getting paired back up with a familiar face under center. The Heisman winner played with Eagles second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts at Alabama. Despite winning the award for best college football player in the country, Smith was the third wideout taken. Will he use that as added motivation and come out with a chip on his shoulder? He certainly shouldn’t struggle for playing time with Philly’s receiving depth chart being thin as ever. Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, and Greg Ward Jr. are all he has to compete with.
Elijah Moore was the next big name, with the Ole Miss product going to the Jets at 34. He’s also got upside, but has a few guys ahead of him and will have a rookie quarterback throwing to him. Rondale Moore (Purdue) to the Cardinals at 49, D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan) to the Seahawks at 56, Tutu Atwell (Louisville) to the Rams at 57, and Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU) to the Panthers at 59 round out the rest of the round two receivers.
So, what do you think? Which receiver will rack up the most yards in 2021? Who are the later-round candidates or UDFAs who can join these players as early contributors? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
We know, we know…it’s probably a bit early to speculate about the job security of NFL head coaches. However, let’s not forget Bum Phillips‘ famous (supposed) quote: “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”
Even with the start of the NFL season more than a month away, a handful of head coaches already find themselves on the hot seat. Nowadays, it isn’t all that hard to determine which head coaches are at risk of losing their jobs. You can pretty much remove the 12 first- and second-year coaches, and you can definitely remove the successful, long-term coaches (the likes of Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, etc.).
That leaves about 15 coaches with at least two years of tenure but fewer than eight years of tenure (yes, we chose eight to shoehorn Andy Reid into the “definitively safe” section but not the likes of Mike Zimmer). Have those coaches had successful teams? You can remove them from the list. Have those coaches continually shown improvement? You can probably remove them from the list, too. Have those coaches’ teams disappointed or underwhelmed, especially recently? Ding ding ding…those are the coaches on the hot seat.
As we all know, those on the hot seat either redeem themselves and save their jobs or…ultimately get canned. So, that brings us to today’s question: which head coach will be fired first? We used Bovada’s top-three options below, but we’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Following a 12-4 campaign to begin his coaching career, Nagy found his seat getting a bit warm following a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2019. The former Chiefs offensive coordinator didn’t do a whole lot to inspire confidence in 2020. The team finished 8-8 for a second-straight season, and the former QB whisperer found his passing offense ranking in the bottom-half of the NFL in most categories.
The Bears finally bailed on Mitchell Trubisky this past offseason, and they added a pair of QBs to replace him: veteran Andy Dalton and first-round pick Justin Fields. With a solid defense that’s in win-now mode, Nagy will have to get something out of one of these signal-callers if he hopes to retain his job. Considering Dalton’s recent play and Fields’ inexperience, things are looking bleak.
It’s easy to put an asterisk on the Bengals’ 2020 campaign following the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow, but there’s no denying that Taylor’s staff has now collected an ugly 6-25-1 record through two seasons. There’s really nowhere to go but up for the head coach, but even if the Bengals improve their record in 2021, the team would still have to pass the smell test. Specifically, we should expect the offensive guru to guide Burrow and the rest of the offense to at least an above-average performance, and it’d be encouraging if the defense was able to show some progress after finishing as one of the worst units in the league in 2020.
As we saw with Marvin Lewis, the Bengals organization values continuity. It’s hard to envision the team not giving Taylor at least another full season, but if the team is unable to show any improvement over 2020, then the 38-year-old could find himself without a job.
There are a number of things working against Fangio and his future in Denver. For starters, he hasn’t done a whole lot during his two seasons at the helm, leading the team to a 12-20 record. Making it worse, the team took a clear step back in 2020, and with a questionable roster on paper, it’s hard to envision the Broncos getting a whole lot better in 2021.
Next, GM George Paton was only recently hired, so he surely won’t be feeling pressure throughout the 2021 season. However, a disappointing campaign could change things. In that hypothetical, you can bet the executive would be looking to right the ship immediately, and that would probably start with the head coach.
The final factor is the uncertain status of Broncos ownership. If the team is ultimately sold, the new owners would presumably be looking to clean house, at least from an on-field perspective. That means Fangio would surely be handed his walking papers, even if the team did show some progress in 2021.
Quarterbacks, per usual, dominated this year’s pre-draft coverage. The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, and four wide receivers then went off the board in the top 20. Running backs, as they have done in a few drafts over the past decade, waited.
While two went in Round 1, the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne pick preceded a 60-pick stretch during which just one running back — the Broncos’ Javonte Williamschoice — went off the board. The 2021 draft matches 2016 and 2003 for the fewest backs chosen in the top 80 (three) in the common draft era (1967-present), continuing a grim era for this once-storied position. But several of this year’s draftees have quick paths to key roles.
Linked toNajee Harrisahead of the draft, the Steelers took the Alabama standout at No. 24. Harris will join a Steelers team that ranked last in rushing in 2020. Although the Alabama product scored 30 touchdowns in his senior season and topped 1,200 rushing yards in two straight years, he will now play behind an offensive line that went through considerable turnover this offseason. The Steelers lost 17 Pro Bowls on their offensive line this year. They will replace Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva with far less experienced players, and David DeCastro‘s replacement (Trai Turner) struggled in 2020. Will Harris’ talent be enough to overcome significant O-line concerns in Pittsburgh?
Etienne joins a Jags team that just saw James Robinson set the rookie UDFA record for scrimmage yards (1,414) despite missing two games in 2020. Jacksonville also signed Carlos Hyde, who played for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Etienne spent time at receiver during the Jags’ offseason program but should be expected to contribute heavily in the backfield. Like Harris, Etienne stayed in college for four years. He twice surpassed 1,600 rushing yards and totaled 78 college TDs — most of which coming alongside No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence— but will this unusual setup (for a first-round back, that is) translate to rookie-year production?
The Broncos traded up four spots for Williams in Round 2, Pro Football Focus’ top-rated back in this class, and chose the North Carolina product 36th overall. Williams teamed with Jets draftee Michael Carterto form one of the nation’s top backfield tandems. Williams compiled just one 1,000-yard season with the Tar Heels but led Division I-FBS with 75 broken tackles in 2020. The Broncos have Melvin Gordon signed through 2021, but the John Elway-era addition does not appear to be a lock to hold off Williams for the starting role.
The rest of the rookie field includes third-rounder Trey Sermon(49ers), Carter (fourth round, Jets) and a host of backs ticketed for early-career backup roles. While injuries certainly will hit the running back position, potentially forcing some of the later-round picks into the fray, Sermon and Carter have the best bets of seeing steady action among the mid- and late-round selections.
An Oklahoma and Ohio State product, Sermon also played four years. He averaged more than seven yards per carry in each of his past two, though he never topped 1,000 on the ground. Lead 49ers back Raheem Mostert is coming off an injury-marred season. The Jets added Tevin Coleman, who joined Mostert in missing most of last season, but do not have another back with much experience. This could allow Carter (two 1,000-yard years at North Carolina) early upward mobility, despite his 5-foot-8 frame.
Which rookie back will rush for the most yards in 2021? Who are the later-round candidates or UDFAs who can join these players as early contributors? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
One of the key points in this year’s draft came at No. 9, when the Broncos — who did extensive work on quarterbacks coming in — passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones to selectPatrick Surtain II. Denver passing on potential long-term starters transpired shortly after new Denver GM George Paton acquired Teddy Bridgewater from the Panthers.
With the Broncos choosing Surtain, Bridgewater and Drew Lock reside as their quarterbacks. They split reps down the middle this offseason and will continue this competition during training camp, when chapter six in the franchise’s post-Super Bowl 50 quarterback saga commences in earnest.
The Broncos have started an NFL-most 10 players at quarterback — counting Phillip Lindsay‘s wildcat snap in the COVID-19-created Kendall Hinton game last season — since Peyton Manning‘s March 2016 retirement. Denver has tried free agency (Case Keenum, the second Brock Osweiler acquisition), the trade market (Joe Flacco, Bridgewater) and the draft (Lock, Paxton Lynch) to fill this spot. The Broncos’ most successful post-Manning season — 2016, when the team went 9-7 — came with 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian at the controls.
Now on his fifth team, Bridgewater is still just 28 and has a history with Paton. The Vikings drafted the Louisville alum in the 2014 first round, when Paton was working as GM Rick Spielman‘s top lieutenant. The former Jets (briefly), Saints and Panthers passer has developed a reputation as a risk-averse passer, and Carolina was eager to jettison him after authorizing a three-year, $63MM deal in 2020. The trade agreement knocked Bridgewater’s 2021 cap hit down to just $4.4MM and made him a 2022 free agent. But Bridgewater makes sense for a team with high-end defensive capabilities, which a healthy Broncos iteration possesses.
Bridgewater finished 17th in QBR last season; Lock ranked 29th. The 2019 second-round pick was often erratic during his second NFL season, tying for the NFL INT lead (15) despite missing three games. Lock, however, was thrust into an unusual spot in 2020 — learning a new offense in a virtual offseason — and lacked top receiver Courtland Suttonfor most of the season. But Lock’s grace period is over, with longtime GM John Elway ceding the reins to Paton.
The elephant in this room: will the Broncos’ interest inAaron Rodgers be relevant soon? The Broncos have lapped the field in Rodgers rumors, with the Raiders — another team Rodgers is open to joining — comfortable withDerek Carr for the time being. Depending on which skill-position players would be left in Denver after a trade, Rodgers would be equipped with a host of young weapons and a defense positioned to be one of the league’s best.
Even as some around the league wonder if the Packers are bracing for the reigning MVP’s exit, they are holding firm and possess leverage. Despite a return that could feature two or three first-round picks and one or more established young starters, Green Bay is understandably clinging to hopes this situation can be salvaged. The Bengals traded disgruntled QB Carson Palmer in October 2011, after the incumbent had staged a retirement in an effort to leave Cincinnati, and Palmer made nine starts for the Raiders that year. The Broncos likely would be open to a Rodgers in-season arrival, but ideally for them, the Packers begin trade discussions before the season.
Will the Broncos end up swinging a trade this year, or will 2022 be the window for such a transaction? Can Bridgewater or Lock seize the job and halt Rodgers and Watson rumors for good? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.
While the Chiefs reside as the clear favorites in the AFC, multiple successful rebuilds have strengthened the conference and created considerable depth going into the 2021 season. In the NFC, depth is harder to find.
The Buccaneers operated aggressively this offseason, bringing back every starter and most of their top off-the-bench contributors to chase another championship, and late-June betting odds reflect this. Tampa Bay resides as the clear NFC favorite, per Las Vegas. The team did not enter 2020 on this pedestal, but the NFC landscape looks less imposing a year later.
The Saints exited the 2020 season in a new tier of salary cap hell, and although GM Mickey Loomis navigated it, their 2021 team may take a step back. Oddsmakers certainly believe this will be the case in the franchise’s first post-Drew Brees season. New Orleans has been the NFC’s most consistent team over the past four years, going 49-15 in that span, but its future Hall of Fame quarterback retired. Tampa Bay’s path back to the Super Bowl also may not involve another Canton-bound passer — Aaron Rodgers — which further muddles the equation.
January’s Matthew Stafford trade seems a good place to start. The Rams dealing two first-round picks and change for the longtime Lions passer provides Sean McVay with a quarterback upgrade, and the team perpetually unconcerned with first-round selections is operating like an all-in contender. Los Angeles, which Bovada gives the NFC’s second-best odds to advance to Super Bowl LVI, also re-signed top edge rusher Leonard Floyd. While the Rams’ penchant for big swings and big extensions led more key role players out of town in free agency, with safety John Johnson and defensive lineman Michael Brockers exiting, they return four starters from Pro Football Focus’ No. 3-ranked offensive line.
But the NFC West may be the NFL’s toughest division. No rebuilds are taking place here, separating it from most of the league’s divisions, and the 49ers rank alongside the Rams — per Bovada — in Super Bowl odds. San Francisco endured vicious injury fortune last season but has Super Bowl LIV starters — Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel — due back from injury. And the team kept Trent Williams — on an O-line-record contract. Kyle Shanahan‘s squad also moved the needle at quarterback, bringing in Trey Lanceat a historic cost. Lance’s readiness may determine the 49ers’ outlook. Although Jimmy Garoppolo was effective (12th in QBR) when fully healthy in 2019, he missed 23 games over the past three seasons.
The Seahawks diffused Russell Wilson trade rumblings and added veteran guard Gabe Jackson. Their defense will be without Jarran Reed and probably K.J. Wright next season, however. Seattle has not advanced to an NFC championship game since Wilson’s rookie-contract years but still has the division’s most accomplished quarterback. The Cardinals brought in multiple impact starters, in future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt and Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, in an effort to capitalize on Kyler Murray‘s rookie-deal window. But Murray struggled down the stretch last season, and Arizona will have two new cornerback regulars.
Rodgers’ commitment to being done in Green Bay represents the NFC’s biggest domino. The reigning MVP has not budged, and this standoff is expected to drag on to training camp. The Packers trading Rodgers, or the superstar passer being out of the picture while the team retains his rights, will probably take them off the board as a Super Bowl threat. Given the Packers’ 26-6 performance over the past two seasons, Rodgers’ status looms large in this year’s Super Bowl equation.
What sleeper teams realistically factor in here? The Cowboys extended Dak Prescott and hired a new defensive coordinator (Dan Quinn), but they have won one playoff game during their now-wealthy starter’s tenure and allowed a franchise-record 473 points in 2020. Washington boasts one of the league’s best defenses but opted against trading up for a quarterback in Round 1. Ryan Fitzpatrickwill turn 39 this year and has never made a playoff start. The Bears did trade up for a passer, and the Vikings retooled their defense. The Giants made multiple splashy receiver additions but have big questions up front. Do any of these teams qualify as legit Bucs obstacles?
Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your NFC assessments in the comments section.
Considering the jersey sales and Jacksonville’s proximity to where Tim Tebow starred in high school and college, he might already be the most popular tight end in Jaguars history. Marcedes Lewis was obviously far more accomplished and made 12 Jaguars rosters. Will Tebow end up making one?
The Jags have a noticeable hole at tight end; this issue has persisted for several years. Lewis’ run of 400-plus-yard seasons stopped after the 2012 campaign, and the Jags gave Julius Thomas a big-ticket deal in 2015 to provide a better receiving option. That did not end up working out, and the franchise has not featured much of note at the position since it traded Thomas in 2017. Its current tight end group consists of veterans James O’Shaughnessy and Chris Manhertz and recent Day 3 picks Tyler Davis (2020, Round 6) and Luke Farrell(2021, Round 5). Among those who were pros in 2020, O’Shaughnessy’s 262 receiving yards — a career-high mark — led the way.
Of course, Tebow’s profile does not point to him providing a remedy for the Jags’ tight end issues. But the former Heisman winner, playoff starting quarterback and minor league outfielder generates considerable discussion and has throughout his time in the spotlight. Urban Meyer has both expressed concern for his tight end group and lauded Tebow’s leadership qualities.
Although he spent time with the Eagles and Patriots through the summer of 2015, Tebow has not played in a regular-season game since 2012 with the Jets. Should Tebow return to a game that counts in 2021, he would be only the fourth NFLer since the merger to return to the league after at least eight seasons away. Doug Flutie was the only player to do so without the 1987 players’ strike factoring into the equation; both the others — ex-Broncos offensive lineman David Diaz-Infante and former Chiefs QB Tony Adams — were replacement players in 1987.
Given Meyer and Tebow’s history, the recent Mets farmhand lasting beyond the summer probably should not be considered a shocking proposition. The Jags did not guarantee any of Tebow’s one-year, $920K contract, however, and the former Broncos first-round pick has never caught a pass in an NFL game. Tebow reportedly impressed Jags coaches at his new position during his workout and displayed ball-carrying chops at Florida and as a Bronco (660 rushing yards, six TDs in 2011). And the Jags do not have a host of roster locks at this position.
Should Tebow be released ahead of roster cutdown day, he would be eligible for Jacksonville’s practice squad. As strange as it would seem, given Tebow’s age (34 in August), a developmental/roster insurance role would make sense — if the Jags view him as a viable tight end, of course. This path may be amenable to Tebow, who spent multiple seasons with much younger teammates as part of the Mets’ minor league system. Practice squads increased from 10 to 16 players last year, but barring another change, the CBA calls for 12-man taxi squads in 2021.
On a slow weekend, weigh in with your view of Tebow’s comeback. Will he end up sticking with the Jags in 2021, or will his No. 85 jersey end up a collector’s item like Jerry Rice‘s No. 19 with the Broncos?
While Jones missed a handful of games in 2020, these trade rumors aren’t based on his production…there are few wideouts in the NFL who can compare to Jones’ consistent receiving numbers. Rather, the Falcons are shopping the veteran for financial reasons. The front office is currently sitting with around only $500K in cap space, and they still need to sign their draft class. With Jones earning an AAV around $22MM on his last extension, he’s always seemed like the likeliest cap casualty. GM TerryFontenot even acknowledged that the team has to consider trading the seven-timer Pro Bowler.
“We are in a difficult cap situation,” Fontenot said. “That’s just the circumstance…Our administration has done an excellent job up to this point getting us in position to be able to manage the cap. Yet, we still have more work to do.
“So, when teams call about any players, we have to listen, and we have to weigh it and we have to determine what’s best for the organization, and we have to handle everything with class. Obviously, that particular player [Jones] — we hold him in high regard. He’s special…but we have to consider [listening on] any player if it’s right for the team, because we have to do what’s right for the team.”
There are some hurdles with a trade, particularly Jones $15.3MM salary for 2021. At this point of the offseason, it’s going to be tough for teams to find the cap room to afford the receiver…and, similar to the Falcons, few teams will want to renegotiate with Jones and pile money onto the later seasons of his contract. As a result, the Falcons reportedly aren’t seeking a first-round pick for the 32-year-old.
So, considering Jones’ talent and the Falcons asking price, a long list of teams have been mentioned as potential suitors for the receiver. So, that leads us to today’s question: who will Jones be playing for come Week 1 of the 2021 season? We provided a handful of candidates below.
The Titans have been mentioned as a potential suitor for Jones ever since the wideout hit the block, and the connection makes plenty of sense. The team hasn’t really filled the hole on their depth chart left by Corey Davis, who signed with the Jets. If the Titans want to continue their postseason momentum, pairing A.J. Brown with Jones would make for one of the best receiver tandems in the league. Plus, new Falcons head coach ArthurSmith had spent the previous decade in Tennessee, so he’d certainly have some good words about the organization if Jones tries to control his own fate.
For what it’s worth, running back Derrick Henry made it abundantly clear on Twitter today that he’d welcome the future Hall-of-Fame receiver to Tennessee.
The downside? The Titans don’t have a whole lot of cap space, so it’d be tough to fit Jones’ massive contract on their books.
Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden has been hunting for a big-name wide receiver since he joined the Raiders organization. He played a role in the infamous acquisition of Antonio Brown, and they used their 2020 first-round pick on Henry Ruggs III. In other words, the head coach would undoubtedly be a supporter of a Jones acquisition. Besides Gruden’s apparent attraction to top wideouts, the team also kind of needs help at the position; their top-three options are currently Ruggs, John Brown, and Hunter Renfrow.
The Raiders still have around $10MM in cap space, so while they’d have to overcome a few financial hurdles to acquire Jones, it certainly wouldn’t be impossible.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have made headlines for revamping their offense this offseason. The team added the two top free agent tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, they acquired Trent Brown to solidify the offensive line, and they drafted Mac Jones to compete with Cam Newton at quarterback. However, the team’s wide receivers are still a bit underwhelming. The team dished out some money on Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, but neither of those players really profile as top-end receivers.
BillBelichick has seemingly had a love-hate relationship with receiver acquisitions over the years, as he often provided Tom Brady with too many receivers or not enough receivers. The Patriots currently have a clear need for a receiver, and Jones would certainly help their quest to return to the postseason. Plus, the Patriots are currently sitting with $15MM in cap space, which would be almost enough to acquire Jones without any funny cap machinations.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are clearly all-in on this current iteration of this team, as they’ve sacrificed their first-round picks through 2023 in order to snag Trey Lance with the third-overall pick. With that in mind, giving up a handful of non-firsts for a star receiver doesn’t seem like a huge risk when the cupboard is already a bit empty.
Plus, while it remains unseen if Lance or Jimmy Garoppolo will be under center for Week 1, the 49ers could use a player of Jones’ caliber. The team hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin in 2014, and Jones would provide the starting quarterback with another Pro Bowl talent alongside tight end George Kittle.
The 49ers have more than $17MM in cap space, and they could carve out even more space if they decide to move on from Jimmy G. If any suitor has the financial flexibility to add Jones, it’s San Francisco.
Financial ramifications aside, keeping Jones in Atlanta also makes plenty of sense. The wideout has established himself as one of the top players in franchise history, he’s been incredibly productive throughout his career, and he’s only played in fewer than 10 games twice (of course, one of those seasons came in 2020). Plus, if the Falcons have any hope of returning to the Super Bowl with Matt Ryan as their starting quarterback, a loaded offense would certainly help. Jones would just be one of the many talented targets in Atlanta, along with former first-round receiver Calvin Ridley and the No. 4 pick in the 2021 draft, tight end Kyle Pitts.
We could have listed at least a handful of other teams on this list: the Chargers, Ravens, Colts, and Packers have also been listed as potential suitors (by both pundits and bookies). But for the sake of a tidy poll, we’ll group each of those teams into the “other category.”
So, with all that said, who do you think Julio Jones will be playing with to begin the 2021 campaign? Vote in the accompanying poll, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
The only two starting quarterbacks to retire after winning Super Bowls played for the same franchise. While the Broncos made the playoffs multiple times in the five years following John Elway‘s retirement — with the likes of Brian Griese and Jake Plummer operating as the team’s primary starters — they have hovered off the contention radar for most of their post-Peyton Manning stretch. No team has started more quarterbacks than Denver’s 10 (counting the Kendall Hinton game) since 2016.
This stretch has placed the Broncos back on the quarterback radar. Although their last foray into the first-round market careened off course quickly (Paxton Lynch in 2016), the Broncos’ three subsequent QB investments — Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Drew Lock — largely struggled. Will this run of futility at the NFL’s premier position force the Broncos to acquire one of this year’s top QB prospects?
New GM George Paton has said multiple times this offseason the Broncos will acquire a quarterback to push Lock, but it is not certain that will be a rookie. Denver brass, however, did extensive work on this year’s top passer crop. Paton was at Justin Fields and Trey Lance‘s initial pro days, while offensive coordinator PatShurmur trekked to the second workouts held by the Ohio State and North Dakota State QBs. Other teams have viewed Denver as a stealth quarterback seeker as well.
Only two of the draft’s top five passing prospects will be available to teams picking after No. 3, with the 49ers moving up for a quarterback. Considering the needs of some teams picking outside the top 10 — the Patriots, Washington and Bears have been linked to trade-up maneuvers — and the not-impossible prospect of the Lions (No. 7) or Panthers (No. 8) jumping into the fray, it is possible the Broncos will be left out if they stand pat at No. 9. They are believed to have inquired about trading up, though Paton denied this. The Falcons (No. 4), Dolphins (No. 6), Lions and Panthers are all open to trades, creating opportunities for the Broncos and teams eager to trade in front of them.
Given the Broncos’ above-average defense and bevy of skill-position weapons, going into another season with Lock (29th in 2020 QBR) could lower the team’s ceiling — in a hot-seat year for Vic Fangio. But Fangio’s status could also push the team to trade for a veteran instead of hoping this year’s fourth- or fifth-best QB prospect can make an impact right away. Although the Broncos sat out the free agent market and passed on trades for Carson Wentz and Sam Darnold — after falling short for Matthew Stafford — veteran arms remain available.
Lock has not been blessed with great circumstances, despite Denver drafting Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler in the first and second rounds last year. The pandemic nixed the young passer’s first offseason with Shurmur, and No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton went down in Week 2 last year. But the 2022 quarterback class, as of now, has received far less hype than the past two drafts’ QB crops generated. The Broncos not making a move for Fields, Lance or Mac Jones next week could limit their options going forward.
How do you think the Broncos will play this? Will they prioritize acquiring another quarterback by trading up or hope one falls to No. 9? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.
This year’s draft is almost certain to begin with Trevor Lawrencegoing to the Jaguars and Zach Wilson to the Jets, making the 49ers’ No. 3 overall pick the beginning of what promises to be a drama-filled top 10. Just behind San Francisco, however, a team faces a more complicated decision.
Picking in the top five for the first time in 13 years, the Falcons hold the No. 4 overall selection. They have a few intriguing options; each would represent drastically different paths for the franchise. After previously not being on the same page about the pick, new GM Terry Fontenot and new HC Arthur Smith are believed to be in agreement now. Which way should the franchise go?
Fontenot was believed to be leaning toward acquiring Matt Ryan‘s heir apparent. There are reasons to support this route. Ryan will turn 36 this year, has not made a Pro Bowl — in the easiest era for such an honor — since his MVP 2016 season, and the Falcons have a rare opportunity to draft one of this year’s prized QB prospects. While late-blooming prospects will likely emerge, the 2022 quarterback class is not currently rated highly. DraftingTrey Lance, Mac Jonesor Georgia native Justin Fields — two will be available — would give the Falcons a player around whom the new regime could build. The Falcons proceeding in this direction would make this the first time a draft has started with four quarterbacks being chosen.
When the duo was believed to be split, Smith was viewed as being in favor of selecting a player who could help a still-Ryan-centric team. With Ryan still an above-average quarterback, and the Falcons possessing needs elsewhere, a case certainly exists for the team to stay the course with its veteran passer. The Falcons having restructured Ryan’s contract earlier this year also would limit their benefit from a rookie-QB salary in 2022. The Jaguars and Jets have no veteran quarterback contract of note on their books, and the 49ers can part ways with Jimmy Garoppolo without much of a dead-cap hit. The Falcons have more than $40MM in Ryan signing bonus money prorated beyond 2021.
Option 3 would be moving the pick. The Falcons are interested in moving down, likely eyeing the type of trade package the Dolphins received (three first-rounders and a third) to do so. Multiple teams have contacted the Falcons about moving up. Washington is believed to be high on Lance, while Broncos GM George Paton has been busy trekking to QBs’ pro days. The Bears are eager to acquire a long-term QB as well, though Washington and Chicago’s draft slots — Nos. 19 and 20 overall — would up Atlanta’s asking price.
So, how will the Falcons proceed? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.