By Joe Scibelli, Esq.
With NFL free agency less than a month a way, and how well my first article went with our readers and subscribers, here is Part 2 of NFL Quarterback Trade / Free Agent Predictions. Also, for the JDFSports fans keeping track, I was correct about Carson Wentz becoming an Indianapolis Colt.
Sam Darnold (Either Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Jets are a team in a very interesting situation. The 2021 season is the last year on Darnold’s rookie contract, so they either need to decide to send Darnold off and get something in return, sign him to a long-term deal next season or take his 5th year option on the rookie deal. With this draft’s potential and the wild moves made by teams, the Jets have a lot of things to consider. This draft is stacked with quarterback talent and the Jets have the 2nd overall pick. With quarterbacks like Zach Wilson from BYU or Justin Fields from Ohio State, Sam Darnold’s future as a Jet is shaky to say the least, while other teams in the NFL could provide the young quarterback a second chance to redeem himself in the NFL. Those teams: Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are on the same boat, each have a championship winning quarterback with one to two more years left in them before they retire. (Well that’s a reasonable assumption for Big Ben, but for TB12, who knows.) For Tampa Bay, Brady is entering into his last year with the Bucs when he signed his two-year deal back in 2020. Tampa’s backup Blaine Gabbert will be a free agent in 2021. It makes sense for Tampa to allow Gabbert to explore free agency since he got his ring and bring in a young pupil to learn under Brady for a year.
Brady and Darnold are familiar with each other based on their AFC East rivalry when Brady was in New England. However, it’s clear based on how the Bucs are building their roster, they are looking to win now rather than later. But doesn’t it make some sense to invest in the future even though you are the No. 1 team in the land. According to head coach Bruce Arians, “He[Mike Evans]’s told us to use some of his money if we need to contracts to keep the team together.” Tampa has a lot of players that they will need to resign if they want to run it back, like Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Chris Godwin, who are all unrestricted free agents for 2021. I don’t think they all will be back, specifically Godwin, so they might need to invest something for the future. Sam Darnold is an investment worth making.
Darnold learning under Brady could be his second coming, and allowing Tampa Bay to secure playoff spots for the years to come. When Darnold was drafted by the Jets, he was thrown into the fire. Todd Bowles was fired after his rookie year, star players like Jamal Adams wanted out, and the Jets, well were being the Jets. I believe Darnold has a lot of potential and learning behind Tom Brady could be the difference maker in his career. Look at quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Jimmy Garoppolo. Being Brady’s back-up adds value no matter what. Brady handing the baton to Darnold could allow the Bucs to keep “running it back” even after Brady retires or if he retires.
The Steelers are the other team that makes sense to pursue Sam Darnold. Big Ben, like every off-season, is unsure if his time in the NFL is coming to an end. Either poor performance or injuries shake up Rothlisberger’s confidence, putting his future as a Steeler in question. Also, Mason Rudolph is entering onto the last year of his rookie deal. So, with both quarterbacks in the Steel City with questionable futures, the Steelers need to make a move sooner than later if they want a quarterback to mesh with all the young talent on their roster.
The Jets can make a splash with another quarterback block-buster trade. Both the Steelers and Bucs are in similar positions with starting quarterbacks fighting against father time. The Jets know that Darnold won’t get them the first round pick this year, but maybe be able to get a second or third round pick this upcoming draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m wrong, and the Jets just draft Penei Sewell from Oregon and build their offensive line more. However, trade rumors are a foot and people love stirring the pot during the off-season, so if Darnold isn’t a Jet next year he’s either learning behind Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger, or he’s in a quarterback competition with Mason Rudolph.
Marcus Mariota (Chicago Bears)
With the Eagles sending Carson Wentz to Indy, the Bears are now trying to see their next best option available. I predicted that Mitch won’t be a Bear next year and no team will be able to provide the Texans with an offer that they can’t refuse for Deshaun. Here’s where Mariota comes in. He’s currently the back-up for Derek Carr and has only started played in one game during the 2020 season against the Chargers. He’s currently on his second year of his two-year deal, which will be a 10-million-dollar cap hit. Going onto his 7th season in the NFL, the former Heisman winner is most likely looking for a starting job in the NFL. The Bears are that team.
Nick Foles last year was a bust. Costing the Bears 24 million dollars for the next three years and a fourth-round draft, Bears’ GM Ryan Pace has made some down-right bad decisions. This off-season, Pace, according NFL.com, has stated, “We definitely need more out of the [QB] position,” Pace said. “We know that. What does that entail? That’s what this whole offseason is about.” I agree with Pace that this off-season the Bears need to make a move. Mariota is the move they should make. With Wentz no longer available and Texans unlikely to send Watson away, Mariota fits the Bears needs.
The Bears somehow made the playoffs last year, well fortunately with the NFL rule change, they squeezed in as the 7th seed, nevertheless, they were still a playoff team. Mariota has experience and could be worth making a pitch to the Raiders to see if he still has some Heisman winner play left in him. The Bears have the defense that supports the team, but they need a quarterback who won’t cost them games. Mariota is that guy. He’s mobile, he’s experienced, and he has more to prove in the NFL. During his game against the Chargers on December 17, Mariota had: two touchdowns, 1 through the air and 1 with his feet; 314 total yards, 226 passing and 88 rushing; and he had a 62.9% completion rate. Not the best stats, but promising. I hope the Bears make a move this off-season and take Mariota. With the Bears’ defense being the star of the show, Mariota can develop his game and help the Bears get back into the playoffs. He’s probably worth a third to fifth round pick, but unfortunately the Bears don’t have a fourth-round pick to offer. Nevertheless, the Bears could conjure a package enticing enough to send the Hawaii native to the windy city.
Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
The Atlanta Falcons are in a tough spot with Matt Ryan. Last year, the Falcons had multiple games blown due to late game meltdowns. The Falcons blew a 20 point lead against Dallas; a 16 point lead against the Bears; and a 17 point lead against the Super Bowl Champs, Tampa Bay. It appears that the Falcons are still seeing ghosts after blowing the 28-3 lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Now, with the fourth overall pick this draft, the Falcons have a difficult decision to make. Either prepare for a future without Matt Ryan or build a future for him.
What makes 2021 such an important year for the Falcons and Matt Ryan is that it’s the year before the Falcons can get out of Matt Ryan’s 150-million-dollars contract. Back in 2018, Matt Ryan signed a 5-year-deal with the Falcons for 150-million-dollars with 94.5 million guaranteed. It is still one of the most expensive contracts ever signed by a player in the NFL. However, in 2022 the Falcons can opt out of the contract, allowing the former Boston College quarterback to explore the market.
As I said early, this draft has so much talent at the quarterback position. I can see five quarterbacks being drafted in the first round alone. (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones). Atlanta can make a lot of moves with their fourth overall pick, either landing one of the quarterbacks mentioned other than Lawrence or trading the pick to a team like the 49ers or the Football Team to build up their roster. Nevertheless, I still see Matt Ryan being a Falcon. If it’s mentoring a rookie quarterback or having a lot of rookie players in the lineup, I don’t see the Falcons making a move on Matt Ryan yet. Hopefully the Falcons can shake the blown lead ghost of Super Bowl LI, but Matt Ryan will be behind center for the Falcons in 2021.
Notes on the 2021 Off-Season and Other Free Agents.
2020 was a remarkable season and it’s sad that it has come to an end. Nevertheless, the off-season has already been one of the most active off-seasons to date. Here is another patch of free agent quarterback signings for 2021.
Jacoby Brissett – 2020 team, Indianapolis Colts / 2021 team, Houston Texans, or Philadelphia Eagles
Tyrod Taylor – 2020 team, LA Chargers / 2021 team, Houston Texans, or Philadelphia Eagles (which ever team doesn’t sign Jacoby)
Reason – I see both the Eagles and the Texans are going to be in a position where they need to have a strong back-up or possible starting quarterback for 2021. I’m not sold on Jalen and Deshaun’s status is still unknown. Both Tyrod and Jacoby have started games and are reliable backups who can come in if needed.
Andy Dalton – 2020 team, Dallas Cowboys / 2021 team, Dallas Cowboys
Reason – As I stated in my previous article, I see Dallas using their franchise tag on Dak. However, after seeing Dak sustain a HORRIFIC ankle injury, a decent backup who knows the offense is the best move for the Cowboys going forward.
Joe Flacco – 2020 team, New York Jets / 2021 team, unsigned or retires
Brian Hoyer – 2020 team, New England / 2021 team, unsigned or retires
Reason – Both are 36, both played terribly in 2020, and both are backups. If either Flacco or Hoyer signs on a team it will be mid-season after injuries destroyed that team’s roster. Nevertheless, I think Joe and Brian need to hang up their pads and look forward to life without playing in the NFL.
If you notice that I haven’t written about Jimmy Garoppolo there is a reason. If he’s not a 49er, he’s going to be a Patriot or a Bear, but most likely a Patriot. I, as a Patriots fan, do NOT want that. The Patriots need to rebuild completely and signing a former Patriot quarterback is not the answer. They need to draft Trey Lance or Mac Jones and sign Fitz-Magic. That’s their best move and anything else will stall what they can be moving forward.