Mailbag: How Likely Is a Michael Thomas Trade?
Will the Saints, despite the cap cost, deal their injured top receiver? Also discussed: breakthrough quarterbacks, the Chiefs’ defense, the 49ers’ quarterbacks, the importance of taunting laws, and more.
My first camp swing is over. I’ll be in Washington and New England for the next several days, and you guys managed to re-fill the mailbag. Let’s get started…
I’m sure it’s conceivable at this point, but I wouldn’t say it’s probable. The Saints are naturally angry that Thomas is delaying surgery until June,
and Thomas has had his own problems with the club. Sean Payton has a reputation for not paying skill-position players (he and Mickey Loomis had never paid more than $10 million per year until Thomas and Alvin Kamara). Urban Meyer, Thomas’s college coach, and current Jaguars coach, is another likely candidate.
But there are two issues with dealing with him right now. First, there are cap implications: unloading him would save the Saints just $1.2 million this year (his cap number would decrease to $8.9 million), and they would take on $22.7 million in dead money in 2022. Second, he’s still rehabilitating, so a trade partner would have to be okay with waiting until the middle of the season to acquire him.
So the Saints are looking at a top-five receiver and a move that would put a big dent in their salary budget, and you’d think it’d take a very good offer to get them to do anything right now. Would a club be willing to sign Thomas despite the fact that the remainder of his deal is relatively cheap ($64.75 million over four years) and he’s still injured and coming off a season in which he missed nine games?
Overall, there’s a lot to sift through here, and I don’t think the Saints are in any hurry to make a decision.
I believe it is difficult to predict whether or not there will be another Allen, since Allen’s ascent was unusually rapid from Year 1 to Year 2, and even more so from Year 2 to Year 3. But if you’re looking for a breakout quarterback in the vein of Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, or Justin Herbert, I’d go with Justin Herbert (which isn’t exactly an out-of-the-box option).
Herbert has a number of factors working in his favor. He’s had a year with key skill-position players Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler, as well as some fresh blood (Jared Cook, rookie Josh Palmer). Rashawn Slater and Cory Linsley have been installed as the new offensive line mainstays, while another offseason acquisition, Matt Feiler, has been a nice camp surprise. And he’ll be bringing in a new scheme, which should make the Chargers tough to predict, at least early in the season.
When you combine that with what we saw last year, which was a quarterback who seemed to be on the rise, I believe Herbert is the obvious, if not the most ambitious, response to your question.
To get to this point, I’ll ask two follow-ups to the last question. Julian, I believe the top five will be difficult to achieve. I know we like to use these top-whatever labels, but take a look at this list: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Josh Allen are Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and Josh Allen. Can Herbert unseat one of those five (who, in my opinion, had the greatest 2020s)? Can he get in front of Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, and Deshaun Watson, too, if he can?
Yes, Herbert has the ability to succeed. However, getting there is difficult.
But, to address your question, BTIV: I don’t believe there will be a regression. This will come as no surprise to anybody who has read the last few lines. I believe it will only happen if Herbert is hampered by injury and/or coaching problems.
Russell, He has a higher ceiling and a lower floor, in my opinion. Because of how shaky the conclusion of Darnold’s tenure with the Jets was, it’s difficult to know where he stands as a player. He had nothing in front of him for the better part of three years, and his highest-profile skill player in 2019 was what was left of Le’Veon Bell. So he hasn’t been playing well lately. Even the coaches from the previous several years would agree that it wasn’t all his responsibility.
Darnold remains a big enigma to me.
Bridgewater was the polar opposite at the time of his purchase. In New Orleans, he’d done well. He was familiar with Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s scheme, having coached for the Saints. At the very least, the Panthers believed Bridgewater could make them competitive at quarterback in the team’s first year after losing Cam Newton.
Another significant distinction may be seen here. If we’re being honest, Bridgewater was always going to be a safe haven. Carolina never viewed him as a long-term solution. Darnold has the potential to be that player. He may also totally burn out. We’ll have to wait and see.
Nicky, I wouldn’t be too worried because, in my opinion, if the Chiefs’ defense is average, that should be enough. And, barring any disciplinary action against Frank Clark, I believe they are capable of becoming at least that. Kansas City has a couple of potential young pieces (L’Jarius Sneed, Willie Gay), reclamation projects (Taco Charlton, Mike Hughes), and a seasoned coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo) pushing the levers on that side of the ball, and I believe that’s plenty.
If I were you, presuming you’re a Chiefs supporter, I’d be more worried about the condition of the offensive line, which was the deciding factor in Kansas City’s victory last season.
I like how GM Brett Veach went all-in on repairing the oil leak that resulted in the Super Bowl disaster, dealing with Orlando Brown, signing Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Austin Blythe, and selecting Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. Even so, no position on the field requires greater teamwork and communication than the offensive line.
So, line coach Andy Heck played a key role in hastening the acclimatization of those players to holdovers Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (who is now injured), Mike Remmers, and Lucas Niang. And, to me, securing that region takes precedence over any additional defensive expansion that may be possible.
Brick, I’ll go with Jimmy Garoppolo, with Trey Lance filling in for Taysom Hill in the offense and Kyle Shanahan retaining the right to flip the switch at any time throughout the season. What is the cause behind this? The remainder of the team’s lineup. Trent Williams is a writer.
George Kittle is a well-known actor. Alex Mack is a character in the film Alex Mack. Nick Bosa is a football player from the United States. Armstead, Arik. Warner, Fred.
The foundation for returning to the Super Bowl is in place,
so Shanahan understands that his choice must be based on the present.
Lance has a bright future ahead of him. Physically, he has it all, which is one of the reasons he was selected third overall in the draft. Furthermore, as we discussed in our Monday column, he’s gone a long way since draft day,
which corresponds to his reputation as a brilliant and hardworking youngster who smashed his meetings with clubs before the selection. All of this suggests that he has the genuine potential to be a great quarterback in the NFL.
On the other hand, scouts referred to him as “raw” in the spring. Above all things, and in more ways than one, it’s a lack of game repetitions. In college, he only started 17 games. He only threw more than 25 passes in two of the games.
and He threw the ball less than 20 times in nine of them, and he ended his collegiate career with 192 running attempts and 318 passing attempts. He also seldom played from behind, third-and-long, or in situations when he had to carry the team since North Dakota State was so dominating.
None of this is meant to be a criticism of Lance. It’s simply the fact that there’s a lot he hasn’t seen in the pros and will have to adapt to.
The issue, therefore, becomes tripartite for Shanahan. How difficult would Lance’s transition be if he played as a rookie? Will he and his experienced players be willing to ride through the bumps? Will you get a greater return for those bumps in January and February than Garoppolo would?
The intricacy of it all, as well as the fact that Garoppolo has had a fantastic camp, intrigues me. If I were looking at all of this, I would start Garoppolo because you can always swap later—and switching from Lance to Garoppolo in the middle of the season would be far more difficult. But, given what Lance is doing, I can see how you could be swayed in the other direction.
GM, Major Joe Douglas, has a long history of scouting respect,
and I believe that if you asked individuals in that community,
they would tell you that Douglas’ fingerprints are all over the rebuild,
based on what he’s stressing and where he’s concentrated in the initial stages of his roster building.
It should be clear to anybody paying attention what I mean when I say Douglas has built through the lines of scrimmage. To this point, he’s spent two of his three first-round choices on offensive linemen (Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker),
and he’s paid for assistance on both sides of the line (Morgan Moses, Sheldon Rankins, Carl Lawson). In addition to investing in the trenches, you can see in his player profile how he sought toughness. An excellent example is Becton Dickinson. There were some worries about his maturity, but none about his toughness.
For what it’s worth, Robert Saleh fits the description as well, given Douglas’ involvement in the coaching hunt. And, in my opinion, Saleh’s hiring directly addresses the amount of dissension in the building over the past several years—the ex-49ers defensive coordinator is renowned for his intensity, charisma, and enthusiasm.
So, I believe rival coaches and scouts would agree that the Jets are beginning to become a bit more level than they have in a long time, and Douglas and Saleh have put together a solid strategy. We’ll have to wait and see what they do with it.
The fumble-out-of-the-end-zone rule is a simple one for me. It makes no sense to me that if you fumble out of bounds on the opposing team’s 1, you’re goal-to-goal with a yard to go for six points, but if the ball grazes the pylon, the ball goes 19 yards the other way. That doesn’t absolve men who have suffered soul-crushing blunders as a consequence of this regulation. It’s not as if those men didn’t have access to that section of the rule book before they messed up. This, to me, is more about the rules’ overall lack of logic.
To be honest, I’m amazed it has survived as long as it has.
Paul, I believe this is going to be one of those situations where you have to go with your gut. The coaches’ subcommittee has a say on these issues, and I imagine they’ve grown weary of having to manage players’ emotions in-game, with Super Bowl LV serving as a flashpoint. You’ll recall that there were brawls caused by taunting between Tom Brady and Tyrann Mathieu, as well as Tyreek Hill and Antoine Winfield, that afternoon/night.
So, where are they going to draw the line? I believe the answer is straightforward: Is the gesture aimed at someone? For example, I believe it would be OK for Hill to flash the peace sign when rushing into the end zone,
but not towards opponents (the way he has at times, and the way he did in the regular season at Winfield and the Bucs secondary). The problem, I believe, is that it will almost certainly occur inadvertently,
such as when a receiver leaps up and makes a first-down gesture as a defender stumbles into his sightline.
And, in general, if regulations are enforced in this manner, it may take some time to get there. That implies it may be a little inconsistent at first, which will, of course, irritate people.
Matt, I believe that in many of these instances, the league does not want to take action until it is forced to. The NFL may use this as an excuse not to make a move until Watson is charged criminally.
Now, I assumed they’d placed him on the exempt list before the start of camp,
since that’s when it’s occurred in the past (ex-Giants CB DeAndre Baker last year was one example),
and I believed they didn’t want this to become a talking point as they returned from vacation. But that didn’t happen, and the Texans now find themselves in an odd situation.
And, although I think Watson will play his next snap with a club other than the Texans,
GM Nick Caserio has been adamant with others that he would not accept anything less than full value in a trade for him. To his credit, Caserio has remained unmoved even as the relationship between the team and the player has deteriorated,
and knowing how disciplined the man is, I doubt he will anytime soon.
Of course, if someone wants to give him what he would have needed to acquire the quarterback before Watson’s legal problems, that’s a different matter.
When should we expect Roquan Smith to be paid after Darius Leonard and Fred Warner were paid this summer, and will his deal be similar?
Jarrad, I believe the Bears and Bills are both in this situation right now,
with great off-ball linebackers in Smith and Tremaine Edmunds, respectively. Both athletes have had a lot of success and have the potential to improve even more. However, the contracts for Leonard and Warner show how the market has evolved in the position.
C.J. Mosley was, in fact, the first. He was ready to return to the Ravens in 2019 on a one-year contract for approximately $14 million per year,
which was somewhat less than the Jets’ offer. The Jets, on the other hand, continued increasing their offer to Mosley to see what his “can’t say no” threshold was,
and Mosley ended up earning $17 million a year as a consequence. Bobby Wagner received $18 million per from Seattle as a result of this,
and Wagner’s contract set the threshold for Warner ($19.05 million per) and Leonard ($19.7 million per) to pass.
And as a result of that market acceleration, the first and fifth most paid off-ball linebackers are now separated by more than $5 million (Leonard’s APY represents a 36 percent markup on what Zach Cunningham, No. 5 on that list, earns). The issue now is whether the Bears and Bills think the position should be compensated in this manner. It’s a difficult question for the clubs to answer,
which is why I believe they’ll postpone those agreements for a year. (both Edmunds and Smith are committed until 2021 and ’22).
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