You can get yourself into trouble in this league by taking people at face value. Especially this time of year.
We are in the middle of pre-draft season, every word is carefully chosen and analyzed on many levels, and secrecy, subterfuge and smokescreens are all the rage. Especially when it comes to the men who occupy the most important position in all professional sports. Strategist. Maybe you’ve heard of them because they’re all the rage in this league and we’ve seen more trades, deals (non-retirements?) and contract extensions with them in recent weeks than ever before.
They’re running this league, and we’re on the cusp of another fertile period for QBs on the NFL calendar, with the draft just ahead and, quite possibly, four of them about to be selected in the first round only, to say nothing of other trades involving established quarterbacks that are still looming (Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo, for starters).
You have to be careful when decision makers talk about quarterbacks these days. All is not as it seems, or certainly not everything that happens is revealed by those who speak of it. There are sticky situations and unique circumstances surrounding many young passers in this league, and there is leverage to potentially win or lose depending on how well teams manage to handle some of those issues. Words matter, and often what is not said resonates louder than what is actually said.
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Nobody wants to tip their hand in a way that potentially gives up more money than needed or scuttles a potential trade and/or gives others a read of the club’s true intention regarding the draft. People in this league work long and hard to do just the opposite. Which brings me to three of the most interesting interactions between NFL decision makers and the media regarding the quarterbacks of the past week.
And I’m here as a public service to decode and interpret what’s really going on here. Think of me as a kind of translator. I’ll say what these guys can’t say openly and bring to light. I’m going to explain where they would, for the most part, attribute to the “less is more” philosophy, for obvious reasons. And feel free to play the game at home (or at work, or wherever you read this):
Lions coach Dan Campbell, holding the second overall pick, on the need for a star quarterback in the modern NFL: “No, I don’t think you need that. I think these guys like “Obviously they are, they’re special. And they can definitely give you a better chance. But no, I don’t think you need one of these guys to have lasting success.”
What he means: Hey, I’m also the guy who told you we’d eat kneecaps, and you didn’t take that literally, did you? We just agreed to a brutal contract on a borderline QB a year ago to extract as much value from draft picks as possible in return. Follow what we do, not what we say. I could be stuck with Jared Goff for another year, and even if we draft a kid at 2, he’s probably not ready to play right away. So I have to do some tap dancing here (maybe a lot).
And, with this draft not having the same QB appeal as some recent drafts, what do I gain by springing Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett or anyone else? Why throw flowers this way. Chances are no one will trade up to 2 to get them, but if we look like we’re not in the QB market, maybe someone trades to land a tackle or pass the rusher and we get even more draft capital and still get our QB there? What is it, you say I’m a dreamer? Yeah, well I’m not the only one. But don’t be shocked if we catch a QB somewhere in the first round.
Packers president Mark Murphy on the future of recent first-round pick Jordan Love in Green Bay: “We think he can be a good player, but we haven’t seen enough of him. So I think this pre-season will be good for him.”
What he means: It will be good for us if we can get anything back for him in a trade that is even remotely close to what we gave in to go up and short him in the first place. Yeah, hopefully it’s going to be a huge preseason for him…trying to get a starting job in Seattle, or Carolina or Atlanta or somewhere. Do you think the Panthers and Falcons definitely take a QB in the top 10, by the way?
OK, anyway, so I guess you saw the only regular season game he started, right? Do you think there’s a way to tamper with this game movie? And if I keep talking enough about our rich history of quarterback development and how we managed to go from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, and how our backup is often better than your starter, then some GMs might in buy into this spiel and give us a 2 for this kid? Because we all know it’s not going to be cool to sit on your rookie contract to support our goofy starter. Man, we gave Rodgers $102 million over two years; he may imagine that Kung Fu walks the earth and solves problems, but he does not walk away from this money. That takes us at least until 2024. Which first-round pick stays in place for four years? So, yeah, about that game movie…
Ravens coach John Harbaugh on the team’s ability to secure a long-term deal with Lamar Jackson as he plays his fifth-year option: “He’s a unique guy. People are scratching their head and trying to figure Lamar out probably for a long time. You know, since he was a kid. And he’s got his way of doing things. But that’s what you like about him, that’s what I like about him. him. Bring him here and ask him. Maybe he’ll tell you.”
What he means: I want nothing more than to win a Super Bowl with Lamar. Heck, we changed our entire identities on the fly to try to put him and us in the best position to do that ASAP. But this one is above my salary. Deshaun Watson could be suspended for half the year and he just got $230 million fully guaranteed over five years. Jimmy Haslam puts $180 million in an escrow account just so he can throw enough money at Watson to finally convince him to go to Cleveland.
Today, Derek Carr earns over $40 million a year. Kirk Cousins got another $70 million fully guaranteed. So what is Lamar worth? $240 million fully guaranteed? $250 million? Do you think I have that kind of money? This one is all about Steve Bisciotti. I do a lot here, and everyone knows how I feel about Lamar and how badly I want him here for as long as possible, but I’m not the guy who’s going to have to pay that check. And if Lamar doesn’t want an agent, and his goal is to be the best QB he can be and not negotiate a new contract right now, and he’s willing to keep playing on himself, that’s not it. It’s not up to me to try to convince him otherwise. It’s my job to win as many football games with him as possible, and we’ve done a lot together. I have a draft to prepare for and a season to prepare for, and the only way to fight in this conference is with stellar QB play. Lamar gives us that. But I don’t negotiate contracts. And the guys who seem to have their work cut out in this case.