football

While the NFL Waits on Deshaun Watson, Watt Decides

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

J.J. What?

When J.J. Watt announced he was signing with the Arizona Cardinals the initial reaction was shock. Watt had said he wanted to play for a Super Bowl contender and the Cardinals went 8-8 last season. It could have been 7-9 if not for the Hail Murray win against the Bills.

There also was speculation that Watt was interested in playing with his brothers, T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh. The Steelers, however, are in cap space purgatory and couldn’t afford a third Watt brother.

So, his choice of Arizona is curious but shouldn’t have been shocking. Arizona’s biggest need is cornerback and that gets addressed in the draft. Adding Watt and an elite defensive back is a defensive steroid boost for the Cards.

Combine a better defense with the league’s sixth best offense last season and voila, you have a Super Bowl contender. Remember, there is uncertainty in Seattle with Russell Wilson and San Francisco with Jimmy Garoppolo.

Since our last draft Carson Wentz got his wish. The Eagles traded the former No.2 pick in the 2016 draft to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional second-round pick in next year’s draft.

The Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff and third-round pick in 2021 and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. Based on those two trades, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the market for a QB.

Of course, the dynamics of the deals are very different. Stafford, 33, didn’t come with a prohibitive salary. He has a magnificent body of work to make teams feel secure. And he worked with Detroit to facilitate the deal.

Wentz, 28, had an onerous contract and teams knew the Eagles had to move on. A third round pick this year and a second next year is about as good as the Eagles were going to receive. It’s still a blow considering Philly used the No.2 overall pick in 2016 on Wentz.

It would take a mega offer for Houston to move Deshawn Watson, unless they truly believe the quarterback will sit out next season. With that in mind, every team looking for a quarterback in this draft will look to make that happen before taking an unproven rookie.

In other words, every trade and draft pick could be affected if Watson is moved.

Based on the Stafford and Wentz deals, the Jets aren’t likely to get a first-round pick for Sam Darnold. However, his youth (23) and rookie contract surely could be attractive to a GM who sees the potential former Jets GM Mike Maccagnan saw when he traded up to make the former USC quarterback the third-round pick in the 2018 draft.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 29, has not been able to stay on the field. He has one terrific season (2019) in which he played all 16 games but how much does a team pay for an injury-prone QB who will be 30 in November? Tom Brady and Drew Brees have forced us to reconsider the longevity of playing that position but those quarterbacks avoided serious injury for most of their careers.

Oakland QB Derek Carr, 29, is the most intriguing quarterback in terms of evaluating his value. He has a career passer rating of 92.1 and has posted his two best seasons in 2019 and 2020. But the Raiders have never won the AFC West in his tenure.

This is a crucial decision for Raider’s GM Mike Mayock, whose short tenure in Oakland/Las Vegas has been inconsistent. He needs to get the QB position correct. Bringing in a new QB, unless it’s Watson, doesn’t make sense for a win-now franchise.

  1. Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson – Every place Urban Meyer has succeeded, he’s developed quarterbacks. Josh Harris was a star at Bowling Green. Utah’s Alex Smith wrote one of the great comeback stories of all time, saved Washington’s season. Tim Tebow won a Heisman at Florida. Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones were terrific QBs at Ohio State. None of them were as heralded as Lawrence, who wowed at Clemson’s pro day.
  2. Jets – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU – There are good arguments for keeping Darnold and trading him. The thought of Darnold blossoming in a stable environment, thus allowing GM Joe Douglas to build the roster is appealing. The question might come down to is this – is it better for both if Darnold and the franchise to get a change of scenery.
  3. Dolphins – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU – Ryan Fitzpatrick is convinced that Tua Tagovailoa is the future. The Dolphins unite him with Chase, a slightly bigger and more physical receiver than Heisman Trophy winner DaVonta Smith. Smith and TE Kyle Pitts could go here.
  4. Panthers trade with Falcons – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State – There is virtually no way the Panthers aren’t aggressive in getting their quarterback. It costs them a swap of first-round picks this season, a second-round pick in this and next year’s draft but Carolina is in win-now mode.
  5. Bengals – Penei Sewel, OT, Oregon – Cincy must do everything in its power to keep Joe Burrow healthy. Another major knee injury and all bets are off for the former Heisman Trophy winner.
  6. Eagles – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida – Philadelphia faces a tough call: the best tight end or the best offensive lineman. Eagles think they can get a quality offensive lineman in the second round but no one like Pitts.
  7. Lions – DaVonta Smith, WR, Alabama – Can’t believe the Lions think Jared Goff is their QB of the future. Regardless, the Lions need WRs with Kenny Golloday entering free agency and Marvin Jones, Jr. on an expiring contract.
  8. Falcons trade with Panthers – Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern – This deal makes sense for both teams. Carolina gets its QB. The Falcons get an OL prospect who could rival Sewel and extra second-round picks.
  9. Broncos – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St. – The QB quandary will hang over the Broncos until they make their pick. Denver has gone heavy on offense the last few drafts, at the expense of the defense.
  10. Cowboys –– Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama – Lord knows the Cowboys need help at CB and there are two to choose from. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Fairley might be a tad more athletic but Surtain is thisclose and a Day One starter.
  11. Giants –– Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama – I’ve always wondered how much more potent Bama’s offense would have been last season with a healthy Waddle to pair with Smith. If Daniel Jones is going to prove he’s a franchise QB, he needs the tools to make game-breaking plays.
  12. 49ers – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota St. – Lance, and every FCS player who gets drafted in the first round should thank Carson Wentz for paving the way. Lance’s athleticism is in line with the 49ers philosophy. San Fran catches a break here.
  13. Chargers –  Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech – The Chargers made 2 curious (dubious) decisions already. They fired coach Anthony Lynn and hired Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Priority 1 – Protect Justin Herbert. Priority 2 – Explain the plan.
  14. Vikings –  Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami – We expect Phillips to shoot up draft boards after his pro workouts. He pops off the screen. The Vikings have one last season with Kirk Cousins, which could be good or bad. Either way the Vikes slipped to 29th in defense.
  15. Washington – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama –  The NFL, unlike college football, doesn’t require a quarterback who can rush for 50 yards a game. It does require QBs to be able to extend plays, which Jones can do. What’s more important is accuracy where Jones excels.
  16. Cardinals – Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech – Khyler Murray is a magnificent talent but he can’t compensate for his team’s defensive deficiencies like Patrick Mahomes does. Or did until the Super Bowl. The acquisitions of Watt and Farley give Zona the defense to compete with the NFC West.
  17. Raiders – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama – We’re higher on Barmore than most who see him as a second-round pick. He’s an interior lineman with the ability to generate a pass rush. DT Johnathan Hankins is a free agent looking for big money and Clelin Ferrell, the No.4 pick in 2019, took a step back last season.
  18. Dolphins – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama – We gave Tua a great weapon in Chase. We give him another in Harris. Clemson’s Travis Etienne is an option here. He’s not as strong as Harris but has quicker acceleration and change of pace. Both are excellence receivers.
  19. Patriots – Rondale Moore, RB/WR, Purdue – Whoever the QB is (Garoppolo anyone?), the Pats need playmakers. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Moore has had some injury issues but he just posted a 42-inch vertical and is ridiculously explosive. He has highlight potential in every play.
  20. Bears –  Alijah Vera-Tucker, OT, USC – Quarterback remains the hot topic in Chicago. The             Bears aren’t going to find an improvement over Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles at No.20. If they don’t or can’t move up, Darrisaw can anchor the line for a decade. They really should try to move up. Really.
  21. Colts – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan – How did Carson Wentz go from being one of the NFL’s best young QBs to one of the worst? One factor is that he got pummeled the last two seasons in Philly and needs to regain his confidence. Indy made the trade. It makes no sense not address the O-Line.
  22. Titans – Gregory Rousseau, DE, Miami – Titans must get more pressure on the QB. Some believe he’s better than Phillips. Would have been something to see them play together at Miami.
  23. Jets – Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan – We believe that when in doubt, Saleh’s Jets will tilt towards defense. Paye might need a little seasoning but athletes like him don’t come around often. Taylor and Paye. Not bad.
  24. Steelers – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame – The retirement of Maurkice Pouncey makes center a priority but we think Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey or Alabama’s Landoon Dickerson could be available in Round 2. O-K. won’t be and Pittsburgh probably will lose LB Bud Dupree in free agency.
  25. Jaguars – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina – The Jags have never recovered from trading away Jalen Ramsey. Horn is a physical CB who excels press coverage. Meyer lucks out twice – first with Lawrence, then with Horn.
  26. Browns – Jason Oweh, DE, Penn State – The Browns are in a position of luxury. There is no glaring need. Paye is a little raw and didn’t post mind-blowing stats but he has the athleticism to make him attractive.
  27. Ravens – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida – We’re guilty of flip-flopping. We’ve had Terrace Marshall Jr. here but Toney can return kicks and is better in the slot. The real issue is how much improvement can Lamar Jackson make as a passer.
  28.  Saints – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State – We’ve had the Saints going defense here and that certainly could be the case. But if New Orleans sticks with Jameis Winston/Taysom Hill at QB, a quality target over the middle would be huge. It also might open up things for Michael Thomas.
  29. Packers – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota – The situation in Green Bay gets more fraught as we get closer to the draft. Last year they didn’t get Aaron Rodgers any help. Rodgers hasn’t sounded 100-percent all in since the end of the season. Bateman perfectly complements Devante Adams and maybe entices Rodgers.
  30. Bills – Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington – We had Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon here and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was the pick. Onwuzurike reportedly had a great week at the Senior Bowl. The Bills will have to think hard about offensive line help here but the lack of big interior defenders that can keep opposing linemen off their great young linebackers gets the nod.
  31. Chiefs –  Landon Dickerson C, Alabama – Everyone saw the Super Bowl, right? The Chiefs line needs immediate help. C Austin Reiter was the only KC lineman to start and finish the season at his psotion. Dickerson has experience at guard so they can start him there and move him inside down the road.
  32. Bucs – Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa – LBs Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David are free agents. David, 31, already is rumored to be looking for one last payday. His partner in tackles, Devin White, is one the premier LBs in football. He’ll need a new partner in crimes against offense.

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