You can get yourself in trouble in this league taking people at face value. Especially this time of year.
We are in peak pre-draft season, every word is being chosen carefully and parsed on multiple levels, and secrecy and subterfuge and smokescreens are all the rage. Particularly when it comes to the men who play the most important position in all of professional sports. Quarterback. Maybe you’ve heard about them, since they are all the rage in this league and we’ve seen more trades, transactions (unretirement?) and contract extensions with them the past few weeks than seemingly ever before.
They make this league go around, and we are on the cusp of another fertile time for QBs on the NFL calendar, with the draft just ahead and, quite likely, four of them about to be selected in the first round alone, to say nothing of other trades involving established quarterbacks who are still looming (Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo, for starters).
You have to tread carefully when decision-makers speak about quarterbacks these days. Not all is as it seems, or certainly not all that’s going on is being revealed by those who are speaking about them. There are delicate situations, and unique circumstances surrounding several young passers in this league, and there is leverage to potentially be gained or lost depending on how teams manage to handle some of these matters. Words matter, and often what is left unsaid resonated more loudly than what is actually expressed.
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No one wants to tip their hand in a way that cedes potentially more money than necessary or scuttles a potential trade and/or gives others a read on what the club’s actual intent is regarding the draft. People in this league work long and hard to do just the opposite. Which brings me to three of the more interesting interactions between NFL decision-makers and the media regarding quarterbacks in the last week.
And I am here as a public service to decode and interpret what is really going on here. Consider me a translator of sorts. I’ll say what these guys can’t say out in the open and shine some light in. I’ll expound where they, for the most part, would prefer to ascribe to the “less is more” philosophy, for obvious reasons. And please feel free to play along at home (or at work, or wherever you happen to be reading 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 that those guys like that are obviously, they’re special. And they certainly can give you a better chance. But no, I don’t believe you have to have one of those guys to have sustained success.”
What he means: Hey, I’m also the guy who told you we’d be eating kneecaps, and you didn’t take that literally, did you? We just took on a brutal contract on a borderline QB a year ago to extract as much draft pick value as possible in return. Follow what we do and not what we say. I might be stuck with Jared Goff for another year, and even if we do draft a kid at 2, he’s probably not ready to play right away. So I have to tap dance a little here (maybe a lot).
And, with this draft not having the same QB appeal as some recent drafts, what do I gain by gushing about Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett or anyone else? Why throw any flowers that way. Chances are no one is trading up to 2 to get them, but if we make it seem like we aren’t in the QB market, maybe someone trades up to land a tackle or pass rusher and we get even more draft capital and still get our QB there? What’s that, you say I’m a dreamer? Yeah, well I’m not the only one. But don’t be shocked if we grab 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. So I think this preseason will be good for him.”
What he means: It will be good for us if we can get anything in return for him in a trade that is even remotely close to what we surrendered to move up and overdraft him in the first place. Yeah, with any luck this will be a huge preseason for him … trying to win a starting job in Seattle, or Carolina or Atlanta or somewhere. Do you think the Panthers and Falcons are definitely taking a QB in the top 10, by the way?
OK, anyway, so I assume you saw the one regular-season game he started, right? You think there is a way we could doctor that game film? And if I keep talking enough about our rich history of developing quarterbacks and how we managed to transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, and how our backup is often better than your starter, then some GM might actually buy into that spiel and give us a 2 for this kid? Because we all know he’s not going to be cool with sitting out his entre rookie deal backing up our wacky starter. Dude, we gave Rodgers $102M over two years; he may fancy himself Kung Fu walking the earth and solving problems, but he ain’t walking away from that money. That takes us at least until 2024. What first-round pick sits for four years? So, yeah, about that game film …
Ravens coach John Harbaugh on the team’s ability to do a long-term deal with Lamar Jackson as he plays out his fifth-year option: “He’s a unique guy. People have been scratching their heads and trying to figure out Lamar probably for a long time, you know, ever since he was a kid. And he’s got his way of going about doing things. But that’s what you love about him, it’s what I love about him. Get him in 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 altered our entire identity on the fly to try to put him and us in the best position to do that ASAP. But this one is above my paygrade. Deshaun Watson might be suspended half the year and he just got $230M fully guaranteed over five years. Jimmy Haslam is putting $180M in an escrow account just for the right to throw enough money at Watson to finally convince him to go to Cleveland.
Now Derek Carr is making over $40M a year. Kirk Cousins got another $70M fully guaranteed. So what’s Lamar worth – $240M fully guaranteed? $250M? You think I have that kind of money? This one is all about Steve Bisciotti. I do a lot around here, and everyone knows what I think of Lamar and how much I want him around here for as long as possible, but I’m not the dude who will have to stroke that check. And if Lamar doesn’t want an agent, and his focus is on being the best QB he can be and not on negotiating a new contract right now, and he’s willing to keep gambling on himself, it’s not my place to try to convince him otherwise. It’s my job to win as many football games with him as possible, and we’ve done an awful lot of that together. I have a draft to prepare for and a season to prepare for, and the only way you are going to contend in this conference is with stellar QB play. Lamar gives us that. But I don’t negotiate the contracts. And the guys who do seem to have their work cut out for them in this case.