As NFL training camps near, a look back at veteran quarterback movement that will shape the 2021 season, a glimpse at Raiders QB Derek Carr’s Hail Mary, and more.
It was the trade that broke the internet.
The Detroit Lions acquiescing to the face of their franchise for the past 12 seasons, Matthew Stafford, sent the veteran quarterback westward to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and Jared Goff.
That blockbuster back on January 31 sent the quarterback carousel into overdrive that saw four quarterbacks change zip codes and Dak Prescott finally get across the finish line in becoming the highest-paid quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes in the NFL.
For Stafford, the 32-year-old gets his best chance to win a Super Bowl leading a loaded roster and playing for one of the NFL’s most innovative head coaches, Sean McVay.
Goff, the former No. 1 overall pick of the Rams who never quite lived up to that billing as a career 63.4 percent passer with 107 touchdowns, 55 interceptions, and three playoff victories gets his first shot to prove he can shift to the next gear in the Motor City under new head coach Dan Campbell and convince Detroit there’s no need to target a young passer in next spring’s draft.
“I’m really excited bout Jared,” Detroit Lions fullback Jason Cabinda told me last week during an appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “Some guys in this league really just need a new setting. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get your career back going. The potential is obviously there, he was one of those first guys with a $100-plus million contract, he was a No. 1 pick, the talent’s there, he has all the tools, it’s just a matter of getting all the pieces together, getting to know this offense, and I can tell he’s starting to reach another level of leadership, taking control of that offense and doing those things.”
If Goff can take that next step, find his groove in Anthony Lynn’s system, it was after all Lynn who Shepherded Justin Herbert through a dynamic 4,336 yard 31-touchdown to 10-interception rookie season, perhaps Campbell will be able to set that winning tone and build that culture after all.
In Los Angeles, Stafford’s benchmark is much higher, but so too better is the supporting cast around him. It’s been since Calvin Johnson was making circus catches look routine since Stafford had an arsenal like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, and Cam Akers. Expectations, with Stafford, are justifiably high in Los Angeles.
Will Carson Wentz be able to resurrect his NFL career with the Indianapolis Colts?
Just 19 days later, the next quarterback domino fell, when the Indianapolis Colts were the last team standing in the Carson Wentz sweepstakes, after the Chicago Bears cooled on the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback chosen one pick after Goff back in 2017, shipping a third-round pick in 2021 (that became DT Milton Williams, following a trade back) and a conditional second-round pick in 2022.
Wentz was among the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in 2020, and the cracks in his leadership ability became caverns. Multiple coaches tell FanSided that Wentz was reticent to hard coaching, which ultimately brought out the best of him in 2017 when then Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo rebuilt his throwing motion leading to his career-apex, an MVP caliber season before tearing his ACL that December against the Rams.
In Indianapolis, Wentz is reunited with Reich, where by all accounts things have gone swimmingly — at least until the pads have gone on.
“He’s still a dangerous quarterback,” a current NFL head coach tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely. “If he doesn’t screw it up with forced mistakes and turnovers, then he is really tough to deal with for an entire game.”
Whether Wentz can recapture the magic of his second NFL season, and avoid the mistakes that have dogged him the past two years, including 22 interceptions over that span remains to be seen.
But, playing behind arguably the NFL’s premier offensive line with young talent like running back Jonathan Tayler, wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr., and T.Y. Hilton to throw to, in a laid back market that is the antithesis of the Philadelphia pressure cooker is likely Wentz’s best fit and chance of success.
“He has a big arm,” the coach says. “And he knows how to extend plays.”
One quarterback who has certainly extended his career with success across multiple stops is Ryan Fitzpatrick, now at the helm of the reigning NFC East champion Washington Football Team.
Fitzpatrick arrives in the shadow of the Nation’s Capitol despite Tyler Heinicke taking Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers to the brink in the NFC Wild Card back in January.
At 38, The Football Team is banking on Fitzpatrick steadying a ship with explosive playmakers all over the field; top wide receiver Terry McLaurin, explosive wideout Curtis Samuel, playmaking and versatile running back Antonio Gibson.
But, it might prove to be a Herculean lift for Fitzpatrick can do over 17 games what he did in spot duty with the Dolphins last season, while splitting time with Tua Tagovailoa, passing for 2,091 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions across nine appearances.
Within the same NFC East that Fitzpatrick aims to defend, arguably the biggest veteran quarterback move in the league wasn’t even a move at all. That’s the return of Dak Prescott from a horrific ankle injury with a new $240 million contract in hand.
Prior to Prescott’s ankle buckling under NY Giants defensive back Logan Ryan in a Week 5 Cowboys win, Prescott was on pace for 5,939 passing yards. His injury derailed Dallas’ season, but his return inspires all kinds of optimism that in head coach Mike McCarthy’s second season and with a defense buttressed by first-round rookie Micah Parsons and several other needed additions that the Cowboys might just be the team to beat in the NFC East.
Even with Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, Garrett Gilbert, and Cedric Wilson all attempting passes when Prescott was lost for the season, wide receiver Amari Cooper still produced 1,194 receiving yards and caught five touchdowns, CeeDee Lamb looked every bit an Offensive Rookie of The Year candidate thanks to his 935 yards and five touchdowns, while Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott proved dynamic weapons once again in their own right.
Just imagine what those playmakers will be able to do with a motivated Prescott back behind center.
So, who was the biggest winner of the veteran quarterback carousel?
Sources were unanimous, it was Prescott and the Cowboys, but one AFC scout put it best.
“If we’re talking about this year, we’re talking about the Dallas Cowboys,” the scout tells FanSided. “Dak has the highest ceiling in 2021, especially because he far and away has the most weapons around him.”
“I know that he’s obviously the best receiver — everyone said one of the best, he’s the best receiver in the NFL. The guy is unbelievable. He’s been one of my best friends since we were in college together. I love the guy.
“I would always welcome to play with him again. I think it would unlock some things in both of us that people haven’t seen yet. I’m always open to that and I will be recruiting very hard. When that time comes, it will be a full-court press.”
– Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr told ABC30’s Bri Mellon on possibly recruiting Packers wide receiver DeVante Adams.
Besides Carr possibly being on the lookout for a call from Park Avenue for violating the NFL’s anti-tampering policy, the Vegas Raiders quarterback just might be onto something. If he can show enough in 2021 to make the full-court press a worthwhile option for head coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock next spring.
Before Carr can play recruiter-in-chief to bring Adams to the Vegas strip, sidenote; that doesn’t sound all too difficult, he is going to need to convince ownership, Gruden, and Mayock that he’s the best long-term solution the Raiders can muster at the most important position in sports.
Carr, last season, played just well enough to have the Raiders linked to Aaron Rodgers, should the reigning MVP force a trade from Green Bay. He passed for 4,103 yards but just 27 touchdowns to nine interceptions as Vegas finished just 8-8.
Now, imagine dropping a miffed and motivated Adams into an offense with Henry Ruggs III, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller, who might be a top-three tight end in the league with plenty of upside.
That’s a formidable supporting cast and one that could at least keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers in the potentially hyper-competitive AFC West.
The question just might become, especially if Rodgers forces a trade from the Green Bay Packers, whether Adams is on the receiving end of passes from his best friend since College, Carr, or reunites on a revenge tour of sorts with the quarterback who has made him one of the game’s most electrifying receivers.
Regardless of who is behind center, the Raiders make a lot of sense for Adams and should be a team to watch in that bidding war about nine months from now.
Gone fishin’, well, golfing …
As the NFL rests before exploding back to life late next month with the opening of training camps across the league, it’s time too for me to step away and recharge for a couple of weeks as well.
There will be golf, lots of it. So, follow along on Twitter if you’d like to catch a glimpse of my highs and lows on the links.
But, what I think I’m looking forward to most is some family time in the idyllic beach town of Ocean City, NJ, where I’ve spent summers since my grandparents owned a shore house less than a block from the beach.
If you see me on the boardwalk, make sure to say hello, and perhaps we can grab a slice of Manco & Manco or some Jilly’s fries and kibitz about your favorite team.
Anyway, while I’m away we have some great content lined up for this column, so stay tuned.
The NFL, finally taking note of how much fun throwback uniforms can be; or far more likely how lucrative the sales of throwback jerseys and merchandise are, made the decision last week to allow teams to wear an alternate helmet.
It’s about time.
The Los Angeles Chargers years ago proved the power of the throwback, when they returned to the greatest uniforms in the sport; the powder blue jerseys.
Now, this rule change clears the way for the Philadelphia Eagles to give their fans what they have been clamoring for decades; a return to the Kelly Greens that defined an era as Randall Cunningham, Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Eric Allen became one of the more entertaining teams of their era.
Likewise, we’re going to get a chance in all likelihood to see Tom Brady don Bucco Bruce and the Buccaneers’ creamsicles that were maligned in their time and pined for in recent years.
The return to throwback got me thinking of how much of our culture really is a flat circle.
Just looking around the professional sports landscape as the NFL wraps its arms and pads its wallet around the throwback craze, the number of franchises that have returned to logos and uniforms of the 70s and 80s is rather staggering.
The Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, and Detroit Pistons all have returned to styles worn decades ago in the NBA during the height of those franchise’s successes. In hockey, the Islanders, Senators, Sabres, and Sharks all returned to stylings similar to their original logos in recent years.
Who knows if the Buccaneers will ever ditch the pewter or the Seahawks will return to their classic silver teal and green.
But, while the NFL is wholly motivated it seems by printing more green, the result of the new helmet rule is following sports down a nostalgic path that seems to repeat itself every couple of decades.
Matt Lombardo is FanSided’s National NFL Insider and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday. Email Matt: Matt.Lombardo@FanSided.com, Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL