Update: Aaron Rodgers is returning to the Green Bay Packers on a four-year, $200 million contract extension, according to multiple reports Tuesday.
A year after the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for two first-round picks, handing the Rams the final piece they needed to win the Super Bowl, the NFC North is once again the center of quarterback attention this offseason.
But while the NFL awaits Aaron Rodgers’ decision on his future with the Green Bay Packers, the Lions are dealing with a different dynamic at the position.
Jared Goff played well enough in the second half of last season that he is expected to start in 2022.
Goff struggled through his first eight weeks in a Lions uniform, throwing eight touchdown passes and committing 10 turnovers, but thrived after the team changed play callers at midseason.
Goff’s long-term future in Detroit remains a mystery, and how the Lions address the backup quarterback position over the next seven weeks could be a clue to their plans.
With three top-34 picks in April’s NFL draft, they could invest in a young signal caller to eventually take Goff’s place. They could bring back one or both of their pending free agents at the position, Tim Boyle (unrestricted) and David Blough (restricted). Or they could pursue an upgrade behind Goff, someone who could both push him and serve as improved insurance after Goff missed three games due to injuries and COVID-19 last season.
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Asked what he was looking for in a backup at the NFL combine last week, Lions coach Dan Campbell made no mention of the draft-and-develop route.
“When you start talking about a backup, especially at one of those positions you’re thinking, ‘Hey man, something happens, get us through the rest of the game. Another game or two.’ So two or three games max is kind of what you’re thinking,” Campbell said. “I think you’re looking for a guy at that position that can move the offense. More than anything it’s like, hey, he’s not going to do anything that’s going to hurt this team or hurt your offense and he can function and he’s going to get you into the right play with run checks, things of that nature. Knowing that we’re not going to have to put everything on him to win a game. We just need to make sure that this guy can move it. Can move the ball. Can move his offense. And I think that’s what you’re looking for, no more no less.”
Boyle, 27, saw the most extensive action of his career last season with mixed results.
Rodgers’ former backup in Green Bay, Boyle completed 64.9% of his passes (61 of 94) and threw three touchdowns with six interceptions in three starts. He played significantly better in his second start than he did his first, but the Lions went 0-3 with Boyle and never were in a Week 17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Boyle said after that game he hoped to re-sign with the Lions this offseason and “firmly believe(s) in what we’re trying to do here.”
“I’d love to come back to Detroit,” he said. “I’ve built a lot of special relationships here. I love the area. The fans have been awesome to me. And, yeah, I don’t get paid to make those decisions, but hopefully I put myself in an enough of a position to have them consider me back because I’d love to come back.”
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The Lions signed Boyle to a one-year, $2.5 million contract at the start of free agency last spring — former offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn had pushed for the team to pursue Tyrod Taylor, who signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Houston Texans, as competition for Goff — and could be in a similar financial neighborhood when it comes to their backup in 2022.
Jameis Winston (New Orleans Saints), Teddy Bridgewater (Denver Broncos), Andy Dalton (Chicago Bears), Mitchell Trubisky (Buffalo Bills) and Marcus Mariota (Las Vegas Raiders) are the best quarterbacks available in a mediocre free agent crop this year, while Boyle fits somewhere in the next tier behind more proven backups like Jacoby Brissett (14-23 in his career as a starter) and Trevor Siemian (13-16).
Some of those players will end up competing for starting jobs in places like Denver, Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and New Orleans, while other quarterbacks — Russell Wilson (Seattle), Deshaun Watson (Houston), Kyler Murray (Arizona) and Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco) — could disrupt the market.
None will have as seismic an impact as Rodgers, the two-time reigning MVP whose future was a hot at the combine last week, with one reporter even asking Campbell if he was following the situation.
“No. Unless he’s leaving? Is he leaving?” Campbell said laughing. “No, look, I can’t worry. … For me, I have to assume that he’s going to be there next year. That’s what, we have to be ready to go. That’s what we’re going to have to play against and that’s the standard that’s been set in our division is you got to try to unseat him.”
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Free agent QB class
On the Lions’ roster for 2022: Jared Goff, Steven Montez.
Pending Lions free agents: Tim Boyle, David Blough (RFA).
Top free agents: Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints; Teddy Bridgewater, Denver Broncos; Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders.
Others who may interest Lions: Trevor Siemian, New Orleans Saints.
Market watch: Good quarterbacks rarely make it to free agency and this year is no exception. Winston should land a starting job somewhere, but he is coming off a torn ACL that could impact his market. Bridgewater may get starter money, too, though he’s at best a short-term solution. The real mystery this offseason is what happens to veterans like Rodgers, Wilson and Watson. If any of those players ends up on a new team, he would shift the balance of power in both the division he’s leaving and the one he’s going to. The Lions seem content to bring Goff back for another season as starter, but they need to sign a capable veteran backup in free agency — unless they have bigger plans than anyone realizes for the quarterback position in the draft.
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.