Tua and the 2020 NFL Draft, Fournette trade rumors and more

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The 2020 NFL Draft is rife with headlines and headliners, but it will likely be remembered for how the saga of Tua Tagovailoa turns out.

Every NFL Draft has its touchstone.

For 2017, it will forever be Mitchell Trubisky going ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

For 1998, it’s the Indianapolis Colts taking Peyton Manning instead of Ryan Leaf.

For 2020, it will be about the team which takes Tua Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa’s talent is inarguable. When healthy, he was comically dominant in the sport’s toughest conference. The Hawaiian threw for 10.9 yards per attempt with 87 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, this despite not playing a bevy of fourth quarters with Alabama crushing its opponent.

You couldn’t post numbers so wild on Madden playing in Rookie mode.

For good measure, Tagovailoa also won a national championship and played for another. His tape checks every box on an NFL scout’s notebook, from arm strength and accuracy to poise and mobility.

Then there’s the injuries.

It’s well-documented Tagovailoa fractured and dislocated his hip on Nov. 16 against Mississippi State. Before that, a pair of tight-rope ankle surgeries. Teams concerned about Tagovailoa busting out of the league due to health concerns aren’t without validity in their worry.

Enter the decision.

At some juncture in the first round, Tagovailoa’s name comes into play. It seems a foregone conclusion Joe Burrow and Chase Young are going to the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins, respectively, but then intrigue. The Miami Dolphins are the most-often linked to Tagovailoa, and while they’re slated to pick fifth-overall, could move up to third using their league-high 14 picks.

The Los Angeles Chargers, also linked often to Tagovailoa, pick sixth. Would general manager Tom Telesco stake his job and the team’s next decade on the former Crimson Tide standout?

If neither of those teams take a chance, then who? Tagovailoa could see a freefall, especially with other teams wondering what the Dolphins and Chargers must know to have passed on him.

Whichever team ends up with him — specifically early for Miami or Los Angeles — becomes the story moving forward. Burrow appears the sure thing. Young is great but a defensive player.

Tagovailoa is a walking storyline.

If he stays healthy and plays to his potential, he’ll be lauded as one of the smartest picks in some time. The general manager who selects him will have taken the risk and cashed in big.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Should he falter with a body not made for NFL football, the front office which took him will forever be questioned on how a team could take a player with so many past injuries and subsequent surgeries in such a loaded draft class.

On Thursday night, Tagovailoa’s life will change forever. So will the lives of every member in the front office who turns in his card. For better or worse.

Power rankings

Top 10 most-tortured fanbases in the NFL

1. Cleveland Browns (no Super Bowl appearances; The Drive, The Fumble, relocation)
2. Buffalo Bills (four straight Super Bowl defeats, no playoff wins since 1995)
3. Minnesota Vikings (four Super Bowl defeats, brutal NFCCG losses in ’87, ’98 and ’09)
4. New York Jets (no titles since 1968; multiple AFCCG defeats)
5. Detroit Lions (one playoff win since 1957; 0-16 season)
6. Atlanta Falcons (Blew 28-3 SB lead; no titles)
7. Cincinnati Bengals (no playoff wins since 1990, longest draught in NFL)
8. Arizona Cardinals (no titles since 1947; seven playoff wins in 101 seasons)
9. Los Angeles Chargers (no Super Bowl wins, moved from SD)
10. Miami Dolphins (No titles since 1973; last AFCCG appearance in ’92)

Quotable

"“We’ve had a lot of discussions with Chris, and we continue to have that. We’ve got a lot of time. Certainly it’s a unique environment in which we’re working with. We know how talented Chris is. I think the franchise tag speaks for it. We also have a lot of time. The deadline to get a deal done is July 15. We certainly are going to work to maintain him, not just for next year but for the future.”"

– Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach on star defensive tackle Chris Jones’ situation

Veach spoke on Thursday to reporters via videoconferencing and made clear his desire to keep Jones in the fold. Jones, 26, is currently on the franchise tag after playing a lead role in helping the Chiefs win their first Super Bowl since 1969.

While Veach’s declaration of working through the draft to sign Jones is important to note, it’s not breaking news. Privately and publicly, Kansas City has long expressed a desire to retain Jones for the long haul, something FanSided has reported multiple times since last summer.

The Chiefs are trying to become the first repeat champion since the 2004 New England Patriots. Locking Jones up would be a major step towards the lofty goal.

Podcast

Random stat

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t have a special teams touchdown of any kind until 1997, when Karl Williams scored on a 61-yard punt return so against the Chicago Bears in Week 17. It took Tampa Bay 22 seasons to finally reach pay dirt.

Info learned this week

1. Jaguars to trade Leonard Fournette, Yannick Ngakoue before draft?

The Jacksonville Jaguars should be in fire-sale mode this week.

General manager Dave Caldwell understands his team is rebuilding. The Jaguars wisely dealt cornerback Jalen Ramsey in October for two first-round picks. Earlier in the offseason, corner A.J. Bouye and quarterback Nick Foles were traded for mid-round selections.

Now it’s time to move defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and running back Leonard Fournette.

Ngakoue, 24, is the big fish. He has 37.5 career sacks and remains younger than some rookies in the upcoming draft class. He’s proven durable, has no character concerns and most importantly, hits the quarterback. Caldwell should be aiming for a first-round choice and accept nothing less than multiple Day 2 picks.

In Fournette’s case, reports surfaced on Saturday via ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he’s available. the former LSU star has played three seasons, missed 12 games and only averaged 4.0 yards per carry. However, he’s 25 years old, has two 1,000-yard seasons and caught 75 balls last year. He’s worth a Day 2 selection.

Jacksonville is trying to build from the ground up. Acquiring draft picks for players close to free agency is the smart move.

2. NFL Draft is flush with first-round offensive tackles

Everyone talks about the quarterbacks, receivers and cornerbacks. However, those within the league are every bit as excited about the offensive linemen.

While Cesar Ruiz is the only interior lineman to be drafted in the first round, there might be a half-dozen tackles taken in the first 32 picks. Andrew Thomas (Georgia), Tristan Wirfs (Iowa), Mekhi Becton (Louisville) and Jedrick Wills (Alabama) are almost certain to go in the top 14 selections. After them, look for Ezra Cleveland (Boise State) and Josh Jones (Houston) to find themselves off the board in short order.

With teams valuing right tackle more than ever before, using a pick on a player who may end up on that side is perfectly acceptable. Additionally, the league is flush with young quarterbacks needing blindside protection, such as Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.

The receivers and quarterbacks are going to steal the show, but there’s tremendous talent on the line.

3. Giants have another tough decision to make in the first round

Two years ago, general manager Dave Gettleman had a choice. Sam Darnold or Saquon Barkley?

He chose Barkley. Depending on your opinion of Darnold — and in related news, Daniel Jones –Gettleman made the correct pick despite the difference in value between the two positions.

Now, he’ll likely be faced by another quandary on Thursday night.

The Giants are slated to pick at No. 4, and barring a shocker, will have linebacker/safety/absurd athlete Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson on the board. They’ll also have a quartet of impressive left tackles in Wills, Becton, Thomas and Wirfs also sitting in the virtual green room.

Does Big Blue go for a blindside protector of Jones, or who could be the face of its defense for a decade?

In the immediate, there’s no wrong answer. Only time will reveal which players will have the best careers, and which will fade into obscurity as overhyped and overvalued.

For Gettleman, though, it’s a defining moment for a team desperate to find its way again.

4. Seahawks under pressure to nail first-round choice

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider needs to nail this class.

In recent years, Seattle has been a title contender despite Schneider whiffing on a litany of first and second-round choices. In fact, here’s the list of Seattle’s top picks since 2011, in order: James Carpenter, Bruce Irvin, Christine Michael, Paul Richardson, Frank Clark, Germain Ifedi, Malik McDowell, Rashaad Penny and L.J. Collier.

Only Clark became a star, and he’s with the Chiefs. Of all those players, none received a second contract with the Seahawks. Not ideal.

With Seattle trying to chase down the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West, Schneider can’t fool around with the No. 26 pick. Schneider loves to trade back, but if the right player is there — specifically a top offensive lineman or edge rusher, the Seahawks must pounce.

5. Which quarterback is the sleeper in this draft?

Everyone knows about Burrow, Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. Most are well-aware of Jordan Love.

Few know much about the pro prospects of Jalen Hurts. They should brush up.

Hurts is likely to be a second-round pick, but he’s got serious upside. After losing his job to Tagovailoa at Alabama, the 21-year-old transferred to Oklahoma and starred for the Sooners last year. In 2019, Hurts threw for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his attempts. The Heisman candidate also ran for 1,298 yards and 20 scores.

Another factor in his favor? Hurts played for Nick Saban and Lincoln Riley. That means something to NFL teams. Along with his infectious personality and knowledge of the game, Hurts is someone to watch.

History lesson

Two of the most forgotten Hall of Fame running backs of all-time both starred in the 1980s.

Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett.

Dickerson played with the Los Angeles Rams, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Raiders and Atlanta Falcons between 1983-93, amassing seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career, including a record 2,105 rushing yards in 1984.

Dickerson finished with 13,259 rushing yards but largely is forgotten to history, never having played in a Super Bowl or with a team long enough to be identified as a legend with them.

As for Dorsett, he spent 11 years with the Dallas Cowboys before finishing up in 1988 with the Denver Broncos. It’s hard to be underrated as a Hall of Famer on America’s Team, but Dorsett managed. All told, he racked up 12,739 rushing and 3,554 receiving yards, totaling 112 touchdowns.

So why is Dorsett under-appreciated despite such playing on a high-profile team? He won the Super Bowl as a rookie in 1977 but then mostly languished on declining teams. Unfortunately, it was a case of his best years coming in down seasons for the Cowboys.

Parting shot

The New Orleans Saints have a choice to make come Thursday.

There’s a real chance Drew Brees is playing his final season in 2020. At 41 years old, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer is angling for one more title. General manager Mickey Loomis could use the 24th-overall pick to land a defensive piece to help in that pursuit.

Or, he could draft Brees replacement.

Loomis has been pushing money into the future for years, trying to keep his title window open. Eventually, you need to pay the proverbial piper. Loomis understands the only way to carry significant dead money and remain a contender is with a quality quarterback on a rookie deal.

If Jordan Love is on the board with New Orleans on the clock, he’d need to be a serious consideration. Heck, if Jacob Eason is there, perhaps he gets a year of tutelage under Brees and with head coach Sean Payton before taking over in 2021.

The Saints have one of the strongest rosters in football. They can win it all without adding a first-round talent to the group this year. It might be the perfect storm to start planning for the future.