NFL

NFL Draft trades cause huge ripples, 17-game schedule and more

On Friday, a pair of trades — particularly one between the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers — rocked the 2021 NFL Draft and beyond.

Thirty-five days from the NFL Draft, two bombshell trades within 31 minutes rocked the league.

Its ramifications will be felt for years, both in the three involved cities and far beyond. The deals included 10 draft picks including seven first-round choices over the next three years.

To set the scene, the Miami Dolphins went from No. 3 overall to No. 6 in April’s draft, while hoarding the San Francisco 49ers’ first and third-round picks in 2022, along with another first in ’23. The 49ers moved up nine spots from No. 12 overall to No. 3, and the Philadelphia Eagles netted Miami’s 2022 first-round choice and shifted from No. 6 overall this year to No. 12.

All told, the Dolphins have five first-round choices over the next three drafts, and the Eagles, depending on how Carson Wentz plays for the Indianapolis Colts, could have three first-rounders in 2022.

Got it? Now for the impact of those deals.

Looking from both a long lens and short view, there are six key components to how these moves shake up the league. Here’s a six-pack of what it all means:

– The Jets are taking Zach Wilson

We have known the Jacksonville Jaguars were taking Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence since the regular season ended. The New York Jets, at No. 2 overall, were a bit more mysterious. In recent weeks, it’s become clear New York general manager Joe Douglas and the staff were fixated on Wilson.

In the immediate aftermath of Philadelphia’s deal, NFL insider Ian Rapoport tweeted about Wilson being the Eagles’ target, but they traded back after realizing he wasn’t attainable. The tweet was quickly deleted, but the point remains. The Jets want Wilson and barring a massive shock, will take him on April 29.

– The Texans’ trade options became increasingly clear

For months, Deshaun Watson trade rumors have fueled NFL conversations. The idea has been he would accept a trade to either the Denver Broncos, Jets, Dolphins or 49ers. Fast forward to today, and San Francisco is out. New York, again, appears set on Wilson. This leaves Denver and Miami, but one team has a massive amount of bargaining chips and the other doesn’t.

With 16 allegations of sexual assault against Watson, it’s almost certain no team will trade for him until his legal issues are resolved. However, the Dolphins are clearly in position to land him should Houston entertain offers.

– The Patriots should be calling on Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco can leak its belief in Garoppolo, and its intent to start him in 2020. That’s nonsense. The 49ers didn’t trade two first-round picks and swap another to have a quarterback in his rookie deal sitting on the bench. If Garoppolo can fetch a decent price, say a first-round choice, he’s on the next plane out.

To this end, the New England Patriots are the obvious suitor. Garoppolo was seen as the heir to Tom Brady in Foxborough before eventually being traded to the Niners when his rookie deal was running out. Head coach Bill Belichick always liked the Eastern Illinois product. Finally, with Garoppolo — should he remain healthy — the Patriots are an intriguing team in the AFC.

– The Dolphins have a boatload of ammo

Touched on in the two sections above, but a deeper dive. The Dolphins have an arsenal of draft picks over the next three years for general manager Chris Grier to utilize. Perhaps he ends up taking seven players, or spins off packages a few of the choices to make big moves.

Regardless, Miami is positioned better than any other team to build its roster with young, cheap talent. And, if Tua Tagovailoa doesn’t work out or Watson becomes available, the Dolphins will be able to nab another quarterback easier than anybody.

– The Eagles should own the 2022 Draft

Some of this depends on Wentz. Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman will either have two firsts and two seconds in the ’22 Draft, or three first-rounders with his own second to work with. While this season promises to be a rebuilding effort, the Eagles are set up to bounce back quickly.

Ultimately, Jalen Hurts has a one-year audition for the starting gig. If he plays well, Philadelphia can surround him with playmakers and offensive line help in a big way before next season. If Hurts struggles, Roseman can weaponize his draft pick cache to upgrade the most important position in sports.

– The Atlanta Falcons are in the driver’s seat

This one is the hidden story. If you’re the Atlanta Falcons, the two trades from Friday drastically altered your draft perspective. It’s obvious the first three picks will be quarterbacks. Atlanta sits at No. 4. If a team such as the Carolina Panthers or Broncos want to make sure they land one of Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones, the Falcons are the hot phone number to have.

In his first year, general manager Terry Fontenot has a fascinating decision to make. Either stand pat and draft a non-quarterback, stand pat and take one of the aforementioned three signal-callers, or trade back. It’s not an easy call. Matt Ryan is good but also turns 36 years old in May. The roster has myriad issues and a trade back gives Fontenot the ability to jumpstart a rebuild.

Atlanta and its first-year general manager went from a quiet spot to center stage.

Power rankings

Top 10 players in TECMO Super Bowl

1. Bo Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Raiders
2. Lawrence Taylor, LB, New York Giants
3. Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit Lions
4. Thurman Thomas, RB, Buffalo Bills
5. Christian Okoye, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
6. Randall Cunningham (QB Eagles), QB, Philadelphia Eagles
7. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers
8. Wayne Haddix (seriously), CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Derrick Thomas, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
10. Sterling Sharpe, WR, Green Bay Packers

Quotable

“Especially with the Super Bowl being here this year. I mean, I don’t want to get too excited and talk about any of that stuff, but my heart and my mind, I’m going to work my hardest to work my tail off and get to that to bring something special to the city, man, because it’s definitely deserving.”

– Los Angeles Rams receiver DeSean Jackson on returning to his hometown

The Rams gave Jackson a one-year deal this offseason, providing a new home for his 14th NFL season. The former California Golden Bears star has eye-popping career numbers of 91 touchdowns and 10,656 receiving yards, but he’s been limited by injuries in recent campaigns.

Jackson, 34, hasn’t totaled 1,000 yards since 2015 with the Washington Football Team and hasn’t suited up for 16 games since 2013, his final year with the Eagles. Over the past two years, Jackson combined to play in eight contests.

If Jackson is healthy, he could bring a deep-ball dynamic to Los Angeles. Big if, though.

Podcast

Random stat

With the re-signing of running back Leonard Fournette, the Buccaneers are the first team in the salary cap era to return all 22 starters from a Super Bowl team, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Not bad.

Info learned this week

1. NFL expanding to 17-game schedule in 2021

Since 1978, every non-strike season has been 16 games. Welcome to a new era.

On Sunday, a story long believed in the works was officially broken, as the league plans on implementing a 17-game schedule for the first time in 2021. The extra game will be an interconference affair for all 32 clubs, with AFC teams hosting NFC teams. The belief is come 2022, the NFC will play host.

For the fans, it’s more football. The trade-off is one less meaningless preseason game for another week of quality games. For players, it means having to play another tilt and hope to avoid injury, something many are already bemoaning.

Once the NFLPA opened the door with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement for owners to expand the season, it was always happening. This is extra revenue from tickets, concessions and most importantly, television. This also allows the season to reach President’s Day, turning Super Bowl Sunday into a long, holiday weekend.

Ultimately, the biggest impact beyond player safety is the impact on records and thresholds. We’ve only seen eight men rush for 2,000 yards. That number will likely rocket upwards in upcoming years. We may also see a quarterback approach 6,000 yards for the first time, or a receiver hit the 2,000-yard mark.

The strong expectation is the league will eventually expand to 18 games, allowing for nine home and road games for each club. It won’t happen without the league giving concessions to the players, but it makes far too much sense.

Enjoy the 17-game era. It won’t last nearly as long as the 16-game years.

2. Watson now facing 19 civil suits of sexual assault as ugliness grows

It’s impossible to know what the future of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson holds, but it appears his legal troubles are far from over.

Watson saw four more civil lawsuits of sexual assault brought against him over the weekend, bringing the count to 19. All are being overseen by lawyer Tony Buzbee, who has stated the cases will be heard in court. It’s a sad, ugly situation regardless of how it plays out.

From a purely football standpoint, Watson is essentially bound to the Texans until his legal status is cleared up. Any notion of trading for him is sidelined while the process plays out, both for public relations and what the NFL might do with its own investigation.

For the NFL, it has no reason to move swiftly here. Commissioner Roger Goodell would be well-advised to let the legalities unfold while his team works in the background to formulate its own report. Once the cases are closed, the NFL can then make a decision on whether to levy discipline on the 25-year-old quarterback.

With lawsuits still rolling in, Watson’s future — football and otherwise — is only growing murkier.

3. Chiefs add interior pass rush with Reed after Seahawks move on

Kansas City has drawn criticism for not doing enough this offseason. On Sunday, the Chiefs made a significant addition to the defensive line.

The two-time AFC champs signed defensive tackle Jarran Reed to a one-year, $5 million deal, days after the disrupter was released by the Seattle Seahawks after attempts to trade him failed. Reed, 28, notched a career-high 10.5 sacks in 2018 and totaled 6.5 sacks last season. Paired with All-Pro Chris Jones on the inside, Kansas City will have a nasty push inside.

One league source in personnel told FanSided they were “shocked” Reed wasn’t traded, instead hitting the market. Additionally, while Kansas City had edge rusher Melvin Ingram in for a visit to Arrowhead on Tuesday, the understanding is Reed’s signing likely means Ingram lands elsewhere.

Ultimately, the Chiefs got a steal, and the AFC just got a bigger headache.

4. Most quality free agents remaining reside on defense

The free-agency frenzy is over. However, there are stars still lingering on the market.

While the offensive difference-makers are almost impossible to find, there are a few defensive standouts worth consideration.

Cornerback Richard Sherman, ticketed for the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible, represents himself and remains available. At 33 years old and with an injury history, he’s not the great he was, but he’s still valuable.

Then there’s a pair of edge rushers in Justin Houston and the aforementioned Ingram, both looking for their next homes. Houston, 32, racked up 19 sacks in two years with the Indianapolis Colts, while Ingram is attempting to bounce back from zero sacks in seven games last year. However, Ingram was a Pro Bowler in each of the three preceding seasons.

Finally, what of Jadeveon Clowney? It seems his market has tanked over the past 12 months, but he’s a name with past production to his credit. One team to watch? The Buffalo Bills, who need tp upgrade their pass rush situation in the worst way.

5. PSA for all the draft talk we hear in the coming weeks

This isn’t learned this week, but learned over the years. Close your ears for the next month.

With the NFL Draft officially 30 days away, the hype train will start rolling. Some players will get shoved up draft boards in respected mock drafts for no discernible reason. The opposite will also hold true of guys being pushed down. Why does this happen? Because powerful agents and certain personnel men have the ears of the authors, and like to shape narratives.

For agents, it’s about pushing their guy into the first round. For teams, it’s about twisting the board to have a player they like reach them.

Also, don’t worry about pro days and highlight-reel passes. It’s nonsense. Teams have been watching this rookie crop for at least three years. In some cases, they’ve had tabs on them since high school. Scouts have already done through write-ups on each prospect coveted in a given building, including every shred of tape and conversations with the athletic director, assistant coach and janitor. Nothing at a pro day is warping opinion.

Thirty more days. We can make it.

Two cents

The Baltimore Ravens have struggled signing receivers. More about the offensive scheme or Lamar Jackson?

Baltimore has reportedly been in on JuJu Smith-Schuster and offered significantly more than the Colts for T.Y. Hilton. Yet, the former went back to the Pittsburgh Steelers while Hilton is going for a 10th year with Indy. Additionally, former Ravens receiver Willie Snead signed with the Las Vegas Raiders on Friday, creating another hole for Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta to fill.

Finally, the team did sign veteran Sammy Watkins to a one-year, $6 million deal. Watkins played the previous three years with the Chiefs, winning a Super Bowl but missing 16 games (including playoffs) over that stretch.

Clearly, the Ravens understand they must significantly upgrade on the outside. Tight end Mark Andrews is a quality option, but third-year man Hollywood Brown has been inconsistent on the perimeter and nobody else is worth mentioning.

After a trio of hasty playoff exits in which the offense has struggled mightily, DeCosta needed to make a few moves to give Jackson more options. He offered good money by all accounts, and it didn’t matter. Watkins helps, but he’s more role player than star at this juncture.

Perhaps receivers with other options don’t want to play in the NFL’s most run-heavy offense. Perhaps they’re concerned Jackson can’t place the ball outside the numbers with accuracy and consistency, something many in the NFL believe is his biggest issue. It’s something worth considering for Baltimore, which will spend a good portion of its offseason figuring out what to offer Jackson on a long-term extension.

Whether receivers are passing on the Ravens for the scheme or the quarterback’s perceived limitations, it’s become an issue.

Inside the league

Everybody loves a sleeper for the NFL Draft. Keep an eye on Alim McNeill.

The 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive tackle out of North Carolina State is an intriguing Day 2 prospect who had a winding road to playing inside on the front. At Sanderson High School (NC), McNeill starred in both football and baseball. In the former, he was a power running back and on the diamond, roamed the outfield … while weighing 270 pounds.

Few prospects in this class have more athleticism, something showcased with the Wolf Pack over the past three years. Last year, the junior was named Second-Team All-America and First-Team All-ACC, notching 26 tackles, one sack and an interception. In his two prior seasons, he had nine combined sacks, presenting the ability to provide pass rush from the interior.

McNeill won’t be a sexy pick for a team, but he’s got the potential to be a smart one.

History lesson

No teams are more tied together in pro sports than the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

Both franchises were founded and coached by Paul Brown. The Browns are named for him, while the Bengals play in Paul Brown Stadium and are owned by his son. Each team merged into the NFL under the father’s stewardship, Cleveland coming in from the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1950, while the Bengals joined from the American Football League (AFL) 20 years later.

Brown was fired by Cleveland owner Art Modell after the 1962 season. In an act of revenge, he created the Bengals — who were an expansion team in 1968, once the AFL-NFL merger was agreed upon — a few hours south in Ohio and gave them the same colors as his former club.

Since the ’70 merger, the Bengals and Browns have always shared a division. None of it would have been possible, for either team, without Brown.

Parting shot

No NFL division has ever sent its entire gaggle to the postseason. That might change in 2021.

In full disclosure, last year was the first time it was possible to send a full division to the playoffs. In fact, no division has ever seen allies participants enjoy a winning record.

The NFC West could change those factoids.

While the 49ers will need to succeed with either Garoppolo or a rookie quarterback, the rest of the roster is certainly capable of 10 wins (or nine, in a 17-game season) with even average play under center. The Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks are both clear favorites to be playing into January, while the Arizona Cardinals loaded up in the offseason on veteran talent in defensive end J.J. Watt, receiver A.J. Green and center Rodney Hudson.

Smart money says injuries or disappointing play derail one of these teams, but looking at the NFC, who are the better bets? The East will send its winner but who else? The same is true of the South. Maybe the North provides the Packers and Minnesota Vikings? Possible, but certainly any Western team would have a shot to usurp Minnesota on paper.

One thing is certain; whoever wins the West will earn it.