Free agency is winding down, and Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers are still out there …
• If you’re surprised at all at Roger Goodell getting another extension—his fourth since becoming commissioner in 2006—don’t be. To understand what the owners want from him is to understand what the league has wanted from him since appointing him 17 years ago.
When Pete Rozelle was hired in the 1960s, the league needed to raise its profile and popularity, so it hired a PR guy. When Paul Tagliabue was tabbed in ’98, the league was coming off two strikes, so the owners wanted a lawyer. And by the time Tagliabue was ready to walk away nearly two decades laters, the makeup of the body of owners had changed—you had more of the uber-wealthy owners, who were focused on generating revenue.
That had always been Goodell’s specialty, as he rose through the ranks to become the NFL’s COO, and that was his task (to take revenues, specifically, to $25 billion) when he was put in charge as commissioner. And it’s something that, for all his faults, Goodell’s been inarguably exceptional at doing over the last 17 years, in adding revenue-drivers like the Los Angeles teams, Thursday Night Football, London, and an expanded playoff field, among other things.
And it really is that simple. When it comes to what really matters to the owners, Goodell is giving them exactly what they want.
• We’re now five weeks and three days away from the NFL draft. The closer we get, and the longer Jackson remains unsigned, the more relevant that becomes.
Jackson has until July 15 to sign a long-term deal with the Ravens, but there are no such constraints that’d keep him from signing an offer sheet with another team until well into the season. And with OTAs (which are really the first football practices for every team) not starting until mid-May, Jackson has very real flexibility to wait until after the draft.
The reason he’d do that, on paper, would be to see if the market opens up then. At this point, the quarterback landscape is what it is until April. After the draft, on the other hand, teams could be looking for a quarterback after striking out on getting one out of the college ranks. And then, the picks they’d be potentially moving, if the Ravens didn’t send an offer sheet to Jackson, would be 2024 and ’25 first-rounders, rather than ’23 and ’24 picks.
So if you’re, say, the Colts, and you’re worried that you won’t be wild about the quarterbacks that fall to you at No. 4, but you never wanted to give up the fourth pick to get Jackson in the first place, then he could give you a valuable backstop in early May, at a point where the pin will be pulled on the fourth pick and you’d be sending the next two year’s first-rounders instead.
Something, of course, could happen at any time with Jackson. But if you’re looking for the next checkpoint in this saga, the draft would be it.
• I don’t think the Commanders will have a buyer to present to the league next week at the annual meeting. It could happen if things accelerate this week, but that seems unlikely.
That doesn’t mean it’s not coming though. The likelihood at this point is there will be news on the Commanders ownership front at the NFL’s spring meeting in Minneapolis in May. And all signs inside team headquarters point to the transition being well underway.
Dan Snyder’s office was cleaned out months ago, and he and wife Tanya Snyder took stuff out of storage too, well in advance of the tours that prospective buyers got of the team’s practice facility in Ashburn, Va. The football folks haven’t seen Dan Snyder in months (his last appearance at the facility was believed to be for a team picture early in the season), with President Jason Wright, head coach Ron Rivera, GM Martin Mayhew and EVP of Football/Player Personnel Marty Hurney shielding their staffs from the sales process.
Tanya Snyder’s popped in and been a little more present, while Wright has served as a proxy for ownership in a lot of ways, similar to how Packers president Mark Murphy plays the role of owner for an owner-less team. The way to look at this—as I see it, from a 30,000-foot view—is the coast has been cleared for the new owner to slide right in.
As for who it’ll be, I’m not sure that’s been fully determined yet, but one of the Broncos runners-up, billionaire investor Josh Harris, who owns the NBA’s 76ers and NHL’s Devils, has been a name to watch throughout. Harris grew up in Chevy Chase, Md., went to high school in D.C., has a group loaded with D.C. ties bidding and is well-liked by NFL owners.
Again, it’s not over. It seems, though, like we’re building to a conclusion here, and maybe even one that could deliver the franchise back to the district, in a stadium at the RFK Stadium site.
• I think people might be missing the point in how the Broncos are doing business right now. My understanding is Denver’s real focus isn’t on moving veterans off the roster, it’s on accumulating more draft capital. That makes sense because of how the Russell Wilson trade, as well as the move for Sean Payton, affected their warchest of picks.
As it stands now, the Broncos have six picks in the draft. Two are in the third round (back-to-back, at 67 and 68), with the other four (108, 140, 194, 247) on Day 3 of the draft. The receivers have been raised plenty over the last few weeks, and that’s because, with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler on hand, Denver is one place that might have both players with trade value and a surplus.
Now, Payton and George Paton aren’t going to give those guys away. But if you’re another team, and you call, you won’t get hung up on. The fact that new Panthers receiver Adam Thielen said that Denver was interested in him on the Pat McAfee Show Monday shows the Broncos are trying to stay loose at that position.
• Speaking of Thielen, he should be a good resource for a young quarterback to have in his huddle, and the Panthers, of course, will put one there for him at the end of April.
It’s also interesting that Thielen saw a team in Carolina capable of competing for a title, when compared with the Broncos and Cowboys. Truth is, it’s really not that far-fetched either. Carolina is really good on both lines of scrimmage, has a core of ascending young stars (Ickey Ekwonu, Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn) and feels strongly that it is a quarterback away coming into this offseason.
That said quarterback will be a rookie could delay things a bit, of course. But we’ve seen it happen recently (2017 Eagles, 2018 Rams) where a well-supported young signal-caller, who has sturdy infrastructure around him, can succeed on big stages quickly in the NFL. Which means all that’s left is for Scott Fitterer and Frank Reich is to pick the right one.
• As new Titans GM Ran Carthon works his way through the offseason, it’s pretty clear that the plan, for Tennessee, was to use this year to push the reset button. Its dead-money total (money accounted for on the cap from players no longer on the roster) is approaching $40 million, and that could continue to rise.
But I don’t think this is any sort of waving of the white flag on 2023. The idea, as I see it, is to try and make the roster competitive while the cap clean-out is conducted. And Carthon drew on his old connections to do it, in getting OL Daniel Brunskill, DE Arden Key and LB Azeez Al-Shaair from San Francisco (all guys the Niners held in high regard) at affordable rates to replace Nate Davis, Bud Dupree and David Long Jr. on the roster.
The idea, as I see it, is to be in a much cleaner spot going into 2024, when a new quarterback could be in place too.
• Speaking of the Niners, with Jimmy Garoppolo now gone, and the quarterback room populated by Brock Purdy, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, the team’s cap spend at the position in 2023 is sitting at right around $14 million. Having the right one in December, January and, they hope, February is still the most important thing. But if you want to know how they can afford to sign Javon Hargrave, it’s right there.
The next challenge will be getting an extension done with Nick Bosa, who should be asking for something north of $30 million per year.
• The Raiders brought in former first-round tight end O.J. Howard on Monday, and it’s easy to look at him and think that’s their Darren Waller replacement.
Two things on that. One, Waller only had 28 catches last year. Two, if where Howard was last year in Houston is any indication, this signing should be seen strictly as Las Vegas taking a flyer on a guy who’s getting to his final shots to stay in the league.
So here’s the smarter way to look at it: Because of injuries, Waller never wound up being the weapon the Raiders hoped he’d be last year, and Jakobi Meyers, as an inside receiver, should help create some of the production that Vegas never wound up getting. What the Raiders get from Howard, after that, should be viewed as a bonus.
• Trent Sherfield is not going to be a superstar for the Bills, but the coaches in Miami and San Francisco raved about him the last couple years, saying they wanted to find ways to get him more involved—which is why Mike McDaniel brought him from the Niners to the Dolphins. That’s a good, under-the-radar pickup for Buffalo, and a guy Miami only let go because they have a pretty well-paid receiver room already.
• Big week for quarterback pro days, with Ohio State (CJ Stroud), Alabama (Bryce Young) and Kentucky (Will Levis) going back-to-back-to-back.