Well before the draft – and even free agency – the NFL has already provided a fascinating slate of personnel moves to ponder. We’re taking a look at some winners and losers from this already-eventful NFL offseason.
The franchise tag deadline has come and gone, and free agency is still a few days away. However, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with the NFL will tell you this league never sleeps. What theoretically should be a quiet post-Super Bowl, post-tag, pre-free agency/pre-draft window we’ve seen a deluge of significant transactions that could (probably will) prove to be some of the defining moves of the 2022 season.
Green Bay Packers (winners)
One of these days, life for the Packers is going to get a bit more complicated. On that day, for the first time in about 30 years, the Pack will be less than 100% certain that they’ve got a franchise quarterback at the helm.
A year ago, by drafting of Jordan Love in the first round of the draft, the franchise dipped its toe in those waters. That they did so while unprepared to move on from Rodgers was a mistake. That Rodgers was upset at them for trying to draft his replacement rather than getting him reinforcements was predictable and understandable.
Based on a minuscule sample, Jordan Love is very much not ready to take over an NFL offense, let alone seamlessly take center stage after three decades of Rodgers and Brett Favre.
The salary cap is going to turn into a nightmare soon, and that chilling question of who to line up under center will soon be all too real. In the meantime, the Packers should just enjoy what they’ve got and not jump the gun on a rebuild.
Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst (qualified winner)
I’m certainly not going to call Gutekunst a loser in all of this. After all, regardless of how this plays out, he’s not ‘the guy who got rid of Aaron Rodgers’. That, in and of itself, is a win – doubly so, given the quarterback he just drafted in the first round doesn’t look ready for primetime. Gutekunst still get to build around a two-time reigning MVP tossing the ball to one of the league’s five best receivers.
It should be said that this victory comes with caveats. It’s almost cliché now, but… in a decade-and-a-half in Green Bay, Rodgers has led the Packers to just two Super Bowl appearances, and just one win. As great as he and the Pack are in the regular season, year in and year out, that they’re unable to get over the final hurdles in the postseason.
Looking down the line a couple of years, if the Packers aren’t able to win another Super Bowl – or, at the very least, reach one – with Rodgers, Gutekunst (and possibly a fan or two) may begin to wonder if, once upon a time, cashing in on a trade and bringing back a massive trove of assets might have been the move. That, however, is a question for another day. Tomorrow, Gutekunst gets to wake up and still not be ‘the guy who got rid of Aaron Rodgers’.
Jordan Love (winner)
This one’s pretty simple. Under the best of circumstances, it’s never ideal to be the guy who replaces THE GUY. It’s an even more daunting proposition when THE GUY pretty seamlessly actually replaced THE GUY that came before him.
When Love was drafted in the first round, he was neither seen as a consensus first-rounder nor a nailed-on NFL-caliber talent. That Rodgers was around provided him some cover from prying eyes was fortuitous. During Rogers brief hiatus from the lineup in 2021, we got a glimpse of Love in the NFL. While unfair to judge a young quarterback who’s not practicing with the first team on a short-notice start, nothing suggested that Love is ready to etch his name alongside those of Farve, Starr and Rogers.
Rogers’ return once again provides Love with the luxury of not yet having to be the Packers’ latest ‘guy after THE GUY’.
Aaron Rodgers (winner)
I’m not sure if there was a scenario in which Aaron Rodgers could lose here. That, I suppose, is the nature of life for a franchise quarterback coming off of his fourth MVP season.
Rodgers showed during the 2021 season that he’s still very much got it, and can still elevate a team to the top of the league. He’s now gets to do it again (on a four-year, $200 million contract extension, which is a whole other level of winning) with the most talented receiver he’s ever had back in tow.
Davante Adams (winner)
Like Rodgers, Adams didn’t really have a scenario in which he’d ‘lose’.
Well, I suppose if the Packers had applied the franchise tag to him, forcing him to stick around in Green Bay (on an admittedly nice $20.4 million salary) but then dealt away Rodgers, forcing Adams into a lost season trying to teach Jordan Love the ropes, that wouldn’t have been the best.
That, however, is not what’s come to pass. Sure, Adams will still be playing under the franchise tag, but with another crack at putting up massive numbers alongside Rodgers, and then hitting the open market for a gigantic payday. That is, of course, unless negotiations with the Packers in the meantime yield… a gigantic payday.
Like I said, not a lot of downsides here.
Denver Broncos (winners)
This one’s pretty simple: the Broncos have a solid-to-excellent roster outside of the quarterback position. After several years on the carousel of QB mediocrity, they’ve added a bona fide star signal-caller. That’s as straightforward a win as there is!
The hope here, of course, is the Russell is Peyton Manning 2.0 – a standout veteran talent who lifts up an excellent roster, but also inspires that roster to become more than the sum of its already-considerable parts.
The price paid to acquire Wilson certain was a steep one (2 first-rounders, 2 second-rounders, a fifth-rounder, QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant, DL Shelby Harris). However, given both the value of a franchise quarterback and the need to maximize an excellent roster when you’ve got one, it’s a risk worth taking every time.
Seattle Seahawks (not losers?)
I’m probably not as negative on this move for the Seahawks as most. After all, all of that draft capital (again, 2 firsts, 2 seconds, and a fifth) a solid defensive lineman and a productive young tight end is not a bad haul for a quarterback whose relationships with the coaching staff and front office had deteriorated.
The Seahawks might have chosen to run this thing back, made one more run at the playoffs, and then traded Wilson with a year left on his contract. That being said, it’s tough to imagine that ‘last dance’ season would have yielded a ton of success, so maybe it’s best to just rip the band-aid off. That being said, we should also acknowledge just how harsh the forthcoming slap of ‘we’ve got no QB!’ reality is likely to be.
Russell Wilson (winner)
Whether the match between Wilson and the Denver Broncos is one made in heaven or not remains to be seen. What is clear is that Wilson’s relationship with the Seahawks had grown stale, and there was little to be done to dramatically change that.
It’s now up to him, Nathaniel Hackett and the rest of a talented Broncos roster to make the most of this opportunity. Jumping from probably the second toughest division in the NFL to its toughest (where he’s probably the third-best QB) is less than ideal, but this guy, surrounded by excellent skill position talent, supported by a potentially outstanding defense (that may even have Von Miller back!), behind a better offensive line that he had in Seattle (a low bar, but still) makes the Broncos a legitimate player in the AFC West.
Drew Lock (loser)
If Drew Lock weren’t a quarterback, I almost certainly would not have included him here. I sincerely mean no offense by this.
The thing is, though, Lock is not an NFL-caliber quarterback – he’s not ‘good’, not ‘starter- level’, not even really ‘competent’. Maybe the Seahawks return to a run-heavy scheme that masks his shortcomings and find something, but lining this guy up behind a lesser offensive line than he had in Denver, with fewer playmakers around, is not a recipe for success.
Broncos receivers Jerry Jeudy, Cortland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler (winners)
I’m not going to waste your time here. If you make your living catching passes for a professional football team, working with Russell Wilson is markedly better than working with Drew Lock.
D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and Noah Fant* (lost – I’m not calling D.K. Metcalf a ‘loser’)
Of course, there is a flip side to that coin. If you make your living catching passes for a professional football team, the downgrade from Wilson to Lock is one that you’re definitely going to feel.
* Fant doesn’t fully belong in this category since he’s arriving from Denver alongside Lock, and has never played with Wilson. Spiritually, though, living the Drew Lock life for most of your first three years, then getting traded, only to have to continue with Lock, only now alongside guys who remember what life was like with Russell Wilson… that’s tough.
Colts and Colts’ GM Chris Ballard (qualified winners)
In the time since Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement, Ballard has done an excellent job, both through the draft and in free agency, of building a roster worthy of a contender that ‘just a quarterback away’. After years of questions about where he was looking for said QB, and whether he’d look to the draft or a trade, last offseason Ballard dealt what wound up being Indy’s first round pick to the Eagles, in exchange for #2 overall pick-turned MVP candidate-turned malcontent Carson Wentz.
Wentz, as he does, turned in a superficially competent campaign (3,563 yards, 27 TDs, just 7 interceptions) and nearly helped the Colts to the playoffs after a disastrous start to the season. However…
When all that stood between the Colts and the postseason was a victory over a Jacksonville Jaguars team that hadn’t had aspirations beyond ‘let’s just get to vacation uninjured’ for months, Wentz turned in an appalling performance that allowed the Colts to kick off their vacations as the Jags did theirs.
Given that heartbreak, and the high price of bringing Wentz in to begin with, that the Colts were able to recoup two third-round picks from Washington must be considered a victory. Ballard will have to wear the fact that his at-long-last big QB was a pricy flop, but he deserves a measure of credit for decisively cutting that loss, rather than misguidedly doubling down.
The only thing that keeps this from being an unqualified win for the Colts is the fact that their talented roster is now one year older and they are once again in pursuit of competence at quarterback.
Carson Wentz (loser)
If you’re on your third team in three years, and no one at either of your first two stops is particularly broken up over your departure, and the most memorable moment from the past four years of your career is an epic meltdown against literally the most beautiful team in the league with a playoff berth on the line, then things aren’t going great.
Washington Commanders (qualified winners)
What if the Denver Broncos… just not as good?
The newly-minted Washington Commanders boast a 1,000 yard rusher back in Antonio Gibson and a 1,000 yard receiver (with a higher ceiling than that, pending QB competency) in Terry McLaurin, in desperate need of a legitimate NFL quarterback.
Unfortunately, there’s mounting evidence that Wentz may not actually be that level of quarterback – and lining him up behind a lackluster offensive line that allowed 43 sacks a season ago certainly isn’t going to turn him into one.
Defensively, though Washington is once again loaded, with Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Landon Collins. leading the way. This unit gets a do-over after an inexplicably awful 2021 season. If they can recapture their 2020 form, Wentz, warts and all, might be enough of an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke to get this team back to the playoffs.
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San Francisco 49ers (winners)
Sometimes just sitting tight pays off.
Whether the 49ers continue to sit tight with Jimmy Garoppolo remains to be seen. However, by allowing this first wave of quarterback shuffling to play out, the Niners are now sitting on the most attractive (I know, I know) available quarterback in a market where the alternatives are the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, Geno Smith, Joe Flacco and Mitch Trubisky. OOF.
The position from which the Niners are dealing could not be stronger.
On the flip side, if, as the offseason wears on, the Niners see that 2021’s #3 overall pick, Trey Lance, is still not ready to take the reins of the offense, they can start the season with competent-enough-to-be-annoying Garoppolo under center and either deal him before the in-season trade deadline, or ride out his contract.
Jimmy Garoppolo (winner)
Jimmy G’s either still the starting quarterback of the 49ers, with a Super Bowl-caliber roster around him, or, again, the most sought-after available quarterback remaining, and in line for a warm welcome wherever he lands. Either way, he’s either got unrestricted free agency or a hefty new contract extension awaiting him. Not too shabby.
Mike Williams, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers (winners)
This is an all-around feel-good story.
Williams clearly wanted to stay in L.A. He’s done exactly that, while earning himself a massive payday ($40 million of the three-year, $60 million deal is guaranteed, and $21 million came as a signing bonus), while retaining the ability to hit free agency again at age 30, for, potentially, one more big payday.
The Chargers, meanwhile, in what promises to be the NFL his most brutal division, locked up a vital piece, at an average cost ($20 million per season) roughly equivalent to this year’s franchise tag salary for wideouts. In re-signing Williams, the Chargers are doing right by not only one of their very best skill position players, but also their young franchise quarterback, Justin Herbert, with whom Williams has an excellent rapport. And they’ve still got the fifth-most salary cap space in the NFL ($42.3 million).