If you guys remember going out to eat at restaurants, you’ve probably seen some variation of the game/challenge where everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table, and the first one that grabs theirs has to pick up the check. Urban Dictionary, which your faithful author needs because I am washed and Julian Edelman’s age, calls it the Phone Stack. The point, aside from scoring a free meal for just not checking Instagram likes for the maybe two hours you’re hanging out, is that you should be enjoying each other’s company, not sitting at a table with your friends and constantly checking everything that Bill Belichick would collectively refer to as InstaFace.
All this to say, it’s a good thing we weren’t playing that game on Saturday night when the bombshell news broke that the Lions and Rams were making the kind of deal that’d make even the ballsiest Settlers of Catan players blush. Cause we probably all had the same reaction, where we read the NFL app push alert and immediately thought “that can’t be right.....can it?”
That trade, whatever your opinion of it is, would seem to cross both Matt Stafford and Jared Goff off the list for the Patriots as they continue to search for The Guy at quarterback. And while the Patriots could theoretically move around the draft board to try and target one of the non-Trevor-Lawrence quarterbacks, a trade for an established NFL quarterback that’s either a disgruntled or unwanted starter from another team could eliminate a lot of the guesswork that the draft inherently entails.
There’s been a few hints this week, though, from people that’d know far better than we would, that all these trade-machine blockbusters for anyone from Carson Wentz to Aaron Rodgers to Jimmy Garoppolo are proooooobably not going to happen.
First up, here’s former Packers VP of Player Finance Andrew Brandt in his weekly column The Business of Football, where he predicts that everyone in these discussions, like Deshaun, Wentz, and all of them, will end up staying put. The whole article is definitely worth a read, but here’s the meat and potatoes:
"Stafford-Goff is just the start of the Quarterback Carousel!"— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) February 2, 2021
"Carson Wentz is definitely getting traded to the Colts!"
"Aaron Rodgers is done in Green Bay!"
"Deshaun Watson is definitely out in Houston!"
Someone has to be a voice of reason to slow down this fantasy football speculation train, and it may as well be me. Beyond the quarterback movement that just happened over the weekend, I don’t see much, if any, change. Let’s examine.
Mmmmkay. I’m listening.
The fact that the Lions had so many teams interested in Stafford is because, in my unpopular opinion, teams know that Stafford was and will be the only marquee quarterback on the trade market. I know it’s fun to speculate, “Well, if they can get that for Stafford, imagine what [fill in the blank] could fetch!” Well, my opinion is they got that for Stafford, because [fill in the blank] is not available.
Then Brandt gets into some specific players, almost all of whom could/should be an upgrade if New England were to acquire them, and why they’re probably not going anywhere. A lot of it is stuff you know already, like the part where Carson Wentz’s dead cap hit for the Eagles would be the equivalent of playing Call of Duty and throwing a grenade at your own feet:
......the Eagles were not going to trade Wentz due to the massive organizational investment in him and the $34 million in dead money that would be left behind (a different dead-money neighborhood than even Goff). Their investment in Wentz dwarfed the investment in the coaching staff, which was jettisoned. Instead of sending Wentz to the Colts, they brought the Colts to Wentz (in the form of new head coach and Reich protégé Nick Sirianni).
Moving on to the man, the myth, the Clemson legend that I said last week would be well worth the 3 first-rounders for the Patriots if that’s all it took:
The Texans may be bad communicators and curiously starstruck by an evangelist EVP of football operations, but they are not stupid enough to trade their best asset, no matter the return compensation. This does not even mention the reality of a dead-money hit that exceeds even that of Goff if they somehow traded Watson after paying him $30 million for one year of service. The surest way for the new general manager to become the old general manager is to trade away the most valuable person and player in the organization.
I know what you are saying: “But Andrew, Watson is serious. He’s furious and won’t play for them!” Deep breaths. It’s the beginning of February; the team doesn’t even gather for three months; there is not a meaningful snap in a game for eight months. What, exactly, is Watson’s leverage over the next six months: He’s going to boycott the team’s Zoom meetings? Will he have leverage if he still feels this way in September? Perhaps. But that is a long way away.
(Given that it’s the Texans, you could very well flip the argument about how there’s not a meaningful snap in a game for 8 months and say “imagine how much Houston could mess up in 8 months!”, but, we digress.)
You get the idea. Aaron Rodgers staying in Green Bay probably requires no explanation, even if the Packers drafted his ostensible replacement last year, and here’s one for the road on Tua Tagovailoa, who had a bit of a rough first season under head coach and Patriots alum Brian Flores:
Tua Tagovailoa: won’t go anywhere. The Dolphins made him the fifth pick in the draft nine months ago; they’re not pivoting now.
A couple days earlier, former agent Joel Corry also co-signed Brandt’s theory and threw some cold water on the idea of Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson getting traded, specifically:
You have company with Carson Wentz. I'm still skeptical about a Deshaun Watson trade. https://t.co/t59FAhBmHX— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) January 29, 2021
Nick Caserio's job isn't to trade Deshaun Watson just because he is disgruntled. It's to do what he feels is in the best interest of the Texans. I suspect Nick Caserio thinks that isn't a trade. https://t.co/TbcVXp29EJ— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) January 29, 2021
And Dak Prescott:
It's possible with a 2nd Dak Prescott franchise tag but only if he signs his tender 1st. Texans wanted to deal Jadeveon Clowney to the Dolphins when he was franchised but he refused to sign his tender for that trade. Prescott would essentially have veto power over any trade. https://t.co/Mk0VWPz0aj— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) January 30, 2021
And finally, on the Ringer NFL’s podcast The GM Shuffle, which features former NFL executive and Bill Belichick’s good buddy Mike Lombardi, Tuesday’s episode was also extremely skeptical about Deshaun Watson going anywhere:
“I truly don’t believe Deshaun Watson will be available, because I think that’s all — we’ve talked about it ad nauseam — that’s being controlled by the agent.”
On the previous episode last weekend, Lombardi also got into the idea that a GM, Nick Caserio or otherwise, has a decent chunk of leverage due to both the CBA terms and that a GM is going to approach the Watson situation from the perspective of, to put it succinctly, whatever problems are here need to be fixed, but Nick is not going to be strong-armed into taking less from another team like the Dolphins just because Deshaun wants to go there and has that no-trade clause. Which makes sense.
By now, you’re probably thinking that every QB we’ve touched on so far was a pipe dream at best, as far as the Patriots are concerned, and you’d be right. It also, however, takes most - if not all - of the established quarterbacks that would represent a significant upgrade above replacement-level out of the running for the next signal-caller in New England.
And with those options off the table — because we know Bill Belichick has zero issue swinging a blockbuster trade if he thinks it’ll vastly increase his team’s ceiling - we also know that Bill is allergic to paying a quarterback or anyone else above what he thinks their actual value on the football field is. If we’re being real about it, can we really see Belichick paying $20+ million for a quarterback that’s objectively mediocre, even if they’re slightly above average? The Jimmy G’s, Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylors, and Andy Daltons of the world?
Yeah. That’s what I thought.
That leaves the likely options for the Patriots as either veteran-on-the-back-nine-of-their-career guy, like AFC East journeyman sailor Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’d be available for relatively cheap, or the draft. And between the idea of one of the Big-Four quarterbacks suffering a precipitous fall to the range where the Patriots could snag ‘em, or New England spending a Day Two pick on another prospect as they often have in the past, the latter certainly seems more like Belichick’s style.
We’ve got plenty of time for draft hypotheticals between now and April, though. For right now, the idea of the 2021 offseason being a laser show of superstar quarterback sure seems like it was always a bit more ambitious/optimistic than real life.