NFL free agency officially begins Thurday afternoon and we've solved nine of the biggest mysteries heading into the league's hot-stove season.
Where will Kirk Cousins play in 2017?
The "Kirk to San Francisco" bandwagon is quickly filling up, based mainly on the quagmire that is the Redskins, the Niners' desire to bring in Cousins for Kyle Shanahan's offense, the signing of Pierre Garçon (a Cousins favorite) and a shifting interpretation of who has how much leverage.
Despite the breathless reports of Wednesday, I'm not sure Cousins has as much leverage over Washington as might first appear. There was a scenario floating around this week that Cousins could wait to sign the franchise tender until a few days before the season, thus engaging in a game of chicken with the Redskins, who would either pay $24 million to a starting quarterback who didn't participate in any preseason prep, pay $24 million to a backup who was passed on the depth chart by Colt McCoy or watch Cousins sit out a season. Far easier, of course, would be simply trading Cousins away and starting over, again. That's all on the table, and it's not completely unrealistic, either. But there are two major problems with the theory: 1) It assumes Cousins, who is a shrewd player with a total self-belief in his own talent, would ever play the hold-out diva; and 2) It's just as much a game of chicken for the 49ers. Is San Francisco really going to put its entire quarterback situation on hold until Labor Day based on the chance that the Redskins -- the stubborn Dan Snyder Redskins -- will cut their losses by trading Cousins in a leverage-free situation? No shot.
In Back to the Future III, when Doc is showing Marty his model for how they're going to use the train as a time machine to get from 1885 to 1985, he points out a windmill adjacent to the tracks. Before reaching that windmill, Doc says, they can stop the speeding train safely before the tracks end. Go past the windmill and there's no way to stop the train, en route to 88 mph, in time before it'd plummet to the bottom of the ravine. The windmill is the point of no return. Every standoff has a windmill.
The 49ers windmill is coming. Yes, they're a complete disaster, a team on its third coach in three years. Kyle Shanahan will have a longer rope than Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly (which is to say he'll have a rope) but he's not about to throw away Year 1 based on a Kirk Cousins "if" scenario. The windmill arrives when the quarterback market starts to thin out in free agency. If San Francisco and Washington haven't come to an agreement before then, the Niners are going to have to bail and look for their 2017 QB elsewhere. That won't kill a trade for 2017, not at all, but it certainly makes San Francisco reconsider if simply waiting until 2018 is the best way to get Cousins (should it still want him).
Jerome MironJerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Assuming Cousins leaves, is the next Redskins "franchise" quarterback even born yet?
Kirk Cousins was born in 1988, three years after Washington's last good quarterback, Joe Theismann, broke his leg on Monday Night Football. By that metric, the Redskins' next good quarterback will be born around 2020 or 2021 and begin his career in 2042, just early enough where he'll still have the chance to play against Tom Brady.
What's been the most laughable rumor of the young free-agent season?
The three-way Cousins-for-Romo-for picks trade was the most inherently funny, but no one actually believed it. April Fool's Day jokes on Twitter have gotten more traction. That's why the award has to go to the report that the Pats weren't looking to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, based on many factors including that the team wasn't comfortable with Jacoby Brissett playing backup in 2017. This one had logical reasoning, a realistic bent and an interesting set of hypotheticals. Of course, the whole thing was nonsense. Jimmy Garoppolo is most definitely on the trade market. Those reports simply served as a warning (real or fake) that the Pats don't feel it necessary to trade Garoppolo if they don't get the right price.
Brian SpurlockBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Okay, so will Jimmy Garoppolo be with the Patriots in 2018?
So many "ifs" cloud this question. We went in-depth on this earlier in the month and found you could legitimately make good cases for any one of five scenarios playing out. What makes the most sense? It's the sequence that probably has the least chance of happening. If the Patriots think Garoppolo is the quarterback of the future, then they can't let him go. Nobody would be that stupid. Thus, the move that makes the most sense is getting rid of Tom Brady after this year. Sacrilege? I know. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Probably. But Brady will be 41 in 2018. How many starting quarterbacks age 41-plus have led a team to the playoffs? Zero. How many have led their teams to winning records? Zero. Okay, how many have won multiple games in a season? Six. There's no precedent for a QB to play well after 40. ("There's no precedent for a quarterback winning five Super Bowls either," says the aggrieved WEEI caller, which itself is a redundancy in terms, and it's a good point. Still, winning five is a career achievement. Playing well at 41 is a defiance of 80 years of history.) But if you think Brady still has three good years in him, what to do about Garoppolo? He can't sit around for three years, not when he's a free agent, someone who wants to see the field and will have to be tabbed with an unwieldy franchise tag as a backup. Still, I think something happens in 2017 that makes the Pats' decision easier, so let's go with yes.
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Should be the Browns even consider, for a fleeting moment, the idea of trading the No. 1 pick for Jimmy Garoppolo?
The Browns should be considering everything, from folding to fleeing to Baltimore to blowing everything up and hiring Robert Griffin III to be the first two-way player, coach and general manager in NFL history. But Garoppolo for a No. 1? Just pop on tape of Matt Cassel in a Pats uniform and then in a Chiefs uniform if there's ever any doubt. I think the fawning over draft picks and the idea of draft picks is an NFL oddity. They're great assets to have, but when the success rate for first-rounders is less than 50 percent and it's probably around 15 percent for second-rounders and beyond, what's the great pull? Yet NFL teams insist on playing the lottery, hoping that this time their No. 14 pick will bring Earl Thomas instead of Kyle Fuller. Though I wouldn't consider going No. 1 for Garoppolo, ask yourself this: Would you rather have Jared Goff, last year's No. 1 pick, or Garoppolo?
The value of the pick is only there if there's value to be had. That's why it wouldn't be crazy for the Eagles to part with the No. 14 pick for Brandin Cooks if they believe the 23-year-old speedster is a future All-Pro. At least he has a history of NFL success, whereas the player they may take at No. 14 had some good college games and a tremendous showing in the standing broad jump drill that proves so crucial in NFL life. But Garoppolo hasn't shown enough to prove he's a better pick than Myles Garrett. However, if Cleveland wanted to go QB, then moving down to trade for Garoppolo could be a reasonable move.
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What are the odds of the Cowboys trading Tony Romo?
About the same as the odds of the Cowboys trading Tony Dorsett.
Erich SchlegelErich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
Okay, so when the Cowboys release Tony Romo, which team has the best shot of signing him?
In order: 3) Broncos; 2) Denver; 1) Denver Broncos. Houston is a nice fantasy, but that Osweiler contract is an albatross, for now. And if Romo is in win-now mode, Denver is the only other team that makes sense -- provided it wants him.
Will Scot McCloughan be Redskins GM on May 1?
That question presupposes that Scot McCloughan is actually the Redskins GM today.
What's the most important thing to remember over the next two weeks?
Everything is a lie. Treat rumors the way they should be treated: with healthy skepticism. Though plenty will prove to be true, there's an ulterior motive behind every piece of information leaked before the draft. It's either a front-office member who wants leverage, an agent who wants the market to seem bigger than it is or Cleveland just trying to be cool by getting mentioned by people. Oh, one more thing: However badly you think the Washington Redskins can screw up things, they will exceed your wildest expectations by a factor of three.
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