Tony Romo and the quarterback dominoes that are about to fall
Welcome to the 2017 offseason. We’re 15 days after the Super Bowl, so there’s been enough time to put the game, great as it was, in the rear-view mirror. We’re 10 days out from the start of the combine. So let’s take a morning to set the table for the event of this off-season: the re-setting of the quarterback market in the NFL.
The future of Tony Romo is the most compelling story of all. He’ll be 37 in April. He’s missed 27 of his last 32 games due to injury, and by the time he’d suit up for anyone next September (if he does, and we’ll get to that), Romo will have played one series of football in 21 months. Of course the question is: How do you count on Romo at all? But some team will, and rightfully so, because it’s a good gamble. It’s not a good gamble for a lot of guaranteed money, but Romo shouldn’t care about money at this stage. He should care about the opportunity he’s always wanted — to take a team deep into the playoffs, which he may well have done last year but for the Cliff Avril hit/awkward fall in the preseason game at Seattle that kayoed Romo with another back injury for all but one offensive series of 2016.
Let’s line up the pool of players, and the needy teams, and try to forecast who’s going where — or at least give you a best guess.
Vet likely to be franchised
Kirk Cousins, Washington
I am stunned Washington GM Scot McCloughan could pay Cousins the whopper franchise number of $24 million a year, particularly when there’s a sense the franchise likes him a lot but isn’t sold on him. But what’s the alternative? If Washington doesn’t franchise him, San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan steals him. The Niners still could steal Cousins after being franchised — and after the draft — by signing him and hoping Washington doesn’t match but rather takes the 49ers’ first-round picks in 2018 and 2019. (If not franchised and signed before the draft, Cousins would fetch a team’s 2017 and 2018 first-rounders, trouble because San Francisco owns the second overall pick in April.) Washington blanches at the thought of paying Cousins $44 million over 2016 and 2017, but it’s more likely than not to happen. The alternative, losing Cousins and not having a remotely sure thing in the wings, is worse.
Vets who could be available or are free agents
Jimmy Garoppolo, New England
Tony Romo, Dallas
A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati
Jay Cutler, Chicago
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay
Brian Hoyer, Chicago
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets
Nick Foles, Kansas City
The Garoppolo story will be fun to see play out, and I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see the Patriots trading him. He’s the first legit heir to Tom Brady that the franchise has had. Brady’s going to be 40 in August. Bill Belichick has never been a slave to high picks. I just think he’d rather have the insurance of Garoppolo with Brady in the saddle at 40. Cleveland and Chicago like Garoppolo, and I’d be surprised if Shanahan doesn’t … More about Romo later, but Houston and Kansas City look like the best landing spots for him, with a contract befitting an old quarterback with a long injury history … McCarron wants to play somewhere, and he knows that Andy Dalton (three starts missed in six seasons) isn’t giving up the chair. He could be an interesting fallback guy for, say, Chicago if the Bears flunk out on their two or three top choices … Cutler? I’m not going to be shocked if he ends up in Arizona … There’s a risk to everyone else, but Glennon could get paid somewhere. I would just remind those GMs on the Glennon trail to study the lesson of the last tall mostly benchwarmer to get irrationally paid. And see where Brock Osweiler is right now.
Top college prospects
Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
I’d hate to be in the seats of Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown in Cleveland, or Shanahan and rookie GM John Lynch in San Francisco, or GM Ryan Pace in Chicago. Trubisky started one year and looked good, but a one-year starter in college football, who had some clunkers in that season? Tough call … Kizer is more seasoned. Watson has been better in the biggest games. Mahomes might have the biggest upside. The combine’s going to be very interesting, because it’ll start the clock on the test of a huge-game player like Watson, with people in and out of the NFL putting him to the test to see exactly what he is, on and off the field.
And now for the teams who will be in the market for quarterbacks — either starters, or, in some case, for teams that might not need one now but will be in the market for one this off-season:
• Cleveland (1st, 12th picks in the first round). The Browns have to get a quarterback this off-season, and the quarterback can’t be an RG3-type placeholder or a Cody Kessler-shot-in-the-dark guess. I’m guessing the Browns inquire on Garoppolo and get rebuffed — unless they offer the 12th overall pick plus another high pick. At this stage, the Browns lead the league in high picks acquired, and it’s gotten them to the bottom of the league. Now it’s time to pay through the nose if there’s a quarterback Jackson loves. Then we come to the college guys. If Trubisky’s the guy, just take him first overall, as crazy as it sounds. But if Jackson is lukewarm on the top collegians, he likes McCarron a lot (he coached him as a Bengal rookie), and can fall back on him. He’ll just have to overpay, because Cincinnati owner Mike Brown does not want to trade him. The Browns have the 33rd, 51st and 65th picks to play with if McCarron’s their man.
• San Francisco (2nd pick in the first round). Too dangerous to predict. Shanahan’s been a head coach for 15 minutes and John Lynch a GM for 25. But I do feel it’s likely Shanahan will let Colin Kaepernick walk, do everything he can to try to figure a way to wrangle Cousins from Washington, and then, if that fails, study the college quarterbacks and find the one who fits his system the best. I’d just be guessing what the outcome is here.
• Chicago (3rd pick in the first round). This just looks like Trubisky or Kizer to me, or maybe Mahomes in the second round, or as a late-first-round tradeup. The Bears need to start over, as does Cutler.
• New York Jets (6th pick in the first round). There’s been zero positive buzz out of the Jets on last year’s newest heir to the Namath throne, Christian Hackenberg. He never came close to even getting in a game last season, as though the Jets were afraid to shatter the kid. I think the Jets would seriously consider Mike Glennon or Tyrod Taylor (if the Bills cut him loose, which could be an 11th-hour call). Cutler was new QB coach Jeremy Bates’ pupil in Chicago, and the two are close, but it sounds like the Jets don’t want to go with the dour Bear. Whatever the Jets do, they’re as far from identifying and training and winning with a quarterback of the future as they’ve been for years.
• Los Angeles Chargers (7th pick in first round). They need a down-the-road successor for 35-year-old Philip Rivers. There’s time, and they won’t do it in the first round. But if, say, Mahomes is around with the 38th overall pick in round two, and if GM Tom Telesco likes him a lot, don’t be surprised to see a Rivers heir go off the board.
• Buffalo (10th pick in the first round). Moot if the Bills hang onto Taylor, and there is a better chance they do than there was before, with new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in the house. As our Albert Breer astutely points out, Dennison was on the Ravens’ staff in 2014 and liked Taylor enough there to support the Broncos trying to sign him in 2015, when Dennison went to Denver as offensive coordinator.
• Arizona (13th pick in the first round). Name the counter-culture coach who likes to take shots on guys hated by lots of down-the-middle coaches and GMs, who is the biggest proponent of the deep ball of any coach in football, and who may need said deep ball thrower because his quarterback turns 38 this year. I think I just made a Bruce Arians-Jay Cutler marriage — and Arizona can wait till the Bears cut him and sign Cutler for two years and incentives. This doesn’t mean Arizona won’t aggressively scout college kids though.
• Washington (17th pick in the first round). Doubt it comes to this, but imagine the Niners hijack Cousins, and do it after the draft. That’s why Washington has to do its due diligence on the quarterbacks in this draft.
• Houston (25th pick in the first round).
• Kansas City (27th pick in the first round).
See what I did there? Space intentionally left blank. Neither team has to do anything major. The Texans have a great defense and are likely to play Tom Savage at quarterback in Week 1. The Chiefs have a very good defense and are likely to play Alex Smith at quarterback in Week 1.
That’s where Tony Romo comes into play. Some knowledge about Romo first. It’s likely he plays somewhere in 2017, and I say that because I know he had a chance to get at least one very good off-field job offer since the end of the regular season. He didn’t do it, because he still wants to play. He knows everyone thinks he’s a piece of fine china and will crack if dropped to the floor. There’s nothing he can do about that other than to play.
The Cowboys will do the right thing by Romo, who is closer than most players would be to Jerry Jones. Romo helped coach COO Stephen Jones’ son, John Stephen Jones, who led his Dallas high school to a state championship last fall. Romo was at the game, sitting with the Jones family. Jerry Jones knows Romo wants one more shot at playing, and though the cap implications are onerous, those close to the Cowboys believe in the end he’ll likely do what Romo wants. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has stressed, that’s likely a release. No one’s trading for that contract, and if they would, they wouldn’t give much except a future conditional pick anyway.
Given his druthers, Houston coach Bill O’Brien would likely rather have Garoppolo, a long-termer with a grounding in the tough, Patriot Way coaching he’d get under O’Brien. And the buzz around the team is that Savage will have every opportunity to win the job. The 2017 season will be O’Brien’s fourth. He’s made the playoff twice in three seasons, with Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler his forgettable quarterbacks, and O’Brien knows this is a vital year for him and for his program. With Romo, O’Brien would have the veteran winner he’s longed for — and a coachable veteran winner. And if Romo got hurt, he’d have Savage. Seeing that he’s thought all along Savage would probably be his guy this year, why not upgrade there?
In Kansas City, Andy Reid has seen the ceiling of Alex Smith, and it is nice. Nice, as in final eight of the NFL … not as in final two. Reid has never minded upsetting the apple cart for a potentially special player. Romo would be that. Smith is mature enough to take this, to understand the addition of Romo would be good for the team. Smith wouldn’t pout. He’d be a team guy. That’s why the Chiefs make sense too.
Romo’s druthers, I think, would be to stay in Texas. Houston’s a 40-minute private-plane ride. Kansas City’s double that. Romo’s got his third child on the way and loves the Dad life. Houston, being significantly closer, makes more sense — and that’s even before considering the Texans’ defense and skill players are very good. And considering that J.J. Watt’s return in 2017 might make the defense untouchable, though Watt’s health makes that impossible to predict. Then again, Romo’s health is impossible to predict. But I’ve said this since the end of the season: Houston makes the most sense for Romo. Now smart football people, and a quarterback determined to have his one last hurrah in a place where he knows he can win, have to make that happen.
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Quotes of the Week
“By the way, the most talented quarterback in the draft is probably Chad Kelly, but he has a ton of baggage.”
—Former GM Bill Polian, on the Ole Miss quarterback, on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” radio show.
“For $20, you can tour the stadium where the Raiders play. For $50, you don’t have to go on the tour.”
—Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
“Man, you’ve just got to be patient … It’s difficult because you’ve only got five slots per year. And so it’s difficult to say: ‘How do you cram all these players that are deserving to be in the Hall of Fame into that small slot?’ “
—2017 Hall of Fame enshrinee Terrell Davis, asked by the Talk of Fame Network what advice he would have for Terrell Owens.
“There isn’t a day that I don’t think about it. There’s no doubt we have to identify a franchise quarterback.”
—GM Steve Keim of the Cardinals, to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
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Stat of the Week
I don’t think dropped passes should eliminate Terrell Owens from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As I’ve said, I believe he belongs. But dropped passes should be a part of the discussion. Not a major part, to be sure.
Hall of Fame voter Ron Borges of the Boston Herald did a widely derided column (way too widely derided for my money) on Owens’ history of drops and not getting in the Hall in two tries. Michael David Smith did a story at Pro Football Talk Saturday deconstructing Owens’ career drops, and he had a lot of them, according to Stats Inc.
I went back to the last three very good seasons Owens had, 2006-08, in Dallas — his last three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the NFL. They were also the first three years Pro Football Focus dissected the play of every player in the league, and recorded drops for pass receivers. (Drops are not an official NFL stat, and therefore can be subject to the game-dissector’s opinion of what a drop is. So do not take these numbers as gospel.)
I compared Owens’ cumulative catches and drops over the three seasons of 2006, 2007 and 2008 to the dominant pass-catchers of those three seasons. For a line of demarcation, I used 250 catches over those three years; eight wideouts or tight ends had 250 or more. The list, per dropped-pass stats kept by Pro Football Focus, with an assist to that cool tool at Pro Football Reference that allows you to make lists for almost any statistic the NFL keeps (in this case, most receptions between 2006 and 2008):
|Player||Rec.||Drops||% of Drops Per Catch|
|1. T.J. Houshmandzadeh||294||18||6.1%|
|2. Wes Welker||290||19||6.6%|
|3. Andre Johnson||278||22||7.9%|
|4. Reggie Wayne||272||21||7.7%|
|5. Tony Gonzalez (TE)||268||12||4.5%|
|6. Larry Fitzgerald||265||12||4.5%|
|7. Derrick Mason||251||12||4.8%|
|8. Torry Holt||250||15||6.0%|
Now for Owens:
|Player||Rec.||Drops||% of Drops Per Catch|
Over these three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, Owens dropped balls at more than twice the rate of the eight most productive pass-catchers in the NFL. (Stats Inc. had Owens with 37 drops over these three seasons.) When considering a player for the Hall of Fame, that matters.
It is also fair to note that Owens, in a three-year run between 1997 and 1999, had only 15 drops according to Stats Inc., while making 187 catches, in Stats Inc. numbers cited by Smith. Between 1997 and 1999, Owens was targeted 305 times. In 2006 through 2008, he was targeted 431 times. So there’s more potential for drops when quarterbacks throw the ball your way 9.2 times per game (2006-’08) than if they throw it to you 6.5 times per games, as in 1997 through ’99. Still, he clearly got worse as his career went on in holding onto the ball.
Again: This shouldn’t keep Owens out of Canton, in my opinion. I have voted for him, and will vote for him in the future. Drop stats, in perspective, are telling but certainly not an exclamation point. A player’s career is a big canvas, and for a receiver, drops comprise a few swipes of a broad brush. But to say drops shouldn’t go into the hopper for some consideration strikes me as Trumpian.
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Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Julius Thomas is an interesting prospect, and worth the risk for Miami if this trade pans out. But in his one breakout year in Denver, 2013, he had 52 more receiving yards and three more touchdowns than he had in his two Jacksonville season combined.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
One of the best days I’ve had in a while happened Saturday in San Francisco:
For those who preach the gospel of San Francisco, I’m with you.
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Tweets of the Week
The Giants been making some interesting moves.— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) February 16, 2017
What does one do, when there is nothing to do ?— jake butt (@JBooty_88) February 18, 2017
Here’s Canadian Mounties greeting refugees from Somalia who walked across the border into Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS photo by Paul Chiasson pic.twitter.com/CBAiKxHSSd— The Canadian Press (@CdnPress) February 17, 2017
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From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversation: a special two-part talk with Tom Brady.
You don’t feel any different in the fourth quarter of these two games then?
“Well, it’s tricky. It’s hard to say. Because I feel like I approach every practice and every game the same way. I always feel like I’m the same. Sometimes the stats don’t show that but that’s how I feel. We’ll come in from practice, we had an average practice, and I’m like why was that an average practice? It’s one play here, it’s one play there. Maybe it’s not so much about execution of 81 percent versus 62 percent or 64 percent. It’s, what was your mental approach in that time? I felt the same in both of those games. I felt like I just go out there and do my job.”
• Brady on his lost/stolen/misplaced game jersey: “I don’t know, it was just … I put it in my bag, and went to the bathroom, took my eye black off, came back out and it was gone. So, a lot of players, you know you take your jersey off and you just don’t know what happens. Well that one I wanted to keep because I was like, this is going to be a cool one! Sometimes things just go and they end up somewhere in the Patriot Hall of Fame and you don’t know it, or people have said things like, I saw your such and such in the Canton [Pro Football] Hall of Fame, and I’m like, ‘What? How did they get that?’ You just lose track because there are so many things happening, but I knew I wanted to keep that jersey. But someone got to it. It is what it is. It’s a jersey.”
Coming up Wednesday on the next podcast: Conversations with ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg and FOX officiating czar Mike Pereira.
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is one leftover from the Super Bowl, when I ran into Tim Tebow, that rings interesting today, as Tebow continues on his longest-shot quest to find a home with the New York Mets. I asked Tebow about the difficulties of hitting the curveball in the Arizona Fall League. Yes, he acknowledged, that was difficult. But something was harder. “The changeup,” he said.
2. I think Darrelle Revis has given the Jets the easiest out of a big contract and a big headache of this off-season. But I would be very careful about passing judgment on the guilt or innocence of Revis, who has never sniffed trouble like this before. Revis surrendered Friday to Pittsburgh police on charges of felony assault and robbery, stemming from a street altercation last weekend. Late Sunday, TMZ released video of the aftermath of the incident which shows the two victims knocked out. Revis does not appear in the video.
3. I think Adrian Peterson has more left than Emmitt Smith had when Smith left Dallas to play two final seasons in Arizona. Smith was 34 entering the Arizona phase of his life. Peterson will be 32 when he takes the field, somewhere, for the 2017 season; he’s well-preserved, having played just 20 games in the past three years, but he also just had a year with 37 carries for 1.9 yards per rush. The Vikings are going to have a tough time getting him to take a pay cut. But buyer beware. I like Peterson — a lot. But I’m not crazy about paying big money to a back who just missed 13 games at 31 with a knee injury.
4. I think it’s that time of year, when visits by a free-agent defensive tackle (Earl Mitchell) made headlines in three different NFL markets Friday and Saturday. Mitchell turns 30 in September. He weighs 310. He is, at best, a rotational defensive tackle. So tread cautiously when you see a headline about this valuable tackle on the street that your team might steal before unrestricted free-agency begins. Not to be down on Mitchell at all. But the man averaged 19 plays a game last year. Set your expectations wisely, as you should for every free agent on the street before the free market opens March 9.
5. I think there was no need to move the combine back one week (workouts will be March 3-6 now, in Indianapolis), and it flies in the face of the NFL’s attempt to make the NFL a 24/7/365 venture. The league used to have eight or nine days between the combine and unrestricted free agency, a time the media would digest the combine and start to puff up free agency. Now free agency will start, essentially, immediately after the combine, seeing that agents and teams all but make deals prior to the start of free agency (on Thursday, March 9, this year). Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
6. I think, just as I didn’t like Miami’s addition of pass-rusher Mario Williams (who isn’t passionate enough about football) last year, I love the re-commitment of the Dolphins to pass-rusher Cameron Wake (who is mega-passionate about football). They signed Wake, 35, to a contract extension that guarantees him $9 million in the next two years and a total of $18 million over that same time. Wake proved he still has disruptive burst in 2016, getting 11.5 sacks coming off Achilles surgery. It’s more than that; Miami coach Adam Gase learned last season that whatever Wake has to give, he’s going to give it every day.
7. I think if you let Tony Romo go, Jerry Jones, you’ll have a few backup options, to be sure. The one call I’d absolutely, positively make would be to Josh McCown. Make him your number three, de-activate him most weeks (if not all), and watch him help Dak Prescott get better, and watch him do it without a shred of ego.
8. I think if I were Matt Schaub, I’d realize the place I’m in is a pretty good one. Schaub’s an unrestricted free agent, and if he chose to go to San Francisco, he might be able to start for a year or two (at least that could be the plan) while helping groom Kyle Shanahan’s long-term quarterback for the 49ers. All sounds good on paper, but remember a few things:
• Schaub’s 35.
• The last time he was a credible starter, for Houston, was five years ago.
• Since then, Schaub has started 10 games and has shown he’s come down with a bit of the yips (3-7 as a starter, 13 touchdowns, 20 picks) while playing for four teams in four years.
• The Niners’ line is leaky, and Schaub can’t get out of his own way.
Some would see not going with Shanahan as an acceptance of the career rocking chair for Schaub. I wouldn’t. Getting paid $2.5 million to back up a really good quarterback on a playoff team is not exactly hard time. There’s something empowering about knowing what you are.
9. I think this Michael Gehlken story from the San Diego Union Tribune, about the right priorities in life for longtime Chargers PR man Bill Johnston, is really worth your time.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Terrific reporting by Vahe Gregorian and Maria Torres of the Kansas City Star on the sad end of life and the death of a looming superstar, Yordano Ventura of the Royals.
b. Goes without saying that the Ventura story is a cautionary tale not just for young Latin ballplayers, but for young athletes of all nationalities: When you get far too much far too soon in life, you’d better have some maturity to deal with it. And in this story, clearly, Ventura couldn’t handle everything thrown at him at a young age. Heck, it’d be tough for the most mature of young athletes.
c. Liz Merrill of ESPN had it right on this story: gripping.
d. The lead of the Washington Post’s story about the Donald Trump appearance in Florida on Friday should scare every person in the United States. “President Trump further escalated his attacks on the news media Friday afternoon when he Tweeted that outlets such as the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN are not his enemy but ‘the enemy of the American people.’”
e. As John McCain—you know, the senator and former POW who wasn’t a hero because he got caught—said to Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press” Sunday (via The Hill), that’s how a dictator works, by discrediting and attacking the press.
f. I’ve never seen a person in public life—or anywhere in life, honestly—to whom facts matter less.
g. I saw “Lion” on Friday night. Really good. Dev Patel was so convincing as a smart twenty-something who simply had to find his way home to a village in India that he left in a bizarre, fluky occurrence as a child. Won’t tell you the ending, but you will need Kleenex.
h. I’d be a bad film critic. I like most of the films I see.
i. Coffeenerdness: Had an excellent coffee in San Francisco: Sightglass. Distinctive, strong espresso in a creamy latte. I’ll be back.
j. Beernerdness: Never one to shy away from an ale or witbier with a dash of fruit, I tried the Sierra Nevada Sidecar Orange Pale Ale. Many of these beers overpower with orange or raspberry or whatever, but this one was just right. Very nice beer.
k. Kyrie Irving says he believes the earth is flat, and the internet explodes. I get reporting it, but do we really have to stop the presses every time a prominent player says something that’s false?
l. Adam Schefter! You basketball reporter you!
m. Very happy to see spring training up and running. I do have one leftover question from last fall: Why did Buck keep Britton in his hip pocket in the last game of the season at Toronto?
n. Happy trails, Big Papi.
o. Finally, one last thank you to two members of The MMQB staff, Kalyn Kahler and Emily Kaplan. Last week, I spent time with Tom Brady in Montana for the two-part series, plus two-part podcast, on Brady. And I knew I was going to be severely pressed for time. I recorded the 70-minute-plus interview and asked Kahler and Kaplan to transcribe in pieces while I rushed to write a cogent part one on the Super Bowl. I got the recordings to them by about 7:30 pm ET. They had the full conversation transcribed and filed to me by 10 p.m. ET, and I was able to file in pieces to editor Dom Bonvissuto, finishing by 4:30 a.m. ET. That’s teamwork. I’m thankful to all of them for their help. It was a team that got that Brady story done in time for all of you to take in by the time you woke up Monday morning.
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The Adieu Haiku
NFL dead time.
Breaking news: The league’s not meant
to be awake now.
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