AROUND THE NFL

Our playoff picks are 4-4 so far, 2-2 each week. 

 

For the championship games, we are going with the home teams San Francisco and Kansas City, the latter despite a lot of indicators in favor of the Titans including the regular season win.

– – –

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com gets his hands on an NFLPA letter that indicates the players are not ready to meekly acquiesce to the owners’ CBA proposal:

 

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have made progress on portions of a new collective bargaining agreement, though significant issues need to be resolved before one can be agreed upon. That was the message NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent to his union’s membership Thursday in a letter updating the state of talks.

 

ESPN obtained a copy of the letter, which explains that the owners are seeking an expansion of the regular season from 16 to 17 games with a reduced preseason and a possible expansion of the playoffs. The “major issues” on which agreement remains elusive include:

 

The percentage of revenue players would receive each year in salaries and benefits. Sources have told ESPN multiple times throughout this process that the players believe a significant increase in their share of the revenue is necessary if they’re to agree to an expanded season. The current CBA stipulates that the players’ share of revenue not fall below 47.5% in any given year, or over the life of the 10-year deal.

 

Minimum cash spending requirements for teams, or a so-called “salary floor” that would require teams to spend a greater percentage of their available salary cap.

 

The continuation and, ultimately, an increase of the NFL Legacy Fund, which benefits pre-1993 players through increased pensions.

 

Increases in individual player minimum salaries.

 

Removal of the “fully funded rule” that players view as an obstacle to negotiating fully guaranteed contracts. The rule states that any fully guaranteed money in a contract must be held in escrow at the time of signing. Players view this as an antiquated rule held over from less robust economic times when there was reason to worry about teams making their payrolls.

 

Rules governing contracts for first-round draft picks and restricted free agents.

 

An NFL-proposed liability waiver in contracts.

 

These are major issues, but the union stressed in its letter there is already agreement on many others, including benefits increases, reduced fines for on-field violations, reductions in the amount of contact permitted during training camp, increased minimum salaries and practice-squad benefits and “significant modifications to the drug and disciplinary policies.”

 

Sources familiar with the talks say a new deal could be completed quickly if agreement is reached on the top-line economic issue of the players’ share of revenue, but there has been little movement on that front since October. Those same sources say the expectation is that the new deal will be for 10 years, like the current one. The current CBA, signed in 2011, expires in March 2021.

 

If players and owners can resolve their differences to the point where the union feels it can recommend a proposed new CBA to its members, the deal would still have to be ratified by a majority of NFL players. There remains some hope that a deal could be reached in time for this year’s Super Bowl or the start of the 2020 league year, but more face-to-face owner/player negotiating sessions are necessary to make that happen, and none are scheduled.

 

The league sent a letter to the clubs Thursday evening after reports of the union memo surfaced in the media. The memo, according to a league source, stated in part: “A number of important issues remain to be resolved and we remain committed to the bargaining positions reviewed with you at the December meeting. We believe that the most constructive approach is not to negotiate publicly but to continue the discussions directly and privately with the union, with the active involvement of [executive committee] members and the supervision of the full committee.”

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

The last team to beat the Packers was the 49ers back in November.  Kimberley Martin of YahooSports.com:

 

The ultra-competitive Rodgers tried to find the silver lining in the aftermath of that embarrassing (Week 12, 37-8) defeat: “I still like our chances. I think we have the makeup to bounce back from these kind of things and put ourselves in a position to potentially come back here and play again.”

 

How prescient.

 

The Packers haven’t lost a game since that humbling flight home from the Bay Area. And now, six wins later, they’re aiming for a different outcome in Sunday’s rematch. So don’t expect Green Bay to manufacture only one touchdown drive this time.

 

“Obviously the plan wasn’t good enough,” said Packers receiver Davante Adams, who caught seven passes for only 43 yards in their previous meeting. “That’s not a knock on Matt or anybody. The execution obviously wasn’t good enough, too, so those go hand in hand. The plan, so far what I’ve seen, I really like. I think it’s a better way to attack this defense.”

 

LaFleur — one of five coaches in NFL history to win at least 13 games in his first season — hopes to have success this time against Shanahan, his brother Mike (the 49ers’ passing game coordinator) and his best friend Robert Saleh (San Francisco’s defensive coordinator).

 

“I think both teams have come a long way since then,” said LaFleur, who was Shanahan’s right-hand man in Houston, Washington and Atlanta. “ … There’s a lot of tape on them and we know what we have to do. It’s going to be a great challenge. They’re a great football team. They have been all year long, they’ve got great coaches and we’re just focused on our preparation and trying to be the best that we can be because we’re going to need it on Sunday.”

 

But there were plenty of doubts about the 49ers the last time these two teams met. The Packers were their first matchup in a three-game stretch that featured the league’s most dynamic quarterback (Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson) and a future Hall of Famer (Drew Brees). San Francisco was good, everyone knew, but could its quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo carry the Niners to victory if need be? Could their defense — and notably the defensive line — keep Rodgers off his game? Could the 49ers actually be Super Bowl contenders?

 

The answer, we know now, is yes.

 

Rodgers completed 20 of 33 passes for only 104 yards in Week 12 and was sacked five times by San Francisco’s ferocious defensive front. Nevertheless, in the wake of a resounding victory, Shanahan said the 49ers “were fortunate enough” to extend their lead over the Packers in the second half.

 

Earlier this week, Shanahan downplayed the outcome of their previous meeting, saying it had “zero relevance” to the here and now. His message to the team was simple, he said: “Don’t be that stupid” to think the past has any bearing on Sunday’s result.

 

The LaFleur-Rodgers marriage is flourishing and concerns over their coexistence have since subsided.

 

“There’s probably not anyone on the planet who throws better than him,” Shanahan said, while discussing what makes Rodgers great. “There might be a couple guys that you can compare with him, but his arm talent is just unbelievable, his athletic ability is unbelievable. He’s always been able to run around, extend plays, make throws from any angle and he’s a very intelligent guy who can get them in the right play and it’s hard to throw stuff at him that he’s not prepared for.”

 

And the Packers — a confident team that has grown comfortable being the underdogs — are expected to have left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who left the November game because of a knee injury, back on the field for the rematch. Meanwhile, a deep and talented 49ers roster returns three key starters who missed the Week 12 matchup: edge rusher Dee Ford, left tackle Joe Staley and linebacker Kwon Alexander. Despite being hampered by ankle soreness, tight end George Kittle is expected to play as well.

 

One might think all of the pressure resides in Green Bay and not The Bay. But the Packers share a different viewpoint.

 

“If you look at this game, they’re favored by 7.5, so they’re expected to hold court and win,” Rodgers said. “People know how we played last time. If you look at pressure, the pressure is in a certain place, and we should be nice and loose.”

 

Rodgers watched the final 4:58 of the last game from the sideline because the score was so out of hand. But he and his teammates believe the lopsided score had more to do with self-inflicted mistakes.

 

“The pressure is really on them,” Adams said of the Packers’ opponent. “They went out there and dominated us last game. We did not take care of business the way we should have. It just was not a good showing. We bottled up that feeling and we’re ready to convert that into something great.”

 

So is San Francisco.

 

Garoppolo insisted their mood and preparation is “no different than any other week,” while receiver Emmanuel Sanders noted the regular season felt like “playoff football. It was so much pressure and us having to perform and trying to get the No. 1 seed that you just kind of get used to it.”

 

Sanders, who has been with the team since late October, said he has relished the opportunity “to poke my chest out” and feel a part of something special.

 

“We’re not in this position [by accident]. It’s not a coincidence,” he said. “We worked our butt off, on the field and off the field, and I feel like we are deserving of this moment and we got to take advantage of it.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Mike McCarthy really acts like it is his idea that Kellen Moore continue as the OC of the Cowboys.  Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

The Dallas Cowboys made a change at the top but they plan to take the “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

 

While speaking to the media Thursday, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy informed reporters that Moore will continue on as the team’s playcaller, a role he served in last season under Jason Garrett.

 

“I’m confident that Kellen can still be the play caller. That’s the path we’re going down,” he said, via the team’s official website.

 

McCarthy also plans to maintain another form of continuity by keeping the offense’s terminology the same.

 

Ensuring Moore that he would remain the play-caller is “one of the ways Dallas lured him back from other job offers,” according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Moore had been considering becoming the OC at the University of Washington earlier this month, per Rapoport, but McCarthy and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have effectively slammed that door shut.

 

“Kellen was someone that I was watching from afar, regardless of which opportunity worked out for myself personally,” McCarthy said. “The opportunity to work with Kellen was something I was going to pursue either way.”

 

In Moore’s first year as OC in 2018, Dallas finished first in total offense and averaged 27.1 points per game, the sixth-highest mark in the league. Dak Prescott enjoyed the best statistical year of his career, as well, posting 4,902 passing yards and 30 pass TDs while leading the Cowboys to an 8-8 record.

 

After serving as play-caller for the bulk of his 13 years with the Packers, McCarthy’s willingness to concede those duties to Moore is a major development that bodes well for the Cowboys as they plug holes and define roles ahead of the first season of the McCarthy era.

 

In an appearance on the Shan and RJ Show on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan on Jan. 10, McCarthy addressed his approach to crafting his new coaching staff.

 

“I’m coming from an opportunity that was for 13 years so I’ve had a year to reflect on every component of my coaching staff and job responsibility description,” McCarthy said. “So, as we start to build this new staff, a lot of those experiences and thoughts will be applied. Right now, I’m just looking to build the best staff, a great staff here to make sure our players are getting everything they need to win.”

 

When asked at the time about whether or not he’ll be calling plays, McCarthy said, “We’re looking at everything. I love calling plays but every decision that will be made will be in the best interest of the Dallas Cowboys.”

 

Having Moore continue to develop in a prominent role as a coach, as well continuing to teach Prescott, appears to be a move that’s in the best interest of all parties involved.

 

“I enjoy calling plays. I’ve had a lot of success doing it. But when I looked at the big picture, the opportunities that I’ve interviewed for, this was the one that the quarterback was established,” he said Thursday. “His relationship with Kellen is important to me, and I think it’s something we can definitely build off of.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Apparently, QB CAM NEWTON has been busy in his rehab, tending to a growing “family”, fathering kids with two different women in 2019.  Ryan Newman of YahooSports.com:

 

NFL star Cam Newton has reportedly split from his longtime girlfriend Kia Proctor after having a baby with Instagram model La Reina Shaw.

 

According to Sports Gossip, Cam and Kia have ended their relationship after the secret child came to light.

 

The outlet reports Cam has been seeing La Reina Shaw for some time and the two had the baby over the summer. The IG model is reportedly living in an Atlanta apartment directly above the NFL star’s restaurant Fellaship. The alleged couple were reportedly spotted celebrating New Year’s Eve together. On New Year’s Eve, the Instagram model posted a photo from Cam’s ATL restaurant.

 

Back in December, Cam and Kia welcomed their fourth child Cashmere Saint Newton. They have son Camidas and Chosen Sebastian along with daughter Sovereign-Dior Cambella. Kia has a daughter Shakira from a previous relationship. The two have been together for years and have not publicly confirmed breaking up.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

TE GEORGE KITTLE practiced on Thursday and seems good to go for Sunday in Santa Clara.  Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

Following a rainy Thursday afternoon practice in Santa Clara, Calif., George Kittle made one thing clear.

 

Nothing, most notably the nagging ankle injury that sidelined from practice Wednesday, will keep the San Francisco 49ers star tight end from playing in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers.

 

“I feel fabulous, thanks for asking,” Kittle said with a smile after being asked at the start of his press conference both how he was feeling and how his ankle was doing. Kittle officially was a full participant in practice Thursday.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Despite one disturbing tweet, since confirmed, the Bengals are apparently impressed by LSU QB JOE BURROW.  Geoff Hobson at Bengals.com:

 

In between meetings and film work prepping for the Senior Bowl, Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and his quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt can’t help but smile when the topic is LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

 

They may not know yet if he’s going to join them next week in some fashion when they coach the South in the Jan. 25 game (2:30 p.m.-NFL Network) in Mobile, Ala.  But they do know if the Bengals do what the world expects them and wants them to do and they take Burrow No. 1 on April 23 in the NFL Draft, they’ll have no problem putting him in their offense that has several elements of what Burrow ran to virtual reality perfection in Baton Rouge. 

 

“He definitely checks off a lot of boxes early on in the evaluation process,” said Van Pelt Wednesday as they began preparing for what is turning into a quarterback fantasy camp in Mobile.  “He obviously looks like a very intriguing guy.”

 

Van Pelt, a pretty fair college quarterback himself who broke Dan Marino’s records at the University of Pittsburgh, knows he’s scouting the guy hot off the greatest season a college quarterback ever had. And Callahan, the old UCLA quarterback, has enjoyed watching Burrow so much that he’s already viewed every snap of LSU’s magical season and can only smile when he says, “As advertised.”

 

With so much Burrow already in the bank, Callahan easily delves into the short-hand language that marks the scouting season.

 

“He’s got natural pocket feel. He feels it,” Callahan said. “It seems like he never takes his eyes off down the field. He extends the play really, really well. He’s a lot faster than you might assume when you see him running away from all those SEC guys. He’s got incredible up-field accuracy. The ball hardly ever hits the ground in a game, which is rare. He just naturally puts the ball in places where those guys can make plays.”

 

Van Pelt: “Creates on the move. Obviously takes care of the ball. Makes good decisions. You can see that with his touchdown-to-interception ratio (60-6). I got to see him (in real time on TV) in the last two games of the year and then when you watch the tape, you’re seeing the same things.”

 

They’re smiling because it all sounds like understatement and maybe because they’ve got first crack at Burrow. But these guys are also quarterback connoisseurs and they’re enjoying the prospect of getting this crop of prospects in their room a month before the NFL scouting combine.

 

“If you like quarterbacks, you’re going to like this game,” Callahan said.

 

The South has also been assigned Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Colorado’s Steven Montez. Callahan is already a few games into Herbert’s tape, a montage that many believe is top five worthy. Hurts was one of the nation’s more coveted players and Montez is his school’s all-time passer.

 

“Herbert is exciting to watch. Big, strong, athletic. Efficient mechanically. Very smart. Everything you’re looking for in a quarterback. Jalen Hurts has had an excellent career against top flight competition. He’s a creator. It seems like I’ve been watching Montez forever. He’s played a lot of ball (39 starts). He’s really strong and he can throw it. This is going to be fun.”

 

Van Pelt is a 15-year veteran of NFL coaching and yet he’s never worked a college all-star game, so he’s been hearing from friends that have how much he’ll enjoy getting a leg up on the evaluation process.

 

“We get them for the week, so we’ll see what they’re all about,” Van Pelt said. “I’m looking forward to getting them up there on the grease board.”

 

The disturbing comment?

 

@AndrewSiciliano

About this 2-year-old tweet from would-be Bengals QB Joe Burrow.

 

1) Burrow is from Ohio.

 

2) He has an informed opinion. He’s speaking from experience.

 

2) He’s absolutely correct. Spaghetti covered in chili and cheddar cheese IS terrible. https://twitter.com/Joe_Burrow10/status/966064497155805184

 

@Joe_Burrow10

Just a reminder that Skyline is terrible. That is all.

 

The horror!  Since confirmed in an interview on Barstool.  He’s not backing down.  Dave Clark of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

 

Burrow — the former Athens (Ohio) High School standout many expect the Cincinnati Bengals to select with the top overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft — talked about it recently during an interview with the Pardon My Take podcast on Barstool Sports:

 

“Oh, God. I hate it. Cincinnati’s gonna hate me — I hate that stuff,” Burrow said. “It’s not real chili. It’s just sauce. I mean, they’ve hated me for a while because I’ve had these takes since like I first got to Ohio State. And they’re like, ‘What do you mean? You’re from Ohio!’ and I’m like, ‘Doesn’t matter. I hate it.’ “

 

Well, DE JOEY BOSA seems to have overcome possible pro-Trump leanings in California with the 49ers.  Maybe, just maybe, Burrow can overcome his slow start with Bengals fans.

 

Meanwhile, Burrow’s dad says that other than Skyline, Joey is fine with Cincinnati. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Exhale, Bengals fans. There won’t be an Eli Manning situation at the top of this year’s draft.

 

Jimmy Burrow, whose son Joe is likely to be the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, said his son has no qualms about being drafted by Cincinnati if that’s how it works out.

 

(Narrator voice: That’s how it’s going to work out.)

 

“He’s excited to even be in that conversation and if the Bengals do draft him, he’s going to be happy,” Jimmy Burrow told Montreal’s TSN 690 radio, via Ben Baby of ESPN.com.

 

In 2004, Manning didn’t feel like playing for the Chargers, and threatened to not play at all if they took him first overall. They eventually did take him, but quickly traded him to the Giants.

 

The younger Burrow apparently won’t be issuing any such ultimatums this year.

 

He grew up in Athens, Ohio, and spent three years at Ohio State before transferring to LSU and turning in one of the most brilliant seasons in college football history.

 

“He’ll look at it as a challenge,” Jimmy Burrow said. “But he’ll be confident that eventually, they can win a lot of games there in Cincinnati.”

 

The Bengals coaches have already started raving about Burrow, and it feels like we’re all going to get one right in our mock drafts this year, even if we fill it out now.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Within minutes of LSU winning the national championship, WR ODELL BECKHAM, Jr. managed to get the NCAA going after his school and the New Orleans police out to arrest him.  Jake Trotter of ESPN.com:

 

New Orleans police on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on a complaint of simple battery.

 

Video surfaced this week showing Beckham slapping the buttocks of a Superdome security guard in the LSU locker room after the Tigers’ national championship victory over Clemson on Monday in New Orleans.

 

According to records obtained by NOLA.com, the security guard had been telling LSU players to put out cigars in the locker room before he was slapped.

 

The New Orleans Police Department public affairs office confirmed that the security guard filed the complaint.

 

Louisiana statute defines simple battery as battery committed without the consent of the victim. Punishment in Louisiana can include a fine of no more than $1,000 and imprisonment for no more than six months, or both.

 

“We are aware of the incident and have been in touch with Odell and his representatives on the matter,” the Browns said in a statement issued Thursday. “They are cooperating with the proper authorities to appropriately address the situation.”

 

Beckham was also captured on video passing out money to several LSU players immediately after the Tigers’ 42-25 victory.

 

The university’s athletic department issued a statement Wednesday, saying it was aware of video showing “apparent cash” being given to players by Beckham and that it has been in contact with the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference regarding the matter.

 

“We are aware of the situation regarding Odell Beckham Jr. interacting with LSU student-athletes and others unaffiliated with the team following the championship game Monday night,” the LSU statement said. “Initial information suggested bills that were exchanged were novelty bills. Information and footage reviewed since shows apparent cash may have also been given to LSU student-athletes.

 

“We were in contact with the NCAA and the SEC immediately upon learning of this situation in which some of our student-athletes may have been placed in a compromising position. We are working with our student-athletes, the NCAA and the SEC in order to rectify the situation.”

 

An LSU spokesperson on Tuesday morning initially had told the Baton Rouge Advocate that the money being handed out on the field by Beckham, a former LSU star, was not real.

 

But on the Barstool Sports “Pardon My Take” podcast, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow said the cash was real. If the money being doled out by Beckham was real, it would be a violation of NCAA bylaws. Cash is an example of impermissible benefits that are prohibited by the governing body.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

TENNESSEE

Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com with a nice look at the ascension of QB RYAN TANNEHILL:

 

Ryan Tannehill once envisioned himself being a Miami Dolphins lifer, something no quarterback has done for the franchise since Dan Marino from 1983 to 1999.

 

But after seven years in South Beach, Tannehill’s wish dissipated. The Dolphins didn’t want him anymore. Miami’s new regime traded him to the Tennessee Titans for a couple of late draft picks. It was a career low point for Tannehill.

 

Low points can eventually give way to high points. One year later, Tannehill has had a “made for Hollywood” comeback season with the Titans, leading the NFL during the regular season in passer rating (117.5). The Titans are in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS) for the first time since the Steve McNair-Eddie George era in 2002 and 2003.

 

Tannehill is one win away from playing in Super Bowl LIV, to be held on Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida — the same place he called home for seven years.

 

Now 31, the quarterback smirks at the suggestion it would be a poetic bookend. From a Dolphins discard to a Titans treasure; it sounds like a storybook season. However, it didn’t start that way in Nashville.

 

It took time for Tannehill and his family to adjust to their new home. Tannehill also had to adjust to being a backup for the first time in his eight-year pro career, which called for a mix of patience, pain and short-term sacrifice.

 

“It was really hard. Nobody likes to sit on the bench. I wanted to be playing. I wanted to be competing. Everything is different when you’re not in the starting position,” Tannehill told ESPN. “That was a big change for me. There was a lot of biting your tongue and swallowing your pride. It was definitely an adjustment. But I just tried to make the best of the situation I was given, play my role and be a good teammate.”

 

‘You’ve got the keys now’

It’s a surprisingly warm, humid Wednesday in Nashville as the Titans prepare to slay their third giant in as many playoff weeks — this time taking on quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

Tannehill trots out of the locker room and onto the practice field unfazed at the challenge ahead. Running back Derrick Henry is the workhorse and face of the Titans’ offense, but it’s Tannehill’s team now and he knows it.

 

Titans general manager Jon Robinson had a list of expectations for Tannehill when the veteran took over the starting job from Marcus Mariota last October.

 

“Go play starting-level football. Take command of the offense. You’ve got the keys now,” Robinson told ESPN of his message to Tannehill. “Get us in the right play at the line of scrimmage. When you’ve got to throw the ball, identify the coverage, find the guy that’s open and get him the football. Keep plays alive. Move the football. He did a great job. You saw his personality and leadership come out even more.”

 

Promoting Tannehill might be the decision of the season by coach Mike Vrabel. Mariota had been the face of the Titans and unquestioned starter since he was selected No. 2 overall in the 2015 NFL draft. But with the team at 2-4 and on the brink of falling apart, Tannehill got his turn.

 

“Marcus has my utmost respect. He’s been the perfect professional. He’s such a good dude and teammate even though his role has changed,” receiver Tajae Sharpe said. “It was a tough situation, but the coaches decided it was the right decision to help the team. Ryan did a great job of leading us once he came in. He was very vocal and upfront about what he wanted from us on certain routes as a receiving group. He fits in perfectly with this team. He definitely has a swag to him, too.”

 

Since Tannehill took over in Week 7, the Titans have ranked third in points per game (30.4), yards per game (406.2) and offensive efficiency (72.6). Since Week 9, the Titans have scored 39 offensive touchdowns and one field goal.

 

“On Oct. 14, we were 2-4. I was a bad coach, and this was a bad team,” Vrabel said. “We tried to believe in each other, we tried to improve, tried to prepare, trust each other, execute. That’s what’s gotten us here, so we can’t change and start to make things up now.”

 

Tannehill is the third quarterback since 1991 to finish the regular season with both a completion percentage and red zone completion percentage at over 70% (Drew Brees, 2018; Steve Young, 1994).

 

“Ryan has an undying belief that we are going to score every time we get down there, and he should. Every quarterback should,” Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara said. “We started working hard on our red zone efficiency in the spring. It’s paying dividends now.”

 

‘Do what’s best for the team’

One of Robinson’s go-to mantras describes how he builds the Titans’ roster. He seeks players who are willing to “do what’s best for the team, even if it’s not in your best individual interest.”

 

So when “Trader Jon” — as he’s known in some NFL circles — got wind that the Dolphins were looking to move on from Tannehill in late February, Robinson called Dolphins general manager Chris Grier to talk a deal.

 

After trade parameters were agreed upon and Robinson received permission to renegotiate a deal with Tannehill’s reps, the last step was seeing if Tannehill would do what’s best for the team — even if he wasn’t thrilled with being a backup to Mariota. Tannehill agreed.

 

“Ryan was a guy who had played a lot of good football, started games, won games in this league. I’ve admired him from afar,” Robinson said. “I was direct in defining what the role was with him with Marcus on the roster. I told him he would be the backup but ‘you’re coming in here to compete. You never know how things will shake out.'”

 

The Dolphins essentially bought the 2020 fourth-round pick they received in exchange for Tannehill by paying $5 million of the veteran QB’s reworked $7 million 2019 salary. Tannehill, who is set to be a free agent this spring, also received more than $2 million in incentives from the Titans for his 2019 performance.

 

As Tannehill learned from Mariota, ran the Titans’ scout team and supported the team, he promised himself he would take advantage of his next opportunity.

 

“I love competing. Whether football or board games, I love to win,” Tannehill said. “My wife gives me a hard time, whether it’s playing games with people we don’t know too well and I’m intense. I could probably turn off a few people to probably being around me because of that.

 

“When what you love is taken away from you and you’re not getting to do what you love, the monotonous things you often took for granted are what you really miss. Once I started playing again, I appreciated the small moments again.”

 

To his credit, Mariota did what was best for the team, even if it wasn’t in his individual interest.

 

When the Titans made Tannehill their starting quarterback, they had less than a 0.1% chance to win Super Bowl LIV, per FPI. Now they have a 12% chance. Tennessee, seven-point underdogs to the host Chiefs, has already beaten the NFL’s top scoring offense (Ravens) and top scoring defense (Patriots) this postseason. They are the third team since the 1970 merger to beat the top scoring offense and defense in the same postseason. The other two teams that did it — 2004 Patriots and 1988 49ers — won the Super Bowl.

 

“All the stars are aligning for Ryan right now. It’s not just because of Derrick Henry. Ryan’s a great player, too. The change of scenery has helped him a bunch,” Houston Texans receiver Kenny Stills, who played with Tannehill in Miami from 2015 through 2018, told ESPN.

 

Tannehill was perfect for the Titans’ physical, no-nonsense culture. Vrabel refers to his team as “street rats” because of how hard they play, and Tannehill fits in that group, too.

 

“He’s athletic. He’s accurate. He’s prepared. He’s a really good leader,” Vrabel said. “He’s been able to hold players accountable in his own way. I’m glad we have him on our team.”

 

‘You can’t hold on to the past’

It was a cold December 2018 afternoon in Buffalo with the clock winding down on what would end up for the Dolphins being a season-ending blowout loss to the Bills. Time was running out on the most recent era in Dolphins football under former coach Adam Gase and everyone knew it.

 

During the Dolphins’ final fourth-quarter drive, Tannehill told teammates in the huddle: “I’ve appreciated every moment with you guys. It was an honor to be your quarterback.”

 

Two and a half months later, Tannehill was traded to the Titans. The change marked a new beginning for Tannehill and the Dolphins — who saw their up-and-down tenure together end with a 42-46 record, one playoff appearance, a mix of nostalgia and underachieved potential. The fan base largely cheered his exit, even though Tannehill was arguably the franchise’s best quarterback since Marino.

 

“If you’re a football fan and pay attention to the details of the quarterback position, then you appreciated Ryan,” Stills said. “If you’re a Dolphins fan and don’t have respect for him, I don’t know what football you were watching.

 

“To be a part of a team that was booing him off the field at one point, it was hard to hear. In his mind, I’m sure he doesn’t have to show anybody anything. He’s confident in the player and man that he is. But, I’m sure it would feel good to go to Miami and play in the Super Bowl down there.”

 

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross seemingly spoke for much of the fan base at last year’s annual owners meetings when he said: “I love Ryan. But you’re right, how many years was it? It was time to move on.”

 

Tannehill heard the comments. He’s not sure if he agrees with the timing sentiment, but he also acknowledges it was never his decision to make.

 

“You just sort of take it and move forward. Obviously, we liked being in Miami and Steve was good to us during our time there. They decided to move on. So, you have to move on,” Tannehill said. “You can’t hold on to the past. I just told myself I’ve got to do the best with the new opportunity that is in front of me.”

 

Like a storybook ending, Tannehill’s newfound success could put him face-to-face with the past he had no choice but to move on from. Tannehill recognizes the meaning of reaching Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

 

“I’ve definitely thought about it. It would be cool. I realize that’s the next step. It’d be cool to play in that stadium. I know that stadium, obviously, really well,” Tannehill said. “Then, I reel it back in. I don’t go down that road too far. It doesn’t matter what’s next week if we can’t win this week, so let’s win this week.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTONIO

Agent Drew Rosenhaus may have had enough of balky client Antonio Brown.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Antonio Brown has no team, and for now he has no agent.

 

Per an NFLPA source, agent Drew Rosenhaus has informed Brown in writing that the relationship between the two men has been terminated, conditionally. The letter, per the source, explains that Rosenhaus will rescind the termination if Brown secures appropriate counseling within the next five days.

 

No termination of a client-agent relationship becomes official under NFLPA rules until a five-day waiting period has elapsed after the letter initiating the separation.

 

The goal, according to the source, is to persuade Brown to get the help he needs. If he doesn’t, he’ll have to find a new agent — and perhaps that agent will be able to help him through a stream of issues and challenges culminating in the recent incident with the mother of one or more of his children and Hollywood, Florida police.

 

Some have wondered over the past year whether Brown has gotten bad advice. The more accurate characterization may be that he has refused to heed the advice he has received. Rosenhaus, by all appearances, hopes that the termination letter will get Brown to obtain the assistance needed to result in him changing his ways, regarding topics like his interactions with family members and his use of social media.

 

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

The DB can remember when NFL teams rarely traded.  Now Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com finds 30 deals that were important to the 2019 season (curious where he has the acquisition of RYAN TANNEHILL):

 

Trades were some of the biggest stories in the NFL over the past year, but the deals that got the greatest attention mostly ended up being disappointing. Nobody could have expected Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown to get traded within a matter of days in March. Even fewer would have believed just how inconsequential those two star wideouts would be to the football season that followed.

 

Let’s sort through all the trades that have been made in the NFL over the past 365 days to try to get a sense of which ones actually made the most impact on the 2019 season. It is important to note that this isn’t a ranking of which players were best or which teams got the best value, although those can obviously overlap with most influential. The grades here are relative to how each deal impacted the league and the story of what happened in 2019.

 

When I refer to 2019 draft picks, I’ll be using a combined numerical notation with both the round and overall pick number. As an example, the fourth pick of the second round is the 36th selection, which I’ll notate herein as 2-36. Future draft picks aren’t numbered.

 

Let’s begin by running through a few deals that narrowly missed out, before working our way down to No. 1:

 

Honorable mention

The most useless trade of the season was when the Patriots acquired Russell Bodine from the Bills for a sixth-round pick. He was cut after just seven days and didn’t land on another team in 2019.

 

Likewise, the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for backup kicker Kaare Vedvik in August, then cut him before the season began. Vedvik caught on with the Jets and missed his only extra point and field goal attempts, swinging a 17-16 loss to the Bills in Week 1 before immediately being released.

 

Two of Bill O’Brien’s many trades saw him send third-round picks to the Browns for Duke Johnson and the Raiders for Gareon Conley. Johnson was effective but touched the ball only 127 times, while Conley was inconsistent as an every-down corner.

 

DeSean Jackson started the season with a monster game for the Eagles, catching eight passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Washington. A core injury limited him to 14 more snaps the rest of the way. Tampa Bay used the sixth-round pick it got for Jackson on Scotty Miller, who caught 13 passes.

 

The Patriots surprisingly traded up to grab a right-footed punter in Jake Bailey, who immediately took over as the team’s starting punter and kickoff specialist. New England finished in the top seven among Football Outsiders’ special teams stats in both categories.

 

Likewise, the Saints moved up six spots in the fourth round to acquire Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who played just over half of New Orleans’ defensive snaps as a nickelback. The Jets traded the picks they acquired from the Saints and eventually picked up Blake Cashman, who filled in for C.J. Mosley before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

 

30. The Raiders deal for AB … and chaos breaks out

Steelers trade: WR Antonio Brown

Raiders trade: 3-66, 5-141

There were no real winners here. The Raiders lit two draft picks on fire. The Patriots might end up eating $10.3 million in dead money. And while the Steelers were able to get a promising young player out of the deal in third-round pick Diontae Johnson, they were forced to absorb a record dead-cap figure of $21.1 million after trading their mercurial wideout. This will look better for Pittsburgh as time goes on if Johnson flourishes, but it will be nice to leave Brown and this whole saga in the past once the season ends.

 

Impact grade: D

 

29. The Giants make a puzzling trade

Giants trade: 2020 third-round pick, 2021 conditional pick

Jets trade: DE Leonard Williams

I wrote about how this trade didn’t make sense at the time, with the 2-6 Giants dealing a third-round pick and a conditional fourth- or fifth-round pick for the privilege of paying Williams $4 million before free agency.

 

What mattered here was the revelation of just how far the Giants are from understanding what is broken with their franchise. Making this trade was foolish. General manager Dave Gettleman justifying the trade was downright depressing. Just weeks before his infamous “computer guys” speech, Gettleman argued that the Giants would get a third-round compensatory pick if they moved on from Williams after the season, which would require Williams to get a contract north of $15 million per season (he won’t) and the Giants to sit out free agency (they won’t). Williams is a fine defensive lineman, but the Giants continue to have a warped view of reality and their current status within the NFL.

 

Impact grade: D

 

28. An ‘elite’ quarterback heads a mile high

Ravens trade: QB Joe Flacco

Broncos trade: 4-113

John Elway’s affinity for the tallest quarterbacks in the game led him to make a move for Flacco, whose tenure with the Broncos lasted eight starts before going down with a bulging disc in his neck.

 

Flacco’s legacy with the Broncos will be financial. Despite initially suggesting that they wouldn’t restructure his deal, Denver converted $17 million of Flacco’s base salary to a bonus in September while adding two voidable years to the deal. Unless they keep Flacco on their roster, the Broncos will owe $13.6 million in dead money next season, which would have been $0 before the restructure. The Ravens used the fourth-round pick on backup running back Justice Hill.

 

Impact grade: D

 

27. The Seahawks grab a tight end from the Patriots

Patriots trade: TE Jacob Hollister

Seahawks trade: 2020 seventh-round pick

While the evidence suggests Russell Wilson makes every tight end look better, the Patriots likely regretted trading Hollister to the Seahawks in the middle of the draft. The Seahawks actually cut Hollister at the end of training camp before re-signing him, but after he took over for an injured Will Dissly, he ranked in the top 12 among tight ends for both catches (41) and receiving yards (349).

 

Patriots tight ends combined to catch just 37 passes for 419 yards all season.

 

Impact grade: D+

 

26. A 49ers linebacker has one huge moment

49ers trade: LB Dekoda Watson, 6-212

Broncos trade: 5-148

The 49ers used Watson, who never played a regular-season game for the Broncos, to move up one round and draft a reserve linebacker. Dre Greenlaw, the 148th pick, was forced into starting duty after Kwon Alexander tore a pec, and while Greenlaw was a step down from the former Buccaneers starter, he did come up with one of the biggest single plays of the season. He was in on the tackle of Jacob Hollister at the 1-yard line on the final play of the regular season, which saved a victory for the 49ers and kept them as the top seed in the NFC.

 

Impact grade: D+

 

25. The Chiefs move up to grab a Tyreek Hill … supplement

Rams trade: 2-56

Chiefs trade: 2-61, 5-167

Kansas City moved up a few spots to draft speedy wideout Mecole Hardman, who seemed likely to replace Tyreek Hill when audiotapes of Hill arguing with his fiancée and seemingly threatening domestic assault leaked during the first day of the draft. Hardman served as Hill’s stand-in when the veteran was sidelined with a collarbone injury and emerged as a Pro Bowl returner.

 

Impact grade: D+

 

24. Bruce Arians makes his return

Buccaneers trade: 6-179

Cardinals trade: 7-215, coach Bruce Arians

The Cardinals could have stood in Arians’ way and demanded a more significant return for letting their former coach out of retirement, but they ended up agreeing to swap late-round picks

 

Impact grade: D+

 

23. The Dolphins trade a pass-rusher to Dallas

Cowboys trade: 2020 sixth-round pick

Dolphins trade: DE Robert Quinn

In one of many Dolphins trades we’ll get to in this review, Quinn reportedly chose to join the Cowboys over the Saints. Quinn instead had a resurgent season for the wildly disappointing Cowboys, finishing with 11.5 sacks and 22 knockdowns while posting the league’s best pass rush win rate at 32.2%. This is an example of a good trade that didn’t end up mattering very much.

 

Impact grade: C-

 

22. A running back reignites his career with the Cardinals

Cardinals trade: 2020 conditional pick

Dolphins trade: RB Kenyan Drake

Likewise, while Drake won fantasy championships by racking up 303 yards and six rushing touchdowns over Weeks 15 and 16, this move didn’t mean much for a 5-10-1 Cardinals team. Is Arizona really going to re-sign Drake when they’re already committed to Chase Edmonds and a $10.2 million base salary for David Johnson in 2020? The Cards could theoretically get a compensatory pick for Drake, but they are probably going to be active in free agency, which would result in the compensatory pick being canceled away.

 

Drake’s success makes it much more likely that he will get a meaningful guarantee in free agency, but it didn’t really mean much for either of these teams this season.

 

Impact grade: C-

 

21. The Bills nab a tight end

Washington trades: 3-96

Bills trade: 4-112, 4-131

One of the many moves the Bills made to upgrade on offense this season was their trade into the third round to grab Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox. Knox was probably supposed to be Buffalo’s third tight end, behind free-agent additions Tyler Kroft and Lee Smith; but after Kroft broke his foot over the summer, Knox grabbed the starting job and didn’t let go.

 

Impact grade: C-

 

20. The Texans find a new primary running back

Texans trade: OL Martinas Rankin

Chiefs trade: RB Carlos Hyde

Swaps of players who are about to be cut can occasionally turn out to be pretty meaningful, with the Jacoby Brissett-for-Phillip Dorsett deal from a few years ago as a recent example. While Rankin started five games for the Chiefs before suffering a knee injury, Hyde went from the bottom of Kansas City’s depth chart to the top of Houston’s.

 

Impact grade: C-

 

19. The Bengals trade up to tank

49ers trade: 4-104

Bengals trade: 4-110, 6-183, 6-198

The Bengals moved up six spots in the fourth round to grab NC State quarterback Ryan Finley, who delivered three crucial starts for the Bengals in November, If the Bengals had stuck with Andy Dalton at quarterback, they might have won those two close games, finished outside of the first overall pick and used 2020 to give Finley a shot — as opposed to starting Heisman Trophy winner and presumed first overall pick Joe Burrow.

 

I’m being a little facetious about Finley, but this actually worked out well for the 49ers; they used the fourth-rounder acquired from the Bengals for punter Mitch Wishnowsky, while sixth-round pick Justin Skule filled in ably for Joe Staley at left tackle in midseason.

 

Impact grade: C

 

18. The Patriots finally get their man … and he gets hurt

Patriots trade: 2020 second-round pick

Falcons trade: WR Mohamed Sanu

After years of pursuing Sanu, a slow Falcons start and a lack of weapons for Tom Brady led the Patriots and Falcons to consummate a trade. After a 10-catch, 81-yard game against the Ravens, though, Sanu suffered a high ankle sprain against the Eagles, missed one game and averaged just over 18 receiving yards per game afterward.

 

The real impact here is the opportunity cost of the Patriots using an asset to acquire Sanu when things might have turned out very differently if they had used that same pick, say, to trade for Emmanuel Sanders a day or two earlier.

 

Impact grade: C

 

17. The 49ers add another pass-rusher

49ers trade: 2020 second-round pick

Chiefs trade: DE Dee Ford

While Sanu was injured and then ineffective, Ford was generally pretty productive before being felled by a hamstring injury.

 

Impact grade: C+

 

16. The Seahawks are gifted a starting safety

Seahawks trade: 2020 fifth-round pick

Lions trade: DB Quandre Diggs, 2021 seventh-round pick

The Lions still haven’t really explained why they moved on from Diggs, a move that inspired his former teammates to lash out publicly against the organization. Detroit’s decision was Seattle’s gain, as the Seahawks were immediately able to sub in Diggs at their biggest point of weakness on defense.

 

Impact grade: C+

 

15. John Elway trades up for his latest quarterback of the future

Broncos trade: 2-52, 4-125, 6-182

Bengals trade: 2-42

After trading down with the Steelers in a deal we’ll get to later, the Broncos moved up to draft a quarterback for the fourth time in five seasons. While Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly have all come and gone, Denver is excited about Drew Lock, who won four of his first five starts after taking over at the end of the season.

 

Impact grade: C+

 

14. Eagles GM Howie Roseman indirectly blows up the NFL

Eagles trade: 1-25, 4-127, 6-197

Ravens trade: 1-22

This trade isn’t really about what happened within the confines of the deal itself. The Eagles moved up from No. 25 to No. 22 to grab offensive tackle Andre Dillard, who had an uneven rookie season but is expected to take over for Hall of Fame candidate Jason Peters in 2020. The Ravens drafted Marquise Brown with the 25th pick, and he took a back seat among rookie wide receivers to (the unrelated) A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin.

 

In the big picture, though, this trade ended up inspiring a much bigger deal. The Eagles traded up to beat the Texans to the punch on Dillard. While Houston drafted lineman Tytus Howard at No. 23, he isn’t ready to play left tackle at the NFL level. The Texans insisted they would start the season with Matt Kalil at left tackle, but at the end of August, they sent a boatload of picks to the Dolphins to acquire Laremy Tunsil. If the Texans had drafted Dillard, there would have been a decent chance that the Tunsil trade wouldn’t have happened.

 

Impact grade: B-

 

13. The Rams sell out their future for a star corner

Rams trade: 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick

Jaguars trade: CB Jalen Ramsey

Off to a 3-3 start following their Super Bowl season, the Rams went all-in and added yet another young superstar to their roster by trading three key picks for Ramsey. After healing from the mysterious back injury that sidelined him toward the end of his Jacksonville run, Ramsey did improve the Los Angeles secondary, but he didn’t transform a middling defense. The Rams allowed an opposing passer rating of 91.0 without Ramsey on the field in 2019, but that figure only improved to 82.9 with their new star cornerback.

 

The Rams missed the playoffs. They didn’t sign Ramsey to an extension at the time of the deal, meaning he has all the leverage in advance of what is likely to be a record-setting contract for a cornerback. The Rams also don’t have many draft picks to address what is an increasingly thin roster in need of additions along the offensive and defensive lines and elsewhere at cornerback. The Jaguars might very well be able to use some of their new draft capital to either trade up for a quarterback or trade away the remains of the Nick Foles deal.

 

Impact grade: B-

 

12. The Browns add two stars for their playoff push

Browns trade: G Kevin Zeitler, S Jabrill Peppers, 1-17, 3-95

Giants trade: WR Odell Beckham Jr., DE Olivier Vernon

Everything the Browns touched seem to fade during a disastrous 2019, and that was no different for their two veteran additions.

– – –

The utter failure of this trade in Year 1 might have gotten Browns general manager John Dorsey fired. It probably should have done the same for Gettleman. There already were rumors that Beckham’s time in Cleveland would draw to a close after one season, although the return of front-office executive Paul DePodesta to a more powerful role in Cleveland might make that less likely. I wouldn’t bet against an improvement from Beckham in 2020, but this has to be considered a major disappointment for everyone involved.

 

Impact grade: B-

 

11. The Packers finally solve their safety woes

Packers trade: 1-30, 4-114, 4-118

Seahawks trade: 1-21

After acquiring an extra first-rounder from the Saints in the Marcus Davenport trade during the 2018 draft, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst packaged that pick and a pair of fourth-rounders to move up and draft safety Darnell Savage. Savage was wildly impressive and a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate to start the season, and while he wasn’t quite as notable after returning from an ankle injury, he was an easy pick to the Pro Football Writers Association’s All-Rookie team.

 

The Seahawks turned the 21st pick into a serious haul. They eventually ended up making six selections with the picks they acquired through various trades related to the 21st pick, and while the likes of Ugo Amadi and Travis Homer were players on the bottom of the roster, they did land on at least one hit …

 

Impact grade: B-

 

10. The Seahawks bet that being fast, strong and tall is actually good

Seahawks trade: 3-77, 4-118

Patriots trade: 2-64

Seattle moved up to grab DK Metcalf with the last pick of the second round, and the 6-foot-4 wideout responded with 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns in his debut season.

 

Impact grade: B-

 

9. The Saints trade up for an OROY candidate

Saints trade: 2-48, 4-116

Dolphins trade: 2-62, 6-202, 2020 second-round pick

The realities of who we do and don’t pay attention to in the NFL make it difficult for an offensive lineman to ever win season-ending awards. Saints center Erik McCoy probably deserved at least some consideration this season, though.The Dolphins used the second-round pick they netted from the Saints in 2019 to trade for Josh Rosen, with the Cardinals then drafting wide receiver Andy Isabella. Rosen flamed out so spectacularly that the Dolphins were forced to reinsert Ryan Fitzpatrick in the starting lineup, only for Fitzpatrick to play so well that the tanking Dolphins fell out of the race for the first overall pick.

 

Impact grade: B-

 

8. The 49ers go after a No. 1 receiver

49ers trade: 2020 third-round pick, 2020 fourth-round pick

Broncos trade: WR Emmanuel Sanders, 2020 fifth-round pick

The 49ers are one of the deepest teams in the league at the various skill positions, but outside of stud tight end George Kittle, there isn’t a ton of difference between the talent levels of their guys. Adding Sanders gave Kyle Shanahan a clear top receiver.

 

Impact grade: B

 

7. The Chiefs get a new edge rusher

Chiefs trade: 1-29, 3-92, 2020 second-round pick

Seahawks trade: DE Frank Clark, 3-84

As they sit one game away from a Super Bowl, the Chiefs have to be pleased with the changes they made on defense last offseason. Tyrann Mathieu replaced Eric Berry. Alex Okafor (and later Terrell Suggs) came in for Justin Houston. And when the Chiefs decided that they didn’t want to give Dee Ford an extension, they shipped him off to the 49ers and invested a first-round pick to give Clark one instead.

 

Impact grade: B

 

6. Pittsburgh acquires its Ryan Shazier replacement

Steelers trade: 1-20, 2-52, 2020 third-round pick

Broncos trade: 1-10

Before 2019, the last time the Steelers traded up in the first round to draft a defensive player was when they moved up for Troy Polamalu in 2003. Devin Bush obviously will hope to eventually have a Polamalu-like career, but while Polamalu was a reserve in his first season, Bush was a regular on one of the league’s best defenses.

 

The Broncos used the 20th pick on promising tight end Noah Fant, then utilized the 52nd selection as part of the package to move to 42 and draft Drew Lock. As I mentioned earlier, it still is unclear whether Lock will turn out to be the quarterback the Broncos hope he becomes, but this could go down as a significant win for both franchises.

 

Impact grade: B+

 

5. The Dolphins open up the tank and trade away their most valuable asset

Texans trade: DB Johnson Bademosi, OT Julie’n Davenport, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick

Dolphins trade: OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick

In the adventures of Bill O’Brien as general manager, the Tunsil trade was designed to shore up Houston’s biggest point of weakness after years of near misses. The Texans were unquestionably better with Tunsil in the fold, but it is going to come at an enormous cost. Getting Tunsil didn’t do anything to help a defense that allowed seven straight touchdowns to the Chiefs in an embarrassing divisional round capitulation. The Texans are now in a similar boat to the Rams as a team built around a handful of stars who need to stay healthy and productive for their squad to make a deep playoff run. It got the Rams to Super Bowl LIII, but the Texans are still a ways away.

 

Impact grade: B+

 

4. The Steelers add another young defensive star to their mix

Steelers trade: 2020 first-round pick, 2020 fifth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick

Dolphins trade: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 seventh-round pick

The Steelers likely would have righted the ship on defense even if they hadn’t traded for Fitzpatrick in mid-September, but there is no denying the dramatic role he played in their turnaround. Fitzpatrick will be a core piece for the Steelers for years to come, but my concerns about the trade when it was initially made still stick. As good as Fitzpatrick was, the argument that the Steelers could still make the playoffs in 2019 after their 0-2 start because they had a quarterback to build around in Mason Rudolph was more hopeful than logical. While the Steelers had plenty of injuries around their quarterbacks, Rudolph was benched after subpar play for Devlin Hodges and suffered two of his own injuries. The Steelers will send the 18th pick to Miami in this trade, and that would have likely been their best shot at drafting the sort of quarterback they’ll want to have on the roster when Ben Roethlisberger either declines or retires. If the Steelers had made the playoffs, I would have pushed this trade into the top three. As is, it falls just short.

 

Impact grade: B+

 

3. The Seahawks pay half price for a star edge rusher

Seahawks trade: 2020 third-round pick, LBs Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo

Texans trade: DE Jadeveon Clowney

Houston’s decision to trade one season of Clowney for a third-round pick and two backup linebackers while throwing in $7 million in cash remains bizarre. The Texans likely could have netted more for Clowney via trade by franchising him a second time this offseason.

 

The trade also impacted the rest of the league, as the terms of the deal barred the Seahawks from using the franchise tag on Clowney for a second time. He has publicly suggested that he wants to play for a winner, and he turned down a trade to the Dolphins before the season, but whichever winner wants to add Clowney will need to pay up. Few pass-rushers with Clowney’s upside ever hit the market unfettered by tags or serious recent injuries at age 26. Bill O’Brien’s mistake has already been Seattle’s gain. Soon, it could be somebody else’s too.

 

Impact grade: A-

 

2. The Ravens buy low on a franchise corner

Ravens trade: LB Kenny Young, 2020 fifth-round pick

Rams trade: CB Marcus Peters

Peters was basically seen as a salary dump when the Rams sent him to Baltimore in the hours before the Jalen Ramsey deal. Given that the Rams also were planning on trading Aqib Talib off injured reserve to save cash, keeping around Peters as one of their options at corner would seem to have made sense, even if only to acquire a compensatory pick this offseason. Instead, the Rams pocketed a fifth-round pick and Young, who didn’t play a single defensive snap for Wade Phillips’ defense after the trade. Peters, the former Chiefs star, finished the season as both a Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro selection, which is a testament to how dominant he was in Baltimore.

 

Peters finished his return to form by signing a three-year, $42 million extension with Baltimore in December. The playoffs didn’t go as planned for Baltimore and likely MVP Lamar Jackson, but getting Peters for a late-round pick helped push them to the top seed in the AFC.

 

Impact grade: A-

 

1. The Titans buy very low on a starting quarterback

Titans trade: 7-233, 2020 fourth-round pick

Dolphins trade: QB Ryan Tannehill, 6-188, cash

The team that vanquished those Ravens stands atop the trade rankings here. In trading for Tannehill, the Titans sent only a fourth-round pick because the Dolphins ate $5 million of the money that was due to Tannehill on a restructured deal. The Titans paid $2 million for Tannehill and even got a sixth-round pick back, which they used on linebacker David Long, who came up with the tackle on Jackson’s first failed fourth-and-1 during the upset of the Ravens.

 

In the playoffs, the Titans have been able to win without relying on Tannehill. I’m not going to claim that a guy who has all of 160 passing yards over two games is leading the Titans to January victories. It also is clear that they wouldn’t be here without Tannehill, who was among the best quarterbacks in football after taking over for Marcus Mariota. From Week 7 on, he ranked second in the NFL in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt and second in passer rating. An offense that averaged the league’s third-fewest points per game with Mariota as its starter in 2019 instantly morphed into the league’s third-highest scoring offense after Tannehill took the job.

 

And even though his numbers haven’t been gaudy, don’t think that defenses aren’t respecting Tannehill. Bill Belichick showed him the ultimate respect by crafting a defensive game plan that was designed to take away Tennessee’s downfield passing attack at the expense of allowing Derrick Henry to rack up 182 rushing yards. Even if this is just a one-season blip and Tannehill returns to his old form in 2020, what has happened in 2019 has made this an enormous victory for the Titans. After years of lurking at or around .500, Tennessee is one game away from a Super Bowl.

 

Impact grade: A+