The Daily Briefing Thursday, July 26, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on the two unsigned rookies:

 

As training camps open, rookies across the league are getting their deals done — with only two exceptions.

 

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft) and Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (the eighth overall pick) are the only remaining unsigned rookies.

 

For the Jets and Darnold, any delay in getting him to work could make a difference in how soon he’s ready to take over the starting job. Josh McCown is the starter for now, but Darnold starting as a rookie seems to be more a question of “when” than “if.” Missing time in the summer could push the when back further in the fall.

 

The Bears opened their training camp earlier than other teams because the Bears are in the Hall of Fame Game, and Smith has already missed 10 days of camp. He’s obviously behind his fellow Chicago rookies now.

 

The Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that Darnold will get a four-year, $30.5 million guaranteed contract with a fifth-year team option, and Smith will get a four-year, $18.6 million guaranteed contract with a fifth-year team option. The issue in both cases is likely whether there will be offset language to allow the players to get paid simultaneously by their old teams and a new team, in the unlikely event that they get cut by the teams that drafted them and then sign with another team.

 

– – –

 

Who do you like?

 

Current odds to win Super Bowl 53 from 5Dimes – all the way from the Patriots to the Jets.  Returns on a $100 bet, i.e. Patriots are 6.5 to 1.

 

New England Patriots         +650

Philadelphia Eagles             +875

Pittsburgh Steelers            +1025

Minnesota Vikings             +1100

Los Angeles Rams            +1300

Green Bay Packers          +1400

New Orleans Saints          +1750

Houston Texans                +1800

Atlanta Falcons                 +2000

Jacksonville Jaguars        +2250

Los Angeles Chargers      +2400

San Francisco 49ers         +2750

Kansas City Chiefs           +3200

Dallas Cowboys                +3300

Oakland Raiders               +3500

Carolina Panthers             +3800

Denver Broncos                +4400

Tennessee Titans              +4500

New York Giants              +4750

Seattle Seahawks             +5000

Detroit Lions                      +5500

Baltimore Ravens             +5500

Indianapolis Colts              +7000

Washington Redskins       +7000

Tampa Bay Buccaneers   +7200

Cleveland Browns             +8500

Cincinnati Bengals         +10000

Arizona Cardinals            +11000

Buffalo Bills                     +12000

Miami Dolphins               +12500

Chicago Bears                +14000

New York Jets                            +17500

 

We have seen the Texans at 25 to 1, but not here, they seem to be getting more love than the Jaguars.

 

The Browns have lower odds than five other teams, including one that made the playoffs. 

 

The Bills, 29th overall, have the second-best odds of any AFC East team. 

 

The three best NFC South teams seems to be hurting each others odds.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Unlike the Giants who have said they will respect and protect their players whatever they might do, Jerry Jones says the Cowboys will toe the Anthem line.

 

– Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones will not bend on his edict that his players will stand for the national anthem, but he wishes President Donald Trump would not bring the controversy up as often as he does.

 

“His interest in what we’re doing is problematic, from my chair, and I would say in general the owners’ chair,” Jones said at Wednesday’s news conference to open training camp in Oxnard, California. “It’s unprecedented, if you really think about it. But like the very game itself, that’s the way it is and we’ll deal with it.

 

“We feel strongly about how we deal with it and we’ll do so accordingly, but, yes, I, like everybody, would like for it to go away.”

 

When the anthem issue reached a fervor last season, Jones spoke with Trump on multiple occasions. The president has raised the issue multiple times this offseason and even recently, saying players should be suspended if they choose to take a knee.

 

At the spring owners’ meetings, the NFL announced a new policy that would require players on the sideline to stand for the anthem. Players who do not want to stand could remain in the locker room. In the past, the policy stated that players should stand, but it was not required.

 

When asked if he would support a player who chose to remain in the locker room, Jones said: “Our policy is that you stand at the anthem, toe on the line.”

– – –

With the suspension of the discussions, Jones said the teams do not have to file their anthem policy with the league. The Associated Press reported the Miami Dolphins could impose a four-game suspension for any player who protested during the anthem. However, multiple sources with the Dolphins and the NFL told ESPN that the Dolphins’ submission of their potential disciplinary policies was merely part of an annual filing required of every team before the start of training camp.

 

“Obviously I wouldn’t dare speak for any of the other owners, much less in general about 31 other owners,” Jones said. “But as far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned, you know where I stand. Our team knows where I stand on the issue, and that’s where we are.”

 

In other business news, Jones said the Cowboys would continue their relationship with Papa John’s as other teams across the sports landscape have distanced themselves from the pizza franchise after company founder and spokesman John Schnatter used a racial slur during an internal company conference call in May.

 

The Cowboys own 50 Papa John’s restaurants in North Texas, according to Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones.

 

“[Those teams] do not have the same relationship that the Cowboys have with the Papa John’s business in Texas,” said Jones, who has appeared in commercials for the company while rapping and break dancing. “We own the Papa John’s in Texas and feel strongly that our Cowboys are the face of Papa John’s and that judgment is warranted by what we’ve done over the last 15 years.

 

“… The point is: We just want to work real hard. We literally have thousands of people who work in those stores.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

The Falcons throw an undisclosed bone to WR JULIO JONES and he accepts, crisis over.  Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Wide receiver Julio Jones will report to training camp with the rest of the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday after the two sides agreed on an “adjustment” to his current contract.

 

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff released a statement Wednesday night addressing the new arrangement with Jones and pledging to continue discussions after the upcoming season.

 

“We have had continued dialogue all offseason with Julio and his representation. We have come to an agreement with Julio, and we will re-address everything in 2019. I appreciate everyone’s hard work and communication on this,” Dimitroff said.

 

“This adjustment does not impede us from working on other extensions with other key members of our football team. We will continue to work on those contracts going forward.”

 

Jones had threatened to hold out from camp in search of new contract despite having three years remaining on his current deal. However, none of the three remaining years contained any guaranteed money. Jones was scheduled to make $10.5 million in base salary this season with the Falcons prior to any adjustment made with the team.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO alludes to life under a microscope after word of his date with an adult entertainer got out.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

A lot has changed for Jimmy Garoppolo since he became the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback and led the team to five straight wins to close last season.

 

Just how different things are for Garoppolo wasn’t fully apparent to him until the days after he was spotted last week having dinner with an adult film star.

 

On Wednesday, as he and the rest of his 49ers teammates reported for training camp, Garoppolo said the reaction to that night out opened his eyes to just how closely his every move is now being watched.

 

“Life is different now,” Garoppolo said. “My life off the field, I’ve never really been very big on being very public with things. Even social media, I’m not out there a ton, but my life is looked at differently, [and] I’m under a microscope.”

 

Although Garoppolo previously held a fairly high-profile job as the backup to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, his Q rating has only increased since being traded to the 49ers. His late-season success turned into the five-year, $137.5 million contract he signed with the team in February, a deal that briefly made him the highest paid player in the NFL.

 

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said Wednesday that the reaction to his recent night out in Beverly Hills opened his eyes to just how closely his every move is being watched. “Life is different now,” he said, acknowledging, “I’m under a microscope.” Corey Silvia/Getty Images

While Garoppolo has mostly kept a low profile in the offseason aside from being spotted with rapper 50 Cent and some teammates at a Bellator MMA event in San Jose and serving as the celebrity door opener at a San Jose Sharks playoff game, he has found himself popping up on gossip site TMZ on multiple occasions.

 

The most recent of which came after he joined adult film star Kiara Mia for dinner at Avra restaurant in Beverly Hills last week.

 

On Wednesday, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan briefly pretended to have no knowledge of Garoppolo’s night out.

 

“I never heard anything about those articles,” Shanahan said, laughing. “What are you talking about?”

 

Shanahan went on to point out that Garoppolo learned a valuable lesson about how his every move will be monitored moving forward.

 

“Jimmy came from a place where he saw a lot of people handle that spotlight and everything, so I think Jimmy does have an idea,” Shanahan said. “I think everybody has an idea of how you should handle that spotlight, but not everyone is in that spotlight. I don’t think I have ever in my life commented on a player’s date in July, so I’m not going to start today. I don’t think it really pertains or matters to us.

 

“But I do think that is a very good example, and even though, you know, sometimes you have got to learn how under the microscope we all are. And it’s not just a quarterback, it’s all players. The quarterback definitely gets more than anyone else, but I think it’s a good learning experience for him, and he’s got to know what comes with that stuff.”

 

As it turns out, Garoppolo also hasn’t been able to avoid ribbing from his teammates, either. Asked about how his offseason conversations with Garoppolo went, cornerback Richard Sherman couldn’t help but poke fun at his quarterback.

 

“We talked about a lot,” Sherman said. “We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of certain defenses, passes that he likes, people that he likes to take on dates … [laughing]. No, we just talked ball and got to know each other better, got to know about his family. He has a ton of brothers. We had some great conversations.”

 

Garoppolo and the 49ers are set for their first training camp practice on Thursday. It will be the first time Garoppolo will enter a camp as the full-time starter, though he says that isn’t changing his approach.

 

“I have been going about it similar to what I have done in the past,” Garoppolo said. “Obviously, different offense and different scheme and everything. But for the most part, preparing the same way as I have in the past and a good mindset going into it.”

 

As for the inquiries about his personal life, Garoppolo hopes to keep the focus on football.

 

“It’s like Kyle said, it is a good learning experience,” Garoppolo said. “You just have to take it in stride, I mean, it is what it is.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com looks at the AARON DONALD contract situation from the perspective of past big contracts to defensive tackles:

 

The Rams have yet to give defensive tackle Aaron Donald the long-term offer he wants, probably because he wants market value. The Rams, clearly, don’t want to pay him market value.

 

One obvious reason for that comes from the fact that the Rams could choose to pay Donald on a year-to-year basis over the next three or four seasons and, in turn, pay him much less than the $20 million per year he surely wants. But there’s another less obvious concern that may be motivating the Rams.

 

Over the years, some defensive tackles who cash in with big-money deals seem to lose the edge that fueled their effort to get those big-money deals. Let’s call it the Albert Haynesworth effect; the former Titans defensive tackle never lived up to the $100 million deal he signed with Washington after spending a couple of years under the franchise tag in Tennessee.

 

While there’s no reason to think Donald will suddenly take his foot off the gas once he gets paid, no one really knows how any player will react to getting paid until he gets paid. For the Rams, who can continue to dangle the carrot on a year-to-year basis, there has to be at least some concern that, by paying a lot more, they’ll get a lot less.

 

Then there’s the J.J. Watt conundrum. Although he more than earned the first two years of the $100 million deal the Texans gave him after only three seasons, injuries have limited Watt to only eight games over the last two years, and there’s a concern that Watt may never be the same, thanks to the cumulative effect of seven seasons of being double- and triple-teamed.

 

Watt’s injury issues became significant after his fifth NFL campaign. Donald is entering his fifth NFL campaign. If Donald is destined to begin to break down physically, it will be much better for the Rams to not give Donald, for example, $60 million fully guaranteed over the next three years.

 

Faced with these circumstances, it’s no surprise that Donald reportedly won’t play another down of football under his current contract. But that position ignores the reality that, if Donald doesn’t show up at all this year, his $6.892 million salary for 2018 bumps to 2019. And if he doesn’t show up in 2019, it bumps to 2020.

 

Maybe the Rams will eventually decide to trade Donald to a team that would be willing to roll the dice on the possibility that Donald won’t physically be able to earn his long-term deal. Maybe they’ll eventually blink and pay him what he wants, or at least something close to it. Or maybe they’ll dig in, reluctant to make a major investment on which they may never get a full return and refusing to blink as Donald prepares to skip training camp, and possibly beyond.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Will WR DEZ BRYANT land with the Browns?  Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:

 

The Cleveland Browns have talked about the possibility of acquiring Dez Bryant with Josh Gordon away from the team as part of his rehab, general manager John Dorsey said Wednesday.

 

“Have we had discussions about Dez Bryant?” Dorsey said as he and coach Hue Jackson met the media one day before the opening of training camp. “Yeah, that’s natural. You’re going to have discussions like that.

 

“Now, we’ll see what comes to fruition in the next couple days, but we’ve talked about it.”

 

Dorsey said he views the former Cowboys wide receiver as “a very competitive, passionate person.”

 

“I’ve had a chance to be around Dez,” he said. “I’ve known Dez. I got a chance, when he was down there at Lufkin, Texas, I actually went to his workout and got a chance to meet him down there. I know what kind of person he is and what makes him.

 

“He’s a very talented player.”

 

The Browns are thin at receiver. Gordon voluntarily left the team as part of his aftercare in the NFL’s drug addiction treatment program, and backup Ricardo Louis will miss the season after having neck surgery.

 

The Browns admit they are not sure when Gordon will return, but Dorsey said he believes Gordon will be on the field at some point during the 2018 season.

 

“I would think, absolutely,” Dorsey said.

 

Bryant was released by the Cowboys after eight seasons in Dallas. He topped 1,000 yards three times and has 531 receptions and 73 touchdowns in his career. He started 16 games in 2017 and had 69 catches for 838 yards.

 

“You have to talk about these things,” Dorsey said. “I’ve talked about a lot of players. There’s a whole list of players we’ve talked about as a staff.”

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The two key players on the Texans have returned rarin’ to go in 2018.  Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com reports from the mountains of West Virginia:

 

The Houston Texans will open training camp on Thursday morning with quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt “cleared and ready to go,” according to general manager Brian Gaine.

 

Both players are coming off serious injuries that forced an early end to their 2017 seasons and put them on injured reserve. Watt broke his leg in the Texans’ Week 5 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs; Watson tore the ACL in his right leg in an early November practice and had surgery shortly after.

 

Throughout the Texans’ spring workouts, Watson and Watt both said they were optimistic that they would be ready for the regular season.

 

“[Watson is] cleared and ready to go,” Gaine said. “We’ll be efficient, we’ll be smart [and] we’ll be productive at the same time. But he’s full-go, ready to go, [and we’ve] just got to be smart.

 

“[Watt is] full-go, he’s ready to go, just like we talked about with Deshaun. He is coming off of a major injury. … We’re going to get our work done. But at the same time, [there’s] that healthy balance between being smart and going and getting it.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

DIVISION SWITCH

Earlier this week we had a piece by Peter King where he generally speculated on what would have happened in the 15 seasons between 2003 and 2017 if the Colts had been placed in the AFC East and Dolphins in the AFC South as might be more geographically sensible.

 

In our Earth, New England won 14 AFC East titles in that span (Miami in 2008), while the Colts with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck won 9 AFC South titles while Houston has 4, Tennessee 1 and Jacksonville 1 last year.

 

On Earth 2, with the simplicity of giving the Colts and Dolphins (and everyone else for that matter) the same records as they achieved in our timeline, the Patriots “only” have 11 titles.  The Colts would have won 4 of 5 between 2005 and ’09.  In the reconfigured AFC South, Houston has 6, Jacksonville now 5, Tennessee 3 and Miami 1 (but not in 2008 when it won the AFC East, but in 2013.

 

 

2018 QB TIERS

Mike Sando tiers the NFL QBs for 2018 with the help of some anonymous NFL execs.  It’s extremely long and detailed and you can read it here with excerpts below.

 

Spoilers – warts and all, JAMEIS WINSTON is rated a bit higher than MARCUS MARIOTA.  And MATTHEW STAFFORD at #7 gets a bit more love from the experts than he might from the random fan.

 

Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are up. Eli Manning and Derek Carr are down. Jimmy Garoppolo and Deshaun Watson are ripe for debate.

 

My fifth annual NFL QB Tier rankings are here for 2018, backed by a panel of 50 league insiders. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still set the standard, of course. They were again the only unanimous Tier 1 choices after the 50 experts were finished placing each of the 32 projected starters into one of the five tiers. The higher the tier, the less help the quarterback needs to succeed.

 

The breakdown of voters this year: 10 general managers, five head coaches, 10 coordinators, 10 senior personnel executives, five QB coaches and 10 others with job titles ranging from assistant coach to salary-cap manager to analytics director.

 

We’ve got every team covered here, with candid insights from the 50 voters. The results provide a composite for how the league views its quarterbacks.

 

We start at the top.

 

Note: Because the fourth tier is reserved not only for lesser veteran quarterbacks but also for those without enough playing time to evaluate, exciting young prospects can lag in the rankings. Patrick Mahomes (one career start) is one example this year. Many voters who placed him in the fourth tier think he’ll be better, but they reserved judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence.

 

To jump ahead to a specific tier, click the corresponding button below:

 

TIER 1

A Tier 1 quarterback can carry his team each week. The team wins because of him. He expertly handles pure passing situations.

 

AARON RODGERS

2018 tier average: 1.00

Rodgers has averaged 4.1 touchdown passes per interception over his 10 seasons as a starter. The ratio is 1.8-1 for the other 29 quarterbacks with at least 2,000 pass attempts in that same span. Brady (3.9) is the only other QB even remotely close. Fellow Tier 1 QBs Drew Brees (2.4) and Ben Roethlisberger (2.0) lag far behind. Those are striking differences for elite players within the same era.

 

But now that Rodgers has missed 16 games over the past five seasons, there are questions to answer. Is durability a heightened concern as Rodgers approaches his 35th birthday this December? Will he need to reduce the number of off-schedule plays that have put him at risk of injury?

 

“Look at the injuries that cost Rodgers those 16 games — every one was outside the pocket,” a voter said. “Rodgers knows that. He is smart. If he starts limiting that, he could be like Brady — in shape, fit, into his nutrition and able to be an elite performer into his late 30s. Because remember, if you’re in the pocket, they can’t hit you high, they can’t hit you low and they can’t hit you from more than a step-and-a-half away.”

 

Fair enough, but if Rodgers cuts down on those off-schedule plays, how much less effective will he become? This voter had an answer for that question as well.

 

“Because Rodgers is so dangerous outside the pocket,” the voter said, “people think he is especially reliant on that part of his game. What they don’t realize is that Rodgers does most of his damage on schedule from inside the pocket, where only Brady and Brees are as good. This guy has the quickest release and livest ball in the league across every throw type imaginable.”

 

TOM BRADY

2018 tier average: 1.00

Brady passed for 505 yards in Super Bowl LII at age 40, nearly overcoming a terrible performance from the Patriots’ defense and the injury loss of No. 1 wide receiver Brandin Cooks. He could be getting better. Even his biggest disappointments speak well of him.

 

“He has won five Super Bowls, but think about the Super Bowls they lost,” a defensive coach said. “People forget, against the [2007] Giants, in the fourth quarter, he marched them down, he scored a touchdown and it took a helmet catch [by David Tyree] to win. They sacked him six times, hit him like 11 times — it was the best defensive performance you could ever have had, and the guy still almost won the game.”

 

What more can be said about Brady? I’ll share three additional comments from voters this offseason.

 

Offensive coordinator: “It looks like he is getting better. He is such a quick decision-maker, he is so accurate, they keep expanding what they are doing, the burden is on him, they don’t play good defense anymore. He carries that team.”

 

GM: “The thing that is cool about Brady and people on the outside don’t understand about the NFL is, it is the person he is. It is the leadership he brings to that building. He makes everybody excited about working there, playing on Sundays. Is he an a–h— sometimes? We all are. But he exudes success and confidence. That is so hard to find in a quarterback.”

 

Defensive coordinator: “Bill Belichick is an outstanding coach. If that guy [Brady] is not quarterbacking, then he is like the rest of us, trying to get our s— together. Brady is just a special dude. The guy understands going back to college that he has to compete for everything all the time. That is what makes him great.”

 

DREW BREES

2018 tier average: 1.12

A common read on Brees is that he has declined physically and the clock is ticking louder for him than for Brady, but he’s still good enough to remain in the top tier. As one personnel director put it, Brees might not play at a Tier 1 level for 16 weeks or even for full games, but he usually reaches that level when he needs to reach it.

 

“I thought he was done three years ago,” a tiers voter said. “Give Sean Payton credit. They are running the s— out of the ball. It helps protect him. It gives him really big windows to throw into. It is brilliant.”

 

Another Brees admirer who studied the Saints’ 2017 game at Lambeau Field thought it was increasingly important that the future Hall of Famer plays indoors at least 10 games each season, shielding his surgically repaired throwing shoulder from the elements. This voter said Brees’ passes fluttered in that game, which New Orleans put away with a quarterback sneak for a touchdown after Brees threw two interceptions inside the Green Bay 40.

 

“Brees is a 1, but he is on a heavy decline,” this voter said. “I have a hard time doubting that guy because of who he is, but his arm talent is not near what it used to be. There are throws where if he doesn’t make them on time, he can’t make them anymore, whereas before it was, ‘Oh, s—, Drew Brees is coming to town.'”

 

The percentage of Brees’ passes traveling at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage has declined each of the past four seasons, reaching 25 percent in 2017, the lowest for Brees in his 12 seasons with the Saints. However, a quarterbacks coach said he didn’t think Brees’ arm was limiting the team’s offense.

 

“When you throw it to 41 [Alvin Kamara], you are not throwing it down the field,” another quarterbacks coach said. “You are throwing short screens and option routes.”

 

BEN ROETHLISBERGER

2018 tier average: 1.40

This is the second year in a row Roethlisberger finished with 30 votes in Tier 1 and 20 in Tier 2. He’s a 1, except when he is not.

 

“He is a 1 and I think it will show up a little bit more this year,” an offensive coordinator said. “They have put the burden on him and they will try to take it off just a hair this year.”

 

Voters acknowledge Roethlisberger’s talent and production while wondering how much more consistent he might be if he were as maniacal in his preparation as the other Tier 1 QBs.

 

“You could make an argument that he is a 2 because he doesn’t play very good on the road, but with his production and what they have done offensively, I think he is a 1,” a quarterbacks coach said. “Now, he does not take care of his body very well. He is so naturally gifted, but I think once it goes, it will go fast.”

 

Roethlisberger’s 0-2 record at home against Jacksonville last season and five picks in just one of those games bolstered the perception among some that he’s too careless with the ball.

 

“He was always a 1 in my eyes, but I’m going to take him down to a 2,” a tiers voter said. “Going into our game against Pittsburgh, we said, ‘This guy is going to make 4-5 bad decisions. We just have to catch the ball when he throws it to us.'”

 

TIER 2

A Tier 2 quarterback can carry his team sometimes, but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.

 

MATT RYAN

2018 tier average: 1.62

“Matt Ryan was a hard one for me,” a defensive coordinator said. “I put him as a 1 initially, but I changed him to a 2 because of the playoff stuff. They haven’t won the Super Bowl. To me, if you are a 1, you have won a Super Bowl or you are just so talented that your team is playing bad around you and you didn’t have a chance to do it.”

 

RUSSELL WILSON

2018 tier average: 1.72

“This past year, to me, he carried the team,” a former GM said. “He was their best player and in my estimation he took it to another level. He might be a guy that is sometimes a 1, sometimes a 2. Last year, I thought he was a 1.”

 

A team that was once defined by strong defensive personalities has been transformed.

 

“He has been through two years of hell and he has driven his team to as much success as they can possibly have, with a horrible offensive line,” an offensive coordinator said. “I do not remember him complaining about any of it. Now, I don’t agree with him doing all these look-at-me things in the spring, like the ESPN show and Major League Baseball, but when it is time for the season, he is ready for the season. At least he does that.”

 

MATTHEW STAFFORD

2018 tier average: 1.74

Stafford matched Wilson with 15 Tier 1 votes. There is no meaningful separation between those two in terms of the voting breakdown, but the raw talent Stafford possesses makes him a more inviting target for criticism in the absence of a playoff victory over nine NFL seasons.

 

“He is so talented, but here is my issue,” a defensive coordinator said. “They should have been scoring lots of points and they never did. It falls on him. He is a 1 talent, but between a 2 and 3 performer. He has gotten more disciplined, but sometimes he freelances and it takes him a while to get it back. Then, if it’s late in the game and the coverage gets generic in 2-minute, it is like, ‘Boom, he gets hot.'”

 

PHILIP RIVERS

2018 tier average: 1.80

It was tough to blame Philip Rivers for the Chargers’ playoff absence last season when their special-teams issues were so pronounced, especially with Rivers reducing his interception total to 11 from a league-high 21 the previous season. The reduction in turnovers could explain why 15 voters placed Rivers in the top tier, up from eight last offseason. That made Rivers one of the biggest gainers in Tier 1 votes, behind only Wilson, Carson Wentz and Stafford.

 

“I have watched him and he can still do everything,” a head coach said. “He is fearless with the ball and doesn’t care who the receivers are. You can put me out there and he is going to come after you. It is ridiculous.”

 

CARSON WENTZ

2018 tier average: 1.84

Only Goff enjoyed a larger gain from last offseason among returning quarterbacks. Wentz’s 1.1-point improvement from a 2.9 average vote to a 1.8 likely would have been even greater if he had been the Eagles’ quarterback during their Super Bowl-winning playoff run.

 

“I think he is a 2 that will be a 1, and then once he is a 1, it looks like he has a lot of the traits like Brady,” a Super Bowl-winning coordinator said. “You’d just like to see him do it more.”

 

A personnel director was one of 12 voters to place Wentz in the top tier already.

 

“Obviously, he had the knee, but if healthy and all that stuff, he’s a 1,” this director said. “He has a little backyard in him, but he is a very poised passer, a really gifted runner and he has the arm to make all the throws. He is confident, doesn’t get rattled, does all the things that you want, and his team — the players — they gravitate to him.”

– – –

Eagles backup Nick Foles doesn’t have his own entry here because he’s not the projected starter, but I did include him in the survey. He landed solidly in the third tier between Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor, pulling five votes in the second tier, 34 in the third and 11 in the fourth.

 

“He is a 3 and I could rationalize putting him as a 2 because he is a better thrower than anybody gives him credit for,” an offensive coach said of Foles.

 

ANDREW LUCK

2018 tier average: 1.94

Voters weren’t sure how to handle Andrew Luck. Some assumed, for the sake of the exercise, that he would be healthy and near 100 percent by Week 1. Others assumed he would need time to re-establish himself. Nearly everyone feared Luck might suffer additional setbacks that would keep him off the field even longer. It wasn’t until after the voting was finished that the Colts announced Luck had been cleared for training camp without limitation.

 

“The big wild card there, beyond the health, is the offensive scheme they are going to run,” a voter said. “Yes, they need players and must fix their line, but they also need to get the ball out of his hands. If they do that, and I expect them to do that, they can help him out.”

 

Luck remained solidly in the second tier even though his average vote fell by 0.22. He was the only quarterback who received more than five votes in each of the top three tiers. Here’s a sampling of voters’ perspectives based on which tier they placed Luck in:

 

Tier 1 Luck voter: “I’m keeping him there until he proves me differently. He is one of those guys where his team is never out of a game.”

 

Tier 2 Luck voter: “I’ve gotta go 2 just because of his career, but he could be a nothing. He hasn’t played in how many months? But you have to give him the benefit of the doubt because when he was playing, he was a stud.”

 

Tier 3 Luck voter: “I’ll say 3 because he has played well in the past, but to me, he is almost a 4 in the sense that he is unproven after the injury.”

 

CAM NEWTON

2018 tier average: 2.30

The drop from Luck (1.94 average) to Cam Newton (2.30) is the largest from one quarterback to the next in the survey. It’s not that Newton has plummeted. His average was unchanged from last year. Wilson, Stafford, Rivers and Wentz simply pulled away from him. Those four combined for 31 more Tier 1 votes than they commanded a year ago. (There were 31 additional Tier 1 votes overall).

 

“Cam is a 2-slash-3 who probably fits more in the 3 category,” a defensive backs coach said. “The defense has always been consistent there, and Cam has really only hit it two years since he has been there. He is close. He can almost be a 2, but I would say a 3 for the inconsistency.”

– – –

“Ron Wolf always talked about the most important thing for a quarterback being that when he walked on the field, it tilted in his favor,” an evaluator who placed Newton in the top tier said. “I know Cam is a little unorthodox and everyone wants him to be a better passer, but he can carry his team each week. He is, for sure, a difference-maker and it has been that way since college, where he took what was basically a 6-6 Auburn team to a 12-0 national championship season.”

 

DEREK CARR

2018 tier average: 2.42

Carr suffered the second-largest decline from 2017 to 2018 in average tier rating (1.9 to 2.42). Only Manning’s average fell by more.

 

“He came back to reality,” said an offensive coordinator who has had Carr in the third tier all along. “I thought he would. I think he’s a 3 and I don’t know that he will ever have a year like he did when everyone got so excited about him.”

 

Carr’s talent is undeniable. He’s athletic and can make difficult throws from odd angles. He did not fare as well last season after the Raiders fired offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and struggled to generate a rushing attack behind an offensive line that wasn’t as good.

 

“If everybody is healthy, they win with him at quarterback,” a GM who placed Carr in the second tier said. “If they have injuries, I don’t know if he is the type of guy who can make them win anyway. I’m not saying he won’t get there.”

 

JIMMY GAROPPOLO

2018 tier average: 2.58

Garoppolo and Watson have lower average tier ratings than Alex Smith and Cousins, who head up the third tier. Garoppolo and Watson sneak into the second tier because that is the tier in which they received the most votes.

 

Garoppolo looked the part while seeming to instantly turn around the 49ers, but he made only five starts, which wasn’t much to go on.

 

“I would make him a 3, which I think is a generous grade for a guy who hasn’t played very much,” a former GM said. “He won a bunch of throwaway games. But I do like his fit for that offense. You’ve gotta be smart, you’ve gotta be a good ball handler, you’ve gotta be able to throw on the run. Garoppolo has all those things, so I think he is going to do well.”

– – –

“Garoppolo fit the Gil Brandt college formula coming out [27-plus starts, 26-plus Wonderlic, 60 percent completions],” said the lone voter who placed Garoppolo in the top tier. “He throws a runner’s ball, always leading the receiver to where he should be. It looks like he understands defensive schemes — not like my other Tier 1 guys, but better than my Tier 2s. Throw in a full offseason with Kyle Shanahan and I’m comfortable saying Tier 1.”

 

DESHAUN WATSON

2018 tier average: 2.60

The voting results easily could be interpreted in a manner that would have pushed Garoppolo and Watson into the third tier. They had lower averages than Cousins and Smith, after all. Either way, the excitement over these potentially dynamic young players is real. With Watson, the torn ACL he suffered last season complicates an already tricky evaluation.

 

“To me, he is like the guy from Philly [Wentz],” an evaluator said. “Let’s just see if he can get through the year healthy. He played like a 1 when he played

– – –

“He is a player, man,” a quarterbacks coach said. “S—, talk about what a team was, night and day with and without him, not just once but twice, before he played and then after he played. And then if you go back to his true freshman year at Clemson, he tore his ACL halfway through that season and that was a totally different team before and after him. Big-time guy.”

 

TIER 3

A Tier 3 quarterback is a legitimate starter, but needs a heavier running game and/or defense to win. A lower-volume passing offense makes his job easier.

 

KIRK COUSINS

2018 tier average: 2.52

Cousins slipped from the bottom of the second tier to the top of the third without the consensus on him changing at all (the year-over-year difference was a matter of two of the 50 votes sliding from the second to the third tier). Cousins joined Smith and Dak Prescott as the only quarterbacks to receive all their votes in the second and third tiers.

 

“He is smart, has enough elusiveness, got a quick release and is not going to stand back there nursing the ball,” a voter said, “but I haven’t seen him be able to put the team on his back and just will himself to a win.”

 

ALEX SMITH

2018 tier average: 2.52

Polling was generally done in alphabetical order of team or player names, so voters were not asked about the Redskins’ new quarterback (Smith) and their old one (Cousins) in succession. Even so, they finished with the same number of votes in each tier: 24 in the second and 26 in the third. On follow-up, voters typically said they would prefer Smith if given a choice, partly because they perceived him to be a better leader.

 

“I watched all his tape and would make him the last guy in the second tier,” an offensive coach said of Smith. “He gets the most out of what he’s got more than anybody else I’ve seen. He is a great decision-maker.”

– – –

“Kansas City is going to miss him,” an offensive coordinator said. “They are going to be excited about how dynamic [Patrick] Mahomes is, but when it is said and done, I think they would have won more games with Alex than they will with Mahomes next year. They are going to be hoping Mahomes will play more like Alex in the future.”

 

ELI MANNING

2018 tier average: 2.78

Manning’s average vote declined by six-tenths of a tier, the largest decline for any returning starter. There was some optimism that new coach Pat Shurmur, healthier skill players and new running back Saquon Barkley could be a good combination for Manning.

 

“My gut tells me he is going to end his career strong, but he is a 3 right now,” a GM said. “I think with Barkley helping him now and the tight end with those receivers, I have a funny feeling he will be like his brother, play another three years, play well and ride out.”

 

DAK PRESCOTT

2018 tier average: 2.78

The way Prescott struggled without Ezekiel Elliott explains why the young quarterback received 13 fewer votes in the second tier this offseason compared to last. He stayed in the third tier overall, slipping three spots in the order.

 

“What you see is, he needs a run game and the MVP of that team is not Dak Prescott — it’s Ezekiel Elliott,” a defensive coordinator said.

 

JARED GOFF

2018 tier average: 2.80

The magnitude of the Rams’ offensive reversal came as a shock, but an offensive coordinator quoted in the 2017 QB Tiers deserves credit for saying this about Goff last offseason: “It was a little bit unfair throwing him in there like they did, especially when everything was in turmoil with that organization. I think he has a chance. Maybe he can move toward a 3 this year with the idea of becoming a 2 one day.”

 

That is what happened. Goff made the largest year-over-year leap in average tier, diminishing his 0-7 record as a rookie starter in this evaluation. Now the expectations increase again.

 

“A starting quarterback should be able to take advantage and not hinder the offense when everything is great — the playcaller, the running back, all that,” a voter said. “Give Goff credit for that. There are moments when the QB has to convert — it’s on him. Atlanta put Goff in those situations during the playoff game, and he could not convert. Now, this offseason, you can bet teams have been breaking down how to slow that offense.”

 

Fourteen voters placed Goff in the second tier. Four placed him in the fourth, which seemed surprisingly low following a full season of productive play. But some voters gave much more credit to coach Sean McVay, a healthy Todd Gurley and an improved offensive line. Goff’s rookie season wasn’t totally irrelevant to them.

 

“I’m going to step out here a little bit and say he’s a 2,” a former GM said, “because of the upside, because of the arm talent, because of how he bounced back from adversity. They gave him some weapons, but the majority of quarterbacks need them. He went through some stuff, he responded in the right way and I respect that in a quarterback.”

 

JAMEIS WINSTON

2018 tier average: 2.86

It’s a problem when a quarterback known for making poor decisions on the field is also known for making poor decisions off the field. That is Jameis Winston, although there was good with the bad on the field last season.

 

Winston set career bests in 2017 for completion rate (63.8), yards per attempt (7.93), interception rate (2.5) and passer rating (92.2). He also missed three games to injury, added less value as a rusher and saw his QBR fall below 50, a career low. He’s now facing a three-game suspension after the NFL substantiated allegations that Winston groped a female Uber driver.

 

“He’s a 3 and part of his deal is he is hot and cold,” a defensive coordinator said. “You can always count on him to turn the ball over for you. We counted on it and he was just super careless with the ball.”

 

A former GM noted that Winston was “on fire” against Atlanta last season, which made this evaluator think Winston could succeed with the right team and coach. A current GM noted that Winston beat the Saints late in the season, when the quarterback was supposedly healthy.

 

“I knew he would struggle coming out,” an exec said. “It’s his makeup, and then he has lazy feet and a careless mentality. He is still young, but I don’t like his game. He has a long, drawn-out delivery and he doesn’t throw guys open. That works at Florida State when your receivers are better than the DBs you are playing against, but if you are a second late in the NFL, you are screwed.”

 

MARCUS MARIOTA

2018 tier average: 2.94

Marcus Mariota suffered the fourth-largest decline from last offseason behind Manning, Carr and Joe Flacco. That was after he became the fourth player since 2015 to finish with more interceptions than touchdown passes on at least 400 attempts, joining DeShone Kizer, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brock Osweiler.

 

“His intangibles push him up, but man, he throws lollipops up there,” an exec said. “He was not real accurate. He doesn’t scare you when you play them. They are going to run a bunch of RPOs this year and that will be interesting.”

 

ANDY DALTON

2018 tier average: 2.96

Andy Dalton ranks 21st in annual salary average and 22nd in this survey. He was very good (70.0 QBR) when the Bengals had a stacked roster in 2015. He has been average to pretty good the rest of the time, just like the Bengals.

 

“He is one of those guys who was a Pro Bowler at one point, but they never take the next step,” a former GM said. “He’s smart, they respect him, he’s won games for them, but I can’t see him going to the next step. I compare Andy to Alex Smith: good enough to win with, but can they get you over the hump?”

 

JOE FLACCO

2018 tier average: 3.06

Two voters actually put the former Super Bowl MVP in the fifth tier, no longer a legitimate starter. That seemed particularly harsh, but there’s no question Flacco has been heading in the wrong direction.

 

“I’m never scared of Joe,” a defensive coordinator said. “I’m trying to stop the run game with Baltimore because that is the only way Joe is effective.”

– – –

Multiple voters acknowledged that personnel attrition had made Flacco’s job tougher in recent years. This survey ranks him as the third-best starter in the AFC North, with Browns newcomer Tyrod Taylor gaining on him.

 

CASE KEENUM

2018 tier average: 3.06

One take on Keenum: He’s a 4 who played like a 2, which makes him a 3 until further notice.

 

“He is one of those guys who will have a couple good years and then he will go to be a good backup and at the end of the day he is going to play 12-13 years in the league and he’ll be fine — like Josh McCown,” a defensive coordinator said.

 

TYROD TAYLOR

2018 tier average: 3.20

Taylor moved more solidly into the third tier this offseason, pulling seven additional Tier 3 votes and seven fewer Tier 4 votes compared to last year.

 

“You saw what happened when they tried to play the other kid,” an offensive coordinator said, referring to Nathan Peterman throwing five first-half interceptions after replacing Taylor in Buffalo’s lineup.

 

Taylor avoids interceptions and can threaten defenses with his feet — not just as a runner, but as a buyer of time. Taylor led the NFL over the past three seasons in percentage of third-and-long passes (7-10 yards needed) producing first downs. He averaged 3.09 seconds before the pass on those throws, second only to Rodgers’ 3.14 among players with at least 100 attempts in those situations.

 

“The receivers he had in Buffalo were terrible,” a coach said. “They got rid of two [Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods] who flourished other places, and they replaced them with the big guy from Carolina [Kelvin Benjamin] who runs 4.85 [actually 4.61 at the combine] and god knows who else. Then they run Tyrod out of town.”

 

An offensive coordinator said he thought Taylor was so focused on avoiding interceptions that it limited the plays he made, noting that there were “NFL throws that needed to be made” when receivers were open, but Taylor did not make them. A defensive coordinator said he thought facing Taylor was a “nightmare” because of the running and scrambling ability.

 

“His receivers in Buffalo were not good, so he and Shady [LeSean McCoy] had to do it all,” an offensive coach said. “Cleveland does not have great receivers, but if Josh Gordon comes around, look out. Tyrod could make another jump.”

 

BLAKE BORTLES

2018 tier average: 3.30

Bortles went from getting 40 votes in the bottom two tiers last year to getting only 14 in those tiers this time around. He jumped into Tier 3 as a result. Was it him? The team around him? A combination?

 

“That is a perfect example of defense and a run game, and what you can get away with at quarterback,” a veteran coach said. “Someone who completely and utterly commits to that mentality and the whole building is behind it — they drafted it, they sell it and everything is all about that.”

– – –

“The perception is that he is terrible, but the reality is, he’s a 3, and that’s not terrible,” an offensive coordinator said.

 

RYAN TANNEHILL

2018 tier average: 3.36

Ryan Tannehill’s QBR has been below 50 every season but 2014. (By comparison, Bortles has been above 50 twice over that span, despite having one fewer season.)

 

Is this the year Tannehill takes off?

 

“He is one of those guys like Dalton, where you wait for them to take the next step, but they kind of just level off,” a former GM said. “He’s been hurt, too.”

 

SAM BRADFORD

2018 tier average: 3.38

Bradford got more Tier 3 votes (29) than Tier 4 votes (20) and there was even a Tier 2 in there, but the obvious durability concerns were an overriding factor.

 

“If it’s 7-on-7, he is a 1 every day of the week, but it is not 7-on-7, so he is a 3,” one voter said.

– – –

“I think he is developing a lot of NFL scar tissue that isn’t good for a career,” a head coach said.

 

TIER 4

A Tier 4 quarterback could be an unproven player with some upside, or a veteran who is ultimately best suited as a backup.

 

MITCHELL TRUBISKY

2018 tier average: 3.54

Mitchell Trubisky fits into the not-enough-information category, especially after playing for a defense-minded head coach (John Fox) without much weaponry.

 

“He makes me nervous in that most of his plays come off some kind of movement or broke-down play and I think those plays dry up real fast,” an offensive coordinator said. “I just don’t think there is enough information and I certainly can’t evaluate him off what they were doing last year. I will be anxious to see because they are going to run the Kansas City offense. It is a quarterback-driven offense, and I don’t know that he is going to be able to carry it.”

 

There was some thought among voters that Trubisky could enjoy a Goff-like revival after undergoing a coaching change and weaponry overhaul, although no one expected Chicago to start scoring the way the Rams did a year ago. One GM questioned Trubisky’s accuracy. Another noted that when Trubisky was in college, he couldn’t make an average team much better than average.

 

“I like Trubisky,” a defensive coordinator said. “I think that kid has a shot to be decent. He is athletic, he’s got a big arm, he has pretty good accuracy. When we played him, they had zero receivers. He was playing with a junior-high cast.”

 

JOSH McCOWN

2018 tier average: 3.78

McCown will finish the 2018 season having earned $32 million after age 35. He also will surpass David Carr as the highest-earning quarterback from the 2002 draft. Not bad for a player who has been considered ideally suited as a backup over the years.

– – –

“McCown is probably making 80 percent of his money for what he does Monday through Saturday,” an evaluator said. “God bless America.”

 

PATRICK MAHOMES

2018 tier average: 3.80

Mahomes ranks this low only because he has hardly played, leading most voters to place him in the fourth tier until more information becomes available.

 

“He is a 4 with the arrow pointing way up,” a GM said. “He can be a 2. I think it will take Andy Reid a year. Mahomes will be good, but he will turn the ball over and I think that is what you will have to get under control. But I do think he has major upside.”

 

AJ McCARRON

2018 tier average: 4.10

AJ McCarron has seven touchdowns, three interceptions, an 87.6 passer rating and a 48.0 QBR while going 2-2 as a starter, including playoffs.

 

The Bills liked McCarron, but still drafted Josh Allen seventh overall in April.

 

“He is a confident, cocky kid,” a coach with ties to the Bengals said. “He believes he can be an NFL quarterback. That can be good and bad. The year Andy [Dalton] broke his thumb, he goes in and throws a pick-six on his first pass.”

 

A few voters held out hope for McCarron. Most seemed lukewarm.

 

“He does not deserve a 3, but I like him,” a GM said. “I would be feeling like, ‘We might be on to something.’ He basically won a playoff game if that guy did not fumble. He can anticipate throws on the boundary that legit quarterbacks anticipate. Right now, if they said I could have Tannehill or McCarron, I would take McCarron.”