The 2023 NFL Scouting Combine is about to get started next week, as the NFL world descends upon Indianapolis for the longest and strangest job interview there is.
Which means the NFL offseason is about to begin in earnest.
Over the next few weeks we will see the end of the franchise tag window, the “legal tampering period” — always an amusing phrase — and the start of free agency. It all builds towards the 2023 NFL Draft, set to take place at the end of April in Kansas City.
As this whirlwind kicks off, here are the major storylines to watch in the NFL this offseason.
Hey, remember how wild last year was with quarterbacks moving everywhere? Russ to the Broncos, Matt Ryan to the Colts, Carson Wentz to the Commanders, Baker Mayfield to Carolina, and the Browns trading for Deshaun Watson? This year is on track to be even more nuts.
Obviously the elephant in the dark Hobbit-hole is Aaron Rodgers. Whatever he decides to do will have a domino effect on the rest of the league. Teams who think they’re only a QB away from winning a championship will absolutely sell the farm if he wants to be dealt, and to that end everything more or less centers on the New York Jets.
Beyond that, however, there’s just so much intrigue. Derek Carr is a free agent, and a mammoth upgrade to a QB-needy team, regardless of how much he’s been slandered in the past. Jimmy Garoppolo is also a free agent now, and is a reliable, high-floor player who can easily stabilize a team with a strong defense that’s looking for consistency under center.
Then we have some of the wilder potential stories for QB movement this offseason. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens could be breaking up unless there’s a magic breakthrough in their contract negotiations. Yes, Baltimore has the power to franchise tag Jackson for two straight years, but that risks a potential holdout — which helps nobody. There’s every possibility the Ravens tag and trade Jackson before the draft, maximizing their return now and potentially looking for their QB of the future in the draft.
Just to add to the drama, now we have Daniel Jones in New York reportedly wanting $45M a year. Is he worth that? No. Can you blame him trying to get the bag? Nope. I don’t think anything happens with Jones in terms of movement, but wilder things have happened. This leaves us with a very real possibility of FIVE starting quarterbacks moving before the season begins, and big-name players at that who will shake up divisions.
Need WR help? This might not be the year
Recently, I was taking a break from working and doing what everyone does when taking a break from working.
Scrolling social media.
That is when I came across a pair of graphic that stopped me in my tracks. First was this from The 33rd Team, highlighting the top free agents this offseason at wide receiver:
That is a ... thin group at wide receiver. Now, as a New England Patriots fan at heart, it is tough to find a bigger fan of Jakobi Meyers than I am, but the second I saw this graphic I thought two things:
Jakobi Meyers is likely playing elsewhere next year.
This might not be the deepest free agency class at wide receiver that we have seen in recent years.
So, that leads us to the second graphic:
I mean if this year's receiver class stacks up to last year's as closely as Lance Zierlein's rankings suggest, I'll be ok with it ♂️ pic.twitter.com/Em9XQrR670— Tom Barkley (@TopWeightTom) February 15, 2023
These are Lance Zierlein’s wide receiver rankings for the past two drafts. Zierlein does incredible work each year covering the draft, and his analysis carries a lot of weight. What stands out here is how his wide receiver rankings differ from where consensus stacks the position, at least at the moment. Here are the top five wide receivers according to the “Consensus Big Board” at NFL Mock Draft Database, a tremendous resource every draft season: Quentin Johnson, Jordan Addison, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jalin Hyatt, and Zay Flowers.
In other words, opinions are mixed on this receiver class. On his annual pre-Combine conference call, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Media described the draft class of receivers as “not as loaded” as previous years:
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Media is on a conference call right now to talk draft ahead of the combine.— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) February 24, 2023
Says this class is deep at corner and tight end. At receiver, it's not as loaded as some previous years.
What does all of this mean? Might we see teams lean into the draft because of how the NFL free agency group looks? Might the lack of consensus on the draft class translate into a big pay day for receivers like Meyers, Allen Lazard and JuJu Smith-Schuster?
Watching the wide receiver position unfold this offseason will be fascinating.
Potential QB extensions for the Class of 2020
As noted above, there is the potential for unprecedented quarterback movement this offseason. Whether Lamar Jackson gets a long-term deal with the Baltimore Ravens is certainly one quarterback contract issue to watch, but other potential QB contract situations to monitor involve the Class of 2020.
With what we have seen from Jalen Hurts, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Tua Tagovailoa, there may be an incentive for their teams to try and move sooner rather than later on contract extensions. Think back to when Patrick Mahomes signed his ten-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. It seemed massive at the time, but subsequent deals for Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Deshaun Watson have pushed Mahomes’ deal — in terms of average annual dollars — down to the fifth-highest in the NFL among quarterbacks.
For teams, the sooner you move on the extension, the better. Because the longer you wait, the more the market will be reset by the time your passer puts ink to paper.
The sale of the Washington Commanders
Living in Maryland, there are two questions I am asked most often, once people learn what I do for a living.
“Will the Commanders find a quarterback?”
“Will Snyder finally sell the team?”
With respect to the first question, it seems that the organization is going to do everything possible to make Sam Howell the long-term solution to their quarterback problem.
Regarding the second, we might see a resolution on that front in the next month.
According to recent reports, a potential sale of the Washington franchise could be in the works ahead of the NFL Annual Meeting, slated for the end of March. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos is reportedly the “preferred bidder” for a number of NFL officials, and Bezos just hired an investment firm to evaluate his potential bid.
So hopefully I can have some answers at the bus stop before school sometime soon.
Can Sean Payton fix Russell Wilson?
According to new reporting from The Athletic, during his final days with the Seattle Seahawks, quarterback Russell Wilson approached ownership, asking that head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider be fired.
Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos days later.
The quarterback pushed back on the reports on social media, but there is something very intriguing about the story from The Athletic. Wilson had a potential coach in mind, apparently, to take over in Seattle.
Wilson now gets his chance to be coached by Payton, as the Broncos have hired him to be their next head coach. Payton is in the process of filling out his staff, adding former quarterback Davis Webb as the team’s quarterbacks coach, and Joe Lombardi will be added to the staff as well. Lombardi was most recently the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers, but spent years under Payton in New Orleans.
Wilson took a big step back last season, posting the worst statistical season of his NFL career. Can Payton, and the offensive staff he is putting around Wilson in Denver, turn things around?
What do the Bears do with the No. 1 draft pick?
The Bears received a gift from former head coach Lovie Smith when his Houston Texans pulled out a miracle comeback over the Indianapolis Colts in the last game of the season to sabotage their own hold on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and transfer it straight to Chicago. The Bears are coming off a 3-14 season, but the development of Justin Fields was so encouraging that Chicago just might have a franchise QB for the first time since Sid Luckman’s heyday in the 1940s. Yes, it’s been a long time.
The Bears already knew they were going to be flushed with the most cap space in the NFL this offseason. Now they own the No. 1 overall pick, and with it the promise of a trade down that could restock the team with future draft picks for years to come. Someone is going to want to trade up for a QB — whether Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis, or Anthony Richardson ultimately becomes the top prospect is still up for debate — and the Bears should cash in with a big haul of assets.
What will Chicago value in a trade? They could try to take on a veteran star into their cap space in addition to future picks, with Carolina’s Brian Burns being mentioned as one option. They will likely demand a first rounder for the 2024 draft, and ideally a pick still in the top-10 this year. The Bears need all the help they can get on the defensive front seven after trading their two best players from that group, Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, midway through last season. This is their big chance to give Fields a talented supporting cast and set themselves up to be the next young team that takes a large leap up the standings.
Bijan Robinson’s draft position
Texas RB Bijan Robinson is one of the best overall talents in this upcoming draft class. His gamebreaking ability as a runner and receiver on top of his next level agility and play strength. The back should be considered a lock for the first round.
How high is the true question.
Because of the fluctuating value of drafting a running back in the first round, compared to drafting a back in the later rounds (or not at all), Robinson’s entire draft stock seemingly depends on if NFL teams value his ability more than the average RB. In addition, not many teams seem like they have a true need at the position. Robinson could be seen as a luxury pick, something that many teams don’t have the ability to take in the first round. Wherever he goes, though, Robinson should be a star.
During his pre-Combine conference call, Daniel Jeremiah indicated that teams might be looking at Robinson earlier in the first round than some might expect:
Teams consider Bijan Robinson as a top-5 player in this class, per @MoveTheSticks. If he goes Top 10, the selecting team "wouldn't get laughs" from the NFL.— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) February 24, 2023
As DJ has said for years (and I agree), there isn't an issue with drafting RB in 1st round if you're a contender.
There’s no denying that Rodgers is the biggest factor in the quarterback shuffle, which we discussed earlier — but Rodgers is a story in an of himself.
No matter what he decides about his future it’s going to be a story. Hell, at this point he’s allegedly embezzling welfare funds away from completely morphing into Brett Favre. There are so many swirling reports about Rodgers ranging from the Packers wanting to move on, Rodgers demanding a trade, or even just retiring outright.
These stories extend far beyond just a quarterback wanting out, and because of how his 2022 contract extension was structured with Green Bay, giving him a lot of guaranteed money, it will impact the cap situation of the Packers immensely.
Then, of course, we always have Rodgers’ weekly appearances on The Pat McAfee Show to add to the intrigue. Which weird pseudoscience or self-help regimen will he champion next? Got to tune in to see. No matter what, it’s going to be full of drama.