The Eagles are headed back to their first Super Bowl since the 2017 season after defeating the 49ers 31–7 in the NFC championship Sunday. Here are five takeaways from what transpired at Lincoln Financial Field …
• The overwhelming story line coming out of this is how the 49ers quarterback situation, which had been managed so well, collapsed under the weight of two injuries—one to Brock Purdy’s throwing elbow and the other to Josh Johnson’s head. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said in the postgame press conference that they first noticed a brace of some sort on Purdy’s arm right before he re-entered the game. He also made the call to play tighter to the line on the Niners defensively to combat their barrage of runs and screens after Johnson exited the game and Purdy re-entered after Johnson suffered a concussion. After Ndamukong Suh knocked Johnson to the turf, and his head snapped back before hitting the ground with 12:30 left in the third quarter, San Francisco managed just one first down, and 27 yards on 16 offensive snaps. There was, really, just about nothing Kyle Shanahan or anyone else could do without a functional quarterback—Shanahan did say the Niners considered going exclusively to the Wildcat, but scrapped that after the score got out of hand.
• The Niners were down two quarterbacks already going into Sunday’s game, and obviously no one could expect a circumstance like this one to arise. But it’s worth mentioning that the NFL used to have a failsafe for this sort of circumstance—the third quarterback designation. The rule allowed for teams to dress a third quarterback without it counting against the 45-man game day roster limit (with rules limiting the first two quarterbacks from reentering the game once the third quarterback went in). The league abolished the exemption in 2011 when it expanded game day rosters to 46, and most teams fell back on dressing just two quarterbacks for games. Ex-NFL QB Brady Quinn mentioned all this on Twitter Sunday, and suggested bringing the rule back. I’d agree with him. What we saw Sunday in Philly wasn’t good for the game.
• We’ll have more on this in the rest of the MMQB column Monday morning, but the Eagles felt pretty strongly that they had won this game up front on both sides of the ball—Philly rushed for 148 yards, and all four of its touchdowns were scored on the ground. Defensively, the Eagles’ front was all over Purdy and Johnson (despite only registering three sacks) and held San Francisco’s vaunted run game to 81 yards. And when it comes to the makeup of that group of linemen, there’s a real rarity here, too, in that the Eagles are anchored on both sides with a pair of players (Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham on defense, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson on offense) that have been with the team for over a decade.
• The Niners will be back. The question is what they bring back at quarterback. I think a swing at Tom Brady is possible. And if not, my guess would be that both Purdy and Trey Lance will be on the 2023 roster, and that the two will compete for the starting job in the fall.
• Because there’s always disrespect spliced into these things, it turns out there were some Eagles defensive players who took offense to what George Kittle said during the week. When asked Thursday if the Eagles could match the 49ers’ physicality, Kittle answered, “We’ll see, won’t we? I know we’re going to come out and be violent and physical. I’m expecting them to be the same thing. But we’ll see.” And the Niners did see.
The Jets didn’t hire offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to get Aaron Rodgers. But I can tell you, unequivocally, that Robert Saleh and the team’s decision-makers were very aware of the implication hiring the former Broncos coach would bring—and they aren’t shying from it. I think the reason for that is someone pretty high up in the organization won’t shy away from it—if and when the time comes.
And do you know who remembers that the Jets were 5–2 at the end of October and 7–4 on Dec. 1?
Woody Johnson, that’s who. And the Jets’ co-owner has, in the past, acted aggressively when he felt like his team was close. After a 10–6 uptick in 2015, he held on to an aging core for an extra year, and doggedly stayed after Ryan Fitzpatrick to return in ’16. In ’07, he had a burgeoning young core, and a coach he needed to pass judgment on, and pushed GM Mike Tannenbaum to go get Brett Favre—the ’08 Jets, by the way, were 8–3 when Favre got hurt.
This circumstance isn’t wholly unlike those. The Jets have a strong core of players that, with some injury luck this season, might have made the playoffs. They’ll have to make a decision on Saleh. And now, they have a close friend of Rodgers as their new offensive coordinator.
Again, there are other reasons that, after interviewing more than 15 candidates for the job, Saleh went with Hackett. He worked with him in Jacksonville, and watched Hackett call plays up close in 2016. He loves Hackett’s ability to connect with players (you can ask Rodgers about that one). He wanted someone who could build a dominant run game, and Hackett was part of those sorts of operations as a coordinator in Jacksonville and Green Bay. And he won with quarterbacks both average and elite.
So, regardless of whether they land Rodgers, I do think Saleh is content with the hire of Hackett. But he’s also not shutting the door on acquiring the Packers quarterback, and he indicated as much by telling reporters last week that the Jets were planning to bring in a veteran at the position (which, of course, could be Jimmy Garoppolo or Derek Carr, too).
This one should be interesting.
Acquiring Rodgers won’t be a simple proposition for anyone. It will, obviously, cost another team a number of picks. It’s also going to take some fiscal maneuvering.
Here’s the outlay of Rodgers’s contract the next two years …
• He has a $58.3 million option bonus due March 17 that’s fully guaranteed.
• He also has a $50,000 workout bonus next year, and $1.65 million base salary, which brings his 2023 cash to $60 million.
• He has a $47 million option bonus for 2024 that vests as fully guaranteed next March.
• He also has a $2.25 million base and $50,000 roster bonus to bring his 2024 cash to $49.3 million, and two-year take to $109.3 million.
The one thing Rodgers doesn’t have is a no-trade clause—which is a matter of precedent for the Packers—but the reality is no one is trading for him, and that contract, and all that comes with acquiring a player of his magnitude, without him signing off on it.
The cap numbers, for another team, are manageable, thanks to a couple void years on the back end of the deal and option-bonus structure. But the cash is another matter. How far will Rodgers be willing to go to get to the destination he wants? And how far will another team go, both cash- and cap-wise to get him? Those are fair, and interesting, questions.
We’ll get answers soon enough.
What we know now, though, is that things do seem to be trending toward Rodgers potentially seeking 2009 Favre-2020 Brady-style late-career rejuvenation. And the Packers might be ready to let it ride with Jordan Love after a year in which he made the most progress of his three as a pro. Which, I’d say, would be understandable for all parties involved.
This shapes up as an important week in the Carr saga. And that’s largely because this week is Senior Bowl week, which is the first tentpole event of the offseason where you get a big group of decision-makers (GMs, head coaches) in one place at one time.
I’m told Raiders GM Dave Ziegler will be making the trip. That’s significant, because if you look back at recent history, you’ll find that Mobile, Alabama, is actually where the legwork for the Matthew Stafford deal got done two years ago—Lions GM Brad Holmes and COO Mike Disner made the trip, started talking with other teams there, and the deal with the Rams was done that Saturday. Conversely, it’s also where, years ago, contract talks between Washington and Kirk Cousins absolutely collapsed. So a lot of business gets done (or not done) there.
At this point, because there are still a bunch of head coach and offensive coordinator openings, and because the cap is still a moving target, the market for Carr hasn’t really materialized outside of conceptual conversations. As things advance, I’d think three of the NFC South teams (Saints, Panthers, Buccaneers) could throw hats in the ring, and maybe the Jets would, too (the Commanders and Colts are two others to consider, though they might be gun shy given their recent strikeouts on trades for second-chance veteran QBs).
My understanding as of right now is the Raiders have not granted Carr’s camp the ability to seek a trade. And even though there are the aforementioned teams out there with needs, dealing him before the Feb. 15 deadline—when his $32.9 million base for next year and $7.5 million of his 2024 money vests as fully guaranteed—won’t be easy. And he absolutely won’t be on the Raiders’ roster past that date, so there is the idea that teams that are interested in him should just wait for Vegas to cut him.
From there, there are a few questions:
• Why wouldn’t a team just wait for the Raiders to cut Carr? Obviously, you’d do it for the certainty of having your guy, and being able to start planning for 2023. The question, then, would be if someone would be willing to pay Carr $32.9 million next year, and effectively lock itself into him for ’24, or have to pay another $7.5 million before then to get out of it.
• Would Carr take a contract adjustment to facilitate a trade? The one reason why he might want to do it is the optics of getting traded are better than the optics of getting cut. And he’d be able to leave a team he spent nine years with on good terms.
• Why would Carr want to help the Raiders now? I actually have heard things aren’t on terrible terms between the team and quarterback, and that Carr’s handled all this professionally. So this isn’t one of those, at least I don’t think it is, where a player simply isn’t going to help the team out he’s leaving.
• What else could gum up the works? With Rodgers’s name floated out there, and a ton of veteran quarterbacks (Garoppolo, Geno Smith, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones) potentially available at a cheaper rate, and not requiring draft picks for acquisition, teams might be content to wait until March to address the position.
Regardless, Carr has the advantage of knowing—whether he’s cut or traded—that he’ll be able to find a new home a month ahead of the market, and he has a no-trade clause to control his destination. So will the Raiders be able to swing a return for him? Or is he going to be the rare February free agent?
The idea of a championship window closing in Buffalo is asinine. Do the Bills have challenges ahead? Yes. Are things going to get easier in a conference with great young quarterbacks everywhere? No.
But this notion that this year was one big last swing for that group? Ridiculous.
The hard part is already taken care of in Buffalo. They have the right coach [Sean McDermott] and GM [Brandon Beane], and both of those guys are still in their 40s. Their franchise quarterback [Josh Allen] is just 26. Their left tackle [Dion Dawkins] is 28. Their top corner [Tre'davious White] is 28. Their No. 1 receiver [Stefon Diggs] is 29. Their all-pro middle linebacker [Matt Milano] is 28. All have long-term contracts.
The fight the Bills have to wage from here will come on two fronts. One is now having to build around a top-of-the-market quarterback contract, as Kansas City has had to do with Patrick Mahomes. And two, and related, is having to fill the roster out with players drafted and developed in-house, without as much of the luxury of being able to go out and sign veterans to plug holes on the roster.
So with that as the backdrop, here’s what’s on the Bills’ agenda the next couple months …
• Trying to find a way to keep either former first-round linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or stalwart safety Jordan Poyer. My understanding is the Bills have confronted the reality that it’s going to be tough, from a cap standpoint, to hold on to both. Do they have answers internally if they can’t find a way to keep either? Part of the issue here is the team is already paying Micah Hyde and Milano at those positions. Which brings us to …
• Managing the salary cap. Buffalo is like the other 31 teams, in that the lack of a cap range (normally that’s distributed at the league’s labor seminar in December) has made it borderline impossible to start planning for March. But one way or the other, the Bills will probably have to rework a few contracts to reach cap compliance—even if the cap was set at $230 million—as it stands now—they’d be over.
• Getting healthy. Obviously, the most obvious name here is Von Miller, and his comeback from ACL surgery will be a huge part of the 2023 equation. But another important one is White, who missed a whole calendar year hurt, and wasn’t himself when he came back. Getting a full-speed White, and some development from Kaiir Elam, plus a healthy Miller, would go a long way toward getting the defense where it’s going to need to be against teams such as Kansas City and Cincinnati next year.
• Getting Allen some help. In the end, when the Bills needed to lean on the run game, they too often either couldn’t, or had to lean on Allen to create it. So with Devin Singletary a free agent, James Cook and Nyheim Hines returning, and a strong draft class of tailbacks, Buffalo has a chance to rework its offense a bit. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the draft bring some help up front, too, though the Bills feel relatively good about their line.
And, sure, taking care of all of those things in one fell swoop won’t be easy. But it also won’t be nearly as hard as finding someone such as Allen was in the first place.
The Patriots’ hire of Bill O’Brien is what’s best for Mac Jones. And, really, there are two main football-related reasons for that.
- O’Brien’s institutional knowledge of the system that Josh McDaniels ran with Jones as a rookie in 2021 is as deep as almost anyone’s—he ran and called the scheme for Bill Belichick from 2009-11—which gives the new-old OC rich background to build off in looking at what Jones did the past two years.
- O’Brien ran Nick Saban’s offense the past two years at Alabama. And while it’s not identical to what Jones ran while he was there, there is a base for the offense that Saban insists his coordinators work off to make life easier on the players. So O’Brien has good command over what Jones did and was asked to do in college.
And then, for the Patriots as a whole, there’s this—he’s a far cry from what they had a year ago, when Belichick tried to jam two square pegs in round holes. My buddies Karen Guregian and Andrew Callahan had a pretty in-depth look at the offensive dysfunction in Foxborough, and it was centered largely on the failure of two ex-head coaches, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, who slid over from defense and special teams to replace McDaniels.
I’d add that Belichick himself is on the hook for all this, too. My understanding is Belichick was active on the headsets on gameday, having the sort of oversight over the offense that he’d traditionally had over the defense, and moonlighting as play-caller at points (which is why, at times, calls were late going in, and the offense could look messy from an operational standpoint).
That, of course, was a tacit acknowledgment of the mistake he’d made setting up the staff the way he did in the first place, and it’s certainly fair to ask why he didn’t just go get O’Brien last year—I’m told the reason he didn’t even pursue it with Saban was out of fear that O’Brien might do well enough in a year to land a head-coaching job elsewhere, leaving the Patriots to replace a coordinator two years in a row.
Turns out, they had to do that anyway, and now they’ve landed O’Brien. And as a result, ownership’s fingerprints are already all over this offseason, with a more transparent and conventional approach than we saw a year ago.
Will it work? I’d say there’s a better chance this year than last. And if not, well, then there’ll probably be bigger questions to ask.
One thing you need to know
Damar Hamlin spoke this weekend. You can check it out right here.