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Bump and Run

Latest On the QB Carousel and Free Agency

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: March 5, 2021, 10:03 am ET

This is the offseason where NFL media personnel expect the most shuffling at the quarterback position that the league has seen in a long time, maybe ever. Let’s check in with the latest on the major players caught up in the whirlwind.

 

Russell Wilson -- This one keeps picking up steam seemingly every other day. The latest on Wilson came from ESPN’s Dianna Russini on Thursday when she reported the Seahawks are indeed answering calls from other teams regarding Wilson. They may not be shopping their franchise quarterback, but GM John Schneider is listening with Wilson “not happy” in Seattle. He and coach Pete Carroll apparently have experienced a disconnect that may end this marriage. Wilson would reportedly accept a deal to the Cowboys, Bears, Raiders, or Saints. The return would have to be significant. It would be a whole lot of fun to see Wilson with an offensive-minded head coach who isn’t afraid to let his quarterback do the heavy lifting on offense. Wilson has understandably grown tired of the Seahawks’ conservative, run-first ways.

Deshaun Watson -- The latest on Watson is there really doesn’t seem to be a “latest.” The Texans are reportedly not answering calls on Watson despite Watson’s extreme displeasure with the team and desire to never again don a Houston uniform. The Texans front office is letting calls from other teams go straight to voicemail, and Watson sounds like he’d be interested in sitting out the 2021 season if he doesn’t get his trade wish granted. For what it’s worth, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported “no one believes” around the league Watson will be dealt.

Kirk Cousins -- Speaking this week, Vikings GM Rick Spielman stated Cousins “is our quarterback going forward.” Cousins was the subject of some chatter, particularly when it came to the 49ers. There’s a connection there with Kyle Shanahan from their time together in Washington, but the Niners have already openly committed to Jimmy Garoppolo coming back for 2021, though GM John Lynch didn’t exactly say it was a definite. Cousins is staying put.

Ben Roethlisberger -- There was some hesitation from parts of the Pittsburgh chain of command earlier in the offseason about whether or not Big Ben would be back with the Steelers in 2021. But president Art Rooney confirmed Roethlisberger would be back and handed him a new one-year deal to get his cap number way down. The two sides essentially tore up Ben’s old deal and inked a new one for $14 million with a minimum base salary and big signing bonus. The Steelers now need to figure out if they’re going to bring back JuJu Smith-Schuster or retool Ben’s supporting cast. Signs point to the latter at the moment. The Steelers need a facelift.

Drew Lock -- The Broncos weren’t in on the Carson Wentz trade talks, but it’s clear they want to do something to push Lock, who is headed into his third year and has shown nothing to warrant anyone believing he’s a franchise passer. Turnovers are a big-time problem for him. And coach Vic Fangio confirmed Thursday the team wants to add some competition for Lock. Denver wants to be in on Deshaun Watson, but the Texans, as noted, aren’t currently fielding calls. The free-agent crop isn’t all that strong, assuming Dak Prescott doesn’t make it to market.

Sam Darnold -- The Jets have been getting calls on their former No. 3 overall pick, and GM Joe Douglas said he’s answering those rings. Darnold looks like the definition of a player who could use a change of scenery after being ruined by Adam Gase in the biggest media market in the country. But the Jets need a firmer contingency plan in place before sending Darnold packing. Deshaun Watson would be interested in a move to New York, but as mentioned, the Texans aren’t budging right now. Another avenue for the Jets is using the No. 2 pick on a QB in April’s draft. That’s probably the more likely route at this point. Darnold is very likely to be dealt.

Teddy Bridgewater -- The Athletic reported the 49ers reached out to the Panthers about a trade for Bridgewater. GM John Lynch has already said he needs to find a better backup plan if the team is going to keep Jimmy Garoppolo, and Bridgewater would qualify as that and someone who could even push Garoppolo for the No. 1 job. The Panthers are expected to be in on Deshaun Watson after missing out on Matthew Stafford before he was dealt to the Rams.

 

Latest Veteran Cuts & Signings

 

The Giants pulled the plug on slot man Golden Tate this week. The move saved the Giants $6.2 million against the cap. Headed into his age-33 season, Tate hasn’t been nearly as productive in stops with the Eagles and G-Men since being traded by the Lions. Tate might have another year or two left as a productive player, but he needs to be the third or fourth option in an offense. The Giants have Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton as their current Nos. 1 and 2 wideouts.

Tyrell Williams missed all of 2020 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He was released by the Raiders a few days back and immediately latched on with the Lions on a one-year deal. With Detroit going through a reconstruction from the top down, it’s unclear what the plans are for impending free agents Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola. Williams is a nice insurance plan as long as he’s healthy and will be a deep threat for Jared Goff. Williams played for new Lions OC Anthony Lynn when the two were together with the Chargers.

Kyle Rudolph’s 10-year stint with the Vikings came to an end this week when the team pulled the plug on his bloated contract following a 28-catch campaign. Rudolph turns 32 later this year and should have a couple years left in him as a chain-mover and red-zone target. He’d reportedly consider signing with the Browns if the team doesn’t keep David Njoku. Rudolph played for Browns coach Kevin Stefanski in Minnesota, but Austin Hooper is already there.

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Tags an Option for Robinson, Jones, Golladay

 

The Bears and impending free agent Allen Robinson haven’t had any substantial long-term talks since last summer, but GM Ryan Pace did admit the franchise tag is an option for the No. 1 wideout. It would not sit well with Robinson whatsoever. Tag decisions are due next week.

Robinson and Aaron Jones are generally considered the top two free agents at their respective positions, and neither may hit the market. Speaking this week, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said Jones is a candidate for the tag, though he did admit a long-term deal is preferable. Jones just turned 26 in December and is aiming to cash in after another big season. He’s not going to be handing out any “hometown” discounts to Green Bay. Miami has already been linked to Jones if he does end up hitting the market. Jamaal Williams is also a free agent for the Packers.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, it would be a “surprise” if Kenny Golladay isn’t franchise-tagged by the Lions. Despite just signing Tyrell Williams, Detroit still has no depth at the position with Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola also headed for free agency. Golladay’s 2020 was ruined by injury, but he’d be greeted with a big market if he is able to do so.

 

Quarterback & Running Back Quick Slants

 

Steelers beat writer Brooke Pryor doesn’t expect the team to re-sign free agent James Conner. Injuries have just been too much for Conner, and he can’t be relied upon as a No. 1 back. Conner’s market likely won’t be hot just for that reason. … Contract talks between the Cowboys and impending free agent Dak Prescott have “been more productive than they have been in previous months’ lately, and the sides continue to push for a deal. The Cowboys don’t want to have to use the franchise tag on Prescott for a second straight year. It would be a bad situation for all involved. … Word out of Miami from ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe is the Dolphins are expected to come away with a new lead back this offseason, whether it’s via free agency or the draft. Myles Gaskin’s knee broke down as the season went on last year, and the team had to fall back on UDFA rookie Salvon Ahmed in his absence. … The Patriots are reportedly “aggressively scouting” the draft’s top quarterback prospects after the Cam Newton thing didn’t work out last season. … Washington is moving on from Alex Smith, and the Bears have already been mentioned as a possible suitor. The connection is obvious, as Smith and coach Matt Nagy were both in Kansas City together. Chicago needs to be aiming way higher than Smith. … Patrick Mahomes is fully expected to be ready well in time for training camp after needing toe surgery following the Super Bowl loss. … The Texans cut Duke Johnson last week. And this week they turned their attention to restructuring David Johnson’s deal to keep him for 2021. The two sides hammered out new terms. With Duke out of the way, the question now is if Houston will add a complement to David or let him be a three-down back. … New Broncos GM George Paton confirmed the team will tender restricted free agent Phillip Lindsay, but the level is still undecided. Lindsay was an UDFA three years back. Melvin Gordon is still under contract in Denver. Fellow RFA running back Mike Boone is also expected to be tendered in Minnesota. He’s a deep reserve behind Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. Boone is a guy fantasy players would like to see get a shot elsewhere as a tandem back.

 

Wide Receiver & Tight End Quick Slants

 

Terry McLaurin says he played through a pair of high-ankle sprains last season. With better health and an upgrade at quarterback, McLaurin should challenge for top-12 WR1 status in 2021. … The Jaguars are expected to be active in the free-agent wide receiver and tight end markets. One name floated as a potential target is Hunter Henry after the Jaguars released Tyler Eifert earlier in the offseason. Henry is the top free-agent tight end available after playing on the franchise tag last year. He could command around $10.5 million per year. … Gerald Everett is expected to be viewed as a No. 1 tight end on the open market after splitting reps with Tyler Higbee with the Rams. … Raiders GM Mike Mayock said he’d “love” to re-sign Nelson Agholor this offseason after the former first-rounder had a sort of rebirth in Vegas as Derek Carr’s favorite wideout. … After sitting out the 2020 season due to COVID and injury concerns, free agent Delanie Walker wants to play in 2021. He’ll turn 36 in August and missed 24-of-32 games across 2018-2019. Don’t expect a hot market.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.