As we sneak under the 100-day window to the start of the 2022 NFL regular season, there are still some key questions that keep me awake at night and I don’t even have a horse in the race. I know, I get it, I might be a little messed up to let this stuff bother me, but after 40 years of NFL life, my mind works a bit differently.
Look no further than the NFC West for the main cause of my insomnia where every team in the division has at least one big decision to make. They all have to make a decision that not only affects each team’s fortunes for this year, but also might have consequences for the futures of those making such decisions.
First, let’s look to the desert where the Arizona Cardinals have made it clear they want to sign Quarterback Kyler Murray to a long-term contract. This is much easier said than done.
Let us first examine, what does that mean? The going rate for a franchise QB has been established. Starting at the top, Aaron Rodgers’ new deal in Green Bay averages $50M per year. Deshaun Watson and his fully-guaranteed deal with the Cleveland Browns comes in next at $46M while Patrick Mahomes was already making $45M a year in Kansas City.
Last August, Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen signed a six-year deal for $258M with $100M guaranteed, averaging $43M per season. QB Derek Carr’s new extension pays him on average just over $40M in Las Vegas as well. Rounding out where the current QB market is Dak Prescott (Cowboys) who already make $40M a year.
Murray is already acting on his promise (no show for OTAs) of withholding his services until a new deal is worked out. Quite frankly, there is very little consensus among the league’s team building decision makers that says Murray even belongs anywhere near the group listed above.
In fact, a number of these people have just as many doubts about Murray now as they did when the Cardinals made him the first pick in the NFL draft in 2019. When we last saw Murray, he was exiting from the field after a major disappointing performance vs the Rams in last year’s playoffs. Size, durability, pocket presence, body language and, most of all, leadership skills all seem to still be somewhat lacking.
I was somewhat shocked to hear Arizona GM Steve Keim say recently that he hoped to have something done with Murray before the season starts. To me, that means the Cardinals are willing to take a giant leap of faith and pay him north of $40M per year.
Is this really going to happen? I find it fascinating because they currently have him under contract for two more years. Can we get some of the above questions answered first?
The Cardinals are not alone in making bold decisions that may have repercussions in both the short and long term.
San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan said recently that the team still plans on trading veteran QB Jimmy Garoppolo and going with their unproven first-round pick from 2021, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Even though many insiders see Lance as a work in progress when it comes to playing QB in the NFL, Shanahan clearly sees something in him that assures him Lance is ready. His team is built to make a run now- does Lance “paint by numbers” learning curve set back the rest of the team?
Going with Lance is clearly a gamble that is even more fascinating when you consider the back-ups currently on the 49ers roster at QB, Nate Sudfeld and rookie Brock Purdy, if Garoppolo is dealt. If thinking about this situation keeps me awake at night (and I have nothing at stake), then both Shanahan and GM John Lynch have a conscious unmatched in league circles.
Not to be outdone on the “shake your head meter” of team building decisions is what is currently happening in Seattle with their QB room. HC Pete Carroll and GM Jon Schneider have made it clear they are fine with a team being led by either Geno Smith or Drew Lock. Is this really gonna happen? Or is it just a game of chicken with the Cleveland Browns until something gives on the Baker Mayfield front?
I can’t help but think another shoe has got to drop in the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks are probably a six-win team under current construction on paper. This team won seven games last year and Vegas has them at 5.5 wins for an over-under this year. There are only two teams worse, Houston and Atlanta, both at 4.5. wins. Fascinating stuff.
We can’t leave the Los Angeles Rams out of the NFC West drama. Even with a freshly-engraved Lombardi Trophy in the cabinet, the Rams can’t escape the rumor mill and the pressure of trying to win it again. Even though it’s unlikely IMO, Aaron Donald has said he could walk away and be totally satisfied with his career. For my money, and many others for that matter, Donald is still the best defensive player in the league.
Does a new contract make these rumors go away? If so, what should he be paid? The current market has Los Angeles Chargers rusher Joey Bosa making $27M per year. My guess is, Donald tops $35M and will soon be the highest paid non-QB in the entire league. That should take care of the repeated retirement rumors.
At a time of the year where most are planning vacations, there are still some NFL General Managers lying awake at night. The wheels never quit spinning. I think I’ll just go fishing.