February 25, 2021

Time Skew

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A very Bengals Series of Events: Free Agency and NFL Draft theory

9 min read
I truly believe that this sport is like no other, and part of why I love it so much is connecting with other people about the NFL; college ball; the draft; what strategies their team might go for in the coming year; what we think about certain players and their trajectories and any other related topics that cross our minds. Basically, I love talking about the game.

For the legions of fans that have been waiting for my next Steelers article – I apologize, but this one careens off the map a little bit.

If you’ll allow me a small piece of indulgence.

I truly believe that this sport is like no other, and part of why I love it so much is connecting with other people about the NFL; college ball; the draft; what strategies their team might go for in the coming year; what we think about certain players and their trajectories and any other related topics that cross our minds. Basically, I love talking about the game.

The inspiration for what you’re about to read came whilst sat in a restaurant on a recent rainy Sunday morning with my fellow coaches and football lovers. We saw a piece of breaking “news” (Phillip Rivers had moved to Florida) and it set a conversation in motion that lasted the best part of an hour and was based purely in the realms of “things that would make the draft awesome”.

As you read, please be aware that the ONLY rules to our chat were: it had to be a viable option and we only looked to 2020. Realism and practicality played zero roles in this conversation. Still interested? Let’s dive on in.

The Titans make their choice

The way I see it, the Tennessee Titans have a choice to make. Option one – they sign Derrick Henry long term to a deal which will, by necessity, be up there with the top running backs contracts and most likely eclipse them all (in excess of $15 million per year). Whether this is a necessary contract for a first and second-down back that literally sits on the bench if the team drops behind on the scoreboard is another debate. But it’s unlikely that Henry will allow the Titans to value him between Devontae Freeman ($8.25 m/per year) and David Johnson ($13 m/per year) based on his production. Option two is the franchise tag. Slapping Henry with a transition tag (projected to be around $8.5 million) or the exclusive tag (just over $10 million) seems the sensible option for a team that also has to pay a quarterback. Sign him for a year, give him 5000 carries and Demarco Murray the guy out of town.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Honest. In our brave new world, the Titans franchise tag Derrick Henry and get their workhorse for another year. But they balk at the price tag that Ryan Tannehill is now going to demand and they decide not to hit him with the transition tag (the last year of the CBA means teams can do both) saving that for another player. So, they cut the Tanne Man loose and search for a man they think can deliver the silverware to the music city.

Enter Phillip Rivers

Yes I can sing, why do you ask?

Phil goes back to his country roots, dons the navy blue and takes the Titans to the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, he promptly loses to the resurgent Steelers (a man can dream). But the important factor here is that Big Phil finds a home for 2020.

This allows Ryan Tannehill to test out the market in a position of power for once. Let’s assume Dak Prescott returns to the Cowboys, Jameis Winston to the Bucs and Brees to the Saints. Suddenly, aside from a rogue Tom Brady, Tannehill is competing with Andy Dalton and Teddy Bridgewater for the top spot in the overpaid free-agent quarterback rankings. Hold on tight now, it’s time to recklessly speculate.

Let’s start with Ryan Tannehill. He has a great arm, works well under pressure and is deadly accurate with play action. Let’s send him to the Windy City and see what Matt Nagy can do with an experienced, proven and strong-armed field general. He’s signed to a shorter term deal that allows the Bears to not completely cut bait on Trubisky, but hold on whilst not starting the first round disappointment. LA needs a spark. That stadium needs to be filled. Tom Telesco and Anthony Lynn put their heads and finances together to prise Teddy Bridgewater from the Saints and install him as the day one starter, with Tyrod Taylor as the capable backup. Energy, youth and potential fill the Chargers with hope and the AFC West landscape becomes a lot more interesting.

Everyone’s face when they get away from the Bengals

But what about Andy? Poor Dalton was tasked with leading a luckless and directionless Bengals team that barely had its all-world talent AJ Green (who resigns with the Bengals expecting Joe Burrow to arrive in Cincinnati for 2020) at receiver for two seasons and an offensive line who’s best player still hasn’t played a snap for them (Jonah Williams). Dalton still has a steady hand, experience and arm talent to lead a team and Dolphins know it. Miami takes Dalton, gives him a huge sunscreen deal in the package and allow him to take the reigns for a year before their heir apparent is ready to roll. At this point, I assume Fitzmagic will turn up at the Patriots facility under the assumption he can sign to complete the set.

I didn’t forget about Tom Brady. The smart money says he remains a Patriot – but we’re not playing with smart money. In this universe, Brady heads to Indianapolis to do two things. First, remind Jacoby Brissett that he is better than him. Second, to rub Peyton Manning’s nose in it and win a Superbowl with the Colts.

Now everyone has a quarterback, we hit draft season.

The Bengals do a Bengals thing

Joe Burrow; Ohio native, Heisman winner, National champion, number one overall pick by a franchise that needs a quarterback – right? Wrong.

The Bengals coaching staff at the senior bowl become so enamored with the big-armed Justin Herbert, that they all collectively decide that they will go against the consensus and pick the Oregon prospect number one overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, throwing everyone else into a wild tailspin to catch up.

Justin Herbert at the Senior Bowl 2020

In previous years, the Redskins may have panicked and just picked Joe Burrow because that’s what the Madden simulator told them to do. But under Ron Rivera’s guiding hand, they smarten up and reach out to trade partners. Miami tries to trade up but they’re confused and still trying to match Dalton’s hair to the orange throwbacks and miss the opportunity. Ron reaches out to his old team, the Carolina Panthers and the Tepper/Rhule experience nearly bites his hand off to trade up. But, “Cam Newton!!!” you cry! Don’t worry, John Gruden has his ear to the ground even though he’s “happy with Carr, great guy, love the guy” (not a real quote). The Las Vegas Raiders make their first big splash and trade for the enigmatic superstar, telling Derek Carr he can leave if he likes.

Okay, so we’re two picks in and the world is a bit upside down. Justin Herbert is a Bengal, Joe Burrow is a Panther, the Redskins made a sensible decision, Cam Newton is a Raider and Derek Carr is sad. Ready for more?

Tanking for who?

Quickly skipping down the draft, Chase Young goes to the Lions, Okudah to the Giants, and then we get to Miami. Miami have been tanking for Tua since approximately 2016 and it would be wild for them to decide against it now. But, Tua’s hip injury doesn’t heal as expected and his status past 2020 is in doubt, so the Dolphins do a classic overthink and select Jordan Love to lead their franchise to glory. A year to learn behind the Red Rifle and for their next few picks to develop and the Dolphins turn into a force in the AFC East.

The nation breathes and relaxes for a second to watch the riots in Miami. Let’s skip down the draft and follow the fall of Tua all the way to the number 14 pick. Bruce Arians doesn’t skip a beat and scribbles Tua’s name on the card so quickly it goes over two cards. The best quarterback in the draft gets to sit behind Jameis for a year, then step in to throw to the best receiver tandem in the league.

Drama in the jungle

Whilst all this is happening, we hear a rumble from Ohio. AJ Green is NOT happy. He wanted Burrow and signed based on the premise he would be catching passes from a Heisman winning, National Championship dominating quarterback, not an up and down prospect that needs development. The Bengals find themselves stuck in a quandary. Another year without AJ, or get something quickly. The Packers help out the desperate Bengals, by offering them their number 30 pick and Kevin King for the injury riddled superstar. The Bengals accept and AJ goes on to Green Bay to give Rodgers one more shot at glory. The Bengals use the pick to draft another receiver to pair with Boyd, Ross and Tate and suddenly look feisty in the AFC North.

R-E-L-A-X we’ve got AJ

Let’s skip down the draft again, to the New Orleans Saints. The succession plan isn’t going to plan, as they lost Teddy to LA and their quarterback crush Jordan Love is now in Miami. So what do they do? Well, with Jerry Jeudy drafted by the Cardinals, CeeDee Lamb on his way to New York and Henry Ruggs III in Philly, they decide to bolster the weapons around Brees and draft the LSU star Justin Jefferson to partner Michael Thomas. Good luck to the rest of the NFC South.

So let’s round up what 2020 in the NFL will look like with some bullet points:

  • The Titans starting quarterback is Phillip Rivers
  • Tom Brady walks into Lucas Oil Stadium and makes Brissett carry his bags as the starter of the Colts
  • Ryan Tannehill is the quarterback in Chicago
  • Cam Newton has arrived in Las Vegas as the new Raiders QB
  • AJ Green is a Packer
  • Teddy Bridgewater is the starter for the Chargers
  • Andy Dalton is the Dolphins starter and mentor for first-round pick Jordan Love
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow starts a game for the Patriots
  • The Bengals pick Justin Herbert with the number one overall pick
  • Joe Burrow is a Panther
  • Tua Tagovailoa is a Tampa Bay Buccaneer
  • The Saints have a nearly unstoppable passing attack
  • No one cares about Marcus Mariota.

The final plot twist

You might think that this would be all that the NFL world could handle at this point. Think again. One more twist in the drama will see Ben Roethlisberger step into a press conference during the draft and announce his retirement. The Steelers panic and throw out all their EDGE rusher draft notes to find the quarterback folder Mike Tomlin had dropped behind the sofa. Jake Fromm? Jacob Eason? What did that Steelers writer Jack Mullins say before Christmas? Why is this duck whistle even in the room?!

Then the phone rings. John Gruden and Mike Mayock say hello in harmony and let Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert know that Derek Carr is on a plane to Pittsburgh and that all the Steelers need to do is give Bud Dupree the ZIP code of the new Raiders facility. Colbert looks at Tomlin as they both pick up the scatter EDGE rusher draft reports and shrug. Deal. Derek Carr, the new quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Smugness personified.

Please exit the roller coaster safely.

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A very Bengals Series of Events: Free Agency and NFL Draft theory

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