Randy Mueller, the 2000 NFL Executive of the Year, brings over 30 years of experience in the football business, including stints as the general manager of Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. With Heavy, Mueller breaks down the NFL from a front office perspective. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyMueller_
The scramble is still on for NFL teams to grab a seat in the game of musical chairs, quarterback style. The Atlanta Falcons trading Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts is the latest QB move that has football fans wide-eyed on the surface, but actually makes sense once you let the dust settle.
The Colts (9-8 in 2021) are built to win now and the wheels had already been greased for Ryan’s exit from Atlanta during the franchise’s failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson, who was instead traded to the Cleveland Browns.
The fate of 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who is in the final year of a deal that counts $26.9 million on an already tight San Francisco salary cap, is still to be decided for the 2022 season. The asking price is debatable and Garoppolo is currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery on his non-throwing side. Add to the list now, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, whose divorce from Cleveland is imminent.
There is one other option for a team willing to give the keys of their franchise to a rookie and that is University of Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett, whose demand will continue to rise with the fall of the other QB prospects in this year’s draft.
Pickett had his Pro Day on Monday, March 21 and was attended by a “who’s who” of NFL decision makers. As hard as non-NFL talent evaluators have tried to push the other college quarterbacks as options, the giant risk associated with a lack of NFL scheme fits and criteria of what teams are looking for make any college option beyond Pickett a project at best.
Other teams may put up the façade of considering a QB in the draft but that, in my opinion, will be for the purpose of maximizing the value of their picking position (and trying to coax a trade out of someone below them). My experience tells me that nothing does this like the false notion of a run on QBs.
Here is how I see things playing out in Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans and Carolina.
Falcons Fit Marcus Mariota Nicely
Editor’s Note: Mariota agreed to a two-year contract with the Falcons on Monday, March 21, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The first domino fell with the trading of Ryan. I actually think that relationship, although frayed, could have been saved, but once the boat left the dock with the pursuit of Watson, it was time for Ryan to really consider his options — a decision that before last week was the furthest thing from his mind.
Atlanta’s salary cap already has them working with one hand behind their backs and they probably needed a fresh start at the position as they attempt to re-tool in year two of its current regime. The Falcons realize they need a reset in 2022 and their goal is to move any contracts that won’t be around when they come out the other side of the rebuild. Mission accomplished.
The Colts have the best roster of the teams under the spotlight. Acquiring Ryan now gives them a proven commodity and another year to develop their young QB Sam Ehlinger, who I know for a fact that they like.
Atlanta now fits for Marcus Mariota, in my opinion. If I was Mariota or his agent, I would be doing everything I can to be an affordable option. With the run-oriented play-action, with some RPOs mixed in, this is the offense that Falcons coach Arthur Smith wants to run. It seems like the perfect fit for the athletic, former second overall draft pick who Smith was originally involved with drafting in Tennessee and is said to have a great relationship with.
Saints to Stick With Jameis?
The Saints, perpetually cap-strapped for kicking the can down the road with every possible contract, have pushed cap to the point of making it an illusion that really doesn’t exist.
I didn’t think the Saints would be willing to take on Garoppolo or the one-year deal of Mayfield at $18.8 million. Their life gets easier with a lesser cap number, and the re-signing of former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston on a two-year deal suits them just fine. This lessens the learning curve and minimizes the change in the post-Sean Payton world of the gulf south.
That has been the theme that started with the promotion from within of new head coach Dennis Allen, which despite the longer process, was totally predictable.
Mayfield Makes Sense for Pete Carroll & Seahawks
Speaking of predictable, the Seahawks have always been willing to think outside the box. They have also lived in the world of building a roster around a QB who is visually challenged from the pocket and who might have thin skin when things don’t go according to game plans.
We also know the 49ers will not be trading Jimmy G to the Pacific northwest anytime soon, and even though the Seahawks seem flush with cap room, a soon-to-be 37-year-old Ryan just didn’t make sense in the midst of the Seahawks rebuild.
I could surely see the personality of Mayfield being attractive to the ever-positive approach to life that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll exudes daily.
Carroll wants to run the ball in an old-school fashion and the Seahawks have now committed to bringing back RB Rashaad Penny on a one-year deal after a career-high 749 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns in 2021.
Between he and teammate Chris Carson, the Seahawks’ commitment to the run game is obvious. I think Mayfield can be had for a day 3 draft choice. He makes more sense than using their freshly acquired No. 9 overall pick (from Denver) on a QB prospect to develop. Obviously, Mayfield comes with a bright sign flashing “buyer beware,” but his breakdown is for another day.
On the surface, I’m not sure a 70-year-old coach wants to choose the route of developing a young guy at the position whose peak will come well after the coach is playing golf on a daily basis, so Mayfield makes sense to bridge the gap.
Panthers Left Without an Established Option?
This exercise and these projected moves would leave Carolina left without its QB chair filled when the music stops. I think the rookie Pickett makes the most sense for them. He backs up Sam Darnold until he decides to implode at the most inopportune time — again. Remember, the best indicator of the future is the past.
Pickett has the desired size, arm and accuracy to project not only as a first-round selection but the ability to process, which gives you a lesser leap of faith in projecting what he did in college to an NFL offensive system and a starting QB at the next level.
Of course, as always, my opinion and $2.80 will get you a Starbucks on most Seattle street corners.
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