Why the Panthers investment at quarterback position is about just right
I’m back! Let’s check in on what I missed …
• We’ll start with Baker Mayfield—and where the Panthers are right now with their quarterback investments in general. And with the knowledge that they went into 2020, Matt Rhule’s first year, with the plan to have that be a bridge year at the position. We can start this in ’21, which is when the swings at getting a franchise guy started with offers made to try and pry Matthew Stafford from Detroit and Deshaun Watson from Houston.
Add together trades for Sam Darnold (2021 sixth-rounder and ’22 second- and fourth-rounders), Matt Corral (’22 fourth-rounder and third-rounder) and Mayfield (a conditional fifth-rounder in ’23), and using the draft value chart, you can actually put a number on all of these deals. If we’re putting the future picks in the middle of the rounds, and Mayfield plays 70% of the team’s offensive snaps (making that ’23 pick a fourth-rounder), the sum of the picks comes to 869 points. If Mayfield plays less than that, it’s 844 points.
The 19th pick on the chart is worth 875 points. The 20th pick is worth 850 points.
So the Panthers have spent about that on fixing their quarterback position, with financials taken out of the equation. The flip side of it? Not spending a first-rounder on a quarterback allowed Carolina to use top-10 picks on Derrick Brown, Jaycee Horn and Ikem Ekwonu.
There’s also what Carolina passed on. In ’20, they picked seventh, with the quarterbacks on the board being Jordan Love, Jalen Hurts and Jacob Eason, among others. This spring, they had all the quarterbacks on the board at No. 6, and really only passed on Kenny Pickett (they could’ve gotten the others by trading up like they did for Corral). Last year was the interesting one. My understanding is Justin Fields was very much a consideration (and they passed on Mac Jones, too).
All of that should illustrate how complicated this argument can get. Stafford and Watson more or less chose not to go to Carolina. Which really leaves us, realistically, with a number of questions we’ll need answers to. One is how good Fields will be. Another will be how good Brown, Horn and Ekwonu become. A third, and the most immediate one, is how much Carolina can get from the troika it’ll have fighting for playing time this summer.
Also, remember, the throwing-darts approach in Seattle a decade ago eventually landed Russell Wilson for the Seahawks. GM Scott Fitterer was there for that, and a whole lot of winning with the 2012 third-round pick under center.
• One more thing on Mayfield—for the right-now part of this—I think the Panthers’ logic was sound. At a baseline, he can give them average quarterback play. And if that sounds like a shot at Mayfield, it most certainly is not. The floor in Carolina was, clearly, much lower in 2022. If that floor is now at, say, having a quarterback who ranks in the top 20, and the roster has improved as much as the guys there think it has, the team can be pretty good.
For context, playing hurt last year and with all the injuries for the Browns at receiver, plus the Odell Beckam Jr. issues, Mayfield completed more than 60% of his throws for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, 13 picks and an 83.1 quarterback rating. As a team last year, the Panthers completed 58.1% of their passes for 3,573 yards, 14 touchdowns and 21 picks.
Put that together with the fact that Mayfield does have, like Darnold and Corral, plenty of natural ability and untapped potential. Plus, they had to fork over only a Day 3 pick and a $5 million base salary. So the move, to me, was more common sense than most people realize.
• How much would you pay Jimmy Garoppolo? It’s an important question not just for teams that might be interested in the 49ers quarterback, but also for Garoppolo himself.
The 30-year-old, if yo
u fold in $800,000 in per-game roster bonuses, is due $25 million this fall. But there’s a key difference in his situation from Mayfield’s—that number’s not guaranteed, so the Niners can cut him anytime between now and Week 1 without any financial penalty. That’s one reason why San Francisco’s has shown a willingness to allow Garoppolo’s camp to discuss financials with other teams to facilitate a trade.
The challenge for Garoppolo is not taking too little, but not pricing himself out of an opportunity to start this year, and setting up a long-term deal and starting opportunity after this year. The juncture of the offseason we’re at isn’t irrelevant, either. As of right now, the Browns are the only team that could absorb Garoppolo’s contract without any sort of adjustment. Fact is, most teams, from both a cap and cash, have burned through most of the 2022 budget at this point.
• While we’re on the Browns, Deshaun Watson’s situation obviously relates to all of this. One thing that could accelerate closure on it, maybe the only thing, would be a settlement. I just wouldn’t expect one. The most recent settlement talks, held before Watson’s late June hearing, broke down over the league’s insistence on a minimum of a full-season suspension.
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The NFL, of course, is well aware that the public is going to judge the viability of Watson’s punishment by the number of games he misses. Because of that, I don’t see the league backing off its position on the quarterback missing all of the 2022 season. Likewise, based on precedent, and Watson’s own direction, I don’t see the NFLPA or Watson’s camp backing down, either. Which would mean Sue L. Robinson will have to rule, and then the league will have to make a decision on whether or not to change her penalty.
That decision, by the way, will be thornier for the NFL than most realize, if Robinson chooses not to suspend Watson for the whole season—mostly because it’d undermine a process the league negotiated with the players, and the owners wanted, during CBA talks in early 2020.
• The franchise-tag deadline came and went with no deals, and my first thought on it is that, to at least some degree, logic took over.
For years and years, teams and players waited around until mid-July to do these deals. It wasn’t good for the players, who’d be better off getting the money in their pockets earlier. And it wasn’t good for the teams, either, hamstringing their ability to plan, and tying up a lump-sum amount of money—if the player signed his tender—in cap space. (The winners, for what it’s worth, might’ve been owners, in their ability to keep their cash invested for a few more months, but that’s a different argument for a different day.)
This year? For one reason or another things changed. Cleveland’s David Njoku and Tampa’s Chris Godwin both got extensions in the spring, and Green Bay traded Davante Adams to Vegas, after which he was quickly signed to a new deal. That allowed the four teams involved to work with more cost certainty as they built toward the 2022 season.
That, as you’ll see in a minute, won’t always happen. Sometimes, a deadline is needed to break a stalemate. But at least right now, it sure seems like everyone’s relying on that less.
• The Chiefs’ negotiation with left tackle Orlando Brown will be interesting to look back on in eight months. As was widely reported last week, Kansas City’s final offer was a six-year, $139 million deal that had a balloon payment in its final year. But, it would have still netted Brown an ave
rage of about $19 million per over its first five years.
Two relevant numbers, illustrating Brown’s guarantees, were left out of at least what I’ve seen out there reported. The 26-year-old’s offer included $38 million fully guaranteed and $52.25 million in injury guarantees. The former number is important because it basically reflects Brown’s leverage. This year’s tag for Brown is $16.66 million, and next year’s is $19.99 million, putting the two-year total at just under $37 million, and just short of what was in the first two years of the Chiefs’ offer.
By comparison, Trent Williams (who was a free agent), got a six-year, $138 million deal in San Francisco with $105 million in the first five years last year. That deal had $40.5 million in its first two years. Brown’s offer was also right in the neighborhood of what Ronnie Stanley got, and Stanley signed his deal as he neared the end of his rookie contract.
So, on the Chiefs’ side of this, they offered something that was right where the top tackles are getting paid, even if Brown isn’t quite elite at the position. On Brown’s side, at other positions (such as receiver), the market changed quickly this offseason, which means asking for more had its justification. And that leaves everyone to wait to see what all this looks like in March, much of which will ride on how Brown actually plays.
• The Bengals’ negotiation with Jessie Bates was a bit more straightforward than Brown’s, as far as I could tell. Safety, unlike tackle, was one of those positions where the market moved, with Steelers star Minkah Fitzpatrick becoming the first to break $18 million per season. My understanding is Cincinnati was willing to go to about $14 million per. And the truth is usually deals are hard to do with tagged players without offering a deal that at least compares to the top players at a guy’s position.
I also think planning for what’s coming is important. Tee Higgins will be up for a deal next offseason. Ja’Marr Chase will eventually need to be extended, too (he’ll be eligible for a new deal in 2024). A decision will come on paying left tackle Jonah Williams. And then, of course, there’s the big one, and that’s Joe Burrow’s deal, with the team having to plan ahead for a contract that Burrow will be eligible for after the 2022 season ends.
All of that makes it a little tougher to reckon with paying a safety the Bengals love and a safety is a vital part of the team’s core (Bates is).
• As for the other two, tight ends Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki, I do think those tags related to the number being affordable at that position ($10.817 million), a dynamic that always makes finding a long-term contract harder to do (because in such cases, it usually makes more sense for a guy just to play the tag out).
Also, in both cases, there are mitigating factors. Schultz had a really good 2021, but it makes sense for Dallas to wait a year to see if he takes another step. And while Gesicki is a legit weapon, the new Dolphins staff has already challenged him to become a much better blocker. Mike McDaniel’s Niners-centric staff has Gesicki watching a lot of George Kittle’s tape, from his rookie year to now, to show Gesicki how to get better in that area.
• Here’s what Vikings WR Justin Jefferson told Complex: “I’ll say after this year I’ll be the best receiver in the NFL. I definitely have to give it to Davante Adams as of now, him being so crazy and dynamic on the field. His route running is crazy, so I definitely have to give it to him right now, but I’m pretty sure after this year, it’s going to be me.”
I kind of agree with Jefferson. It’s not unreasonable at all to think Jefferson could be the NFL’s best receiver by the end of the season, especially when you consider the record-breaking, two-year start he’s gotten off to.
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• While we’re there, I also think it’s possible that Jefferson’s former teammate, Chase, could become the NFL’s best at his position by the end of this year, too. So I’m with Chase on his Madden rating (the 18th-best receiver in football) being absurd.
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