Each week, the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: April 18
1. L.A.’s confidential preference | 2. Kobe’s impact on the Rams trade
3. The top of the draft | 4. Browns shouldn’t trade pick
5. Lynch gets a boost | 6. Where do the Eagles fit?
7. Star O-line prospect dropping | 8. Steelers’ holiday schedule
9. Pats should start fast … even sans Brady | 10. QB drama drags on
Jared Goff or Carson Wentz?
Which quarterback will the Los Angeles Rams select with the top overall choice in the NFL draft obtained in last week’s blockbuster trade with the Tennessee Titans?
Which quarterback should they pick?
Opinion on that question seems divided within the league.
“I’d go with Wentz if it were me,” a front office executive with one NFL team said in recent days, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be viewed as prying into the Rams’ business. “It might take him a little longer because of the transition he has to make from a smaller school. But I feel like the tools are there for him to be really good.”
A personnel executive with another franchise said: “I think it’s got to be Goff. He’s a little safer bet, to me.”
And so it goes. There were conflicting reports in the immediate aftermath of the trade about which quarterback the Rams are targeting. The Los Angeles Times pointed to Wentz being in the lead. ESPN said it’s Goff.
It’s not like the Rams have a lot riding on the decision. Only everything.
It has been four years since the Rams stockpiled draft picks by trading the No. 2 overall choice to Washington that the Redskins used on Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Rams built what could be a contending team, if only they could fix their quarterback situation. But they haven’t done it so far, and they haven’t had even a .500 season since the Griffin trade.
Now their arrival in the Los Angeles market raises the stakes even further. The Rams’ ability to put a winning, entertaining team on the field could determine how quickly they — and the NFL — succeed in the sport’s long-awaited return to L.A.
It pretty much cannot be done in today’s pass-happy NFL without a productive quarterback. The Rams can’t afford to be wrong.
“You’re not necessarily picking for what Coach [Jeff] Fisher pencils in for Opening Day,” General Manager Les Snead said at the Rams’ post-trade news conference last Thursday. “It’s really what he pencils in for the next decade or so.”
The Rams say they don’t intend to tip their hand before draft night.
“There will be suspense leading all the way up to [the pick],” Snead said last week. “It’ll be good for the networks who are covering the draft.”
Fisher said to media members that day: “You guys have nothing to do for the next two weeks if we told you now.”
Wentz or Goff? So much hangs in the balance.
“We’re gonna get the right guy and everybody is gonna like him,” Fisher said. “And we’re gonna go out and win some games.”
If only things were that easy.
… AND TEN
1. Rams’ secretiveness, part I
The Rams certainly must know which quarterback they’re going to pick.
There’s simply no way that a team makes the sort of move that the Rams did—and gives up what the Rams gave up—without being completely enamored with one of the two quarterbacks.
No team ever has moved up as far as the Rams did to get the No. 1 overall choice; they had the 15th selection and traded it to the Titans as part of the deal. The Rams also surrendered two second-round picks and a third-rounder in this year’s draft and first- and third-round choices in next year’s draft. The Rams, in addition to the top pick, receive fourth- and sixth-round selections this year from the Titans.
But how can the Rams possibly say anything? It clearly adds suspense to the buildup to the draft if the top pick is not yet known. And the Rams certainly should be grateful to the league these days in the aftermath of the owners’ decision to award the L.A. market to the team and its Inglewood, Calif., stadium project.
If ever a franchise should be inclined to fall in line and do what’s best for the NFL, it’s the Rams as this draft approaches.
2. Rams’ secretiveness, part II
The Rams’ magnanimous ways even extended to the NBA and their new L.A. cohorts, the Lakers.
Rams officials said the deal with the Titans was completed last Wednesday but the two teams, at the Rams’ behest, agreed to hold the announcement until Thursday morning to avoid taking any attention away from Kobe Bryant’s final game with the Lakers on Wednesday night.
Just a guess, but a few people probably would have noticed Bryant’s 60-point farewell performance (on a mere 50 field goal attempts) even if the trade would have been announced Wednesday.
3. QBs 1st and 2nd
Last year’s draft was all about the quarterbacks, with former Heisman Trophy winners Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota both available and their relative merits as NFL prospects being fiercely debated. It surprised no one that they were the first two players chosen, with Winston going first to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Mariota second to the Titans.
This year’s draft was not supposed to be all about the quarterbacks. Wentz and Goff have public profiles not even approaching those of Winston and Mariota.
And yet, with the Rams-Titans trade, there is a very good chance that quarterbacks will be taken first and second in this draft as well.
The Cleveland Browns have the second overall choice and remain in need of a quarterback, even after signing Griffin following his release earlier this offseason by the Redskins. And if the Browns trade their pick, it likely would be to a team moving up to get Goff or Wentz, whichever one remains available following the Rams’ selection.
4. Browns shouldn’t trade
There has been some talk in and around the league that the Browns prefer Goff to Wentz and might look to trade the No. 2 pick, particularly if the Rams take Goff first.
That would be a mistake.
The Browns signed Griffin only after the Redskins gave up on the former NFL offensive rookie of the year and released him, and only after Griffin remained available in free agency for long enough to make it clear that there was not great demand for him.
It would be a wonderful story if Griffin reassembles his NFL career in Cleveland, a place where quarterbacking careers generally have gone to perish. But such a tale of success probably is not the most likely outcome. The Browns certainly cannot count on it.
The Browns have to give themselves every possible chance to emerge from this offseason with a franchise quarterback-in-the-making for their first-year coach, Hue Jackson. That means hoping for the best with Griffin. And it means holding on to the second pick and using it on a quarterback, even if the quarterback who remains available after the Rams have made their choice is Wentz.
5. Lynch moves up
Wentz and Goff weren’t the only beneficiaries of the trade.
Paxton Lynch also could have his draft stock boosted by the deal.
Lynch widely is regarded as the third-best quarterback available in the draft. And while he and his representatives have not conceded the top two quarterback slots to Goff and Wentz (or Wentz and Goff), it is difficult to envision the Memphis product moving ahead of either one of them to be among the first two quarterbacks chosen.
No matter. If the other two come off the board first and second, Lynch should benefit. Such an early run on quarterbacks likely would make other quarterback-needy teams around the league anxious, and it probably would not take long at all for Lynch to be chosen.
Under those circumstances, it would seem unlikely that Lynch would last beyond the No. 7 overall pick, which belongs to the San Francisco 49ers. He would be a candidate for the San Diego Chargers at No. 3 or the Dallas Cowboys at No. 4, and there would be a chance that another team with a need at quarterback would trade up, possibly ahead of the 49ers, to get him.
6. Eagles and Wentz?
The Philadelphia Eagles, who have the eighth overall selection in the draft, were said by some within the league to have finished second to the Rams in the bidding to trade for the Titans’ No. 1 choice.
The probably makes them a candidate to trade up for the No. 2 pick if the Browns indeed opt to part with it.
The Eagles are believed to be in pursuit of Wentz. So that would fit into a scenario of them trading for the second selection if the Rams go with Goff, given that the Browns are thought to favor Goff over Wentz.
Philadelphia re-signed Sam Bradford this offseason and traded for Chase Daniel. But that seemingly has not stopped the Eagles from chasing other quarterback possibilities, and the prospect of them trading up could be a major storyline on draft night.
7. Tunsil’s drop
One loser in the Rams-Titans trade is Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.
He was in line to be the top overall selection in the draft if the Titans had retained the pick. Now it’s unclear how far he’ll drop.
Tunsil is a good candidate to go to the Chargers third overall. If he slips too much further than that, the Titans might be a candidate to trade back up into the top 10 to get him. Tennessee has plenty of resources for that, given the deal with the Rams.
8. Steelers’ holidays
If family members of Pittsburgh Steelers’ players and coaches want some holiday togetherness this coming fall and winter, they’d better plan to attend some games.
When the schedule for the 2016 NFL regular season was announced last Thursday, it had the Steelers playing on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Steelers play the night game on Thanksgiving at Indianapolis. They have one of the two Christmas Day games league-wide, hosting the Baltimore Ravens at 4:30 p.m. ET. They also play at home on New Year’s Day, facing the Browns.
9. Patriots’ early schedule
If the NFL wins its appeal of last year’s ruling by a federal judge overturning Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension, and if Commissioner Roger Goodell then opts to enforce Brady’s suspension at the outset of the 2016 season, the New England Patriots would be without Brady for their opener at Arizona and then three home games.
The Patriots host the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills in Weeks 2 through 4. And while those teams undoubtedly would like their improved chances of winning in Foxborough, Mass., without Brady in the New England lineup, the fact remains that the Patriots very well might be able to win those games at home with Jimmy Garoppolo filling in for Brady at quarterback.
It’s not something that the Patriots are exactly eager to find out. But the early-season run of home games would work in Garoppolo’s favor if the next steps in the Deflategate saga don’t go as the Patriots hope.
10. Kaepernick and Fitzpatrick
Colin Kaepernick still hasn’t been traded from the 49ers to the Denver Broncos.
The New York Jets still haven’t re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick.
At some point, those situations must be resolved. But what event or events will force resolutions?
The draft might be a reasonable deadline for the Kaepernick trade (or non-trade). It stands to reason that if the 49ers are going to get a draft pick from the Broncos for Kaepernick, they’ll want it to come in this year’s draft, rather than waiting another year.
In Fitzpatrick’s case, perhaps the pending release of Brian Hoyer by the Texans might nudge negotiations between the Jets and Fitzpatrick forward.
The Jets pursued Hoyer last offseason. They could turn back to him this offseason as a potential alternative to Fitzpatrick. More likely, they could attempt to use the prospect of signing Hoyer as leverage to try to get Fitzpatrick to agree to a deal before he would be replaced by Hoyer on the Jets’ roster.
But how effective would that be? Hoyer clearly wasn’t the answer in Houston last season. Otherwise the Texans would not have signed Brock Osweiler in free agency this offseason. There is little evidence to suggest that Hoyer would be the answer for the Jets. So why would the Jets sign him to replace Fitzpatrick? And why would Fitzpatrick believe he is realistically in jeopardy of being replaced by Hoyer?