Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
— Three sensible trade destinations for Matthew Stafford.
— The highly intriguing aspect of Detroit’s organizational overhaul.
But first, a look at the emerging drama around one of the game’s best quarterbacks …
Don’t do it, Texans. You CANNOT do it.
The noise will continue to grow louder, but Houston shouldn’t deal Deshaun Watson this offseason despite the quarterback’s trade request.
I know this storyline has been like catnip to talking heads all over the country looking for hot topics to debate over the coming months, but executing a fantasy football-like trade shouldn’t be in the cards for a franchise looking to rebound from a tumultuous 2020 campaign that featured a four-win season and the unceremonious dismissal of head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien — not to mention, the shocking trade of All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the behind-the-scenes turmoil reportedly revolving around executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby.
Despite a public-relations nightmare that has painted the Texans as a franchise in disarray, CEO Cal McNair and new GM Nick Caserio must do everything in their power to hold onto Watson for the long run. And Caserio, for his part, did strongly express his desire to keep the franchise quarterback at Friday’s press conference to introduce new Texans head coach David Culley.
“Organizationally, I just want to reiterate our commitment to Deshaun Watson,” Caserio said. “He’s had a great impact on this organization, a great impact on a lot of people, a great impact on this team, and we look forward to the opportunity to spend more time with him here this spring once we get started.
“And, you know, we have zero interest in trading the player. We have a great plan, a great vision for him and for this team and his role on our team. We look forward to the opportunity to spend more time with him here this spring.”
Some may choose to parse Caserio’s words, but I, for one, hope that he is indeed fully committed to mending the franchise’s relationship with Watson. It’s a no-brainer.
Despite all the drama surrounding the Texans over the past year, the 25-year old quarterback just authored his finest individual season yet, showcasing remarkable playmaking ability and leadership skills while earning his third straight Pro Bowl nod. Watson led the NFL in passing yards (4,823) and yards per attempt (8.9), while also posting sparkling figures in completion percentage (70.2), touchdown-to-interception ratio (33:7) and passer rating (112.4). All of that despite the fact that Houston lacked a true No. 1 receiver on the perimeter and fielded a leaky offensive line.
With that in mind, there’s no way that the Texans should consider moving Watson for a bounty of draft riches. Sure, the thought of three first-round picks (or more) could be enticing ammunition to rebuild a franchise on the decline, but the presence of a five-star franchise quarterback is worth its weight in gold. That’s why Houston simply cannot pull the trigger on a trade involving No. 4.
Ideally, the new leadership group in Houston — which includes Caserio, Culley, defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton — help the franchise bury the hatchet with the superstar. Watson has been a dynamic playmaker for the Texans since he first took the reins in an electric (albeit abbreviated, due to injury) rookie campaign. He’s guided the team to a pair of division titles and he played his tail off throughout the lost 2020 season. This is a cornerstone piece, the kind of guy you build an entire franchise around.
But what about Watson’s trade request?
This is a time for long, open-minded discussions. Clearly, the quarterback doesn’t feel like he’s on the same page with the Powers That Be. This isn’t surprising, given all of the widely reported dysfunction (and accompanying attrition) with this organization of late. Houston brass needs to do everything they can to change that, whether that entails looking in the mirror, opening the floor for candid discussion or both. Find a way to the reset button. Now.
But if the Texans are unable to patch up the relationship in the coming weeks and months? Well, I think they really just have to call the quarterback’s bluff. In a cold, hard business sense, the Texans hold the leverage in this scenario — having signed Watson to a four-year, $160 million extension less than five months ago — and they can’t be afraid to swing the hammer if things continue to go awry. The new collective bargaining agreement made it more punitive for players to engage in training camp holdouts, with mandatory $50,000 daily fines for missed practices. In addition, the Texans would have the right to recoup a part of Watson’s $27 million signing bonus if he were to miss games during the regular season. Finally, the quarterback would have to pay back a significant amount of his signing bonus if the situation really blew up and he decided to retire to avoid playing for the Texans.
Again, you hope that the Texans can just repair relations with their best player. It will be quite unfortunate if this gets to the point where Houston is levying fines. But the truth is that the Texans have what every team wants: a top-tier quarterback just entering his prime. If you let that out of the building, good luck finding it again.
STAFFORD TRADE TALK: Three viable landing spots
This offseason’s shaping up to be quite the game of musical chairs at the quarterback position, and it didn’t take long for Matthew Stafford to enter the fray. The 12-year NFL veteran and the Lions have agreed to mutually part ways in the wake of a 5-11 campaign that induced sweeping changes in Detroit.
With the new battery of general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell apparently aiming to rebuild the franchise from the ground up through a draft-and-develop strategy, the Lions and Stafford can both get a fresh start heading into the 2021 campaign.
Despite a 74-90-1 career record — with Detroit managing just four winning seasons and three playoff appearances during his tenure — Stafford is viewed as one of the best overall players on the market due to his extraordinary talent as a pocket passer. The former No. 1 overall pick has dazzled evaluators with his ridiculous arm talent since entering the league as a polished playmaker out of Georgia. He has the capacity to make pinpoint throws from a variety of arm angles and throwing platforms. Stafford’s improvisational skills as a fastball pitcher give him an opportunity to win against tight coverage or an aggressive pass rush. As a gutsy competitor with a knack for playing his best football in the clutch, Stafford has 38 game-winning drives and 31 fourth-quarter comebacks on his résumé. Although his losing record suggests otherwise, he displays all of the qualities that coaches covet in winning quarterbacks.
Combine Stafford’s impressive traits with robust production (45,109 pass yards, 282 touchdown passes against 144 interceptions) and a highly affordable contract (two years and $43 million remaining on a deal that makes him one of the best bargains in the game), and you get why teams are clamoring for his services.
Given some time to assess the organizations with salary-cap space and the kind of environment to take on Stafford and his talents, here are three teams to watch in this quarterback sweepstakes:
The Colts have a championship-caliber roster that could offer Stafford the best chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2021 season. Colts GM Chris Ballard has preserved enough salary cap space to absorb the one-time Pro Bowler’s contract and add a few more pieces to the puzzle to challenge the heavyweights in the AFC.
With Stafford on board, the Colts could feature a dynamic aerial attack to complement a punishing ground game spearheaded by a young 1-2 punch at running back (Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines) and road-grading offensive line. As Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Jack Doyle and possibly T.Y. Hilton (who’s eligible for free agency) develop a rapport with the veteran, the Colts’ retooled offense could challenge Kansas City for AFC supremacy.
After slogging through a 7-9 campaign with Cam Newton failing to play up to the Patriots’ standard, Bill Belichick could opt for a pure pocket passer to steady the offense. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could dust off Tom Brady’s old playbook to feature some of the team’s favorite concepts while making some accommodations for Stafford’s arm talent and athleticism.
The Patriots would need to upgrade the supporting cast around Stafford, particularly at wide receiver and tight end, to help the veteran spark the offense. Considering the team has plenty of cash to spend on free agents, the arrival of Stafford could signal a shift in the Pats’ team-building approach and a return to championship-caliber football in New England.
Kudos to Alex Smith for making a remarkable return as the WFT starter, but the team needs more playmaking from the QB1 spot in order to climb to the top of the NFC. Stafford is a more talented passer with the big arm that would enable offensive coordinator Scott Turner to feature deep shots prominently on the call sheet. Moreover, the veteran’s presence will give the other players on the roster hope that the quarterback in the huddle can win the game in any situation.
Given new Washington general manager Martin Mayhew’s familiarity with Stafford and his game — Mayhew was Lions GM when Detroit nabbed the quarterback with the first pick of the 2009 draft — it’s not hard to imagine the Football Team solving their quarterback dilemma by dealing for No. 9. This could arguably give Washington the best quarterback in the division, especially if the Cowboys aren’t able to work things out with Dak Prescott.
LIONS’ UNIQUE MAKEOVER: Ex-players abound
Perhaps I’m reading too much into Detroit’s hiring patterns since Chris Spielman rejoined the franchise as special assistant to the chairman and president and CEO, but the Lions sure have placed a number of former NFL players in prominent roles over the past month.
Detroit tabbed Dan Campbell as the team’s new head coach and watched him assemble a staff loaded with former ballers. From Anthony Lynn (offensive coordinator) and Aaron Glenn (defensive coordinator) serving as the team’s play-callers to Duce Staley (assistant head coach/running backs coach) sharing some of the head-coaching responsibilities, the Lions’ staff is comprised of experienced coaches who’ve graduated from the field to the coaching booth. The addition of Mark Brunell as quarterbacks coach and retention of O-line coach Hank Fraley further underscore Detroit’s approach.
As a former player, I believe the Lions’ collection of coaches will immediately earn their players’ respect, due to their shared experiences on the field. NFL alums understand the challenges that arise during a high-level competition, particularly when the Xs and Os from the whiteboard aren’t as effective on the grass. Moreover, the presence of more former players on the coaching staff could provide current players with a lineup of teachers to consult with technique and schematic questions. That’s not to suggest that coaches without NFL playing backgrounds are incapable of teaching techniques and tactics effectively, but alums can provide a different perspective if they’ve combined their playing experience with solid teaching methods learned along the way.
The Lions have also stockpiled their front office with former players with John Dorsey (senior personnel executive) and Ray Agnew (assistant general manager) joining the team. The veteran personnel men climbed the front-office ladder utilizing their instincts, knowledge and evaluation skills to acquire top talent and assemble championship-caliber teams with their former franchises (Dorsey with the Packers, Agnew with the Rams). Dorsey also nabbed much of the premier talent on today’s Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. With Dorsey and Agnew displaying the capacity to identify five-star players and hidden gems based on their superb scouting skills, there might be something to the notion of knowing what the huddle should look and feel like from personal experience.
To that point, I’m not surprised by the diversity of the Lions’ hires, due to the presence of so many former players. The NFL brotherhood features a kaleidoscope of people from different backgrounds, but they’re connected through their shared love of the game. The Lions are tapping into those bonds to create a meritocracy on the sidelines that mirrors the hard-working society between the lines. If the Lions chalk up wins with a collection of former players leading the way, the franchise’s unique approach could encourage other teams to explore leadership candidates who’ve graduated from playing to planning.
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