The NFL Never Sleeps: The Professor’s Take on the NFL Landscape with Aaron Rodgers Signed, Russell Wilson Traded

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The NFL Never Sleeps: The Professor's Take on the NFL Landscape with Aaron Rodgers Signed, Russell Wilson Traded

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It was fun while it lasted.

Since the Packers drafted quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the question of whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers was done in Green Bay loomed over the franchise. For the past two seasons, fans of NFL teams with inadequate quarterback play could pin their hopes on the Packers eventually trading Rodgers, a move that would have boosted nearly any NFL team into Super Bowl contention.

Unfortunately for potential suitors, it now appears that the future Hall-of-Famer will finish his career in Green Bay. Tuesday’s announcement has ripple effects around the league; coupled with the news that the Seahawks rejected the Washington Commanders’ trade proposal for Russell Wilson, the majority of quarterback situations around the NFL appear to be set moving forward. Teams will build through free agency and the draft, but given the lukewarm reviews on the quarterbacks in this draft class, we have a general idea of what tiers teams around the NFL will fall into in 2022. This article will examine the remaining options on the quarterback market, as well as the early division odds available on DraftKings.

Update: The news that the Denver Broncos traded for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson came through after the initial version of this article was completed; it has been updated accordingly and a breakdown of the Wilson trade has been added.

Teams Hold Tight to Quarterbacks

After the Buccaneers and Rams won Super Bowls in the same seasons that they acquired Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, fans around the NFL clamored for their teams to be the next to go get a big-name quarterback, as there is obviously something to the formula.

The flip side of that is that the teams who currently have quarterbacks as talented as Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have seen the other half of those deals. New England was fortunate, as Mac Jones fell to them at the 15th pick after they lost Brady in free agency, but despite acquiring a boatload of picks for Stafford, Detroit has no clear path to acquiring a suitable replacement for Stafford at the game’s most important position. Green Bay will have to sort out their cap situation, and the Seahawks arguably need a roster overhaul around Wilson, but moving on from quarterbacks with elite ceilings to start a rebuild is a wildly uncertain plan.

Las Vegas started the trend of retaining quarterbacks when they announced that Derek Carr would be their guy moving forward shortly after they hired head coach Josh McDaniels, a vote of confidence some felt Carr did not get during the Jon Gruden regime. There are still scenarios where Atlanta could move Matt Ryan, or Minnesota could trade Kirk Cousins, but without a clear replacement to acquire, that seems like a dubious gamble in a league where some front office/head coaching tenures last less than a season. 49ers general manager John Lynch caught some flack for talking up Jimmy Garappolo’s trade value, but the quarterback market is now extremely lean, and a desperate team could end up sending San Francisco a significant draft pick to ensure they aren’t left without a viable option at the position. Given what the Eagles got for Carson Wentz last offseason, the price tag for Garoppolo could be a surprise.

Update: The Seahawks traded quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos for a package that reportedly includes quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, defensive tackle Shelby Harris, and multiple first-round picks. The AFC West arms race is discussed below, but the move leaves Seattle in a terrible position. The rest of the NFC West is loaded, and Seattle’s roster is not talented enough to compete without Wilson, as NFL fans saw when he got hurt last season. Lock appears to be a low-end starter at best, which tanks the fantasy prospects of receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, though it is possible the Seahawks could draft a rookie quarterback. As a final note, the Jamal Adams trade, which had already aged poorly, will look even worse if he ends up playing on a rebuilding team.

Division Races Come into Focus

The Professor’s model reset for 2022 is currently in progress, but without running the simulation, there are some obvious takeaways from the current NFL Division odds available on DraftKings. (note: odds before Russell Wilson trade)

AFC WestAFC NorthAFC EastAFC South
Kansas City (-145)Cincinnati (+175)Buffalo (-200)Tennessee (+100)
LA Chargers (+350)Baltimore (+175)New England (+330)Indianapolis (+140)
Denver (+500)Cleveland (+340)Miami (+600)Jacksonville (+750)
Las Vegas (+850)Pittsburgh (+650)New York Jets (+2200)Houston (+2200)
NFC WestNFC NorthNFC EastNFC South
LA Rams (+160)Green Bay (-225)Dallas (-135)Tampa Bay (+130)
San Francisco (+200)Minnesota (+300)Philadelphia (+350)New Orleans (+260)
Arizona (+350)Chicago (+750)Washington (+500)Carolina (+400)
Seattle (+550)Detroit (+1200)NY Giants (+750)Atlanta (+500)

Most of the divisions are reasonably priced, but several things stand out. The Professor’s favorite play on this board is Atlanta at +500, which has a lot to do with the rest of the NFC South. The Buccaneers will lose significant talent in free agency and have the unproven Kyle Trask, or perhaps journeyman Blaine Gabbert, at quarterback, the Panthers have a trainwreck of an offensive line in front of quarterback Sam Darnold, who failed to shed his bust label last season, and the Saints, who remain 45 million over the cap after significant restructures, are likely to lose stud left tackle Terron Armstead and will not have former head coach Sean Payton’s offensive mind to work with underwhelming options such as Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston at quarterback.

The situation would make a blind selection attractive, and there were positive signs in Atlanta last season. Matt Ryan needs more talent around him, both on the offensive line and at wide receiver, but head coach Arthur Smith and the offensive staff did a brilliant job schematically last season, unlocking offensive weapon Cordarrelle Patterson and taking advantage of tight end Kyle Pitts’ versatility. The Falcons are tight to the salary cap, but they could extend defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to create some breathing room and keep pending free agents such as linebacker Foyesade Oluokun in the fold as they try to improve this defense around cornerback A.J. Terrell, who emerged as a playmaker in his second season alongside Jarrett and linebacker Deion Jones. Receiver Calvin Ridley’s gambling suspension hurts, but Atlanta’s edge at quarterback sets them up well in the NFC South. Atlanta decided not to move on from Ryan with the 4th pick in last year’s draft; given the situation in their division, this would seem like an odd time to make that move.

Outside of Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Houston are underdogs worth a look. Now that the Broncos are out of the Rodgers sweepstakes, it is difficult to reconcile having them ahead of the Raiders, particularly after Derek Carr got his team to the playoffs ahead of the Chargers last season. The Texans are a much longer shot, but the AFC South is wide open if the Titans stumble, and given their relatively similar roster and quarterback situations, it is hard to justify putting the Jaguars at +750 while the Texans sit at +2200.

Update: This take on Las Vegas aged poorly, as the Russell Wilson trade tilts the odds in what is shaping up to be a juggernaut of an AFC West. The Chiefs should still be favored and the Raiders will likely be in fourth when the new odds come out, while the Broncos and Chargers will likely have fairly close odds in the second and third positions.

As for favorites, the Bengals and Titans stand out as solid values. Cincinnati has huge amounts of cap space and an ascending roster, while Baltimore has to deal with significant veteran turnover after an injury-plagued year and faces the annual offseason debate about how to build the offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson. There are questions about Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill when the competition levels up in the NFL playoffs, but that’s nothing to the headache the Colts face at the position after Carson Wentz collapsed down the stretch, which leaves the Titans in a strong position in a bad division. Buffalo and Green Bay are also clear favorites, as Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers have notably higher ceilings than their counterparts in the division, but there is less value to be had on those prices.

Top Option: Atlanta (+500)

Favorites: Cincinnati (+175) and Tennessee (+100)

Long Shot with Value: Houston (+2200)

Who’s Staying, Who’s Going?

The Aaron Rodgers news in Green Bay is likely to be followed by an announcement on pending free agent receiver Davante Adams. The Packers have the option to put the franchise tag on Adams, but Adams wants a long-term deal, and given his connection with Rodgers, it is reasonable to speculate there were some assurances on keeping Adams in the fold long-term during the quarterback’s contract negotiations. An Adams extension would also give the Packers badly-needed cap flexibility relative to the franchise tag.

That may mean that 2022 is the year of the tight end for the franchise tag; David Njoku (Cleveland), Dalton Schultz (Dallas), and Mike Gesicki (Miami) have all received the tag already. In a tight end draft reported to be light on elite talent, but heavy on mid-round depth, these teams prioritized retaining their proven options, although none of the three is a dominant player.

As of Tuesday, three other players set to receive the franchise tag are Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson, and Bengals safety Jessie Bates. Brown and Bates move the needle more than any of the tight ends; the Brown move means Kansas City’s talented offensive line will have continuity after coming into 2021 with no familiarity, and Bates played a starring role for the Bengals defense during their playoff run. The Robinson move is a bit more perplexing; this will be his second straight season on the franchise tag, which pays him top dollar for his consistently average to below-average play, which isn’t a bad setup. Jacksonville’s inability to field a talented roster means they aren’t hard up for cap space, but if a Super Bowl contender signed Robinson to this deal, there would be a lot of raised eyebrows about the number.

Update: The arms race in the AFC West ramped up Tuesday afternoon with Denver’s acquisition of Russell Wilson and the extension receiver Mike Williams signed with the Chargers. Denver was long-rumored to be the landing spot for Aaron Rodgers, but Wilson is an outstanding consolation prize, and may even be the better player to acquire given their respective ages. Wilson walks away from the receiver tandem of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but Denver has one of the NFL’s best collections of skill position players with the receiving trio of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Tim Patrick, and running back Javonte Williams. Tight end Noah Fant will go to Seattle in the trade, but if left tackle Garret Bolles can return to his 2020 form, and mauling guard Quinn Meinerz continues to progress in his second season, this offense could be as good as any in the NFL.

The questions in Denver are now on defense, where the Broncos will have turnover, but with safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Patrick Surtain to build around, the Broncos should be able to field a solid unit. Denver’s premium draft picks will go to Seattle, so look for the Broncos to supplement the defense with their mid-round picks this year. It’s a shift in roster philosophy to keep up in a progressively more offensive-minded NFL; Vic Fangio might have been a defensive head coach, but he has to be shaking his head that he didn’t get the opportunity Nathaniel Hackett will have as the coach in Denver. As for the Chargers, the Williams deal is part of a consistent pattern of building around quarterback Justin Herbert; last offseason, the Chargers added left tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round and center Corey Linsley at the top of the free-agency market. With the Broncos taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach in shifting from a defensive to offensive-centric roster, shootouts could be normal in the 2022 AFC West.

Conclusion

This article recapped developments from around the NFL. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.