After four very non-competitive games on Wildcard Weekend, we are all chomping at the bit for some exciting postseason football. The Divisional round starts on Saturday afternoon — but that’s still a few days away. So what else is there to quench our NFL thirst? Here are 3 things to keep your eye on — we may not get any vindication or answers until the spring on a couple of these thoughts while one we should know in a matter of a week or so. But either way, we’ve got some meaty topics to sink our teeth into, as we await the actual games.
1. The Detroit Lions will make Matthew Stafford the highest paid player in NFL history.
This isn’t shocking — especially to Lions’ fans, who’ve been prepped for this for over a year when the Detroit front office did not trade the QB. But what becomes more clear, as that day approaches, is that the Lions are on their way to resembling the Indianapolis Colts — both have quarterbacks that are good enough to keep them from losing 9 or 10 games every year, both will have no money to realistically spend on other key positional players, and both put tremendous pressure on their GMs to hit home run after home run on their foreseeable drafts because they just flat-out can’t afford to have misses or busts.
Don’t get transfixed on Stafford being the highest player in the history of the league — that just comes with the territory. Someone — who’s probably underserving — will surpass him in 6 months or a year and so on and so on the cycle goes. As long as the salary cap keeps going through the roof, owners will have to spend the money they have — so what a player makes is in no way by any means indicative of how good that player actually is. For example, LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers — none are the highest paid in the NFL nor have any of them ever been the single highest paid in the league. Instead, names like Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, and Ryan Tannehill are atop that list — or at least will be atop that list soon.
The problem with paying the former Georgia Bulldog is not that it is an underserving contract — you can’t kill the guy for being in a position to be offered $25 million a year by other grown adults. The problem is that the Lions are, and have been for 50-plus years, a team unable to consistently win for their fans. And now they seem to have a QB good enough to at least get them to the playoffs every other year and they have a GM who’s given fans in the city a shred of optimism because his background is with the New England Patriots. So all that said, the Lions could be, might be trending in an upwards direction — until they are handcuffed by a contract to Stafford that will eat up roughly 15% of their team salary moving forward for the next 5 or 6 years. Add in the contracts of defensive standouts — who they will feel compelled to keep — Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay, and you’re now talking about a third of your money being tied up with 3 “good” players. And yes, while other teams tie up lots of money in only a handful of players also, the good teams who compete for titles on a regular basis, put that money in players who are much better than Stafford, Ansah, and Slay.
It won’t happen for another 5, 6, 7 months, but make no mistake, Lions’ fans — it is going to happen.
2. Josh McDaniels may be on the verge of becoming the 49ers head coach with his own GM and his own quarterback.
The idea of the Patriots offensive coordinator getting his second shot at being a head coach in this league is one that falls into the “it’s only a matter of time” category. McDaniels has spent the better part of his NFL career learning under the likes of Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis, Scott Pioloi, Nick Caserio, and coaching the likes of Tom Brady. To say McDaniels would be a logical candidate for any head coaching vacancy is a considerable understatement. The question, ultimately, boils down to where and when?
The when is any minute — maybe we’re even on borrowed time with McDaniels still in New England. The where is starting to become clearer. Of the positions that McDaniels interviewed for last Saturday, as he and Pats prepared for their AFC divisional round opponent, the one that stands out is the 49ers job. The offensive minded coach isn’t saddled with a quarterback in SF like he would be in Los Angeles with Jared Goff or Jacksonville with Blake Bortles — he can take one as early as #2 overall in the upcoming draft. He also isn’t married to a sitting general manager. And the more reports you hear, the more it looks like San Francisco has their eyes on ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive back Louis Roddick, who just so happens has hinted at coveting the New England OC.
We’ve seen plenty of nondescript, unimpressive turns for former Belichick disciples over the years, as they fly from the cozy nest up in Foxborough to see what they can accomplish on their own. How McDaniels fares, if he departs for the Bay Area, isn’t a reflection of Belichick or anything in New England; it will be a reflection of what the 40-year old has learned since his first head coaching gig in Denver seven years ago, where he went 11-17 and was dismissed 12 games into his second year.
3. DeShaun Watson will go from top of the college football mountain to the doldrums of the NFL when he is selected #1 overall by the Browns.
After throwing for over 400 yards in back-to-back title games the last two seasons against the vaunted Nick Saban defense, the Clemson QB is, undoubtedly, riding the highest high of his very impressive collegiate career. Strong arm, mobile, good vision, proven leadership skills, and the intangibles it takes to win an NCAA national championship — all traits that should suite Watson well, as he moves on to the next level.
Will it pan out for the kid? Will all this success in college translate to the pro game, where every play is sped up exponentially? Who knows. But what we do know is maybe the saddest thing of all — he’ll get to try this whole professional football thing in Cleveland, where quarterbacks go to, well, we know what happens. Brandon Weedon, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Colt McCoy, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, and Cody Kessler are just a few quarterbacks to take regular season snaps for the Browns over the last few seasons. So yeah, forgive me if I’m of the belief that DeShaun Watson’s best days of football are behind him. Hope you didn’t erase the title game from your DVR yet.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.