•The Cleveland Browns planned to revisit their interest in acquiring San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo depending on multiple factors. They might need to cross that bridge if Deshaun Watson’s suspension is increased.
• The New England Patriots could have surprise cuts at wide receiver and cornerback based on the play of rookies at both positions.
The countdown to the 2022 NFL season continues, and we’re officially less than a month away from Week 1. Still, there are plenty of unanswered questions heading into the season, including where San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will end up.
Let’s try to answer some of them in this week’s mailbag.
I know the Cleveland Browns did their homework on Garoppolo before they acquired Deshaun Watson via trade. After Watson was acquired and before his six-game suspension was handed down, I was told the Browns could revisit those conversations depending on the length of Watson’s ban, the 49ers’ asking price and Garoppolo’s health.
“Do some homework, but cross that bridge if we come to it,” a source said. If Watson’s six-game suspension had stuck, it was unlikely that Cleveland would add Garoppolo to start for just over one-third of the season.
However, the Browns might need to cross that bridge if Watson’s six-game suspension is increased under the NFL’s appeal The NFL is still pushing for a full-season suspension, which would cause Watson’s contract to toll in 2022, meaning he would make a $1 million salary in 2023 and his $46 million salary wouldn’t hit until 2024. If Watson plays any regular season game in 2022, then his contract would not toll, and he’d be on the books for $46 million in 2023.
If Watson’s contract tolls in 2022, then it becomes easier to acquire Garoppolo, who would give the Browns a better chance of winning in 2022 than current backup Jacoby Brissett. Even if Watson’s suspension is increased but doesn’t hit the 17-game mark, adding Garoppolo still could make sense to keep Cleveland afloat. The Browns have a talented roster that could compete for a title.
It’s probably a bit too early to answer this question before most of the preseason games are played, but I’m keeping my eye on New Orleans Saints rookie running back Abram Smith. I’m certainly not saying he’s going to pass Alvin Kamara on the depth chart, but there’s room on that roster for another running back to get a chunk of carries. And there still isn’t real clarity regarding Kamara’s potential suspension after he was arrested for felony battery in February.
Smith hasn’t set himself apart from other Saints running backs, such as Mark Ingram, Tony Jones, Devine Ozigbo and Dwayne Washington, so far in camp, but the preseason can be a better gauge for a running back’s performance since there’s live tackling, unlike in training camp.
Smith earned a 90.2 PFF grade at Baylor last season, ranking seventh among qualified FBS running backs.
@ChaoticChord: With the crowded nature of NEs WR and CB rooms, who do you see as surprise cut candidates going into the PS? What are your thoughts on Thornton so far? Do you make anything of the rotations at RG? Is this depth building or could it be a reluctance to use Onwenu in a new system?
I currently view Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, rookies Marcus Jones and Jack Jones and special-teamer Justin Bethel as locks at cornerback for the New England Patriots, so that leaves one spot or maybe two for Myles Bryant, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, Shaun Wade and/or Joejuan Williams. So, there’s certainly a world where Butler and/or Mitchell don’t make the team. And that might surprise some people.
I’ve been impressed with rookie second-round pick Tyquan Thornton so far at wide receiver. I believe the Patriots made some schematic changes to their offense that should allow less experienced wideouts to play faster. We might be seeing that with Thornton, who has speed to burn and has put some nasty moves on cornerbacks in one-on-one drills. If he can impress in the preseason, I could see the Patriots trading or releasing one of their top veteran wide receivers. The Patriots believe Thornton has earned more work with the starting offense early in camp, and they want to see how he responds to it.
If the Patriots are going to rely heavily on outside zone runs, I don’t think Michael Onwenu, or even Trent Brown, is the best fit for the system. I still think Onwenu winds up starting, but the emphasis on zone runs could be why Arlington Hambright, who ran a 4.97-second 40-yard dash coming out of Colorado in 2020, has taken some snaps at right guard. Everyone expected Onwenu to be a superstar last season after a successful rookie campaign, and then Ted Karras started over him.
I’d be surprised if the Chicago Bears could get a first-round pick in a trade for Roquan Smith. He’s a decent bargain right now on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract at $9.735 million, but if a team acquired him via trade, they’d immediately need to give him a massive new deal.
@macomboys: The AFCW is loaded with talent. The Raiders are ranked 4th in the div. by most media. Do you agree? And why do you think they aren't ranked higher?
The Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers have an over/under of 10.5 wins in 2022. The Las Vegas Raiders are slightly behind at 8.5 wins. I think that’s pretty fair. The Raiders have a really talented roster, so it’s entirely possible that they could finish above any of those teams, but just comparing them to the Chiefs, who I believe took a step back this season, Kansas City has the advantage at quarterback, tight end, offensive line, defensive interior, linebacker and safety, while the Raiders have the advantage at running back, wide receiver, edge and cornerback.
From the sounds of things, Miles Sanders might still wind up being the early-down back with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Kenneth Gainwell could be used more near the goal line, on third down, in the two-minute offense and in “high-leverage” situations.
I was told Gainwell “can run routes like a slot.” I’m not sure how things will shake out fantasy-wise in Philadelphia, but if Gainwell winds up being the third-down and goal line back, then he’d certainly be an attractive option.
First of all, James White’s retirement officially makes me feel old. I started covering the Patriots in 2013, the year before he was drafted, and now he’s retiring. I know there were external factors there with last year’s hip injury, but still. If he’s old enough to retire, then I’m ancient!
You’ll hear this from everyone and anyone, but White is a great guy. I can’t remember ever walking up to him in the locker room and having him turn down an interview. He laughed about everything, too. He could make anyone feel funny, even a bunch of lame reporters.
The Patriots’ running back room was always really tight even with all the turnover that it experienced. The glue that held it all together was definitely retired running backs coach Ivan Fears, but White helped keep everyone selfless, whether it was LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel or anyone else who had briefer stays.
The Patriots are still in good shape at running back and have a lot of talent, but White and Fears will certainly be missed in the locker room.