PFF News Mailbag: Top free-agent WRs, Tom Brady and the Patriots, Rams' historic collapse and more

Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) signals against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

  • Triumphant return?: It’s smart to never rule anything out with the New England Patriots, but a reunion with Tom Brady seems unlikely for a few reasons.
  • First-to-worst: The Los Angeles Rams are on pace to have the worst Super Bowl hangover in history, which is great news for the Detroit Lions.
  • Weak class at WR: Jakobi Meyers is the top dog at his position in free agency. Find out what a contract could look like for the wide receiver.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

This week’s mailbag delves into the best and worst teams in the NFC West, how the Patriots should handle their top free agent and what will happen with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers this offseason.

Let's get right into it.

@NFLStudy: Are the San Francisco 49ers the best team in the NFL right now?

A source I spoke to this week called the 49ers the most talented team in the NFL, and I think there’s a case for that given their defense, offensive line and playmakers. They’re top 10 in both expected points added (EPA) per play in addition to EPA per play against, and they’ve won four straight.

Nonetheless, I’d still like to see a signature win, and they have that opportunity this weekend when they take on the Miami Dolphins at home.

@CoachGrav: What do you make of the recent buzz on Tom Brady returning to the New England Patriots?

I covered the Patriots for eight years, and somewhere along the way, I realized to never fully rule anything out. I’d be very surprised, however, given the optics of head coach Bill Belichick letting Brady walk in free agency, watching him win a Super Bowl elsewhere, drafting Mac Jones, going around .500 without Brady and then bringing him back with the implication that he still gives the team its best chance at winning. Owner Robert Kraft would have to be heavily involved in the move, and Brady might have to be the one to approach the team with the idea. That's an ownership-level move.

All of that being said, Brady is a free agent after the season, and there aren’t a ton of obvious fits for him from an offensive standpoint beyond the Las Vegas Raiders, 49ers and maybe the New York Jets or Tennessee Titans. He’s still a very good player, so there is no reason for Brady to retire based on skill. From a football standpoint, beyond playing for a proven winner like Belichick, I’m not sure why the Patriots would be more attractive than other options. Their top offensive coaches are Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, they have a low-end group of offensive skill players, and their offensive line stinks. Additionally, there’s still the possibility that Brady could retire and begin his TV career with FOX.

So, I’d be surprised; however, the Patriots are the same team that signed Antonio Brown.

@DaveWronkowski: How do you handle the Aaron Rodgers/Jordan Love situation in Green Bay?

I think the best option is to let Rodgers play until the Packers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and then assess the situation. If the team gets assurances from Rodgers that he wants to return in 2023, then it should leave it up to him whether he wants to play or not. If he waffles or says he’s done, then the Packers need to see what they have in Love before approaching the 2023 offseason.

Love looked good in mop-up duty Monday night but was awful last season against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers have to figure out which version of him they’ll get moving forward.

@tarusmack602: Strictly on the football side is DeShaun Watson enough to get the Cleveland Browns over the hump? #PFFMailbag

This season, I’m not convinced. Jacoby Brissett was playing good football for the Browns, as he’s currently ranked ninth among qualified quarterbacks with an 82.5 PFF grade, and Cleveland’s offense is 10th in EPA per play and 16th in EPA per passing play. The defense has been the biggest problem, as the unit ranks 27th in EPA per play against and 31st since Week 9. Brissett is 11th with a 1.87 PFF WAR (wins above replacement). Watson averaged 3.14 PFF WAR from 2018 to 2020.

So, Watson will make a difference, but the Browns are 4-7, +850 to make the playoffs and have a win total of 7.5, per BetMGM.

@patssoxflysoon: No offense to the current group, but the Patriots built a great group from inside out (Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason) and they let 2/3rds of that go, I think it helped a lesser tackle, maybe time for a big time left tackle? Any available on the market next season?

I think the best approach is to draft one. Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Georgia’s Broderick Jones and Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison are the top tackles on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board.

@LAChargers69: How do you think Justin Herbert has played, all things considered?

Pretty good. Herbert is 11th with a 77.6 offensive grade, has the lowest turnover-worthy play rate and is eighth in PFF WAR despite dealing with his own ailment in addition to injuries to wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and starting left tackle Rashawn Slater. I don’t think he’s an MVP candidate or anything this season, but I also don’t think there’s any concern about his future based on how he’s playing.

@littleashtag: Do you see Jakobi Meyers being re-signed next season?

If the Patriots don’t re-sign Meyers, then they have to trade for an elite-level wide receiver or select one in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Patriots’ offense is already significantly worse this season than it was in 2021. Meyers is their best wide receiver, and he’s the best free agent at the position.

That being said, he’s going to be expensive. Tim Patrick, D.J. Chark, Russell Gage and Marquez Valdes-Scantling just signed deals worth $10 million per year. That’s the starting point for Meyers, and he could approach the $14-to-$16 million range given the scarcity of free agents at the position.

Nelson Agholor and his $14.9 million cap hit are off the books next season, and while New England does have Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton under contract next year, that’s not enough offensive firepower to help Jones. If New England doesn’t re-sign Meyers, they better have a solid plan in place to replace him on the roster, and an obvious option is difficult to identify.

@_jeffhancock: Are the Los Angeles Rams the “greatest” first-to-worst team in NFL history? #MailDoug #PFFMailbag

First of all Jeff, only you, as a Lions fan, would describe this as being “the greatest” first-to-worst collapse. But before I answer the question, I want to point something out about the Matthew Stafford trade. The Lions traded Stafford for a package that included two future first-round picks at the time in 2022 and 2023. I know the NFL discounts future first-round picks because teams want immediate gratification, but they shouldn’t, and this deal is a good illustration of why they shouldn’t.

The Rams didn’t have their 2021 first-round pick because they traded it for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But the 2020 Rams went 10-6 and would have been picked 25th overall. If the Lions had traded for Rams’ 2021 and 2022 first-round picks, they would have had the 25th and 32nd overall picks. Nonetheless, by accepting a deal for Los Angeles’ 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, they received the 32nd overall pick and now a potential top-five pick in 2023. The Rams are currently 3-8, most of their best players are injured, and the Lions are currently slated to pick third overall using LA’s selection. Could the Lions have guessed the Rams would collapse so quickly like a deck of cards? Probably not. But you’d probably rather bet on how the Rams would perform in 2022 with a 34-year-old QB rather than knowing you’re acquiring the 25th overall pick as long as you know your job is secure.

It worked out great for the Lions and general manager Brad Holmes, and they’re really no worse for wear having to wait until 2023 to use that first-round pick. Detroit was good enough this year that it’ll likely miss out on one of the top two quarterbacks since they’re currently set to be picking 13th overall. But that trade with the Rams currently puts them in much better position behind the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears.

If the draft order holds, however, it’s worth wondering if Chicago would trade out of that spot to a QB-needy team like the Carolina Panthers to ensure the Lions don’t get C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young in the NFC North.

As far as the Rams’ being the greatest or worse first-to-last team, depending on how you look at it, they have the potential. The most recent Super Bowl winner to miss the playoffs the next season was the 2015-16 Denver Broncos, when they went 9-7 after Peyton Manning’s retirement. The most recent team to win a Super Bowl and finish the next season without a winning record was the Baltimore Ravens, who went 8-8 in 2013. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the last team to win a Super Bowl and finish the next season with a losing record when they went 7-9 in 2003. There have been three six-win teams following a Super Bowl win: the 6-10 1999 Broncos, the 6-9 1987 New York Giants (in a strike-shortened season) and the 6-7-1 1968 Packers. The 1999 Broncos and 1987 Giants finished last in their divisions.

The Rams are currently last in the NFC West over the 4-8 Arizona Cardinals and would have to win four of their next six games to finish with a better winning percentage and more wins than the 1999 Broncos. With a 6-11 record, they’d be the worst of the first-to-worsts.

@WhatIsSports__: Is it time NFL shakes up its divisions?

I don’t think so. Why would they do that?

@RockNRick69: What is the best Christmas song after The Little Drummer Boy

Let’s close this out with a couple of non-football questions.

The best Christmas song is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love.

@JackLinnehan: Who was your top artist on your Spotify Wrapped

It was The Beach Boys, but it’s always The Beach Boys. No. 2 was The Wonder Years, and No. 3 was The Flying Burrito Bros. That encapsulates my music interests pretty well.


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