As BYU quarterback Zach Wilson carved up his pro day in Provo, Utah, the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins upended the 2021 NFL Draft order with a couple of blockbuster trades.
The 49ers made a power move Friday by sending this year's 12th overall pick, two future first-rounders and a 2021 third-rounder to the Miami Dolphins for the third overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Once the two teams completed the deal, the Dolphins flipped the No. 12 overall pick and a 2022 first-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles for this year's sixth overall pick.
The two trades sent shockwaves through the NFL landscape. For some, it made their situation better. For others, not so much. Here are the biggest winners and losers from Friday's action.
QB Jalen Hurts
By moving down from Pick 6 to Pick 12, the Philadelphia Eagles made a statement and removed themselves from the quarterback market ahead of the NFL draft. They were reportedly intrigued by Zach Wilson, but Wilson now looks locked into the No. 2 overall pick, currently held by the New York Jets.
Hurts now appears all but set to start at quarterback for the Eagles in 2021.
The 22-year-old quarterback made just four starts in his rookie season, so it would be somewhat unfair to write him off at this point. Still, that small sample wasn’t all that pretty from a passing perspective. He was far too willing to hold onto the ball — just as he was at Oklahoma — and he paired that with poor ball placement and suspect decision-making. The Alabama and Oklahoma product recorded nine turnover-worthy plays across 197 dropbacks and finished the season with a 50.4% accuracy rate that ranked 38th among 41 qualifying quarterbacks.
The best path to success with Hurts is to build an offense around his ability to impact the game with his legs, similar to what Greg Roman did with Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo back in 2015 and 2016. Hurts now gets his shot to showcase his skills and is a big winner after Friday's trades.
Remember when people across the league were scoffing at Miami for offloading assets and inadvertently tanking? Well, it turns out that this is actually an effective long-term team-building method. Who would have thought?
Miami now holds five first-round picks and four second-round picks over the next three years. They have all of this draft capital and still have one of the NFL's best cornerback tandems as well as a promising young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa.
The opportunity is right there in front of them to keep building a contending team around Tagovailoa. I wouldn’t even be surprised if this team emerges with the best roster in the NFL in the next few years. Still, their success hinges on the development of their young quarterback.
Tagovailoa still has a lot to prove before we can confidently earmark him as a franchise quarterback. He finished his rookie year with a 63.9 passing grade, well below the marks of fellow first-round quarterbacks Joe Burrow (74.3) and Justin Herbert (78.6). The 2020 fifth overall pick struggled to hit shots downfield, producing one of the lowest big-time throw rates in the NFL (2.1%) while posting the fourth-worst passing grade on 10-plus-yard throws.
If Tagovailoa develops into the franchise quarterback most around the league expect him to be, this franchise is set up for immense long-term success.
Head coach Zac Taylor recently stated that newly signed tackle Riley Reiff would be the starting right tackle for 2021 and that Jonah Williams will be sticking to his usual spot over at left tackle. And given the reports that Joe Burrow is lobbying for Ja’Marr Chase at Pick 5, the odds of Penei Sewell coming to the Queen City have now dropped significantly.
The only team threatening to take Chase was Miami at No. 3, but that is now no longer an issue. The door is now wide open for Cincinnati to reunite that potent LSU connection that teamed up for more deep passing touchdowns than any QB-WR tandem in the PFF College era.
Bill Belichick and the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England just had one of the most questionable free-agency periods in recent memory, handing out the second-most guaranteed money ever despite having no clear answer at the quarterback position.
Cam Newton led the Patriots to the 26th-ranked passing offense in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play generated in 2020 and didn't come close to providing an adequate downfield passing offense.
The best path for New England was to throw in the towel for 2021 in the hope of obtaining QB Spencer Rattler with the 2022 No. 1 overall pick, but that ship has now sailed. While the Pats have no path to greatly improve their quarterback situation this offseason — or even in 2022 — they can at least move it closer to the league average by acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo from the 49ers.
Garoppolo has played just one full season in his NFL career, but that one full year ended with a Super Bowl appearance. The former New England backup earned a 77.3 PFF grade that season, 13th in the NFL.
He has also posted an 80.8 PFF grade since joining the 49ers. Newton’s passing grade over the last five years is over 10 grading points lower than that, and it ranks 29th in the NFL.
Jimmy G struggles to see linebackers, has not been durable throughout his NFL career, practically lost the 49ers the Super Bowl last year with his few crucial miscues and has been propped up by Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Those are all fair concerns to hold against the eighth-year quarterback. But while he won’t be an elite passer for New England, he can be the ultimate game manager and a far more effective quarterback than Newton. The only question is, can they get Garoppolo to waive his no-trade clause?
There is a real chance that no one wants to trade for Jimmy G because of his contract, something PFF’s Brad Spielberger floated after Friday's news broke. So, there’s a chance that Garoppolo either loses his job as San Francisco's starting quarterback or he ends up being cut from the roster entirely.
These two are grouped into one because they both had the opportunity to trade up with Miami for that No. 3 pick. They both lost out on that race.
Now, they are probably left with either Mac Jones or Trey Lance. Those are acceptable consolation prizes, and both players have great NFL potential, but they are a clear tier below Justin Fields, who will likely go at No. 3. And when you add the unclear situation surrounding Deshaun Watson, I imagine the front offices in Carolina and Denver are increasingly nervous about the idea of Atlanta taking a quarterback with the fourth overall pick. If that’s the case, we could witness a bidding war between Carolina and Denver to trade up and ensure they don’t miss out.
Teddy Bridgewater didn't particularly hit the ground running in Carolina. He produced just a 66.4 passing grade (28th) and has been one of the worst downfield passers in the league, ranking fifth-to-last in uncatchable-pass rate on passes thrown 10 or more yards downfield. The team simply can’t afford another year of Teddy leading the offense.
Similarly, Drew Lock has shown why he should not be the long-term answer in Denver. He has appeared in 18 games in his two-year NFL career and has come away with the league’s third-worst passing grade over that span (61.8). No quarterback has thrown a higher rate of uncatchable passes (28%) on throws beyond the line of scrimmage since 2019.
Both of these teams had an opportunity to move up the draft, but now that opportunity is gone. Both teams know they won’t survive in 2021 with their current quarterbacks leading the offense, but one of them may not have a choice if Atlanta goes with a passer at No. 4.
OT PENEI SEWELL, possibly
Sewell will still be selected early in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he may last a little longer than first anticipated, given the likely run on quarterbacks to start Round 1.
Miami could have gone with Sewell at No. 3, but now his best-case scenario is No. 5 to Cincinnati, and they seem poised to take wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
It's not just draft pedigree that's at stake here — he could lose out on millions of dollars if he falls out of the top five. Right now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we see quarterbacks go No. 1 through No. 4, Chase to Cincy at No. 5, WR DeVonta Smith to Miami at No. 6 and Detroit going with either WR Jaylen Waddle or LB Micah Parsons.
Still, Sewell, who holds the record for the highest single-season PFF grade by a Power 5 offensive linemen, has about as high of a floor as anyone in this draft class. He’ll make up that money with his next contract.
These two teams are in a very similar and dark position: They have a pretty good roster outside of quarterback, but they have no long-term solution at that most important position on the field.
The two were forced into making a play for free agents this offseason — Washington signed Ryan Fitzpatrick; Chicago signed Andy Dalton — but they are each short-term starters with relatively low ceilings.
Unlike Alex Smith, Fitzpatrick can effectively push the ball downfield, but he does so in a risky fashion. He has always had a penchant for turnover-worthy throws, which is why he ranked 19th in the NFL in PFF grade last season. He’ll be turning 39 this year, too.
As for Dalton, he takes great care of the ball and is accurate — two areas that Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky struggled in — but he’s not going to lead a potent downfield passing attack. He ranked 30th in big-time throw rate with Dallas in 2020 and ranked 23rd among players at the position in passing grade.
There was a glimmer of hope that at least one of these two teams could make a move for a quarterback if one were to slip out of the top 10, but that now looks more and more unlikely after Friday's moves.