The NFL draft is over, most free agents have been signed, and teams are a few minicamp sessions away from their version of summer break. And good news! Every team has now plugged every roster hole, figured out every contractual snafu, and answered every question you might have had about their plans for the upcoming season. OK, not quite.
A lot did get accomplished in the lead-up to and during the draft, including the Aaron Rodgers trade and the Lamar Jackson contract, which had been hanging over the Jets and Packers and the Ravens, respectively. Many teams, though, have some lingering questions to ponder before we turn the page to training camp:
How do the New York Jets plan to protect Aaron Rodgers?
Good news for the Jets: Three weeks ago, the biggest question they faced was … uhh, are you guys going to get that Rodgers trade done? They answered that one ahead of the draft. Rodgers has now fully embarked on a Jumbotron tour of New York sports games, and the Jets are posting slo-mo thirst traps of him in their facilities. My opinion is that the haul the Jets gave the Packers for Rodgers wasn’t too pricey, even without a complete assurance that he will play more than a year. Quarterbacks are just expensive, and it’s easy to forget that at one point early in this spring’s free agent cycle, the asking price for Rodgers was reportedly multiple first-round picks, not unlike deals for Russell Wilson or Matthew Stafford in previous years. But the draft capital the Jets did give up has already affected their roster.
Going into the draft, offensive tackle seemed like a clear need for the Jets, and they had been widely linked to Broderick Jones. The Rodgers trade moved them from no. 13 to no. 15 in the first round. By pick 13, Paris Johnson Jr. (sixth to the Cardinals), Darnell Wright (10th to the Bears), and Peter Skoronski (11th to the Titans) were off the board, leaving Jones as the last player still on the board who was considered a consensus first-round prospect at the position. Luckily for the Jets, the Packers don’t seem to know that teams are allowed to take offensive players in the first round, so Green Bay drafted Lukas Van Ness at no. 13, leaving just the Patriots between the Jets and Jones at no. 14. You probably know what happened next: The Patriots traded that pick to the Steelers, who drafted Jones, and with the board barren of elite tackle prospects, the Jets wound up taking edge rusher Will McDonald IV from Iowa State at no. 15.
Since then, the Jets have seemed a little touchy about the idea that they got leapfrogged and missed out on the prospect they both wanted and needed. There have been plenty of media leaks saying that they wanted McDonald all along. Fine, sure—he’s athletic and has great length (my colleague Danny Kelly gave McDonald the “elite athleticism” badge in The Ringer’s Draft Guide but also ranked him as the no. 37 prospect). I will merely ask this question: If someone makes a suggestion about you that cuts a bit too deep because it hits on a specific insecurity, or if someone makes an outlandish comment that’s clearly not true, which are you more upset by? If I hear you say, “Nora Princiotti doesn’t know anything about Taylor Swift,” I’m probably going to give you a weird look and move on. If I hear you say, “Nora Princiotti is an overly sensitive backseat driver who’s been ‘planning to brush up on her French’ for three years in a row with absolutely nothing to show for it,” I will probably get a little defensive!
Also, this is the face that Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh made when asked whether he thought messing with the Jets’ draft plans was an added benefit of the trade with Pittsburgh:
Can't get over Matt Groh's face when he was asked about the Patriots letting the Steelers jump the Jets to take Broderick Jones. pic.twitter.com/Y4FEtyqZuf— Nick O'Malley (@nickjomalley) April 28, 2023
Anyway, draft plans foiled or not, the Jets are currently set to enter the 2023 season with the following at tackle: Duane Brown, who is 37; Mekhi Becton, whose knees could crumble at any moment; and fourth-round draft pick Carter Warren. They could hope this trio works out or sign a remaining free agent like Cam Erving, who might also be better than 2022 fourth-round draft pick Max Mitchell or Billy Turner (a recent free agent signing and a noted Friend of Aaron) on the right side. The Jets did help their offensive line by drafting center Joe Tippmann in the second round, but without another move, they’ll enter 2023 with big questions about who’s protecting their new star quarterback.
Have the New England Patriots done enough to support Mac Jones?
New England had a solid draft. Christian Gonzalez might have been the steal of the first round and will be an important player in Bill Belichick’s defense. Second-round pick Keion White gives them some added spice at edge rusher, and explosive third-round linebacker Marte Mapu was a draftnik darling and, apparently, a Belichick favorite.
It’s notable, though, that the Patriots did very little to address their biggest problem areas from last season, nearly all of which were on offense. They stayed put in the second round when trading up for, say, tight end Michael Mayer or offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron would have been possible. They took Mapu when all-around solid tight end Tucker Kraft and deep-threat receiver Josh Downs were on the board. They took a kicker before they took any kind of pass catcher, and in what was considered a very deep tight end class, they didn’t take anyone at that position at all.
The Patriots committed to Jones by not trading him during the draft, but the message sent by their other moves seems pretty clear: If the coaching of ousted coordinator Matt Patricia was the problem last season, Jones should be better this year without significant upgrades to the personnel around him. There’s logic to that, but if Jones does indeed begin the year throwing to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, and DeVante Parker, it’s fair to wonder whether the lack of elite pass-catching talent will once again be a major factor that holds the Patriots back from the playoff run ownership desperately wants.
How will the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback room pan out?
The biggest football story no one is talking about is that a large portion of the NFL has gone completely bonkers over Brock Purdy. In March, Commanders coach Ron Rivera voiced the team’s commitment to unproven quarterback Sam Howell on the basis that he has a Purdy-like “ability and skill set.” C.J. Stroud’s poor performance on the S2 test was blown far out of proportion, in no small part because Purdy scored well on the test last year. Draft coverage was riddled with references to “the next Brock Purdy” and “the Brock Purdy effect.”
I like Purdy. The 49ers will be in the best position in 2023 if he’s their starter. Still, Purdy has just eight career starts, including in the playoffs; he plays in an offense whose entire thing is that it makes just-OK quarterbacks look good; he just had major surgery to repair his throwing elbow; and he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to play this season, so maybe we should all cool it a bit on him.
The 49ers are clearly hoping Purdy will be their starter as soon as possible this fall. They have not traded Trey Lance despite taking calls and probably want to keep him as insurance against a long recovery timeline for Purdy. And Sam Darnold is there as another backup option. In a wide-open NFC, though, whether San Francisco can pull another year of good quarterbacking out of a hat will be the key to this season.
Will the Green Bay Packers’ faith in Jordan Love pay off?
The Jordan Love era has begun in Green Bay, and now we know it will last at least through 2024. In lieu of picking up Love’s fifth-year option, on Tuesday the Packers and the 24-year-old QB agreed to a one-year extension worth up to $22.5 million, with $13.5 million guaranteed. That gives Love a pay bump this season, though, depending on his ability to reach incentives included in the deal, he might end up making less over the next two years than he would have if he’d played out his previous deal plus the fifth-year option.
For the Packers, this move ties their financial commitment to Love next season to how he plays in his first year as Green Bay’s starter. In 2024, Green Bay won’t be beholden to the assigned salary that comes with the fifth-year option. What happens after that will depend on Love’s ability to pick up where Rodgers left off in Green Bay without the team changing its team-building strategy to fit the new quarterback.
There was significant predraft speculation that the Packers would buck tradition and take a receiver or tight end in the first round to help Love. The idea there was that the front office previously seemed to believe that it didn’t need to invest in first-round talent on offense because Rodgers could elevate less skilled players (or maybe the team just didn’t draft skill positions that high out of spite). Instead, Green Bay did what it has done every year since 2012 (excluding the year it drafted Love): It went with defense in the first round. On night two the Packers did draft three pass catchers—tight end Luke Musgrave (no. 42), receiver Jayden Reed (no. 50), and tight end Tucker Kraft (no. 78)—and their history of finding skill position talent in the second and third rounds (and sometimes later) is very good. In 2022 they got receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, and players like running back AJ Dillon, receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and—oh yeah—Davante Adams were all drafted after the first round. It’s not that the Packers aren’t helping Love; it’s just that they’re helping him in the same way they helped Rodgers. It’s Love’s team now, though, so Green Bay will get to discover whether quarterback is the independent variable in how its midround receivers develop.
What will happen with Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants?
The Giants signed Daniel Jones and had a great draft, but there’s still the matter of their star running back, who hasn’t signed his franchise tag and is skipping the offseason program, at least for now. After the draft, New York’s general manager, Joe Schoen, said that he and Barkley’s team would “reconvene” this week to work on either a long-term deal or an agreement to play on the tag. There’s pressure to work it out given Barkley’s importance to the offense and the fact that the Giants didn’t take a running back until the fifth round.
When will the top rookie QBs become starters?
With first-round quarterbacks, the question tends to be when, not if, the rookies will start in their first seasons. This year seems no different. Colts owner Jim Irsay told NFL Media’s Judy Batista that Anthony Richardson will start this season and that head coach Shane Steichen could determine that he’ll be ready to go as early as Week 1. Bryce Young will take his first snaps as a Panther as Andy Dalton’s backup but will be elevated as soon as Carolina believes he’s ready. The Texans haven’t tipped their hand as far as their plans for C.J. Stroud. But they have problems if the second overall pick takes too long to beat out Davis Mills in a year when they’re trying to win—as evidenced by their willingness to give up their 2024 first-round pick to the Cardinals to draft Will Anderson.
What big trades or signings could still happen?
For now, it’s all quiet on the trade front in the NFL. Lamar Jackson is still a Raven, Mac Jones is still a Patriot, Trey Lance is still a 49er, and DeAndre Hopkins is still a Cardinal. It’s hard to see much incentive for New England or San Francisco to move either quarterback at this point, and Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort said during the draft that he “doesn’t foresee” trading Hopkins before the start of the season.
Of those three, Hopkins’s situation still seems like the one to watch. Ossenfort could have issued a stronger denial about his intentions to move on from Hopkins, and the draft showed that the top priority in Arizona is accumulating future draft capital, which trading Hopkins could provide. Hopkins himself recently posted a video of himself working out in Phoenix in which he said, “I see everybody telling me to stay. Who said I wanna go? Who said I wanna leave?” It’s a funny post because, well, the answers to those questions are (1) he did and (2) Von Miller. Not sure we’ve heard the last of that situation.
Other names worth watching are receiver Courtland Sutton, whom Denver has at least taken calls on; linebacker Devin White, who has asked for a trade out of Tampa; defensive end Chase Young, whose fifth-year option was not picked up by the Commanders; running back Austin Ekeler, who is disgruntled with his current Chargers salary; running back Dalvin Cook, as a trade would give the Vikings $8 million in cap savings; and one of Hopkins’s teammates, safety Budda Baker, who has also requested a trade from Arizona. Want a wild-card name? Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who looks like a placeholder in Tennessee after the Titans ended Will Levis’s draft slide.