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Searching for Truth During the NFL’s Lying Season

It’s the time of year when NFL coaches and general managers use press conferences to lay smoke screens or outright lie. We’re here to translate for you what they really mean about the league’s biggest offseason story lines.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NFL combine is fueled by three things: shrimp cocktail, skywalks, and lies. Last year, one of the biggest headlines out of Indianapolis was that Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that the team had “no intention” of trading Russell Wilson. What did Seattle do a week later? It traded Russell Wilson to Denver.

Yes, it’s lying season in the NFL, and though only time will tell who this year’s biggest podium Pinocchios turn out to be, a close reading of some of the most newsworthy notes and quotes from this week in Indianapolis can indicate who’s on the level and who’s just trying to filibuster their way through a press conference. In that spirit, here are some notable answers from coaches and personnel executives, translated into what we think they really mean:

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst on whether he’s spoken to Aaron Rodgers since the quarterback finished his darkness retreat: “No, we’ve exchanged some texts and things like that, but we haven’t had a chance to speak yet.”

Translation: No, we’ve exchanged some texts and things like that but he hasn’t given us a chance to speak yet.

It’s not just the Packers. A third of the league seems to be in a holding pattern as part of the trickle down from Rodgers’s decision on whether and where he wants to play in 2023. The Jets are examining the veteran quarterback market—they’re holding a second meeting with Derek Carr this week—but can’t make a move until they know what Rodgers is doing. The Saints are waiting to know what Carr wants to do, which is influenced by whether or not New York is a genuine landing spot for him. Green Bay is at Rodgers’s mercy because he’s under contract—he’ll earn $60 million next year if he plays—and can’t do much of anything until they know whether they should be manning the phone lines to make a trade or developing a plan to support Rodgers for another season.

Gutekunst on a timeline to figure out whether Rodgers is staying in Green Bay: “Obviously free agency is coming up here. That’s an important part of what we’re doing. So it would be nice to have some answers before then.”

Translation: Aaron, please call me.

Gutekunst on Jordan Love’s development: “We’re excited about him. I think I’ve expressed to a lot of people that he needs to play. That’s the next step in his progression. He needs to play.”

Translation: Aaron, it’s fine if you want to play for the Jets.

This is one area where the translation machine goes into a bit of overdrive, but comparing the way Gutekunst and Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur have spoken about their quarterbacks so far this offseason to how they did last offseason, when their primary goal was to get Rodgers back in the fold, is telling. Gutekunst this week made it extremely clear that he wants Love to get playing time, which, obviously, would be a lot easier to make happen if he could trade Rodgers elsewhere. Gutekunst can’t come out and say so, but the Packers-Rodgers relationship is sounding more and more like a thing of the past.

Now, moving on to a potential trading partner’s side of things …

Unidentified Jets reporter to general manager Joe Douglas: “Have you had discussions with the Packers?”

Translation: Have you had discussions with the Packers about Aaron Rodgers?

Second unidentified Jets reporter to Douglas: “Do you worry about missing out on Derek Carr while waiting for someone else to make a decision?”

Translation: Do you worry about missing out on Derek Carr while waiting for Aaron Rodgers to make a decision?

Third unidentified Jets reporter to Douglas: “Do you prefer free agency versus a trade? How do you feel about giving up picks?”


What, you thought knowing he can’t answer the question was going to stop the Jets beat writers from asking it?

One way or another, the Jets will have a new quarterback next season. Their stadium landlords, on the other hand, are figuring out how to make it work with their incumbent passer, which brings us to the Giants:

Giants general manager Joe Schoen: “It’s going to be better for the organization, and I think it will be better for Daniel [Jones], and I think it would be better for Saquon [Barkley], if we can get deals done without having to use the franchise tag.”

Translation: We’ve made offers to Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley and if they want more than we’re offering the franchise tag is there.

Schoen was notably adamant that the Giants could avoid using the franchise tag on Jones and/or Barkley, but particularly Jones. In this case, I don’t doubt that he means what he says—that he can see a path where both players agree to multiyear contracts with the Giants, even though the question about the franchise tag has seemed like it revolves around whom New York would use it on, not whether it would use it. That said, Jones really seems like a perfect candidate to get the tag—a player who had an outlier year and who the team might want to see perform more consistently before committing long term. I believe Schoen that in his ideal world he wouldn’t use it, but I think in reality the tag makes too much sense.

Speaking of the franchise tag …

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta on contract negotiations with Lamar Jackson: “Lamar and I are talking. We met recently. It’s an ongoing discussion. We both understand the urgency of the situation. It’s been a good dialogue. A good discussion. I’m optimistic and I continue to be optimistic. And we’ll see where it goes.”

Translation: Note to self: Think of more ways to say “ongoing discussion.”

DeCosta on whether the Ravens have decided whether they would use the exclusive or nonexclusive franchise tag on Jackson if they can’t reach a long-term deal before the deadline: “We have not.”

Translation: We’re still figuring out whether the bridge is burned.

The Ravens’ pending decision to use either the exclusive or nonexclusive franchise tag—assuming the aforementioned “ongoing discussion” doesn’t result in a long-term deal in the next few days—is one of the most intriguing dominoes yet to fall in this offseason’s quarterback landscape. The exclusive tag is worth around $45 million next season and would mean that only the Ravens can negotiate a contract with Jackson. It would signal that they are committed to figuring out a solution to keep him as their quarterback even if they remain far apart on a long-term deal. The nonexclusive tag comes in around $32 million next year, but Jackson would be allowed to negotiate a contract with other teams. Baltimore would have the right to match any contract offer and would receive two first-round picks from the team that signed Jackson if the Ravens chose not to match. In the event that they go the nonexclusive route, it would signal that the Ravens think it’s possible that Jackson is not their long-term quarterback. It seems like Baltimore is still figuring out which of those roads it’s going down.

Quarterback movement always generates the most speculation and provides the spiciest tea leaves to read, but representatives from teams more settled in their QB rooms provided some nuggets as well:

Broncos head coach Sean Payton on potentially still adding Matt Patricia to his coaching staff, after interviewing Patricia for the defensive coordinator job that went to Vance Joseph: “I think [the Patriots] won five Super Bowls while [Matt Patricia] was calling defenses. That was easy. I knew right away that I wanted to interview Matt.”

Translation: Bill Belichick owes me lunch.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider, answering a question about running back Kenneth Walker: “Ken. Don’t call him Kenneth. He’s an angry little elf sometimes.”

Translation: I won the Russell Wilson trade, signed Geno Smith, drafted Ken Walker, Charles Cross, Abe Lucas, and Tariq Woolen, and am feeling rather good about myself.

Bengals executive Duke Tobin: “They want a receiver? Go find your own. In my opinion, Tee Higgins is a good piece for the Cincinnati Bengals.”

Translation: I think we can sign Joe Burrow, Higgins, and, next year, Ja’Marr Chase to extensions.

At a time of year when every NFL executive can rely on the old standby response of “We get calls on lots of players,” Tobin was about as clear as he could be that the Bengals don’t want to move on from Higgins and think they won’t have to. Tobin was not so emphatic when speaking about running back Joe Mixon, whose role in the offense got smaller down the stretch as Samaje Perine took a larger portion of snaps and touches and who seems like a potential cut candidate since doing so would save the Bengals $7.3 million against the salary cap. “In the words of the great Kevin Malone, ‘I don’t know,’” Tobin said of Mixon’s future.

49ers general manager John Lynch on whether last season’s NFC championship game is a good reason for adding an extra roster spot so teams can keep three quarterbacks active on game days: “It’s very few and far between those incidents happen.”

Translation: [Sobbing internally.]

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on taking over play-calling: “We can all use a new voice. We can all use a new voice. We can all use a sense of motivation and challenge and so forth. This is a new challenge for [Dak Prescott], his words. He’s excited about it.”

Translation: You guys have no idea how much Dak loves third-and-6, but you’re about to find out.