Each week, The Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments.
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First: The two top suitors for Tony Romo
If Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indeed does Tony Romo the favor of putting Romo’s NFL future entirely in his own hands by releasing the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback instead of trying to work out a trade, the question becomes: Which teams make the most sense for Romo as prospective landing spots?
The answer is pretty obvious: The Houston Texans and Denver Broncos lap the field.
There shouldn’t be any surprise outcome or dark-horse candidates in the Romo derby. He turns 37 in April and, given the injury history that has limited him to a total of five games over the past two seasons, there is no way of knowing how many more chances he will get to fill the major void remaining on his list of career accomplishments and achieve some postseason success.
He must find a Super Bowl-ready team, a team for which adding a high-level quarterback would be the final piece to a championship-contender puzzle.
That list begins and ends with the Broncos and Texans.
The Broncos have sent signals about lukewarm interest in Romo. But that presumably would be subject to change should Romo be released and thus cost far less to acquire. The Denver defense carried Peyton Manning to a Super Bowl triumph at the conclusion of the 2015 season even after Manning’s body betrayed him and he no longer could play like an all-time-great quarterback. That defense remained very good this past season but wasn’t quite as dominant – the Broncos slipped to fourth in the NFL in total defense after being first in the league in that category in 2015. Denver went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
It’s conceivable that bringing in Romo would put the Broncos back into the Super Bowl mix in their first season under Coach Vance Joseph. The defense should remain excellent and Romo would have capable receivers around him. But there should be concerns about the Broncos’ offensive line and running game. They ranked 25th in the league in sacks per pass attempt and 27th in rushing offense this past season. Could Romo last under those circumstances?
Additionally, the Broncos have two relatively promising young quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Siemian had plenty of moments of competence in his first season as an NFL starter, throwing for 3,401 yards and 18 touchdowns in 14 games. The Broncos traded up to get Lynch in the first round of last year’s draft, even though many analysts said he would not be ready to play as a rookie but was an intriguing prospect for Year 2 or 3 and beyond. Is Broncos’ roster architect John Elway ready to concede that neither Siemian nor Lynch can be the answer? Or, alternatively, is Elway ready to keep their development on hold while taking a short-term Super Bowl shot with Romo?
There are fewer issues with the Texans – or at least there should be fewer issues. Houston led the NFL in total defense this past season even without the injured J.J. Watt. Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney showed what kind of players they can be. Put Watt back into the equation and that defense could be positively frightening.
The Texans lured quarterback Brock Osweiler away from Denver via free agency last offseason with a four-year, $72 million contract. Osweiler’s struggles (15 touchdowns, 16 interceptions) this past season were well documented. The Texans can tell themselves, if they want, that things will be better for Osweiler in Year 2. But actually believing that might be at least somewhat delusional.
Osweiler’s cumbersome contract creates a bit of a dilemma. But it’s nothing that couldn’t be overcome if the Texans want Romo and Romo wants Houston. And Romo should want Houston. The Texans ranked 11th in the league in sacks per pass attempt and eighth in rushing offense this past season. They have a superb wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins. This is a team, remember, that won a playoff game and gave the New England Patriots a bit of a second-round scare even with Osweiler, who was benched late in the regular season in favor of Tom Savage but then regained the starting job when Savage suffered a concussion, at quarterback.
Romo would be wise to want to be in Houston and the Texans would be wise to do everything they can to make that happen.
. . . AND TEN
1. Peterson market: It will be interesting to see what sort of market develops for Adrian Peterson if he does not agree to a reworked contract with the Minnesota Vikings and is released. Yes, he is Adrian Peterson. And yes, he ran for 1,485 yards as recently as the 2015 season. But he also is a soon-to-be 32-year-old running back coming off an injury-plagued 37-carry, 72-yard season. The interest in Peterson might not be quite as robust as he seems to expect.
2. Garoppolo’s worth to Pats: Should the Patriots keep backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo or trade him this offseason?
That, really, matters less about their feelings toward Garoppolo than their feelings toward Tom Brady and Jacoby Brissett.
Brady turns 40 in August and shows no signs of slowing down. He is coming off a 28-touchdown, two-interception regular season and his fifth career Super Bowl title. If Brady plays, say, three more seasons, Garoppolo would be 28 and six seasons into his NFL career before he ever would have a chance to even think about being the starter in New England.
If the Patriots believe that Brady indeed has several seasons of productivity left in him, and if they believe that Brissett, who made two starts this past season as a rookie, will develop into a reliable backup and perhaps an eventual successor, they should get what they can now for Garoppolo, with his trade value high.
If they have doubts about either Brady’s longevity from here or Brissett’s development, they should keep Garoppolo.
3. Garoppolo’s worth to Browns: If the Patriots do make Garoppolo available, would the Cleveland Browns be wise to part with the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL draft as part of a package to get him?
No one should obsess over Garoppolo’s limited NFL starting resume or invoke the name of Scott Mitchell. No one should cite the lack of success elsewhere of Brady’s backups, or make comparisons to Matt Cassel.
Of course there is risk involved in trading for Garoppolo. Of course there would be a chance that he would fail in Cleveland.
But Garoppolo’s chances of success with the Browns would be greater than those of any quarterback that Cleveland could get with the 12th choice. Even if the Browns would have to add another draft pick to a prospective deal for Garoppolo, they should do it. If they can get Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft and use the 12th pick as part of a package to land Garoppolo, the Browns will have done very well this offseason.
4. All-star woes: The NBA All-Star Game was every bit as dreadfully noncompetitive Sunday evening as a typical Pro Bowl is. In fact, a case could be made that this year’s Pro Bowl was actually of slightly higher quality than this year’s basketball version. Yet no one clamors for the NBA to get rid of the All-Star Game. Not sure why that is.
5. Revis incident: It already seemed possible, if not likely, that the New York Jets would release cornerback Darrelle Revis this offseason based on his play this past season and his contract. The Jets would owe Revis a $2 million bonus if he’s on their roster March 10, the second day of the new league year. He would have a $13 million salary for next season, $6 million of which is guaranteed.
The situation became far more complicated after Revis was charged with four felonies and a misdemeanor related to an incident in Pittsburgh. Two men were knocked unconscious during an altercation. Revis’s attorneys have denied that he knocked out the two men, conspired to commit an assault or robbed anyone of a cellphone.
The NFL-related issues being faced by Revis now include whether the Jets might seek to void the remainder of his contract and avoid paying him the $6 million in guaranteed money.
Revis faces potential discipline by the NFL under the personal conduct policy, and it’s unclear how the incident might impact the chances of him being signed by another team if the Jets release him.
An already uncertain NFL future for Revis has become even more unclear.
6. Raiders uncertainty: Few within the league know much at this point about the Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas or how feasible it is, given the void in the stadium-financing deal created when casino mogul Sheldon Adelson dropped out and investment banking firm Goldman Sachs reportedly declined to step in.
The Raiders seem convinced that they still can pull the deal together, according to people within the league. Some owners seem skeptical. The move would have to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 owners. Just about every conceivable outcome remains in play for now, it appears.
The owners meet in March in Phoenix at the annual league meeting and again in May in Chicago. It seems unlikely at this point that the matter will be resolved next month. But it all depends on whether Raiders owner Mark Davis can put what the owners regard as a viable stadium deal in Vegas in front of them, and if the league and owners are convinced that nothing can get done in terms of a new stadium in Oakland.
7. Chip Kelly’s future: The departure of Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama leaves Chip Kelly, the former head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, still without a job. Kelly had been linked to the offensive coordinator vacancy at Alabama after Steve Sarkisian left the school for the Atlanta Falcons’ coaching staff, although such speculation quickly was followed by a report that Kelly was not interested.
Kelly is said to be intent on remaining in the NFL. But with jobs scarce at this point, there is the possibility that he will not be coaching during the upcoming season.
He is friendly, however, with Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, and Daboll’s departure might give Belichick a chance to juggle some responsibilities among his offensive assistants if he wants to create a spot for Kelly. It will be interesting to see if Kelly coaches anywhere in 2017, and especially interesting to see if he lands in New England at any point.
8. Franchise tags: The two-week window in which NFL teams can apply the franchise tag to players opened last Tuesday. But franchise-tagging usually is a last-minute exercise. So don’t expect much to happen this week, either. Teams probably will begin applying the tags in the final days or final hours before next Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.
9. Albert and Thomas: First it appeared that the Miami Dolphins would release left tackle Branden Albert. Then it appeared that the Dolphins would trade him to Jacksonville for Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas.
Now it seems likely that Albert will be traded from Miami to Jacksonville and that Thomas will be dealt from the Jaguars to the Dolphins, but in separate deals each involving a draft pick. People familiar with the deliberations confirmed reports Monday that the two trades are expected to be completed separately.
But no trades leaguewide can be official before March 9. So there remains time for things to shift again, potentially, if anyone is not pleased with how things are shaping up.
10. Tunsil’s chance: Albert’s departure from Miami will give last year’s first-round draft pick, Laremy Tunsil, his chance to take over as the Dolphins’ starter at left tackle. Tunsil played mostly at guard as a rookie but the Dolphins seem convinced that he will be a standout left tackle. That belief was the major reason that Albert was deemed expendable.