The most important position in all of sports has hijacked the NFL’s off season.
From Tom Brady to Drew Brees to Phillip Rivers over to Dak Prescott and Cam Newton. And let’s not forget about Teddy Bridgewater.
Only one of them has decided where he will suit up for the 2020 season.
Brees, who had been quite coy during the prvious month about whether he would retire or play again, recently announced he would have “another go at it” and return to the New Orleans Saints for his 20th NFL season
Brady and Rivers, both grizzled old vets, are free agents and, yes, free to wander the NFL landscape seeking interested suitors and a new team.
Bridgewater, a beloved adopted son of the Crescent City who regularly rides his bike to games at the Super Dome, is also a free agent and will surely depart the Saints to become a starter on a team in need of his considerable talents and leadership skills.
It’s a well-deserved move and gig for the 27-year-old Bridgewater after he suffered a near career-ending knee injury a few years ago. He’s endured the long, arduous rehab and the countless doubters in the league.
Prescott, who was seen at the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles enjoying some pre-Mardi Gras down time, is still waiting on a long anticipated new multi-year, multi-, multi-, multi-million-dollar contract with the Dallas Cowboys.
The NFL media has been preoccupied and captivated by the Prescott contract story since last August. Las Vegas was issuing solid odds that the 26-year-old Prescott would be signed and sealed with a new deal by last October. As the weeks and months trickled by with no new contract the story and speculation just took on a life of its own.
It does seem that the Cowboys’ quarterback position and anything having to do with it overrides all other storylines in the league on any given day. Chalk it up to the power of the star, America’s Team and the fact owner Jerry Jones just can’t ignore the cameras and microphones, nor can he just shut up.
I for one am happy he likes to be center stage because he does speak his mind and offers up some interesting quotes.
The Cam Newton dilemma in Carolina was made more intriguing when long-time Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was fired and replaced by Baylor coach Matt Ruhle. Newton missed all of last season with a foot injury that required surgery. Couple that with the fact he really has not done much since winning the 2015 NFL MVP award and guiding Carolina to the Super Bowl that season.
I for one figured Phillip Rivers would retire as a San Diego/Los Angeles Charger. But the club grew impatient with their veteran quarterback’s obvious regression and decided to part ways after the 2019 season.
Rivers, a fringe Hall of Fame player in my mind, is still NFL royalty and without team colors at the moment.
And that brings me to the G.O.A.T. and the ongoing soap opera involving Tom Brady, Bill Bilichick, Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots.
How in the world Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion, four-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time NFL MVP, ever got to be a free agent to begin with is beyond my comprehension.
It couldn’t be ego or a power tug of war could it?
That’s about all I can conclude to explain the situation and the impasse between the greatest quarterback to play the game and the only NFL team he has ever suited up for.
It is widely known that before last season, the 42-year-old Brady asked for a two-year contract extension. Bilichick said no. Brady then requested a new one-year deal. Bilichick refused again.
Brady stopped asking and hinted that after 20-plus seasons with New England, he would explore the new frontier that is free agency.
The 2019 season wasn’t up to his usual standards, but the future first ballot Hall of Famer carried a rag-tag collection of offensive parts to a 12-4 record passing for 24 touchdowns with eight picks, a bit over 4,000 yards, a 61-percent completion percentage and a pedestrian 88 QB rating.
The Pats eventually lost in the first round of the playoffs to Tennessee, a game which ended with a Brady interception.
The early playoff exit, the game-ending pick and Bilichick’s constant power play to pull every lever fed the speculation of the unthinkable — that Tom Brady and the Patriots might just part ways.
That would be akin to Mick Jagger leaving the Rolling Stones for, say, Van Halen.
Brady has complained about the team’s lack of offensive support players and New England’s refusal on his contract demands. He has said he is prepared to open up talks with other clubs once free agency begins the week of March 16.
Notable teams that may be in the running for Brady include the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans and L.A. Chargers.
My gut says there is no way the Patriots, who have no other quarterback options at this time (Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham? Please.) will allow the G.O.A.T. to leave.
Remember, Bilichick runs the team but Robert Kraft still owns it. Kraft loves Brady like a son and will have him under a contract to end his career as a Patriot.
I think New England is sitting back to see how the new CBA contract with the Players Union will fare and what the numbers look like before they decide on a $30 to $35 million dollar offer to Brady.
TB12 will get his desired three-year contract to take him to that magic age of 45, which he says he still wants to play to.
The G.O.A.T. will remain a Patriot.
The Saints avoided unnecessary drama when the 41-year-old Brees decided to forgo retirement again and return for what will be his 14th season with New Orleans.
Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis did not mince words over the off season. Brees is their starting quarterback if he so chooses.
Brees was equally up front, saying it would be the Saints or retirement. He would not enter the free agency fray.
It was dicey there for a bit, as Brees repeatedly said he needed time with family to “decompress” and ponder his future. I was thinking it was 50-50 for a Brees return up until his Twitter announcement that another season was in the cards.
I think a two-year, $25 million per season deal will be in the works.
Payton and Loomis will be spending more time on structuring a new contract for valuable back-up quarterback Taysom Hill, who, at 29, is a restricted free agent.
Rivers, the man who replaced Brees in San Diego nearly 15 years ago, is an aging quarterback who has zero to very little mobility left. The 38-year-old can still sling it fairly well, but not always to his teammates.
I can’t imagine Rivers, with his resume and pedigree, not being a starter somewhere next season. But for the life of me I can’t figure where that will be.
Cam Newton is still under contract with Carolina. But that doesn’t mean the team will want him back in 2020.
Ruhle and owner David Tepper have measured their words and comments on Cam very carefully as the quarterback continues off-season rehab of that surgically repaired foot.
Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund founder, is a results-oriented guy. You don’t amass his kind of wealth on Wall Street being any other way. And undoubtedly Newton’s substandard results the past three years and his myriad of injuries are staring Tepper square in the face.
Newton is relatively cheap against the Panthers’ cap at only $19 million. And he knows he can’t command Patrick Mahomes money anymore. But that didn’t stop him from shouting out on a recent Instagram post “All I want is a little commitment. And you can’t give me that?”
My guess is Carolina will bring him back once they see Newton in OTA workouts. But they will surely seek other quarterback options via free agency or the draft.
Rayne Dakota Prescott will become an unrestricted free agent on March 16. He wants to remain a Dallas Cowboy, but not at the expense of his empty bank account. He just completed a four-year pact that paid him a paltry $2-million-dollar base last season.
The 26-year-old Sulphur native, who still has ties and family in Southwest Louisiana, was quiet, poised and patient while Jerry Jones opened his vault last year, resigning Ezekiel Elliott, Demarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith to big-money deals.
Prescott played the good soldier and strong leader, keeping his contract talks and demands under the radar as long as he could.
But this was just too big of a story, no matter how Prescott went about his business or how vague Jerry Jones was on the issue.
Reportedly Prescott’s demands reached as high as $40 million per year. Those same reports had Dallas countering with $33 million.
While all this was going on behind the scenes, Prescott and the Cowboys were struggling to stay above .500 and losing pivotal games that could have secured the NFC East title and a playoff spot. Prescott’s play was spotty at times, but he ended up with one of his best statistical seasons since taking over as the starting quarterback as a rookie in 2016.
Prescott threw for 4,900 yards, with a 65-percent completion rate, 30 touchdowns against 11 picks and a nearly 100 QB rating.
But Jones found himself repeatedly trying to understand or explain unexplainable losses — to the lowly Jets, Bears and a MASH unit Eagles team late in the year.
Prescott’s resume is dogged by his play against the last eight playoff teams he has faced: a 1-7 record, a 63-percent completion rate, eight touchdowns against nine interceptions and an unspectacular 82 QB rating.
The NFL is about “what have you done for me lately?”
But all that won’t stop Prescott from getting his fair share out of Jones and the Cowboys, who have continually said he is their franchise quarterback.
“Fair share” will no doubt look a lot different to the Joneses and Dak.
At the risk of going down the NFL fox hole on salary cap and the laundry list of contract terms, I will say the X factor in this scenario is the option of putting the exclusive franchise tag on Prescott. It differs from the regular franchise tag to the tune of about $7 million per year.
That exclusive tag blocks Prescott from negotiating with other teams as an unrestricted free agent and will give both sides more time to hammer out a long-term contract.
A slew of former Dallas Cowboys players, including former offensive lineman Nate Livings of Lake Charles, who now lives in Frisco, Texas, has called on Jones to “pay the man.”
I agree that Prescott deserves a new multi-year contract worth no more than $30 million annually and upwards of $50 million guaranteed but only if the team is convinced he is their quarterback for the next seven to eight years.
Every off-season between now and through the free agency period salaries, contracts and franchise tags is the narrative across the NFL. More so now, because the owners and players union are in the early stages of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. From there it’s on to hammer out the lucrative TV, cable and streaming contracts which pay for most of the owners’ bills.
With these quarterback storylines dominating the headlines and talk shows, I thought it helpful to compare just who is making what annually (not including those huge guaranteed payments already in the bank).
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson tops the list presently at $35 million a year. The Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger is second at $34 million. Next up are Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and the Ram’s Jared Goff sitting at $33.5 million. Eagles QB Carson Wentz is paid $32 million and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan $30 million.
Super Bowl champion quarterback Pat Mahommes will soon be king of the money hill when he signs what is expected to be a league leading $40 million-plus annual deal with Kansas City.
Brady and Brees, still two of the best quarterbacks under center and future Hall of Famers with seven Super Bowl titles between them, are nowhere near the top 10 highest paid.
Where is the logic and justice in that?
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 Monday through Sunday evenings at 9 pm on Suddenlink cable channel 4 and Saturday and Sunday on CBS Lake Charles/KSWL. Check local listings.