The last two Super Bowl champions went all-in for elite quarterbacks to put them over the top.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers recruited free agent Tom Brady in the spring of 2020 and won it all in his first season in Florida.
The Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford in the spring of 2021 and promptly lifted the Lombardi Trophy this February.
So Denver Broncos GM George Paton wasn’t just trying to capitalize on his own franchise’s window by trading for Russell Wilson this past week. He was also recognizing the modern NFL’s landscape.
He understands the necessity of a great quarterback to compete for a championship, and he is competing in a hyperspeed environment of expectations from owners league-wide.
Winning with patient draft-building, strong defense and quarterback development is not going to get it done.
In this climate, if you don’t have a quarterback to compete with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson, you won’t win the Super Bowl that year.
It’s that simple.
It doesn’t help Wilson’s and the Broncos’ title chances that Mahomes and Herbert are both in their division, obviously, but for both now and the future, the Broncos had no choice but to spend big to upgrade the most important position in the sport .
Their ownership situation is different than most, of course. The Denver Broncos are for sale, and so acquiring a globally recognized star like Wilson also is smart business to jack up the already ludicrous price of any buyer.
And some league sources are skeptical whether this immediately turns the Broncos into a dominant team, citing the loss of defensive guru Vic Fangio and the fact that Wilson actually had better offensive weapons in Seattle.
Still, the reality is that rookie head coach Nate Hackett is fortunate to be armed immediately with a stud quarterback, because owners around the league have never been more restless when it comes to expecting wins and championships.
An absurd nine of 32 NFL head coaching jobs were vacated and filled in this past hiring cycle. Changes happened for different reasons in different places, but that’s almost a third of the league’s head coaches wiped out in the same year.
The fact is if an NFL coach isn’t winning more games and competing to a satisfactory level by his second season, he’s officially on the hot seat with many organizations even if they’ve promised him a longer runway. Just ask Joe Judge.
The Jets’ Robert Saleh could find that out the hard way this year if his team doesn’t pick up the pace, and Washington’s Ron Rivera is already feeling the heat entering year three with the Commanders.
That’s especially true because Rivera lost the sweepstakes for Wilson.
Washington’s aggressive quarterback pursuit this spring was motivated precisely by the same variables that prompted Paton to give up two first-round picks, two-second round picks, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and tight end Noah Fant in exchange for Wilson, 33.
Rivera understood a year too late that his team needed a great quarterback, not a slight upgrade or stopgap. The problem is it doesn’t sound like Wilson wanted to play there.
And Washington’s subsequent trade for Carson Wentz was confirmation of their resulting desperation and recognition that they are now in deep trouble.
DOWN TO DESHAUN
The Deshaun Watson trade sweepstakes are going to heat up quickly after a grand jury decision not to pursue criminal charges for alleged sexual harassment and assault against the Houston Texans QB on Friday. Watson, 26, still faces civil proceedings and a likely suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but that isn’t going to stop some teams from pursuing one of the NFL’s best young passers, given that he refuses to play in Houston.
The Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers all need quarterbacks, and the Philadelphia Eagles can’t ever be ruled out even as they stand by Jalen Hurts. Watson has a no-trade clause so he can dictate the destination, too.
Again, the last two Super Bowl champions won by recruiting a great quarterback. Denver already has a leg up this offseason to become the third straight to follow that path. Whoever lands Watson enters the arms race, as well.
League sources say the Giants indeed had conversations about Saquon Barkley with other NFL teams in Indianapolis, but it’s possible the minimal return in a hypothetical trade — and the public reaction to the news of their openness to a deal — deterred them for now. It still feels like a situation where the Giants would trade the player if the return satisfied them, but it’s not clear if that offer will ever come. And in that scenario, Barkley could help Daniel Jones try to take the next step in the QB’s all-important fourth season …
There are very few people in the league who understand why the Giants would sign Mitchell Trubisky as a backup quarterback to Jones, a connection made in several recent reports. It would create a quarterback competition, and if the Giants have serious doubts about Jones, they should be searching for a replacement, not a half-measure veteran who would not be an upgrade. The Giants will be in the backup QB market to be sure, though, and Jacoby Brissett and Tyrod Taylor are names to watch. They’ll also be looking for tight ends after clearing the deck of Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith and likely free agent Evan Engram, too …
Fullback Eli Penny announced on social media that he is moving on to another team in free agency. Penny, 28, played in 45 of a possible 47 games in four seasons with the Giants. He was a core special teamer. He scored three TDs: one on special teams, one rushing and one receiving. And he was a strong locker room leader. “Thank you BIG BLUE,” Penny wrote. Extremely thankful for everything. I wish everyone in the building success and prosperity. They all deserve it.” … The Giants won’t be big spenders in free agency due to their cap situation. But some top free agents around the league include former Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (released this week), Patriots corner JC Jackson and Saints left tackle Terron Armstead. The 2022 NFL league year officially opens on Wednesday, but the 48-hour legal tampering period preceding it typically is chock full of agreements then made official when Wednesday arrives.
THEY SAID IT
“Crazy part about all this, I played there for 10 years and I didn’t even hear it from them that I wasn’t coming back.” – Wagner, a six-time All-Pro, on the Seattle Seahawks not informing him first of his release