Ladies and gentlemen, it's the moment you've all been waiting for: John Breech Impostor Day. You know the drill. Your normal friendly mailman is taking a breather on this fine Wednesday (and, if we're being honest, probably pouring one out for Andy Dalton), so you're stuck with me -- Cody Benjamin, the man with two first names -- as we traverse all the latest from around the NFL.
This is the Pick Six Newsletter. And I am your guide. Now let's get to it. (And please, do yourself a favor and make sure you're signed up to receive this newsletter every day! You don't want to miss our daily offerings of everything you need to know around the NFL.)
- Today's show: Logical landing spots for top free agent QBs
Most of the quarterback rumors early in the 2021 offseason have centered on veterans under contract -- guys such as Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz who've either been dealt or reportedly remain of interest on the trading block. But we can't forget about all the big names set to hit the open market when free agency officially begins March 17. On Wednesday's Pick Six NFL Podcast (listen and subscribe right here), Ryan Wilson and John Breech sorted through our ranking of the top eight free agent QBs to identify logical landing spots for each.
Tyrod Taylor to the Cardinals as Kyler Murray's new backup? Mitchell Trubisky to the 49ers to compete with Jimmy Garoppolo? Jacoby Brissett back to the Patriots as a stopgap successor to Cam Newton? Breech and Wilson ran through dozens of possibilities, but not a single QB intrigued them quite like the ageless Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran Dolphins backup could be a prime target for New England, Wilson argued, but the most interesting fit might be in the NFC, with the New Orleans Saints.
"He has a better arm than Drew Brees," Wilson noted. "The Saints are at the top of my list (for him) now."
2. Steelers confirm Ben Roethlisberger will be back in 2021
There figures to be plenty more quarterback movement this offseason, but the flurry of change isn't going to hit Pittsburgh. Steelers president Art Rooney II released a team statement Wednesday that puts an end to weeks of speculation regarding longtime QB Ben Roethlisberger's future in Steel City:
"Ben Roethlisberger and I met yesterday morning and we had a productive meeting," Rooney said. "We were able to discuss a lot of things that related to where we are and where we want to go. Ben assured me that he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to help us win a championship."
In other words, Ben is coming back. Rooney's statement included a direct admission that a restructure of Roethlisberger's lofty salary will be necessary for the former Super Bowl champion to return, but we now have word from both parties -- with Ben's agent, Ryan Tollner, expressing similar sentiments late Tuesday -- that 2020 was not Big Ben's final year in Pittsburgh, or the NFL.
Is this good or bad news for the Steelers? That depends on what you think of Roethlisberger, who started hot in 2020 before folding during Pittsburgh's tumble into the playoffs. There's certainly a case to be made that the Steelers were primed to begin somewhat of a reset in 2021, with Ben approaching 39. There's no debate, however, that Roethlisberger's supporting cast is due for a makeover, as our Bryan DeArdo outlines:
Roethlisberger will return to a radically different roster from the one he left at the end of the 2020 campaign. Former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has been replaced by Matt Canada, who spent last season as Pittsburgh's quarterbacks coach. Roethlisberger will likely be without former Pro Bowl receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner. He will also be without center Maurkice Pouncey, who announced his retirement earlier this month.
3. Free agency bonanza: Aaron Jones rumors, Allen Robinson suitors, and more
It's impossible to fit all of the latest offseason rumblings into six newsletter bullet points, so you know what? Let's cheat a little and consolidate a bunch into one. As free agency draws near, here's a roundup of all kinds of juicy rumors and positional breakdowns around the league:
- Dolphins eyeing Aaron Jones: The Miami Herald reports that the Packers running back, who could set the 2021 market for free agents at his position, is on Miami's radar, and not only that, but has mutual interest in the AFC East contender.
- Allen Robinson landing spots: Where will the Bears wide receiver land this offseason? We sorted through 12 logical suitors, from contenders to long shots. Among the projected front-runners for the No. 1 pass catcher: The Colts, Dolphins and Washington.
- Top free agent defensive backs: Our own Tyler Sullivan dove into the top 15 defensive backs -- 10 cornerbacks and five safeties, as well as a bunch of honorable mentions -- on track to test free agency. The best of his list: Shaquill Griffin and Justin Simmons.
- Top free agent kickers and punters: Who better to handle this than John Breech, our resident special teams aficionado? He broke down the top 10 kickers set to hit the open market, including a recent Super Bowl champ, offering analysis for each.
4. Alex Smith slams Washington Football Team: 'They didn't want me'
One of the most inspiring NFL stories of 2020 was that of Alex Smith, who returned to the field after more than a year on the sidelines to help lead Washington Football Team to an NFC East title. Now more than a month removed from his NFL Comeback Player of the Year campaign, Smith has revealed that his journey back from a severe leg injury wasn't as hunky-dory as it may have seemed, primarily because of resistance from his own team.
The veteran quarterback unloaded on Washington in a GQ profile on Tuesday, saying neither team brass nor coaches wanted him back: "They didn't want me to be on the team, the roster, didn't want to give me a chance ... It's like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they're telling you that you can't finish the race. It's like, f--- that. I'm finishing this thing."
On Wednesday, additional reports indicated that Smith's explosive comments stemmed from two incidents toward the end of his 2020 season: When coach Ron Rivera suggested the team would've fared just as well with reserve Kyle Allen under center, and when Washington deactivated him in favor of backup Taylor Heinicke for Washington's lone playoff game. It's unclear whether Smith will be back in Washington in 2021 (the team can save nearly $15 million by cutting him this offseason), or return to the NFL at all, but it is clear that he battled internal opposition during an otherwise heralded return to action.
5. Mock draft: Falcons make surprise pick, Saints find new QB in Mac Jones
Free agency will go a long way toward finalizing teams' draft plans, but it's hard not to keep looking ahead to April, especially with so much intrigue at QB near the top of the draft. We're thankful, then, for Chris Trapasso, who keeps churning out mock drafts like it's his job. (Turns out, it is his job!) In his latest first-round projection, he's got a couple of surprise QB picks in the NFC South -- one in the top five, and another near the back end of the first:
4. Falcons: QB Trey Lance, NDSU
Surprise! Lance goes ahead of Justin Fields with the thought that he's more of a project but actually might have a higher upside. The Falcons are fine with Lance taking a redshirt season to learn under Matt Ryan.
28. Saints: QB Mac Jones, Alabama
This would be an ideal landing spot for Jones, with Sean Payton and the established, quick-passing system.
6. Tom Brady immortal? Buccaneers could extend QB into his late 40s
Remember when the seven-time Super Bowl champion stood on the championship podium and promised he'd be back for yet another season? It turns out he wasn't kidding -- and may have undersold his commitment to keep playing. Although Brady was always going to be ripe for a new contract entering 2021 because he signed just a two-year deal last offseason, Bucs general manager Jason Licht gave Tampa Bay fans reason to stick around for the long haul this week, telling "The Rich Eisen Show" that Brady could be playing for the Bucs into his late 40s:
"It's a possibility," Licht said when asked about possibly extending the 43-year-old Brady. "He certainly didn't look like he slowed down any this year. So, that's a possibility. We'll have to see how that goes ... It appears that he really had a good time this year -- winning the Super Bowl. (He) likes our organization, likes our coaches, likes our head coach and ownership. And we certainly love him. Usually when you have those things going for each other, it's a match made in heaven. So we'd like to keep this going."