“Home sweet home” doesn’t necessarily apply to professional sports. For many athletes, another time-honored slogan sometimes fits: “Get me out of here.”
There are plenty of NFL players who are in need of a scenery change after this season. Mike Tannenbaum, a former front-office executive for the Jets and Dolphins and current analyst for The 33rd Team, offers six:
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Jackson simply can’t stay on the field, and Baltimore is no contender without him. He has been absent for 13 games since late in his MVP 2019 season, and his injuries over the past two seasons wrecked the team’s fortunes. Baltimore has gone 4-9 in those contests, scoring just 82 points (13.6 average) in the six games he missed this season, including a 24-17 loss to the Bengals in the Wild Card Round.
And he’s now in contract limbo.
“With the Lamar Jackson situation, it seems like what has happened with the contract has led to a lot of frayed feelings,” Tannenbaum said. “Sometimes a fresh start is good for everyone. I’m not saying it is beyond repair, but I think it would serve everyone well to move on. It could be a team like Atlanta or the Jets; a lot of teams would be interested in Lamar.”
The Falcons stand out as a possible suitor because coach Arthur Smith maxed out the talents of Ryan Tannehill when he was the offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Atlanta has a strong running game, instability at quarterback, and the salary cap room (more than $50 million) to pay what Jackson would command.
Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans Saints
Sticking with quarterbacks, where might Winston land? Probably not back in New Orleans, where he made only 14 appearances in three seasons. If released, the Saints would have a dead-cap hit of $15.2 million.
“I’m a big fan of Jameis, and I think a fresh start would help him,” Tannenbaum said. “He’s a more traditional quarterback than Lamar. I think he is somebody who should sign a one-year deal and prove himself quickly, then get back in 2024 with a more notable deal. He should bet on himself for another year. Jameis has an unbelievable amount of ability.”
Derek Carr almost certainly will be traded or released by Las Vegas and would benefit from a new start, and New Orleans seems like a logical landing spot, given the need and how the city embraces community-active quarterbacks (think: Drew Brees). But the market should be hot for Carr, who will likely have several suitors, including the Jets, Colts, Texans, Commanders and Panthers.
Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets
The second-year quarterback has been a major disappointment for the Jets. He has flashed talent with his arm but the situation in New York seems toxic at best at this point. This feels like a situation where both sides should want a split; the Jets invest in a new quarterback for the future and Wilson gets a fresh start in a new city.
“I would trade him and see if I could get a third-round pick and take your losses,” Tannenbaum said. “Then the Jets could sign a veteran guy or trade for one.”
Maybe Carr. Maybe Jimmy Garoppolo. Or Aaron Rodgers? It wouldn’t be the first time a future Hall of Fame Packers quarterback landed in the Big Apple.
Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Brock Purdy has changed the thinking here dramatically in what he has done over the past two months. The consensus had been that Garoppolo would be the quarterback leaving the Bay Area as a free agent, not Lance, but maybe the Niners find a way to keep him instead, as insurance behind Purdy.
“I don’t think a trade will happen, but he can’t really get on the field, and Tennessee has a new general manager, Ran Carthon, who comes from San Francisco,” Tannenbaum said. “And it doesn’t look like it has worked out there for Lance.”
Lance is young enough and is still on a team-friendly rookie deal that there would certainly be a trade market for him. He was all set to be the 49ers’ starter in 2022 before an ankle injury ended his season in Week 2. The ankle required a second surgery in December, but by all accounts he appears set to return to action by the start of OTAs in May.
The question remains: Will it be in San Francisco or someplace else?
Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins
A year ago, Miami placed the franchise tag on their tight end, guaranteeing him a salary of $10 million in 2022. It doesn’t appear the Dolphins will make an attempt to re-sign Gesicki to a long-term deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and Gesicki himself seemed to acknowledge as much Wednesday that his final days in Miami are behind him.
“I’m not sure what the next step has in store for me and I’m not positive where it will be, but if my time in Miami has come to an end I will forever cherish every moment and be grateful for the highs and lows,” Gesicki wrote in a message to fans on Twitter. “No matter what and no matter where, the show goes on.”
Gesicki is coming off a down year (32 receptions, 362 yards and five touchdowns) in Mike McDaniel’s explosive offense. He seemed to be the forgotten man with the Dolphins, who have heavily invested in the wide receiver position with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
“If he gets into an offense that moves him around the way they did in Jacksonville with Evan Engram, he can be a real asset to a team,” said Tannenbaum, who believes Cincinnati would be an excellent fit.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott is coming off the worst year of his career (231 carries, 876 yards, 3.8 yards per catch) while being outshined by backfield mate Tony Pollard. It could be time for a mutual split as the Cowboys invest in their emerging running back (Pollard), and Elliott can take on a role with another team.
The 27-year-old Elliott signed a six-year extension in 2019 worth an average of $15 million per year. Only Christian McCaffrey ($16M) has a larger per-year average. He received $12.4 million in this season, but the remaining four years have no guaranteed money. With Pollard’s emergence as a legitimate RB1, it seems like Elliott’s days are numbered in Dallas.
“He could stay on a pay cut, but sometimes it’s easier for a guy like Zeke to take a pay cut someplace else,” Tannenbaum said.
Mike Tannenbaum, the co-founder of The 33rd Team, is a former front-office executive for the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. Follow him on Twitter at @RealTannenbaum.
The New York Jets are in the market for a veteran quarterback, team owner Woody Johnson told reporters on Thursday.
Johnson was asked about the team’s quarterback situation and whether or not a veteran at the position could be the difference-maker in the team securing a 2023 playoff berth.
“Absolutely,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a cap, so there’s an amount you can spend. But, yeah, yeah. That’s kind of the missing piece.”
The Jets felt their quarterback situation was secure heading into the 2022 NFL season with Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, under center and ready to take a leap in his development. Wilson’s inconsistent play, however, left the team desperate for more stability at QB.
Head coach Robert Saleh echoed Johnson’s comments when speaking with the media Thursday.
“We are going to be aggressive as heck when it comes to quarterback play, and making sure that we do everything we can to satisfy that position,” Saleh said. “Do I want to be as arrogant as to say I think this is plug and play where we’re going to get better? When you can run the ball, you have good special teams and you have a top-five defense, you’re supposed to be in the playoffs.”
Wilson’s play was so poor that Laveranues Coles, a former Jets receiver and an analyst for The 33rd Team, who had been pleading for patience with the young quarterback throughout the season, has come around on his thinking recently. He sees Johnson speaking up as encouraging words that things are about to take a different course.
“Mr. Johnson, when he pokes his head up, it’s like, ‘Hey, brother, something’s got to change,'” Coles said.
Wilson was benched multiple times during the season for backup quarterback Mike White. However, the Jets lost their last six games and missed the postseason after starting 5-2.
Former Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, an analyst for The 33rd Team, thinks change for the Jets is good, especially if it results in his old team landing a difference-making quarterback.
“They’ll spend the money, and if there’s a little chance you can get someone like Lamar Jackson, and he’s someone who is available, they’ll go after him,” Chrebet said. “They went after Tyreek (Hill, in free agency).”
“That’s why they’re raising ticket prices,” added Coles. “Because they need to go get Lamar.”
Jackson isn’t the only notable name potentially available in the offseason. Johnson’s comments came on the heels of QB Derek Carr’s announcement he would be moving on from the Raiders. Carr is seeking a new team and new city to commit to, and believes he has more to offer.
“That fire burning inside me to win a championship still rages,” Carr wrote on Twitter Thursday. “A fire no man can extinguish; only God.”
Rumors have also encircled Packers QB Aaron Rodgers since the disappointing conclusion of the Packers’ season, with some speculating Rodgers could finally move on from Green Bay.
Laveranues Coles and Wayne Chrebet address the state of the Jets and discuss what is sure to be a momentous offseason for New York – one the Jets cannot afford to squander.
Wayne Chrebet and Laveranues Coles acknowledge that Zach Wilson has won games for the Jets, but they know change at the position is needed. They see a possible answer in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Zach Wilson may have been inactive but the Jets’ offense looked the same despite the quarterback change. Wayne Chrebet and Laveranues Coles discuss how a change may be needed on the offensive coaching staff.
A couple of big-picture questions are looming large over the New York Jets this week.
Will they make the playoffs? Well, their path is at least clear: Wins at the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins combined with one loss from the New England Patriots would get them in. It’s also clear which quarterback they believe in most. Robert Saleh announced this week Mike White has not only been cleared to play but has been chosen to start the rest of the way. Maligned second-year quarterback Zach Wilson won’t even be active at Seattle.
For all intents and purposes, Wilson’s season is over, which sets up the big question: Is his career in New York finished, too?
The Jets have lost six of their last eight, punctuated by their current four-game losing streak, at a time when Wilson’s regression into a lower-tier NFL quarterback can’t be ignored.
His performance in last week’s 19-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was a low point, but it wasn’t too far off-brand, and that’s the issue. In late November in their 10-3 loss at New England, he struggled the entire game, but especially lately. He went 4-of-11 for 12 yards in the second half, a level of offensive ineptitude that’s hard to wrap your mind around. Yet, he might have hit an even lower point after the game when asked if he felt bad for letting the defense down. “No,” was his reply.
That was just one afternoon, but it’s a fair snapshot of his season. Below-average play on the field and interaction off of it has led many to wonder: “Does this guy get it?”
Fans and media alike have pounced on the idea of the Jets parting ways with last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, and internally they have to at least kick the tires on the idea, if not wholly buy into it.
For as much as it would be admitting failure, and cutting against the grain of traditional first-round quarterback patience, I wouldn’t argue with starting over. It might be the best way for both the Jets and Wilson, and there will be suitors; I have three in mind, but more on that later.
First of all, this Jets team isn’t on the brink of greatness, but it is a legitimate wild-card team. Even mediocre QB play would have them at 9-6 instead of their current 7-8. Other areas of the team are a couple of laps ahead of its young quarterback, waiting for him to catch up, and worse, wondering if he ever will.
How long do they have to slow down and hope, just because they used the second-overall pick on him less than two years ago? Old-school wisdom would say at least a season longer, but I don’t know if it has to be the way. Teams are now more willing to trade valuable draft picks for a chance to win right now. Look at the Los Angeles Rams’ moves to get Matthew Stafford and Von Miller. I believe teams are more willing to admit mistakes with high selections, and instead of being burdened by them, just shake hands and go their separate ways.
When quarterback production and confidence lag this far behind the rest of the team, non-traditional solutions are in play.
I also believe the general manager-head coach combo of Joe Douglas and Saleh have enough goodwill equity in the bank to make this difficult move and keep their jobs. They could take the massive “L” that comes with such a move, and survive it. But now’s the time, because the same terms would not likely apply at this time next year.
Douglas has hit on a number of his high-profile moves, including the selections of cornerback Sauce Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson in the first round of the past draft, and running back Breece Hall in the second. The Jets have a top-10 defense in most ways you can measure. And the optics are usually right there, as the team competes with high energy, plays like it wants to be there, and plays like it belongs. I see all of that as a nod to Saleh. In many ways, the Jets’ GM-HC tandem, in only their second season together, is already a strong one.
Is Wilson Salvageable?
So, if the Jets decide Wilson is no longer their quarterback, or no longer their problem, here’s the next question: Is he salvageable?
I do see physical evidence he is fixable. It was hiding in plain daylight as recently as two weeks ago against the Lions, where he threw for more than 300 yards, and made a remarkable 20-yard pass on the game’s second-to-last play to give his team a chance at a game-tying field goal.
Check out this three-play sequence early in the second quarter of that game:
On second-and-5 from the Jets’ 27, Wilson drops back and feels pressure, breaks contain to his right, while on the run spots Garrett Wilson down the near sideline, and without breaking stride, he effortlessly flicks the ball 30 yards with pretty touch and accuracy for a big gain.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 18, 2022
Next play, he fakes a handoff to the right, rolls out left and sets up outside the tackle box. He throws all the way back across the field to the right to find an out-cutting C.J. Uzomah inside the 10-yard line for a touchdown. A 50-yard throw, made with ease and accuracy, on a cleverly designed play for an athletic quarterback.
First play of the next series, off play-action, Wilson sets up deep in the pocket, feels the edge rush closing in from his right, innately climbs the pocket and fires a dime to Elijah Moore on a 15-yard curl route.
Three consecutive plays, three types of QB success:
- Improvising from outside the pocket while on the move
- Executing a design that relies upon athleticism and arm strength
- Delivering on a routine call from a traditional pocket, with a hint of pocket savvy
All three were done with ease and a nice amount of style points. But bouts of inaccuracy cloud those pockets of flash. He’s in this phase where pretty execution gets overshadowed by all the missed throws. However, the talent we saw and loved at his pro day in the spring of last year does show up on Sundays at times.
So in this big game of “what if,” I do think If he’s made available, there would be interest. Probably more skeptics than believers, but I don’t doubt there would be a taker or two – those who would want to see if his talent can flourish in a new system, with new coaches and new teammates, in their building.
Recipe for Success
So what type of situation could work for this type of rehab project? I’d look for three things a potential new team would have to have in order to better support the young QB.
He needs an offensive-minded head coach who prides himself on QB development. One who’s not only directly involved with the game plan and the play-calling, but interacts with and coaches the quarterbacks every day. He’s invested in him over the entire season.
A veteran quarterback as its starter. Not a second or third-year player who might view Wilson as a threat, and who Wilson might see as his peer. An older, established, confident veteran who is comfortable in his place as the man and a couple of standard deviations ahead of Wilson in experience and success. One who would show Wilson, with or without actually embracing the “mentor” role, the way a pro handles the job of being an NFL starter and everything that comes with it.
He needs a competitive situation where he’d have to beat someone out for a backup job. The benefit here would be two-fold. He would earn the trust of the coaches this way, and he would earn the respect of his teammates. He will have a lot of eyeballs on him in any building he walks into, with both coaches and players thinking, “Alright, second-overall pick, what you got?”
Making him roll up his sleeves and take the blue-collar route to win a job would be the best way for him to spend the offseason and training camp. It would be a useful tool to regain confidence, both in himself and from his teammates.
So which teams meet these criteria? Here are three that make sense:
Time around Kirk Cousins and Kevin O’Connell would do any young quarterback well. The backup right now is Nick Mullens, a journeyman with some respectable experience along the way, but someone Wilson could potentially overtake. Wilson’s potential versus Mullens’ experience would be a fair fight. If it clicked, who knows, maybe he could be a candidate down the road to replace Cousins, whose contract expires after next season.
Los Angeles Rams
Baker Mayfield has played well enough in his short stint in Los Angeles to warrant plenty of interest elsewhere. He should have more attractive options in 2023 than being Matthew Stafford’s backup. It’s also worth noting one reason Sean McVay made the move for Stafford was because his raw talent is significantly better than Jared Goff’s.
Plain and simple, Stafford allowed McVay to use the whole field in his passing attack. In this way, he could view Wilson as a blank canvas, a unique talent for a backup project. Wilson would have a lot to prove, but his physical gifts and upside could make him more attractive to McVay than current backups John Wolford and Bryce Perkins.
Kansas City Chiefs
There’s no long-term future here, as Patrick Mahomes’ MVP-caliber play has no end in sight. But this would be an ideal place for Wilson to learn and get well, as he’d be getting coached by the best in the business, and practicing alongside the league’s gold standard.
Here are the dots I’m connecting to this unlikely but tempting scenario: Andy Reid is attracted to high-end talent, no matter their past, at any position, and loves a quarterback project. Current backup Chad Henne is in his 15th season. If the Chiefs brought Wilson in to compete, maybe they like him enough to keep him as a No. 3 before they move on from Henne.
There’s not a great chance for Wilson to start – or play – in the near future, but there are places he could land and come out on the other side as a much better quarterback, and much more prepared to go win a starting job elsewhere.
I liked Wilson coming out of BYU, and nearly two arduous NFL seasons later, I’d like to see an upswing in his career. Whether New York is the best place for that to happen, and whether the Jets want to give him that runway, remains to be seen.
Paul Burmeister, a former starting quarterback at Iowa, is a studio host with NBC Sports and the radio voice of Notre Dame Football. For a decade he worked as a studio host at NFL Network. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulWBurmeister.
WATCH: Why Wilson Misses Easy Throws
Wayne Chrebet and Laveranues Coles debate whether or not the New York Jets should completely move on from Zach Wilson after two seasons. Are Wilson’s struggles his own fault or a coaching issue? The two former Jets wide receivers dive in.
Former NFL MVP Rich Gannon shares one play from Thursday night that highlights Zach Wilson’s struggles with ‘easy throws’ against coverage. Gannon believes there is simply no reason an NFL quarterback should not be able to make the easy throws in this Jets offense, and Wilson can’t blame the rain or protection on missing them.