Audibles From the Long Snapper: The Post-Free Agency (First Wave) Edition

| March 22nd, 2024

NOTE: Robert and I intended to start doing our weekly Spaces sessions on Twitter a few weeks back, but I have been battling one of the worst bronchial infections of my life. I’m finally returning to normal existence, and we’ll be live this Saturday (3/23) at 1 PM ET. A lot to talk about. 

Thoughts on what has transpired in the early days of free agency, starting in Chicago.

  • Do I believe Ryan Poles had second or third-round offers on the table for Justin Fields? No, I do not. If you have followed my commentary on the Fields trade market, you know that I’ve been consistent in my reporting: there has been no Fields market. If a second-round pick had been on the table, Poles would have absolutely jumped at the opportunity. This revisionist take on the market, created by the Fields camp, is an attempt to save face, to pretend his journey to Pittsburgh was self-directed. Atlanta didn’t want him. Sean Payton doesn’t think he’s very good. Minnesota preferred Sam Darnold. As we close the book on the Justin Fields era in Chicago, it’s time to be honest. He was an underwhelming performer and the league recognized that.
  • The Keenan Allen acquisition should have no influence on Poles’ draft strategy. Allen is going to be 32 years old this season. And while he is coming off his best year, the Bears can’t expect more than 2-3 seasons from him at a top-line performer. If these three wide receiving prospects – Harrison, Nabers, Odunze – are as good as many believe, the Bears shouldn’t hesitate to stand pat at number nine and bring one of them to Chicago. Always. Be. Adding. Weapons.
  • The center position is still intriguing as we look ahead to 2024. Ryan Bates is a $4 million player. That’s not backup money, especially on the interior of the offensive line. It’ll be surprising if Bates is not one of the five starting linemen in September, and I think that position is going to be center.

  • Let’s survey the Bears defense for 2024 at this juncture:
    • Secondary: The addition of Kevin Byard, and the Jaylon Johnson contract extension, solidify this group as the team’s strength heading into the season.
    • Inside linebackers: There was a lot of criticism about the signings of Edmunds and Walker last off-season, but now those signings seem like the savvy move of a GM that had his eyes on the future.
    • Interior DL: This might be hyperbolic, but Gervon Dexter’s development might determine whether this is a top ten unit or a top three unit. Dexter’s late season surge leads one to believe the latter may be possible.
    • Edge: The goal heading into 2024 was no serious question marks on the roster but it seems the edge, even if addressed in the first round, will be a question mark. (Draft picks can’t be considered certainties.) The Bears should be contending for a playoff spot this coming season, but they’ll need more from their pass rush if they want to contend for titles.

A few thoughts from around the league.

  • There’s something reassuring about Carolina’s owner, David Tepper, responding to his disastrous 2023 by purchasing every free agent available in 2024. But here’s the question: are they better? Are the 2024 Panthers significantly better than the 2023 Panthers after their spending spree? A brief look at the DraftKings Sportsbook odds has the NFC South figured this way: Falcons -130, Bucs +300, Saints +380, Panthers +1500.
  • Do the Niners get a bit of a pass for their mistakes? They make a big trade for Trey Lance, it fails, they deal him off. They trade for Chase Young, and don’t even consider bringing him back. The Niners have compiled one of the more unique collections of skill players in league history and lucked into Brock Purdy. But what we’ve seen is that team, when it loses any single component, is not a dominant force. There’s a down year coming for the Shanahan/Lynch program.
  • Green Bay swapping out Aaron Jones for Josh Jacobs makes no sense to me. Jones struggles to stay healthy, sure, but he’s such a dynamic, undefendable weapon at full strength.
  • The most underrated story of this off-season has been the dismantling of Nick Sirianni’s power in Philadelphia. He’s now got a defensive head coach in Vic Fangio and an offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore, that doesn’t actually run Sirianni’s offense. There will be a lot of talk about potential Bill Belichick destinations for 2025, but I’m keeping my eyes on Philly.
  • Minnesota is drafting a quarterback. And my money would be on J.J. McCarthy around the 4th pick. One reason that pick is attainable is the “coming back to the pack” of Marvin Harrison Jr. At the start of this process, he was considered – by many – the best prospect in this class. But one team now has him the second wide receiver and another scout told me, “The three top wideouts are interchangeable.”
  • There are some holes on the Buffalo Bills roster for the first time in a while, especially along their OL and in the backend of their secondary.
  • Is there any team more all-in for 2024 than the New York Jets of New Jersey? One-year deal for a talented but injury prone left tackle. One-year deal for a talented but injury prone wide receiver. Tyrod Taylor brought in as security for their suddenly injury prone quarterback. The Jets need a deep run in the postseason to avoid looking like a much different organization in 2025.

My useless playoff predictions as of March 22.

AFC: Chiefs, Jets, Texans, Ravens, Browns, Bills, Chargers.

Potential to make these predictions look absurd: Bengals.

NFC: Lions, Niners, Falcons, Eagles, Cowboys, Packers, Bears.

Potential to make these predictions look absurd: none.

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