Greatest NFL offseason ever?!?
It's been a whirlwind of activity, that's for sure. And much of the juiciest stuff has occurred at the game's most important position. The quarterback transaction wire has been on fire in March, with relocations and recommitments rocking the football world. So ...
Which developments will have the biggest impact on the 2022 season? Let's rank 'em, Schein Nine style!
1) Tom Brady unretiring
The G.O.A.T. is back! (... After 40 days of "retirement.") At 44 years old, Brady was indeed playing at G.O.A.T. level last season. Aaron Rodgers was the MVP on my Associated Press ballot, but if the voting process entailed making a list -- as opposed to just choosing one player -- Brady would have been in my No. 2 slot. After all, the guy led the league in passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43). So, at least when it comes to TB12, age really is just a number.
Brady is also the pied piper. Chris Godwin re-upped. So did Leonard Fournette. And Carlton Davis. And Ryan Jensen. Russell Gage came over from the division-rival Falcons. And Jason Licht traded for Shaq Mason, Brady's old protector from New England.
Tampa Bay would've been a legit unknown sans Brady. Now, the Buccaneers will repeat as NFC South champions and have a very real chance at hitting another Super Bowl, especially in an NFC that looks far less imposing than the AFC.
2) Packers giving Aaron Rodgers $200 million
Well, we saw Jordan Love start a game last year, and despite his surname, there wasn't much to even like. Meanwhile, Rodgers was league MVP. Again. For the second straight season and fourth time in his career. As I've repeatedly stated in this space, Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback ever. Consequently, the Packers are always Super Bowl contenders with him in the fold. Without him? Well, you understand why Green Bay gave Rodgers $153 million in guaranteed money.
Now, the Davante Adams trade is a gut punch. It must feel like a nightmare to the Packer backers. He's irreplaceable, both as an individual talent and as a mind-meld partner to Rodgers. Green Bay can't replicate the special chemistry of that pitch-and-catch combo. That said, Rodgers is so good, he can bring out the best in anyone. Green Bay needs to add a veteran or two. Scoop up Odell Beckham Jr. and/or Jarvis Landry off the open market? Call the rebuilding Texans about Brandin Cooks? See if the Russ-less Seahawks are willing to trade D.K. Metcalf or Tyler Lockett? Green Bay must address the WR room in the draft, too.
But keeping Rodgers in Green Bay keeps the title talk in Titletown. Adams nailed it at his introductory press conference with the Raiders: "Obviously, in Green Bay, I had the greatest quarterback to play the game."
3) Broncos trading for Russell Wilson
This is it. This is the move. This is the move for Russ and for the Broncos.
One of bigger disappointments in 2021 as a 7-10 last-place team, Denver just vaulted into the Super Bowl conversation with a simple stroke of Wilson's no-trade-clause-waiving pen. While the AFC West is undoubtedly loaded, the Chiefs -- who have taken the last six division titles -- just lost one of the most explosive weapons in football, trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. Suddenly, the Broncos look like a serious threat, with immense talent on both sides of the ball.
Nathaniel Hackett is going to let Russ cook, and the quarterback will maximize Denver's enticing collection of receivers. Wilson will also be supported by one of the more promising young backs in the league, tackle-breaking stud Javonte Williams. Meanwhile, the defense was a top-notch unit last season, with gifted players at all three levels. Pat Surtain II could be the next big thing at cornerback.
Broncs general manager George Paton absolutely slammed this out of the park.
4) Browns trading for -- and PAYING -- Deshaun Watson
Yes, it's extremely unsettling to see Watson receive the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history -- a whopping $230 million -- while he still faces 22 civil lawsuits alleging inappropriate conduct and sexual assault, as well as a potential NFL suspension. There's no denying the unsavory aspects of this development.
Strictly looking at what Watson brings from an on-field perspective, though ... He makes the Browns real. He'll have Baltimore and Pittsburgh looking up at Cleveland in the AFC North standings. He'll allow the Browns to truly challenge the defending AFC champion Bengals. Watson will have Cleveland in the mix with Buffalo (though the Bills are the AFC's true elites) and the juggernaut teams in the AFC West. He's a special player, a top-five quarterback. And that's why Browns brass decided to bring him in, knowing full well that they'd encounter a PR tribulation. Cleveland now has a realistic chance to hit the Super Bowl, even if Jacoby Brissett has to start the season under center.
5) Colts trading for Matt Ryan
Sheer perfection. I'm so happy for my guy Matty Ice, who had a terrific 14-year run in Atlanta. I'd argue he's the greatest quarterback in Falcons history. Shoot, he's the greatest player in Falcons history, at least to me. (Reminder: Deion Sanders only played five seasons in Atlanta.) After the Bobby Petrino debacle and after Michael Vick's arrest, Ryan came in and saved this franchise. He won a league MVP and put up Hall of Fame-caliber production while carrying a team with flawed defenses, shaky offensive lines and suspect coaching. If only Atlanta had held on at 28-3, I wouldn't have to defend Ryan as truly great. He should've been the Super Bowl MVP that season, in addition to the regular-season award winner.
All of that is important backdrop for this trade. I think the 2022 Colts will have the best defense and offensive line Ryan has ever played with. Not to mention the genius of emerging superstar Jonathan Taylor. And Indy majorly upgrades its quarterback position -- in terms of talent and leadership -- from Carson Wentz. Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't the guy. Baker Mayfield? Nah. Ryan remains great, even as he approaches his 37th birthday. He puts the Colts ahead of the Titans in the AFC South -- and that speaks volumes, considering Tennessee was just the No. 1 seed despite Derrick Henry missing half of the year.
Ryan puts the Colts in the mix for everything. How crazy has the quarterback movement been this offseason, considering I'm obsessed with this Ryan-Colts marriage ... and it's No. 5 on this list?!
6) Steelers giving Mitchell Trubisky a second chance
I'm a huge fan of the Steelers' offseason. From hiring Brian Flores to pilfering Myles Jack to rehabilitating the interior O-line with James Daniels and Mason Cole. But it's the Trubisky pickup that I really dig.
After an ill-fated tenure in Chicago that was undone by poor coaching and roster management -- as well as Mitch's own erratic play -- Trubisky just got his PhD in quarterbacking, spending a year in Buffalo alongside Brian Daboll and Josh Allen. Mitch has talent and dual-threat ability. Playing under a future Hall of Famer like Mike Tomlin is going to help, as will being surrounded by a better supporting cast than he had in Chicago. And Trubisky represents an upgrade from the 2021 version of Ben Roethlisberger.
7) Saints re-signing Jameis Winston
Once Deshaun Watson chose Cleveland, this was a no-brainer. Winston played well as the starter in New Orleans last season before tearing his ACL on Halloween, guiding the Saints to a 5-2 start while throwing 14 touchdown passes against just three interceptions.
While future Hall of Fame coach Sean Payton is gone, the Saints' culture and talent -- which Payton established with incumbent GM Mickey Loomis -- remain. And while Dennis Allen is obviously no Sean Payton, New Orleans' decision to promote from within was savvy for stability. Allen is a great defensive mind, having made that unit the team's true strength over the past few years. On offense, Michael Thomas will be back, meaning Winston can be even better. And Jameis knows the deal if the Saints draft a quarterback in the first round.
8) Vikings further committing to Kirk Cousins
Cousins signing a one-year, $35 million extension through 2023 is a big deal. There's a new head coach in Minnesota. There's a new general manager. It's a new day.
So it's notable that new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah wanted Cousins back. And I think new head coach Kevin O'Connell, an offensive mind plucked from the Sean McVay tree, will take Cousins to another level. Cousins gets knocked by everyone, myself included. But don't get it twisted: He's a legit starter who ranks in the top half of the league at quarterback. As I've said before, he's in the 8-16 range, depending on the week.
With Cousins, the Vikings have a quarterback who can take advantage of Justin Jefferson's route artistry and win 10 games in a relatively weak division. Without Cousins, the Vikings would be on the hamster wheel, searching for an answer at the most vital position in team sports. The contract extension lets Cousins breathe by eliminating the questions long before the season begins.
9) Falcons giving Marcus Mariota a second chance
I've always liked Mariota. Forget that he is a former No. 2 overall pick -- he'll never live up to that. But he can play. He's a great athlete with a good feel and a solid arm. Falcons coach Arthur Smith had him in Tennessee. He knows what Mariota is -- and what he's not. For the 2022 Falcons, he's a stopgap. Atlanta could draft a first-round quarterback -- it might be this year or in 2023. Maybe the organization goes big on a veteran trade next year.
No Matt Ryan for the first time since George W. Bush was president is rough. Calvin Ridley is suspended for the season, while Russell Gage has relocated to Tampa Bay. And the defense still needs plenty of dudes. It could be a long season in the ATL, but Mariota is a pro who will endure the good, bad and ugly. He'll help this roster grow through the growing pains.
Mariota gets the last slot in this exercise over Carson Wentz because of the reasonable cost to obtain him (as opposed to the Wentz deal, which was insane) and the leadership.