Training camp is here. Your team is looking fierce. Nothing can possibly go wrong.
Soak in the vibes as we dive into the latest edition of the #DotComMailbag. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions -- I could feel the excitement in the tone of your queries. I'm right with you.
Let's start with a two-hander:
"Does Washington strike you as overrated with Fitzmagic/tragic at the helm? Seems like there may be a few too many peaks and valleys. Will he thrive or regress to the mean?" -- @SchnetzerJake
"How far of a gap between the best and worst NFC East teams?" -- @PrasanthBathae
When I ponder the fate of the NFC East in 2021, I think about that one wild-card friend we all have whose boisterous behavior can either carry a night or send it pile-driving through the floor. Now clone that buddy three times, and you have the NFC East. This extreme variance in outcomes is typified by the Washington Football Team, somehow my favorite to finish in first and last place in the division. I've enjoyed Ryan Fitzpatrick's surprising late-30s boom as much as the next football fan, but it's also absolutely within the range of outcomes that the Amish Rifle falls through a table like Matt Foley as a 17-game starter. It drifts into the realm of wishcasting to expect fairytale results when you hand the reins of a defense-first team to a 38-year-old gunslinger who's played 16 years for eight teams without making the playoffs, but the Washington braintrust appears to be trying to catch lightning in a bottle here. It makes the miss on Dwayne Haskins in the 2019 draft all the more painful. Whiffs on first-round QBs carry a ripple effect that can last years.
"Which of the 1st Round drafted QBs from 2021 draft will be last to take a competitive snap in a game? (not necessarily start)" -- @Alan____Jones
Let's tweak Alan's question and focus on when the kids will get a start. Here's my Rookie QB Starting-Opportunity Power Rankings:
Lawrence and Wilson are mortal locks for Week 1 action. The Jets don't even have another quarterback who started for their high school team (this is an exaggeration, but only slightly). Fields should be at the bottom of this list, seeing as how Matt Nagy has already come out and said Andy Dalton will be the Week 1 starter, but I refuse to negotiate with common-sense terrorists like the Bears head coach. You're trying to tell me that if Fields impresses in training camp and lights it up in the preseason, you're starting Andy Freaking Dalton on Sunday Night Football on Sept. 12? Are Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace aware that Fields holds their future in his perhaps supremely capable hands? I don't get it. Reports out of Foxborough have Jones entering training camp on close to even footing with Cam Newton, but Bill Belichick doesn't strike me as a guy who will deviate from the plan because of a strong summer from a rookie. Lance has a handsome, super well-paid veteran ahead of him on the depth chart, which makes me think he'll have to wait his turn -- unless ...
Jimmy G has to be a consideration for the Niners, right? His salary could make a trade difficult, but not necessarily impossible for a team that feels it needs to upgrade at quarterback. Jimmy G on the Broncos? The Texans? The Eagles? How about the aforementioned Washington Football Team? There are some 2019 49ers parallels in play with Washington. Of course, all of this is contingent on Trey Lance turning heads over the next six weeks. He's a very raw prospect, and it's unlikely Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch would turn over a championship-level roster over to a kid QB if they had reservations he was too green for the job. But if he looks ready for the challenge? Jimmy G could be packing boxes.
"If you and the other heroes we all stuck on a desert island…… seriously tho is there any chance the Bills don't win the AFC east? And If they don't who dethrones them?" -- @josh_mac10
2021 AFC EAST STANDINGS
Buffalo Bills: 13-4
New England Patriots: 9-8
Miami Dolphins: 8-9
New York Jets: 7-10
Put it this way: I'm more confident in the Bills winning the AFC East than I am in any other team in football claiming their respective division. The Patriots have a legit defense but too many questions on the other side of the ball. The Dolphins appear to be trending upward, but changes in the offensive scheme -- what's the deal with co-coordinators, anyway? -- and the uncertainty around Tua Tagovailoa keeps them earthbound for me. The Jets are at least a year away. The Bills brought back their entire core and coaching staff (retaining offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was a particularly big W), and Josh Allen just feels like a guy who's going to shred his division for a few years, just like Tom Brady used to do. Some competitive balance in the AFC East would be a welcome change; I just don't think we're there yet.
"Not really a question, just need some rays of hope or optimism as a Texans fan rn" -- @ChigozieUzoh
Ah, man. Let me try to bring you some comfort, while at the same time making it abundantly clear -- by citing a relevant Bruce Springsteen lyric -- that I am a 41-year-old white male sportswriter:
"Hard times come and hard times go / Yeah, just to come again / Bring on your wrecking ball."
Hard times have come for Texans fans. Everything about the Deshaun Watson situation is depressing, and the fact that he's in the building practicing for a team he wants nothing to do with at a time when allegations he committed serial sexual assault hang over the player, team, the entire league -- I mean, could there be a more difficult way for David Culley to begin his head-coaching career? It remains unclear if Culley is truly part of this organization's future or if he has simply been tasked with moving deck chairs on the Titanic. The truth? It will probably get worse before it gets better. Eventually, there will be resolution with Watson's situation. Eventually, the Texans -- now free of the roster-shaping terrors of the Bill O'Brien era -- will make use of premium draft picks and infuse a barren roster with young talent. In time, the hard times will go. But first ... the wrecking ball.
I think Wentz was bad enough in Philadelphia last season that he finds himself pretty much starting from scratch. The 2017 near-MVP season is ancient history and not really applicable anymore. The rock-solid 2019 season, during which he dragged a beat-up Eagles team to the playoffs? I remember it (even if no one else seems to), but you're better off throwing that out, too. Wentz cratered in 2020 -- seriously, watch that game tape at your own risk -- and it's absolutely fair if you're set in your mind that he's a player in decline. That said, the Frank Reich reunion in Indianapolis is a certified thing, and a fresh start in a new city has revitalized many a career. The Colts quarterback fits the profile of a viable Comeback Player of the Year candidate, but the morose nature of his 2020 cost him pretty much all of his rope. No training camp glory will remove the doubt he's cast upon himself. He needs to go out in September and put together a month of vintage Iggles Wentz. Only then is it right to ask for buy-in from his substantial army of skeptics.
Drew Lock? I'm not so worried about that guy. Broncos fans pounded the table for Lock last summer, but most have come around to the reality of that situation by now. But the prospect of Darnold thriving in a more functional environment in Carolina as Wilson bumbles through a developmental season? This is a very real fear for Jets fans. The ones who deny it are lying to you.
"What is the right amount of excited to get about NFL camp news? On one hand, I love the feeling of hope I get from all the news. On the other hand, the cynical part of me realizes none of this will matter come October." -- @kirkfatool
Nah, man, lean into this. Hope Season is a good thing. All the profiles about young quarterbacks who have seen the game slow down for them and slot receivers who actually can play on the outside and linebackers who are finally 100 percent and first-year head coaches who infused energy into an entire organization -- inject all that positivity right into your veins. Reality will hit hard for 50 percent of the league by October, so might as well bask in this period of unbridled optimism while it lasts.
Training camp is finally here! Be sure to check out NFL Network's extensive live coverage, including Inside Training Camp every day and highlighted by Training Camp: Back Together Saturday Fueled by Gatorade on July 31.