Pat Leonard: Deshaun Watson and QB-hungry NFL suitors take center stage with Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers off the table

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Pat Leonard, New York Daily News
·7 min read
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At first, it seemed possible that Matthew Stafford’s trade to the L.A. Rams had cleared the way for an even bigger potential NFC West blockbuster:

Aaron Rodgers to the San Francisco 49ers.

Several sources considered the Niners as a possible suitor and landing spot for Rodgers, 37, a product of Chico, Calif., if the disgruntled two-time MVP were made available — with the aggressive Rams also viewed as a club that could shock the league with a Rodgers deal, too.

But when the Rams “made a run” at Rodgers, the Packers reportedly were “adamant” that they weren’t trading him, according to the Los Angeles Times. So the Rams made their move for Stafford.

Then on Monday, Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur said unequivocally that Rodgers isn’t going anywhere.

“He’s going to be part of our future, and we look forward to all the runs we’re going to try to make here over the next few years,” Gutekunst said.

“Absolutely,” LaFleur said of Rodgers being his quarterback in 2021. “There’s no doubt about it… Yeah, absolutely, he will be here for a long time.”

Assuming the Packers satisfy Rodgers with a salary bump to match their verbal commitment, staying in the NFC North with the Bears, Vikings and Lions certainly gives Rodgers an easier path back to the NFC title game than joining Russell Wilson, Stafford and Kyler Murray in the West.

Taking both Stafford and Rodgers off the trade market, however, suddenly leaves a gaping difference between the supply and demand in this offseason’s quarterback chase.

If all eyes weren’t already on the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson, they certainly are now.

The Carolina Panthers and Washington Football Team both confirmed in the Stafford sweepstakes that they are pursuing a QB aggressively this offseason. The Panthers offered the Lions their No. 8 overall pick in a package, and Washington offered pick No. 19, per The MMQB.

The Colts, Broncos and 49ers all checked in, per various reports. The Patriots, Bears and Jets put in calls, as well, per The MMQB.

First, remember that the Dolphins, Saints, Jaguars and Falcons also are teams with eyes on possible new starting QBs in 2021.

Houston’s trade request from the Jets hypothetically could include two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and two top defensive starters, according to the Houston Chronicle.

If that represents an accurate starting point in negotiations, there is absolutely no question that the Jets, Dolphins and Panthers are in on that bidding war at minimum.

Other teams no doubt would continue calling and negotiating even if they couldn’t match the offers of those three suitors, who hold the No. 2 (Jets), No. 3 (Dolphins) and No. 8 (Panthers) overall picks in this April’s draft, respectively.

Still assuming one of those teams land Watson, that would leave several teams without top-10 draft picks and no solution to their quarterback conundrum: including the Colts, Bears, Washington, Niners and Patriots. The Saints might go with Taysom Hill or re-sign Jameis Winston, but they’re up in the air at QB with Drew Brees mulling retirement, too.

So the next question after Watson’s trade would be where the supply will come from.

On Monday, there was a report that Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan now is training his sights on the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, 32, whom he once coached in Washington, if Minnesota is amenable to a deal (per reporter Evan Massey).

Maybe the Packers will trade 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love if they’re sticking with Rodgers. Maybe the Eagles actually do trade Carson Wentz, despite $33 million and $24 million dead cap hits in the next two years.

Would Sam Darnold go to Houston in a Jets package for Watson? Or would the Texans use the No. 2 pick on a QB and an extra defensive player, allowing the Jets to deal Darnold elsewhere?

Will the Raiders stay committed to Derek Carr? Will the Lions try to flip Jared Goff?

We know the Jaguars will draft Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence at No. 1. The Jets likely will at No. 2 if they don’t trade the pick. The Dolphins probably won’t take a QB at No. 3 if they don’t trade for Watson, but if they deal No. 3 to Houston, the Texans could take one there.

The Falcons at No. 4, the Panthers at No. 8 and the Broncos at No. 9 all are searching for an upgrade, but some of these teams are going to be left out in the cold, too, once Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance all come off the board.

Pulling Stafford and Rodgers off the trade market, therefore, is only heating up the pursuit for the Texans’ Watson, upping the urgency for teams trying to avoid being left in the lurch.



I think Lions GM Brad Holmes, an 18-year Rams employee, did his old team a favor by taking Jared Goff’s contract off L.A.’s hands. I’m not sure how many other teams would have. Maybe we’ll get that answer if the Lions try to flip Goff, but it doesn’t appear right now that they will.

That said, Holmes did make sure the Rams overpaid to get Stafford and help Detroit’s rebuild. The Rams traded Goff, a 2021 third-round pick, and first-rounders in 2022 and 2023.

The sense from several league sources was that the Rams’ second first-rounder represented the overpay, though there is a caveat: if Goff never amounts to a quality starter elsewhere and Stafford wins a Super Bowl in L.A., then the Rams will have won this trade.

The Rams believe those two first-rounders they surrendered are more likely to fall deep in the first round, which would make them less valuable. Of course, who knows what will happen. If the Rams slip, don’t win a championship, and those picks rise up the draft board, then the Lions will have fleeced L.A. So time will tell.

I did expect the Rams’ Les Snead to be the most aggressive GM on this market, and so it is no surprise to me that he 1) reportedly made a run at Rodgers and 2) broke the bank for Stafford.

Not only is this Snead’s reputation, but NFL owners are all eager to field the best teams possible in 2021 with crowds hopefully returning to something closer to normal. The Rams and Chargers have a new stadium.

And guess which building is hosting Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 6, 2022? That’s right: SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

It is both interesting and a bit strange how this Stafford trade came together, though.

Stafford “squashed” a trade to Carolina, according to Chris Simms of NBC Sports, even without a no-trade clause. But how could Holmes and the Lions let a player with a no-trade clause dictate his destination?

If they had made the Panthers deal, the Lions would have held picks No. 7 and 8 in April’s draft back to back.

On top of that, Sean McVay and Stafford apparently were both vacationing in Los Cabos, Mexico, per The MMQB, and had dinner after the trade was agreed upon. It’s hard to believe in those kinds of coincidences.

The Lions’ willingness to take the Rams’ offer over the Panthers’ is a reminder of how long-term Detroit considers this rebuild with Holmes and new coach Dan Campbell.

The Rams win this trade if they can go ahead and win with Stafford. There were a lot of mitigating factors to paying such a high price for them:

Holmes’ hiring in Detroit gave the Rams an extra third round pick in both the 2021 and 2022 NFL drafts. So dealing a third to the Lions this year was no skin off their back. And getting rid of Goff as big a priority as landing Stafford. With the Lions’ help, they did both.

As I spelled out a week ago, Snead incredibly has not made a first-round pick since he took Goff No. 1 overall out of Cal in 2016. He now won’t have one until at least 2024.

But productive mid-round picks and quality draft picks and free agent pickups keep the Rams positioned to contend. We’ll see if they can put it all together and win the whole thing — on their home field at the Super Bowl — next season.