Who would’ve predicted Tom Brady joining the losingest franchise in NFL history when the 2020 NFL offseason began?
Who could have foreseen that Jared Goff-Matthew Stafford swap that later decided a Super Bowl when the 2021 NFL offseason began?
Who would’ve imagined that Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson would be dealt out of the NFC and into the loaded AFC when the 2022 NFL offseason began?
What’s next? Brady’s retirement this week started the 2023 NFL quarterback carousel spinning a bit earlier than expected. Let’s have some fun with the “all hell breaks loose” version of quarterback movement, including teams with new starters from trades, free agency or the draft.
Panthers: Daniel Jones
The Giants are acting as if the return of their QB free agent is a formality before even beginning negotiations. What if the price tag exceeds $40 million per year and $140 million guaranteed? The franchise tag’s $32 million salary-cap hit is restrictive, and the new regime has enough fan equity to paint Jones’ ask as unreasonable while starting over. Jones’ hometown Panthers — bold in moves for Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield — jump in, and an old photo of Jones in a Jake Delhomme jersey goes viral.
Giants: Will Levis
Following the script he helped write with the Bills in 2018, general manager Joe Schoen trades up twice to get from No. 26 into the top 10 of the draft to pick a high-ceiling, strong-armed, inconsistently accurate passer, hoping head coach Brian Daboll can mold Kentucky’s Levis into Josh Allen 2.0.
Falcons: Lamar Jackson
Fed up after two years of fruitless extension negotiations, the Ravens franchise-tag Jackson. Falcons owner Arthur Blank — who built a close friendship with Michael Vick — sees Jackson as a carbon copy and OKs dealing three first-round picks and fully guaranteeing a new contract, copying the Browns’ move to beat the Falcons in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes last offseason.
Ravens: Bryce Young
Suddenly flush with draft capital, including No. 8 overall, the Ravens turn around and trade for the No. 1 pick and Alabama’s Young because the Bears are true to early leaks that they plan to build around third-year quarterback Justin Fields. Firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman — who built the run-first, tight-end-heavy offenses for Colin Kaepernick and Jackson — was the first sign of a shift to a more pro-style offense.
49ers: Aaron Rodgers
It’s easy for the Packers to say that Aaron Rodgers only will be dealt in the AFC. But this franchise handled facing Brett Favre on the Vikings for two years at the end of his career. So, if the 49ers make the best offer because of real fears that Trey Lance can’t stay healthy and Brock Purdy won’t be healthy in time to prove he’s no fluke, are the Packers going to say no? It’s interesting that Rodgers quipped “I’m not going to San Fran” on Thursday while golfing. Why was that on his mind?
Packers: Jordan Love
Can the Packers really strike gold twice? Trading Favre worked out because it turned out they had a Hall of Famer in Rodgers sitting on their bench for three seasons. It’s a lot to ask Love to repeat history, but the Packers need to play him to find out if he can be the future — instead of a wasted first-round pick that could’ve been a much-needed receiver — in the final year of his contract.
Texans: Trey Lance
If the Jets’ Robert Saleh and Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel taught us anything, it’s that former 49ers assistants take players with them to new jobs. The Texans hold the No. 2 pick, but defensive end Will Anderson or defensive tackle Jalen Carter would be a foundational piece for new head coach DeMeco Ryans’ defense if he can convince the front office to take a chance on Lance instead of drafting Levis or C.J. Stroud.
Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo might have more suitors than anyone because of his ties to the prolific Bill Belichick and Kyle Shanahan coaching trees. Ultimately, Belichick gets the quarterback he has wanted ever since drafting Garoppolo in 2014, when he thought Brady was near retirement. Garoppolo never worked with returning Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. The egoless Bailey Zappe develops behind Garoppolo.
Raiders: Mac Jones
General manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels are going to dip into their Patriots roots to replace Derek Carr. If going all-in for Brady was Plan A and luring Garoppolo was Plan B, what is Plan C? Calling the Patriots to say, “Isn’t it redundant to have two young backups like Jones and Zappe?” McDaniels coached Jones as a rookie before his step back in Year 2.
Jets: Derek Carr
After missing out on Rodgers, Carr is a fine consolation prize, especially because he doesn’t cost any assets other than money after forcing the Raiders into releasing him to save salary-cap space by exercising his no-trade clause. Carr’s brother, David, was Eli Manning’s three-year backup, and convinces him that New York is a great place to win.
Colts: C.J. Stroud
Outbid for the No. 1 pick or Fields in talks with the Bears, the Colts stay put at No. 4 and seek to end the game of musical chairs that has seen seven different Week 1 quarterbacks in seven years by adding Ohio State’s Stroud to the lineage of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck.
Saints: Matt Ryan
A brief flirtation with retirement after a one-year disaster with the Colts is scratched when Ryan sees a chance to again rule the moribund NFC South, only from the other side of the Falcons-Saints rivalry. Call time of death on the Andy Dalton-Jameis Winston-Taysom Hill rotation.
Buccaneers: Ryan Tannehill
What does life after Brady look like? Re-sign free agent Blaine Gabbert? Turn to former second-round pick Kyle Trask for his first career start? It makes more sense for a veteran team with now-or-never head coach Todd Bowles to make a run at the division title while all other teams are down by trading for the final year of Tannehill’s contract.
Titans: Anthony Richardson
Who is going to fall in love with Richardson’s tantalizing, but raw, skillset? How about new general manager Ran Carthon, who was part of the 49ers’ decision to draft Lance — who had one season with more than 100 passes thrown since high school in 2017 — based on potential?
Today’s back page
🏀 RJ Barrett responds to benching with 30-point night in Knicks’ win over Heat … VACCARO: Knicks star was robbed of deserved All-Star nod
🎙 CBS execs tried intervention to address Tony Romo’s slippage
🏈 Giants star slams Eagles coach before Super Bowl
⚾ Mets’ $75M pitcher also had iffy physical before Carlos Correa saga
It’s a make … and make … and make league
Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard rang in February with a 42-point outburst in a win over the Grizzlies in Memphis. Did you notice? Probably not. After all, he had already started the week with a different 42-point outing in a win over the Hawks. That night, he had company on the night’s scoring leaderboard from Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray, who had 40, and Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, who poured in 53 against the woebegone Pistons.
On Thursday night, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo went one better, dropping 54 in a one-point victory over the Clippers — his third 50-burger in his past 11 games.
In total, there have been 122 individual 40-point games this season. The record is 142, set more than 60 years ago when Wilt Chamberlain, then of the Philadelphia Warriors, recorded 63 40-point nights on his own (h/t NBA.com’s John Schuhmann). It doesn’t take a math wizard to see that with the season not even at the All-Star break, the league should fly past that mark set in the 1961-62 season. We’re on pace for a total of 192 individual games of 40 points or better, well past even the more modern-day mark of 137 during the 2018-19 season.
To what do we owe this offensive bounty? Let’s take a quick look.
- Defense optional: The Cavaliers have the league’s best defense, per defensive rating, allowing 109.7 points per 100 possessions. As noted recently on ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, that number would have ranked closer to the bottom third of the league than the top as recently as five seasons ago (21st, to be exact). And the 2017-18 season wasn’t exactly filled with Knicks-Bulls slugfests. That’s partly a result of coaches deploying more offensively inclined lineups, partly the result of rest days taking some of the best players (and their defensive capabilities) off the floor and partly the result of evolving rules limiting the amount of potential shot-changing contact defenders can make.
- Skills kill: Look at the roster at almost any team and you can find someone capable of going off on any random night. Yes, there are the Doncics, the Antetokounmpos and the Jayson Tatums, but you also have the Zach LaVines (three 40-point nights) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexanders (also three 40-point nights) and even the Caris LeVerts — who can score from almost anywhere on the floor (more on that in a second). That’s not just a coincidence, but the result of a basketball development culture that has players working with skills coaches and honing their games as early as elementary school. Don’t take it from me, but a four-time title-winning coach, too.
- Three is the magic number: It’s not exactly news that teams are relying on the 3-pointer more than ever, but just take a look at the past decade: The average number of 3s made per game per team is up to 12.3 this season, from 7.2 in 2012-13. On Wednesday night, for example, Tatum likely would have easily posted his eighth(!) 40-point or better game had the Celtics not run the Nets off the floor from the opening tip. Though he finished with 31 for the night, Tatum tallied 18 of those points in the first quarter, and finished with seven made 3s.
Some may bemoan the lack of defense all these numbers suggest. Some may claim this is the result of the game looking more and more like Pop-A-Shot. Some of us just want to enjoy the skills on display. But the game is different. The 3 has become the new-age dunk. Better get out your calculators.
— Paul Forrester
It turns out a person can be two places at once
Wearing an Islanders jersey after more than eight seasons as a Vancouver Canuck will be strange for Bo Horvat. It will be equally strange for fans at All-Star weekend, where the NHL has kept Horvat on the Pacific Division team despite his new associations.
Horvat will don an Islanders Fisherman jersey at the Skills Challenge on Friday night. Then, at Saturday’s All-Star Game, he will play for the Pacific — the NHL’s way of splitting the baby in a situation where there is not an obvious solution.
“I don’t know how they came up with everything,” Horvat said. “I was just happy to be here. All this unfolded. They basically asked me if I still wanted to come. Of course I wanted to come and enjoy the weekend. And then they worked out the logistics after that.”
Saturday will give Horvat a chance to skate with now-former teammate Elias Pettersson again (Horvat, by the way, endorsed Pettersson to replace him as captain of the Canucks).
“It’s gonna be fun and weird and awesome at the same time,” Horvat said. “I don’t really know how to approach it or how to talk about it, but I’m excited for it. Excited to skate with him at least on the same team for the last time, unless we join teams again later down in our careers. Really excited to see him.”
— Ethan Sears in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.