Is Wentz the Answer for Colts? Can Titans Find Targets for Tannehill?
For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team's biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise.
Biggest Need: Running Back
While the Texans have done an admirable job—in so much as they have enough mediocre-to-average types on this roster to not have gaping holes—it's really hard to understand anything about their running back room at this point. It didn't make any sense that they kept and restructured David Johnson (30) after a few big runs into open holes salvaged his lost 2020 season. It didn't make any sense that they signed Mark Ingram (31) after he was left inactive in several Ravens games last year. Picking up Phillip Lindsay off the scrap heap made some sense, but Lindsay forced a career-low 11.0% missed tackle rate in 2020 per Sports Info Solutions, far off his 17.4% rate in 2019.
And the Texans not only failed to target the position in the draft, they managed to find no playing time for 2020 undrafted free agent Scottie Phillips last year either. Unless Lindsay claims the job in camp and comes out blazing hot to show that last year was an injury-related fluke, where is the juice in this backfield? Ingram can provide good reads behind the line and Johnson can provide some underneath targets, but that's about it.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
For a team that drafted only five players, the Texans didn't really buffer that with much in the way of undrafted free agents. Part of that is because they decided to sign every free agent that ever played in the NFL this offseason and didn't have a lot of roster room. The headliners for this class are Texas A&M offensive linemen Ryan McCollum ($125,000 bonus) and Carson Green. With the uncertainty around the backup interior linemen on this roster, both have a chance to make the initial 53 or at the very least be practice-squadders. The team rounded out its four-player class with Missouri wideout Damon Hazelton and Central Florida receiver Marlon Williams … or at least that was the report; the team never officially signed Williams. So if that doesn't happen, the class could be as small as three. Hazelton got off press coverage fairly well for the Tigers and could develop into an intermediate option on a depth chart that has a lot of potential 2021 free agents.
Biggest Need: Quarterback
This was slated to be left tackle, but then the Colts went out and signed Eric Fisher, closing up one of their few remaining holes. We're not believers in the idea of a Carson Wentz comeback—he led the NFL in adjusted interceptions in 2020—but we must admit that it could happen and that the supporting cast around him now looks quite strong, if maybe not quite what it was in Philadelphia's best days.
But this is more about the complete unknowns behind Wentz at backup quarterback. Neither Jacob Eason nor Sam Ehlinger has gotten a chance to show us anything. The Colts just happen to be in the exact position where a steady backup could be the difference between them winning 17-10 or losing 20-17 after a few bad interceptions. Even having to beat out someone such as Nick Mullens or Robert Griffin III in training camp might give us a little more confidence going forward in the youngsters that the Colts have stacked under Wentz.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
The highest bonus the Colts handed out per reports was to Duke running back Deon Jackson, who profiles as a special teams gunner who can be a rotational third-down back and speed receiver—he's the Nyheim Hines developmental replacement. With Hines, Marlon Mack, and Jordan Wilkins all having rookie deals expire after the season, Jackson has some upside. The most exciting player after that is probably Texas wideout Tarik Black, who added some explosive pro day results (90th percentile or higher in arm length, vertical jump, and broad jump) to a massive frame. Black can also help on special teams while they see if he develops into anything positive as a receiver.
Biggest Need: Tight End
After dealing Josh Oliver to the Ravens, the Jaguars are left with a tight end depth chart that is essentially barren. Chris Manhertz comes over from the Panthers as a blocking specialist. The Jaguars drafted Luke Farrell in the fifth round as an Urban Meyer legacy pick, as Meyer recruited Farrell to Ohio State. Farrell is also more of a blocking tight end who showed off 4.8s speed at his pro day. Somehow James O'Shaughnessy is the main receiving tight end in the room and that feels like a glitch in the matrix. O'Shaughnessy is fine roster depth, but he's not threatening anything beyond running 8 yards, curling, and falling down.
Trevor Lawrence didn't exactly fill up the stat line for Clemson's tight ends, targeting Braden Galloway 27 times for 369 yards last season and Davis Allen for an additional 16 catches for 247 yards, but at a position that has been very much generalized as a "young quarterback's best friend" in NFL decision-maker lore, it's surprising that the Jaguars simply have decided to employ blockers.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
Here's a team that shelled out some real bonuses. Dylan Moses was probably one of the most highly regarded players to go undrafted; the Alabama linebacker who had medical concerns could be an instant contributor if he can stay on the field. The Jaguars' depth chart at linebacker is settled at the top between Myles Jack and Joe Schobert, but there's a lot of space for Moses to slide into below that. Southern Miss receiver Tim Jones got a $180,000 guarantee, one of the top-five amounts in the entire class, and profiles as a slot option assuming the Travis Etienne slot receiver train doesn't take off. Finally, they also gave $120,000 guaranteed to Charleston defensive tackle Kenny Randall, who at 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, would seem to be in line to play nose tackle for the Jags if he impresses.
Biggest Need: Pass-Catchers
The Titans didn't pick a wideout until the fourth round, when they took Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is an honest stab at filling the void, but draftniks roundly criticized his route-running and play-action can't hide everything.
Back to that void: A.J. Brown is back, but other than him, the only other Titans wideout or tight end with as many as 15 targets that has returned to this year's Tennessee team is Anthony Firkser. Corey Davis signed with the Jets, the team cut Adam Humphries, and Jonnu Smith got huge money from the Patriots. To put it another way: the player with the third-most returning targets is Derrick Henry, who had 31.
There are still some wideouts on the free-agent market who could patch up some of this. Kenny Stills would seem to fit well with how the Titans play, but for a team that was already going to be replacing Arthur Smith with Todd Downing, this is yet another source of unsteadiness for a pass offense that doesn't need it.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
LSU fullback Tory Carter got the highest bonus in the class, and Carter will threaten to make the roster and help on special teams while creating lanes for Derrick Henry in the event that offensive coordinator Todd Downing wants to take it back to 1995. Kansas State's Briley Moore-McKinney was signed to make it an actual fullback competition and provide some H-back versatility. Moore-McKinney offers more athletically and as a receiver than Carter, while Carter has the real thump. BYU offensive lineman Chandon Herring showed a lot of athletic promise for his size, running a 5.05s 40-yard dash time at 6-foot-6, 307 pounds at the Cougars pro day. The Titans signed both a punter and a kicker, creating camp competition with Cincinnati punter James Smith and Ohio State kicker Blake Haubeil. Haubeil's got a better chance to win his competition, as he's up against another unestablished youngster in Tucker McCann.
Portions of this article previously appeared on ESPN+.
42 comments, Last at 06 Jun 2021, 6:12pm
#1 by theslothook // May 20, 2021 - 11:28am
Im a bit puzzled that defense(anywhere and everywhere) wasn't listed. You don't go 4-12 with Watson playing out of his mind without having a suspect defense. And with no first or second round picks of note(going back a while), it's not obvious they have any remedies on this roster. Unless Culley is a wunderkind, this defense is a good bet to suck hard again next year
#13 by gomer_rs // May 20, 2021 - 5:19pm
Is to get opportunistic. Play for blitzes and turnovers in high leverage situations. Basically be the Seahawks of 2020 before they signed Dunlap.
They were terrible on defense... but, they knew when they had to get lucky.
#2 by Pat // May 20, 2021 - 11:33am
"But this is more about the complete unknowns behind Wentz at backup quarterback. Neither Jacob Eason nor Sam Ehlinger has gotten a chance to show us anything. The Colts just happen to be in the exact position where a steady backup could be the difference between them winning 17-10 or losing 20-17 after a few bad interceptions."
Few bad interceptions? Why do we even have to get to that point? Eagles have needed a backup QB in every season Wentz was there except his first. Yes, the last one was due to performance, but even last year he entered the year and was playing with a groin pull.
Wentz is a fairly reckless mobile QB. Even if he returns to form (which isn't insane, the situation last year was, uh, unique in so many ways) you'd have to bet on him missing a game or two at some point.
#3 by theslothook // May 20, 2021 - 12:37pm
I hope Reich has enough cache to survive as a coach if the Wentz gamble goes belly up. I don't know if Reich is a great coach, but I've seen enough to suggest he's definitely above average and if they moved on, they would probably do a lot worse.
Honestly, as Pat mentioned above, Wentz comes with so much baggage that I really cant understand giving up what they did. Not only was he god awful last year(ok, fine, we can give him a pass), but he's injury prone as well. The best case scenario appears to be a high end tier 3 qb who is good to miss a few games every season. But that's the most rosey upside picture. The mean expectation is a solid QB good to miss at least 3 games and play poorly because of injury in another 2-3. Other than his contract being a bargain, I really didn't like this move.
#18 by jheidelberg // May 20, 2021 - 6:57pm
Wentz had a season that was unprecedented in ineptitude from a QB that recently was good and is still young. FO wrote an article about him, he was on pace to have the worst DYAR in history before being replaced. There is no way to predict what will happen, we have no historically comparable QB's. The Colts were number 10 in DVOA, and were above average at offense, defense and special teams. They came so close to beating the Bills in the playoffs. The most comparable team to the Colts was the Rams, number 9 in DVOA again above average in offense. The Rams also made a QB change.
So what happens next? I think that a best case scenario is a duplicate of the Phillip Rivers season, making the Colts a playoff team, but not a top team. A worst case scenario is frightening, could he turn this team into the Eagles of 2020? In this case if Reich takes the fall it would be a shame, what is a coach to do with a QB disaster?
If I were a Colts fan I would rather have seen them outbid the WFT for Ryan Fitzpatrick, a man with a steady track record of being slightly above average for the past few years, get a playoff spot, and roll the dice week by week in the playoffs. This would have been a repeat of picking up Phillip Rivers last year, which lead to a solid season.
#28 by Beavis // May 21, 2021 - 1:44pm
Sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, get a playoff spot, is a sequence of events that has never happened in NFL history. The man has averaged 8 starts a year for the last 5 years and will turn 39 this season. Perhaps there is less downside, but there is no upside. The Colts need some upside if they want to get to a Super Bowl.
#6 by Noahrk // May 20, 2021 - 1:14pm
Jags signed Tebow to play TE, they'll be fiiiine. Seriously, isn't Tebow thirty-something? And he's going to learn a new position, arguably one of the toughest? I can't remember a roster move less related to football since Kap was blacklisted.
#9 by theslothook // May 20, 2021 - 1:51pm
I was thinking about this. Exactly what sense does it make to bring Tebow on? Its been over a decade since he played meaningful snaps in the NFL and that was back when he was nominally a QB. I mean...what the hell man...how is this anything other than a PR move?
#20 by jheidelberg // May 20, 2021 - 7:13pm
Win games, that strategy always works to sell tickets. This strategy is seemingly too difficult for Jacksonville.
Regarding Tebow, the "Do what the Jets do" has never been a strategy to win games.
Going 1-15, and drafting a RB in the first round to go with your new QB is a formula for a steady 4-12 mark, which most 1-15 teams will regress towards by chance.
#24 by serutan // May 21, 2021 - 11:10am
"Win games, that strategy always works to sell tickets."
Reminds me of the Atlanta Braves in the early 90s when the finally had a good team after sucking almost continuously for 20 years. There was a night with a big crowd, and the announcer mentioned some promotion going on. The color guy cut in with "Winning is the best promotion there is."
#35 by Bobman // May 25, 2021 - 3:35pm
The Pittsburgh Pirates put together three consecutive NLE winning seasons with Bonds, Bonilla, Van Slyke, Drabek, Bell, Bream, etc. One of those years (89-91?) they hosted a playoff game that had about 50% capacity. I was a low -aid New Yorker at the time but a long-time fan since childhood and was outraged. How the hell could that happen? I did not have the cash (or the ability to bail out of work for a day) to make the flight out for the next game, but I sorely wanted to. And the the Braves ended it all for them anyway....
So winning doesn't always do it. Confoundingly.
#12 by Pat // May 20, 2021 - 3:30pm
It's offseason. Rosters are 90 people. Literally Tebow might have value just as someone who knows terminology and what various routes should be. It costs them next to nothing.
I'm constantly surprised teams don't sign more random veterans during the offseason, but most of them aren't interested in being human puppets away from home for weeks for what (to them) is minimal pay.
#21 by ImNewAroundThe… // May 20, 2021 - 9:13pm
As long as there's no guaranteed money or for more than the min.
I find all the Tebow hoopla entertaining though. A lot of other examples other than Tebow, to prove Kap though. The biggest probably being the Dolphins calling Cutler out of retirement to give him $10m. Also Matt Barkley played football this calendar year. Wild.
#22 by Pat // May 20, 2021 - 10:26pm
It's a standard vet min contract. There's no more risk to the Jaguars than any other vet player teams often bring during the off-season (in other words, none). I'm sure the teams FO was okay with it because of the publicity, but I'd guess Meyer probably is just happy to offer it to Tebow. He's fairly loyal to his guys.
#14 by gomer_rs // May 20, 2021 - 5:23pm
Urban Meyer has a mobile college spread QB, a WC OC that worked with Russel Wilson, a "Passing Game Co-ordinator" (QB coach) that worked with Russel Wilson, and no college spread offense guys but himself.
If he plans to bring any college spread concepts up, Tebow may not be bad as a quasi player coach for the rookie QB.
#16 by gomer_rs // May 20, 2021 - 6:06pm
All of Tebow's problems were below the shoulders. But he managed to 'lead' a team to the playoffs and win a game without being able to physically deliver the ball consistently.
So, there had to be something good going on between the ears.
#17 by theslothook // May 20, 2021 - 6:20pm
I don't know if I agree with this statement. Tebow had terrible accuracy and footwork, but it's not clear to me that he could read the game well either.
I guess reading the game can be measured in proxy by things like turnovers, sacks, and i guess time to throw. Tebow didn't throw many ints, but that was a function of the offense basically putting him on training wheels for 55 minutes of the game. Going off of vague memory now, but he was so slow at everything. That's how you manage to accrue such a hideous sack percentage and a horrible dvoa without throwing many ints.
#25 by Joseph // May 21, 2021 - 11:41am
I think it was in the article about the projections for the QBs that were just drafted. Anyway, I view Tebow as a guy who could not adjust to the processing speed necessary to succeed in the NFL. Obviously, he didn't have great mechanics either; but it's not like he couldn't do some things well--just not enough.
I think if he would have ended up as a 5th rounder or below, the narrative surrounding him is totally different. Also, if he ends up with Sean Payton and becomes "Taysom Hill test prototype," he is a lot more successful.
I don't know if he could become a coach (does he want to?), but at the very least he could probably explain to rookies what the concepts are, even if he doesn't have enough technique/ability to execute them (esp. at TE). But if they used him as the punt protector on ST, maybe the holder on FG/XP, and occasionally at H-back/fullback/TE, doesn't every DC/STC have to be on the lookout for a fake/trick play constantly? That has some minimal value. Considering the wasteland the Jags have at TE, and the lack of talent at other positions as well, he is probably more value to JAX than the other 31 teams.
[Crazy experiment that would be interesting in an alternate universe: Taysom Hill starts for the Saints, Tebow is his "replacement" as the gadget player.]
#26 by Pat // May 21, 2021 - 12:39pm
When you get to bottom-of-the-roster guys during the offseason, practically anything justifies bringing them in. During training camp teams usually churn quite a bit to maintain enough camp bodies due to injuries/availability. To be honest Tebow probably actually adds quite a bit since he's likely more polished at some things (especially playing for Meyer) than a typical camp body TE.
Back in 2009, the Eagles signed Matt Nagy (yes that Matt Nagy) to a contract in training camp because they needed an extra camp body QB and Nagy was a coaching intern at the time. This isn't any goofier.
#27 by theslothook // May 21, 2021 - 12:48pm
I guess I am more astonished that its Tebow they decided to bring in. And thats astonishing because he hasn't taken a meaningful snap in 10 years and that was at another position completely unrelated to being a tight end.
Sure, its as low cost as it gets, but this decision makes less sense than if they had tried to sign Joel Embid to play defensive end
#29 by Pat // May 21, 2021 - 2:10pm
"Sure, its as low cost as it gets, but this decision makes less sense than if they had tried to sign Joel Embid to play defensive end"
Uh, no. Tebow's played with Meyer before and in the NFL before. The layoff seriously doesn't matter (and saying a decade since 'meaningful snaps' is silly - he's not coming in to play meaningful snaps) for offseason/training camp bodies.
Why in the world do you think it makes no sense? How will it harm the Jaguars in any way whatsoever?
This isn't the regular season. It's the offseason. It makes perfect sense to do stuff like this. You hear teams talking to older retired players about comebacks all the time. Never usually gets anywhere because when they hear "yeah, we can give you an offseason contract, but you probably won't even make the training camp roster." Players make $235/day or $940/week for offseason workout. That's where Tebow's at right now. If you've ever made an NFL roster that's not worth coming in for.
The signing seems totally pointless, right? So is every other camp body signing.
#30 by theslothook // May 22, 2021 - 12:43pm
Would you be kind enough to provide me a similar example to Tebow? The conditions are player has been out of the league at least 9 years and is being brought in to play a completely different position.
Maybe this is super common and I'm missing the obvious but I can't think of it.
#31 by Pat // May 22, 2021 - 3:49pm
Tebow has not been out of the league 9+ years. Why do you keep saying that? He signed a contract with the Eagles in 2015. Didn't make the regular season roster, but neither do practically half the people in a training camp. He made it all the way through training camp and 4 preseason games that year.
As for an example, as I said before: "Never usually gets anywhere because when they hear "yeah, we can give you an offseason contract, but you probably won't even make the training camp roster."" That's the reason you don't see this happen - because it's a lot of work for extremely little pay, and if you're an NFL vet, it's totally not worth it. Tebow's an oddball because he's not doing it for money.
As for it being a "totally different position," Tebow was a quarterback. It's *common* in training camp to have veteran quarterbacks run routes/reps with rookies to show them the way it needs to be run. Happened at literally every rookie portion of the training camp I've been at.
Like I said: I'm somewhat surprised that this doesn't happen more - but if I think more about it, this is a bit of a unique situation. You've got a player who's just obsessed with trying to prove he can do it even when it's clear he can't. That doesn't happen often.
#34 by Pat // May 24, 2021 - 10:12am
Bernard Pollard's been contacting the Chiefs about a return this year, Percy Harvin was contacting teams last year, etc. Again, nothing actually happens with it because the teams are realistic with them and offseason pay's utter garbage for an athlete. And those are just the vets who make stuff like this public. Even more insanely Chad Johnson apparently has been contacting teams regarding trying out as a kicker.
It's easy to dismiss those and say "yeah, but none of those guys actually got signed" - but again, signing someone in the offseason is pointless. The Jaguars have made vastly bigger commitments to 2 of their UDFAs than they made to Tebow. If the Jaguars keep Tebow on the opening roster (which... isn't going to happen, that'll guarantee his salary) after showing nothing in preseason, then you call bull. The fact that those guys didn't get signed doesn't matter - they didn't care about being signed, they cared about getting a shot for the season.
And seriously, if Tebow actually shows up for every offseason workout and earns that sweet, sweet $7500, it's practically worth it to have him around just as an example to rookies.
#23 by turbohappy // May 21, 2021 - 2:26am
That doesn't make sense to me given how NFL preparation works. He isn't going to be in the room with the QBs and it's unlikely Tebow will get first team reps so when would they even collaborate, unless they are roommates or something?
#36 by Bobman // May 25, 2021 - 3:52pm
Anybody have ANY idea how the individual teams benefit from something like that? $200 jersey retail, the store (nflstore.com?) gets probably 50%, a fairly typical retailer markup. The actual manufacturer/supplier (Nike?) probably provides it to the team/stadium/store for 25% of the retail price, or say $50. So of the remaining $50, what goes to the NFL as a general licensing fee, what goes to the individual team, or (God forbid!) the individual player? I'm drawing from an MBA cost-accounting class from 23 years ago, here, so it's crude at best. But say Nike sells the best jerseys to NFL for $50 (cost) and the NFL then provides them to sporting goods stores, their own website, stadium stores, etc for $100, and they are sold to fans for $200. If that is remotely accurate, then the team pockets a maximum of $50 per $200 jersey or 25% on all the cheaper stuff as well (and possibly less)... They sell how many, 5,000? 10,000? (How many Jags fans are actually willing to part with that much money for a shirt? I know I'm a complete cheapskate) If they can find 10,000 Jags fans willing to part with $200 for a shirt, that's $250,000 to the team. And that's a BIG if. Plus a lot of great hype to be sure. Maybe they sell more tickets, but maybe not if he never sees the field--Who wants to pay $200 for the Tebow jersey and another $100 for a ticket, only to watch him stand on the sideline? I'd be pissed.
Just went to NFL.com and checked out the Jags store: first jersey that pops up is Tebow for $119. They really have to sell a crazy lot of those to make that pencil. Are people really that willing to throw money away? (i.e. how huge a cheapskate is ole' Bob? Answer, pretty big. My last Colts jersey is either Addai or Freeney. I have a signed Manning jersey that was $44 because I bought it in 2001, the season Edge James was injured and the team went 6-10--yes, I bought the dip. I saw their poor season as a buying opportunity. Like I said, I'm cheap.)
#38 by Lebo // May 26, 2021 - 7:10am
Players also get a portion of revenue from their own jersey sales, right?
I also believe that, when a player changes numbers, they must buy all remaining jersey stock with their old number.
Edit: no sooner had I posted the above, I saw an ESPN article confirming that players do have to buy out old stock. Jaylon Smith will be paying a six-figure sum to change his number to 9!
#39 by Pat // May 26, 2021 - 3:10pm
Yup. Strangely, this information is really hard to come by because if you search for it, you get a lot of wrong information. Tons of people think that the money's just split evenly between the teams, because there are two licensing deals that need to be signed for every jersey. First, you need an NFL license (which is split evenly between all the teams) and then if it has a player's name, you need an NFLPA group license (which is split two thirds player, one third union). Apparently the cost of the NFLPA and NFL licenses are roughly equal, so if you buy, say, a Tebow jersey, the Jaguars only get around 5% of what Tebow gets.
Source for this is straight from the NFLPA's website ("4 Licensing Facts You Need to Know") - although the breakdown is mentioned elsewhere (once you weed through all of the incorrect info out there).
#41 by Joseph // May 28, 2021 - 3:48pm
I don't think it's being cheap, I think it's being smart with your money.
No shirt is worth $119. If I pay that much, I want to be wearing it. The more I wear it, the more I wash it. The more I wear it and wash it, the more it gets damaged/frayed/stained/etc.
The way that players move around in this day and age, jerseys get outdated fast.