The Lawrence Stakes

The Trevor Lawrence NFL Sweepstake, 2.0

Back in July, I picked out the five most likely landing spots for the most promising quarterback talent to enter the NFL in many years, Trevor Lawrence. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Some consider Trevor Lawrence to be the most complete talent to enter the NFL since Andrew Luck. By my reckoning, Lawrence has the tools to be even better. Sadly, Luck’s career was beset by injury, and we never saw his full potential realised. He was the face of the Indianapolis Colts for 7 years before his body gave up on him. As the door closes on an NFL career for one QB, the footballing world is at the feet of another.

In the summer, the five franchises I had earmarked as Lawrence’s future home in the NFL. They were:

  • Carolina
  • Jacksonville
  • Washington
  • New York (Jets)
  • Miami

Current standings

It is safe to say that three of those five are in a position to make a serious bid for Sunshine’s services. The Jets are clear favourites, currently picking #1 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. After that, Jacksonville are sitting pretty at #2, and have a second Day One pick (via the LA Rams) to tempt the Jets with. Another franchise with two first round picks is Miami, but the Dolphins seem set on Tua Tagovailoa as their QB of the future. A lot was made of Tua’s benching in the loss to Denver, but Brian Flores is far from done with his rookie.

With 3 and 4 wins respectively, it seems as though Washington and Carolina are out of the running for Lawrence, who appears destined to be the #1 overall selection in April. Both are in need of long term solutions at the position. Ron Rivera has ended the Dwayne Haskins experiment, and Alex Smith is once more under centre. A man with his injury record cannot be relied on to stay healthy, albeit his recovery has been a heroic one. Teddy Bridgewater has performed better than anticipated in Carolina, but a knee injury has sidelined him once more.

Let’s take a look at where our five NFL franchises stand in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.

New York Jets

What we said in July:

“There is one great, heavy millstone hanging around the neck of Broadway Sam. His name is Adam Gase. Everything Gase touches turns to a dumpster fire, and the budding career of young Sam Darnold is no exception.

A poor year will see Gase lose his job. Three years into Darnold’s rookie deal, would a new Head Coach be willing to gamble his own future on a quarterback who has briefly shown flashes of his true ability? Most likely not.”

Where are they now?

It seems as though the 0-10 Jets will be picking #1 overall. A shoulder injury to Sam Darnold has meant that Joe Flacco has seen time on the field for Gang Green. If anyone was arguing that Darnold should be given one more year to prove himself, they only need to look at the performances of the Jets offence without him.

The numbers

Darnold: 197.2 yards per game (58.6% pass completion), 3 TD, 6 INT
Flacco: 177.2 yards per game (55.2% pass completion), 6 TD, 3 INT

On the face of it, Darnold is the marginally better QB in terms of his accuracy and yardage. However, Flacco is both a safer passer of the ball, and more threatening for opposing secondaries. Is that what Jets’ fans hoped for when they selected Darnold #2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft? To be marginally better than a waning Joe Flacco?

Let’s get one thing straight – whoever is under centre simply isn’t good enough. The Jets average 170 passing yards per game, last in the entire NFL. They are also last in total offence per game. Of course, the issue goes beyond the quarterback position. Adam Gase is a certain casualty on Black Monday, with Dowell Loggains not far behind. Both will be brushing the imprint of Woody Johnson’s boot off their behinds when their unceremonious departure from One Jets Drive is confirmed.

If the Jets want to make their Head Coach position remotely attractive to any applicant worth hiring, they must use the prospect of working with Trevor Lawrence as bait. Will Eric Bieniemy or Lincoln Riley be tempted to leave their sought-after employment for an offence built around a fourth year QB with 39 touchdowns, 34 interceptions and a career 82 sacks? You already know that answer, dear reader.

Regardless of whether Darnold’s NFL career can be salvaged, it won’t be in New York. The Jets, and Darnold, need a fresh start. The turnaround in East Rutherford begins, and could well also end, with Trevor Lawrence.

Jacksonville Jaguars

What we said in July:

“The AFC South is home to three franchises striving for play-off football, and Jacksonville isn’t one of those. They seem destined to have a top 3 pick in the Draft.

The short term misery of stinking in 2020 could be replaced by the long term benefit of Sunshine in Duval County. And for our UK fans, Trevor Lawrence in a Jaguars uniform means that we get a good look at him every year. Everybody wins. Except 31 NFL defences.”

Where are they now?

The challenge facing the Jacksonville Jaguars with six games remaining is this: if the Jets can find themselves a way to win two of their final six games, can the Jags lose out and secure the #1 overall spot in the NFL Draft?

The Jaguars have experimented with Jake Luton and Mike Glennon under centre in Gardner Minshew’s absence. Even if Minshew returns to full health this year, it is unclear whether he has a long term future in north Florida. It is safe to say that Minshew Mania is long gone. Unlike Darnold however, Gardner Minshew has proven a far better offensive leader than his backup.

The numbers

Minshew: 282.4 yards per game (65.9% pass completion), 13 TD, 5 INT
Luton: 212.3 yards per game (54.5% pass completion), 2 TD, 6 INT

What these numbers do tell us is that Jake Luton is not at a level where he can be considered a starting NFL quarterback. Minshew on the other hand? Maybe not, but you can envisage a world where the Jaguars keep him on the roster in 2021.

If the Jaguars can’t find it in themselves to be a worse football team than the Jets (one of the hardest feats in modern sports), then they are left with two options. Either tempt the Jets with a bumper trade offer, or settle for QB2, Justin Fields. It all depends on whether David Caldwell is still in a job, and willing to part with a raft of draft capital. At the very least, you would expect the Jets to demand Jacksonville’s 2 first round picks this year, their 2022 1st round pick, plus more day two selections. If both franchises are sold on Lawrence’s ability (let’s face it, why wouldn’t you be?), would the Jets entertain an offer at all? Joe Douglas was happy to trade back on multiple occasions in his first NFL Draft as Jets GM. But would he risk passing on a talent like Lawrence for more draft capital? It remains to be seen.

The good news for Jacksonville is that being the 31st best team in the NFL is enough to reward them with another future franchise guy in Fields. My advice to Shad Khan? Settle for the second best QB in this draft class, and protect him. There is a monumental rebuilding project needed, and Fields is a great foundation for it.

Washington Football Team

What we said in July:

“The Washington franchise is in need of a rebrand. What better way to do it than with a franchise quarterback? Only the most stubborn of Washington fans will maintain that they have their future QB in Dwayne Haskins. Much like the Arizona Cardinals in 2019, Washington can upgrade a good QB with a great one. It’s a no-brainer. For what it’s worth, it would seem that a move for Justin Fields of Ohio State or Trey Lance of North Dakota State would also be an upgrade at the position.”

Where are they now?

What a strange season it has been for the Football Team. The hysteria of the offseason included a long overdue name change, a HC battling cancer and worrying accusations of sexual harassment by high ranking Washington employees. On the field, Washington are sitting at the #5 overall pick, and in the playoff conversation. Only in the NFC East could those two things be possible.

It is abundantly clear that Ron Rivera will be moving forward without Dwayne Haskins, the team’s first round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Haskins never seemed a comfortable fit in Washington, and a clash of personalities between player and coach has put Haskins’ career on the buffers.

Every neutral NFL fan hoped to see Alex Smith take another snap in the league after his long recovery from a horrific leg break. But did we expect to see him starting games in November? Smith is NFL Comeback Player of the Year for sure. But is he a starting NFL QB? Not anymore. Unfortunately, Washington has won too many games to be in contention for the #1 overall pick. They may wish to take a punt on Lance or BYU’s Zach Wilson, but they’d be overpaying in their current spot at #5.

Washington is in purgatory – they’re a losing football team that hasn’t been bad enough to swoop for a can’t-miss prospect. The franchise needs a reboot, but it’s unlikely that Lawrence will be at the heart of that.

Carolina Panthers

What we said in July:

“The Panthers have everything but the quarterback. They have the best running back in the country, an exciting WR room, and a Head Coach who turned around moribund programs at Temple and Baylor. Matt Rhule could be a smart hire in the long run, but a disrupted off-season will hurt his plans to turn the Panthers’ fortunes around quickly.

Teddy Bridgewater is a short-term solution to the long term problem of replacing Cam Newton. The state of South Carolina knows full well the abilities of the QB at Clemson. What a result it would be for Panthers fans if they can land with a generational talent like Trevor Lawrence. He could be the defining factor that can propel Carolina to another Super Bowl.”

Where are they now?

The Panthers have overperformed this year, even without Christian McCaffrey for the bulk of the season. Most, myself included, were expecting the Panthers to be a 3 or 4 win team even with the best running back in the NFL. Without him, they’ve got there with 5 games to spare. Matt Rhule has made this Carolina offence into a functional unit thanks to an impressive wide receiver group.

With winnable fixtures against Minnesota, Denver and Washington to come, Carolina can expect to have a mid-round pick. They’re in the right spot to take Lance or Wilson, should either fall to them. At this moment, Matt Rhule will be questioning whether that draft capital is better spent elsewhere if Teddy can stay healthy. With Teddy Bridgewater, health is always the if.

Miami Dolphins

What we said in July:

“You thought Miami had their quarterback of the future? So did I, and I still hope that they do. However, their newly drafted saviour Tua Tagovailoa is recovering from a traumatic hip injury. A dislocation of the joint with a fracture to boot is the sort of injury you might suffer in a major car crash. The Dolphins are hoping, and banking on, a full recovery. We all wish him a healthy career, even us Jets fans.

Let’s assume that Tua can’t get, or stay, healthy. They have two first round picks in the 2021 Draft. They have a young roster and the long term trajectory of the franchise points upwards. However, a tough schedule could keep this team down to as little as four wins.

If that is the case, Brian Flores could well be persuaded to roll the dice on another quarterback in his third year in Florida. The Dolphins have the Texans’ 1st and 2nd Round picks in the 2021 Draft (thank you, Bill O’Brien), and could utilise them in a trade for Trevor Lawrence should they deem it necessary. If those luscious blonde locks belong anywhere, it’s South Florida.”

Where are they now?

It would be sensible of the Miami Dolphins to make absolutely sure that they are invested in Tua Tagovailoa before passing on Trevor Lawrence. We can’t read too much into his benching against Denver. That decision wasn’t a punishment for poor performance, but an attempt to take his young quarterback out of the limelight before his confidence took a hit.

Miami has their quarterback, and he’s healthy. They have two first round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. They should use them to surround Tagovailoa with talent.

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