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Monday, January 25, 2021

NFL Insider notes: League sources share which teams wouldn’t take Trevor Lawrence No. 1, plus Week 8 picks

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If all goes according to plan, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Whether the team that ends up with the No. 1 pick once Week 17 wraps up (hello, Jets) winds up with Lawrence is a different matter. Lawrence will be the first to dap up Roger Goodell, if we are back to shaking hands and hugging come April 2021.

But what if any of the 32 teams got the No. 1 pick and were in a position to draft Lawrence? Who would pass on him?

That’s a question I posed this week to nine people in and around the league — executives current and former, scouts and agents. The answer: Not many.

First, a few ground rules. This thought exercise requires some mental flexibility but there are limits. Of course, the Chiefs aren’t going to wind up with the No. 1 overall pick. But if they did, the respondents were not allowed to draft Lawrence and auction him off to a needy team for a king’s ransom. If that were allowed, no one would pass up on Lawrence in this exercise.

(Don’t roll your eyes at the premise either. A great team getting the No. 1 pick has happened before in sports. In 1982 after winning the NBA title with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers took future Hall of Famer James Worthy with the No. 1 pick thanks to a trade three years earlier with the Cavaliers.)

The Chiefs, Cardinals and Bengals were all unanimous choices in this poll. That those three would be set at quarterback despite Lawrence’s potential is no surprise.

The Chiefs have the best young quarterback in NFL history, and though he just signed a team-friendly deal that can pay him a half-billion dollars over the next decade, Kansas City would not draft Lawrence. The Cardinals have drafted two quarterbacks in the top-10 in the past three years and they don’t want to make it three out of four, especially when they appear to have found their guy in Kyler Murray. And though the Bengals could, in theory, pull a 2019 Cardinals and draft Lawrence, no one believes that organization would.

But there were some surprising teams that didn’t make the unanimous poll. The Ravens and Seahawks have the reigning MVP and the leader in the clubhouse for the award this year, respectively.

Why would Baltimore take Lawrence when they have Lamar Jackson?

“Baltimore is going to have to pay Lamar soon,” one source said. That deal will be the second-richest contract in the NFL behind Mahomes and pay Jackson at least $42 million per year. That could wreck a Ravens team trying to keep its title-contending team intact, and getting a top-tier young quarterback on another rookie deal would be the best way to keep the team together.

As for the Seahawks, four of the nine respondents believed Seattle would take Lawrence. A separate source noted it’s an unorthodox take, but the Seahawks usually think outside the box.

“I could see Seattle taking him [Lawrence] because Russ is an elite QB, but how long does it last and when do you want to think about the future,” the source said.

And one respondent differentiated from the Chiefs and Bengals/Cardinals. He put the Bengals, Chargers and Cardinals on a tier below the Chiefs, Texans and Ravens.

“I’d be surprised if most didn’t take Trevor over Kyler,” the source said. “Not close in my opinion.”

Eight of the nine said the Chargers wouldn’t draft Lawrence with one noting we don’t yet know enough about Justin Herbert. Five said the Dolphins wouldn’t take Lawrence, with four using the same logic for Tua Tagovailoa. Other teams receiving votes (with the ‘would not draft’ votes in parentheses): Buffalo (3), Green Bay (2), Tennessee (1), Los Angeles Rams (1), Dallas (1) and Atlanta (1).

The idea that more than three-quarters of the league would hardly hesitate at taking Lawrence No. 1 overall if they had the chance speaks not only to how great of a talent he is but also to the fact that whoever winds up with the No. 1 pick in April won’t be giving it up.

As long as Lawrence doesn’t force his way out of a bad situation, of course.

The Week 18 plan

With the beginning of Week 8, we are now officially in Week 18 territory. What do I mean by that?

Fourteen teams have already had their bye weeks. Another four — Houston, Jacksonville, Washington and Arizona — are on their byes this week. That makes more than half of all NFL teams that now have their byes in the rearview mirror.

The NFL has shown it’s more comfortable now than it was three weeks ago not letting a confirmed positive result (or multiple positives) derail a game. The Bills, for example, didn’t have to move their Week 11 bye despite their tight end room getting almost entirely wiped out last week.

But if the league has to move a game in the future, it’s going to be much more difficult without the flexibility of moving around bye weeks. Just 14 teams still have their byes left, so that’s all the wiggle room the NFL has to work with before having to install a Week 18.

“If you open the door for that, what does that mean, do people get more relaxed?” said one league source. “The goal is for people to stay vigilant under the messaging that we don’t have much wiggle room here.”

The league wants to play all 256 regular-season games, but executives realize that could be difficult as positive cases are on the rise across the country. Week 18 offers a last resort should the need arise.

Voting matters

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement, the NFL and NFL Players Association put together a voter registration drive for their players. Earlier this week, the two sides announced in a joint statement that 90% of active players are now registered to vote.

It’s an impressive number, and some teams like the Colts and Seahawks got 100% registration from their active players. A source I spoke with didn’t have the numbers for the number of players registered before the push but imagined it would have been similar to the NBA where only 20% were registered in the 2016 elections. And the efforts have gone beyond just registering.

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu has been at the forefront of the effort in both Kansas City and Louisiana. Texans outside linebacker Jacob Martin and Eagles safety Rodney McLeod have both been lauded for their voter registration and transportation efforts as well.

The NFLPA sent a message to its players earlier in the week reminding them team facilities will be closed on Tuesday for Election Day. Players, especially union representatives on each team, will be seen pushing the #AthleteAndVoter hashtag throughout the weekend.

And half of the league’s individual team facilities were ultimately used for some type of election-related activity. Several stadiums became early voting locations like Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, which Wednesday saw its 10,000th voter come through the doors.

Picks

I love a good 11-3 week. That’s what I scored last week, though I’m still 0-fer when it comes to Thursday Night Football. That continued when I took the Panthers and they lost to the Falcons. Entering Week 8, I have a 69-34-1 record. Let’s keep it going.

Steelers at Ravens

1 p.m., Sunday, CBS

The Ravens are blitzing a league-high 47.2% of the time. Ben Roethlisberger is getting the ball out in 2.29 seconds, which is the fastest in the league. In short, it doesn’t matter how much you blitz if the quarterback is getting rid of the ball that quickly. Lamar Jackson struggled mightily against this defense in his one game last year and I don’t see the Ravens winning a shootout.

The pick: Steelers

Patriots at Bills

1 p.m., Sunday, CBS

Even before the Thursday news of Julian Edelman‘s knee surgery broke, I wasn’t feeling the Pats. They’re a mess right now, and I’m worried about the health of Cam Newton‘s shoulder. I don’t think the Patriots need to have a fire sale (unless someone is willing to pay top price for an asset like Stephon Gilmore). A win against a struggling Pats team is still a win these Bills need.

The pick: Bills

Raiders at Browns

1 p.m., Sunday, FOX

The talk of Baker Mayfield getting better without Odell Beckham Jr. was asinine and we’re going to see why this week. Oakland’s defensive numbers aren’t impressive but they’ve faced Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, an MVP-level Josh Allen and a healthy Cam Newton. And I love the way Derek Carr is taking care of the football.

The pick: Raiders

The rest

Titans over Bengals

Lions over Colts

Packers over Vikings

Chiefs over Jets

Rams over Dolphins

Chargers over Broncos

Seahawks over 49ers

Saints over Bears

Eagles over Cowboys

Buccaneers over Giants

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