It’s the opening day of the 2019 NFL season and all three state teams will have home games. Off of three losing seasons a year ago, two of them, the Bucs and Dolphins, will be debuting new coaching staffs.
First in Jacksonville, the Jaguars will take on the defending AFC West champions the Kansas City Chiefs and their electrifying quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. This should be a fascinating matchup of the Chiefs high-powered passing attack against one of the better defenses in the NFL. Led by Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars will give the Chiefs a true test.
On offense, Jacksonville has welcomed in free agent quarterback Nick Foles to get their past game going. As we wrote earlier this week, he’s been bothered by a slight abdominal injury and it remains to be seen if he is healthy enough to be effective for the entire opening game.
A guy that does appear to be healthy for the first time in a long time in NFL regular season is running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette battled a hamstring injury for most of last year’s 5 – 11 season, but if he is ready to roll, then it will greatly help the Jaguar chances.
Next, in Miami, it’s the first game for brand new NFL coach Brian Flores (above). After spending over a decade as a defensive assistant with the New England Patriots, Flores takes over what will be a more than challenging situation in year one.
First, the Dolphins have to figure out their quarterbacking future. For now they will go with longtime veteran or Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the opener with the Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium. However, the team would like to see newly-acquired second-year quarterback and former first-round pick up the Cardinals, Josh Rosen become the guy. Rosen might see action as soon as Sunday, depending if the veteran Fitzpatrick struggles.
The expectations have been lowered greatly in South Florida after Flores and GM Chris Grier have stripped the roster of almost all high-priced veteran players. Gone are the names Ryan Tannehill, Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, Danny Amendola, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Kiko Alonso. All of those players were either released or traded away this offseason.
Clearly, the Dolphins have their eyes on being better in 2020 and 2021, but the real danger is just how much losing will go on this season before it gets to that?
It will probably be the Dolphins biggest key to try to neutralize former South Florida high school and Louisville Heisman winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Jackson helped lead the Ravens to the AFC North title going 6 – 1 as a starter down the stretch of last season and played so impressively that the team Delta wave former Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco in the off-season.
Whether Miami can contain Jackson with their young and experienced defense, may end up deciding this one.
Finally, the Buccaneers will also welcome in a new coaching staff. Bruce Arians is the fifth new head coach in eight Tampa Bay seasons. He brings a winning pedigree from the Arizona Cardinals and has primarily been brought in, along with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, to get more consistent play out of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston and the Bucs should be familiar with their opening-day opponent the 49ers, especially after beating San Francisco in late November of last season at home.
Tampa Bay has installed a new 3 – 4 defense with coordinator Todd Bowles and they now must be ready for the 49ers to welcome back Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from his season-ending knee injury a year ago.
The Bucs are counting heavily on a rookie first-round pick middle linebacker Devin White and free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to help add to their defense. Suh replaces six Time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy after the very popular player on and off the field was released in a salary cap move by the team earlier in the offseason.
The Buccaneers have high hopes that Arians can turn them around like he did the Cardinals, where they won 10 games in his first season in the “Valley of the Sun.”
Dolphins “limbo game” with QB Josh Rosen remains
The Dolphins continue to do their diligence on the possible drafting of a franchise type quarterback that they may be able to get their hands on in the upcoming in April. However, there remains a looming question with what to do with the former first-round pick QB that they acquired last April.
Josh Rosen remains, for now, part of the Dolphins plans, yet, even his biggest supporters have to concede ,that Rosen is likely “the odd man out” should Miami take one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
That’s because GM Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores are obviously committed to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. We know this because Fitzpatrick not only rallied the team for several wins down the stretch of the season, but that Miami has also gone and hired Fitzpatrick’s former offensive coordinator and head coach at two of his other stops, Chan Gailey for this season.
That’s not something that the Dolphins brass did lightly, and it foreshadows that Fitzpatrick will likely be the quarterback that they begin the regular season with, just as they did in 2019.
So, where exactly does that leave Rosen, who played very little last year, but has a salary cap friendly contract?
It likely means that he’s only “an insurance policy” that could be dropped at any point for very little salary cap ramifications.
We wrote near the end of last season that it did not make any sense that Miami wasn’t at least giving Rosen game action and some live reps in games last December, if only to see once and for all, if they could develop him into a quarterback for the future?
Obviously, the Dolphins spoke loudly with their actions, and by not even playing Rosen in any of the last seven games, they were indicating he’s expendable.
Dolphins beat writer for the Miami Herald Armando Salguero wrote Wednesday morning about Rosen situation, but shed very little light on what his actual future is. This is primarily because whether it’s Salguero, other media or anyone else not named Flores/Grier, they don’t know for sure what Rosen’s immediate, much less longer range, 2020 future is.
Sure, they could hang on to Rosen through the offseason and have him try to compete for playing time.
But, that seems to be a futile exercise if the Fins have already made up their mind that Fitzpatrick will start the year. And then, you’re drafting a rookie quarterback drafting a rookie quarterback, again to potentially be the future of the franchise.
Then again, Fitzpatrick is 37 years old and could break down physically along the way, well before the start of next season. So, keeping Rosen as that insurance policy along with the rookie Miami likely drafts, isn’t the worst idea.
However, for now, the 23 year old former UCLA star is in limbo.
And, for all we know, he could be cut to begin free agency coming up.
Certainly not giving Rosen a start in any of the last 11 games on an awful team is a clear indication that Grier and Flores didn’t believe in him. This after acquiring him and watching him all offseason, preseason and in the games that he did play.
We now await their next move with Rosen, and certainly, he does, too.
Stafford trade rumor reminder Dolphins better be ready to trade up
On Thursday morning a report surfaced that the Lions, who are currently slated to pick third in April’s NFL Draft, were actively looking to trade former Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Stafford. And, while that report has now been debunked, for teams like the Dolphins sitting in the fifth Spot, this is reminder of their reality of what could happen if someone jumps in front of them, in particular for a QB.
First, the report surfaced late Wednesday night from a local Detroit TV station that their sports reporter/anchor had learned that the Lions were looking for a trade partner for the 11-year veteran Stafford:
Sources: Lions in trade talks to deal Matthew Stafford https://t.co/1lH2yRxGZx
— Local 4 WDIV Detroit (@Local4News) February 13, 2020
That report was quickly squashed by lions GM Bob Quinn and numerous NFL media reporters and salary cap experts pointed out that Stafford’s cap hit would be a massive $32 million dollars, if he is traded or released this season.
So it’s not likely, no matter how bad the situation is with the Lions, the Stafford is going anywhere.
But, that doesn’t mean that the Redskins, who are picking second and the Giants were picking 4th after the Lions and obviously both before the Dolphins at five, aren’t going to also be in the market to listen to trade offers for their picks.
This is, because Washington seems to be committed, for now with a new head coach and Ron Rivera, to last year’s first round quarterback pick, Dwayne Haskins
And likewise, the Giants have obviously made a commitment to their number one pick up last year, Daniel Jones. This after 2 time Super Bowl winning veteran quarterback Eli Manning announced his retirement, recently.
So, both NFC East teams appear to be targets, if a team (including the Dolphins) would look to try to increase their draft position.
This is in particular if that team were interested in the second best quarterback available in the draft, which is likely Alabama Tua Tagovailoa.
As was reported earlier this week, Tagovailoa is on schedule to heal from a fractured hip suffered last November in Alabama’s game with Mississippi State. While Tua won workout at the NFL combine later this month, it’s believed that he would likely work out for teams Alabama facility later in March or April.
One final factor in favor of the Dolphins and GM Chris Grier: they have some trade capital, including extra first-round pick this year and next year, with which the potentially move up if they so desire.
It’s all part of the evaluation process and then, the drama of what the teams at the top of the first round will look to do later this Spring.
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