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Former NFL GMs weigh-in on quarterback market

Mike Tannenbaum and Rick Spielman dive into Lamar Jackson and Anthony Richardson

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Thanks to The 33rd Team, I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with former NFL general managers Mike Tannenbaum and Rick Spielman with the focus being on the aftermath of the NFL Combine and a preview of free agency. I made sure to ask and gather their thoughts on the quarterback market which, obviously, the Las Vegas Raiders will be big players in this offseason.

For those unaware, Tannenbaum served as the New York Jets general manager and senior vice president of football operations from 2006 to 2012 and was the executive vice president of football operations for the Miami Dolphins from 2015 to 2018. Spielman has been a general manager in the league twice, once for the Dolphins in 2004, and he enjoyed a 10-year stint as the Minnesota Vikings GM.

Below is some insight into how an NFL front office operates this time of year and a few takes on some of the Raiders’ quarterback options from a couple of guys who have been in Dave Ziegler’s shoes before. Plus, one question mixed in about the Saints' outlook with former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr under center.

Question: I think we all knew Anthony Richardson was going to test well at the combine, but I’m curious how, from a GM’s perspective, him putting together one of the best combines ever for the position changes the evaluation at all? Also, did you guys notice anything in his throwing sessions with his mechanics that help improve his accuracy and where he can get better, especially with his footwork?

RS: Anthony Richardson, when you watch the tape on him, there’s no question about the athletic skill set that you see on tape. My biggest question on him is the accuracy [and] the technical part. If I was in a draft room, and we were evaluating him, I would sure as heck talk to my position coach, the quarterbacks' coach and the offensive coordinator, [and ask] can [his] accuracy be improved?

My philosophy was it can be improved somewhat, and now Josh Allen is the exception to the rule. But how many exceptions to the rule will this happen?

The other thing is I just don’t know if [Richardson] is an athlete trying to play quarterback or is he a quarterback gets a really good athlete. And how quickly can he process, how quickly can he go through his progressions? All that stuff, I would really put him on the board and spend a lot of time with him to see where he is at with all this because you can’t teach what he has from a physical standpoint. But there’s been a lot of players that have great combines but somehow that doesn’t translate to a great NFL career.

So, I believe all the intelligence, the psychological testing, all the background stuff that and all that time [that teams put in] if you’re thinking about taking him,...that you got to make sure what you’re going to get. He may have the highest ceiling out of any one of these quarterbacks in this draft class, but I also think he may be potentially the biggest bust out of any of these quarterbacks in the draft class as well.

MT: One thing I like to add is, I think you need to have a plan with him. He was [105th out of 113 quarterbacks] this past year in completion percentage. With that said I’d still draft them in the first round. I just want to have a plan.

I think our sport has really gotten away from developing the quarterback. We saw what Jalen Hurts did, [and] we saw Geno Smith get better. We drafted Chad Pennington at the Jets and he sat for three years, he was third string. Aaron Rodgers played barely at all during his first couple of years in Green Bay, and I think you need to have a plan for Anthony Richardson that gives him a chance to be successful long-term.

NFL Combine
Anthony Richardson
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Q: What goes into drafting a quarterback that needs development like Anthony Richardson?

RS: Everything that we talked about and all the processes that everybody will go through to try to find out and dig down who Anthony Richardson is. But what you’re seeing in Chicago [and] what they did with Justin fields, offensive coordinators or head coaches that are willing to adjust their scheme according to the quarterback’s traits. Whether that is a lot of quarterback runs, whether that is just half-field reads, whatever they end up [doing] we can make this work, but we have to do this within our system in order for him to have success, which may be totally different than if you had someone else.

So I think the coordinators are going to fall in love with this guy. ...If I was a general manager, [I’d ask the coordinators], ‘How we’re going to make this work and how you’re going to adjust our scheme?’ Because if you’re going to think and you’re going to have to do three-, five-, or seven-step drops and just sit in the pocket and throw, that’s not what his game is. So what are we going to do to adjust our scheme to fit his style of play?

Q: What are your thoughts on the depth at quarterback in this class and drafting a quarterback in the later rounds?

RS: I think there are some sleepers in this draft in the later rounds. A kid that I think is a real sleeper is Jake Haener, the Fresno State kid, who may not be the biggest, most physically gifted kid, but he just has true grit and a passion for the game [with] how he plays it.

...You always got to try to take some swings at these quarterbacks on the third day to see if he could potentially hit. I mean, we saw San Francisco last year. No one expected Brock Purdy to do what he did. So as long as you kind of take some swings at these guys. Maybe you got a chance to find someone but you have to take a swing and to get a chance to find one.

Q: With the Lamar Jackson situation, we keep hearing all these teams saying they’re not interested in him. Is this just smoke and mirrors, or is this something that’s actually true? And why are teams not interested in him?

MT: I do think there are teams interested [in Jackson]. You know, people are talking about collusion, it’s way too premature to say that because free agency hasn’t even begun. It’d be like somebody accusing somebody of stealing our car that hasn’t even come off the assembly line yet. Like there may be collusion one day but free agency hasn’t begun yet.

What I would say is, Lamar has missed 10 games over the last two years. And I’m sure some teams are gonna be reticent of you know, him getting hurt again. So I do think as this plays out, there’ll be a team or two that takes a long look at him because he’s 26 years old and he’s a great player.

But candidly, when the Rams win the Superbowl couple of years ago, I think some teams were really looking at [them, and] while they’re doing it differently, it was successful. I think people are looking at what happened in Cleveland last year, you know, fully guaranteed contract and they didn’t have a good season. So I don’t think people are looking at [what Cleveland did] and saying: ‘We have to repeat that.’

I don’t know exactly what the offer was, but my sense is Baltimore put a really robust offer on the table. It just wasn’t fully guaranteed. So my sense of it is I think there’ll be a team or two that will look at him at some point. But what we saw [on Wednesday], and I’m curious to get Rick’s point on this too, is like take Atlanta. I think when they [leaked they were out on Jackson], I think they were speaking to Desmond Ridder.

Sometimes you use the media to send a message. I think the message they were saying is, ‘Desmond Ridder, you’re our guy.’ The way you do that is sometimes you’ve got to speak through the media. I think that’s part of what the noise was.

RS: You have to remember, this is all just business and it makes it even more difficult when you’re dealing with a contract directly with a player without representation. If he had an agent, maybe it wouldn’t have gotten to this position.

Baltimore’s [thought process] is, ‘Okay, we’ve tried for a year and a half or two years to try to come up with a fair market value deal’. I’m sure like Mike referred to, he is at the top of the market, but somehow they can’t bridge the gap and you got to be very careful when you’re talking to a player of this magnitude and your quarterback in the face of your franchise. You can’t okay say, ‘Hey listen, you miss whatever 10 games last two years, we can’t fully guarantee your contract,’ because then it becomes personal.

But I think what Baltimore is doing is very easy. Let’s put him out there. To me, he’s worth more than two ones. You look at what Denver did to go get Russell Wilson, that should be at least the market for Lamar Jackson, but [the Ravens] put [Jackson] out there.

...[From another team’s perspective] if I’m looking [at] Lamar Jackson, we can put all this time and energy into trying to put this contract together. But we’re still not guaranteed we’re going to get the player because all has Baltimore to do is, ‘Hey, you do the work. And we’ll just match what the hell you do.’ It doesn’t make a difference.

The other thing too is, as Mike said, free agency doesn’t start [until next week] so you can’t do an official trade until Wednesday anyway. So I think teams that may have an interest in him if they’re going to allocate the amount of resources that it’s going to take to do a contract with Lamar Jackson, and they have that set in their budget, and all of a sudden Baltimore comes in and just matches it and you’re like, five days into free agency. All of sudden you may lose out on some other players that you would have wanted to go get, but you had all your financial resources tied up in that Lamar Jackson contract.

...So there’s going to be a lot of things and moving parts that go on between now [and when he signs]. Let’s say one of these teams doesn’t get a quarterback they want in the draft. And there are still a lot of quarterback-needy teams out there. What makes you think that this is just done right now? [A trade] could happen also after the draft before the deadline on signing day a free agent tender, so there is a lot of time and a lot of things that could potentially happen.

...But I think teams are not afraid of the Lamar Jackson thing. They’re more afraid of tying up our resources and doing all this work. It’d be a lot easier if a team that was interested in Lamar Jackson to talk to an agent.

So there are a lot of other things I think people are not understanding, all the hurdles that have to go through this. You have the team that doesn’t want to lose their franchise quarterback that will do whatever it takes to keep the franchise quarterback, but they can’t get to a deal.

Derek Carr
Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Q: How do you guys view the New Orleans Saints now that they’ve acquired Derek Carr?

MT: I love that signing. Derek reunites with Dennis Allen, the [former] head coach of the Raiders. They have a really underrated player in Juwan Johnson where things are really under the radar sort of emerging player at tight end. Chris Olave I think has a chance to be a [No. 1 wide receiver].

Now they have to sort out Michael Thomas, obviously, from a production and cap standpoint, and whether or not he wants to be there. But if [Alvin] Kamara gets somehow escapes a meaningful suspension with what he’s dealing with, I think that can be a really good offense.

I have a lot of respect for Mickey Loomis I know Rick does too. ...He’s done a remarkable job because every year, you know, this is the [year they] are they going to be kept in jail and I think Mickey does a really good job of balancing that. Sometimes he’ll borrow a first-round pick from another year which is a little bit beyond my comfort zone, but it’s worked for him. With Derek Carr, they’ll be in the thick of things again in the NFC South.

RS: If they were in a different division, maybe [the move would be viewed differently] because that was probably the weakest division last year. ...So I think when they made the Derek Carr move, that they went, ‘Okay, we still can compete and if we get Carr in here we can go win the NFC South and we can get into the playoffs, and let’s see what happens’.

...Mickey’s done a fantastic job, figuring out how to stay out of cap hell or cap jail, but eventually, they got to have to do something where it’s gotta get reset. So I think because of the division they’re in, because of the team they have, which is a veteran team, and you put Derek Carr’s mindset going into this year, [the organization is thinking], ‘Hey, we still got a good enough team to get in here. Let’s win the NFC South, and let’s see where it goes from here.’