As if the NFL needed more reasons for people to tune into the first Sunday Night Football game of the 2021 season, having already set the stage for it being the first game at SoFi Stadium with fans in attendance, the first game of Matthew Stafford’s career with the Los Angeles Rams, and an opportunity to watch perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, and Jalen Ramsey, there’s also the matter of following the league’s most-tracked quarterback “competition” of the summer.
The word competition won’t be in quotes when the Los Angeles Rams host the Chicago Bears on September 12th — Donald’ll knock the quotes out of ya faster than Edgar Allen Poe if you doubt that — but I use them to refer to Matt Nagy’s decision between Andy Dalton and Justin Fields as the starting quarterback because the only people who seem to even believe the job is up for grabs is: most members of the media and most NFL fans.
If you listen to any of the words coming from Nagy, Dalton, and Fields, there hasn’t been a competition at all.
When the Rams host the Bears in a little less than three weeks, Stafford will be facing off against a familiar former foe from the NFC North, and Dalton will be making his 143rd career start, and his first with Chicago. In April, the Bears traded up from 20 to 11 so that they could make Fields the fourth quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, and general manager Ryan Pace made it clear that Dalton would continue to be the starter.
“Andy is our starter, and we’re gonna have a really good plan in place to develop Justin and do what’s best for our organization and win games.”
In June, Nagy went on The Cris Collinsworth Podcast and reiterated the message that has been sent all along: “Andy is our starter.” On ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy, he even stated that Fields “can’t” win the job. It’s Dalton’s.
In the beginning of August, Nagy began to turn a corner and changed his min— Just kidding, he said that Andy Dalton would be the starter and that Fields accepted and understood that. That makes Justin Fields appear to have a lot more awareness of reality than many who write about Justin Fields.
Through the first week of training camp, everyone at Bears camp seemed pleased and confident with Dalton as the starter, saying he had “full control of the offense” and that he already knows so many things that Fields has yet to learn.
“Just literally when he first stepped in here you could feel a difference in the huddle,” (Bears receiver Darnell) Mooney said. “Just in his experience, the way he moves around.
“Like when he first came in, everybody is getting the different plays, we knew that he didn’t know it already, but the way he moved around he was like ‘Yeah, I’ve been running these plays with you guys for a while’. It just seemed like that.”
It’s not as though questions from the media or fans was ever going to change based on Nagy, Dalton, Pace, and Fields’s comments however, and the head coach was asked again after the first preseason game if Dalton was going to be the Week 1 starter. “It is the case.”
Then there was a second preseason game and rather than using a rare opportunity to ask the head coach of the Bears about players who will start, or things that are likely to happen in the beginning of the season, the focus was again on why Justin Fields wouldn’t be the Week 1 starter. Nagy had to say it again: “We need to see (Dalton) in the regular season.”
Bears’ HC Matt Nagy reiterated today that Bears’ QB Andy Dalton will start Week 1 at Los Angeles against the Rams, saying: “We need to see him in the regular season.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 21, 2021
While it might seem like a normal thing for an NFL team’s head coach to get guff from the local media or the team’s fans about starting a below-average veteran quarterback over a first round rookie, what’s made the Chicago situation so strange is that it seems like out of nowhere there are a bunch of pseudo “Bears fans” who suddenly seem to care what Matt Nagy does in Week 1.
That includes Dan Orlovsky, the former Lions quarterback/guy who made these comments on The Pat McAfee Show in April:
“I have heard that he is a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback,” Orlovsky told McAfee. “Like, not the maniacal work ethic . . . Where is his desire to be a great quarterback?”
Perhaps unprepared for the backlash he would face for literally just repeating something he heard, Orlovsky immediately walked back those comments and has since been the biggest Justin Fields fan in the world, highlighting that the Bears should choose Fields for his “intelligence” rather than Dalton’s “experience.”
Because, I guess, Dan Orlovsky believes Dalton isn’t intelligent?
Where you been the last decade Dude?— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) August 21, 2021
I didn’t know Orlovsky was so personally invested in the success of the Chicago Bears, but I guess he did play for the Detroit Lions for seven years so he’s just used to seeing them win.
Justin Fields wins the starting QB job today— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) August 21, 2021
I can’t say that I’ve seen such a groundswell of support and concern for why Mac Jones needs to start over Cam Newton. I don’t see media members chiming in nearly this often in support of Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater or Gardner Minshew or Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston or Davis Mills or Taylor Heinecke. And you don’t see any veteran quarterbacks treated as poorly as Dalton has been treated over the last month, including Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Darnold, and Tyrod Taylor, three of the least inspiring starters in the NFL.
You will, however, see plenty of support for the idea that Kyle Shanahan should start Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo despite Lance only having 318 FCS pass attempts in the last three years. But because Garoppolo went to the Super Bowl less than three years ago, he’s going to get a lot more support from his teammates and fans than what Dalton will receive during his first year in Chicago.
Which is understandable from Bears fans who’ve noticed the situation at quarterback over the last 102 years.
But I don’t quite understand it from other parts of the world. I thought that Mac Jones should have been the number three pick and I assure you that I have yet to care who wins the starting quarterback job with the New England Patriots.
And that’s actually a competition.
Per sources, there is a level of frustration internally with the Cam Newton situation. One important member of the organization believes this has "opened" a window of opportunity for rookie Mac Jones. The team practices today and then with the NYG tomorrow b4 Newton can return.— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) August 24, 2021
So who will be starting Week 1 for all 32 teams? I thought I’d lay out my best guess based on the information we have as of today.
They’re starting (24): Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, Ryan Tannehill, Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr, Justin Herbert, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Daniel Jones, Dak Prescott, Jalen Hurts, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Tom Brady, Sam Darnold, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray.
I think they’re starting (6): Tyrod Taylor*, Trevor Lawrence, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, Jimmy Garoppolo
He’s opened the door for Mac Jones by landing on the COVID-19 reserve list this week (1): Cam Newton
Injured, but likely starting (1): Carson Wentz
The only question I really have left is who will win the job with the Denver Broncos. Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock have both had their moments in August, but neither has looked like a playoff caliber quarterback in the NFL, even if Bridgewater did go to the playoffs with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015. The Broncos will hope to have a supporting cast and defense that can carry either quarterback to 10 or 11 wins in the AFC West, and that tells me that Bridgewater might be Vic Fangio’s final choice.
Onto the rest of the NFL, as it relates to the LA Rams.
Carson Wentz returns to practice for Colts, should start vs Rams in Week 2
With Dalton set to be LA’s first quarterback opponent in Week 1, the Rams will have an opportunity to double-dip against QBs who switched teams in 2021 by facing the Indianapolis Colts and Carson Wentz in Week 2. That’s looking more likely after Wentz returned to practice on Monday, a few weeks after surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot.
The timeline for Wentz’s return was set at 5-12 weeks and so far it looks like Wentz will hit the short end of that very normal range of potential time missed.
The Colts sent a conditional first round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Wentz in the offseason and so far have been led by rookie sixth round pick Sam Ehlinger and 2020 fourth round pick Jacob Eason in training camp. Thus far, Ehlinger would appear to be the leader in the clubhouse to start against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 if Wentz isn’t ready to go, but that’s seeming more unnecessary by the day.
The Rams will face Tom Brady in Week 3.
Why the Arizona Cardinals might have the third-best quarterback in the division
As mentioned in the intro, the San Francisco 49ers are holding a real quarterback competition between veteran Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance. At first, I thought it was highly unlikely that Lance would be named as a Week 1 starter given that he’s barely played any games above the high school level — and he’s played zero career games above the Division-II FCS level — but after attending the 49ers-Chargers joint practice last Friday, I am not so sure.
Except it’s not because Trey Lance looked too good to keep off the field.
It’s because neither Garoppolo nor Lance looked good enough to keep on it.
Speaking of on it, Kyle Shanahan will need to swallow all of his Alpha Brain pills before choosing a starter because 2021 feels like the most unpredictable Niners season since he left the Falcons at Super Bowl halftime and moved to San Francisco.
In 2017, the 49ers were much worse than expected.
In 2018, the 49ers were much worse than expected.
In 2019, the 49ers were much better than expected.
In 2020, the 49ers were much worse than expected.
Other than adding a quarterback who is most likely set to be the backup, and losing arguably their most important coaches on offense and defense, the 49ers aren’t set to enter the season looking much different than they did a year ago. They have a healthy Nick Bosa today, just as they had a healthy Nick Bosa going into 2020. If anything, Bosa was healthier a year ago.
The Cardinals are the most obvious team in the division to slot into the four-spot in predictions, but one thing that seems apparent right now is that Kyler Murray has a higher probability of success this year than Garoppolo and Lance. Murray has plenty left to prove but Arizona managed an 8-8 record in his second season and Murray improved his numbers across the board last season. Now he has A.J. Green and Rondale Moore to complement DeAndre Hopkins, and the middle of the offensive line was stabilized by the acquisition of Rodney Hudson at center.
I don’t know that I would call the Cardinals a playoff sleeper like some have, but they have at least one advantage over the Niners and despite what they say about Murray, it isn’t a small one.
The injuries to Cam Akers and Raymond Calais — and potentially Darrell Henderson — make it all but certain that the Rams will have to seriously consider adding a running back to the roster before Week 1. This is not necessarily bad news for Otis Anderson, but instead maybe for a player at another position on the roster.
If Anderson was never going to make it, then he wasn’t ever going to make it. But if LA needs to keep Henderson on the 53-man roster knowing full well that he will miss a period of games to start the season, then the Rams might need to add a temporary running back at the cost of losing a receiver or a defensive player or an offensive lineman who was about to make final cuts as a special teamer or a developmental prospect.
One potential veteran on the market could be Saints running back Latavius Murray, who seems to have fallen behind Tony Jones, Jr. as the main complement to Alvin Kamara. New Orleans also added Devonta Freeman in the offseason, making Murray even more expendable at final cuts.
There just might be some substance to the Latavius Murray getting cut talk. Sean Payton saying Tony Jones Jr is the Saints RB2. Murray could be a needle mover landing somewhere like Atlanta, or perhaps the Rams now with Henderson banged up.— Brandon Murchison (@RotoSuperstar) August 24, 2021
While Murray may not be an “exciting” option, those types of players were already spoken for months ago and years ago. The Rams have been criticized in the past for drafting too many running backs, but at this point it seems as though Les Snead didn’t do enough.
LA drafted Tutu Atwell with the 57th pick in the draft this year, and no running back was picked after that until the San Francisco 49ers selected Trey Sermon at 88. The 49ers traded up to 88 to select Sermon. The team they dealt with?
The LA Rams.
This is to say absolutely nothing about whether the Rams made the “right” or “wrong” decision, I have no care to judge and their careers have yet to begin, it’s simply an observation of an alternate universe: the Rams could have drafted Trey Sermon without having to sacrifice the picks for Atwell and Ernest Jones.
They would also have still been able to draft Jacob Harris; it really might have come down to a decision between Bobby Brown III or Robert Rochell, had LA opted to select any player at 88.
But that’s just a useless fantasy for wasting time. The reality is that the Rams need help at running back, it might cost a player if any of them sit out Week 1, and the market is probably going to start to get hot with a few other teams also on the look now.
Geno Atkins entering the NFC West?
Seattle signed tight end Luke Willson on Tuesday, making Monday’s workout with former Bengals DT Geno Atkins even more curious. It seems that after releasing Aldon Smith last week, the Seahawks aren’t necessarily finished with looking for veteran defensive line help with they begin play this season.
I'm told free agent DT Geno Atkins worked out well for the #Seahawks already today and that at this point it's up to him and how much, per source.— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) August 23, 2021
Josina Anderson notes that Seattle’s just waiting to hear back from Geno. The Rams travel to face the Seahawks in Week 5, making their first NFC West meeting about seven weeks away.
A Week 1 starting right tackle from 2020 is now on waivers
A fifth round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2017, Jermaine Eluemunor got two starts at right guard during his rookie season. He was not, however, protected in 2018, getting placed on the practice squad, then a year later was traded to the Patriots for a sixth round pick.
Eluemunor re-signed as a restricted free agent in 2020 and was named as the team’s starting right tackle to open last season and he finished the year with eight starts: Weeks 1, 2, 3, 5, 11, 12, 13, and 16.
Not retained by New England this year, Eluemunor signed with the Miami Dolphins in June but was unable to emerge from that pile of offensive linemen to find a place on the 53-man roster; the Dolphins released him on Tuesday.
Roster Moves | We have released OL Jermaine Eluemunor and WR Isaiah Ford, waived/injured WR Robert Foster and placed WR Lynn Bowden Jr. on injured reserve.— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) August 24, 2021
What does this mean to the Rams? Well, these days it seems like veteran journeyman offensive linemen are getting treated like brand new draft prospects. They’re all full of “potential and possibility” up until the moment they make it into your practice.
In spite of needs at offensive line, Eluemunor has not found homes in Baltimore, New England, or Miami. Will he next place be the right fit or is there not a right fit to be found?
Travis Etienne out for season
Tests results today revealed that Jaguars’ rookie RB Travis Etienne suffered a mid-foot sprain that is Lisfranc that now is likely to end his season, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 24, 2021
Jacksonville was dead set on drafting Etienne in the first round this year but got terrible news on Tuesday when they learned that the rookie suffered a Lisfran injury in practice and will be out for the entire year. The news means that second-year running back James Robinson, free agent signee Carlos Hyde, and promising depth piece Dare Ogunbowale are all that much more important to the Jaguars right now.
Which means that Robinson and Ogunbowale are definitely not going to be available to LA at any point to help with their own Cam Akers absence. It also could mean that the Jags are going to be more competition for any available running backs who do hit the free agent, waiver, or trade market.
Eddy Pineiro - Kicked out
The Colts had one of the NFL’s top kickers last season in rookie Rodrigo Blankenship, so it is no surprise as to why they cut Eddy Pineiro on Tuesday.
Colts are waiving kicker Eddy Pineiro, per source, meaning Rodrigo Blankenship wins Indy’s kicking job. Pineiro did not miss a kick this preseason and could draw interest on waivers with some teams struggling at kicker right now.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 24, 2021
But Pineiro has reportedly looked like a legit kicker through training camp and preseason and the soon-to-be 26-year-old might not be a free agent for long. Or at all, assuming he’s picked up on waivers.
Pineiro spent the entire 2019 season with the Bears, making 23-of-28 field goals and 27-of-29 extra points. However, he was just 3-of-7 from between 40-49 yards, while seemingly having no issues beyond 50. Could he be the “kicker that gets away” from the teams who don’t acquire?
Waters run deep at Rivers Lake
Thanks to Reddit for pointing out that Chargers fans have commandeered the body of water by SoFi Stadium by naming it ‘Rivers Lake’.
Chargers fans chose a lake because they couldn’t name a tree after Philip Rivers, since trees have rings.
New Movie of the Week - Reminiscence
My ‘New Movie of the Week’ will not always be a recommendation. I’m finding that will be impossible unless I start looking at movies that came out a long time ago, and therefore are not new. Reminiscence is not a movie I would recommendiscence. It’s pretty bad. I ended up watching the first half and then reading the rest of the plot on Wikipedia and it turned out I was right about all of the plot twists ahead — which I think 80% of audience members could have guessed anyway.