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2024 NFL offseason notebook: Brock Purdy still disrespected; why Titans could be surprise playoff contender

The draft is done. Free agency has quieted. The schedule is on the way. It’s time to look ahead in the NFL, with training camps and the 2024 season next to approach. So let’s unpack a little Friday notebook, with some new and lingering thoughts on spicy quarterback situations and a potential sleeper for the new year:

Have we not learned our Mr. Irrelevant lesson?

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We dropped our first post-draft edition of 2024 Quarterback Power Rankings this week, and easily the most divisive choice was slotting Brock Purdy at No. 2, behind only Patrick Mahomes. Let me start by saying these pecking orders never satisfy everyone, and that makes total sense, because it all depends on your criteria. If I’m starting an NFL team tomorrow, for example, of course I’d rather have the physical gifts of, say, Josh Allen. And, yes, maybe Kyle Shanahan would rather have Josh Allen as the San Francisco 49ers‘ quarterback. Imagine what a signal-caller like Allen might do there, with all those weapons and all that favorable scheming.

And to that, I say: Look at what Purdy has already done there. Everyone can claim they’re tired of Purdy’s “Mr. Irrelevant” label, but it seems there is still a sizable faction of folks who believe, consciously or not, that Purdy is still irrelevant, at least in the elite-quarterback conversation, for the simple reason he plays for a good team. Comparing him to Jimmy Garoppolo or other Shanahan products also holds only so much weight, because Garoppolo was never this efficient, this mobile, this resilient, this durable, especially at such an early stage of his career. Would Purdy be who he is if he started with the Houston Texans? Maybe not. But he can’t control that. He is who he is, and unlike the Allens and Lamar Jacksons of the world, he’s already had a real hand in his club reaching the ultimate stage.

What more do fans want from Purdy? Fifty touchdowns instead of 31? An 80% completion rate instead of 69%? Two rings instead of two NFC title-game appearances in two NFL seasons? A trade request from the 49ers, so he can prove he’s not solely a byproduct of the Shanahan system? I get the arguments. I, too, believe others may have more transcendent skill sets. But it’s not like Purdy is some flat-footed pocket statue, either. He makes plays off-script. In big spots. And he’s only 24, entering Year 3. If, for whatever reason, he can’t sustain his veteran poise and production, he’ll appropriately slide in the rankings. Until then? I think the 49ers are pretty happy to have him.

Nashville could be home to a sleeping Titan

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Every team gets a little too much hype in the offseason. But if you’re looking for a surprise contender to emerge from the shadows, take a peek at what’s going on over in Tennessee. Initially, general manager Ran Carthon’s offseason choices had me scratching my head: More than $20 million per year for a 29-year-old Calvin Ridley? Top-10 running back money for Tony Pollard? The headlines felt more appropriate for the year 2020. But then came L’Jarius Sneed at corner. Lloyd Cushenberry on the interior. A first-round splash at tackle, with JC Latham.

Suddenly, in a single offseason, the Titans look as if they may have gone from bumbling rebuild to quietly competitive. The best part: They’re not wasting time giving young quarterback Will Levis an ample supporting cast. Is Levis the answer? That’s unclear. But the rugged bulldozer was promising in limited action as a rookie, and now, unlike, say, Justin Fields with the Chicago Bears, he can at least rest easy knowing he’s entering a full-season audition with proven assets up front, out wide and on the sidelines, where former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan should be able to infuse some added passing efficiency.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have the pieces to be tough again. The Houston Texans are a rightful darling to many, doing their own splashy tweaking around C.J. Stroud. But who’s to say the Titans can’t vault themselves right back into the wild-card picture, finally unburdened from the old-school Ryan Tannehill era?

Quarterback competition? Follow the breadcrumbs in Pittsburgh

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The Steelers went against character by trading patience for proactive action at quarterback this offseason, and many have understandably lauded them for securing not one but two low-risk, high-reward options in Russell Wilson and Justin Fields. But how are we to assess the competition for the top job? On one hand, coach Mike Tomlin has long exercised restraint, and he’s already talked up Wilson’s NFL experience while admitting the veteran is in “pole position” for QB1 duties. On the other, Pittsburgh’s unusually aggressive 2024 suggests a riskier, albeit more enticing, signal-caller like Fields could have a cleaner path to the field.

At the end of the day, though, I feel Wilson is a relatively safe bet to be under center Week 1, barring injury. The Steelers are perpetually in win-now mode, or at least don’t-lose-now mode. Tomlin isn’t a pushover part of the decision-making process in this organization, and he’s probably telling the truth about Wilson’s established feel for the game. There’s also general manager Omar Khan’s admission that the Steelers never anticipated acquiring Fields, at least until exiled former first-rounder Kenny Pickett made a reported stink over Wilson’s fast ascent to “pole position.” That means the Steelers originally intended for Wilson to be the Pickett alternative.

Put it this way: Are the Steelers more likely to open the year with Fields, a more mercurial NFL passer, and later turn to Wilson, who has 188 career starts, to save their season? Or are they more likely to start with Wilson, preserving the 25-year-old Fields as a “break glass in case of emergency” scenario, potentially buying more time for the current regime in the event the Wilson bet — and the 2024 season — goes south in a hurry? Count me in for the latter. Could Fields be integrated sooner, in other ways? I could certainly see that. But in terms of a Week 1 starting quarterback, signs point to the former Super Bowl champion getting the nod.

Four more downs

  • Confusion in Jacksonville: Jaguars coach Doug Pederson isn’t committing to a play-caller for the 2024 season after previously hinting he might reclaim the role from offensive coordinator Press Taylor. This may or may not be cause for concern after such an erratic 2023 showing from Trevor Lawrence and Co. Remember that Pederson previously split with the Philadelphia Eagles over his reported loyalty to Taylor, even as his once-vaunted offense grew stale there.
  • Joe Burrow is right: The Cincinnati Bengals star recently floated the idea of the NFL creating a “Pro Bowl Week,” a la the NBA’s All-Star break, in the event of a future 18-game regular-season schedule. This would enable all 32 teams to enjoy a second bye, all at the same time. The concept sounds foolproof, to be honest. Plus, it would allow the NFL to better market its fading all-star product.
  • A note on other competitions: We addressed the Steelers earlier. But I think it’s also safe to say that basically any team hosting an actual quarterback competition involving a veteran is bound to start multiple signal-callers in 2024. Think the Las Vegas Raiders with Aidan O’Connell and Gardner Minshew. Even the New England Patriots with Jacoby Brissett and Drake Maye. Odds are, when one guy isn’t definitively good enough to secure a Day 1 job, more than one will end up playing anyway.
  • Panthers hitting the ground running: New coach Dave Canales just revealed “the intent of our offense is to run the ball.” Which may signal to some a lessening of trust in last year’s No. 1 pick, quarterback Bryce Young. That’s a reach. Some of the game’s best signal-callers grow, or sustain excellence, by having something as simple as real ground support. Besides, after beefing up the interior with expensive guard additions, Carolina is better built to play ball control, too.

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