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Russell Wilson denies he asked for a trade, plus under-the-radar AFC players who could be 2021 stars

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Friday, June 11, 2021
After spending every day for the past six weeks talking about nothing but Aaron Rodgers, it's easy to forget that there was another quarterback this offseason who caused some drama of his own and that quarterback was Russell Wilson. 
Wilson spent a lot of time complaining about the Seahawks during a scorched earth media tour in February, but he hasn't really spoken with the media since then. However, that changed on Thursday. 
The Seahawks QB was finally put on the hot seat and we'll be covering that in today's newsletter. We'll also be predicting every game on the Ravens' schedule plus naming some under-the-radar players in the AFC who could be breakout stars in 2021. Aright, let's get to the rundown. 
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1. Today's show: Minicamp missing persons report 
By this time next week, every team in the NFL will have completed its mandatory minicamp and although minicamp isn't usually that exciting, there's definitely been some drama this year. The most notable drama is happening in Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers decided not to show up for camp. However, Rodgers wasn't the only player who decided to skip minicamp this year. 
There were several star players who skipped camp (or will be skipping camp), so we decided to talk about those players on Friday's episode of the Pick Six Podcast. The three players we focused on were Rodgers, Chandler Jones and Danielle Hunter, who all skipped minicamp for different reasons. 
  • Hunter: If Hunter decides to skip training camp in July, it might go down as the worst holdout of all-time. The Vikings pass-rusher will be skipping minicamp because he wants a new contract, but the problem is that he has zero leverage. For one, he has THREE years left on a contract that he just signed in 2018. Also, Hunter missed the ENTIRE 2020 season with a neck injury. Demanding a new contract after missing an entire season is a bold move that's probably not going to pay off. I'm not sure how this situation is going to end, but I doubt it ends with the Vikings giving him a new deal, which means Hunter is either going to show up for training camp or get traded. 
  • Jones: Like Hunter, Jones missed time last year due to injury, but unlike Hunter he didn't miss the entire season (he missed 11 games). Jones is going into the final year of his current deal, so it makes sense that he wants a new contract. If I'm the Cardinals, I'd try to give him a one- or two-year extension. That way I can see how well he's recovered from last year's injury, plus I can see how well he plays with J.J. Watt. If Jones looks healthy and he's an unstoppable tandem with Watt, then you can re-do his contract after 2021.
  • Rodgers: There were three of us on the podcast today and two of us don't think that Rodgers is going to show up for training camp. To find out who the optimistic person is, you'll have to listen to today's episode, which featured me, Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson. 
To listen to today's show -- and to follow the podcast -- be sure to click here
2. Russell Wilson denies that he ever requested a trade from the Seahawks 
Back in February, Russell Wilson went on a media tour and he spent a lot that tour talking about how frustrated he was with the Seahawks and the fact that he's being hit too much. Things got so bad that Wilson's agent actually released a list of four teams that the quarterback would be willing to play for if Seattle traded him (The teams were the Cowboys, Bears, Saints and Raiders). 
Although Wilson didn't deny that his agent made the list for him, he made it clear that he never actually requested a trade
"I did not request a trade. I've always wanted to play here," Wilson said. "The reality is, I think calls were getting thrown around and this and that, and I think that's just the reality, but at the end of the day the real reality is that I'm here, and I'm here to win, and I'm here to win it all."
So why make a list of teams that you want to be traded to if you didn't actually demand a trade? That's a great question and Wilson attempted to answer that. 
"Obviously, tons of teams were calling and I think that the reality was I didn't want to go anywhere else, I wanted to play in Seattle," Wilson said. "But if I had to go somewhere, these are the teams I would go to or consider. At the end of the day I have a no-trade clause, right?" 
Basically, what Wilson is trying to say is that he has a no-trade clause and if the Seahawks had decided to deal him after he publicly eviscerated the team in February, then the Broncos, Saints, Cowboys and Raiders are the only four teams he would have lifted his no-trade clause for. 
Based on everything that happened this offseason, the Seahawks kind of feel like a ticking time bomb that could blow up if the team gets off to a slow start in 2021, so they better not get off to a slow start. 
3. NFL Insider notes: The Saints could be BETTER with Jameis Winston
Thanks to the retirement of Drew Brees, most people are expecting the Saints to take at least a small step back this year since they'll have a new starting quarterback under center. However, you could also make the argument that New Orleans might actually be better in 2021 than they were last year. 
Over the past two years alone, the Saints were nearly unbeatable when Brees was out. The quarterback missed a total of nine games combined in 2019 and 2020 and the Saints went 8-1 in those games. 
You can count CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora in the group that thinks New Orleans might be better this year. In his weekly insider notes. JLC makes the case for why Jameis Winston could be a perfect fit for Sean Payton's offense. As La Canfora points out, the Saints basically stopped throwing downfield last year, which made it easy on opposing defenses who didn't have to worry about New Orleans trying to connect on the long ball. 
"In 2020, Brees was 14th in yards per attempt (7.54). Just 17 of his attempts traveled 15 yards or more, putting him 28th in the league. Just 28% of his passes went 10 yards or more, putting Brees 30th in the NFL, tucked between Tua Tagovailoa and Nick Mullins (yuck). Meanwhile, a staggering 24.2% of all of Brees's passes were at or behind the line of scrimmage, 29th in the NFL and in the same territory of at-the-end quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Over the last three years, Winston was behind only Aaron Rodgers in terms of percentage of his attempts going 20 yards or more in the air (Winston at 15.1% and Rodgers at 15.5%), while Brees ranks 38th at just 8% (just behind Cam Newton at 8.5%). Quite a dichotomy!"
In his story, La Canfora went even more in-depth on why Jameis could be a good fit, even though he's an interception machine, and you can check that out by clicking here. JLC also touched on the Chandler Jones situation and why owners should be pushing harder to make sure players get vaccinated. 
4. Predicting every game on the Ravens' 2021 schedule
Now that the month of June is here, that means the dead part of the NFL offseason is almost upon us and although things can get kind of boring during that period, we're going to keep things spicy around here by going through and predicting every game on each team's 2021 schedule. 
There are 32 teams and we'll be doing one team per day until we make it through every team. Today, we're going to head to the AFC North by taking a closer look at the Ravens. 
Our Tyler Sullivan went through Baltimore's entire schedule and picked out all the games they're going to win and all the games they're going to lose. Last season, the Ravens went 11-5, but it wasn't good enough to win the AFC North. 
With the Steelers looking vulnerable, can the Ravens overtake Pittsburgh and win the division?  
Here's a look at how Sullivan sees the Ravens doing in three key games: 
  • Week 1: Ravens at Raiders. "Derek Carr is still the man under center for Jon Gruden and I doubt he'll be able to keep up with Lamar Jackson and the rest of the Ravens offense as the club still feels like they are straddling the fence of trying to either contend or rebuild. Baltimore should be able to begin the year on a positive note with a win here." Prediction: Baltimore 24-20 over Las Vegas.  
  • Week 2: Chiefs at Ravens. "Facing Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on a short week isn't typically a recipe for success. In his three regular-season matchups against the Chiefs, Jackson's numbers are less than desirable. He's yet to win a contest and has completed just under 53% of his passes with a passer rating of 78.9." Prediction: Kansas City 30-23 over Baltimore. 
  • Week 18: Steelers at Ravens. "The Steelers may just be playing for pride at this point in the year, so there's a scenario where the motivation is lacking. Meanwhile, if the Ravens are in a position to secure the top seed, they'll be going all out to make sure they pull out a W." Prediction: Baltimore 24-17 over Pittsburgh.
Overall, Sullivan is predicting that the Ravens will end the season with a 12-5 record and if that happens, they'll easily be headed to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.  
If you want to see Sullivan's prediction for each game, click here to check out his entire story
5. Under-the-radar players in the AFC who could be 2021 stars 
Every year in the NFL, we see multiple players break out and become huge stars. One thing that's not easy is trying to predict who those breakout stars are going to be, but our Tyler Sullivan attempted to do that anyway.
Sullivan decided to go through every AFC team and pick out one under-the-radar player who could become a star in 2021. Let's check out a few players from his list: 
  • Ravens: WR Marquise Brown. "The Ravens receiver had a very strong end to his 2020 season, averaging over four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in his final six regular-season contests... If that continues, Brown could be on the verge of a career year as he enters his third-season in the NFL. It also doesn't hurt that the Ravens added Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman to the receiver unit to take some coverage off Brown."
  • Browns: TE Harrison Bryant. "Yes, this is a rather crowded position group in Cleveland with Austin Hooper and David Njoku also on the roster, but that didn't seem to stop Bryant from making an instant impact over his rookie campaign."
  • Patriots: RB J.J. Taylor. "New England's running back room is pretty crowded, but I expect second-year running back J.J. Taylor to carve out a more substantial role for himself in this backfield. When given the opportunity last season, Taylor was at times the most electrifying back on the Patriots roster."
  • Steelers: LB Alex Highsmith. "Bud Dupree is now a Titan and it looks like it will be Alex Highsmith who gets the luxury of starting opposite of T.J. Watt along Pittsburgh's front seven. Naturally, opposing offenses will be making it a priority to stop Watt, which then opens the door for Highsmith -- or anyone opposite him -- to see single coverage and possibly open avenues at the quarterback."
If you want to see the rest of Sullivan's list be sure to click here. As you'll notice, his list only consists of AFC players. We'll go through the list of under-the-radar players in the NFC on Monday.  
6. Rapid-fire roundup
It's been a busy 24 hours in the NFL and since it's nearly impossible to keep track of everything that has happened, I went ahead and put together a roundup for you. 
  • Johnathan Joseph retires: After 15 NFL seasons, the former first-round pick has decided to hang up his cleats for good. Joseph started his career with the Bengals in 2006 after Cincinnati made him the 24th overall pick in the draft. Joseph spent five seasons in Cincy before moving on to Houston, where he spent nine years. In 2020, the two-time Pro Bowler played for both the Titans and Cardinals. Joseph will finish his career with seven pick-sixes, which is tied for the 12th most in NFL history. 
  • Washington is apparently going to have a QB competition. After the Football Team signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, it seemed like the job would go to him, but not so fast. Coach Ron Rivera is going to let Fitzpatrick, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, and Steven Montez compete for the starting job. "It's going to be a good competition," Rivera said. "I look forward to it. It's going to push our football team and make our football team better."
  • Packers tight end suspended for two games. The Packers won't have Jace Sternberger for the first two weeks of the season after he was hit with a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Sternberger played in 12 games last year and caught 12 passes for 114 yards.  
  • Julio Jones explains meaning behind his new number. There was definitely some math involved when Julio decided to with No. 2, "I was like 'I'm just going to go with the No. 2,'" Jones said this week. "One plus one is two. Then two times 11 is 22, so it's kind of like you're going to have to deal with us." A.J. Brown has 11 and Derrick Henry has 22, so yea, that's definitely going to be a tough math problem for opposing defenses to figure out.  
  • Sean McVay seems thrilled with Matthew Stafford. The Rams coach has apparently had his happiest offseason ever and most of that had to do with the fact that his team pulled off a trade for the former Lions quarterback. "I think I've been very happy," McVay said. "Everybody says, 'Man, you just seem like you're in a better mood this offseason,' and I said, 'You're damn right I am.'" McVay would also like everyone to know that his comment was not meant to be a slight to Jared Goff. 
  • Kyler Murray still talking about playing baseball. After two years in the NFL, you'd think Murray would have given up on his baseball dream, but apparently, he's still having thoughts about playing multiple sports, "If the time came where I got to do what I wanted to do, which, I don't know, but I'm leaving it open ," Murray said. "I think I can still play, for sure, but we'll add the gaming on to that. Don't shortchange me, please." I'm guessing the Cardinals would prefer that he doesn't play baseball. Murray was the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and his rights are still owned by the Oakland A's. 

 
 
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