Neil Reynolds' Preseason Mailbag

With training camps opening across the United States next week, I thought now would be a good time to give you a sneak peek at a column I am very much looking forward to writing every Friday during the upcoming season.

Each week from the start of September, I will be answering your questions on a variety of NFL topics. In this week's bonus edition, the questions suggest that quarterbacks are very much on your minds as the training camp action gets set to kick off.

Could Sam Darnold follow Teddy Bridgewater out of Carolina when the race begins to sign Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson? – Tom Marshall.

All bets are off for a great many incumbent quarterbacks around the league if those three were undisputedly available and the trigger only needed to be pulled in order to initiate a trade. It's still incredible to me that three of the very best in the game today are not happy with their lot and could be playing elsewhere in 2022, if not at some point in 2021.

To specifically address your raising of Sam Darnold in Carolina, I think he could be on his way out of the door in 2022 if he doesn't play well this season, regardless of the alternative options on the table.

The Panthers did pick up the fifth-year option for Darnold, meaning he is under contract for 2022; but he still has much to prove. Since entering the NFL in 2018, Darnold has completed 59.8 percent of his passes and has a rating of 78.6 – both are league lows during that time period.

Carolina are full of confidence and ambition and plan to build something special under owner David Tepper and head coach Matt Rhule. Once they have their squad competitive, they won't want to hang around for an under-achieving quarterback. So, this is a very big year for Darnold.

Can Fitzmagic get to the playoffs with the Washington Football Team? – Higher Green Chris.

I'm feeling confident that Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to grace the playoffs for the first time in his nomadic NFL career as he suits up for his ninth team.

Fitz has highs and lows as a quarterback, but I feel like he is going to offer more of an offensive spark than last year's collection of passers. And there is some intriguing young talent around him. Terry McLaurin is a stud at receiver and will be joined by versatile chess piece Curtis Samuel.

Add in Logan Thomas at tight end (72 catches in 2020) and running back J.D. McKissic (80 catches last season) and the passing game looks promising. I also think Antonio Gibson has the tools to be a high-end running back. Tack on the excellent coaching of Ron Rivera and one of the best defenses in the NFL and it should be more than enough for Fitz to punch his postseason ticket… at last!

Andy Dalton has been named the starting QB for the Chicago Bears. Do you see him having the quality to keep it that way or do you think that Justin Fields will come in to take over the reins partway through the season? – Notorious CMG.

I am surprised at how strongly Matt Nagy has reiterated – time and again – that Andy Dalton is his starter. Why not let the guys battle it out during training camp, especially given the high investment made in Justin Fields?

At this stage of his career, we know what Dalton is… but we also know what he isn't. He is a Steady Eddie who is going to be the safe opening day option. But he most definitely has a ceiling and I'm not sure how much he can drive forward a Chicago attack that needs an injection of excitement and enthusiasm.

Now, we don't know what Nagy knows when it comes to these two passers. It could be that Fields is struggling with the playbook or at reading defenses and Dalton is the more trusted of the two. We just don't know.

What I do know is that such an argument is not going to fly with the fans in Chicago. They are going to be clamouring for Fields from day one and I would expect him to assume the starting role by mid-October. The Bears are going to turn it over to him at some point, so why not let him learn on the job this season?

Matthew Stafford for MVP? – Jack Crutchley.

Let's pump those brakes just a little bit, Jack! But I certainly share your enthusiasm when it comes to the prospect of Matthew Stafford working with Sean McVay at the Rams. I think that pair is capable of producing something special.

The offense has already taken a hit with running back Cam Akers going down with a torn Achilles on the eve of training camp, but I still have the Rams as one of the front-runners in the NFC.

Stafford has played with some good and even great receivers in Detroit, but he has never had this wealth of offensive talent and coaching around him that he will enjoy in Los Angeles. And McVay has already realized that his current quarterback has a lot more moxie and arm talent than his previous one.

Can you share your thoughts on the future of NFL preseason games? Will the NFL go further and seek an 18-game season, pushing the preseason out altogether? – Charles Elder.

It is increasingly obvious that preseason games do not offer up anything near the product we are used to seeing come the regular season. My belief is that we will eventually get to an 18-game regular season with an extra bye week thrown into the equation.

I often wonder about the declining value of preseason games. When I was a teenage fan attending American Bowl games at Wembley Stadium in the late 1980s, you would see Dan Marino or Joe Montana for a quarter and then they would retire to the bench. Later in those preseasons, Marino and Montana would play at least one game in which they were on the field for three quarters. That rarely happens now and we can often go entire preseasons without key veterans taking a single snap.

Coaches still stress the need for preseason games and I agree with them as a tool for evaluating young or on-the-bubble players. But we didn't need four and I doubt we need three. I think we will settle on two preseason games and see a lot more combined training camp practices which are becoming more common with each passing year.

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