PFR Polls

Poll: How Will 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo Saga Conclude?

Since the Rams held off the No. 6-seeded 49ers to advance to Super Bowl LVI, the NFC’s second-place finisher has not made a secret of its plans with its four-plus-year starting quarterback. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have said a Jimmy Garoppolo trade will be the likely conclusion for this relationship.

Now that we are in July, when Garoppolo is expected to be cleared to throw again following his right shoulder surgery in March, more news surrounding this trade saga figures to emerge. Because Garoppolo’s procedure changed his trade market, Baker Mayfield rumors have been far more commonplace than rumblings of a Garoppolo deal. But the 49ers are planning to make an aggressive push here, to the point the team will let the 30-year-old passer discuss his through-2022 contract with other teams ahead of a trade.

The Panthers and Seahawks loom as the most obvious landing spots for the Super Bowl LIV starter, but clear barriers exist blocking those avenues. Although Carolina has been discussing Mayfield with Cleveland for months, the team not believed to be interested in trading for Garoppolo.

The $24.2MM salary has long been a non-starter for the Panthers, who have some degree of doubt about Garoppolo’s injuries and are carrying a fully guaranteed $18.9MM Sam Darnold salary. Garoppolo missed most of 2018 with an ACL tear, was sidelined for much of 2020 with ankle trouble, and battled calf, thumb and shoulder maladies last season. In his lone 49ers season without a notable injury (2019), Garoppolo finished 12th in QBR. The shoulder ailment hijacked a trade market the 49ers hoped would yield a Day 2 pick to one in which NFL insiders expect San Francisco to eventually cut bait rather than risk Garoppolo’s salary becoming guaranteed come Week 1.

Although precedent exists for intra-division QB trades, with the 2010 Donovan McNabb Philadelphia-to-Washington swap being a fairly recent example, it is difficult to envision the 49ers dealing Garoppolo to the Seahawks. Considering Seattle’s issue with Mayfield’s $18.9MM salary, it is also hard to imagine the team signing off on acquiring Garoppolo without a considerable contract adjustment. Still, Garoppolo making it to free agency — especially in a reality in which the Browns and Panthers agree on a Mayfield deal — opens the door to the longtime NFC West arm moving to Seattle. The Drew LockGeno Smith battle will continue into training camp, but the Seahawks going with either is a significant risk for a team that enjoyed tremendous QB security for a decade.

Other teams could lurk. The Browns are about to learn Deshaun Watson‘s punishment. If disciplinary officer Sue Robinson hands the embattled passer a lengthy suspension, or the NFL powers through with its desire for a full-season ban on appeal, would Cleveland make a play for Garoppolo? The Browns could adjust Garoppolo’s salary, dangling the carrot of the ninth-year veteran boosting his 2023 free agency prospects by playing behind a strong offensive line with a top-tier backfield. Considering where the Browns-Mayfield relationship stands, a move to acquire another veteran — in the event a Watson suspension long enough shakes the team’s faith in Jacoby Brissett — makes sense.

The Texans have also been connected to Garoppolo, whose Patriots tenure overlapped with Nick Caserio‘s. The second-year Houston GM has not been shy about acquiring middling veterans on short-term deals. But a Garoppolo arrival would affect Davis Mills‘ development. The 49ers waiting for a potential training camp injury changing Garoppolo’s market — similar to Sam Bradford‘s in 2016 — should be on the table as well.

While Shanahan and Lynch view a trade as the goal, both said keeping the passer is in play. Jed York also cited, in a historically extreme example, the 49ers’ former Joe MontanaSteve Young partnership — which ran from 1987-92, just before the salary cap era — as evidence Garoppolo and Trey Lance can play together for a second season.

The 49ers could certainly benefit from Garoppolo sticking around to push Lance. San Francisco stands to be an NFC contender, and Lance injects uncertainty into its signal-caller situation. But the team is eyeing a Deebo Samuel extension and sits 30th in cap space ($4.9MM). Lance struggling in camp and in the preseason could force the 49ers to keep Garoppolo and table extensions for Samuel and Nick Bosa — the latter of which the team appears willing to push to 2023 — but the team is currently preparing to move forward with the 2021 top-three pick.

What will be the Garoppolo 2022 endgame? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.

Poll: How Should Panthers Proceed At QB?

Without a long-term quarterback plan since injuries began to keep Cam Newton off the field, the Panthers have attempted to land big fish at the position for a bit. But they have been unable to do so, leaving the team with a major question at the game’s premier position in a rather important year for Matt Rhule.

Carolina made serious efforts to trade for Matthew Stafford, offering a first-round pick and change, and Deshaun Watson, whom the team was linked to for over a year. Neither panned out, with the Rams swooping in late for a player who has since become a Super Bowl-winning QB. Although the Falcons were believed to be the second-place finishers for Watson, the Panthers also balked at the $230MM guarantee the Browns authorized. An inquiry into Russell Wilson‘s status went nowhere, with the longtime Seahawks QB prioritizing a Denver move.

The Panthers still have Sam Darnold, whom they acquired for three draft choices — including a second-round pick — last year. Darnold, 25, struggled through an injury-interrupted 2021 season, putting his status as Carolina’s 2022 QB in doubt. But the Panthers, upon trading for the former Jets top-three pick, exercised the scuffling passer’s fifth-year option. Darnold is guaranteed $18.9MM this year, and Rhule has praised his work this offseason.

The primary reason for the frequent Carolina-centric headlines this offseason, Baker Mayfield, 27, remains on the team’s radar. An early report this offseason indicated neither the Panthers nor Mayfield were on-board with a trade that moved the former No. 1 overall pick to Charlotte, but the NFC South team has come around. The Panthers have been by far the team most closely connected to Mayfield, having engaged with the Browns in trade talks during the draft and resuming them recently.

How Mayfield’s fully guaranteed $18.9MM salary would be divvied up would seem a somewhat minor hiccup, at least compared to the prospect of making a QB upgrade, but that component has stalled the talks for several weeks. The Browns were believed to offering to pay barely $3MM of Mayfield’s salary during the mid-draft talks, but they have since upped that figure to around $10MM. The Panthers have wanted the Browns to pay nearly $14MM of the figure. Cleveland holds the NFL’s most cap space, with Carolina at No. 2. It would seemingly benefit the Panthers to make this deal soon to give Mayfield as much time as possible to learn Ben McAdoo‘s playbook, and the Seahawks are lurking in the event Mayfield is cut.

Jimmy Garoppolo looms as an option as well, but Carolina is not believed to be interested in trading for him. The four-plus-year 49ers starter is tied to a $26.9MM base salary — one that becomes fully guaranteed in Week 1. The Panthers would be interested if the 49ers cut him, though the 30-year-old passer is coming off a three-injury season — one culminating with a throwing-shoulder surgery that paused his trade market.

Teams can certainly hold out to see if the 49ers — who have Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa extensions on their docket but hold little in cap space — blink on Garoppolo’s salary ahead of his guarantee vesting. But the Panthers waiting that long runs the risk of Garoppolo not joining the team until just before the regular season. That would not put him in good position to succeed. Although frequently scrutinized, Garoppolo did rank 12th in QBR in 2019. That Super Bowl-qualifying campaign also marked his only healthy season in the past four.

Ranking 29th in 2021 QBR, Darnold trailed a hobbled Mayfield (27th) last season. Mayfield’s best QBR season (2020, when he ranked 10th) outpaces Darnold’s by a notable margin. A 25th-place finish in 2019 is Darnold’s best mark, and although he has not been given a favorable draw in four seasons, the USC product teeters on the bust cliff. That said, Mayfield’s 2020 is the outlier in his past three seasons, a span that included a 2019 regression and the injury-plagued 2021 that is leading him out of Cleveland.

The Panthers have outfitted Darnold with a better offensive line this year, and a healthy Christian McCaffrey would make a difference. But are Darnold (or third-rounder Matt Corral, who profiles as a longer-term project) and healthy versions of Mayfield and Garoppolo close enough in ability to venture into training camp without Carolina making a move? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.

Poll: How Will Ravens’ Lamar Jackson Negotiations End?

Since the 2011 CBA reshaped rookie contracts and extension windows, Lamar Jackson is traversing one of the most original paths of any rookie-deal player. While Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott laid the groundwork for quarterback patience leading to bigger deals down the road, Jackson is a former first-round pick — thus delaying this process — and proceeding without an agent.

The fifth-year quarterback resumed extension talks with the Ravens this week. This saga veered into new territory this offseason, when Steve Bisciotti, Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh all indicated Jackson was not prioritizing an extension. The former MVP echoed his usual pro-Baltimore comments this week by saying he expects to finish his career with the Ravens. Even for Jackson to play into his late 20s with the team, some significant business must be completed.

While the 25-year-old star QB is coming off a down year — at least compared to his stratospheric 2019 and solid 2020 — he still made his second Pro Bowl. Despite throwing a career-high 13 interceptions (in just 12 starts), Jackson has seen Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson change the quarterback market by reeling in Patrick Mahomes less than two years after his market-reshaping extension.

Watson’s contract — an unprecedented five-year, $230MM deal that came fully guaranteed — stands to play a role in Jackson’s talks with the Ravens, Kyler Murray‘s with the Cardinals, and pertain to other standout QBs soon up for extensions. Teams will try to treat Watson’s deal as an outlier. Players and agents will not. Jackson said, not in so many words, Watson’s Browns extension is not factoring into his approach with the Ravens, via The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec (subscription required).

In speaking to the media for the first time in five months, the Jackson also kept most of his plans close to his vest by using versions of the phrase “we’re in conversations” eight times during his minicamp-wrapping availability session. His non-answer regarding playing this season on his rookie deal — a $23MM fifth-year option sum — was notable. So is the fact he remains on his rookie pact after being extension-eligible for 18 months. This differs wildly from Murray’s blueprint, with the Cardinals’ dual-threat QB wanting a deal ahead of his fourth season. Most modern-era first-round QBs have followed Murray’s path.

Is Jackson’s patience wise? It is difficult to judge his tactics when it is not known what the Ravens are offering. A November 2021 report indicated Jackson was gunning for a Mahomes-level $45MM-per-year contract, while the Ravens were not there. With Watson’s fully guaranteed $46MM-AAV pact coming to pass four months later, Jackson is in a strong position to cash in now. Waiting worked for Prescott, who saw 2016 draft classmates Carson Wentz and Jared Goff sign their extensions in 2019. The Cowboys starter waited until the 2021 March tag deadline to ink a far more lucrative deal (four years, $160MM; $95MM fully guaranteed).

Making the Ravens face the threat of a QB franchise tag price (approximately $35MM) clogging their 2023 payroll could provide Jackson more leverage, but not cashing in now could also hurt his value. Jackson finished 17th in QBR last season — down from first in 2019 and seventh in 2020 — and became a superstar mostly because of his gifts as a runner. The NFL’s single-season QB rushing yardage record holder suffered a sprained ankle that ended his 2021 season early. A 2022 Ravens edition thinner at wide receiver does not figure to reduce Jackson’s run-game involvement much. Jackson’s 615 carries through four seasons are 148 more than any other quarterback in NFL history compiled to that point, with Cam Newton in second. Newton’s shorter-than-expected prime could serve as a warning for Jackson.

Then again, Prescott suffered a severe ankle malady during his 2020 franchise tag season and cashed in months later. The Ravens extended Joe Flacco following his fifth season — by far his most notable, with a Super Bowl XLVII-winning run leading to a then-QB-record deal — but that re-up backfired. Bisciotti already mentioned the Cousins route (two tags and a free agency bid), raising the stakes for these negotiations. As could be expected, the Ravens are not presently entertaining a Jackson trade, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com notes. If this saga begins down the Prescott path, would the team bail before it approaches the Cousins stage?

How and when will this saga end? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Which AFC Team Had Best Offseason?

Due to a flurry of additions, the 2022 AFC presents a crowded competition for playoff and Super Bowl LVII access. Some of the top-tier teams addressed key weaknesses, and several middle-class squads took big swings in respective aims to improve their chances this season.

The fallout paints a picture in which barely any AFCers can be truly counted out for playoff contention. Future Hall of Famers, potential Canton inductees, and Pro Bowlers moving from the NFC — along with various intra-AFC changes — have made for one of the most captivating offseasons in modern NFL annals. While the offseason is not yet complete, most of the acquisition dominoes ahead of training camp have fallen. Which team did the best work?

With Russell Wilson joining the Broncos, the AFC West’s Wilson-Patrick MahomesDerek CarrJustin Herbert quartet appears of the great quarterback armadas any division has fielded in the five-plus-decade divisional era. The Broncos gave up two first-round selections in a five-pick deal but were able to hang onto their young receivers. Denver, which moved to a younger coaching staff headed by first-time HC Nathaniel Hackett and two rookie coordinators, also added defenders Randy Gregory and D.J. Jones. Going from the Teddy BridgewaterDrew Lock combo to Wilson represents one of the top gains any team made this offseason, but Denver’s divisional competition will not make improvement easy.

Entering the final year in which Herbert must be tied to his rookie contract, the Chargers addressed several needs. They added defensive help in free agency, via J.C. Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day, and traded second- and sixth-round picks for Khalil Mack. The team also extended Mike Williams at $20MM per year — days before the wide receiver market dramatically shifted — and drafted right guard Zion Johnson in Round 1.

The Raiders were partially responsible for the wideout market’s explosion, trading first- and second-round picks for Davante Adams and extending him at $28MM per year. That came shortly after the team’s Chandler Jones addition. Las Vegas’ Josh McDanielsDave Ziegler regime has greenlit extensions for Reggie McKenzie– and Jon Gruden-era holdovers — from Carr to Maxx Crosby to Hunter Renfrow. Will a Darren Waller deal follow?

Of last season’s conference kingpins, the Chiefs and Titans endured the biggest losses. Hill and Tyrann Mathieu‘s exits will test the six-time reigning AFC West champs, while last year’s No. 1 seed balked at a monster A.J. Brown extension by trading him to the Eagles for a package headlined by a 2022 first-rounder. Both teams did address some needs early in the draft, but the Bengals and Bills look to have definitively improved their rosters.

Cincinnati augmented its bottom-tier offensive line by signing La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. The defending AFC champions retained almost their entire defense, though Jessie Bates is not especially happy on the franchise tag. Buffalo reloaded as well, adding Von Miller to a defensive line that has lacked a top-end pass rusher for a while. The team swapped out ex-UDFA Levi Wallace for first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam, and James Cook is the Bills’ highest running back draftee since C.J. Spiller 12 years ago. How significant will the Brian Daboll-for-Ken Dorsey OC swap be?

Although Cincy’s AFC North competition made improvements, some caveats come with them. The Ravens filled their center and right tackle spots, with first-rounder Tyler Linderbaum and veteran Morgan Moses, and are now flush with safeties following the arrivals of Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton. But Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson situation has reached a strange stage, with the top three Ravens power brokers indicating the former MVP has not shown extension interest. Cleveland landed Amari Cooper for Day 3 draft capital and, on paper, rivaled Denver’s QB upgrade. Historic draft compensation and a shocking $230MM guarantee was required for the Browns to pull it off. But their Deshaun Watson trade has generated considerable drama — to the point the ex-Texans Pro Bowler cannot be considered a lock to play in 2022.

Oddsmakers do not expect the Jaguars’ moves to translate to 2022 contention, but the team did hire a former Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson and spend wildly for lineup upgrades — from Christian Kirk to Brandon Scherff to Foye Oluokun — and used two first-round picks (Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd) to further upgrade its defense. Going from Urban Meyer to Pederson should offer stability to a franchise that has lacked it, never more so than in 2021.

The Jets chased big-name receivers for weeks but came away with Garrett Wilson in a highly praised three-first-rounder draft. New York’s last-ranked defense now has new pieces in first-rounders Sauce Gardner and Jermaine Johnson, along with DBs Jordan Whitehead and D.J. Reed. Miami made a stunning coaching change by firing Brian Flores, which produced a tidal wave of controversy, but the now-Mike McDaniel-led team also paid up for splashy additions in Hill and Terron Armstead while retaining steady edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah.

Are there other teams that warrant mention here? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on the new-look AFC in the comments section.

Poll: Which Rookie QB Will Make Most Starts In 2022?

As players widely linked to first-round destinations fell into the third, the long run of skepticism about this year’s quarterback class manifested itself. While this was the lowest-rated quarterback crop since at least the 2013 class, a few of these passers have paths to early playing time.

Russell Wilson‘s rapid rise notwithstanding, third-round QBs do not have an extensive track record for extended QB1 run as rookies. Only six non-Wilson Round 3 QBs (Joe Ferguson, Mike Glennon, Chris Chandler, Davis Mills, John Hadl and Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton) made at least 10 starts as rookies. (Wilson is the only third-round QB to start a full season.) The bar is low for the likes of Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis and Matt Corral, but they each landed in interesting situations.

Conversations around starter promotions for this year’s class must first include Kenny Pickett, who ended up going 54 spots before the next quarterback came off the board. The Pittsburgh alum, who will turn 24 next month, was a four-year starter at the ACC school. Pickett’s NFL entrance looks similar to new teammate Mitchell Trubisky‘s. The No. 2 overall choice in 2017, Trubisky unseated Glennon after the latter signed with the Bears that offseason. A value gap between being picked second and 20th certainly exists, but the Steelers clearly have Pickett penciled in as their long-term preference.

Four of the five QBs taken in last year’s first round were full-time starters by September, while three of the four 2020 first-rounders moved to the top depth chart position by October. The Steelers bumped 2004 No. 11 overall pick Ben Roethlisberger into their lineup in Week 3 of his rookie year, following a Tommy Maddox injury. How eager will they be to put Pickett out there? Trubisky has 50 career starts to his credit, and the oft-maligned Bears draftee rebuilt his value in Buffalo — to some degree — to create a bit of a market in March. A Trubisky-Mason Rudolph depth chart adds some fuel to a scenario in which Pickett waits a bit before taking the reins.

The second quarterback chosen this year, Ridder joins a Falcons team amid a full-scale rebuild. This is a similar situation to the one Mills walked into in Houston. Ridder started four seasons at Cincinnati, topping it off by helping the Bearcats become the first Group of Five team invited to the College Football Playoff. Marcus Mariota resides as Atlanta’s stopgap starter, and while Ridder’s No. 74 overall draft slot does not mandate a lengthy look as the team’s long-term arm, Mariota has not made it past October as a starter since 2018.

The former Arthur Smith Titans pupil would stand to buy Ridder time in a low-expectations season post-Matt Ryan, but Ridder has a clear path to an extended look — if he proves worthy in the coming months.

Willis’ tumble doubled as one of the modern draft’s most notable freefalls. Linked to teams in the top half of the first round, the Liberty prospect fell to No. 86, when the Titans traded up for him. Of the top QBs taken this year, Willis seemingly has the best chance for a full-on redshirt. Ryan Tannehill has not seen his job threatened since taking over for Mariota midway through the 2019 slate, though the Titans have featured one of the lowest-profile QB2 situations since Mariota left for Las Vegas.

Willis’ all-around skillset, which allowed the Auburn transfer to nearly put up a 3,000-1,000 season during a year in which he accounted for 40 touchdowns, will make things interesting for Tennessee — if the Titans struggle after losing a few key offensive starters.

Perhaps the biggest wild card here, Corral resides on a Panthers team that spent the past two offseasons trying to made a big quarterback splash. Sam Darnold still represents Carolina’s projected Week 1 starter, unless the team finally decides to acquire Baker Mayfield. The Panthers have balked at trading for the disgruntled Browns QB for several weeks, due to his $18.9MM fully guaranteed contract. Darnold and Corral’s performance this offseason may well determine if Mayfield ends up a Panther, with Matt Rhule on the hot seat and Darnold showing little — albeit behind a bad offensive line — in 2021. Corral finished last season with a 20-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio, adding 11 rushing scores, and led Ole Miss to its first major bowl game in six years.

Which quarterback will make the most starts for his team this season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Acquire Baker Mayfield?

Nearly two months have passed since Baker Mayfield made his trade request. The Browns engaged in trade talks with the Panthers during the draft, but the sides did not come particularly close to a deal. As the team begins its Deshaun Watson era, its previous starter waits to learn his next NFL destination.

The Browns wanted to wanted to trade their four-year starter quickly, but the quarterback market soon featured few potential takers. It became clear a low-level return was to be expected, and to even recoup that, the Browns will have to eat a chunk of Mayfield’s $18.9MM fifth-year option salary. This has caused Cleveland to hold tight, and The Athletic’s Zac Jackson notes the Browns are prepared to ride this out to potentially wait to see if an injury forces a team to reconsider Mayfield in an emergency circumstance (subscription required). The Browns will excuse Mayfield from their June minicamp, if necessary, allowing the QB to satisfy his attendance requirements toward his 2022 salary.

Cutting Mayfield now would benefit him. He is locked into that $18.9MM salary, which would become Browns dead money, and have his pick of teams — perhaps as a chance to prove himself ahead of an intriguing 2023 free agency bid — from which to choose. The longer this impasse goes, the more Mayfield will be limited regarding assimilation with his next team. If the Browns are truly intent on waiting for a training camp injury to change the equation — a la Teddy Bridgewater in 2016 or Ryan Tannehill in 2017 — that will not go over well with Mayfield’s camp.

The Panthers have a fifth-year option salary on their quarterback depth chart, in Sam Darnold, but Mayfield has outperformed his draft classmate. Carolina would probably pounce if Mayfield hit free agency, but the team wanted Cleveland to pick up most of Mayfield’s salary to facilitate a trade. The Panthers then traded up for Matt Corral in Round 3. Mayfield, who led the Browns to their first playoff win since 1994, would undoubtedly give the 2022 Panthers a better chance to win compared to Darnold or Corral — Robby Anderson‘s thoughts on the matter notwithstanding — and USA Today’s Josina Anderson tweets the Panthers have not closed the book here. Carolina also holds the league’s most cap space, at $29MM-plus.

Mentioned as a Mayfield suitor earlier this offseason, the Seahawks are holding a Drew LockGeno Smith competition. Seattle, which also resisted selecting a QB in the draft, is not planning to trade for a passer. This is also a team that would certainly take a hard look at Mayfield in free agency, but if Pete Carroll‘s persistent Lock praise is to be believed, the Seahawks’ post-Russell Wilson plan is to let two 2021 backups vie for the job.

The Texans loom as Mayfield monitors. They did not draft a quarterback and have 2021 third-rounder Davis Mills positioned to start. While Watson’s ex-employer was not interested in taking Mayfield as part of that trade, the prospect of the Browns eating much of his 2022 salary changed the equation. Mayfield’s arrival would throw a wrench into Mills’ development, and Houston does not appear prepared to compete for a playoff spot in a stacked AFC. But the disgruntled vet, once healthy, would represent an upgrade opportunity. Of course, so would fellow trade-block resident Jimmy Garoppolo, who has close ties to GM Nick Caserio from their New England days.

The rebuilding Falcons used a third-round pick on Desmond Ridder but have only Marcus Mariota as a placeholder. If Daniel Jones fails to impress the new Giants regime this offseason, would they look into Mayfield? Barring injuries, are there other teams that would make sense? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Acquire Jimmy Garoppolo?

Jimmy Garoppolo‘s end-of-season comments point to a departure from the 49ers, who have Trey Lance readying to start in 2022. San Francisco’s four-plus-season starter indicated a trade could happen soon. Regardless of the statuses of Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, Garoppolo looms as an upgrade option for certain teams.

Possible blockbusters involving Rodgers and Wilson, along with what happens with Deshaun Watson, complicate matters on this year’s quarterback market. So will an underwhelming rookie crop. Will AFC teams eyeing Rodgers or Wilson be willing to make an early move for Garoppolo, or will they end up waiting out the higher-profile (and more expensive) options?

Garoppolo, 30, has battled several injuries since becoming a starter, but the 49ers going 2-for-2 in NFC championship berths during seasons in which their QB1 was largely available probably cannot be ignored. Garoppolo holds a no-trade clause and is seeking a team prepared to compete, further complicating matters.

In the NFC, Washington has continued to strike out on long-term QB acquisitions and did not make such a move last year. Washington did try, via a Matthew Stafford offer, prior to signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Commanders have Taylor Heinicke signed for 2022 — at just a $2.9MM cap hit — but will almost certainly acquire a veteran or use a first-round pick on a quarterback. The Commanders are also set to carry more than $31MM in cap space, putting them among the league’s top 10. Garoppolo’s through-2022 contract calls for a $24.2MM base salary next season, though his ’22 cap hit could be lowered via an extension agreement.

The Panthers saw their QB situation deteriorate to the point Matt Rhule‘s job was in jeopardy, and Sam Darnold is on Carolina’s books at a fully guaranteed $18.9MM in 2022. Carolina could also loom for Watson. The embattled Texans quarterback is not believed to have waived his no-trade clause for the Panthers, but they were prepared to make a strong offer prior to the Pro Bowler’s off-field trouble surfacing. If the Dolphins are truly off the Watson market, the Panthers would seemingly re-emerge as perhaps his top suitor.

Tom Brady‘s retirement puts the Buccaneers in play, and early odds place Tampa Bay as one of the most likely teams to acquire Garoppolo. The 49ers quarterback, who is coming off a season in which he ranked 13th in QBR, following his former Patriots teammate would certainly make for an interesting scenario. A Garoppolo extension would be necessary for the Bucs, who have nearly half their starting lineup set for free agency. Even without that contingent on the payroll, the Bucs are projected to be barely $5MM under the cap.

Having not solidified a Drew Brees successor yet, the Saints can be also considered a candidate. Their cap situation, per usual, is not in good shape. New Orleans is entering a second straight offseason more than $75MM over the cap. The team made this work last year but did not have a franchise-QB salary factoring into the equation, with Jameis Winston signing for backup-level dough.

The Steelers should also be considered the mix as a Garoppolo suitor. Although Pittsburgh extended Mason Rudolph, it is difficult to view the former third-round pick as a viable Ben Roethlisberger successor. Still, the early offseason word pointed to the Steelers avoiding the veteran-QB market. But a veteran would make sense given the makeup of an experienced Steelers defense. The Steelers are also armed with far more cap space than they had in 2021, being set to hold more than $30MM.

The Broncos are probably the most interesting team here, given their connection to Rodgers. A late-season amendment on potential Wilson destinations also included Denver. The team that has needed a quarterback for six years could attempt to pry Kirk Cousins away from the Vikings, considering GM George Paton‘s previous run as Minnesota’s assistant GM. Garoppolo, however, has experience in the type of offense Nathaniel Hackett is set to install. Any Denver Garoppolo offer would surely be withheld until it is known Rodgers is off the table.

As of now, the Browns are prepared to keep Baker Mayfield for his fifth-year option season. Are there any other sleeper teams to monitor here? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Be The Steelers’ Next Starting QB?

One of the biggest talking points in Pittsburgh right now, of course, is the uncertainty the team is facing at the quarterback position. With it all-but guaranteed that Ben Roethlisberger has played his final snap in the NFL, the central focus of HC Mike Tomlin‘s end-of-season press conference was the team’s plans to replace him. 

As Tomlin said, “all options are on the table” with respect to finding a new signal-caller. He expressed a level of “excitement” about the process, which could include any combination of free agency, trades and the draft. Let’s look at some of their options in each capacity:

First off, the team’s in-house options need to be considered. Mason Rudolph is the only QB with a contract for 2022, but Dwayne Haskins could easily be brought back as well. The former has been with the team since being drafted in the third round in 2019, making 10 total starts. His overall play has been inconsistent and underwhelming, though, which prompted the team to bring in Haskins last year. The 2019 first-rounder crashed out of Washington and has only made 13 starts in his three-year career. Tomlin left the door open for each to “establish themselves” going forward.

As for free agency, the team is positioned to have an unusually high degree of flexibility. With over $30MM in projected cap space and not many impact UFAs to sign, the Steelers could add a veteran without much issue. The two best options on that front, however, are likely Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater. Winston’s second season in New Orleans – and first as the starter – came to an abrupt end with a torn ACL after just seven games. He would probably offer more upside, if healthy, in 2022 than Bridgewater, whose first year in Denver saw him essentially match his career numbers and confirm himself as a low-end starter. Pittsburgh, or any other QB-needy team could still do worse in free agency than the consistent 29-year-old, though.

As for the trade market, bigger names – but much more uncertainty – are involved. Veterans Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are names frequently thrown around in trade speculation, and the Steelers may be able to afford taking on their contracts if they so desired. However, the former has recently made comments that are a far cry from his trade request made last year. As for Wilson, meanwhile, the team has just decided to keep most of its front office and coaching staff in place, and has no plans to trade the seven-time Pro Bowler. The biggest x-factor in the QB market, of course, is Deshaun Watson. The Texans are indeed looking to move the 26-year-old, but there has yet to be a resolution with respect to his ongoing sexual misconduct allegations.

Some other veterans are being mentioned as trade candidates as well. Established starters who are set to enter the final year of their contracts include Kirk CousinsDerek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo. The cap hits of those respective deals cover quite a range, which will play a role in how easy they are to move. In the case of Cousins and Carr, new head coaches and general managers will ultimately decide whether to re-commit to them, or look elsewhere for replacements and make them expendable. For Garoppolo, it has been widely known for quite a while that the franchise is ready to move on to 2021 first-rounder Trey Lance.

The final avenue is the 2022 NFL Draft. This year’s QB class is generally seen as underwhelming, and there is no clear-cut, can’t-miss type of prospect as there has been in recent years. One of the top options is Kenny Pickett from the University of Pittsburgh, who many regard as the most complete – perhaps safest – option. Other names include Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and UNC’s Sam Howell, both of whom took their programs to new heights with hugely productive careers. Smaller-school options include Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, who led his team to an unprecedented CFP semifinal appearance, and Liberty’s Malik Willis, who, while very raw, may have the best overall physical traits in the class.

Tomlin made a point in stressing the need for mobility in the new QB, which may lend itself to a draftee being given the reins. In his first mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Steelers selecting Corral 20th overall. Meanwhile, the Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Pittsburgh taking Howell with that same pick in his latest mock.

One factor to keep in mind is the recent news that offensive coordinator Matt Canada is expected to be back in 2022. The new quarterback – whomever it ends up being – will be tasked with trying to fully implement his scheme, something that the team struggled to do in Roethlisberger’s final year.

Let us know who you think will be the Steelers’ Week 1 starter in 2022 below.

 

Will Matt Nagy Coach The Bears in 2022?

Out of all the tenuous coaching situations throughout the NFL, the one in Chicago may be the most interesting. Matt Nagy has displayed enough during his tenure as head coach of the Bears that a case can be made either way for the team to keep him or move on at the end of the season. 

After being hired in 2018, Nagy helped the team to an impressive 12-4 record, earning himself Coach of the Year honors. Back-to-back 8-8 seasons followed, however, including a six game losing streak in 2020. While the Bears made it to the playoffs that year — the second trip to the postseason in three campaigns under Nagy — things have not gone nearly as well in 2021. Another five-game skid has contributed to a 4-9 overall record, and uncertainty about his job security came to a head as recently as Thanksgiving.

Cause for optimism came in April in the form of Justin Fields being drafted 11th overall as the latest attempt to solidify the quarterback position. The former Buckeye represented not only a potential upgrade over Mitch Trubiskybut a lifeline for Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. With enough signs of franchise potential – if not results in the win-loss column along the way – there would be an argument to be made in favor of keeping the coach-quarterback relationship together at least one more year.

Things haven’t been stellar for Fields or the Bears in 2021, though. In and out of the lineup with injuries, and splitting the starting job with free agent signing Andy Dalton, Fields currently has a record of 2-7. While he has shown flashes with his legs in particular, posting 385 rushing yards and two touchdowns averaging just under six yards per attempt, he has struggled in the passing game. His completion percentage (57.6%), touchdown-to-interception ratio (six to 10) and 33 sacks taken are some of statistics that are evidence of a struggling offense, much of the blame for which has been laid at Nagy’s feet.

Have your say below regarding Nagy’s coaching future in Chicago (link for app users):

Poll: Who Will Win The AFC West?

The race for the AFC West is far from over. There is no team with a losing record in the division, setting for up an exciting final stretch of the regular season.

The Chiefs (7-4) began the season as clear favorites to win the division, but they’ve failed to create the distance they’d hoped for between themselves and their divisional foes. Kansas City’s first five games were defined by shootouts in which its defense struggled to contribute to team success, leading to an opening record of 2-3. After the Chiefs’ 27-3 loss to the Titans in Week 7, their defense seems to have found its footing. The Chris Jones-led unit is allowing 11.75 points per game since then en route to a four-game win streak.

In Los Angeles, Justin Herbert has benefitted from having healthy weapons in running back Austin Ekeler and receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, an improvement from the 6-4 Chargers’ injury-riddled 2020 season. Much like the Chiefs, though, the Chargers’ defense has struggled to turn that success into wins as they’ve only managed to hold two opponents under 20 points this season.

The Raiders (6-5) have been a team of streaks this season. They began the year 3-0 with impressive wins over the Ravens and Steelers. They then lost two, won two, and lost three in a row through their next seven games with concerning losses to the currently reeling Bears and Giants. Las Vegas rebounded with an impressive Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas. The Raiders’ current winning record is all the more impressive when you consider the off-the-field controversies that have rocked the franchise.

The Raiders cut promising second-year receiver Henry Ruggs after he was arrested for his role in a fatal car accident. Their other 2020 first-round pick, Damon Arnette, is also gone after appearing in a video which showed him threatening a person with a gun. All of this after former head coach Jon Gruden was forced to resign in the wake of an email scandal that revealed the coach’s use of derogatory and offensive language. Las Vegas currently sits in third in the division at 6-5.

Over their first eight games of the season, the Broncos (5-5) were fairly easy to decipher. They beat teams currently under .500 — the Giants, Jaguars, Jets and the Football Team — but they could not get past teams currently over .500 (Ravens, Steelers, Raiders, Browns). They did buck this trend in their past two games by beating the Cowboys (7-4) and losing to the Eagles (4-6). They certainly hope that trend is over, as the Lions represent the only team they face over the rest of the season with a sub-.500 record. Offseason pickup Teddy Bridgewater leads an offense that has seen the return of Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton, though Denver’s latest run of injury misfortune involved second-year receiver Jerry Jeudy missing most of the season’s first half. The running game has been split pretty evenly between seven-year veteran Melvin Gordon and second-round rookie Javonte Williams.

With seven weeks remaining in the regular season, potential for divisional chaos remains. The Chiefs don’t have any remaining opponents currently under .500. The Raiders are set to play just one — the Washington Football Team. The Bolts potentially have a softer route, with two teams remaining under .500 in the Giants and Texans. In addition, there’s plenty of divisional play left to ensue before the playoff field forms.

So who do you see taking control of the AFC West? Do the Chiefs regain their supremacy and claim the division for the sixth straight year? Or do any of the other contenders take advantage of Kansas City’s four early-season losses? Vote in our latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.