PFR Polls

Poll: Who Will Be Jets’ Starting QB In 2023?

Last week’s Jets quarterback change may not be a long-term move, per Robert Saleh, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes the expectation is Mike White will keep his new gig against the Vikings and Bills over the next two weeks. White faring reasonably well against those upper-echelon teams could keep Zach Wilson out of the picture for a while.

The Jets have assembled a quality defense quicker than most expected. After ranking last in both total defense and scoring last season, the Jets are a top-five team in both categories in Saleh’s second season. Their defense sits fourth in DVOA, creating legitimate playoff aspirations for the first time since 2015. The Jets have a chance to snap the NFL’s longest playoff drought (11 seasons), leading Saleh to yank Wilson. That move is atypical for a player with Wilson’s draft pedigree and injects uncertainty into the Jets’ quarterback plans beyond 2022.

No quarterback selected in the top five has been benched for performance reasons before the end of his second season since the Bengals sat down 1999 No. 3 overall pick Akili Smith midway through the 2000 campaign. Wilson being shut down represents an obvious red flag about his future. Will the Jets be able to pivot back to last year’s No. 2 overall pick?

QBR places Wilson in 25th, actually two spots ahead of Aaron Rodgers, after the BYU product finished 30th in this metric as a rookie. Passer rating is far less kind; no starter checks in behind Wilson’s 72.6 mark there. Joe Flacco remains the Jets’ touchdown pass leader, with five, despite having exited after three starts to clear another path for Wilson. The Jets used a top-three pick on a quarterback twice in a four-year span, but while Sam Darnold was not holding a well-built defense back, Wilson was. Rumblings of teammates’ waning confidence in the fast-rising prospect surfacing this past offseason certainly open the door to the Jets needing to consider other options for 2023.

White torched a battered Bears secondary, doing so more than a year after he posted the first Jets’ 400-yard passing performance since Vinny Testaverde in 2000. The former Cowboys fifth-round pick has been with the Jets since 2019, initially landing a practice squad gig, and has enjoyed spurts of popularity over the past two seasons. The Jets demoted Flacco for the ex-Day 3 draftee earlier this season. White’s next two performances will help illustrate if the Jets can legitimately consider him for their 2023 starting gig. White, 27, will need to be re-signed next year. His putting together more quality starts will complicate that process for the Jets.

Saleh and OC Mike LaFleur‘s San Francisco ties create a natural path for Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the 49ers cannot retain via the franchise tag due to the sides’ August restructure. Then committed to Wilson, the Jets were not closely linked to Garoppolo during this year’s long-running (and ultimately fruitless) trade sweepstakes, but this could easily become a much-rumored landing spot for the ex-Patriots second-rounder. Will the 49ers, however, be so quick to move on and give the keys back to the largely untested Trey Lance?

A veteran deal would mean cutting into the advantage Wilson’s rookie contract creates, but if Wilson cannot do enough to stay on the field, the Jets need to regroup to capitalize on the defense they have built. The Broncos took this route in 2018, which would have been No. 26 overall pick Paxton Lynch‘s third season. Denver waived the first-round bust months after signing Case Keenum.

The Raiders have not lived up to expectations in Josh McDaniels‘ first season, and the second-chance HC — who is likely to return for another season — has a slim window to unload Derek Carr‘s three-year, $121.4MM contract. Three days after Super Bowl LVII, Carr is owed $40.5MM — his 2023 salary and $7.5MM of his 2024 base — creating an avenue for a trade. The Jets would need to act swiftly, and it would wall off a Garoppolo path a month before it could open. But Carr could be available ahead of his age-32 season, should McDaniels want a fresh start.

On the other end of the timing spectrum, Rodgers could conceivably be available next summer. While Rodgers trade speculation has ultimately provided endless content and no action, the Packers structured his record-setting $50.3MM-per-year contract to include a 2023 option bonus ($58.3MM) that can be paid out at any point from the start of the 2023 league year to the day before next season. It would cost the Packers only $15.8MM in dead money, per OverTheCap, to trade the contract after June 1. The Jets would be making a familiar move, trading for a future Hall of Fame Packers QB in his late 30s, but this scenario will undoubtedly be mentioned. Rodgers, who backtracked on his trade demand in 2021 and passed on leaving Green Bay this year, does not have a no-trade clause.

For the first time since 2016, they are not poised to have a top-12 pick. What other options would be available for Gang Green? The Seahawks are aiming to re-sign ex-Jet Geno Smith, while Daniel Jones hopping New York teams seems unlikely as well. Gardner Minshew and brief Jet Teddy Bridgewater are also slated to hit the market. Tom Brady, as it should be at least noted, is also due for free agency. If the Lions land their QB prospect in the draft, Jared Goff stands to be available. As this year’s quarterback carousel showed, more options could be on the table.

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this unusual situation in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Sign Odell Beckham Jr.?

In what will be a key point not only on Odell Beckham Jr.‘s rehab timeline but perhaps in this year’s Super Bowl chase as well, the standout wide receiver is expected to be fully cleared for football work soon. Around nine months after suffering his second ACL tear, Beckham will be ready to practice for his new team. Who will that team be?

A free agent of this caliber is rarely available at this point in the season. Whichever team signs Beckham will see its skill-position corps receive a stretch-run jolt. However, injury concerns and Beckham’s desire for a multiyear contract complicate this unique chase. Beckham’s Browns stay also showed how adding him can backfire in a poor fit, injecting some risk into his 2022 equation. That said, teams pursuing him will be doing so based off his quick-impact Rams stay. The Rams needed OBJ to reach Super Bowl LVI. Despite the steady run of injuries that date back to his Giants days, that will be what drives a signing.

Rams connections overshadowed every other team’s Beckham ties for most of the offseason. Everyone from Les Snead to Sean McVay to Kevin Demoff expressed optimism Beckham would return to Los Angeles. With the Rams 3-5 and ranking 31st offensively, they do not appear the favorites any longer. The Rams ($4.2MM in cap space) have received little from their skill positions beyond Cooper Kupp; Beckham would boost the sinking contender’s cause. This franchise has also made a habit of landing big fish.

If he is eyeing a multiyear commitment, going back to an offense he knows well would make sense. Then again, Beckham expressed disappointment in the Rams’ previous offer. Although Sean McVay said last month the team had not made its best proposal yet, will such an offer come given the defending Super Bowl champions’ current state?

The Cowboys ($6.9MM in cap space) may have taken over as the OBJ favorites. Dallas cornerstones like Micah Parsons and Ezekiel Elliott are recruiting him. More importantly, Jerry Jones appears to be as well. In discussing OBJ’s market with NFL personnel, Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed came away with the Cowboys as the frontrunners here.

Beckham, 30, would slot in alongside CeeDee Lamb as the Cowboys’ top weapons. Dallas’ auxiliary troops have not shown too much this season. Of course, Dak Prescott‘s injury contributed to the limited production from Dalton Schultz and Michael Gallup. And the Cowboys just signed a player coming off a December ACL tear (Gallup). While they appear ready to gamble on Beckham, that partnership will mean Lamb’s complementary pieces will each be fresh off ACL rehab. But the Cowboys may have their best Super Bowl opportunity since 2016, when they claimed the NFC’s No. 1 seed. The team may be on its way to the No. 5 seed this year, but a dominant pass rush has changed its equation compared to recent years.

The team viewed as the second-likeliest to add Beckham, per Kyed, the Bills are not as well-versed in attracting free agents. But Josh Allen‘s ascent has changed the franchise’s trajectory. Von Miller making the atypical decision to choose Buffalo over L.A. could bring Beckham to follow suit. Miller has been banging this drum for months. Earlier this season, the Bills were not viewed as a key player in this market. With Jamison Crowder (fractured ankle) out of the picture and the Bills encountering more defensive injuries, has that changed?

Beckham is believed to prefer a warm-weather city, per Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telgram, who adds the eight-year veteran would change his mind for “the right offer” (Twitter link). The Bills rarely have a market advantage over their competition, so needing to navigate that battle is not exactly new.

The three-time Pro Bowler also mentioned the Packers and a Giants reunion as possibilities. Neither of these would check the warm-weather box, but the Packers were in on Beckham in 2021 and have been mentioned as a suitor intermittently for the past several months. But Green Bay has dropped to 3-6. The NFL’s smallest-market franchise is also now going year to year with Aaron Rodgers. That status affected Davante Adams‘ interest in staying with the Packers. Green Bay needs Beckham more than Dallas, Buffalo or L.A., with Adams’ departure crushing the team’s receiving corps. Considering the Packers’ modern history with big-ticket free agents, Rodgers’ post-2022 plans, and the team’s 2022 performance, this might be a tough sell.

Giants GM Joe Schoen said Beckham would be considered, but he did not meet with the Jerry Reese-era draftee when he visited following Sterling Shepard‘s injury. Like just about every team Beckham is considering, the Giants looked into Brandin Cooks and Jerry Jeudy before the trade deadline. The Giants may need an impact receiver more than the Packers, who at least roster Allen Lazard. No Giants wideout has totaled more than 250 yards. Their leading receiver, Darius Slayton, spent the offseason in Brian Daboll‘s doghouse.

Big Blue came into this season on a rebuilding track. The team was not viewed as likely to consider trading even a Day 2 pick for a wideout, and it traded a talented but injury-prone receiver (Kadarius Toney). This is not the regime that traded Beckham to Cleveland, but would Schoen be willing to sign the injury-prone vet beyond 2022?

The Vikings and Chiefs were also mentioned as Beckham suitors, but each made moves ahead of the deadline. Each team gave up Day 2 capital — for T.J. Hockenson and Toney, respectively — for weaponry already. Kansas City looked into Cooks as well and was in the OBJ mix last year. Given the Chiefs’ arms race with the Bills, they probably cannot be fully ruled out.

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this rare in-season market in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Win NFC West?

Housing the defending Super Bowl champions and the conference’s runner-up, this year’s NFC West was set to feature another chapter in the reinvigorated Rams-49ers rivalry. But both would-be contenders have offered inconsistency that has further muddled the NFC.

As the Sean McVayKyle Shanahan series has seen injuries and roster deficiencies cloud its sixth season, the Seahawks have gone from a team projected to be close to a top-five 2023 draft choice to one with legitimate aspirations at a home playoff game. With the Cardinals also within two games of first place — ahead of a key Hawks-Cards Week 9 tilt — this division still features many questions at the midseason point.

Winners of this division three times during McVay’s first five seasons, the Rams have been unable to generate much offense involving anyone beyond Cooper Kupp. After Andrew Whitworth retired, Los Angeles re-signed his backup — Joe Noteboom — to a three-year, $40MM deal and brought back center Brian Allen. Both Noteboom (out for the season) and Allen (five missed games) have seen injuries define their 2022 slates. The team let three-year guard starter Austin Corbett walk in free agency (Panthers), and the Rams’ guard spots have endured a litany of setbacks. Both Rams starting guards (David Edwards, Coleman Shelton) remain on IR. These issues have limited the Rams considerably. No McVay-led Rams offense has ranked outside the top 11; Los Angeles enters Week 9 with the league’s 30th-ranked offense.

While no problems have surfaced after Kupp’s extension agreement, Stafford, 34, has not started well since signing a four-year, $160MM deal. The 14th-year veteran battled an elbow issue throughout the offseason and is averaging just 6.8 yards per attempt — down from 8.1 in 2021 — and enters Week 9 with seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Allen Robinson posting 22 catches for 254 yards in seven games has also been an issue, with the Rams having signed him to a three-year, $46.5MM deal that included $30MM guaranteed. Football Outsiders gives the Rams just a 21.6% playoff shot. No defending champion has missed out since the 2016 Broncos.

San Francisco making the call to bring back Jimmy Garoppolo became vital after Trey Lance‘s Week 2 injury. Garoppolo inconsistency remains, but that should not surprise. The 49ers traded two future first-rounders for Lance because of their incumbent starter’s low ceiling. Of course, the 49ers are 2-for-2 in NFC title game berths with Garoppolo at the controls. But this team has battled major injury problems as well, seeing key contributors on each of their three defensive levels miss time or land on IR. That said, the 49ers still rank first defensively. Following an October swoon, the unit should be expected to stabilize once some of its pieces return.

The 49ers outflanking the Rams in the Christian McCaffrey sweepstakes made a major difference in the teams’ Week 8 rematch, and although McCaffrey’s injury history figures to inject nervousness into the equation for 49er fans the rest of the way, the prospect of CMC, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle teaming up probably gives San Francisco (67.3% playoff odds, per Football Outsiders) the highest ceiling in this division. But Seattle (71.9%) remains an obvious threat.

Moving on from two of the best players in team history — Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner — the Seahawks entered the season with long odds to win the division. They hold a one-game lead on the 49ers, thanks largely to the stunning re-emergence of Geno Smith. Off the starter radar since the I.K. Enemkpali punching incident back in 2015, Smith made one start between the 2015 and 2020 seasons. The Seahawks were able to re-sign him to a one-year, $3.5MM deal on April 14, indicating the tepid interest leaguewide. After beating out Drew Lock, Smith (13 TD passes, three INTs, NFL-best 72.7% completion rate — on 7.7 yards a pop) ranks fourth in QBR. While Smith’s offseason market and NFL past would provide signs this may not last, the Seahawks are reaping the benefits of their extended Smith partnership — one the team is interested in exploring beyond 2022.

Seattle’s rookie class — featuring left tackle Charles Cross (obtained with Denver’s No. 9 overall pick), second-rounder Ken Walker and fifth-round project Tariq Woolen — is also delivering immediate returns, doing so after recent draft-weekend struggles set back some of the late Wilson-era teams. The 49ers routed the Seahawks in Week 2, and Seattle has yet to face Los Angeles. But Pete Carroll‘s team is also showing more on defense compared to another woeful start; Clint Hurtt‘s unit has minimized the Cardinals, Chargers and Giants during a three-game win streak.

Extending their Steve KeimKliff KingsburyKyler Murray troika this offseason — with Murray’s deal coming after a bizarre film study-based controversy — the Cardinals rank 30th in scoring. They have seen DeAndre Hopkins make a difference upon returning from his six-game PED ban, and Vance Joseph‘s defense — despite a breakup with Chandler Jones after five years — has fared better since Patrick Mahomes torched that group in Week 1. But injuries and continued offensive inconsistency have hindered Arizona season.

Should the Cards (6.9% postseason odds) not be able to upend the Seahawks on Sunday, their road back to the playoffs will be difficult. A last-place finish would certainly invite big-picture questions about the team’s path, with its power trio all under contract through 2027.

Will the Seahawks hang on? Or will one of the 2021 playoff teams surpass them with a better second half? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in on the state of this division in the comments section.

Poll: Who Fared Best At Trade Deadline?

The NFL trade deadline has trended upward in recent years, and Tuesday resembled — to some degree, at least — the frenzy the NBA or MLB deadlines bring. In the days leading up to Tuesday’s record-setting deadline sequence — a 10-trade day — other teams improved their situations as well.

Although the Broncos received the only first-round pick exchanged during this year’s in-season trade cycle, the 49ers came away with the splashiest addition. San Francisco showed off its Christian McCaffrey move against their rivals and second-place CMC finishers Sunday, with the versatile back joining Walter Payton and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only backs to complete the rush-catch-throw touchdown triple.

On the other end of that deal, the Panthers collected four draft picks for McCaffrey and two from the Cardinals for Robbie Anderson. Carolina now has two additional Day 2 choices from the McCaffrey swap, though the retooling team is believed to have passed on a Rams offer of two first-round picks for edge rusher Brian Burns. Was that the right call? Because the Rams could not acquire McCaffrey or Burns, they ended up as odd bystanders during an action-packed deadline.

The Dolphins sent the 49ers a fifth-rounder for Jeff Wilson, reuniting him with ex-San Francisco OC Mike McDaniel, but Bradley Chubb was Miami’s deadline prize. Seven months after they sent a first-rounder and change to the Chiefs for Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins became the first team since the 2019 Chiefs (Frank Clark) to send over a Round 1 pick for an edge defender. Chubb (5.5 sacks) will step in to take over as Miami’s pass-rushing anchor, while the Broncos obtained more than they did for Von Miller‘s one-time sidekick than they did for the future Hall of Famer. Denver, which collected first- and fourth-rounders and Chase Edmonds in this blockbuster, now has a 2023 first-round choice after previously being without first- or second-rounders next year due to the Russell Wilson trade.

The Bears vacillated between buyers and sellers over the past several days, unloading Ryan Pace-era defensive investments Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith but adding Chase Claypool. Chicago picked up second- and fifth-round picks from Baltimore for Smith but sent its own second to Pittsburgh for Claypool, beating out Green Bay’s offer of a Round 2 choice for the 238-pound wideout. The Bears, who still have a 2023 sixth-rounder left over from the Khalil Mack trade, will have three additional draft choices because of their activity this week.

Pittsburgh did well to obtain a second for Claypool, who turned out to carry considerable value on the market. Known aficionados of Day 2 wideouts, the Steelers can replenish their receiver cadre — or add in other areas — with two second-rounders next year.

Although the Browns nabbed Deion Jones in October for a low cost, the Ravens’ Smith addition headlined the AFC North’s moves. The Ravens had attempted to keep C.J. Mosley in 2019 and made Bobby Wagner a big offer this year. GM Eric DeCosta has his acclaimed linebacker now. Though, the Ravens could be faced with an interesting offseason predicament. They have now acquired a contract-year standout ahead of a franchise tag window in which Lamar Jackson will be expected to receive the tag.

Chicago’s Claypool addition was not the most interesting NFC North move. Due to the scarcity of intra-division trades, the Lions’ decision to send T.J. Hockenson‘s through-2023 contract to the Vikings may linger for a while. While most teams prefer to send key players out of the conference, or at least out of their division, Detroit — which partnered with Minnesota on April’s Jameson Williams trade-up — collected second- and third-round picks for Hockenson and multiple Day 3 choices. The Vikings will return to Detroit with Hockenson Dec. 11 and should be expected to discuss an extension with the Pro Bowl pass catcher, who will team with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen on the 6-1 squad.

The Bills made two pre-deadline moves, acquiring Nyheim Hines and reuniting with safety Dean Marlowe, while the Falcons added a player (cornerback Rashad Fenton) and dealt away two (Marlowe, Calvin Ridley). Jacksonville’s move qualifies as one of the most unique in recent NFL history, with Ridley suspended for gambling but also now part of a trade that could send a second-rounder to Atlanta if the once-promising receiver re-signs with the Jaguars. Ridley, who totaled 1,374 receiving yards in 2020, could be an interesting piece in the Jags’ Christian Kirk-led receiving corps. But he will apply for reinstatement next year having not played since midway through the 2021 season.

How much will the Chiefs pickup of injury-prone but electric wideout Kadarius Toney move the needle? Will the Jets’ James Robinson get do enough to fill the Breece Hall void? What team improved its situation the most during this year’s leadup to the deadline? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Which Sub-.500 Team Has Best Chance To Make Playoffs?

Particularly in the NFC, the early part of this season has brought considerable parity. Many would-be contenders have stumbled out of the blocks. Two 2-4 NFC squads — the Cardinals and Saints — will match up tonight in a game that will put the loser in an early-season bind.

A 2-4 start does not bring the historic uphill battle 0-3 does. Since the playoffs expanded to six teams per conference in 1990, four squads — including the 49ers last season and the 2019 Titans — have rebounded from that record to reach the conference championship round. The 1993 Oilers crafted a more remarkable pivot, rallying to earn a bye. No 2-4 team has ever reached a Super Bowl, however.

The Broncos are probably the most disappointing of the 2-4 lot. Their Russell WilsonNathaniel Hackett marriage has produced a spree of listless outings, leading to social media backlash and big-picture questions. Denver’s offense ranks 32nd in scoring and has particularly struggled coming out of halftime. The Broncos’ offense has accounted for three third-quarter points all season, turning up the heat on Hackett, who joined Kevin O’Connell and Dan Quinn as Broncos HC finalists.

This staggering unproductivity has marginalized a dominant defense, one that has seen 2021 draftees Patrick Surtain II and Baron Browning — after an offseason position change — take second-year leaps. Denver has the 18th-toughest schedule remaining, per Tankathon, though the team has both Chiefs contests still to come. As injuries mount for the once-promising team, its road to the playoffs appears difficult.

Cleveland and Pittsburgh join Denver at 2-4 but are just one game back of the AFC North lead. The Browns’ controversial Deshaun Watson acquisition led most to temper expectations for this season, with Watson banned 11 games. Cleveland also enjoyed a favorable early-season schedule, but the Jacoby Brissett-led team is 1-3 in games in which it has been favored. The Browns (10th-easiest remaining schedule, record-wise) brought back Jadeveon Clowney this offseason and have Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward on top-market contracts. Both Garrett and Ward have missed time, and Joe Woods‘ defense ranks 30th. Although the Browns have hoarded cap space — likely because of Watson’s contract — their quarterback-in-waiting’s cap number spikes from $9.4MM to $54.9MM from 2022 to ’23, placing a bit more emphasis on this season’s result.

The Steelers (11th-easiest remaining schedule) upset the Buccaneers despite most of their secondary joining T.J. Watt in missing Week 6, but the team is making a transition at quarterback. The Steelers’ Mitch Trubisky acquisition, his Week 6 rally notwithstanding, did plenty to create the early-season hole. Kenny Pickett figures to make the bulk of the starts the rest of the way for a team that has not finished under .500 since 2003.

Initial Jaguars optimism has faded somewhat, after a three-game skid. Trevor Lawrence has climbed to 13th in QBR, from 28th as a rookie, and Travis Etienne‘s health is starting to pay dividends. The front-seven investments the Jags made this year have led to improved talent defensively; Mike Caldwell‘s unit ranks ninth in points allowed. Jacksonville (13th-toughest remaining schedule) also plays in a division featuring winning teams with major questions, though its perennial struggles against presumptive non-threat Houston indicates Doug Pederson‘s team may be at least a year away from contending.

Aside from the Broncos, the Raiders (minus-5 in point differential) are probably the most interesting team here. Las Vegas’ new regime paid up for Davante Adams and extended prior-regime investments Derek Carr, Darren Waller and Maxx Crosby. Those moves have thus far led to close losses. The Raiders (ninth-easiest remaining schedule) are 1-4, with their Patrick Graham-coordinated defense ranking 28th. The AFC West does not appear as menacing as initially projected, and 1-4 is not the death sentence 0-3 is historically. But this Raiders retooling effort will need multiple offseasons, the next one including (presumably) a first-round pick.

Rallies against the Falcons and Raiders, respectively, lifted the Saints and Cardinals to 2-4. Both teams are also just one game out in their parity-fueled divisions.

Arizona’s three-extension offseason (Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury, Steve Keim) has not instilled much confidence this will be the year the Murray-led operation becomes a serious threat. Arizona (15th-toughest remaining schedule) ranks 22nd both offensively and defensively, and its DeAndre Hopkins-less receiving corps led to numerous pass-catching combinations. The team has traded for both Marquise Brown and Robbie Anderson, but the Hopkins sidekicks will not share the field together for a while due to Brown’s injury. Kingsbury is already considering ceding play-calling duties.

The Saints (seventh-easiest remaining schedule) have again run into receiver staffing issues. Jarvis Landry has missed most of the season, and Michael Thomas‘ foot injury will lead to Thursday being the former All-Pro’s 29th missed game since 2020. Jameis Winston‘s back fractures have turned Andy Dalton into New Orleans’ regular starter. While the Dalton investment (one year, $3MM) has proven important, Dennis Allen‘s defense — a top-five unit in each of the past two seasons — ranks 29th.

Do any of the other sub-.500 teams — most of which residing in the rebuilding sect — have a chance to rebound this season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this year’s collection of struggling teams in the comments section.

Poll: Which Head Coach Will Be Fired First In 2022?

One month into the 2022 campaign, few NFL teams have truly surged out of the gate and distanced themselves from the rest of the field. There are some, on the other hand, which have invited speculation about potential coaching changes.

Calls for a firing have most loudly been made so far in Carolina. Matt Rhule entered this year, his third with the Panthers, with expectations to steer the franchise back into playoff contention. His ability to do so at both Temple and Baylor earned him a sizeable first NFL head coaching deal, but results have been lacking so far. 

[RELATED: Communication Issues Between Rhule, OC McAdoo?]

The acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfield and a return to health from star running back Christian McCaffrey led to optimism that improvement on the offensive side of the ball in particular would be coming. Instead, the Panthers rank last in the league in yards, and 17th in points scored so far. A severe lack of wins when allowing more than 17 points has stretched into 2022; the fact that the 47-year-old continues to back Mayfield as the team’s No. 1 signal-caller will tie the pair together, though, regardless of their shared success or failure. Despite the significant term remaining on his first NFL deal, Rhule could make way for a more experienced option if an offensive resurgence doesn’t take shape.

The same may end up being true of Frank Reich in Indianapolis. The team’s annual replacement of their starting QB resulted in the arrival of Matt Ryan and the expectation of far more stability at the position compared to Carson Wentz. The former MVP has struggled mightily with respect to ball security, however, leading the league in both interceptions (seven) and fumbles (11). His 21 sacks taken have further hampered an offense averaging a league-worst 13.8 points per game.

Winless through the first half of their divisional contests, the Colts currently sit third in what is still considered an underwhelming AFC South. Plenty of time for a turnaround exists, of course, but there is added urgency around the team after 2021’s late-season collapse which cost them a playoff berth. Reich is tied to general manager Chris Ballard, as the pair were extended through 2026 just last year, potentially giving them a longer leash in the Ryan era, which they hope will last far longer than that of his predecessors. Early returns on the team’s investment in that trio have certainly been underwhelming, though.

In Arizona, Kliff Kingsbury entered 2022 with the expectation that the Cardinals’ inconsistencies would be corrected. After a hot start ended with a disappointing end to the campaign in 2021, Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim each received extensions and are now on the books through 2027. That move was eventually followed up by a massive second contract for QB Kyler Murray this summer, leaving the potential for he and Kingsbury to remain together for the foreseeable future.

However, Arizona has started 2-2 this season, ranking in the middle of the pack offensively. The absence of wideout DeAndre Hopkins, dating back to late last year, has hamstrung the team on that side of the ball to such a degree that Kingsbury’s scheme has increasingly come under fire. In spite of year-to-year improvement in the win-loss column over the course of his tenure on the sidelines, then, the 43-year-old is considered to be facing something of a make-or-break proposition in 2022. The return of Hopkins from suspension will no doubt give the offense a boost, but whether that translates to increased success – especially early in games – will be worth monitoring closely.

Another team facing unexpected struggles with the ball is the Broncos, led by rookie HC Nathaniel Hackett. The addition of QB Russell Wilson has not yielded anywhere near the production which was expected upon his arrival (and subsequent extension) heading into the season, with blame being shared between the two. Denver’s calamitous efforts in the red zone in particular have led to poor primetime showings and a 2-3 record.

Hackett has already responded by bringing veteran advisor Jerry Rosburg out of retirement, though Thursday night’s loss to the Colts did little to quell doubts about the team’s 2022 prospects. The growing list of injuries Denver is dealing with on both sides of the ball would have hampered their playoff chances regardless of if Hackett had taken the Broncos gig or any of the other four he interviewed for this winter. Still, the fact that he has risen up the list of contenders to be replaced so early in his tenure speaks to how problematic it has been so far.

Will one of these four coaches be the first to receive their walking papers, or will that fate befall a different bench boss? Cast your vote in PFR’s latest poll and have your say in the comments below:

Poll: Who Will Win Super Bowl LVII?

Since the Rams edged the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, the NFL has seen quite arguably the most eventful offseason in its history. The game’s most decorated player briefly retired, multiple blockbuster QB trades took place and future Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball changed teams. That, coupled with the fact that more than one-quarter of the league will have a new head coach in 2022, leaves the upcoming season rife with intrigue. 

Tonight’s Bills-Rams matchup will start the season, but many believe it could also be a preview of the next title game. The defending champions prioritized keeping their nucleus of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald in the fold with new contracts accompanied by significant raises. The additions of Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner constitute yet more big-ticket acquisitions the team has become known for recently, and the return of Odell Beckham Jr. remains a possibility. All the necessary pieces to a Super Bowl repeat appear to be in place.

The Bills were, of course, the beneficiary of one of the Rams’ most significant departures. Von Miller should provide a major boost to the team’s pass rush in the short- and long-term future. His addition leaves Buffalo with what many consider the most well-rounded, balanced roster in the league – one which also has postseason experience including last season’s enthralling Divisional Round loss to the Chiefs. Josh Allen and Co. should be able to maintain one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses to stay ahead of the QB-heavy pack in the AFC, though the absence of ex-offensive coordinator Brian Daboll does raise some questions for the unit.

Staying in the AFC, that conference’s West division was at the heart of many of the league’s blockbuster moves. As a result, the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers have each made significant additions – Russell Wilson, Davante Adams and Khalil Mack, respectively – which give them serious potential to usurp the Chiefs. As reflected by the split opinion amongst PFR’s readers in June, Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles are among the most-improved squads in the league, but the division’s pecking order remains very much up in the air. Multiple playoff spots should be occupied by that trio, and even a Tyreek Hill-less Kansas City can never be counted out of the Super Bowl picture.

The conference’s defending champions made relatively few moves this spring, though the team’s most glaring weakness received plenty of attention. Three new starting offensive lineman should help stabilize the Bengals’ attack – something which is rather striking, given the enormous success of the Joe BurrowJa’Marr Chase partnership in 2021. Reinforcements in the secondary should also help the defense in the long-term, making Cincinnati the source of plenty of optimism now and in the future.

They too, though, will face stiff competition to win their division. A healthy Ravens team featuring Lamar Jackson for at least one more season boasts new talent on both sides of the ball due in large part to a substantial draft haul. The trade sending away Marquise Brown leaves the team facing years-old questions about its passing game, but a blend of youth and experience gives their roster plenty of upside. Given their respective foundational pieces in place, the Browns and Steelers could emerge as darkhorses depending on their QB play.

In the NFC, the picture appears to be slightly clearer regarding the haves and have-nots. Alongside the Rams, the Buccaneers certainly belong in the former category. Tom Brady will chase an eighth Super Bowl ring with many of the same players he won his seventh with still in Tampa Bay. The 45-year-old has been central to plenty of headlines aside from his return to the league, however, including head coach Bruce Ariansretirement. A WR corps which figures to see Julio Jones in a complimentary role should help guide the offense to another elite campaign, and a number of high-impact defenders remain. 

Just like its counterpart, the NFC West should be highly competitive throughout the year. The 49ers could challenge the Rams for the divisional crown, should Trey Lance live up to his potential as a dynamic franchise QB. The skill position players around him, and the team’s defensive front seven should make his first season as a starter one in which a great deal of success is possible. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have Kyler Murray on the books for the foreseeable future and face the highest expectations of his time in the NFL alongside coach Kliff Kingsbury. Their ability to maintain success throughout the season will be the subject of plenty of scrutiny.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Eagles made moves to build off of last season’s playoff appearance. Chief among them was the trade for A.J. Brown, who will add further to the weapons available for Jalen Hurts; the latter’s evolution will be a key storyline to follow as the season progresses. They will compete for a divisional title with the Cowboys, who are once again looking to avenge an early playoff loss. Mike McCarthy‘s future will no doubt depend almost exclusively on the team’s 2022 success, which already faces plenty of question marks on offense in particular.

Finally, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are in a somewhat unique situation. The reigning MVP has a decided lack of proven pass-catchers around him, leaving him in the rare position of leading a team which will lean on an efficient ground game and one of the league’s best defenses. Rodgers’ record-setting extension is a large reason for that, of course, but the roster as currently constructed could feasibly go on a deep playoff run.

With just a few hours to go until the season starts, then, who do you see lifting the Lombardi Trophy in February? Vote in the poll below and give your thoughts in the comments section.

 

Poll: Who Will Make Most Seahawks QB Starts In 2022?

While Russell Wilson did not enter his first offseason as a lock to start, and Tarvaris Jackson did bridge the 2011 gap between Matt Hasselbeck and Wilson, the Seahawks have not exactly experienced much late-summer quarterback uncertainty in the 21st century. Even going back to the late 1990s, Jon Kitna ended his Seattle run as the team’s unquestioned starter for multiple seasons.

This run of stability stopped when the team dealt Wilson to Denver in March. Although the Seahawks were connected to both Baker Mayfield — whose early destination prediction was Seattle — and rookie prospects, they have stayed the course. The Geno SmithDrew Lock battle is unfolding in earnest at training camp. Will this be how the team replaces Wilson?

Right now, Smith — Wilson’s three-year backup — is in the lead, per Pete Carroll. The 10th-year passer will start the Seahawks’ first preseason game Saturday. This marks the second straight year Lock will begin the preseason as a backup. He did so behind Teddy Bridgewater last year, and that status turned out to be indicative of the Broncos’ 2021 plans for the former second-round pick.

Smith, 31, has taken most of the snaps behind Seattle’s first-string offensive line during camp, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes, but Lock, 25, outperformed him in the team’s mock scrimmage recently, Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News-Tribune tweets. The Mizzou product led multiple scoring drives despite helming the second-team offense against Seattle’s first-team defense. Lock will likely move into the starting lineup at least once during the Seahawks’ three-game preseason slate. Lock limiting his turnovers at Seahawks camp has impressed Carroll as well, per Condotta.

The Seahawks know what they have in Smith, who has gone from being a multiyear Jets starter to a player that has sat exclusively behind durable QB1s. The infamous IK Enemkpali locker-room punch thrust Ryan Fitzpatrick into a Jets starting role in 2015, and Smith played behind Fitz in 2016 as well. Smith’s 2017 Giants deal did produce one start, when then-HC Ben McAdoo benched Eli Manning. That move led ownership to can McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese. Smith’s Chargers accord did not lead to any starts, with Philip Rivers well into his start streak in 2018, and Wilson’s start streak hummed into October 2021. Smith completed 68.4% of his passes, throwing five TDs to one INT, and averaged 7.4 yards per attempt in his three-plus-game cameo last season.

A Lock rookie-year hand injury kept him sidelined behind Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen, but he finished that year with five Broncos starts. Denver did not bring in any competition for Lock in 2020, but the strong-armed QB’s sophomore season began his path out of town. The streaky passer led the NFL in INTs (15), doing so despite missing three starts and failing to finish another. Even as Bridgewater battled multiple injuries in 2021, he continued to start over Lock. Bridgewater’s second 2021 concussion, which came in Week 15, led Lock back to work. While Lock again enjoyed moments, he finished with a 23.4 QBR in limited action. The Broncos lost each of his three season-ending starts.

It would seem the Seahawks have a floor-vs.-ceiling decision to make, with Smith representing the safer option. But a clear upgrade should be available soon. The 49ers want to avoid releasing Jimmy Garoppolo early, keeping him away from the division rival with a quarterback need. But with Garoppolo’s $24.2MM base salary becoming guaranteed just ahead of Week 1, the Seahawks lurk. They have done homework on the four-plus-year San Francisco starter, and while no trade is likely here, Seattle could obtain Garoppolo on a much cheaper salary if/when he is cut.

Will the Seahawks be the team that ends up with Garoppolo? Or will their months-long Lock-Smith competition produce a winner worthy of sticking around as Wilson’s successor? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

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.