With only one week of games remaining in the 2015 NFL regular season, 10 of the 12 playoff teams are set, including all six in the NFC. While seeding is still up for grabs among that group, the Super Bowl dreams are over for the majority of the league.
That means most squads have already turned their attention to the offseason and potential free agents who could hit the open market.
Naturally, there are a number of rumors circulating around the NFL as various playmakers prepare for free agency. Here is a look at some of that buzz.
DeSean Jackson Appears Primed to Be in Washington Long Term
Washington already clinched the NFC East with an impressive turnaround. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been on fire in recent weeks, although the return of wide receiver DeSean Jackson has proved critical.
It appears as if the front office in Washington has seen enough to keep the pass-catcher around given this report from ESPN’s Josina Anderson: “Sources tell me that ‘the organization likes him a lot and wants him around.’ Contract expires after 2016.”
Luke Adams of ProFootballRumors.com noted the former California Golden Bear will count $9.25 million against the cap in 2016, “though that figure could be reduced with an extension.”
Jackson won’t reach 1,000 yards for the third straight season because he missed time earlier this year with injuries, but he has 528 receiving yards in nine games. He recently tallied 153 yards and a score on Dec. 20 against the Buffalo Bills and is one reason Washington won four of its last five games to clinch the NFC East.
John Keim of ESPN.com detailed the chemistry between Cousins and Jackson and said, “In the last four games, Cousins has a 98.5 QBR and 154.0 passer rating when throwing to Jackson…On passes that have traveled 20 yards or longer in the air, Cousins has completed nine-of-14 throws to Jackson—and eight-of-37 to everyone else.”
Cousins commented on his relationship with the receiver, per Keim: “We’re in a good place. It can grow quite a bit. It’s going to grow over time. The more reps we’re able to have together, the more time we’re able to have together, the better we’ll be. He’s a very talented player.”
Cousins has looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league during Washington’s resurgence, and Anderson also recently reported “a source told me today, ‘he's very important to our organization. We want him here. He's not going anywhere,’” when discussing the signal-caller.
The NFL’s leader in completion percentage (69.5) is clearly comfortable throwing the ball to Jackson, which will likely impact Washington’s willingness to keep the receiver around for the long-term future.
Brock Osweiler Playing Way to Future Investment
According to Spotrac, 2015 is the final season of a four-year deal Brock Osweiler signed with the Denver Broncos after he was selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. He may see a new contract coming his way soon.
Which quarterback would be better for this season's playoffs?
Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post noted: “Osweiler has played himself into money. And he hasn't hurt himself in the eyes of the Broncos. The idea has long been to keep him around given the time invested, which has only been enforced by his solid play as a starter.”
Osweiler has 1,735 passing yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions on the season and took over as the starter Nov. 22 against the Chicago Bears. More importantly, Denver is 4-2 during Osweiler’s tenure as the starter and is in prime position to earn a first-round bye following Monday’s dramatic overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The elephant in the room is clearly Peyton Manning, who, according to Wednesday's comments from head coach Gary Kubiak to reporters, should be active as the backup for Sunday’s contest against the San Diego Chargers as he heals from a torn planter fascia.
Renck speculated on that topic:
As for Peyton Manning, I am not sure if he wants to continue playing. I figure it depends, in part, on what happens over the next month. I'd hate for his last game to be against the Chiefs on Nov. 15. But the market might be limited for a 40-year-old starting quarterback. My early favorite if he plays next season: the Houston Texans. Again, that's total speculation on my part as a competitive team with a need that might fit. I can't see a scenario right now where Manning returns to Denver.
Osweiler is only 25 years old and picked up critical experience in clutch games this season. Manning is clearly a legend and one of the best in NFL history, but there is no long-term investment to be made in a signal-caller who will be 40 years old before the next NFL draft.
49ers Appear Set to Keep Jarryd Hayne Next Year
Former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne was one of the biggest stories of the NFL preseason when he turned heads as a punt returner and possible running back. Now he may be a San Francisco 49er again next season.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, “League source said plan is for Jarryd Hayne to remain on active roster through next week, which gives 49ers his rights for 2016.”
The 49ers actually made Hayne the punt returner at the start of the season, but he fumbled three different times and was eventually put on the practice squad. However, he was promoted from that squad and played in Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions (nine carries for 27 yards) in his first career start at running back.
In all, he has 17 carries for 52 yards and six catches for 27 yards and still hasn’t found the end zone this year, but he seems confident his experiences have made him a better football player, per Joe Fann of 49ers.com:
Oh definitely. That’s just with the amount of reps I’ve gotten on the scout team and being by myself on the practice squad. That’s been huge for me to be able to get that experience. It was invaluable. I obviously had a lot to catch up on. I felt great out there. There were probably one or two things I could have done better, but overall I was happy.
Part of the reason Hayne received another chance at running back was injuries to Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Mike Davis and Shaun Draughn. The 49ers have been a fantasy football player’s nightmare at running back with so many physical setbacks, and Hayne is off the practice squad as a result.
While Hayne was an interesting preseason story that kept fans interested when the games didn’t count, he hasn’t turned heads as a playmaker under the bright lights. What’s more, Hyde figures to be the featured back in San Francisco next season, which limits Hayne’s ultimate ceiling.
Still, the 49ers (along with plenty of teams in the league) saw how devastating injuries can be at the position this year and understand they will need more depth in 2016. Hayne at least gives them a back who has experience in the system and with the personnel on the team who can handle special teams duties if necessary.