10 NFL Dominoes Left to Fall Before 2022 Season Starts
Inevitably, fireworks are still being lit beyond the Fourth of July thanks to leftovers from the holiday weekend.
Everyone has those neighbors who continue to shoot off bottle rockets and/or firecrackers days and even weeks after the time to do so is over.
The NFL operates in a similar manner.
Fireworks begin in March when the new league year opens for business and teams scramble to sign big-name free agents or complete league-changing trades.
Now four months past that point, another explosion of movement can occur here and there. The difference is these moments aren't little bursts with no lasting impact. Some of the league's biggest stories remain suspended in the air and ready to pop.
Blockbuster trades, market-changing contract extensions, position competitions, free-agent signings and high-profile disciplinary action all remain possible as the start of training camps this month looms.
When these stories hit, they'll go off with a bang.
What Type of Discipline Will QB Deshaun Watson Receive from NFL?
The Cleveland Browns are stuck in a holding pattern with no one to blame but themselves.
The organization made the call to trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson and sign him to a historic $230 million fully guaranteed contract despite the fact that there were 22 civil cases filed by women accusing Watson of sexual assault or misconduct during massage sessions. After the acquisition, the number grew to 24.
Josh Voight of News 5 Cleveland also reported June 13 that two more lawsuits could be on the way.
On June 21, the women's attorney, Tony Buzbee, said Watson and his representation settled 20 of those 24 cases outside of court. While four of the cases remain open, the NFL is determining whether to suspend Watson under its personal-conduct policy.
The league conducted disciplinary hearings for three days last week in front of the NFL and NFLPA's jointly appointed disciplinary officer, former district court judge Sue L. Robinson.
According to the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Beaton, the league pushed "for an indefinite suspension that would last no shorter than one year."
As Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio noted, though, a scenario exists in which Watson could receive no disciplinary action based on the wording of the personal-conduct policy.
A ruling could still be weeks away since Judge Robinson requested post-hearing briefs, which are due by July 11, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com.
Without clarity on the situation, the Browns front office and coaching staff don't know whether they must prepare for this season with or without Watson.
"Yeah, it’s definitely stressful for them," running back Kareem Hunt told reporters. "It's tough because they're trying to figure out what pieces they've got for the season and what plays they want to put it. You know, there's different plays for Deshaun and Jacoby [Brissett], different playbook, different things we can do at quarterback."
If Watson misses time, Brissett should serve as the team's starting quarterback because Baker Mayfield certainly isn't an option any longer.
Where Will QB Baker Mayfield Land?
The moment the Browns chose to pursue Deshaun Watson was the point when their relationship with Baker Mayfield ended.
The quarterback position is unlike any other and must be handled differently, even gently. Once a team shows it's no longer committed to its starter, it must move on. This is what happened with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, though the 2016 league MVP didn't make his trade request a public affair.
Because of Watson's potential suspension, rumblings of Mayfield remaining with the team are nearly constant, albeit far-fetched, if not downright unrealistic.
"No. I think for that to happen there would have to be some reaching out. But we're ready to move on, I think, on both sides," Mayfield told Sooner Scoop.
More than three months after his trade request, Mayfield remains available. The Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks have been most often associated with a potential deal for the quarterback.
His contract and the Browns' asking price remain the hang-ups. Cleveland picked up Mayfield's fifth-year option last offseason. As a result, his $18.9 million salary is fully guaranteed for this season. The Browns will be on the hook for some of the number. How much, though?
"Cleveland's been willing to take on a fair amount of Baker's salary, like $9, $10 million," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer said during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show. "For people out there who think that Cleveland's holding on to Baker as Deshaun insurance, they wouldn't be offering to take on a pretty significant portion of the guy's salary if they were looking to hold him until there's more clarity in the Deshaun Watson case."
Problems arise because it is a buyer's market. Because teams don't seem willing to pay the majority of Mayfield's contract, a sliding scale exists regarding a potential return among draft assets.
The start of training camps could spur action here. Otherwise, the Browns might be forced to hold on to Mayfield and hope an injury creates an opportunity.
Will the 49ers Trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo?
The Baker Mayfield market bleeds into the possibilities for Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers.
The organization plans to move forward with Trey Lance as its starting quarterback. The transition seemed inevitable after the team traded up to the third overall pick in the 2021 draft and chose the North Dakota State product.
But the process took time since the Niners didn't want to rush an inexperienced prospect with only 17 career starts at the FCS level. As such, Garoppolo started 15 regular-season contests in 2021 and helped lead the team into the postseason.
San Francisco's setup is a little different than Cleveland's, though. The Niners don't need to move on from Garoppolo if they're not offered a solid return for the quarterback.
The ninth-year veteran required offseason shoulder surgery, and his decision to get it done in March changed the complexion of trade talks.
"I felt we were close in some discussions and then the decision was made to have surgery, and it brought things to a screeching halt," general manager John Lynch said during an interview on KNBR two months in May. "We either want to have Jimmy playing for us, which we're all right with, or we want him to get the value."
The 30-year-old quarterback should be cleared to throw at some point this month, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. When that occurs, the trade market "could heat up." However, most of the seats at the starting quarterback table are already filled.
Garoppolo's $24.2 million base salary isn't prohibitive when Lance is still operating under a rookie deal. Lance and Garoppolo have a combined $34.7 million salary-cap hit this season. It's a big number, but the not the biggest among the league's quarterback hits for 2022.
Unlike Mayfield, a fractured relationship isn't at the heart of possible negotiations. An experienced backup could be helpful as Lance works his way through his first starting campaign.
Will the 49ers Extend or Trade WR Deebo Samuel?
The wide receiver market changed drastically since the start of the new league year.
Amari Cooper is now a member of the Browns. Davante Adams plays for the Las Vegas Raiders. Tyreek Hill is a Miami Dolphin. Marquise Brown joined former college teammate Kyler Murray in the desert as part of the Arizona Cardinals. And A.J. Brown now serves as the Philadelphia Eagles' top target.
Meanwhile, nine different wide receivers signed deals that fall somewhere between $20-30 million annually.
Deebo Samuel rightly wants to be included. Money isn't the only part of the equation, though. His usage factors into this conversation. Samuel is different than any other wide receiver based on how the 49ers utilize him as a hybrid weapon in both the running and passing games. But that can cut a receiver's career short.
A week before this year's NFL draft, Samuel revealed that he requested a trade, per ESPN's Jeff Darlington. The 49ers haven't exactly been accommodating because they know they can't adequately replace the first-team All-Pro. As such, multiple reports emerged over the last three months about the team having no intention of trading him.
General manager John Lynch has been blunt about the team's approach in this matter, even though Samuel has yet to rescind his trade request, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
"Well, we haven't traded him. And I’ve used the word 'fool'—I'd be a fool to trade him—so no," Lynch said, per NBC Sports Bay Area. “And so, yes, he'll be a part of the 49ers this year."
If San Francisco isn't willing to move Samuel, a lucrative contract extension should be forthcoming in the near future.
Will the Ravens Sign QB Lamar Jackson to a New Deal?
The Deshaun Watson deal certainly opened eyes, especially for other signal-callers who are due extensions.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson represents himself. He's also entering the final year of his rookie deal after the Ravens picked up his fifth-year option last offseason. He should now see a fully guaranteed $230 million deal as the starting point of negotiations.
In just four seasons, Jackson has established himself as a unique talent. The 2019 NFL MVP is the first quarterback to post two 1,000-yard rushing campaigns. His 1,206 rushing yards in 2019 are the most-ever by a quarterback. He needs 2,437 more yards to surpass Michael Vick as the all-time rushing leader among his position group.
Jackson has never just been a runner. Detractors will look at his downturn in 2021 and say opposing defense figured him out without taking into account a Ravens offense riddled with injuries. Even so, Jackson was well on his way to setting career highs in attempts and passing yardage if not for an ankle injury that cost him Weeks 15-18.
Besides, the two-time Pro Bowl selection is only 25 years old. He's still developing, as is the case with most quarterbacks his age. According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, Jackson chose to work with trainer Adam Dedeaux this offseason. Dedeaux specializes in throwing mechanics, specifically chain sequencing.
A healthy and continually improving Jackson is a frightening possibility, which is why a contract extension is of the utmost importance. The quarterback didn't attend the Ravens' voluntary activities this offseason, though he showed up for mandatory minicamp. Training camp could become a sticking point since Jackson hasn't stated whether he'll attend.
Baltimore built its team around Jackson. As such, he can determine when and where negotiations should take place. The alternative runs the risk of upsetting one of the league's premier playmakers.
Will the Cardinals Extend QB Kyler Murray?
While a Lamar Jackson contract extension falls into the no-brainer category, the Cardinals have far more questions about their starting quarterback.
The tension between the franchise and Kyler Murray was evident throughout the offseason.
In February, Murray scrubbed his social media accounts of team references
ESPN's Chris Mortensen then reported Feb. 13 that sources described the 2019 No. 1 overall pick as "self-centered, immature and a finger-pointer." Conversely, Murray was reportedly "frustrated with the franchise" and thought he had "been framed as the scapegoat" for the Cardinals' wild-card loss to the NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams.
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo added that Arizona wanted Murray to show more maturity and leadership after he pulled himself from that playoff loss to the Rams with the game decided.
On Feb. 28, Murray's agent released a statement about the quarterback wanting a new deal. Maybe the public approach isn't the best way to alleviate the reported concerns.
Despite everything, something could and should still get done.
"I'm praying before training camp," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said last month when asked of a deal being reached.
Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries took the conversation one step further.
"If you think that Kyler is not our future, you are a plum fool," the blindside protector told reporters. "There's no question of that."
Overall, the situation may not have been handled as well as it could have been. Murray needs to grow, and he should. After all, he's still a young quarterback. Meanwhile, the Cardinals should help nurture their franchise signal-caller.
To accomplish something productive, both sides must hash out their differences, or a contract extension won't happen this year.
Will Rookie Kenny Pickett Quickly Dethrone Mitchell Trubisky as Steelers QB?
Quarterback competitions starting in July and going into August are catnip for fans and even more so for networks in need of content during the dog days of summer.
This year, only one true competition is set to begin at the game's most important position, and even it's not as wide-open as it seems.
The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Mitchell Trubiskly to a two-year, $14.3 million contract at the onset of free agency. But that number is misleading because Trubisky's salary-cap charge this season is only $3.7 million, and the Steelers can easily release him next offseason to save $8.0 million, per Spotrac.
The franchise doubled down on the position when it chose Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick. Pickett's selection is important on two levels. First, he was the first quarterback drafted in this year's class. Second, he was the only prospect at his position to hear his named called during the opening two rounds.
Pittsburgh is committed to Pickett, When will that commitment officially begin, though?
"Unless Trubisky gets hurt or plays terribly in camp and the preseason, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where he doesn't start the season as the No. 1," The Athletic's Mark Kaboly wrote. "How long he stays there will depend on how he plays."
So, you're saying there's a chance that Pickett starts out of the gate? Based on the Steelers' plan moving forward, the rookie must show he's clearly the best option.
"I think Coach [Mike Tomlin] has been very clear that Mitch is No. 1, working with the ones and doing a really good job with that. Mason is No. 2, and Kenny is No. 3, and we are working that way based on experience, based on resume," offensive coordinator Matt Canada said during mandatory minicamp, per Kaboly.
"We have been clear that this has been a laid-out plan of how we are going to evolve and who our quarterback is going to be for the 2022 season."
Will Packers LT David Bakhtiari Be Ready for Regular Season?
All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari played in a total of one game in 2021 (and didn't even finish the contest) while recovering from a torn ACL suffered during a December 2020 practice.
Typically, recovery from a torn ACL takes eight-to-nine months before a player gets back onto the field. This offseason, Bakhtiari wasn't a full participant during organized team activities or minicamp.
"Time will tell. We fully anticipate him being ready to go [for training camp], but, you know, we did last year as well," head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters a month ago. "But we feel good about the work he's put in and where's he at."
Injuries to offensive linemen usually aren't headline news. In fact, the Packers have lingering concerns with Elgton Jenkins, who suffered a torn ACL in a Week 11 contest against the Minnesota Vikings last season.
Bakhtiari's case isn't like others, though.
The mysterious recovery period alone makes the situation intriguing. Secondly, an argument can be made that Bakhtiari is the game's best left tackle. In fact, the 30-year old veteran is the game's highest-graded pass-blocker since the start 2019 campaign, per Pro Football Focus.
When he's on the field, he's protecting the blind side of back-to-back league MVP Aaron Rodgers. Finally, money plays a role since the two-time first-team All-Pro is the second-highest paid lineman on an average annual basis.
With Bakhtiari back and healthy, the Packers offense looks very different. For now, it's a real possibility Green Bay will open the season with Yosh Nijman and Cole Van Lanen in the front five as the starting offensive tackles.
Where Will WR Odell Beckham Jr. Sign?
Odell Beckham Jr. should have options when he's ready to sign. Right now, no urgency exists to get a deal done as the wide receiver recovers from his second ACL tear.
As USA Today's Tyler Dragon reported in April, there are "multiple teams interested" in Beckham. Five locations seem best-suited to eventually land the talented wide receiver.
The Los Angeles Rams are the logical choice after he played for the team during the second half of last season, with Beckham capturing his first championship. The Rams haven't been shy about their interest in bringing him back.
"Oh, of course. I really want Odell back on our team," head coach Sean McVay said during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show in May (h/t Sports Illustrated's Mike Fisher).
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport suggested the Packers could be players for Beckham's services during an interview on the Pat McAfee Show. The addition of another proven veteran, even one coming of another major injury, would significantly help a crew currently made up of Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb and second-round rookie Christian Watson.
The Ravens remain a possibility, particularly after they traded Marquise Brown to the Cardinals and didn't add another wide receiver in the draft. According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, Baltimore is expected to add a veteran receiver "at some point."
There's no place like home. The New Orleans Saints have to be on the Louisiana native's list, particularly after the organization signed his BFF, Jarvis Landry.
Finally, more than a few eyeball emojis were used upon seeing Beckham's response to a Joe Burrow Instagram post in which the wide receiver replied, "The one."
Like Beckham, Burrow is an LSU product. He's also one of the game's best young quarterbacks as part of a dynamic Cincinnati Bengals offense. The Bengals don't need Beckham, per se, but they should consider the possibility if he's interested.
Will the Commanders Trade DL Daron Payne?
The Washington Commanders roster has seemingly been in flux all offseason.
The organization traded for Carson Wentz to serve as its starting quarterback. From there, the "Will they, or won't they?" approach to Terry McLaurin's contract status dominated the conversation. Ultimately, McLaurin signed a robust three-year, $71 million contract.
Like McLaurin, defensive lineman Daron Payne could be re-signed or traded. The 13th overall pick in 2018 is entering this season on the last year of his rookie deal. Head coach Ron Rivera already acknowledged the team has finite financial resources that it has mostly spent elsewhere.
"When you get a veteran quarterback that has a [large] salary, it's gonna impact your salary cap and how you respond to it," Rivera said in April, per Ben Standig of The Athletic. "It's a difficult thing. You try to figure out the best way to be able to pay players, and sometimes you can't do it right away.
"And so that's kind of the situation we're in right now [with Payne] is we're trying to take care of certain other things as well, as we go forward, and we'll see how we can adjust to it. Who knows what happens after that."
Those "other things" included McLaurin's contract, which is now done. But an extension with Payne isn't a priority based on Washington's roster construction.
Last year, fellow interior defender Jonathan Allen signed a four-year, $72 million extension. The window to do the same with defensive end Chase Young opens next offseason. Plus, the Commanders drafted yet another Alabama product, Phidarian Mathis, in this year's second round as a possible Payne replacement.
According to Standig, Washington "quietly let other teams know Payne is available for a trade" prior to the draft.
Payne has registered the third-most defensive stops along the interior, behind Cameron Heyward and Aaron Donald, since the start of the 2019 campaign, according to Pro Football Focus. Anytime a defensive tackle's name is in the same conversation as Heyward and Donald, interest should be piqued.