Fact or Fiction with the Latest NFL Rumors Heading into the 2023 Playoffs

Brad Gagnon@@Brad_GagnonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 11, 2023

Fact or Fiction with the Latest NFL Rumors Heading into the 2023 Playoffs

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    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. The Horned Frogs defeated the Wolverines 51-45.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Eighteen NFL offseasons are officially underway, while 14 teams now must keep an eye on the months to come while primarily focusing on the start of the 2022 postseason.

    It's a whirlwind, and the rumor mill is naturally on fire.

    At a wild and intriguing juncture on the NFL calendar, let's review the league's hottest rumors with a fact or fiction perspective.

Is Aaron Rodgers Done?

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    GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 08: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers warms up prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field on January 08, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    The retirement speculation was already present before Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers declined to hand his game jersey over to Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams when the Packers' season came to an end Sunday night, and it won't likely die until Rodgers either moves on or confirms he's staying put for a 19th season in Green Bay.

    Rodgers is 39. He just endured a brutal season in which his play declined significantly, and the Packers fell well short of expectations without making the playoffs. He's won just two playoff games in the last six years, and the Packers are unlikely to be prime Super Bowl contenders in 2023.

    Does a man who, according to Spotrac, has made more than $300 million in his career (endorsements excluded) really want to keep doing this?

    Honestly, probably. It ain't easy to walk away from a guaranteed $60 million for 2023. His contract gives him all of the leverage. Rodgers doesn't know if that final jersey meant something because a trade can't be ruled out, but who can (or wants to) inherit that contract, considering Rodgers' state of decline?

    The Packers and Rodgers are likely destined for at least one more season together, after which Green Bay could realistically move on with some cap relief despite a large sunk cost on future campaigns.


Another Year for Tom in Tampa?

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    ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 08: Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Tom Brady hasn't quite played his last NFL game. That's because he'll start at quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they play the Dallas Cowboys in a wild-card game Monday night. But after Brady retired and un-retired last offseason, many will wonder if the 45-year-old will walk away for good when his 2023 offseason truly hits.

    Lately, though, Brady has given no indication he's planning to retire. He's now divorced, and in a recent chat with Steve Young on his Let's Go! podcast (h/t joebucsfan.com), he didn't object to a comparison between retirement and death.

    Will he remain in Tampa? That's less of a sure thing. But I don't think Brady has much incentive to stop playing now. And realistically, the businessman in him is well aware that the longevity of his career helps his TB12 brand.

    Quarterbacks are comically well-protected these days, and it's not as though he's coming off an awful season. Not great, not not horrible, and you know he'll fight to go out on a better note. That is unless he and the Bucs make a shocking Super Bowl run this month.


Sean Payton to Denver?

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    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - OCTOBER 25: Sean Payton former head coach of the New Orleans Saints looks on during the third quarter of an NBA game between the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on October 25, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    In their high-profile head coaching search, the Denver Broncos appear to be casting a wide net that includes Sean Payton, who spent the 2022 season in broadcasting but remains under contract with the New Orleans Saints. And that might be the No. 1 reason we're rolling with fiction on this one. To land the Super Bowl champion coach, the Broncos could owe New Orleans some serious draft capital.

    Paying big bucks that don't count toward the salary cap for a revered head coach is one thing. Giving away potentially major roster talent is another. The price tag might be too high here, especially with plenty of other top-notch candidates (including Jim Harbaugh) on Denver's radar.


Jim Harbaugh to Denver?

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    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines is seen prior to the game against the TCU Horned Frogs in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    But the biggest name on that Denver list is likely Jim Harbaugh, who, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, had a two-plus-hour virtual interview with team brass Monday.

    After eight years at the University of Michigan, is Harbaugh ready to make the leap back to the NFL?

    The timing couldn't be better. Despite another bowl game loss, he's coming off his best season yet with the Wolverines, and the opening in Denver would give him a chance to work with a former foe in the talented Russell Wilson.

    I think that'd be hard to turn down, and the Broncos know the time is now with Wilson in place, so they might be willing to pay up big.

    Following a conversation last week with Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper about the team's head coaching vacancy, Harbaugh told Will Kunkel of Queen City News he expects to remain at Michigan next year, but with the caveat that "no one knows the future."

    I'm rolling with the caveat.


Bears Trading Away the No. 1 Overall Pick?

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 06: General Manager Ryan Poles of the Chicago Bears on the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Soldier Field on November 06, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
    Quinn Harris/Getty Images

    This is more of a "connect the dots" rumor. The Chicago Bears hold the top pick in April's draft, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is widely considered the biggest potential NFL difference-maker in this class, and the Bears already have themselves a potential long-term difference-making quarterback in Justin Fields.

    Bears general manager Ryan Poles told reporters on Tuesday he plans on having Fields be the starter in 2023 after the 2021 No. 11 overall pick showed significant signs of improvement and playmaking ability as a sophomore while also noting that he'd have to be "absolutely blown away" by a prospect in order to select a QB at the top of Round 1.

    You'd have to believe that means the No. 1 selection is up for sale, with teams holding top-10 picks like the Colts, Seahawks, Lions, Raiders, Falcons and Panthers potentially competing to leapfrog the Texans (who hold the No. 2 pick) to grab a potential franchise signal-caller in Young.


Tua Tagovailoa to Play If Cleared?

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 25: Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) makes a pass attempt in the first half during the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, December 25, 2022 at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. (Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The 2022 season has been a roller-coaster ride for Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins, but the team remains alive on the verge of a wild-card matchup against the Buffalo Bills. Tagovailoa, however, remains in concussion protocol following a regular season that saw him suffer at least two head injuries, as well as a neck injury.

    And yet, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Dolphins are hoping Tua can play Sunday against the Bills in Buffalo (h/t NFL writer Tyler Dunne).

    It seems that if he's cleared, the Dolphins will start him. It's a fact but indeed a sad one, and that's because it just isn't worth it. This Dolphins team was a mess down the stretch, even when Tagovailoa was on the field. They aren't a real Super Bowl contender, and Tagovailoa could benefit from a nice, long offseason of rest and rehabilitation.

    Nobody wants to essentially throw in the towel for a playoff game, but the Dolphins should make a long-term calculation here. Unfortunately, that's rarely a thing in this league.