Buying or Selling the Latest NFL Rumors Heading into the 2021-22 Postseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2022

Buying or Selling the Latest NFL Rumors Heading into the 2021-22 Postseason

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    The NFL's first-ever 18-week regular season has come to an end, and the playoffs are set to begin. While only 14 teams are still eligible for a trip to Super Bowl LVI, every team is actively putting in work.

    Eight franchises—the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants—parted with head coaches during or just after the regular season. That's a quarter of the league entering the head coaching market this offseason.

    Teams not looking to fill front-office vacancies are focused on the upcoming free-agent and trade markets and the 2022 NFL draft.

    With so much activity both around and away from the playoff race, it's no surprise the rumor mill is churning at full speed. Here, we'll dive into some of the latest rumors heading into the Wild Card Weekend and determine whether each is worth buying or simply an example of old-fashioned smoke-blowing.

    Let's dig in.

Raiders Are Sold on Derek Carr, Will Consider During Coaching Search: Buy

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    Ellen Schmidt/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders have surged into the postseason under the guidance of interim coach Rich Bisaccia. The 61-year-old had never been a head coach before this season, but he's handled on- and off-field adversity as well as could be expected.

    However, Bisaccia may not keep the Raiders job beyond the playoffs.

    "I don't think that he believes that he has a chance to keep the job, which is unfortunate, because he's done a great job," ESPN's Adam Schefter said on Mad Dog Sports Radio.

    Instead, it seems Las Vegas franchise owner Mark Davis will weigh all options and consider quarterback Derek Carr as part of the process.

    "I'm told Derek Carr's presence will factor heavily into the thinking," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "The Raiders are all-in on Carr as the franchise guy."

    Do the Raiders really believe in Carr enough to make him a focal point of their coaching search? After this season, it's hard to believe otherwise.

    The 30-year-old finished the year with 4,804 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 94.0—not the most impressive of numbers. However, he also delivered repeatedly down the stretch, providing comeback wins against the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos and winning four straight to finish the season.

    While Davis may not actively seek Carr's input on the next head coach, he probably won't consider a candidate who wants to bring in his own quarterback.

Jim Harbaugh Considering an NFL Return: Buy

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    If the Raiders are looking to make a splashy hire, they may target Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. He began his coaching career as the Raiders' quarterbacks coach in 2002, and he had immediate success the last time he left college for an NFL head coaching gig.

    Harbaugh joined the San Francisco 49ers as head coach in 2011 and reached the Super Bowl in his second season. It would be foolish to think Las Vegas could be the only team with an eye on Harbaugh.

    Of course, everything is dependent on his willingness to leave a Michigan program he just took to the College Football Playoff. According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, he is at least considering the move.

    "Jim Harbaugh, I can tell you this, has been calling around asking for people, in case he gets an NFL job, if they would join his staff," Glazer said Sunday on the Fox NFL pregame show.

    This is one we can buy, at least to some degree. Harbaugh probably isn't jumping at the first NFL opportunity he gets. The Wolverines are once again relevant in the national landscape, and Harbaugh has every reason to see if he can take the program even further next year.

    However, he might leave for the right opportunity and/or offer, be it a big-money deal, a stable quarterback situation or total control. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that he's put out feelers for a potential NFL staff in case that opportunity comes along.

    Only Harbaugh knows what situation would make sense for him, but he'll likely welcome NFL franchises making their pitches.

Texans Hoping to Deal Deshaun Watson Before Free Agency: Buy

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson didn't play in 2021, as he faces 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women who have accused him of sexual assault or misconduct. Houston, however, did keep Watson throughout the season.

    The Texans are reportedly hoping to trade him before free agency opens on March 16.

    "The target now is to trade Watson before the 2022 league year begins on March 16, maximizing the flexibility the Texans have in free agency and the draft," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported. "And some clarity on the serious legal matters Watson faces could be coming soon."

    This time frame makes a ton of sense, provided Watson can settle his legal and criminal complaints by then. Per Rapoport and Pelissero, "multiple teams" were willing to offer packages before the 2021 trade deadline that included three first-round picks and two third-round picks.

    Houston would undoubtedly prefer knowing if it has that draft capital available before hitting the free-agent market.

    If, hypothetically, the Texans wound up with three 2022 first-round selections after a Watson trade, they may be less aggressive in pursuing certain positions on the open market. Houston could also try to land a player or two as part of the deal, further impacting its free-agency shopping list.

    Furthermore, Houston may have an easier time finding a team to take on Watson's $40.4 million cap hit before franchises go on their annual spending spree.

Panthers Willing to Listen to Offers for Christian McCaffrey: Buy

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    The Texans are actively hoping to move Watson, but the Carolina Panthers are reportedly only listening to teams who are interested in running back Christian McCaffrey.

    "The Panthers would listen to offers for McCaffrey, who's one of the league's most versatile players," The Athletic's Joseph Person wrote. "But it's hard to imagine teams would give up much for a player who's missed 23 of the past 33 games and still has $44 million left on his contract."

    Indeed, it's hard to envision teams surrendering a hefty draft haul for a player who last rushed for 1,000 yards in 2019. It's equally hard to believe Carolina wouldn't jump at the chance to unload the remainder of McCaffrey's four-year, $64 million deal if it can get a reasonable return.

    McCaffrey is great when he's healthy. However, he's only been on the field for an average of five games over the past two seasons.

    General manager Scott Fitterer recently spoke of his desire to keep McCaffrey in the fold, though that could change for the right price.

    "I would love for him to be here, but I would never not take a call," Fitterer said, per Schuyler Callihan of FanNation. "If somebody calls and offers something crazy, yeah, you would look at it, but there is no intentions right now of trading Christian McCaffrey."

    The Panthers may have no intention of trading McCaffrey, but they'll absolutely listen to offers this offseason.

Miami Not a Destination for Watson with Flores Out: Sell

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins may have been one of the teams willing to offer a multitude of picks for Watson in 2021. Rapoport reported just before the deadline that Miami and Houston were "open to a deal."

    According to Glazer, any pre-deadline deal would have been contingent on Watson settling the lawsuits before the trade. That may still be a stipulation for Miami, and Watson could still face league discipline under the personal conduct policy.

    However, Miami may not be a preferred destination for Watson anyway following the firing of head coach Brian Flores.

    "Flores was a significant reason why Deshaun Watson wanted to be in Miami," Rapoport tweeted. "With Flores out, this situation may have changed."

    While Watson may not be as eager to head to South Beach without Flores in the fold, it's hard to believe that he wouldn't still accept the move. Watson requested a trade from Houston early last offseason, and the Dolphins are coming off back-to-back winning seasons.

    The MMQB's Albert Breer believes Miami has plenty more going for it that could entice Watson if he gets to pick his destination.

    "There's also a good core group on the roster, cap flexibility to allow for guys to come with the quarterback, no state income tax and, yes, the simple fact that it’s South Florida (which helps in getting guys to want to join him)," Breer wrote.

    If Miami is still looking to trade for Watson this offseason—and that could hinge on how the incoming coach feels about incumbent quarterback Tua Tagovailoa—the former Clemson standout will almost certainly waive his no-trade clause with Houston.

Money Won't Be the Deciding Factor in Colts' Carson Wentz Decision: Buy

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts won't be in the postseason due to an embarrassing Week 18 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. They're still giving up a first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the Carson Wentz trade, though, as Wentz played the required 75 percent of offensive snaps.

    Now, Indianapolis must evaluate the future of a quarterback who couldn't do what an aging Philip Rivers did a year ago: get it into the postseason.

    According to The Athletic's Zak Keefer, Wentz's contract won't be the deciding factor.

    "The way [franchise owner Jim] Irsay sees it, this is not about financials. He will not stomach another season ending like this, no matter the cost," Keefer wrote.

    Wentz is set to carry a cap hit of $28.3 million in 2022. Releasing him would cost $15 million in dead money. Naturally, Indianapolis doesn't want to spend its money for nothing, but it's safe to assume the Colts won't keep Wentz strictly because of a potential dead-cap charge.

    It's perhaps telling that head coach Frank Reich wasn't willing to commit to Wentz for 2022 during his postseason news conference.

    "Next year's roster will be next year’s roster. I don't want to open it up about one player and then start talking about all of them," he said, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star.

    If the Colts believe they have identified an upgrade over Wentz, expect them to move on, regardless of the financial implications.

Seahawks Unwilling to Trade Russell Wilson: Sell

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks have no hovering questions about their quarterback position. Russell Wilson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and still among the league's elite when healthy. This will change, though, if Seattle decides to trade its longtime starter.

    According to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Seattle has no plans to move Wilson in 2022.

    "Sources familiar with the Seahawks' thinking say the team has no plans to trade Wilson this offseason and is proceeding as if he'll be their QB in 2022, regardless of any other big changes in the aftermath of a disappointing season that concludes Sunday against the Cardinals," he wrote.

    It's hard to buy that Seattle isn't at least open to the idea of moving Wilson. The Seahawks were the worst team in their division this season and are likely in need of a major overhaul. This could cause a major strain on the relationship with Wilson.

    According to Glazer, things were already "very dicey" this past offseason. While Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll have put on happy faces publicly, Glazer also believes Wilson could try forcing his way out in 2022.

    "Right now everything's great. But in the offseason can I see Russell do this again? A million percent. I see Russell trying to do this again," Glazer said in October on the NFL on Fox pregame show.

    So, while Seattle may indeed not want to trade Wilson, decision-makers like acting franchise owner Jody Allen are likely pondering when and how to best capitalize on a Wilson deal.

    According to Garafolo, Allen is "not happy" with how things have unfolded and doesn't view the problems as a "one-year thing."

    While trading Wilson may not be Seattle's ideal plan, it's likely one the franchise is exploring.

Dan Quinn a Hot Name on the Coaching Market: Buy

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn may be the hottest name on the coaching market right now.

    According to Pelissero, at least four teams have requested to interview Quinn, including the Bears. According to ESPN's Dan Graziano, Quinn is also the front-runner for the Broncos opening.

    "I have also heard Quinn as a potential front-runner [for the Denver Broncos], but he's drawing interest everywhere right now and might be able to pick which interviews he takes and which he doesn't," Graziano wrote.

    This is entirely believable for a couple of reasons.

    For one, Quinn is an experienced coach who helped take the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl LI in just his second season at the helm. More recently, Quinn helped oversee a significant transformation by the Dallas defense.

    Dallas ranked 23rd in total defense and 28th in points allowed a year ago. It finished the 2021 season ranked 19th and seventh in those categories, respectively.

    Teams open to hiring a defensive-minded coach are likely enamored with the job that Quinn has done this season. While the Cowboys defense is very turnover-dependent, it's unquestionably better than it was a year ago.

    If Quinn is looking to leave Dallas after only one season on the job, it will be a surprise if he doesn't land one of the openings in this year's cycle.

Browns Plan to Stick with Baker Mayfield in 2022: Buy and Sell

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The 2021 season was not kind to Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. He suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in Week 2 and was never the same after that. He finished the year with career lows in yards (3,010) and touchdowns (17), while posting a passer rating of only 83.1.

    According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Mayfield also had issues with head coach Kevin Stefanski.

    "Mayfield's issues with Stefanski bubbled below the surface most of the season, with Mayfield feeling like Stefanski's play-calling didn't always put him in position to succeed or play to his strengths, sources told Cleveland.com," Cabot wrote.

    Yet, the Browns plan to stick with Mayfield for the final year of his rookie contract, according to Rapoport and Pelissero, who reported, "Sources say all sides will continue to work on the relationships moving forward."

    I'm not buying this at full face value. The Browns will try to make it work with Mayfield. He's arguably the best quarterback they've had as an expansion team, and general manager Andrew Berry, who did not hold the role when Mayfield was drafted, was quick to publicly support the quarterback after the season.

    However, it would be a shock if the Browns don't weigh other options in the offseason and in camp. That could mean drafting a quarterback, allowing backup Case Keenum to compete for the starting job or signing a veteran like Jameis Winston or Andy Dalton.

    The Browns have a playoff-caliber roster now, but their window won't remain open forever. They must have a Plan B in place, if for no other reason than Mayfield's upcoming recovery. Cleveland—and the job security of its front-office personnel—cannot afford to gamble a year of the playoff window on the hope that Mayfield returns to his 2020 form.

    Mayfield is scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery on January 19.

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