There are now only a few weeks left in the NFL season, so some teams are already planning what to do in 2022 with the way their 2021 has been.
The rumor is that there will be A LOT of unhappy veteran quarterbacks that will either be on the move or request out this upcoming offseason, which could potentially change the landscape of the sport if one of them goes to a team that is a quarterback away from contending.
Several of those teams with question marks at the position are salivating at this idea and have a shiny new Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Derek Carr on their Christmas wish lists, given that this NFL Draft is considered to be very weak at quarterback.
Well, we’ve got news for you: not all of you are built to contend by plugging in a franchise quarterback, nor do you deserve one. There is a naughty and a nice list.
So, let’s evaluate who is nice and deserving of one of these Christmas gifts in free agency and who is naughty and not worthy of one that will have to find a new plan or try to make diamonds from their lump of coal in the draft.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been one of the most consistent teams in the NFL ever since the Drew Brees era began, and even in games where Drew hasn’t been there, they’ve managed to be competitive. While 6-7 this year, that just goes to show how great a coaching staff they have, along with a strong infrastructure around the team. Michael Thomas may never play for them again, Alvin Kamara has been dealing with injuries all season, and the quarterback has been a rotation of Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, and Trevor Semien, which isn’t exactly what you want after 14 years of Drew Brees.
But nevertheless, they’re somehow still treading water. Sean Payton, the 5th-best run defense in the NFL, and one of the strongest offensive lines have been a strong enough engine on the car to keep them driving down the highway to potentially the postseason as a wild card. With that foundation and a healthy Kamara back for a full year, they would be a dream fit for a veteran QB to come in and vault them right back to the top of the league. They could be a quarterback away if they could make the money work.
The Falcons might be the least deserving of being in playoff contention this late in the year. They’ve only beaten up on bad or cold teams (Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Saints, Jaguars), they have a worse win-differential than the Lions, and they’re entirely reliant upon Cordarrelle Patterson, the 30-year-old on his 5th team now. Matt Ryan looks maybe 45 years old and will be the highest cap hit in the entire NFL in 2022 at around $48.6 million.
The Falcons are not built to win now whatsoever despite hovering in the playoff hunt. Acquiring a new veteran quarterback in his prime to come in for Ryan is just going to make them even more middling with their abhorrent defense, bottom-tier offensive line, and skill players that are still very young and learning the league. With a first-year head coach, the obvious route here is to go full rebuild around a rookie quarterback of his choice on the same timeline as guys like Kyle Pitts or Calvin Ridley and prepare for the future.
It’s a shame that the Panthers are where they are now because of how strong and young of a defense they have, and Matt Rhule has done particularly well for a new head coach. However, they’ve had some of the most egregious blunders when it comes to decision-making over the past couple of years that they’ve pretty much had it coming. After a mediocre year with Teddy Bridgewater, they had the opportunity to take both either Mac Jones OR Justin Fields or even pursue a different quarterback in free agency, but they spent their first-round pick on an injured cornerback, Jaycee Horn, and their second-round pick on a trade for Sam Darnold who is exactly as bad as we thought he was.
Now, they fired their offensive coordinator, Joe Brady, their star, Christian McCaffrey, is injured every other week, and they thought it was a good idea to bring back a Cam Newton who spent all last year throwing ground balls to the Patriots receivers.
While they have a decent coach and a solid defense, this has been a terrible era for the Panthers that needs a full rebuild. They should have no trust from veteran quarterbacks when it comes to team-building.
The Denver Broncos are a curious case- they’ve struck out at quarterback in every single attempt since 2008 outside of when Peyton Manning signed there in free agency, but they’ve been able to field a competent, strong team in every other area, and the same goes for this team. While they traded away Von Miller on their defense and have had middling quarterback play, they’re 7-6, have a group of skill position players that are all age 28 or younger, and the 5th-best overall defense in the league.
Let’s face it: Vic Fangio, while one of the best defensive coordinators in football during his time in Chicago, has not been an impressive coach thus far, and if the Broncos strike out on the playoffs again, his future may be in jeopardy. The Broncos, with their resources, their strong home-field advantage in Mile High, and the opportunity for a new coaching regime, are perfectly set up to plug in a new quarterback in the same fashion that they brought in Peyton Manning with an already solid team.
You bring in a Russell Wilson, an Aaron Rodgers, or even Derek Carr, and they could be amongst the top of the AFC in 2022.
Assuming he sticks around, is there any coach players want to play for more than Mike Tomlin? He’s not once had a losing season, and with Big Ben in his final year, the rest of the roster is still going to be complete next year; the reason the Steelers have struggled this season is because of the need for the star quarterback- it’s almost unfair to a defense with TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Cam Heyward that is built to contend now. While the offensive line could definitely use some work, whatever quarterback that comes in is likely going to have a bell-cow running back in Najee Harris, a skill position group of Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, and a lot of money coming off the books in the near future.
The Steelers and Mike Tomlin have earned enough organizational respect and stability throughout the league as one of the most consistent franchises in the major sports that they could so easily transition from the 17 years of Ben Roethlisberger to another franchise guy; it would be the most “Steelers” thing to happen. Playing for a team and front office you can trust matters to players, making it an attractive destination to win now.
The way the team is currently set up as they can never be counted out of any game (even with noodle-arm Ben still going), they should still be all-in before opting to start over with a rookie; they deserve it and are almost always going to be on the nice list in free agency.
Washington Football Team
The Football Team is doing exactly what they did last year the moment we counted them out: going on a bit of a winning streak to sneak back into the conversation of relevance.
Having had the worst overall quarterback play last year and still making the postseason with their dominant defense, Ryan Fitzpatrick was considered an improvement as a pickup in free agency. Well, Fitz got hurt, the defense that we thought was great was awful, and Taylor Heinicke made just as many “WHAT THE” mistakes as he did miraculous plays as the backup. Heinicke has carried them back into relevance again at the most critical point of the year, and it’s another testament to how adaptable a coaching staff and team Ron Rivera has in Washington. They have the best run defense in football; they’ve won 4 in a row and embarrassed Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Bucs during that stretch.
While Heinicke plays like he has a job interview every single week and has, for the most part, passed most of the tests, his ceiling is only so high, and the young and hungry defense with a great coaching staff could be one of the best teams in the NFC if they had some stability at the most important position.
The issue? No one wants to play for a franchise so dysfunctional off of the field. There are about a million different flaws you could point out about Dan Snyder and this organization that would prevent anyone from choosing to waive their no-trade clause or sign with them in free agency. Until Snyder is out and they continue to work on their public image disaster, Washington is going to be confined to either sticking with Heinicke or building their team through drafts.
New York Giants
Daniel Jones might actually be a good quarterback! The Giants’ defense might actually be good! Saquon might actually be a generational-level talent at running back!
But none of that matters.
The Giants are one of the biggest embarrassments and dysfunctional franchises in football. Owner John Mara hired an incompetent GM, Dave Gettleman, because of his relationship with him, and he’s likely on his way out from misevaluating talent on the offensive line, poorly managing the draft, and crippling them with financial blunders. Head Coach Joe Judge is hard-nosed, making players run so many laps at practice that some literally have retired as opposed to playing for him. The offensive line is one of the worst in football, much to the chagrin of Saquon Barkley: who has only played in 40 total games because of how many injuries he’s had. Up until Sunday, the running backs and wide receivers had no touchdowns for 5 straight weeks (which is just absurd). Oh yeah, and they used the #2 overall pick on a running back as opposed to taking Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson.
New York sports teams already get enough criticism even when they’re performing well- the Giants have the worst record in football since the infamous Odell Beckham Jr. “boat” photo. They’re in no place for a veteran to come in and change the outlook of the team, and this, unfortunately, might cause Daniel Jones to lose his starting job if they make him the fall guy and take another shot at the position through the draft. New York sports, baby!
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