The big NFC South showdown tonight – believe it or not, if the Saints win, the 4-8 Panthers team that fired their coach of the season would find themselves out of a first game. Speaking of Carolina…
• The Panthers’ amicable breakup with Baker Mayfield makes sense for everyone involved. The quarterback wanted to quit and went to GM Scott Fitterer and asked for the opportunity to go elsewhere. Mayfield has played in just two of the Panthers’ last seven games, and by cutting it, Carolina’s submitted 2024 draft pick will be Cleveland’s fifth round instead of a fourth, saving the Panthers $1.35 million if anyone takes his. deal.
So these are all pretty neat?
Not exactly. Unless he lifts the waivers on Tuesday, Mayfield won’t have power over his destination, and his relatively favorable figure for the rest of the year (again, that’s $1.35 million) raises the odds of being caught off the wire. And of course, Niners makes a lot of sense, given their position at quarterback and Mayfield’s history playing for Gary Kubiak student Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland. But they are now ranked 24th in waivers.
There are some teams ahead of San Francisco that also make sense. Texans who were first in line could get a pilot. saints popular he’s from college and is ranked seventh (may change depending on tonight’s result). Given that 16-year-old Tampa may have position vacancies after the season, is it worth a look? Maybe Tennessee would have made some sense, for that matter, at 21. Next, you have three NFC West teams that can lead him to block the Niners: the Rams (3), Cardinals (8) and the Seahawks (20).
This is all pretty interesting, and Mayfield remains an interesting player despite struggling this year.
“He’s a good locker room guy,” a Carolina employee said on Monday. “Very smart, [enough so] to get a quick offense. I actually think he’ll be good on the San Francisco offense. [Kyle] Shanahan will be good for him.”
And selfishly, this story – with Mayfield being the savior of the Niners – would be pretty good for business, too. Let’s see how Tuesday goes.
• Another interesting piece of news for Monday: Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba announced that he will miss the playoffs due to a hamstring injury and will focus on preparing for the 2023 NFL Draft. Smith-Njigba hurt his hamstring in the Buckeyes opening against Notre Dame and tried to come back twice (unsuccessfully) before closing.
He broke all sorts of school (and Rose Bowl) records as a true sophomore, but missing his first season almost entirely can have some consequences. Firstly, his debut year came with the 10th and 11th picks in the 2022 draft, with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson taking the coverage away from him. Second, fair or not, there will be questions about the injury itself that teams will be dying to get answers to.
“He’s not as talented as his predecessors,” an AFC executive said on Monday. “But he is a very talented, talented pass catcher. The real question is makeup.”
For what it’s worth, everything I heard about Smith-Njigba from OSU was positive. But the causes and hows of a season-long hamstring injury and the decision to miss the playoffs will be important to any NFL team considering giving him a first-round pick. I think his explanation for them will be quite satisfying.
• While you’re there, tonight’s a good chance for the nation to see Saints star rookie Olave, who scored 56 for 822 yards and three goals in his first 11 games as a pro. I’ve said this during his time at OSU, and now stand behind him – there’s a lot of Terry Glenn in Olave’s game.
Meanwhile, Wilson has 57 catches for 790 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games, making his former teammates the two best rookie receivers in the NFL by a relatively wide margin (Atlanta’s Drake London was drafted before both, possibly third) . That’s one reason why I think it’s no exaggeration to think that former position coach Brian Hartline could become a future NFL head coach.
• Florida QB Anthony Richardson thinks there is a fascinating possibility for teams to look into after his audition announcement. He’s a kid who could take another year to develop – but if a man has a first-round talent, it’s hard to tell him to make that progress in college rather than collect a seven-figure paycheck from the pros.
“It has some issues with accuracy,” an NFC executive said earlier in the fall. “But the guy’s doing weird stuff now. He’s got bulk, speed, strength and stamina. And you see how they use him – they train him, you see his physical, arm strength and throwing it through different arm slots. Besides, he’s a good kid. He just needs time.”
One thing I knew the Scouts noticed was how Richardson did full field readings on the offense of first-year Gators coach Billy Napier; it was a talent that would raise the ceiling on who he could be as a professional.
It’ll be fun to follow how that goes and where Richardson falls into a class of flawed quarterbacks led by Bryce Young, Will Levis and CJ Stroud.
• The MetLife Stadium field took another victim Sunday and the Commanders are not happy about it. Washington center Tyler Larsen’s left foot tripped over the synthetic surface in the second half of the team’s draw with the Giants, causing his right knee to curl into a dangerous position.
The Commanders were 6-1 with Larsen as the starting pivot. He’ll probably miss the rest of the year with a dislocated kneecap.
• I asked Joe Burrow if a win over Patrick Mahomes was a bit more important to him given what Mahomes has accomplished so far after the Bengals beat the Chiefs. And I appreciated Burrow’s shy answer.
“He’s the best quarterback in the game right now and it’s fun to watch him play,” Burrow said. “Watching him on the sidelines, playing games, shooting shots that no one else can, it’s fun to watch.”
Surely that’s a respectful way of answering the question. But with Burrow now 3-0 against Mahomes, I felt a “don’t forget me” feeling there too.
• Another team benefiting from the Bengals’ big win was sitting at home west of New York for it. The Bills took back the #1 spot, enjoying their much-needed 10-day break in 12 days, one after a historic blizzard, two flu epidemics, and just two full-day road games. Practice before these matches.
Buffalo won 3-0 in those games.
“I think this [our] flexibility,” center Mitch Morse told me. “I think he is a coach too [Sean McDermott] it puts us in a position to do our job, but at the same time they trust us to be professional and they understand the short three-game comeback and allow us to recover and put the ball in our court. And then I think our guys did a great job of responding and resolving the issue.”
That Monday night January 2nd in Cincinnati is going to be a big night.
• I missed the Heyward brothers’ story of going to their father’s grave before playing against the Falcons on Sunday, but it’s a good one. A rookie tight end, younger brother Connor scored the first NFL goal in the game, while big brother Cam led a strong defensive effort for Pittsburgh in a 19-16 win.
Their father’s real name was Craig, but football fans will only remember him as Ironhead after playing for five NFL teams for 11 years.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Cam Heyward said, “We got up early this morning and went to my father’s grave. “When did he touch me? [Connor] points, it was a complete mess. I don’t like being a wet person, but it was one of those moments.”
Ironhead died at the age of 39 after battling cancer.
• Greg Roman’s work there with Baltimore backup QB Tyler Huntley on Sunday certainly won’t hurt his candidacy for the Stanford job. While safe, Huntley was instrumental in completing 27 of 32 shots for 187 yards, running another 41 yards in 10 shots, and leading the 91-yard scoring drive for the game-winning touchdown in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. .
All of this highlighted Roman’s strength as a coach, whose goal has always been to identify and maximize the strengths of his men. Which I think Stanford can use right now.
• I think the most interesting stats of the weekend were the quick totals from the Philly/Tennessee game. The hard-charged Titans went 87 yards in 21 shots. The Eagles scored just 67 out of 24.
So why is this interesting? With this element in check by and for both teams, the Eagles showed the ability to pull a different lever and the Titans did not.
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