Mike Mayock leaves door wide open to replace Derek Carr
It’s not so much what Mayock said about his starting quarterback — "Derek Carr played at a high level. I was very happy with Derek Carr." — it’s what he didn’t. Franchise quarterbacks don’t get hedges or qualifiers. They get “Derek Carr is our starting quarterback. Period.” Carr received anything but in Indy. "Every position gets evaluated every year, and if we can upgrade it, we will,” were Mayock’s exact words. He might as well have paid for a billboard that said “if Tom Brady wants to come to Las Vegas, we will sign him.”
That is not to say that makes the most sense for the Raiders. Carr took another step forward in the efficiency department in 2019 while Brady struggled through his worst campaign in decades. But the Raiders need to create buzz in a new market, while coach Jon Gruden has been a moth to the flame when it comes to big names. Carr’s fate — his release would clear $13.6 million in cap space — is no longer in his hands.
Joe Burrow does his best to insist he would welcome playing in Cincy
After months of playing coy, Burrow finally made it clear that he would not try to power play his home-state team. “I’m not going to not play,” Burrow said. “I’m a ball player. I’m going to show up.” If that’s not effusive enough for you — which, it’s pretty easy to read that more as resignation than excitement — Burrow finally dug deeper. “I just didn’t want to be presumptuous about the pick,” Burrow said. “That’s why I’ve been noncommittal. Because I don’t know what’s going to happen. They might not pick me. They might fall in love with someone else. You guys kind of took that narrative and ran with it.” Burrow’s narrative figures to ebb and flow a few more times before late April — hand size! — but all roads continue to lead to Cincinnati.
Tua Tagovailoa expects full clearance early next month
Burrow is the heavy favorite to come off the board at No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft, but that was a spot Tagovailoa occupied for nearly two years. That was already beginning to change before Tagovailoa’s November injury, but his fractured and dislocated hip sealed it. Tagovailoa’s scary ailment killed one narrative but breathed new life into another. Connected to the Alabama product for what has seemed like years, the Dolphins are now a real possibility to select Tagovailoa at No. 5 overall. Tagovailoa expects to be fully cleared by March 9 and appears to be planning a Pro Day one month later. If he shows well, it could actually reduce his odds of landing in Miami, as No. 5 might no longer be a realistic fall. A trade up could be in order, though the three teams ahead of Miami do not need quarterbacks. Even if a trade does prove necessary, the Dolphins have more than enough picks to make it happen. It is worth noting that the 'Fins have tried to create the impression they have not settled on Nick Saban’s man. With No. 1 not in doubt, No. 5 is where the drama is at.
Panthers slowly come around on re-anointing Cam Newton
The day began with NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reporting the newly-analytics conscious franchise would “move forward” with Newton as its starter. Speaking a few hours later, coach Matt Rhule did the best he could to confirm the report, with some notable hedges. "From my perspective, I'm unbelievably excited to get to work with Cam,” Rhule began. “I'm excited to get him healthy. Obviously, that's the number one goal for us.” Rhule went on to refuse to anoint even a healthy Cam as his starter, but went to great pains to say that’s the case for every position.
The Panthers have spent the entire offseason adding health qualifiers to Newton’s future with the team, which is a misleading way to frame the process. Newton will not be healthy by mid-March, and mid-March is when the matter must be settled. The Panthers have not fully, publicly committed to Cam because they have not been sure they want to. His health is just one part of the equation. Regardless, as the offseason has advanced, so have the Panthers’ statements, culminating in Tuesday's almost guarantee that he will be back and starting. The smart money is on year 10 (!!!!) in Carolina.
Seahawks update health of backfield
Spoiler alert: It’s not great. Still in the initial stages of his recovery from “more than just a normal ACL tear,” Rashaad Penny is expected to begin training camp on the active/PUP list. The fact that not even Pete Carroll could spew sunshine about Penny’s status suggests the reserve/PUP is a real possibility. That, of course, would cost Penny six games. Chris Carson, meanwhile, is returning from a hip injury where the good news was that it didn’t require surgery. Carroll said Carson would be ready for Week 1, but the implication there is he might not be ready for the start of training camp. That is a lengthy timeline for an injury that was not a fracture and did not require an operation. Amazingly, the fully-established Seahawks need to make an addition or two to their backfield this spring.
Chiefs admit the obvious with Sammy Watkins
GM Brett Veach all but said Watkins will either need to take a pay cut or restructure his contract to return as the Chiefs’ No. 2 receiver. "We’ll sit down and talk about the landscape of where we are," Veach said. "We’ll get feedback from them in regards to what they’re looking for and hopefully we can bridge a gap and make something happen." Currently due $13.75 million, Watkins’ release would free up $14 million in cap space. With Mecole Hardman already emerging behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs hold all the cards in talks. Watkins could be best off forcing his release and seeing what’s out there on the open market. Remarkably, he is still four months shy of his 27th birthday.
Quick Slants: Broncos GM John Elway confirmed for the second time in three months that Drew Lock will be the team’s 2020 starter. Joe Flacco, meanwhile, isn’t even in the running for backup duties if Vic Fangio’s press conference is to be believed. … There was a chance Patrick Mahomes’ dislocated kneecap would require offseason surgery, but Andy Reid said that’s not the case. The former MVP and current Super Bowl MVP will be full-go for the offseason program. … Used to consolidating power, Texans GM/coach/everything Bill O’Brien has made the rare decision to relinquish some of it, handing play-calling duties to recently-promoted OC Tim Kelly. Even though Kelly is unproven, it’s a positive development for Deshaun Watson and company. Too predictable as a play-caller, BOB has struggled to scheme his studs open. … Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is unsure when he might name a starting quarterback. The 2020 Jags appear set to define the cliché “when you have two quarterbacks, you really have zero.” … Cardinals GM Steve Keim said David Johnson is “a player we still value.” It probably has something to do with the fact that Johnson’s contract makes him impossible to trade or cut. Johnson desperately needs a healthy offseason. … Browns GM Andrew Berry confirmed the team will tender RFA Kareem Hunt an offer. Hunt is likely happy, but his continued presence in Cleveland hurts both his and Nick Chubb’s offseason dynasty value.