NFL Rumor Roundup: After J.J. Watt signing, is Arizona the new free-agent hotspot destination?

Matt Harmon
·10 min read

With the NFL rumor mill heating up and free agency on the horizon, it’s time to dive into the second edition of my ongoing series based around my trademarked “BS Meter.” I use this meter to parse out the rumors sure to be flying during this wild offseason. Here’s how it’s going to work:

The parameters of the BS Meter

1 - Little to no BS detected

2 - Some degree of BS but not significant

3 - You’re starting to push it

4 - Probably BS but hints of truth detected

5 - Total BS

Most importantly, after we decide just how much BS is clouding a rumor, we’ll look at exactly what it might mean that this bit of gossip has even hit our ears.

Behind every NFL lie, there is some layer of truth.

Rumor: Is Arizona about to become a hotspot destination for free agents?

The whole discourse around J.J. Watt’s choice to “get the bag” with Arizona instead of signing with an obvious Super Bowl contender is dumb.

Be introspective for a second, football media. We have no idea who is going to win the Super Bowl next season. We never do. And recent history would tell us if a team doesn’t have Tom Brady on its roster (which, breaking news, 31 teams do not) you only really have a chance once every four years.

So do other teams that were rumored to be in on Watt like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Green Bay have better odds to win a Super Bowl next year? Literally yes, they do, and you can wager on those odds. But is the difference between their chances and Arizona’s so great it's worth sacrificing several millions of dollars from Watt’s last big contract? No. Not when we have already established we know nothing about who is a real contender (and all that stuff about the Brady effect).

The more interesting debate is not “Should Watt have signed here instead?” but rather whether his move to Arizona — along with the presence of stars like Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins — makes this team a more attractive destination for upcoming free agents.

BS Meter: 3 out of 5

As established above, almost no one takes a discount just to play for a certain team if they have the choice to net a bigger bag elsewhere. It’s so much easier for us to tell someone else to take less money. Let me know when you actually do it in your career.

So it’s not as if guys on the market will take less to play for Arizona just because J.J. Watt was added to a team that had plenty of problems in 2020. That said, it might move the needle if the money is really close.

Arizona is already a good theoretical destination because many players spend the late winter/early spring portion of the offseason training in that area. The fact that they’ve made big swings in back-to-back offseasons with the Hopkins trade and Watt addition to drastically accelerate their contending timeline only helps.

In the relative world of the reduced cap, the Cardinals are actually in pretty decent shape with about $11.2 million in space and more moves to make. They can make more some nice additions. Watt alone doesn’t make them a Super Bowl contender but adding pieces to take their offense to the next level might just do that.

Even with Hopkins in place, the Cardinals badly need more pass-catchers. They swung and missed on all three of their receiver picks from 2019. While Christian Kirk is fine, he’d be better served as a No. 3 receiver. Dan Arnold is a free agent at tight end.

The receiver market has plenty of options. Murray can be unlocked further as a downfield passer and it’s hard not to imagine another former Texan in Will Fuller lining up across from Nuk again. At tight end, Jonnu Smith would be perfect in the packages where this team spreads the field. You should want to see guys like this land there.

The Cardinals fell short of the lofty expectations many had for them in 2020, not just as an overall team but as a fantasy ecosystem. Even if you still have questions about Kliff Kingsbury (and that’s fair), it was probably more due to personnel on offense. There just isn’t any juice beyond Hopkins and Murray.

In a weird way, maybe Watt helps with that.

Rumor: Joe Douglas said he'll answer teams inquiring about trading for Sam Darnold

You’re rolling your eyes at home at how obvious this one is. But it represents a change from the public sentiments offered up by the Jets general manager. He is, of course, the source of this rumor:

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It’s helpful when they just say it!

BS Meter: 1 out of 5

There is no reason to not take Douglas at his word here. The Jets would be foolish to not listen to offers for Darnold while sitting in a perfect position to hit reset on the quarterback spot with the No. 2 overall pick.

Football history isn’t rich with guys who put up the kind of truly miserable numbers Darnold has as a pro only to go on to become high-end starters. You can make very good excuses for Darnold and that alone should give other teams hope that he’s salvageable.

A potential Darnold reworking would probably be best done away from New York. Darnold’s rookie deal is also almost at an end. That alone would make it pretty tempting for New York to just start over with a new quarterback and get the life of the cheap rookie contract to work with while they rebuild.

Darnold would upgrade the quarterback room of teams like San Francisco, Denver, or even Pittsburgh, and what do those three teams have in common? All of them need a future plan at quarterback but most importantly, each erred in not having a real competitor or 2020 backup plan to their questionable starter.

That’s the role Darnold needs to play for now, while he gets his career on track.

Rumor: The 49ers called the Panthers about Teddy Bridgewater

San Francisco’s brass has said all the right things when it comes to Jimmy Garoppolo’s status as their starter. When this particular rumor got out, John Lynch and co. made sure to hit the ground running early this week to reiterate their commitment to Garoppolo. The damage was mostly done with confirmation bias fully set in. Everyone had already assumed the 49ers were planning to move on at quarterback, so this just threw gas on the fire.

BS Meter: 2 out of 5

I tend to believe this particular call happened, but even if it didn’t, the idea of this move doesn’t smell of much BS. And it doesn’t necessarily prevent you from buying what the 49ers are selling about being sold on Garoppolo as their QB1 this season.

If they can’t swing for the fences and acquire a Deshaun Watson type, Teddy Bridgewater is the exact level of quarterback that should interest the 49ers.

You can absolutely pick holes in Jimmy Garoppolo’s performance as the 49ers starter, no matter how many games he’s won. If you don’t watch him in this offense and at least wonder if there’s more meat on the bone, you need to activate your imagination. That said, he’s comfortable in the system and will play in 2021 with the clear-cut best supporting cast of skill position players he’s ever had in San Francisco.

While it’s been an issue, Garoppolo’s performance hasn’t been the biggest thorn in Kyle Shanahan’s side. It’s been Jimmy G's durability. It’s been painful to watch the reins being handed over to Nick "Turnover-disaster-waiting-to-happen" Mullens whenever the inevitable injury would occur.

Enter: Teddy Bridgewater.

Even with his current team hellbent on looking for an upgrade over him as a starter, Bridgewater is still one of the best backups in the league. He had some moments for Carolina before his limitations got too loud to ignore. However, just a few moments for a stretch of games is all the veteran-laden 49ers would be asking for in the event of a Garoppolo absence.

Rumor: The Steelers are done with James Conner

Insiders close to the team don’t see the impending free agent as a part of the team’s future. James Conner was the primary back for a Steelers running game that ranked 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Tweaking, if not sweeping changes being made to this ground attack was a given.

BS Meter: 1 out of 5

No one who watched Conner last year would be shocked that the Steelers are looking to upgrade. It’s a shame too, because he comes with a great story and was a revelation for the team back in 2018 when he stepped in for Le’Veon Bell. At this point, Conner just doesn’t have the juice the Steelers need from their top back. Neither does any other back currently on Pittsburgh’s roster.

Conner will hit the open market in the next few weeks but probably won’t find work quickly. He isn’t completely cooked but he might be better served as a backup/spot rusher given his persistent injury woes. While he’ll be well off the radar to start, he might become a factor as a waiver pickup at some point.

Back in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are a lock to draft a running back at some point. Maybe it won’t come in Round 1 but whoever the Steelers select will become an instant fantasy darling.

But let’s remember, the Steelers’ issues as a rushing attack were much more systemic than who was carrying the ball.

This organization has to remake its offensive line this offseason that got next to no push in 2020. That’s going to be a tall order with retirements, expiring contracts, and possible salary cap casualties all likely to dig into that portion of the roster. And that’s not even touching the problematic play-calling and offensive philosophy from last year that was designed to coddle an aging Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has a long way to go before they become a good rushing ecosystem.

Rumor: Hunter Henry could get $10.5 million a year in free agency

A $10.5 million per year average would put Hunter Henry in line with the Austin Hooper deal from last year. While Hooper was coming off a bigger season from a raw stats perspective, Henry has long been seen as a high-upside option.

BS Meter: 2 out of 5

When good starters hit the market, they tend to land deals near the top of their position. That’s just how this thing works. A $10.5 million per year deal would trail only Travis Kelce and George Kittle among tight ends. No one this side of Darren Waller even has a case to be included with those two, so that price tag makes sense for Henry.

Hunter Henry is the best tight end on the free-agent market and has an argument for being one of the 10 best players available — period. That’ll definitely be true after franchise tags are applied, which by the way, the Chargers may elect to hit Henry with for two years in a row. Los Angeles has plenty of cap space and every incentive to continue to pile up complementary players around Justin Herbert, not take them away.

If Henry does get free, he’ll have no shortage of suitors. With the Jaguars sitting at the top of the league in terms of cap space and with a strong desire to give Trevor Lawrence pass-catchers to work with, they make sense as a partner. While there’s a chance Henry moves on to a spot with a less desirable quarterback situation, he could offset some of those worries in his fantasy value by going to a team with a clearer path to volume.

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