NFL Insider Notes: What’s Next for the Rams? Plus QB uncertainty in Washington and more from Week 16

The Los Angeles Rams are heading into one of the most unremarkable post-Super Bowl seasons in NFL history, and they will be faced with an important decision about the direction of the franchise.

Does the team continue its all-in nature in 2023, or does it give in a little in its ways for what could be a more sustainable way forward?

The answer to that question won’t be answered until the dominoes fall this offseason. The 4-10 Rams host the Broncos on Sunday and in two weeks their season will be complete. The future of the head coach, quarterback and pass rusher must be known before you can answer the above.

Matthew Stafford has already said he has no plans to retire this offseason, and it came as no surprise to the Rams. His injury put him on injured reserve to end the season, but if the Rams’ record was reversed, it’s highly unlikely that the designation would have occurred.

player head shot

Could Sean McVay decide to retire in the offseason? Yes of course. However, I don’t think people there operate as if that is happening. I don’t understand from the building that there is a dark cloud hanging over the offseason. The season has obviously been trying, and McVay will probably have some time to decompress after the season. But several sources seemed to believe that McVay himself probably doesn’t even know at this point.

Aaron Donald could decide to put them up as well after flirting with the idea last offseason. Donald will have his $13.5 million salary guaranteed in 2023 in mid-March, and a 2024 roster bonus of $5 million will be guaranteed on the same day.

Doing a full, true assessment and autopsy of the team right now is impossible. Three of their best players – Stafford, Donald and Cooper Kupp – have been injured. One of the healthiest teams in the NFL in recent years, the Rams have had little injury luck this season, and it’s shown more along the offensive line than anywhere else.

Even if the Rams aren’t swimming in cap space in 2023, they will have some flexibility. Teams like the Bucs and Saints will have tens of millions more over the cap, while the Rams likely only need to make a couple of cap maneuvers to free up more than $15 million in cap space.

The injuries to Stafford, Kupp and Donald are not considered major either. The Rams should have the core of their team fully healthy for the first day of offseason workouts, with nothing pending in the summer.

No, the Rams don’t have a first-round pick left, as the Stafford-Jared Goff trade nears completion. But they have second and third round picks, plus a few compensatory picks coming their way. McVay must find a new offensive coordinator with Liam Coen returning to Kentucky, although McVay can hire from within and promote Thomas Brown to the position.

Many important questions face the Rams this offseason, but none that they should plan on having answers to anytime soon.

Bears suddenly in the No. 1 overall pick conversation

The 3-12 Chicago Bears find themselves in a very unique position with two games left in the regular season.

The top of the draft is far from certain right now. The 2-12-1 Texans would have the No. 1 pick if they win no more games, but there are six total teams with no more than four and a half wins right now: Texans, Bears, Seahawks (via Broncos ), Lions (via Rams ), Cardinals and Colts.

Of those teams, the Bears and Cardinals certainly wouldn’t go after a quarterback at the top of the draft. The Seahawks and Lions probably wouldn’t. The Colts very possibly could. And the Texans almost certainly would.

The Bears have the No. 2 pick today with games against a Lions team still in the playoff hunt and a Vikings team possibly in the hunt for playoff seeding in Week 18. There’s no guarantee they’ll win another match.

Because Chicago doesn’t need a quarterback, and if the Bears get ahead of the quarterback-needy Texans, a top pick going to Chicago could be extremely valuable to general manager Ryan Poles. If an NFL team has fallen in love with Bryce Young or CJ Stroud, what would they be willing to give up in an auction to get ahead of Houston?

Remember, the Bears don’t have their own second-round pick after trading for Chase Claypool before the trade deadline. That pick will be in the 30s, and it could very likely be the 32nd overall pick after Miami had to forfeit its first-round pick following the tampering investigation. (The Bears have Baltimore’s second-round pick from the Roquan Smith trade.)

Owning the top pick could allow Poles to own the run of the NFL draft and chart the future of the proud Bears franchise that was already blessed to have Justin Fields in-house. I’m not advocating tanking here, but there’s a lot of job security in Chicago between the Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus, both in their first years.

Chicago hinted at being competitive halfway through the year when it was 3-4, but ultimately the Bears have gone 1-7 in one-score games this season. The players will continue to fight hard and try to derail Detroit’s season next week, but I think it’s undeniable that getting the No. 1 overall pick will mean more to the long-term success of the Bears franchise than a Week 17 win in a playoff-less season .

QB change in Washington?

As you know, when the head coach benches the starter and then doesn’t commit to naming a starting quarterback in the postgame press conference, it’s normally a sure sign of things to come.

For the Washington Commanders, all signs point to Carson Wentz being named the starter for Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns. Head coach Ron Rivera pulled Taylor Heinicke in the second half of Saturday’s 37-20 drubbing at Bay, and Washington is hanging on for playoff life.

At 7-7-1, the Chiefs will enter Week 17 occupying the seventh and final seed in the NFC regardless of the results of Sunday’s games. With the Giants holding the series tiebreaker, Washington is really only fighting for the seventh seed down the stretch with Seattle, Detroit and Green Bay.

Heinicke gave the team a spark when it needed it in the middle of the season, and the team played clearly better when he came in. But the bloom has apparently gone off the rose. The Commanders haven’t won a game since Nov. 27, and Heinicke simply hasn’t done enough to get the offense going.

Rivera will have to try something these last two weeks to get the team into the playoffs for the second time in three years. It seems obvious that he will give Wentz first-team reps this week before the Browns game.

Another dirty play?

The number three has had a prominent place in human history. Pythagoras found three to be the perfect number. Three is crucial in writing, especially related to the principle of the rule of three. And it is appropriate to have this conversation on Christmas Day, since three have such a significance in Christianity.

If you commit an action three times, you develop a reputation. That’s what’s happening to Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.

On Saturday against the Bengals, Jones took a dive at the legs of Eli Apple on a play that was eventually whistled dead. It was an unnecessary play by Jones, who cut a trailing player who would not be involved in the outcome of the play. This is putting it charitably.

Against the Bears earlier this year, Jones slipped on a run and brought the pads high into safety Jaquan Brisker’s groin area. And last year, Jones appeared to unnecessarily grab and twist Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns’ ankle after a strip sack.

Although each one is random, each offense is unnecessary. Rumors are getting around the league, and this is not a rumor Jones should want to wear.

It’s the rule of three. I didn’t make the rules.

The Vikings close wins no luck

I wrote about this a couple of months ago, but it bears repeating: the Minnesota Vikings are the most clutch team in the NFL. It was clear before Saturday’s win against the Giants, but it should be extremely clear after the game to beat the Giants on a 61-yard field goal.

The absolute first thing head coach Kevin O’Connell focused on when he arrived in Minnesota was to shore up the half’s woes. The Vikings squandered so many opportunities in 2021 that it was irritating for the offensive head coach. Situational football has been preached since day 1.

You can look at the 12-3 Vikings and say they’re lucky. They are 11-0 in one-score games. It is not going to happen.

I look at them and say that when they need to win the game, they do.

Viking has a plus 5 point margin this year. That is by far the lowest of the eight teams in the NFL with double-digit wins.

But in the last four minutes of the second and fourth quarters, the Vikings have a plus-34 point margin, good for fourth best in the league. Their 110 points are second most in the league behind the Bills. Their three turnovers are tied for second lowest. And the defense is tied for a league-high 10 takeaways.

If you look at one-score games as a coin flip, then yes, the Vikings have been extremely fortunate that 11 of their games ended up on heads. But when you’ve engineered your program to outperform the majority of the league in late-inning situations, you realize that one-score games are hardly a coin flip at all.

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