The San Francisco 49ers are down two franchise quarterbacks when some teams don't have one. And now they may be able to claim a former No. 1 overall pick, even if he may not be good enough to win the starting job there.
The Carolina Panthers released Baker Mayfield Monday morning, less than a day after Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a fractured foot that will require season-ending surgery. Mayfield had been relegated to the No. 3 quarterback position behind Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker in Carolina, and rather than sitting on the bench the rest of the season, the two sides decided to part ways.
Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks benched Mayfield twice this year. Mayfield performed as one of the worst regular starters in the league this season, as he regularly struggled with batted passes and extending plays.
Down Trey Lance and Garoppolo, the Niners turned to Brock Purdy on Sunday in the win against the Dolphins, and he'll surely start Sunday against the Buccaneers. The Niners opted to sign veteran Josh Johnson from the Denver practice squad over free agent Josh Dobbs or other practice squad QBs like Matt Barkley.
But Mayfield presents an interesting case. The trade deadline passed a month ago, and the Niners had very few options out there. Mayfield is due about $1.3 million, and he'd fit under the cap in San Francisco. He has a rapport with Christian McCaffrey, and there's no system more friendly to quarterbacks than Kyle Shanahan's.
Would he fit into the Niners' locker room? That's a determination GM John Lynch and Shanahan have to make. He was polarizing in Cleveland and didn't seem to move the needle in Carolina. Of all the regular starters this season, only Zach Wilson has a lower passer rating than Mayfield's 74.4.
Can San Francisco nab him on the waiver wire? The Niners are low on the list by virtue of their 8-4 record, and Mayfield doesn't cost that much for the rest of 2022. Might a team looking for some backup help put in a claim before San Francisco?
Lastly… is Mayfield actually better than Purdy? The rookie put up a passer rating of 88.8 against the Dolphins on Sunday. As one league source familiar with Mayfield's game told me Monday morning, "it's not a slam dunk Baker's better."
The Niners still need quarterbacks, though. They have Super Bowl aspirations with the elite defense and can't be in this injury position again any later in the season. They can't get their hands on former San Francisco QBs like Nate Sudfeld, Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard because they're No. 2 quarterbacks on active roster elsewhere.
Should the Niners claim Mayfield, he wouldn't reasonably be ready to play for them for a few weeks. Even then, he may not be good enough to unseat Purdy or beat Johnson. Out of a pile of bad options, claiming Mayfield may be the least bad one.
It's not all bad for Ravens despite Jackson injury
The Ravens are bracing to be without quarterback Lamar Jackson for a few weeks due to a knee injury, according to a source. And while losing your starting quarterback can rarely be construed as good news, not everything is bad in Baltimore.
Baltimore is 8-4 and sits in first place in the AFC North thanks to that Week 5 win against the Bengals. Yes, the Ravens still have two matchups against the rival Steelers, but the schedule is navigable over these next few weeks: at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, home against Atlanta, home against the Steelers with a finish in Cincinnati.
And on that topic, that Week 18 game against the Bengals is my early pick for the Sunday Night Football Game. Tyler Huntley can keep the Ravens afloat in the time without Jackson, and that game could decide the division.
Tomlin may keep record with Steelers intact, after all
It wasn't that long ago we all thought Mike Tomlin was about to have the first losing season of his career. The Pittsburgh Steelers were 2-6 heading into Week 9 bye, and Tomlin's 15-year record of never finishing a season below .500 was in peril.
Not so fast. The 5-7 Steelers have started to turn their season around, and though they may not be true playoff contenders — even if they are on the "in the hunt" graphics — they may not get to nine losses this season, either.
Tomlin's commitment to running the football, putting less on rookie Kenny Pickett's shoulders and relying on a defense to stop the opponent's run game have all helped the Steelers get closer to even on the season.
Since Week 10, the Steelers are one of four teams to not throw an interception. Their 161.3 rushing yards per game is fifth-best in the league. And they own the third-highest time of possession in that time span.
Compare those numbers to the first nine weeks of the season. Pittsburgh had the second-worst interception rate in the league, averaged 94.9 rushing yards per game (sixth-worst) and ranked 22nd in time of possession.
The defense has also turned into the league's fifth-best against the run since Week 10, and it has the second-highest interception rate at 4.8 percent behind only Seattle.
Patriots' red-zone woes keep growing
Speaking of the time since Week 10, I was stunned to learn that the Patriots haven't scored a red-zone touchdown since Nov. 6.
That's right. The New England Patriots are zero for their last seven trips to the opponent 20 yard line. They went 0-1 against Buffalo last week, 0-for-3 against the Vikings, 0-for-2 against the Jets in the win and then went 1-for-2 against the Colts.
Their last touchdown came in the first half against the Colts. That's a span of three and a half games.
Sure, the Hunter Henry would-be touchdown would have snapped the streak two weeks ago, but there shouldn't be this sort of streak to begin with.
Folks around the league never thought the Matt Patricia experiment at offensive coordinator would work, and it hasn't. It's surprising that Bill Belichick couldn't see that as clearly. Asked Monday morning on Boston radio if he'd consider changing the offensive play-caller, Belichick said no.
"I think we need to do what we're doing better. I don't think at this point making a lot of dramatic changes; it's too hard to do that," Belichick said.
Rivera looking to ride another tie into playoffs
Ron Rivera got into the playoffs thanks to a tie in 2014, and he's looking to do it again in 2022.
The Washington Commanders tied the Giants 20-20 on Sunday. And while no one seemed to know what to say, it was a familiar feeling for Rivera, who in 2014 as head coach of the Carolina Panthers tied the Bengals 37-all. That tie — which is really a half-win — helped the 7-8-1 Panthers win the NFC South and get into the playoffs over the 7-9 Saints.
With 1:23 left in overtime and the ball at the Washington 10, the Commanders opted to run with Antonio Gibson on third-and-10. Rivera said after the game he "didn't want to do anything crazy," and I take crazy to even mean pass the ball.
Washington wasn't going to risk an incompletion and stop the clock for the Giants, who at that point were out of timeouts. The Commanders punted to the Giants with 37 seconds left and watched a 58-yard Graham Gano field goal attempt come up short after the defense ceded a few too many yards.
Neither the 7-4-1 Giants nor the 7-5-1 Commanders is feeling good about the tie today, and their respective seasons may ride on their rematch in two weeks. The tie doesn't help or hurt them in their pursuit of the NFC East crown, but it could put one (or both) of the teams in the playoffs over the 7-5 Seahawks.