Now that the dam has broken on the trade market prior to the Nov. 1 deadline, and now that the Carolina Panthers have fired their head coach after just one win in five games, teams are expected to be dialing the 704 area code to see what players the Panthers may want to off-load.
Teams have been sniffing around the Panthers in recent weeks, checking their pulse on the good, young players on the roster. I expect teams to place calls on Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Brian Burns and Derrick Brown.
That doesn't mean Carolina GM Scott Fitterer even has to listen, especially right now with another three weeks before the trade deadline. But a star running back looking at another rebuilding team? A talented wide receiver early into his second contract? A Pro Bowl defensive end ready for his second deal? A Pro Bowl caliber defensive tackle finally hitting his groove in year three? Each one of those players — to some degree or another — is tantalizing to the majority of the NFL.
What trades Carolina makes or doesn't make will indicate how it views its immediate future.
Giants' nice problem with Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones didn't like it when the New York Giants let him know they wouldn't be picking up his fifth-year option in 2023, but the quarterback committed himself to making quicker decisions and making 2022 the best season of his career.
Five games into the season with first-year head coach Brian Daboll, it's going according to plan for Jones. And if it keeps up, the Giants may have to pay extra to keep him, which was a problem they hoped they'd have to face.
Daniel Jones isn't the main reason the Giants are 4-1 right now, but his ability to protect the football plus the sort of grit needed at the position on a team lacking in overwhelming talent has done a lot to have them among the NFC's top teams.
Jones became just the fourth quarterback in history to mount a 14-point comeback against mighty Aaron Rodgers, helping Big Blue outscore the Pack 24-5 to end the game Sunday in London.
Jones has just two interceptions and one lost fumble through five games. He's C-level play from right tackle Evan Neal in Week 3 from being 5-0. He's enjoying the highest completion percentage (66.7) of his career, and his 230 rushing yards trail only Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts among quarterbacks.
When the Giants declined Jones' fifth-year option over the summer, it meant they wouldn't lock into paying him more than $22 million in 2023. They'd seen the Browns and Panthers come to regret their decisions on the options with Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, respectively, and clawing out of cap hell in 2022 didn't make much sense if you couldn't actually get out of it in 2023.
The flip side was the Giants would have to spend more to keep Jones in-house if his play demanded it this season. The franchise tag is projected to be around $31 million next year if the Giants wish to keep Jones but can't agree on a contract.
You can project about half the NFC could reasonably have a different Week 1 starter from this year to next year, with another four or five AFC teams doing the same. Some of those teams would wait until the draft for players like Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, but many would be looking for a veteran option. That would drive the price up on the open market for a player like Jones, who would fetch much more than the two-year, $14.285 million deal Mitch Trubisky received from Pittsburgh last offseason.
The Giants will also have a decision to make with running back Saquon Barkley, whose playing out his fifth-year option now and leads the league in rushing. They have the 2023 cap space, and they'll get more once they can unload Kenny Golladay's contract via trade this month or outright release next offseason.
If having to pay a little extra means the quarterback play for the Giants elevated them to a postseason run in what was expected to be a down year, I think they'll take that.
Cleveland tackles defensive weak spot
In Sunday's loss to the Chargers, the Cleveland Browns missed 11 tackles, had zero takeaways and allowed five plays of at least 20 yards.
A few hours later, they had agreed to terms on a trade with Atlanta that brings Deion Jones to Cleveland.
The trade had been in the works for some time, and the teams swapped late-round picks in 2024 to get it done. Jones restructured his contract in the offseason to make him more tradable as things didn't work out under Arthur Smith's vision of the team. The Falcons placed him on injured reserve with a shoulder injury to begin the season, and that helped him heal as well as ensured he wouldn't further get hurt in pursuit of a trade partner.
The Browns, as a whole, have been up and down this season. The defense has struggled with tackling — the 11 missed tackles are second-most through five games with the 13 misses against Pittsburgh as tops —and their 5.3 yards allowed per carry is third-worst in the league. Even though the offense is putting up top-6 numbers in points and yards, consecutive late-game interceptions from Jacoby Brissett have helped them lose the last two ball games.
Cleveland has lost three games by a combined six points, but the Browns have only a plus-8 margin in points versus opponents.
The Browns hope Jones fits in better with their defensive scheme that has elements of the Dan Quinn scheme Jones once thrived in.
Watson back in the building
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is back in Cleveland's facilities after being barred from there the first month-plus of the season. Watson's suspension began at 4 p.m. Aug. 30, and he wasn't allowed to return to the facility or interact with teammates and coaches until today, following the conclusion of the fourth game of the year.
Watson has remained in the Cleveland area working with personal coach Quincy Avery. He can't practice with the team until Nov. 14. He isn't eligible to play in a game until Dec. 4.
In August, Watson reached a settlement with the NFL after multiple massage therapists accused him of sexual misconduct. Watson was never criminally charged and has claimed his innocence. The NFL suspended him for 11 games, fined him $5 million and required behavioral treatment with professional clinicians before he could return from suspension.
The Hurts Locker
Is there anyone in the NFL with a more enviable mindset than Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts? There are guys who get it, and then there are guys who really get it. That's Hurts.
After a teammate reveled in the Eagles' unblemished record in the locker room Sunday, Hurts went to the podium with a message.
"I hate hearing 5-0. I don't like to hear it because nobody wanted to mention the record when we were 2-5. Nobody wanted to talk about that, so I don't want to hear it now," Hurts said. "I want to hear that we can come in here and control the things we can take every day and grow and climb. What matters is the process, not anything else."
This came just days after Hurts talked for nearly 9 minutes during his weekly press conference without fielding one question about the Cardinals defense.
"I will say this, too. I didn't get any questions about the Cardinals. For real, this game, I don't want y'all thinking…," Hurts said as he rose from the microphone. "This is a really good team we're about to play. They have a really good defense — disruptive up front. They have speed on the backend. So, let's not set the precedent for that. This is a good football team."
He couldn't have been more professional and respectful, but forceful, in his admonishments of his teammates and media. Philadelphia is incredibly fortunate to have this guy.
Flag on the play
Nothing can change it at this point, but the Falcons are still awaiting some word from the league as to the controversial roughing-the-passer penalty thrown on Grady Jarrett in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Buccaneers.
On third-and-5 from the Atlanta 47 with 3 minutes left, Jarrett sacked Tom Brady for what should have given the Falcons an opportunity to win the game. Instead, referee Jerome Boger threw a flag on the play.
"What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket, and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground," Boger said, per the pool report. "That is what I was making my decision based upon."
That, of course, is what a sack is. Jarrett sacked Brady. The play should have resulted in the Buccaneers, up 21-15, punting from their own 43 before the 2-minute warning. Instead, the Bucs got a fresh set of downs and ultimately drained the clock after another first-down conversion.
It defies credulity to believe the Jarrett play should have been flagged. Falcons coach Arthur Smith said he didn't get an explanation from an official during the game, and surely the one from Boger after the game wasn't satisfying.