Week 16’s Top NFL Storylines: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dwayne Haskins and J.J. Watt
The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them
With Monday Night Football wrapped up with the first-place Bills taking care of the third-place Patriots, the 16th week of the NFL season is wrapped up. While we can’t get to everything — like the maddening playoff picture in the AFC — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 16, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: Ryan Fitzpatrick will be a starter in the NFL next season
Blessed with the ability to make huge mistakes as well as big plays late in games, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick put his aptitude for delivering the latter on full display on Saturday night for the Miami Dolphins.
With about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Dolphins trailing the Raiders 16-13 in Las Vegas, Fitzpatrick replaced a healthy Tua Tagovailoa at QB for Miami.
In three drives under center for Miami, Fitzpatrick threw for 182 yards and a TD and also set up a game-winning field goal with a crazy no-look pass that perfectly sums up why the 38-year-old’s nickname is FitzMagic.
Though the Dolphins have already said they’ll be going back to Tagovailoa as the team’s starting quarterback, Miami (10-5) now has a 62 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, and can guarantee they’ll be postseason-bound for the first time since 2016 by beating the Bills next weekend.
Without Fitzpatrick, who is 4-3 as Miami’s starting quarterback this season and is completing a career-best 68.5 percent of his passes in 2020, that would not be the case. And while his efforts this season won’t get him a crack at Miami’s starting QB job next season thanks to the presence of top pick Tagovailoa on the roster, Fitzpatrick has done enough in 2020 that he should get a shot at being an NFL starter outside of South Beach in 2021.
A 16-year NFL veteran, Fitzpatrick will likely find himself with his ninth NFL team next season (assuming he continues to play). It’s also possible he could be with one of his previous teams — the Cincinnati Bengals, for instance, will need a quarterback to start the season while franchise QB Joe Burrow recovers from a long-term knee injury.
Other possible landing spots for Fitzpatrick, who has thrown for nearly 35,000 yards in his career to go along with 223 touchdowns and 169 interceptions, include Washington, Chicago and any other team that needs a stopgap quarterback but also wants the opportunity to contend.
Another option that would perhaps be the most fitting would be Fitzpatrick going to New England to play quarterback for the Patriots, the only team in the AFC East that he has not taken snaps for in his NFL career. Fitzpatrick, who is 59-86-1 in his career as a starter, coming to Boston would be a homecoming of sorts — in case you didn’t know, he’s a Harvard man.
He’s also going to be a starter in the NFL in 2021 — just not in Miami.
Sell: Dwayne Haskins will be a starter in the NFL next season
Following a week that saw Dwayne Haskins get benched in favor of former fourth-stringer Taylor Heinicke after being stripped of his captaincy for partying with strippers without a mask in clear violation of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols, the 2019 first-round pick was cut by Washington.
Drafted out of Ohio State with the 15th overall pick in 2019, Haskins was putrid as a starter in Washington’s loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, turning the ball over three times in the first half and completing just 14-of-28 passes for 154 yards before being pulled by coach Ron Rivera in favor of Heinicke.
That performance was far from an aberration, as Haskins has been horrible as a starter in his brief NFL career, with a record of 3-10 to go along with 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a completion percentage hovering around 60 percent.
Once viewed — albeit skeptically — as Washington’s future franchise quarterback, Haskins is now available on waivers to any team that is willing to claim him and assume the remaining two guaranteed years of his contract. If Haskins passes through waivers, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent and will be allowed to sign with any team in the league.
But crazy as it is to say about a player who won’t turn 24 until May, Haskins may be finished in the NFL. A bust on the field and somewhat of a problem off of it, Haskins has done nothing in his NFL career to demonstrate he has the ability to be a franchise quarterback or understands what it takes to lead a team. Remember, this is the same guy who missed the end of his first win in the NFL to pose for a selfie.
Of course, Haskins is still very young, and by sheer virtue of being a first-round pick with two years left on a team-friendly rookie contract, there’s a chance he does get snagged off waivers. And even if he goes unclaimed, another team could take a chance on his talent. But there’s also a chance he has already played his way out of the NFL in just 13 starts.
“This was definitely the hardest week of my life,” Haskins said after Sunday’s loss. “But I just want to bounce back and just move forward and pray, and get my life together. Put your best foot forward and pray for that opportunity and when you have it to seize it and make the most of it. You never know when you’ll get another one.”
A loser on and off the field thus far in his young career, Haskins may not.
Sell: J.J. Watt will be back with the Houston Texans in 2021
After the Texans surrendered 37 points to a Cincinnati Bengals offense that was using a third-string quarterback on Sunday, star defensive end J.J. Watt expressed frustration about his team’s play during a lengthy postgame rant.
“We’re professional athletes getting paid a whole lot of money,” Watt said in part. “If you can’t come in and put work in in the building, go out to the practice field and work hard, do your lifts and do what you’re supposed to do, you should not be here.”
The good news for Watt? He probably won’t be.
A five-time All-Pro who will be 32 by the start of next season, Watt has been a cornerstone of the Texans franchise since he was taken by the team with the 11th overall pick in 2011. But after 10 seasons in Houston, the team would be wise to attempt to trade him this offseason in order to recoup other assets to fill the holes on the Texans roster — and there are plenty.
Outside of franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Texans do not have a ton of talent on their roster, and based on a number of foolish trades made by former coach/general manager Bill O’Brien, they are lacking a single first- or second-round pick in 2021.
While it seems unlikely the three-time Defensive Player of the Year — who has one season left on his contract extension, worth $1.75 million, though none of that money is guaranteed — would be able to bring back a selection in the first two rounds, Watt certainly has some trade value and could fetch Houston some later-round picks and possibly even a young player in return.
Given the state of Houston’s roster and Watt’s growing unhappiness with being the leader of the Texans’ defense, which has forced an NFL-low eight turnovers this season, it appears the time is right for a parting of the ways.
The future of the Texans is in the hands of Watson, not Watt, and the team would be smart to help the former by trading away the latter this offseason.
Sell: The Jets will use the No. 2 pick on a quarterback in 2021
Now that they are officially out of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes after wining their second game in a row and guaranteeing the Jacksonville Jaguars can draft the star Clemson quarterback at No. 1 overall, the New York Jets are locked in to have the second overall pick in 2021 even if they win in Week 17 to finish at 3-13.
And though other top QB prospects like Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance will be ripe for the picking, the Jets probably won’t be selecting any of them.
Foolish to win a pair of games and cost themselves the chance to draft Lawrence after starting the season at 0-13, the Jets will double down on their poor decision-making and decide not to take a quarterback to compete with, and potentially replace, current starter Sam Darnold.
Taken with the third overall pick three seasons ago, Darnold has yet to make it through a full season without getting injured and has gone just 13-24 as a starter NFL. With a career completion percentage below 60 percent, Darnold has more than twice as many games this season without a touchdown pass (five) than he does with multiple scoring throws (two).
But one of those multiple-score games came in Week 16, when the Jets knocked off the Browns despite having almost no talent at the skill positions (an issue that, to be fair to Darnold, has been present throughout his time with the team). With eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions on the season, Darnold may have done just enough this season to convince New York general manager that he can still be a franchise QB for the Jets if he’s given some pieces on offense and a coach who isn’t Adam Gase.
Picking at No. 2 overall and also blessed with the 25th pick in the first round thanks to a trade, the Jets will be in prime position to move around the draft board and get multiple pieces to build around Darnold if they choose to. With Lawrence now out of the picture by virtue of the Jets being unable to lose correctly, that seems like what they will probably do, especially if you believe what Douglas said about the situation when asked last month.
“Sam’s an ultra-talented quarterback and I just can’t say enough about his grit and his toughness,” Douglas said, via NJ.com. “Ultimately I have to do a better job of putting talent around Sam, and we have to develop some kind of continuity within the offense moving forward. I have no problem saying that he is our best quarterback and our quarterback for the future.”
A remote possibility a month ago, it sounds like Sammy D is sticking in NYC.
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