1. For as long as Bill Belichick has openly professed his love for certain players, the NFL Rumor Mill has connected those players as potential trade bait for the New England Patriots, and will continue to do so as those players enter their twilight season.
It can be Chad Ochocinco or Torry Holt or Joey Galloway or Fred Taylor or a whole host of players in pursuit of another Super Bowl ring. Maybe they pan out and maybe they don’t. Heck, maybe they won’t ever be a part of the Patriots like those endless rumors surrounding Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson.
And that brings us to Larry Fitzgerald. The Arizona Cardinals just signed Fitzgerald to a one-year extension that should keep Fitzgerald in Phoenix for another year; the deal includes a nice bonus for when Fitzgerald climbs into 2nd place all time in receiving yards.
The contract almost certainly won’t remove Fitzgerald from the trade rumors to the Patriots (Belichick loves Fitzgerald’s hands), especially when the Cardinals are out of the playoff picture by the trade deadline, but it’s worth looking at some other possible targets for the Patriots to be rumored to have interest in acquiring.
The rules? They must be over the age of 30, they must have significant career production, and they must be in pursuit of either their first Super Bowl ring. That’s it. Here are the candidates.
2. Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore. Gore is in the final season of his three-year deal with the Colts and should be a free agent. He is still plugging along and is on pace for 1,057 yards from scrimmage this year at the age of 34 without the team’s starting quarterback.
Gore posted 1,200 or more yards from scrimmage every year from 2006 to 2016 and there’s still a chance to extend that streak this year. He ranks 7th all time in rushing yards and fits the bill perfectly if the Patriots wish to move on from Mike Gillislee after just one season or need a replacement for Rex Burkhead on offense.
3. New York Jets running back Matt Forte. From 2008 to 2014, Forte exceeded 1,400 yards from scrimmage every season. He’s seen that figure decline to 1,287 in 2015, 1,076 in 2016, and he’s on pace for 860 this year. He’s dealing with injuries and has struggled to remain healthy.
Forte has one more year under contract with the Jets, but the running back will be 32-years-old next season and New York can move on with minimal dead cap space; they might want to move forward with Bilal Powell or a younger running back.
The Patriots wanted Forte, but he decided to sign with the Jets. I bet he wishes he could have a do-over on that one.
4. New York Giants wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall is on the injured reserve after having ankle surgery and the Giants can move on from the 33-year-old after this season with little dead cap space. Marshall ranks 16th all time in receptions, 23rd all time in receiving yards, and 23rd in receiving touchdowns.
Marshall hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to quarterbacks over the course of his career- he’s caught touchdowns from Kyle Orton, Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Josh McCown, and Jason Campbell and the best he’s played with is Jay Cutler- and he could have a last-gasp renaissance with the Patriots as a big outside threat for Tom Brady.
5. Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. Witten just signed a 4-year extension in March so he’s not a real good trade option...right? From 2007-13, Witten was a 90 catch, 1,000 yard, 5 touchdown machine and he is always open on third down. While his production has declined, he remains one of the most respected players in the league.
Witten will be 36 years old next year and he’s really settled into the 70 catches for 700 yards and 3 touchdowns phase of his career and his contract is surprising team-friendly. His annual pay shifts his base salary to game-day bonuses so he’ll only get paid if he’s healthy. He’ll average $6.5 million over the next four seasons, which isn’t terrible when you consider he’s still one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL.
Witten has a good shot of winning a ring with the Cowboys with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, so long as Dallas invests in a defense, so I don’t think this could happen.
6. Speaking of the Cowboys, how about the spat between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell? Goodell is up for a contract extension and Jones was all excited about the new deal until Goodell suspended Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games, and now Jones is trying to derail any new deal for Goodell.
ESPN’s Over The Lines did another deep investigation into how Jones and Goodell fell apart after they were joined at the hip for so long. I don’t think it’s that complicated.
Jones considers himself the kingmaker of the NFL owners and he’s wrestled away the title of “shadow commissioner” from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, using some misogynistic language in doing so. Jones is used to having his way with everything- from DeflateGate to moving franchises around the country to stadium deals- that the moment he doesn’t get what he wants he starts acting like a kid throwing a tantrum in the candy store- but instead of throwing the candy bar on the ground, Jones has the money to pay for lawyers to sue
his parents the other owners.
One way parents deal with kids that are throwing tantrums is to take their toys away from them and other owners “have been discussing the possibility” of using the NFL Bylaws to force Jones to sell the Cowboys, according to PFT. Maybe a less harsh alternative would be to send Jones, the owner that most loves the limelight, to his room and prevent him from attending games, much like how the league suspended Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Whatever happens won’t be as dumb as DeflateGate, which Jones and Goodell were both assuredly in favor of, but I mostly wonder if there will be any lessons learned from this. That, of course, might take some self-reflection and there’s simply no evidence that those involved are capable of taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing that they, themselves, are the problem.