The Las Vegas Raiders fired Josh McDaniels on Tuesday and then news broke on Wednesday that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been benched for rookie fourth round pick Aidan O’Connell. These moves could help the Raiders improve this season, there’s no doubt about that because there is nowhere to go but up for Las Vegas, a team ranked 30th in scoring, 32nd in rushing, and 30th in turnovers.
However, it also signals that the Raiders are already focused on the future and thinking about moves today that will impact the franchise in 2024. That could and most likely will include LV’s bid to have one of the first two picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, a class that by all accounts will have a gap between quarterbacks Caleb Williams and Drake Maye and everyone else. The third prospect name that is mentioned whenever talking about the 2024 draft is Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr..
Maybe benching Garoppolo for O’Connell and replacing McDaniels with interim head coach Antonio Pierce will lead to the Raiders winning six games instead of four games. That’s possible!
But that’s not why owner Mark Davis did it. He did it because he knows there’s nothing to win this season, he wants an early jump on the coaching search without ruffling feathers, and he wants to know if O’Connell is worth building an offense around. The changes could also result in the Raiders getting the number one pick in the draft.
They are far from the only ones in the mix.
Contenders for top pick
The 2-6 Chicago Bears made practically an anti-tanking move by trading for Montez Sweat on Tuesday, but they probably feel they can do that because Chicago also owns the first round pick of the 1-6 Panthers. Sweat may not move the needle much, but upgrading the pass rush for the second half of the season shouldn’t hurt.
The 3-5 Washington Commanders traded Sweat and Chase Young. It seems like Washington has been one of the only regimes that truly didn’t care if they won any games this season: New owner Josh Harris seems likely to clean house in the near future, including letting go Ron Rivera, and handing Sam Howell the starting job without giving him protection (on pace to be the most-sacked QB in history) appears like a tank move.
The 1-7 Arizona Cardinals traded former starter Josh Dobbs and will start rookie fifth round pick Clayton Tune this week. Whether the team officially activates and starts Kyler Murray the week after that will be telling of their plans. The Cardinals currently hold the number one pick, whereas the Bears hold picks 2 and 3.
ANY of these teams could end up with a top-3 pick, or even the number one overall pick.
Where will the L.A. Rams fall in that order?
A lot could depend on pending injury news for Matthew Stafford. If Stafford is put on injured reserve, the Rams have a difficult obstacle to overcome with Brett Rypien as the starter and Dresser Winn as the backup. We saw that story kind of in 2022 and what happened? Stafford and Cooper Kupp went on IR midseason, Aaron Donald followed shortly thereafter, and the Rams lost nine of their last 11 games of the year.
If Stafford misses four games and the Rams go 0-4, are they really going to bring him back when they’re 3-9?
The Rams might not draft a quarterback if they do end up with a very early pick next year—and in most cases, I would argue that they should focus on building a team around the QB position and on defense before pushing all their chips in on someone who they can’t adequately support yet—but if it turns out to be Rypien for a few weeks, they might not have any choice but to consider it because of where their 2024 pick ends up.
It is only by the grace of Carolina’s bad ownership that L.A.’s 2024 pick remains with the Rams instead of with the Panthers, had they accepted an offer for Brian Burns last season.
The Rams have games remaining on the schedule against the Packers, Cardinals, Commanders, and Giants too, so the outcome of those contests will also play a huge role in the 2024 draft order. Starting this Sunday in Green Bay.
If the Rams win this week, they can probably forget the number one pick and maybe a top-three or top-five pick.
If they don’t, however, then the race is on. Whether that was the plan or not.