NFL: DEC 24 Raiders at Steelers
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Good morning to everyone but especially to...

DEREK CARR

Welcome to the Big Easy, Derek Carr! The longtime Raiders signal caller signed a four-year, $150 million deal with the Saints that includes $100 million in guarantees.

  • Carr, 31, had spent all nine of his seasons with the Raiders and is the franchise's all-time leader in most major passing statistical categories.
  • After the Raiders traded for Carr's college teammate Davante Adams, expectations were high in 2022. But Carr struggled under head coach Josh McDaniel, posting the highest interception rate of his career.
  • With the Raiders out of the playoff picture after Week 15, they turned to Jarrett Stidham, and Carr left the team.

Carr isn't as bad as he was last year. The fit simply wasn't a good one, and that's fine. Case in point: He's generally one of the most accurate passers in the NFL and had the fourth-lowest off-target rate out of 47 qualifying quarterbacks (8.6%) from 2017-21. In 2022, that jumped to 12.7%, 25th out of 33 qualifiers. That's just... odd and, hopefully for the Saints, an outlier.

Carr's departure from Las Vegas was unceremonious, but it did give him the opportunity to get ahead of the quarterback market. He's a big winner in this move, writes our Cody Benjamin.

  • Benjamin: "The Saints aren't as well-rounded as the Jets or even the Panthers, but they offer a lot: the cozy confines of a dome, a wide-open division, decent skill-position weapons in Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave, and perhaps best of all, no true threat of competition at QB. In a market full of teams desperate for signal-callers, Carr joined a Saints team that lacks both an existing long-term option and the necessary draft capital to add a top prospect this year. Sure, he may be going from one middling wild-card contender to another, but he managed to find quite a bit of job security."

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for...

THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

So how can Carr be a winner here and the Saints be a loser? Well, it comes down to the big picture for New Orleans, Cody writes.

  • Benjamin: "Cue the annual joke about New Orleans operating without a salary cap. Year after year, dating back to Drew Brees' days under center, the Saints seemingly find ways to spend money they don't have. Signing Carr to a four-year deal is precisely their kind of move, embracing a chance to stay in the middle of the pack rather than commit to a full-on overhaul. The QB landscape suggests you might actually be better off hitting the reset button, and yet New Orleans refuses to believe its time has passed."

I couldn't agree more. Let's say 2022 was an anomaly for Carr and he does get back to form. What does that get you? Carr has never won a playoff game. He has only even played in one. More importantly, the Saints are much, much more than a middle-tier quarterback (or, even an upper-middle-tier quarterback) away from contending.

Carr's new offensive supporting cast is a downgrade from what he had in Las Vegas; the defense is a major, major upgrade. Sure, the NFC South is open, and this move actually put the Saints as the favorite at Caesars Sportsbook. But is a ceiling of early playoff exits worth $150 million? The Saints seem to think so.

The middle is the worst place to be in sports, and the Saints just all but guaranteed that's where they'll stay.

Not so honorable mentions

Geno Smith signs three-year deal to stay with Seahawks 🏈

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The NFL Comeback Player of the Year is fully back noq: Geno Smith is staying in Seattle on a three-year, $105 million deal after a remarkable Seahawks debut season.

  • Smith, 32, had the NFL's best completion percentage and lowest off-target percentage. He also threw 30 touchdown passes; he had 34 in nine NFL seasons prior to that. He made his first career Pro Bowl.
  • Smith will make $52 million in 2023 alone. That's roughly triple what he made in his first decade in the league.

At $35 million, Smith is the 10th-most expensive quarterback on a per-year basis, which I think is just about right. He was terrific throwing downfield: His 20 touchdown passes at least 10 yards downfield tied Josh Allen for the league lead. He was a great scrambler when needed. His steadiness led Seattle to the playoffs (remind you of anyone? Oh yeah, Russell Wilson).

Now, though, the Seahawks have a younger, cheaper and perhaps better answer behind center and four picks in the first two rounds to improve around him.

Where does the QB market go now? 🏈

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All right, Carr and Smith are off the board. Where does the quarterback market go now?

It revolves around Aaron Rodgers first and foremost. Will he play? If so, where? The enigmatic 39-year-old emerged from his darkness retreat nearly two weeks ago, but he's yet to shed any light on where/if he'll play next season.

Still, Carr's signing may give us a hint as to Rodgers' next move, Cody writes.

  • Benjamin: "New York was reportedly a front-runner for Carr prior to the QB's embrace of the Saints... And no team has been more upfront about its desire to land a proven, experienced starter this offseason. Aaron Rodgers has always made the most sense for them, so long as the Packers great doesn't retire and is primed -- willingly or not -- to split with Green Bay."

Here are all of the Jets' options, according to our Bryan DeArdo.

One of the best things about offseason quarterback movement is once one domino falls, the others tend to do the same. Here are all of Cody's takeaways from a big day.

Expert picks for men's conference tournaments 🏀

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Purdue
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It may not be a popular take, but it's one I firmly believe in: Conference championship week is nearly as good -- and sometimes better -- than the NCAA Tournament. And while many conference tournaments are already over or well underway, the major conferences begin today.

Between today and Selection Sunday, bubble teams will have chances to leave one last impression on the Selection Committee (good or bad). Bid stealers will come out of nowhere and top teams will fall.

No conference has been better than the Big 12, which has seven of its 10 teams in the field of Jerry Palm's latest Bracketology. As such, our six experts have three different Big 12 Tournament champions picks.

  • Kansas (4)
  • Baylor
  • Texas

I'd be surprised if the winner came from anyone other than these three, but picking between that trio is near impossible. They split their head-to-heads against one another. Here's what I do know, though: It's going to be an incredible week around the country. You can see our experts' picks here, and here are the brackets and schedules:

AAC | ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Champions League preview: Can Chelsea overcome deficit? ⚽

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The Champions League is back today with a pair of second-leg matches, streaming, as always, on Paramount+:

  • Chelsea vs. Borussia Dortmund (Dortmund leads 1-0) (preview)
  • Benfica vs. Club Brugge (Benfica leads 2-0) (preview)

It's been a woeful stretch for Chelsea -- just two wins in 2023 -- but our James Benge has one specific newcomer playing hero for the Blues as part of his bold predictions.

  • Benge: "On Tuesday night, Stamford Bridge is Graham Potter's last chance saloon. If the Champions League does not bring a profound sense of accomplishment then nothing will. ... With Dortmund holding a one-goal lead from the first leg there may inevitably come a time when they feel compelled to sit back and hold what they have. In such circumstances Joao Felix may well be the one that finds the half a yard to get a shot away. And surely someone, anyone has got to find a hot streak in front of goal sooner or later."

You can check out James' full predictions here, Tom Fornelli's best bets here and our staff-wide picks here.

What we're watching Tuesday 📺

Chelsea vs. Borussia Dortmund, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
Benfica vs. Club Brugge, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
🏀 76ers at Timberwolves, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Grizzlies at Lakers, 10 p.m. on TNT