Remember playing NCAA Football 14 and loving the coaching carousel? Get ready for the quarterback carousel in the NFL this year.
The NFL could see a massive shift among quarterbacks this year, as a handful of gunslingers could find a new home by the time the 2022 season begins.
All around the league, there was a dip in quarterback play. This, matched with one of the worst quarterback classes we have seen since 2014, could lead to NFL teams across the nation panicking to grab a veteran on unstable ground.
Who are some of the quarterbacks who could be wearing a new uniform?
The best way is to divide the long list into tiers.
Starting at the top, there’s a clear first tier of names who have frequently been the subject of trade rumors over the past year.
Sitting at the top of the pyramid is reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. On the path to another MVP this season while leading the Green Bay Packers to the top seed in the NFC, Rodgers has not let his feelings from the offseason distract him from his in-season goal.
The question, however, remains whether Rodgers still wants out of Green Bay. A Super Bowl victory on top of a season with over 4,100 yards, 37 touchdowns and just four interceptions could go a long way towards peace. He finished the regular season second in the NFL with a 2.36 pickable pass percentage among QBs with at least 200 attempts.
But just about every quarterback-needy team will come calling if Rodgers wants out. Mortgaging your future for four or five years of Rodgers? Just about every team without a star QB would pull the trigger.
The Denver Broncos almost made a deal this offseason, so they could enter the market for Rodgers again. The Cleveland Browns are home to one of his favorite coaches in Alex Van Pelt, and the expressed mutual love between him and Mike Tomlin could make the Pittsburgh Steelers an appealing destination as well.
The Seattle Seahawks have not made any changes in terms of coaching, leading to the belief they’re not quite ready to tear it down. But Russell Wilson may finally have had enough. From rumors of wanting to play for a big market team to the failures of the Seahawks this season, it may finally be the offseason Wilson demands out.
Even with a decline in his play, Wilson finished sixth in the league in yards per passing attempt (7.69), sixth in passer rating (102.5) and sixth in pickable pass percentage (3.13). The New York Giants make for a logical fit for Wilson, as he has expressed desire to play in a large market. The Las Vegas Raiders have also been a team of interest in the past as well.
The top-tier concludes with the quarterback who has the biggest cloud around him at this point. Deshaun Watson is extremely unlikely to play another game with the Houston Texans, even if they were to hire Brian Flores as their next head coach.
There is, however, the dark side of the past year of Watson’s life that would make his acquisition a difficult task for interested teams. There seems to be plenty of interest in the young star regardless.
The Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins were the biggest players this past year, so look for those two teams to come after Watson hard if he gets a little more clarity on his legal situation.
This is where we begin the next tier of quarterbacks possibly on the move: the sturdy veterans that teams can absolutely win with. There are three names that stand out in this category, with one of them being a former MVP.
Despite the depleted roster he’s played with recently, Matt Ryan has continued to find success at times with the Falcons. Last year, Atlanta missed out on Trey Lance when the San Francisco 49ers jumped them in the draft order. And this year, there’s not a QB worth taking where the Falcons will be selecting in the top 10.
This could lead to another delay in the end of the Ryan Era in Atlanta. However, if desperate teams come calling, it may be hard to pass up draft capital in return as they’re not close to playing competitive football yet. The Browns, Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and Washington Football Team all have competitive rosters and could be just a consistent quarterback play away from consistent success. There is a draw to Ryan in this scenario.
Ryan finished the year ninth in well-thrown percentage (80.7), but 37th in air yards per attempt (7.48) and 15th in pickable pass percentage (3.85) among those with at least 200 attempts.
Similar offensive system familiarity, similar consistent success, Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings will have plenty of suitors this offseason. After firing their head coach and general manager, the Vikings look to be on the brink of a complete tear down; Cousins’ $45 million cap hit and $35 million in guaranteed money could hinder the rebuild more than help it.
Cousins is seemingly always taking heat despite being consistent top-10 to 12 quarterback in the NFL. This year may have been one of Cousins’ best years yet as well as he threw for over 4,200 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 66.3% of his passes. He also finished fifth in well-thrown percentage (80.9) and 10th in pickable pass percentage (3.36).
You would have to think Kevin Stefanski would love to have his former quarterback in Cleveland if the opportunity presented itself.
Wrapping up the sturdy vet tier is another quarterback who finds himself in speculation despite continued success. Derek Carr is about to see yet another coaching change with the Las Vegas Raiders, and there’s reason to question whether he survives this one.
Regardless, Carr was playing in the playoffs during a season in which he threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 23 touchdown passes. The advanced numbers are equally impressive. He ranked third with a 82.1 well-thrown percentage while also finishing ninth with 8.36 air yards per attempt (see below).
Not only that – but Carr is tied with Matthew Stafford of the Los Angeles Rams for the most game-winning drives since 2014.
Does Carr turn the ball over at a higher rate than some of the other quarterbacks mentioned? Yes, but he’ll also be the reason for some close games as well.
If Las Vegas does make a move for a star-tier quarterback like Wilson, then we could see Carr leading one of those teams that are just a quarterback away.
Enter Tier 3: young guys in need of a change of scenery. These guys have been in the league for three years or less and could benefit from getting out of their current situation in order to blossom.
Starting with the oldest of the bunch, Daniel Jones seemingly still has the support of the Giants. However, now with the retirement of general manager Dave Gettleman and the firing of head coach Joe Judge, this could change with a new regime. His play has not helped much either, though.
Jones has a 12-25 record over his three years with the Giants, and while wins are not necessarily a quarterback stat, his turnover rate is much more concerning. Jones has fumbled the ball a staggeringly high 36 times (losing 20 of them) and has thrown 29 interceptions in those three years.
Could a team still take a chance on him? Absolutely. But his career outlook is trending in the wrong direction.
After the firing of Brian Flores, who advocated for Watson at the trade deadline, Tua Tagovailoa may be safe in Miami for another year. However, there is no doubt that he could benefit from getting away from a hot-and-cold organization and the worst offensive line in the league in terms of pass protection.
Tagovailoa has experienced a ton of lumps on the field as well, as his play has been far from perfect. But he has also shown glimpses of why he was the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He too, however, has turned the ball over at too high of a clip, throwing 10 interceptions in just 12 starts in his second season.
The Watson watch is still on in Miami, and if he lands in South Beach, expect there to be a market for Tagovailoa elsewhere.
The last of the young guys in need of a change in scenery has his situation completely in the hands of Rodgers. If the Packers and Rodgers do mend fences, then Jordan Love could be placed on the trade market as he enters his third season in the league.
The former first round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft has the tools to be a top-end quarterback, but he hasn’t lived up to that standard on the field. He has seen significant playing time in two games this year, starting one. In those games, Love has completed less than 60.0% of his passes with three interceptions.
The sample size is far too small to make a definitive judgment on Love, but if Rodgers stays, there is reason to believe that the Packers could try to recoup their draft capital this offseason.
One of these wide-zone offenses in need of a quarterback may just find this to be quite an appealing ball of clay to mold. There are three quarterbacks who make up the next tier of gunslingers who could be on the move this offseason: the wild cards.
Losing a win-and-you’re-in game to the Jacksonville Jaguars is a surefire way to land yourself in the bad graces of your coaching staff and organization. This is where Carson Wentz now stands after almost single-handedly keeping the Colts out of the playoffs.
Wentz again proved to be hot-and-cold for Indianapolis this year, showing spurts of elite quarterback play and spurts of a basketball player who couldn’t hit his layups. Outside of his 2017 season with the Philadelphia Eagles, this has been a theme of Wentz’s career.
While Wentz led the Colts to the doorstep of the playoffs, hitting highs early in the season, his lows to end the year against the Raiders and Jaguars have the team questioning his return.
After giving up a first- and third-round pick to get him, there’s no way the Colts will recoup all of this in return. However, they may try.
Speaking of inconsistency, no quarterback defines this more than Baker Mayfield. After a streaky first two years in the league, Mayfield put together a dominant end to his 2020 season. This year, though, he produced to the tune of a bottom-five quarterback who shrank under pressure.
General Manager Andrew Berry did not draft Mayfield, head coach Kevin Stefanski has seemingly reached his wits end in scheming receivers open for Mayfield to miss. His fifth-year option was picked up, but no extension has been offered to this point (and will not be), following the trends of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
With a championship-caliber roster, the Browns now must ask themselves if they can use a year of their window to run it back with a quarterback who hardly threw for 3,000 yards, found the end zone just 17 times, and threw 13 interceptions in 14 starts. He ranked 20th in the league in well-thrown percentage (77.5) and 25th in pickable pass percentage (4.55).
He was even worse down the stretch (see below).
The Browns have zero clarity on Mayfield through four years, and that is not a settling place for a front office to sit.
The last of the wild cards is the only quarterback to throw for both 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season. After suffering a season-ending injury with the New Orleans Saints, Jameis Winston could once again be looking for a new home.
Through seven starts pre-injury this year, Winston looked to have found some consistency with the Saints. While his numbers were not staggering, throwing for only about 1,170 yards and completing 59.0% of his passes, he only threw three interceptions in that span.
Does Winston get another chance at a starting gig in the league? There are plenty of openings.
Lastly, we’ve reached the veteran bridge quarterback tier that hosts Ben Roethlisberger (if he chooses not to retire), Jimmy Garoppolo and Teddy Bridgewater. There’s nothing sexy about any of these quarterbacks, as all have tended to lean on the conservative side of play at this point in their careers.
Garoppolo’s numbers look good as he threw for 3,810 yards and completed 68.3% of his passes. While Garoppolo has found success in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, there’s reason to wonder if his inability to push the ball down the field or away from the middle will translate into any other system.
This is why he remains as a strictly bridge option. The same goes for Bridgewater after a season in which he raked up over 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns in 14 starts. These are guys who are not going to win you games, but they also won’t lose them the way Winston, Mayfield and Wentz have done so.
They have the makings QBs who will get paid by a team in the heart of a rebuild. While Roethlisberger may just find a gig on a competitive team, it’s been highly apparent that his play since his injury year of 2019 has declined significantly.
It would be hard to see the future Hall of Famer receive more than just a one-year deal as he and the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to part ways.
Long story short, we’re set for the wild, wild west of an offseason with the number of teams that could be in the market for a new gunslinger. From the stars like Rodgers and Wilson to the bridge guys like Garoppolo and Bridgewater, there are plenty of names for teams to peruse.
Enjoy the playoffs, then buckle up.
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Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.