The quarterback situation around the NFL is a mess. Up to half the league has at least some degree of QB need, and there’s a dearth of options heading into the 2022 offseason. The NFL draft pool for QB is just as bad as it has looked since 2013, when EJ Manuel was the first to leave the board. The best option in free agency might be Jameis Winston, who is coming off an ACL tear he suffered last October.
The only saving graces for quarterback content this offseason have been Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson — two players who are mainstays for the Packers and Seahawks, respectively — who might not even be available. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said he’s not even getting trade offers for Rodgers right now, while Seahawks general manager John Schneider said he picks up the phone when teams were calling about Wilson, but did not plan to deal with him.
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Around the NFL, there are levels of quarterback needs. Just to keep it simple, here’s roughly how the NFL’s quarterback requirement structure breaks down.
Red alert, top priority
- Denver Broncos
- Carolina Panthers
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Detroit Lions
- Washington Commanders
New trainer, new system
- New York Giants
- Houston Texans
- Las Vegas Raiders
- Miami Dolphins
Veterans who might need new sets
- Indianapolis Colts
- Atlanta Falcons
- San Francisco 49ers
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Cleveland Browns
Incumbent entering free agency
Many teams don’t fit neatly into one category, but that’s the general lay of the field. Sixteen teams, half of the NFL, could make the case for a new quarterback. Which again begs the question: what are the possibilities when there are so many needs and so few options?
Which teams have real needs?
The first question is the number of teams that really need the quarterback position. Some of the teams on this list have substitutes who may well be ready to take the helm. The main one of them is the Houston Texans. Despite Deshaun Watson’s drama, which doesn’t appear to have any imminent resolution, Davis Mills has had an up and down season. Despite a brutal 2-9 record as a starter, he led a team that had no favorable games on its schedule heading into the season, and he played well enough to keep the Texans competitive.
It’s as much a damning assessment as it is a complementary assessment, as there is no “competitive bowl,” but the Texans might want to see what they have in Mills before pulling the rip cord. Pep Hamilton has done wonders with Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert, so he should have a say in where the Texans go.
the Eagles have also backed Jalen Hurts on several occasions, and there’s little reason not to believe they like what they see in him. They invested draft capital in him and he rewarded them with a playoff spot last year. the Browns, meanwhile, only have one year left on Baker Mayfield’s contract. He’s coming off a year riddled with injuries, so maybe it’s worth giving him one last chance.
Tua Tagovailoa had a huge weight removed when the dolphins said the door was closed on a trade from Deshaun Watson. He’s one of the few quarterbacks to truly benefit from a coaching change, as Brian Flores didn’t seem interested in him as a QB. Tagovailoa will likely have at least one season under Mike McDaniels to see what he can do.
Finally, there is the curious case of Derek Carr, who was projected as a player on Raiders could go from. Josh McDaniel talks like he expects to have a relationship with Carr, and right now there’s no reason to think he won’t be under center in Las Vegas next year.
Which teams are rolling the tires on veteran options?
This one is much easier to parse. the Falcons and Foals the two appear reluctant to commit to Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz, respectively, although in the case of the Falcons the tone appears to be more gestural from new general manager Terry Fontenot. Fontenot is putting on a “light is still on for business” face right now, but Ryan’s contract could cripple him early. If he can get a team that feels like it’s one-quarter away from success to trade for Ryan, that would be good news for a Falcons team that has needed a shake-up at its position.
As for Wentz, he wasn’t the Ryan Tannehill-lite game-action monster the Colts needed him to be, and given how surprisingly competitive Indianapolis was last year, he would belong to the Colts to increase their schedule and find someone who can be “the guy.”
Which teams have viable options on their roster?
Really, only two teams come to mind here. the 49ers seem to have a lot of faith in Trey Lance, and there doesn’t seem to be much interest in Rosen-Murraying the situation there. It will take creativity from the 49ers player side, but Kyle Shanahan is nothing if not creative.
the Saints, meanwhile, are in one of the weirdest positions of all. They have a new coach in Dennis Allen, but Pete Carmichael Jr. will call plays after Sean Payton’s abrupt retirement. That means Jameis Winston, heading into free agency, is a perfectly viable option to re-sign when he enters free agency. However, one of the other QB-needy teams can make a tough play for Winston, and the Saints are still cash-strapped against the cap at the moment. They can certainly find ways to make the money work, but if Winston gets caught elsewhere, the Saints will have to fully embrace Taysom Hill as the quarterback of the future. If they don’t, they suddenly find themselves in one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL. This situation is very fluid.
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The intruders here are the giants, who have a new coach in Brian Daboll and a quarterback they let go in Daniel Jones. Jones hasn’t been too impressive during his time with the Giants, and now seems like the best time for them to move on.
How do Rodgers and Wilson fit into all of this? Of the remaining teams expected to push for a quarterback — i.e. the Broncos, Panthers, Steelers, Lions, Commanders, and Giants — the Broncos, Steelers, and Commanders all seem to be thinking that they are a “quarterback away”. The Broncos and Commanders look set to make runs on Rodgers or Wilson, while the Panthers seem determined to try to make another run to take Watson from the Texans, according to reports in January. The Steelers are reportedly eyeing Mitchell Trubisky after Ben Roethlisberger retired, but Teddy Bridgewater is another option there. Either way, they’re much more likely to try something in free agency than through trade.
Wilson seems unwavering in his commitment to remain a Seahawk, and his full no-trade clause makes it impossible to move without his consent. Wilson reportedly said he would waive NTC for Denver, but that report came back in December. That makes Rodgers the only real option in the trade market if teams are looking to avoid the Watson drama, which means the Broncos and Commanders will have competing trade packages for one of the best quarterbacks in the game. NFL history.
If the teams are considering the draft, their options are effectively Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis and Sam Howell. Matt Corral is also on the list, although his college career ended with an injury that could make him harder to assess. Dark Horse board risers are Desmond Ridder from Cincinnati and Carson Strong from Nevada. But this draft doesn’t appear to have a quarterback that will come out and light up League Day 1, if that’s what the teams are betting on.
Of all the ifs and buts, this offseason neither makes nor breaks most of these teams. It’s about building something, which means the quarterback situation doesn’t need to be resolved right away. Of all those quarterbacks, Rodgers is the one player who instantly makes a team a contender — but that’s not the only factor at play for a player of his stature. When one domino falls, the rest should fall into place with the QB carousel. But Rodgers is a wild card as he continues to consider his future in the league.
With all the balls in the air, it would be shocking to see Rodgers or Wilson anywhere else next year. The package to get them would be huge. It took a perfect storm for the Lions to be ready to absorb a bad contract for Jared Goff to send Matthew Stafford to the Rams. As much as Broncos and Commanders fans would love to see it, don’t expect to see lightning strike twice in two offseasons.