The NFL never sleeps.
With the 2021 season in the books, we are officially in offseason mode. The NFL Combine is less than two weeks away and free agency opens in one month. Trades can’t be made official until the start of the league year in mid-March but teams do not have to wait to come to trade agreements. Last year the Philadelphia Eagles traded Carson Wentz on February 18. So things could start shuffling any day now.
And shuffle they will. If you thought last year’s QB carousel was wild with Wentz, Sam Darnold, Matthew Stafford and Teddy Bridgewater being traded, the coming weeks have a chance to blow that out of the water.
How will it all play out? Let’s have a look at the quarterbacks who have been rumored as trade possibilities, veteran free agent starting QBs and the best fits for each team that is likely to need a new quarterback…
Yes, we have been over this one a few times. The buzz surrounding Cousins prior to the Combine is that new Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell “likes” Cousins and that the team wants to work out something with his $45 million cap hit for 2021. The vague nature of insider reports leaves the door open for just about anything.
The Vikings could sign him to a contract extension in the coming weeks or they could be using media to set up an offer that Cousins won’t take, just like Washington did in 2017. Washington ultimately let Cousins’ deal play out, which is an option for the Vikings, but the sheer number of teams that are QB needy this offseason makes it likely that they will receive numerous phone calls.
The price tag of a deal is hard to figure. Would a desperate team trade a first-round pick? Will the rest of the league look at Cousins’ contract situation as untenable? How much cap space would the Vikings be willing to eat in order to get better draft capital in return?
Questions remain very much up in the air.
There is similar messaging coming out of Green Bay. Reports have come out that the Packers want to keep Rodgers but the team’s salary cap situation is nothing short of catastrophic. They are presently $50 million over the cap, per OverTheCap.com
Former Packers executive Andrew Brandt tweeted about the difference between the team saying that it wants Rodgers back and actually denying trade possibilities.
The same logic could be applied to the Vikings.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback has not stated whether he plans to retire, return to Green Bay or find a new home. It would be hard to ignore the comparisons between Tom Brady leaving for Tampa Bay and Rodgers looking for a win-now roster elsewhere.
The 49ers are reportedly already working with Jimmy G to find him a new home. The team made no bones about the fact that they were moving on from him when they traded up from No. 12 to No. 3 overall in last year’s draft to pick quarterback Trey Lance. While there are questions about how much of Garoppolo’s success was based on having a strong system operated by Kyle Shanahan, he has proven that he can win with a quality coach and the right supporting system. There should be significant interest from teams who are “a quarterback away.”
Last offseason, Wilson’s agent put out a list of places he wouldn’t mind being traded. That, apparently, was not a “trade demand,” but still indicated that Wilson isn’t thrilled with Seattle’s direction. The Seahawks have failed to recreate the magic of the Legion of Boom squads that dominated on defense, ran the ball well and set up Wilson bombs. In recent years under Pete Carroll the defense has faded and the team hasn’t “let Russ cook.” Seattle keeping Carroll is an indicator that they won’t be moving Wilson but the right offer could be compelling enough to reset the Seahawks’ franchise.
Cleveland’s QB looked like he was on the rise after 2020 but Mayfield regressed severely this season as he tried to battle through injury. As the season went along, leaks came out of his camp about Mayfield’s disenchantment with his situation, leading to the possibility of a breakup between the former No. 1 overall pick and the Browns. Without much evidence that Mayfield is in the upper echelon of quarterbacks, the Browns might find it compelling to trade him now rather than letting his contract run out later. Interest won’t be as high in Baker — especially with his social media activity — as some of the other more mature quarterbacks but if a team convinced itself last year that Sam Darnold was the answer, you can bet there will be interest in Mayfield.
There are multiple reports that Murray and the Cardinals are clashing. ESPN’s Chris Mortenson reported on Super Bowl Sunday that there are issues with Murray’s personality and The Athletic’s Mike Sando tacked onto that buzz on Monday. Neither report states that Murray is going to get traded but his side certainly can’t be happy with people on the inside of the organization leaking things about his character. Murray tweeted a statement calling reports “nonsense” but did not include anything about being happy with the Cardinals. Stay tuned on this one…
Another report came out on Sunday that the Colts are looking to move on from Wentz just one year after trading a first-round pick to acquire his services. The last game of the season, in which the Colts lost to the Jaguars to miss out on a playoff berth, will stick in the minds of QB-needy teams but Wentz’s mediocre play (ranked 20th by PFF, 13th in QB rating) might be enough to attract somebody that has nobody at quarterback.
It’s very hard to say whether Watson will find a new home this offseason or continue to wait on resolution to the accusations that he sexually harassed numerous massage therapists. He hasn’t been suspended by the league but the Texans seem to be OK with letting this play out. If he is traded, Houston will very likely receive a huge return. His off-field problems may be a concern but Watson is an elite talent.
After a decent start to his career with Jacksonville, Minshew has been relegated to backup duty for the last two years. He won a key start with the Eagles this year that helped propel them into the playoffs, which might be enough to gar(d)ner some interest around the league from teams who might be looking for a QB competition.
Sean Payton may have helped rehabilitate Winston’s image as an interception machine last year when the former Bucs No. 1 overall pick kept his mistakes to a minimum in New Orleans. In seven games, he only registered six turnover-worthy plays after leading the NFL with 40 in 2019. It’s plausible that a team looking for a transition QB could sign him to a one-year deal.
The former No. 2 selection in the 2015 draft hasn’t seen the field very often over the last two seasons as the Vegas Raiders’ backup but there could be a team looking for a reclamation project. Mariota is only 28 and showed flashes during his time with the Titans. He graded 14th by PFF in 2017 and 18th in 2018.
Bridgewater has become a bridge QB for teams looking for competent play and leadership from the position. He went 7-7 for the Broncos, graded as PFF’s 18th best quarterback in 2021 and ranked 13th in quarterback rating.
The ageless Fitzpatrick suffered a severe injury in Week 1 and did not play again last season but he hasn’t given any indications that he’ll be stepping away from the game. As a bridge starter or top-notch backup, there’s always a team that needs a wily gunslinger and Fitzpatrick is there to oblige.
Everyone is looking for the next Ryan Tannehill — a quarterback who was stunted by poor circumstances and incompetent coaching in their previous stop that might have starter potential in a better place. Will somebody believe Trubisky deserves a second shot?
Teams in the market
Matthew’s best fit: DeShaun Watson
Mike McDaniel takes over a team with weapons all over the field and a quarterback who might not be capable of maximizing their abilities. But in order to justify bailing on a QB that the Dolphins drafted fifth overall in Tagovailoa, the ‘Phins need to have a decidedly better option. Watson would be just that. Miami is one of the few teams that can take on his $40 million cap hit with $63 million in cap space (per OverTheCap). How the Dolphins would navigate the accusations against Watson is difficult to say but they would become an instant contender in the QB-stacked AFC with him at the helm.
Sam’s best fit: Aaron Rodgers
Miami has a league-high in cap space and an offensive-minded new head coach that would certainly love to get his hands on a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and it’s easy to see Rodgers being interested in that partnership, too. Hey, maybe with all that cap space they could bring in his friend Davante as well. Rodgers could finish out his career in the warm Florida weather with no state income tax on a team that’s seemingly on the brink.
Best fit: Jimmy Garoppolo
If Garoppolo’s claim to fame is that he can take a strong roster with a very good offensive coach deep into the playoffs, Cleveland seems like the perfect team for him. The Browns run a Shanahan-inspired system with a strong running game and play-action that requires a game manager with a little dash of moxie. They thought Baker Mayfield was that type of player but his struggles last season combined with an upcoming contract decision could make Garoppolo more favorable.
Sam’s best fit: Kirk Cousins
The connection with Kevin Stefanski is clear since Cousins enjoyed his most success working with the current Browns head coach. Cleveland has a strong pass-blocking offensive line and a robust rushing attack — exactly what Cousins needs to maximize his talents.
Best fit: Kirk Cousins
Last year Ben Roethlisberger ranked 29th of 30 starting quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus and finished with the most turnover-worthy plays in the NFL. Somehow the Steelers still made the playoffs. Cousins would walk into a situation with offensive weapons, a young star running back, great coaching and a solid defense. The Steelers can’t go halfway with their upgrade if they want to remain competitive in the difficult AFC North. The Steelers have $30 million in cap space to make a Cousins deal work if the Vikings decide to move their veteran QB.
Sam’s best fit: Deshaun Watson
It’s tough to know the Steelers’ mindset since they’ve basically never changed quarterbacks under Mike Tomlin, but their apparent urge to remain competitive could them to one of the most polarizing yet talented options available. Deshaun Watson’s reputation may seem too risky to touch, but the Steelers are the type of stable organization that might be able to clean up his image. Their roster is deep enough that winning right away would be on the table.
Best fit: Teddy Bridgewater
The Texans weren’t a total pushover last season but they are still far away from looking like a contender. With Davis Mills showing some positive signs as a rookie, the Texans shouldn’t be pushing for the top QBs, rather they should look for someone to contend with Mills in camp and either act as a bridge QB or a mentor to their young player.
Sam’s best fit: Kyler Murray
If Kyler Murray is truly available, any team without an established quarterback should be taking a look, regardless of their present trajectory. The Texans could be sitting on a bounty of assets from a potential Watson deal, including the third-overall pick in April’s draft, which makes them a compelling suitor for the Cardinals. Just because their roster isn’t Super Bowl primed, Murray’s talent gets them much closer to that goal. The Texans would get two years of Murray on his rookie contract and could use the assets freed up in the Watson deal to build around him.
Best fit: Marcus Mariota
For years the Colts have been stuck looking for Andrew Luck’s successor. They went 7-9 with Jacoby Brissett in 2019, 11-5 behind Philip Rivers in 2020 and 9-8 with Carson Wentz at the helm. If they move on from Wentz, they will be in the market again for a signal caller to drop into a club with a strong offensive line, good weapons and one of the league’s top running backs. Mariota has shown in the past that he’s good enough to take a solid team to the postseason. He would allow the Colts to compete in 2022 and possibly look for a long-term option in the draft.
Sam’s best fit: Jimmy Garoppolo
Frank Reich has had to get creative to cater to quarterbacks like Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz the past three years, so he should have no issue devising a plan around Garoppolo. The Colts’ rushing game could emulate would Garoppolo had around him in San Francisco, and Indianapolis’s protection has generally been strong under Reich.
Best fit: Aaron Rodgers
Denver has been building up its roster over the past few years and appears ready to compete. Even in the brutal AFC West, Rodgers would make them a legitimate Super Bowl contender. On offense, he would inherit young weapons in Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant and a strong defense that finished No. 3 in points allowed last year. Not to mention that Rodgers’ former OC Nate Hackett just became the new head coach of the Broncos.
Sam’s best fit: Russell Wilson
Continuing the tradition of great quarterbacks finishing their career in Denver, Russell Wilson could be super drawn to the Broncos’ top five defense and stable of pass-catching weapons. Plus, Denver has to know their only hope of competing against Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the AFC West is to aim big in their quarterback pursuits.
Best fit: Russell Wilson
While the Commanders weren’t on Wilson’s trade list last year, they have put together competitive seasons in back-to-back years with replacement-level quarterback play. Adding Wilson to a team that stayed in the playoff race until the final weeks with Taylor Heinicke under center would instantly give Washington a chance to return to the top of the NFC East. Of course, there are many road blocks to such a move but based on roster only, the Commanders would be a fit.
Sam’s best fit: Baker Mayfield
The Commanders need to draft a quarterback in the first round. Whiffing on Dwayne Haskins in 2019 set them back at quarterback for several seasons, and it’s time for this newly-branded franchise to find a new face. While that person develops, they can ride out the final year of Mayfield’s contract and potentially stay in the hunt. There could be hope of the former No. 1 pick returning to his healthier 2020 form.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Best fit: Jameis Winston
If Green Bay trades Rodgers, they will need a just-in-case quarterback. In the event that Jordan Love isn’t capable of taking reins, they will need a qualified QB who gives them a chance to still win the NFC North. Winston has been volatile throughout his career and isn’t likely to be a long-term option but he could bridge the gap if Love isn’t the guy.
Sam’s best fit: Ryan Fitzpatrick
If Rodgers is out of the picture, the Packers should lean into a reset, so why not have some fun along the way with an awesome journeyman quarterback? Green Bay has the running backs to pivot to a run-first system if they need to, while Fitzpatrick could be a hearty competitor in the cold Green Bay winters.
Best fit: Ryan Fitzpatrick, first-round pick
Should the Vikings move on from Cousins, they will need a veteran quarterback who can provide leadership and some explosive plays if their draft pick isn’t ready to play. Between 2018-2020, Fitzpatrick played the best football of his career, grading 10th, 12th and 18th by PFF rankings.
Sam’s best fit: Gardner Minshew
I’m going off the board with a suggestion here. If the Vikings can spend a fifth- or sixth-round pick to bring in the current Eagles backup, they should do it while also investing in a first-round quarterback. Minshew has thrown 41 touchdowns against 12 interceptions in his three NFL seasons, offers mobility with his legs and seems to be a galvanizing presence on the roster. Plus, he’s only costing $2.54 million next year — that’s an easier salary to justify benching if you’d like to turn to your rookie quarterback mid-season.
Best fit: Baker Mayfield
Carolina might be hesitant to trade for another first-rounder that didn’t work out in his previous location but they also might not have a choice. Head coach Matt Rhule heads into 2022 on the hot seat so the Panthers do not have time to fiddle with bridge QBs and developing draft picks. They need someone who can take them to the postseason right away. In a weak division, a mid-pack QB performance might be enough to get that done on a club that has been building its roster over the last few years.
Sam’s best fit: Jameis Winston
Winston tore his ACL last season in New Orleans while he was playing the best football of his career. He has over 10 months to recover before Week 1 next season, so there’s a good bet he’ll be ready to go for the Panthers if Carolina loses out on bidding wars for other coveted quarterbacks. The Panthers’ defense improved greatly last season, and Christian McCaffrey is still a quarterback’s best friend. It’s not a bad situation for Winston, and the division could be right there for the taking.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Best fit: Carson Wentz
The salary cap might make this one difficult but the Saints still have enough talent to put up a fight in the NFC South with average quarterback play. In 2021, they ranked dead last in passing yards, averaging just 187 yards through the air per game. Wentz would represent a short-term fix for a team with numerous veterans. New Orleans would still very much be in the mix to draft a quarterback.
Sam’s best fit: Marcus Mariota
New Orleans needs a big ol’ reset in the post-Brees, post-Payton era. As they transition, maybe the Saints could dream up a quarterback-by-committee scheme where Taysom Hill and Marcus Mariota barrel through defenses and throw the occasional forward pass.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Best fit: Kyler Murray
Tom Brady is walking away from a team with a terrific roster. It doesn’t seem likely that Bruce Arians is going to pour his final years as a head coach into second-year quarterback Kyle Trask. It would take a monumental trade (and it would be surprising if Arizona sent him to another NFC team) but Murray with Arians feels like a perfect fit.
Sam’s best fit: Teddy Bridgewater
Even with some cap relief from Tom Brady’s retirement, it would still be tough financially for the Bucs to swing for one of the highest-paid quarterbacks, so they could become the fourth team in four years to give Bridgewater a try. While it didn’t work out that well for the Panthers or Broncos, Bridgewater typically plays to the level of his team’s roster, so joining the stacked Bucs would have potential to yield results like his 11-5 record in Minnesota in 2015, or his 5-0 stretch in 2019 in New Orleans. The Bucs may not want to sink ample assets trying to recreate what they had with Brady. It’s hard to replace the GOAT.