Looking Ahead To The 2025 QB Carousel

We’re right in the middle of minicamp, with 10 teams concluding their offseason work last week and the other 22 finishing up this coming week before the league as a whole takes a break for the rest of the summer until training camp kicks off in late July. Hope is in the air and all eyes are on the upcoming 2024 season. 

Kirk Cousins

But today we’re going to look a little further ahead. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league and teams have always understood it’s nearly impossible to have success without a quality starter at the game’s most important position. For the past two decades, teams would look to the draft to find potential franchise starters and use free agency and the trade market to find “bridge” quarterbacks who could keep the team afloat until they hit on a promising young prospect. 

Recently, though, more options have opened up for teams and the annual quarterback reshuffling has increased in intensity. Teams aren’t just leaning on the draft to find starters/ There are veteran quarterbacks available annually in free agency or via trade who are legitimate needle-movers. 


This doesn’t even include massive draft trades like the 49ers moving up for Trey Lance or the Panthers moving up for Bryce Young. Teams have become more willing to take risks and shake things up to try and tap into a higher level of play at the position. 

Upgrading at quarterback is one of the single most impactful moves a team can make, so it’s worth looking ahead and trying to connect the dots. There are plenty of dots to connect at quarterback too between contract situations, performance and potential regime changes. 


So with the 2024 season looming, here’s a look ahead at how it will set the table for the 2025 quarterback carousel. 

Bucketing The Quarterbacks

I’ve done this exercise for a couple of years now and I find it helps to group the quarterbacks in buckets to ascertain where they fit in the overall pecking order in the NFL and how their teams view their level of need at the position. There are a lot of factors to consider, from skill level, production and performance to injury history, contract status and age. This will almost certainly be different in six months. But for now…




I broke out elite and established here to try and capture what I think every player in this group has in common — long-term security. The elite batch represents the more or less undisputed top dogs at the position due to a combination of sustained excellence or in Stroud’s case an outstanding debut. All of them are paid like top quarterbacks, except Stroud of course. 

The established batch might not match that level of play as consistently but it doesn’t matter as much when projecting long-term outlooks because their teams have paid them like franchise starters. Hurts, Murray and Goff are all on contracts indicating supreme confidence by their organizations that they are franchise starters, with guarantees extending into the next two, three, even four years. 

The NFL is a results-based league and no one is immune to sucking for an extended period of time. But if we try to look ahead three years into the future, these quarterbacks are the most likely to still be starting for their current teams. 


Arrow Up

The biggest thing separating this bunch from the established tier is the lack of a long-term contract. Lawrence and Love could get that deal as soon as a week or two after this is published, while Purdy has to wait until next offseason. All three players are on a trajectory to be paid extraordinarily well but I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Questions remain about just how consistently good this batch can be but I wouldn’t expect that to stand in the way of a deal, particularly for Love and Lawrence. 

Early Rookie Contract

  • Bears QB Caleb Williams
  • Colts QB Anthony Richardson
  • Commanders QB Jayden Daniels
  • Patriots QB Drake Maye
  • Vikings QB J.J. McCarthy
  • Falcons QB Michael Penix Jr.
  • Panthers QB Bryce Young
  • Broncos QB Bo Nix
  • Titans QB Will Levis

All of these quarterbacks are either first or second-year players who were taken with significant draft picks by their teams. That combination usually buys a lot of patience, though not an inexhaustible reserve. 

For instance, Young played poorly enough in 2023 that — despite being a No. 1 overall pick who the Panthers paid a massive haul to trade up and select — another season with little progress could be fatal to his career in Carolina. That’s a worst-case scenario the Panthers are hoping to head off with the hire of HC Dave Canales, who was a big part of career renaissances for Seahawks QB Geno Smith and Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield the past two seasons, and the total revamp of the offensive line and receiving corps this offseason. Young should be better with a better supporting cast in 2024, but it’s fair to say he’s on the shakiest ground of any of these quarterbacks. 

No. 2 in terms of least job security is Levis — and he’s sneaky close to Young. Tennessee invested less in Levis than the Panthers did Young and while GM Ran Carthon was part of the decision-making process to select him in 2023, new HC Brian Callahan was not. The two men are committed to Levis for 2024 but it’s up to the young quarterback to earn anything beyond that with his performance this season. The team has tried to set him up to succeed as well by adding players like WR Calvin Ridley, RB Tony Pollard, first-round OT JC Latham, C Lloyd Cushenberry and WR Tyler Boyd to the offense. 


All six first-rounders from this past year — Williams, Daniels, Maye, Penix, McCarthy and Nix — enter the league with clean slates and the only two who currently are slated to start from Week 1 are Williams and Daniels, maybe Nix. It looks like Maye, McCarthy and Penix will have to wait on the bench for a while, ranging from anywhere from a few weeks to possibly a couple years in the case of Penix (more on the Falcons later). 

That just leaves Richardson, whose biggest challenge is proving he can stay healthy to deliver on the enormous potential he showed in just a few games early last season. Even though he’s a second-year player, he’s still inexperienced and it’s fair to expect some rookie growing pains for Richardson to work through. It seems like the Colts are taking a more measured approach, too. Just contrast their offseason with the division-rival Texans who have gone all-in around Stroud. In terms of raw talent, however, Richardson could assert himself into the top tier of this list in a year. 

Established But Old


This duo belongs in the established or even elite category in terms of resume and production on the field when healthy. But age and longevity are serious concerns. Rodgers is 40 years old and coming off of a torn Achilles. This past year was the first year in a while that he didn’t flirt with retirement. That could become a serious consideration depending on how the Jets’ 2024 season plays out, either good or bad. 

Stafford is a few years younger at 36 but he has an extensive injury history to be aware of, including nerve issues in 2022 that led to some retirement rumors last offseason. Still, the veteran has indicated he feels like he has a lot of football left. He has three more years left on his contract with no more guaranteed money past this season. Stafford has told the Rams he wants his deal reworked but has not held out from offseason activities to force the issue yet. 

It doesn’t feel like Stafford is close to hanging things up or that things are bad between him and the Rams, but there are a few tiny bubbles on the bottom of the pot to pay attention to here. 

Solid Veterans


For one reason or another, this group of quarterbacks is usually seen as a step or two below the top crust of the position. However, all of them are starting-caliber players who have had stretches of great production and signed contracts indicating various levels of serious commitment, with the exception of Tagovailoa who should sign a new deal this offseason. 

That deal will ultimately say a lot about how Miami feels about Tagovailoa. The former first-rounder has been productive over the past two seasons, including leading the NFL in passing yards last year. The confidence Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel has shown in Tagovailoa has stood in stark contrast to former HC Brian Flores, and McDaniel has built a system that has brought the best out of Tagovailoa. He can be a quick-trigger distributor who gets the ball in the hands of all of Miami’s lightning-quick weapons. 

But in some ways, McDaniel’s system has also exposed Tagovailoa’s limitations even more. The Dolphins have been prolific in the regular season, but have wilted later in the year as the weather gets colder and opponents get tougher. Tagovailoa is good when the offense is humming along but so far he hasn’t shown an ability to elevate his game or his teammates against adversity. And the more the Dolphins pay Tagovailoa, the harder it is to stack the team around him. 


The details of the contract will be important but Tagovailoa is more likely than not to still be the Dolphins’ starter in two years. It’s very much up in the air which team Prescott will play for in 2025 and beyond as he enters the final year of his contract. An extension that was treated as a foregone conclusion for most of last season doesn’t seem like it’s anywhere close to happening, and the implications for that are enormous. 

Prescott has a no-tag clause in his deal, meaning if he wants to jet off into unrestricted free agency, the runway is clear. That gives him enormous leverage in contract talks with the Cowboys, as did his 2023 season where he led the NFL in touchdown passes and finished second in MVP voting. This is the type of leverage players like Cousins and Watson have parlayed into fully-guaranteed contracts in the past. Prescott will still be only 32 years old in 2025 and could absolutely become the third quarterback to break that barrier. 

The Cowboys and Prescott could still reach an agreement on a long-term deal and Dallas has the advantage of being the only team that can negotiate with Prescott until the middle of next March. But they have to pay up to do that, and so far they have not been willing to do that. If they won’t, it’s a near-certainty that another team will. At this point, Prescott looks like the leading candidate to be the big fish other quarterback-needy teams will chase in 2025. 


Mayfield and Smith have both resurrected their careers in the past couple of seasons after being basically left for dead by the league. Smith followed up a revelatory 2022 season with a solid 2023, proving he was not a one-hit wonder. Mayfield will be trying to do the same but will be navigating an offensive coordinator change. 

He has a little more job security than Smith, however, due to having just signed a major contract this past offseason. The Buccaneers could technically get out of Mayfield’s deal after this season but it would have to be a catastrophe of a year to prompt Tampa Bay to take on $33 million in dead money and cut Mayfield. They already guaranteed him $10 million and another $10 million becomes guaranteed next March. A clear upgrade would have to be available for the Buccaneers to move on. 

Seattle could have moved on from Smith this offseason but new HC Mike Macdonald and OC Ryan Grubb elected to pick up the guarantees on his deal and give him the reins for 2024. It’s not that Smith played poorly, but regime changes are catalysts for a lot of change and Macdonald isn’t as invested in Smith as former HC Pete Carroll was. Smith is under contract in 2025 and is owed $25 million, none of it guaranteed or owed to him until next March. He absolutely is playing for his job. 


Ordinarily, Cousins’ major free agent contract would lock him onto the Falcons’ roster for at least the next two seasons. But we already know Atlanta isn’t necessarily taking a conventional approach to the position by following up the Cousins signing with the pick of Penix at No. 8 overall. Falcons decision-makers have sworn up and down that the pick is for the future and Cousins is the starter in the present. And that could end up being the case. 

The No. 8 pick is a significant investment, however, and there are legitimate scenarios where Penix sees the field sooner than expected. Maybe there’s an injury to Cousins and Penix takes the reins, plays well and never gives the job back. It’s not even out of the question he starts to chip away at Cousins’ lead behind the scenes in practice. Cousins only has a head start of a few weeks on Penix in Atlanta, though his 12 years of NFL experience are significant. The bottom line is that if Penix is ready and gets to show it, the Falcons can’t stuff that toothpaste back in the tube. 

If for whatever reason the Falcons wanted to move on from Cousins in 2025, it could get messy. Atlanta would ideally want to trade Cousins to shed his $27.5 million guaranteed salary and recoup a pick to offset the massive cash investment they made. If Cousins plays reasonably well in 2024, that salary will be viewed as affordable by a team that needs help at quarterback. The market for Cousins might not be as hot as it was this offseason but it should still be there. 


The catch is that Cousins has a no-trade clause and almost certainly wants to pick his next destination. Forcing the Falcons to cut him would also allow Cousins to reassert control over his contract status as opposed to a new team taking his deal without significant guarantees. Based on some of his past actions and comments, Cousins might prefer going year-to-year than putting himself in a position for a team to pull the rug out from under him. 

Cutting Cousins would trigger a $65 million dead money hit for the Falcons but with a June 1 designation that could be spread out to $40 million in 2025 and $25 million in 2026, which would avoid crippling Atlanta’s 2025 financial outlook. Still, that outcome is much worse for the Falcons than a trade, so that puts the two sides on a collision course. Atlanta can threaten to hold onto Cousins and prevent him from getting a starting job with another team, but they’d be keeping him as a $27.5 million backup, not to mention $10 million in 2026 which becomes guaranteed in March of 2025. 

There’s probably some sort of path to a compromise — perhaps Cousins agrees to give up some salary and guarantees in exchange for being released — but after being blindsided by the Penix pick, it’s easy to see Cousins not feeling like he needs to be very cooperative. Things going this sour this quickly isn’t necessarily the most likely outcome, but it’s one that’s now on the table with how the Falcons have handled the position. 


Contract Anchors

The contract situation for these players isn’t the only reason they’re still with their current teams. But it’s a major factor. From a pure performance perspective, none of these quarterbacks lived up to expectations last year. 

Watson of course signed a fully-guaranteed contract in 2022 for five years and $230 million. He’s played two years of that deal but only 12 games — taking an 11-game suspension for sexual harassment in 2022 and missing 11 games last year due to shoulder injuries. In those 12 games, Watson has completed 59.8 percent of his pass attempts for 2,217 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s added over 300 yards rushing and two touchdowns but also taken 37 sacks. 


So far the Browns haven’t had much choice but to keep doubling down on Watson because of how much they’ve invested, both in the contract and the trade to land him. Another poor season might test that commitment. A team can only take poor quarterback play for so long, and the Browns have shaken up enough other parts of the team around Watson to try and help him find success. 

Unfortunately for the Browns, there are no good options for moving on from Watson after the 2024 season. They still owe him $92 million in cash and cutting him in 2025 would trigger $137 million in dead money. Even a June 1 release would be $110 million in dead cap in 2025, which would put the Browns in an awful position with the salary cap. The only way out in 2025 is a trade and Watson’s contract makes him untradable. Even if Watson has another poor season, the Browns might not have a choice but to give him a fourth chance in 2025 because of the contract. 

Carr played well enough down the stretch to make his end-of-year statistics look respectable, and the Saints made a late push for the NFC South title which helped them justify keeping HC Dennis Allen for another year. New Orleans technically could have taken an out in Carr’s contract and still gotten under the salary cap but they elected to double down, restructure his contract and largely run back the same team in 2024. 


The Saints won’t have the same margin for error. If they miss the playoffs, it will mark the fourth straight season and third under Allen. It’s tough to see him surviving that, and if the Saints are changing the head coach, other major changes are in play too — like at starting quarterback. If they miss the playoffs, it’s likely because Carr has once again failed to distinguish himself. 

However, moving on from Carr won’t be painless. The veteran is due $40 million in 2025 and $10 million of it is already guaranteed. It’s unlikely the Saints will find a trade partner willing to pay that. Cutting Carr would result in a $50 million dead money charge. That along with the major salary cap hole the team already has to dig out of for at least one more year would put a serious strain on the team’s financial situation. 

But if the Saints miss the playoffs again, there’s a good chance they just bite the bullet and deal with the consequences. A June 1 designation would help make the dead money hit more manageable, and at some point, the team has to stop doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. 


Jones is on the thinnest ice of all three of these players despite a breakout 2022 season and resulting major contract extension last offseason. 2023 was a regression in every way imaginable for the former first-rounder, with all the issues from his first four seasons — injuries, indecisiveness, ineffectiveness — rearing their heads again. New York guaranteed Jones’ 2024 salary so he was locked onto the roster no matter what. But the Giants did extensive work on this past quarterback class and tried to trade into the top three picks for Maye, only to be rebuffed. 

Had they landed Maye, Jones would have just been a $40 million per year bridge quarterback with long odds to remain the starter past the bye week. The way things shook out, he’ll face a lot less pressure behind him on the depth chart from Drew Lock. Still, he has probably just one more year to turn things around. Jones does have the benefit of a few believers still in the building, but another bad season would force the team’s hand. They already tried to land a long-term replacement this year, and once a team tries to replace a quarterback, they usually find a way to finish the job. 

Bridge Starters


“Bridge starter” is a term that’s come up in recent years that essentially describes quarterbacks who no one has any illusions about. They’re usually veterans or known quantities who are somewhere between the 20th and 32nd-best quarterback in the NFL — good enough to start, but probably not good enough to be any kind of long-term solution or lead a serious run outside of rare circumstances. 

It’s been a sharp fall for Wilson over the past few seasons from star to this category, though the Steelers likely hope he can recapture just a little bit of that magic and be the rare impactful bridge quarterback. The 35-year-old is on a one-year contract for the minimum salary while the Broncos pay him tens of millions of guarantees they still owed him when they cut him this offseason. He might be on his last chance. Wilson didn’t play as poorly in 2023 as he did in 2022 but there are flaws in his game that he’s less able to overcome now than he was in his prime. 


Minshew and O’Connell will engage in a quarterback competition this summer that will simultaneously be the most contested but least impactful of any quarterback battle in the league. Minshew is the epitome of a bridge starter who can put together competent stretches of play in the right circumstances and is a character to root for but doesn’t play at a high enough level consistently to be “the guy” for a team. O’Connell exceeded expectations as a rookie but looks more like a budding Brian Hoyer than a true future starter. 

Darnold and Brissett are both keeping the seat warm for first-round rookies currently behind them on the depth chart. Minnesota and New England have both indicated a desire to take things slow with their young guns and not press them into action before they’re ready, so both veterans could see an extended run under center. McCarthy and Maye are the future, though, so Darnold and Brissett are auditioning for their next teams in all likelihood — either another bridge starter gig or in a best-case scenario tapping into the same kind of revival Mayfield, Smith and even Ryan Tannehill did. 

Reclamation Projects


All four of these players are still on their rookie contracts but are on their second team at this point after being traded. They now have to take a long view of reviving their careers, potentially with a third or even a fourth team. 

Fields was the other major quarterback addition by the Steelers this offseason after former first-round QB Kenny Pickett threw a mini tantrum over the Wilson trade (he’d probably belong in this category too if he wasn’t buried so deep behind Hurts on the depth chart in Philadelphia). The messaging out of Pittsburgh has him as a clear No. 2 to Wilson for now but if the veteran struggles, there’s an excellent chance the Steelers see what the younger Fields can do since both players are only under contract for 2024. 

Lance is in the final year of his contract but doesn’t have a clear path to playing time behind Prescott unless the latter is hurt again. He’ll have to make a favorable impression during his training camp and preseason reps, and that will either put him on the radar for Dallas as a potential Prescott replacement or as a potential dart throw in free agency for another team. 

Jones is another member of the 2021 quarterback class who didn’t stick with his original team despite a successful rookie season. He was ultimately unable to rise above all the turmoil and dysfunction in New England the past two seasons. Like Lance, he’s a firm No. 2 on the depth chart in Jacksonville and will have to make the most of whatever opportunities he gets to earn a chance with another team in 2025. 


Howell is under contract for two more seasons and might have the most promising future of this bunch with his current team. The Seahawks gave up the equivalent of a third-round pick to acquire Howell from Washington which shows a lot of optimism on their part. Howell put up some big numbers last year as the starter for the Commanders but also made tons of mistakes and was benched late in the season. With Smith under contract for two more seasons and in his 30s, Howell is a potential long-term option for Seattle. 

Taking Stock Of The QB Landscape

With all the quarterbacks binned, we can now assess which teams will be in the quarterback market and what their potential options will be. In approximate order from most to least likely, we have:

  • Raiders
  • Steelers
  • Giants
  • Saints
  • Cowboys
  • Jets

Some other dark horses worth mentioning include the Rams, Browns, Titans, Panthers, Buccaneers and Seahawks — a little over a quarter of the league potentially. 

It’s a significant number but also perhaps a little less than in the past few years. That’s good because the supply looks like it could take a bit of a dip. It’s early in the draft process but right now there are no clear first-round quarterback prospects in the 2025 class, just a host of players who could be first-rounders if they have strong seasons. Check back next week, we’ll have a whole article diving into that subject…

As far as free agents, Prescott is the big headliner. As you can see, there should be no shortage of potential competitors with the hometown Cowboys for Prescott’s services. He could end up with the division-rival Giants or stay in the south by joining the Saints, or link up with Rams HC Sean McVay in Los Angeles even. 

Outside of Prescott and excluding players like Love, Lawrence and Tagovailoa who are expected to sign extensions this summer, these are the other notable quarterbacks on expiring contracts: 


Guys who could join this list as cut candidates: 

Overall, this isn’t an exciting bunch. Any team that dipped into this pool would be rolling the dice and hoping they had an offensive coordinator who could work a little magic. 


There are some exceptions who could provide some pizzaz and intrigue to the quarterback market outside of Prescott and whichever 2025 prospects start generating buzz. Those two players are Cousins and Smith. Both are veteran quarterbacks with a lot of strong tape and production over the past two seasons — longer in Cousins’ case. As articulated above, both are in situations that have become a little more tenuous this offseason. Both players are good enough to be impactful starters if they hit the market next offseason. 

Now all that’s left to do is play out the 2024 season and see what happens next.

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