NFLTR Review: What’s In Store For The Teams Still Playing QB Musical Chairs

Aaron Rodgers made his call and the dominoes have been falling non-stop since. In this issue of NFLTR Review:

  • What options are left for teams who still need QB help?
  • Two potential vets the Seahawks could explore
  • Blockbuster trade & franchise tag grades

The Big Picture: Re-Evaluating The 2022 QB Carousel

There has been a sense for months that 2022 would be even bigger in terms of quarterback movement than 2021 — which saw starting QBs Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater all traded to new teams. Those of us who like to look ahead and connect the dots saw the potential for even more big-name quarterback movement this offseason. 

And after some drama and doubts, that’s exactly what has ended up happening. Aaron Rodgers announced he was staying in Green Bay but the very same day the Seahawks pulled the trigger on a massive Russell Wilson deal sending him to the Broncos. A day later, the Colts dumped Wentz after just a year and sent him back to the NFC East with the newly-named Commanders. 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo remains available and Texans QB Deshaun Watson could be dealt at some point in the next several weeks as well. 

With the quarterback landscape shifting so dramatically, now is a good time to take stock and reassess where teams stand. The demand for high-level quarterback play continues to outstrip the supply, and there are going to be teams left out come Week 1. This is who would take the first snap for each team if they had to line up and play tomorrow.

Current Starters  
Patrick Mahomes Aaron Rodgers
Josh Allen Matthew Stafford
Justin Herbert Dak Prescott
Joe Burrow Kyler Murray
Lamar Jackson Kirk Cousins*
Russell Wilson Matt Ryan*
Derek Carr Justin Fields
Ryan Tannehill* Jalen Hurts
Mac Jones Trey Lance
Tua Tagovailoa Carson Wentz
Trevor Lawrence Jameis Winston*
Baker Mayfield Jared Goff*
Davis Mills Daniel Jones*
Zach Wilson Drew Lock
Mason Rudolph Sam Darnold
Sam Ehlinger Blaine Gabbert

*need a long-term option, bold=yikes. Winston & Gabbert technically aren’t under contract

As a quick aside, look at how wide-open the NFC is. There’s Rodgers and Stafford at the top, Prescott and Murray in a tier or two below, and then it drops off. Especially compared to the cage match that is the AFC. 

What’s next? 

There are five teams who are in big trouble right now: the Steelers, Colts, Buccaneers, Panthers and Seahawks. And the options are starting to thin out. These are the veterans available via trade or in free agency:

It seems like the next domino to fall is going to be Garoppolo. Immediately after the Colts traded Wentz, they were linked to the 49ers veteran, which makes a lot of sense. He’s the most established quarterback available right now and has shown he can pilot an offense competently enough to lead a strong team deep into the playoffs. 

Perhaps that’s in the next week or so. There are $25.5 million reasons for the 49ers to cut Garoppolo before the league year starts on Wednesday, as that’s where the vast majority of their free agent budget is going to come from. If they want to fend off bidders for G Laken Tomlinson or DT D.J. Jones, or reel in a big catch like Patriots CB J.C. Jackson, they’ll need that space. 

That’s not good news for San Francisco’s trade leverage, which took another hit when Garoppolo ended up needing surgery on his throwing shoulder. Based on past deals for quarterbacks, including the package Washington gave up for Wentz, the 49ers should be able to get a second-round pick for Garoppolo. However, the circumstances could help drive the price down. The 49ers might have to choose between maximizing Garoppolo’s trade value and maximizing their free agent dollars. 

As for Watson, from a football standpoint he would be right up there with the other elite quarterbacks in the AFC if not for his legal situation. There should be some movement soon on that, as a grand jury is set to hear from the 10 women who have filed criminal complaints against Watson for sexual misconduct. There are also 22 civil cases that have to move through the legal process. After that, there’s potential discipline from the NFL, which could be severe based on the allegations against him. 

That severely complicates the timing but the truth of the NFL is that teams will overlook a lot for the sake of talent. It’s not clear when Watson will play again but if he is not charged criminally and escapes jail time, the chances of a trade happening this offseason feel solid. 

Beyond those two, Trubisky is someone who has garnered a fair amount of hype as a Tannehill-style reclamation project who just needs to escape from a bad offensive coach. I have a theory that his market might not be as robust now as it was at the Combine, but if it is, then he’ll land with one of these five quarterback-starved teams. 

Mariota also fits that description but he seems like he had more buzz last offseason as opposed to this year. Minshew and Love are prospects other teams could take a liking to and might be available for a price, though the Eagles and Packers will probably drive hard bargains. And Bridgewater, Newton and Dalton at this point are at best bridge starters who can hold down the fort for a transitional period, either to a rookie this year or until better options come up in 2023. 

What about the rookies? 

The general feeling surrounding this class is that it stinks. There are six quarterbacks who are generally seen as contenders to be taken in the first day or two of the draft. 

Plenty of folks have pointed to the buzz for Trubisky and the haul the Colts got for Wentz as proof teams don’t see future franchise quarterbacks in this bunch. I think the answer is a little more nuanced, though. 

Compared to the 2021 class that included five first-rounders, all in the top 15 picks, then sure, this class doesn’t project to the NFL as cleanly. If you stacked them all up on a board together, the first quarterback taken this year would have been the fifth or sixth off the board last year. 

However, each of these players has a couple of aspects to their game that are legitimately intriguing. We went in-depth scouting all six in November and I still believe this class is being underrated. There are paths for all six to become starting-caliber NFL quarterbacks. Playing the percentages, obviously that won’t happen, but that still leaves decent odds for a couple of starters to emerge from this batch. 

The low expectations could also benefit the prospects in this class in the long run. Two popular first-round destinations are now off the board after the trades by Denver and Washington. The Panthers reportedly prefer an offensive lineman with the No. 6 pick. That leaves the Seahawks (No. 9), Saints (No. 18) and Steelers (No. 20) as the other landing spots in the first round, at least from our vantage point before free agency. 

While there has been speculation there could be five first-round quarterbacks again because the demand is so high, I think the way things are currently trending points to two, maybe three at most, and possibly none in the top ten. That means lower expectations and more of a chance for these quarterbacks to develop rather than being thrust into the action before they’re ready. 

That’s also a positive because outside of Pickett and maybe Corral, I don’t think any of these quarterbacks are ready to start right away. Corral will face a major scheme adjustment, Strong ought to be eased in the same way Davis Mills was, while Willis, Howell and Ridder all have major mechanical and mental kinks to work out. 

Landing spot predictions

Colts: Trade for Garoppolo

Indianapolis is out of the running for Watson since they’re in the AFC South, so they can be aggressive and move quickly on Garoppolo if he is their target over someone like Bridgewater or Trubisky. Perhaps that also helps them push the compensation down to something like a fourth this year and a conditional fourth next year that can become a third if Garoppolo plays in a certain percentage of the snaps, as it behooves the 49ers to get a deal done quickly. 

Panthers: Sign Trubisky or Mariota or trade for Minshew, wait for Watson

I think the Panthers will want to keep their options open for a run at Watson whenever his situation clears to a point they’re comfortable with, which based on some reports is no criminal charges. Trubisky, Mariota or Minshew would be cheaper alternatives who could compete with Darnold, whose salary Carolina is stuck with in 2022. They also wouldn’t prohibit the team from going after Watson and could hold down the fort in the event of a suspension. 

Steelers: Draft a first-round quarterback

I believe the Steelers when they say they’re willing to go into Week 1 with Rudolph as the starter. They’re the type of old-school organization that values building from within, and having Rudolph as a placeholder allows them to draft a quarterback of the future. I think they’d be willing to move up in the draft — my hunch is Pickett and Willis are their two favorites — but I’m not sure they’ll have to. The Seahawks hold the No. 9 pick but they might be more amenable to taking a building block piece there than a quarterback. The Saints at No. 18 are the other team to keep an eye on. 

Seahawks: Sign either Bridgewater or Newton to compete with Lock, draft a QB on Day 2

It’s always instructive to look at history. Back at the beginning of the Pete Carroll era, Seattle took numerous, lower-cost swings at finding a quarterback to succeed established veteran Matt Hasselbeck. In 2010, they traded a third-round pick and swapped seconds with the Chargers for Charlie Whitehurst. After electing not to re-sign Hasselbeck in 2011, they signed Tarvaris Jackson to compete with Whitehurst. And in 2012, they signed Matt Flynn and drafted Wilson in the third round for a three-way competition with Jackson. You know how that ended. 

Bridgewater or Newton seem like they fit Seattle’s type at the position (game managers with some athleticism as a perk), and Seattle did check in with Newton last season following Wilson’s injury. The Seahawks have three Day 2 picks to work with this offseason but they could also just stick with Lock and a veteran and wait to draft a prospect until 2023. That has the added effect of not taking them out of the running for Watson if a trade becomes viable. Seattle is expected to be interested

Buccaneers: Stick with Gabbert & pray Tom Brady comes back

Wentz would have been an interesting fit for HC Bruce Arians’ offense, but Tampa Bay apparently didn’t have much interest. In 2020, they were reportedly high on Bridgewater as a backup plan if they didn’t land Brady, but his lack of arm strength also makes him a curious fit. Arians has talked up Gabbert every chance he’s gotten. In addition to knowing the system, the one advantage sticking with Gabbert brings is a lack of complications if Brady changes his mind on retirement. 


As of right now, there are four quarterbacks who could still potentially be major pieces in the puzzle for 2022. 

If any of these four hit the block, there would be a feeding frenzy. The deal for Wentz is proof enough of that. As things stand right now, though, all signs point to them remaining with their original teams for 2022. 

The Raiders have talked up Carr as an extension candidate this offseason, and they’re not going to doom themselves to a decade of irrelevance in a stacked AFC West by trading him unless they get a better option. If anything, this gives Carr more leverage in contract talks. 

Minnesota has also downplayed any suggestion of trading Cousins despite his contract situation. He’s entering the final year of his deal and has an enormous $45 million cap hit. Cousins’ preference for short, fully-guaranteed deals means an extension doesn’t necessarily solve that problem, which is why there’s been a lot of trade speculation. However, new HC Kevin O’Connell was previously Cousins’ position coach in Washington and sounds like he’s still a big fan. 

Most reports are also skeptical the Falcons will trade Ryan even though the team brass has been careful not to back themselves into any commitments. Ryan has a mega cap hit of $48 million and he turns 37 in May. The Falcons have an eye on the future and don’t want to make any more commitments than they can help, but they have a top-heavy roster and limited avenues to create cap space. There’s an argument to be made that if the trade compensation is good, the Falcons should just rip the band-aid off now. 

It’s also worth going back and looking at just how barren the NFC is right now, and especially the NFC South. The Falcons probably have the best quarterback situation in the division right now and there’s a tempting path to the playoffs even if the team is still rebuilding. If they don’t trade Ryan, that’ll be a big reason why. 

And finally, Murray and his camp are making a lot of noise about getting a contract extension as soon as possible. If Arizona isn’t comfortable capitulating, the team has to gauge whether they are really willing to go scorched earth like another ascending quarterback over in Houston, or if it’s a bluff. It’s worth noting Murray does have another sport he could fall back on…

This Week In Football

  • It had become clear that the entire league was waiting on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to make his decision before setting their offseason plans into motion. That happened Tuesday, and then the biggest story in the NFL for the past nine months or so was quickly pushed to the side by a floodgate of news. Much more on that below, but as to Rodgers announcing he would be back, things had been trending in a much better place between him and Green Bay for some time. I’m sure $50 million a year didn’t hurt. I know Rodgers has tried to shoot that down but there can be a lot of semantics when it comes to discussing NFL contracts and I’ve been “immunized” to taking everything Rodgers says at face value. 
  • The quarterbacks dominated the headlines this week but there was also a blockbuster deal between the Bears and Chargers on Thursday to send star OLB Khalil Mack to Los Angeles in exchange for a second-round pick and future sixth. That may seem cheap but this was as much about getting Mack off the books and kick-starting a rebuild for Chicago as it was the return. Mack also was injured for most of last season and hasn’t had a double-digit sack season since 2018. Still, he remains one of the NFL’s most disruptive defenders and should be a force opposite Joey Bosa
  • Bobby Wagner arrived in Seattle on the same day Wilson did in 2012, taken a round before him in the draft in fact. In the decade since, the two have established themselves as two of the best players in franchise history and probably Hall of Famers when it’s all said and done. So there’s a bit of poetry in both of them leaving Seattle on the same day, with Wagner being released. A hot market instantly developed for his services with around a dozen teams, so Wagner will have an opportunity to build a new legacy elsewhere. 
  • Ages ago, all the way back on Monday, the NFL announced Falcons WR Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the entire 2022 season for gambling on games when he was on leave from the team last year. Ridley is only the fifth player ever to be suspended for gambling and the first since the league has become particularly cozy with betting partners. It’s clear the NFL is sending a message. For the Falcons, the suspension takes Ridley and his $11 million off their books but it also neutered what was shaping up to be a hot trade market. A deal was nearly done with the Eagles and the Patriots and Browns were also among the interested teams. 
  • Even without Ridley, there could still be a fair amount of action on the trade market. The Cowboys are a team to keep an eye on as they try to free up cap space for a number of pending free agents. To do so, it’s looking like there will be a mini-exodus of talented players. They haven’t given up hope on finding a trade partner for WR Amari Cooper but one way or another, he’ll be gone. Dallas asked DE DeMarcus Lawrence to take a pay cut, which usually means a release is imminent if the player doesn’t agree. And the team is getting a lot of trade interest in RT La’el Collins, and sounds amenable to dealing him. The Cowboys are really feeling the burden of RB Ezekiel Elliott’s contract, as if Cooper and Lawrence end up cut, he’ll have the second-highest cap figure on the team at $18.2 million. 
  • Another player that’s come up is Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey, with reports indicating a few teams have actually reached out to Carolina about the multi-purpose back. The asking price is steep, though. The Panthers want a first-round pick and more to surrender McCaffrey, which is steep for a running back. He’s still their best offensive player, though, and it would actually hurt their cap space to trade him now. So this isn’t a situation where the team is looking to dump salary. 
  • While it’s questionable if the Vikings are willing to trade Cousins, they might be open for business with other players. Thanks to Cousins’ albatross of a cap hit, the Vikings have a lot of work to do to free up cap space to remake the roster. That’s why it makes sense they are reportedly willing to listen to offers for veteran players, including WR Adam Thielen, LB Eric Kendricks, DT Michael Pierce and even RB Dalvin Cook
  • This was also the week to make decisions on the franchise tag, with eight given out by Tuesday’s deadline. We’ll have more on that below. Two players ended up signing long-term deals instead of getting the tag, however. Chargers WR Mike Williams signed a three-year, $60 million deal with a strong $40 million in guarantees, while Titans OLB Harold Landry inked a five-year, $85 million pact. Williams’ deal puts him inside the top five highest-paid wideouts and that $20 million mark is one a lot of players are going to look to hit. There’s been a lot of young receiver talent to enter the league in recent seasons and Williams is among the first to cash in. Landry’s deal is also excellent, with $52.5 million in guarantees. 
  • There are still 13 teams with $5 million or less in cap space for 2022 and all 32 teams have to be under the cap when the league year starts next Wednesday. That means the cap cuts will be coming fast and furious, more than they already have. Among the veterans released this year:
  • And while he hasn’t been released yet, Bills WR Cole Beasley was granted permission to seek a trade, indicating his time in Buffalo may be coming to an end. Cutting or trading him would free up $6.1 million and the Bills are hard up for cap space. 

Tags, Trades & Rapid-Fire Grades

There honestly could be two or three more columns out of the moves here. I’m not kidding when I say the pace of news this week was torrential, and if it slows down, it won’t be by much for a couple more weeks. 

So to hit it all, we’re going rapid-fire. Here are grades and thoughts of the big franchise tag and trade decisions this week: 

Packers tag WR Davante Adams: Grade A

Green Bay really had no choice if they wanted to keep Rodgers, and $20 million is honestly a steal for the way Adams is playing right now. Long-term negotiations between the two sides will be interesting, though, as Adams is looking to reset the market. And it’s fair to have qualms about handing a 29-year-old receiver that much cash. 

Chiefs tag LT Orlando Brown Jr.: Grade A

Kansas City didn’t have much of a choice here either after giving up a first-round pick as part of the package to bring Brown in last season. Brown was largely a rock for the Chiefs on the blind side, though, and will be deserving of the $20+ million a year he ends up signing for later this offseason. 

Bengals tag S Jessie Bates III: Grade B

Keep an eye out here, this one could get dramatic. Bates wasn’t happy the Bengals didn’t extend his contract before last season and it affected his play for the first part of the year. Based on precedent, there’s a strong chance Cincinnati plans to make Bates play out another season unless he takes what probably is a hometown discount. 

Cowboys tag TE Dalton Schultz: Grade B-

The tag for tight ends is quite affordable at $10.8 million, which is why three of them got the designation this offseason. Schultz’s game is workmanlike and gritty, and there’s room to question whether keeping him over a potentially more dynamic player in Cooper is wise. Schultz was equal to or better than Cooper in production in 2021, though, and would have made out like a bandit as a free agent. 

Dolphins tag TE Mike Gesicki: Grade B-

The demand for Gesicki would have been high in free agency but he’s basically a big slot receiver and not a tight end. Every snap he’s blocking is a win for the defense. New HC Mike McDaniel says he has a plan, though, and the Dolphins have the cap space to spare. 

Browns tag TE David Njoku: Grade C

Cleveland was also willing to hit eight figures in a multi-year deal, so they clearly place a high value on Njoku. That hasn’t shown up in his usage, however. The Browns offense places a high value on tight ends but it’s still curious to dedicate so much money to a position for such limited production. 

Buccaneers tag WR Chris Godwin: Grade B

Tampa Bay gets credit for keeping Godwin in the fold. Being put in a position where they had to tag him a second time to keep him away from free agency is not great. A third tag in 2023 would also now be in the neighborhood of $28 million, so he has even more leverage if he wants to play out his deal, though a torn ACL might have him ready to sign an extension with more security. 

Jaguars tag OT Cam Robinson: Grade C

Robinson is a decent tackle but tying up $16.6 million in an average to slightly above average tackle doesn’t seem like the maximal use of cap space for the Jaguars. He waited just nine days to sign the tender last offseason. I’d take the under on that this year. 

Seahawks trade QB Russell Wilson, 2022 4th to Broncos for 2022 1st, 2023 1st, 2022 2nd, 2023 2nd, Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, Drew Lock and a 2022 5th

Seahawks grade: C

Broncos grade: A

Not getting three first-round picks back for Wilson is a major miss by Seattle. I’m sure they’ll talk up Fant in that way but he’ll be due for a new deal soon and has been solid, not great so far in his career. The Seahawks hit on quantity here but the quality is lacking for giving up a quarterback of Wilson’s caliber, even if they decided they were done and didn’t want to keep trying to fix the relationship. Unless they all of a sudden start drafting really well, this feels like it won’t age well. 

Comparatively for Denver, they landed one of the best quarterbacks in the league and still have three Day 2 picks to work with this year. There’s a little bit of risk given Wilson’s age but this move makes Denver immediate Super Bowl contenders. It’s up to them to execute the rest of the way to make that goal a reality, but the process for this decision was sound.

Colts trade QB Carson Wentz, 2022 2nd, 2022 7th to Commanders for 2022 2nd, 2022 3rd, 2023 conditional third that can become a 2nd with 70 percent playing time

Colts grade: A-

Commanders grade: D

This trade doesn’t erase the mistake of giving up a first-round pick and a third for Wentz in the first place for Indianapolis. But it does quite a bit to make up for it. The Colts get back what probably will be a second-round pick, losing just a round of value from their initial investment, as well as recouping the third and adding the equivalent of a fourth with the swap of 2022 seconds to gain five spots in draft position. That’s a lot for a quarterback who is due to make $28.3 million in 2022 and just sufficiently alienated his biggest advocate in the league enough to sign off on a trade. 

For the Commanders, it’s obvious they got desperate after missing out on Wilson and thought Wentz would give them some upside the other options lacked. They aren’t the first team to talk itself into Wentz’s flashes of talent. Had they been willing to slowplay things, though, odds are the Colts would have released Wentz. If they were worried about missing out on Wentz to other teams, then shoot, it would have been better to let them pay this price. The silver lining is Wentz has no guarantees left on his deal beyond 2022, so Washington isn’t tied to him beyond this season. 

Bears trade OLB Khalil Mack to Chargers for 2022 2nd, 2023 6th

Bears grade: B

Chargers grade: B+

I was a little skeptical the Bears would be willing to trade Mack this offseason. The move creates $24 million in dead money and just $6 million in savings, and while his production hasn’t necessarily matched his salary for a few seasons, he still seemed like he had a lot left in the tank if healthy. The money probably limited the Bears’ market, so I don’t know that they could have necessarily done better. It’s obvious they feel like they need to tear down and rebuild, so trading Mack was the first step. 

The Chargers are the beneficiaries and this move has potentially massive upside for them. If Mack is healthy, he’s one of the best defenders in football and an incredibly disruptive presence. He and Bosa should benefit massively from each other’s presence, as well as any other defensive line upgrades the Chargers make this offseason. A second-round pick is a decent gamble given the potential payoff and Los Angeles had cap space to burn. If it doesn’t work out in 2022, all the prorated bonus money stayed with the Bears so there’s no penalty to cut him.

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