Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. (Duh.) The right QB can completely change a franchise. And as we hurtle into the 2023 cycle of roster reconstruction, a number of potentially transformative signal-callers are available through various avenues.
Former league MVPs? Check! Two of those are on the block. Who wants a former Super Bowl starter or a previous No. 1 overall pick? Speaking of the draft, I think April's event could offer five starting quarterbacks, including four that should come off the board within the top 10 picks.
Succinctly put, QB-needy teams have options this offseason.
With that in mind, here is my ranking of the top quarterbacks available via trade, free agency and the draft, Schein Nine style.
Lamar is a unicorn, a truly special talent, the kind of prime superstar who never comes available at the most important position in sports. While obtainable, though, he certainly isn't free.
Baltimore placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, meaning the 26-year-old is free to negotiate with other teams in free agency. Should he sign an offer sheet with another franchise, the Ravens will have five days to either match the deal or receive two first-round picks for Lamar's departure. High-value draft capital isn't the only cost to a prospective Jackson suitor, either. NFL Network Insiders have reported that Jackson has his eyes on Deshaun Watson's fully guaranteed, $230 million deal with the Browns. All in all, it's a steep price tag, but clearly, this isn't just a run-of-the-mill starter.
Jackson authored one of the most dynamic seasons in recent memory back in 2019, becoming just the second unanimous MVP after leading the league in touchdown passes (35) and finishing sixth in rushing yards (1,206). That was just his second NFL season. Since then, he's earned another Pro Bowl nod, logged another 1,000-yard rushing season and routinely provided eye-popping feats of athleticism. Did I mention he's 45-16 as a starting quarterback? For context, Peyton Manning went 42-38 in his first five years.
Honestly, I wish Jackson had an agent to help him navigate this. And I really wish each of his past two seasons hadn't been abbreviated by injury. I think these factors have really gummed up the works on contract negotiations with Baltimore.
That said, teams like the Falcons, Commanders, Dolphins, Panthers, Raiders and 49ers should be knocking down Jackson's door for his services. Even some teams that aren't outwardly in the quarterback market -- think: Minnesota and Detroit -- should kick these tires.
On the other hand, Lamar should think long and hard about taking as much money as he can get from the Ravens and ultimately staying put. The franchise is a model of stability, and Jackson's already a Baltimore sports legend. The grass isn't always greener -- even if the up-front money is richer.
I've been of the opinion that Watson's deal was a blip on the radar. In the year since, Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Derek Carr and Geno Smith have all signed lucrative deals, but their fully guaranteed money hasn't come close to what Cleveland committed to Deshaun. To be frank, Watson didn't deserve Watson money. But he found a QB-starved team willing to pony up. Can Jackson, who obviously doesn't carry Watson's off-field baggage, follow suit? I'll be fascinated to see how this plays out in the coming weeks.
As I've said countless times before, Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in NFL history. And anyone who thinks he's washed is clueless. In 2020 and 2021, Rodgers won MVP for the third and fourth times in his legendary career. In 2022, Green Bay traded Davante Adams, the defense regressed, Rodgers broke his thumb and Green Bay's ground game underwhelmed.
Rodgers is still Rodgers. The Packers are foolish for not realizing this and doing everything in their power to stay the course. Meanwhile, the Jets are brilliant for visiting with the 39-year-old earlier this week. Flanked by that incredible defense and emerging weaponry, Rodgers can make New York a Super Bowl-caliber team. The guy would own the Big Apple. And contrary to what some folks seem to believe, the NYC media wouldn't bother him. He's been in the spotlight forever. And I don't want to hear that he's a diva. He only started openly talking about his future after the Packers drafted his replacement -- as opposed to a wide receiver like Tee Higgins or Michael Pittman Jr. -- in the 2020 NFL Draft.
While the Jets look like the clubhouse leaders at this moment, they need to seal the deal. The Dolphins and Raiders could certainly use Rodgers' services, too.
Don't overthink this: Bryce Young is the best quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. Sure, ideally, your franchise quarterback is taller than 5-foot-10 1/8. And possesses a bulkier frame than the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. But let's concentrate on everything Young brings to the table.
Arriving in Alabama as a five-star recruit, Young guided the Crimson Tide to a 23-4 record in his two seasons as a starter, piling up 8,356 yards passing yards and an incredible 80:12 TD-to-INT ratio along the way. He offers intelligence, leadership, extraordinary pocket presence, preternatural calm, clutch savvy and just about everything else you want in a field general beyond size.
Bottom line: Young is absolutely worthy of being the top quarterback selected in this draft. He would be a great fit in Houston. Anywhere, really. Playing for Nick Saban makes you ready, especially when you routinely play at such an elite level.
Young is my clear QB1 in this class, but Stroud is a really solid No. 2. Last week in Indianapolis, Stroud put on a throwing clinic. Just ask NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who said it was one of the best sessions he's ever seen. This reflects Stroud's great film at Ohio State, where he was a Heisman finalist in each of his two years as the Buckeyes' starter. This cat was born to sling a football. He just makes every throw look so effortless, with rare accuracy to all three levels.
I'll bet Stroud ends up going in the top five next month. If Houston doesn't pounce, look at Indianapolis in the No. 4 slot. And don't be surprised if Las Vegas (picking seventh) and/or Carolina (ninth) look to move up in order to secure the silky smooth Buckeye's services.
His performance at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine was legendary. But I won't call him a "workout warrior," as that has a bad connotation. (Think: Mike Mamula or Vernon Gholston.) Rather, Richardson was a combine confirmer; the epic workout in Indy only confirmed what a freak athlete this quarterback is at 6-4, 244 pounds.
Sure, Richardson's raw, having started just 13 games at Florida. But in that small sample size, he built quite a highlight reel of "wow" plays -- plays that most NFL quarterbacks can't make. And Gators coach Billy Napier raves about his desire to improve.
"He's thinking about probably the six or eight plays where he could have done a little bit better," Napier said of Richardson last September, via On3.com. "That's what I love about him. He's very critical of himself. He's an unbelievable competitor. We all know that kid's got physical talent -- we've known that for a long time -- but what's impressed me is his work ethic, discipline, his detail. He's a good teammate, he's a great example. He's selfless."
Given time to grow, Richardson will flourish in today's NFL. If Pete Carroll is serious about thinking quarterback at No. 5 as a luxury item courtesy of the Russell Wilson trade, Richardson is perfect. He can develop behind Geno Smith, whose new contract gives Seattle flexibility as early as next year. I think Richardson's going to be a stud. And I think every quarterback-needy team is fully examining his game.
Jimmy G just can't stay healthy. But when he does, he wins. OK, maybe not in the Super Bowl, but he's 40-17 in the regular season. Think a few teams would appreciate a .702 winning percentage?
Still in his prime at age 31, Garoppolo is just so solid and beloved in the locker room. Not to mention, he has relationships with the coaching staffs of the Texans, Raiders, Jets and Dolphins. Each of those teams make sense as a landing spot for this passer.
I am a tad skeptical on Levis. Too many bad decisions on his college tape. His sloppy footwork leads to scattershot accuracy. He and the Wildcats underwhelmed in 2022.
Granted, there were issues with the receivers and play-calling at Kentucky. And Levis played through injury this past season. From a pure traits perspective, he's quite the specimen.
Ultimately, Levis will go in the top 10. I get it -- and support it. This is a quarterback league. But he's still my QB4 in this class.
I don't think Mayfield's done. I said last year that he was worthy of one of the 32 starting jobs, and I still feel that way. He's just 27 years old, after all. Sure, the former No. 1 overall pick fizzled in Carolina, but he flashed that old swagger in a brief stint under Sean McVay in Los Angeles.
How would Baker look on the 49ers? The Raiders? The Buccaneers? I think it's worth finding out on one of those teams, or somewhere else.
I know he's an older prospect at age 25. I know he's currently rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered last November. But wow was Hooker a total stud at Tennessee.
I feel comfortable giving him the final slot on this list, over veteran free agents like Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater. I like those guys, too, but we know what they are. I think Hooker, who received a positive health update at the combine, could be a solid NFL starter near the end of 2023 or in 2024. At the least, I'm confident he'll be a really sharp and reliable backup.