Quarterback is kind of important in the NFL today. That doesn't change in the offseason. After spending every week of the regular season reviewing the tape and ranking all 32 starters, it's time to spin forward.
Which teams are in need of a quarterback? Which big-name signal-callers could be on the move? And what's going on with one of the game's most electrifying players? Here's a preview of the 2023 offseason QB market.
Desperately seeking signal-callers
Running a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund? That’s easy if you’re David Tepper. Finding a franchise quarterback? Not so much. The Panthers owner failed in his quests to land Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson, leaving Carolina to wheel out Sam Darnold, Cam Newton, P.J. Walker and Baker Mayfield to rough-and-tumble results over the last two seasons. In a parallel reality, the Panthers drafted Justin Fields and don’t exist in this column, but team brass felt cover man Jaycee Horn would make a bigger impact. Chasing after Sean Payton tells you Tepper's desire to turn the club around, but does the offensive guru really want to dive into this quarterbacking black hole? Not to mention, handing away a flock of picks to the Saints for their former coach would only set the Panthers farther away from wrangling a legitimate starter at the position. Why not hold onto interim coach Steve Wilks and trade up in the draft for a would-be face of the franchise?
We don't need to hire the Hardy Boys to solve this one. Despite the Texans yanking themselves out of the 2023 NFL Draft's top slot with a meaningless win over the Colts in Week 18, Houston has momentum. A player in the Sean Payton sweepstakes, the Texans are guaranteed a chance to draft one of the top quarterback prospects, with a true chance to build him via the bounty of picks netted in the Deshaun Watson trade. The draft capital alone makes this a better-than-advertised landing spot for whoever agrees to lead a franchise fresh off two one-and-done coaches.
It's wild to comprehend Chris Ballard handpicking another quarterback, but the retained Colts general manager holds the No. 4 overall slot in the draft. Indy rests in ripe territory to negotiate for Chicago's top selection or sit and wait for the best remaining passer to land in the team's lap. The new coach will have a say, but our society needs a break from the Colts overpaying mezzanine-level, fading veterans.
It's quite simple, at least to me. I believe the Raiders will roll with one of two quarterbacks next season: Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo. Any other scenario could amount to a mini-disaster for Josh McDaniels, who shotgunned Derek Carr out of the building with no successor in place. (For any of you Jarrett Stidham diehards out there, he's a pending free agent.) If the plot goes south, Vegas -- armed with the No. 7 overall pick -- could start over with a rookie.
With an owner "absolutely" willing to throw money at a veteran quarterback, Gang Green lines up as a juicy landing spot for Lamar Jackson if negotiations turn nuclear with the Ravens. Derek Carr looms as a lesser target, one who would be overhyped by the New York media until real games begin. Re-signing Mike White is a tricky piece of business -- so is sticking with Zach Wilson. No matter what Robert Saleh says publicly, there's zero chance he puts his coaching career on the line to fully concentrate on fixing a quarterback who appears entirely lost.
Ron Rivera fired offensive coordinator Scott Turner after saddling the play-caller with a broken-down Carson Wentz and a roller-coaster ride in Taylor Heinicke. Chopping Wentz off the roster to save $26 million is an automatic no-brainer. I have my doubts Washington or Heinicke are interested in continuing an on-again, off-again relationship in 2023. Sam Howell was a semi-splashy plaything in Week 18, but he has miles to go. Making a run at Derek Carr feels like a Rivera-esque next move.
Anything could happen
Desmond Ridder grew weekly in a four-game test run -- playing his best football in the finale -- but the Falcons are sitting pretty with the No. 8 overall pick. Arthur Smith could buy himself time by grabbing a first-round passer, but I see another option: Pursuing his old friend Ryan Tannehill if the Titans part ways with their veteran starter.
I'm tempted to ignore every particle of drama surrounding the future of Aaron Rodgers. It sure seemed as if NBC's Mike Tirico knew something we didn't, openly pondering the quarterback's future as Rodgers -- arm in arm with BFF Randall Cobb -- walked off Lambeau Field after a season-ending loss to the Lions. Retirement is a tangible possibility, but so is Rodgers deciding to give it one more shot with Christian Watson and friends. Could the iconic Packer really play for another franchise? If he departs, one way or another, Jordan Love immediately becomes the roster's most important player.
Bill Belichick briefly benched Mac Jones for Bailey Zappe. He then spoke tepidly about his second-year starter after the season, offering little more than: "Mac has the ability to play quarterback in this league." With the Patriots hunting for a new offensive play-caller, Jones is a bounce-back candidate after spending 2022 in signal-calling purgatory. Mac created some of his own problems, too, but the smart bet is on New England hiring Bill O'Brien to repair the damage.
I see almost zero chance of Tom Brady dialing up another autumn-into-winter in Tampa. His exit -- briefly experienced a year ago -- would leave the Bucs in quarterback purgatory. Free agent-to-be Blaine Gabbert can't be sold as a starter, while Kyle Trask has thrown nine pro passes. Tampa dances on the edge of irrelevance.
The Titans have Ryan Tannehill under contract for $36.6 million next season, but can save a big chunk of change by moving on. Tom Brady is a possible target, but good luck selling him on a Titans roster that traded away A.J. Brown and completely fell apart down the stretch, losing its final seven games. Malik Willis is a project player who was benched for a journeyman in Josh Dobbs. More on Tannehill below, but whimsically moving on from one of your most reliable pieces would put immense heat on Mike Vrabel and new GM Ran Carthon to find something better in a hurry.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport recently noted "there is a chance he does not return" to the Bucs, citing the Titans, Raiders and 49ers as possible landing spots if he splits. I'm personally ruling out Tampa. Assuming Brady wants to forge on for a 24th season, pairing with Josh McDaniels -- and Davante Adams -- in Vegas feels like a love connection. The rebuilding Titans do not, while the weapons-rich Niners already have Brock Purdy and Trey Lance on rookie deals. Brady can still play -- his arm is fine -- but it was a chore watching him toil through tilts in a state of bubbling frustration. He looked lost against Dallas in Monday's wild-card wipeout, but Brady's 2022 body of work tells a different story. Is there one more magical chapter left?
OK, yes: He's skated beyond POTENTIAL MOVER status. Carr is fully out the door. But if the Raiders are looking to get something back in a deal, Carr controls his own destiny, thanks to a no-trade clause in his contract. He's owed a digestible $122 million over the next three years, but none of that loot is guaranteed -- unless he's still on the roster three days after Super Bowl LVII. I'm predicting he's cut before he's traded, allowing Carr to test the waters with a batch of quarterback-needy teams listed above.
If the Raiders don't land TB12, Garoppolo serves as a logical Plan B. The team reportedly has eyes for the 31-year-old starter, which makes plenty of sense with Josh McDaniels steering the car. Jimmy G can't be sold as an overt upgrade on Derek Carr, but his 2022 campaign -- a fading memory inside San Francisco's unfurling Brock Purdy fever dream -- saw him notch a career-low 1.3 percent interception rate. We've likely seen Garoppolo's best inside Kyle Shanahan's QB-friendly system, but McDaniels appears intent on nabbing a familiar face.
With new general manager Ran Carthon joining the fray, Tannehill's future is hazy. He can win games with a contending roster. Tennessee can open up $27 million in cap space, though, by cutting him post-June 1. Tannehill is an underappreciated dish, but fans felt his absence when the Titans attempted to win fights with hyper-raw Malik Willis and emergency patch Josh Dobbs. Mike Vrabel was noncommittal on bringing Tannehill back, but the coach has always stood out as a supporter of his resilient signal-caller. This is a quality starter adored by his teammates. Tannehill would find work in a flash.
Jameis Winston's teammates chose him as the club's Ed Block Courage Award winner, aimed at someone who perseveres through adversity. That tells me how the locker room feels about a fellow who toiled through four cracked vertebrae and an awkward relationship with the coaching staff. The Saints can save $12.8 million by moving on from a player Dennis Allen essentially benched for Andy Dalton. Speaking of The Glowing Red Ginger Man, it's possible the Saints bring him back after he authored a campaign beloved by the metrics community. Viewing Dalton as anything more than a stopgap, though, is a fool's errand. It's time for New Orleans to raise the bar under center. Receiving a flock of draft picks in exchange for Sean Payton would come in handy.
Let's talk Lamar
Umm... what's going on here? Is there tangible tension between Jackson and the Ravens? Could he possibly wind up elsewhere? My guess on the sticking point: Operating as his own agent, Lamar seeks a contract mirroring the $230 million guaranteed that Cleveland handed Deshaun Watson. The Ravens -- and coach John Harbaugh -- aren't rushing to play ball. The franchise tag remains an option, too, especially if Baltimore wants to see Jackson last through an entire season after two injury-marred campaigns. The scenery turns dark if Lamar truly wants out, but I don't think we're there yet. Skipping Baltimore's playoff tilt threw a log on the fire, though, leaving this staredown as the offseason's A storyline.
The QB2 market
Jacoby Brissett (Age: 30): A top-flight backup whom Cleveland should re-sign in a hurry after he overtly outplayed Deshaun Watson.
Teddy Bridgewater (Age: 30): At first blush, feels like it'd be wise for Miami to keep the rock-solid QB2 in town. But Bridgewater's lack of durability -- he failed to make it through either of his two starts in 2022 -- cost the Dolphins games.
Gardner Minshew (Age: 26): Runs hot and cold, but quietly owns a 44:15 touchdown-to-pick ratio over 32 career games.
Baker Mayfield (Age: 27): Earned Sean McVay's respect and a likely shot at L.A.'s No. 2 slot.
Sam Darnold (Age: 25): Like Mayfield, Darnold is guaranteed work next season, but a new coaching staff in Carolina turns the landing spot into a wait-and-see.
Taylor Heinicke (Age: 29): Swept aside for both Carson Wentz and Sam Howell, Heinicke looms as a safe bet for a new zip code.
Tyler Huntley (Age: 24): This isn't the free-agent passer the Ravens are fretting over, and Huntley's free agency is of the restricted sort.
Blaine Gabbert (Age: 33): Hasn't started a game since 2018.
Mike White (Age: 27): A late-season meltdown lowered his stock, but New York's locker room fell in love with his toughness and derring-do. He has a chance to make some moolah come March.