If the 2021 NFL offseason was good for anything, it was probably quarterback jersey sales.
As the 2021 regular season approaches — the Buccaneers and Cowboys kick matters off Thursday — a whopping 15 teams will have a new starting quarterback for Week 1 compared with a year ago. That includes three rookies, seven veterans who switched teams, and five players who ascended from backup roles.
Let’s take a look at all 15 teams and where they stand with their new QBs:
▪ Saints (Old: Drew Brees. New: Jameis Winston) — Sean Payton’s coaching acumen will certainly be tested in his first season without Brees. The Saints won’t have Michael Thomas (foot) for at least six games, and they also lost receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Jared Cook in free agency, plus sack leader Trey Hendrickson. Winston threw 30 interceptions the last time he started a full season (2019), but was terrific in beating out Taysom Hill for the job (124.8 preseason passer rating vs. 77.5), and perhaps Payton can rein him in.
▪ Texans (Old: Deshaun Watson. New: Tyrod Taylor) — One thing is clear: Watson has likely played his last down for the Texans. But a trade might not happen until the offseason. New general manager Nick Caserio reportedly is holding firm in his trade demands, and appears ready to make Watson inactive all season and pay him $10.54 million not to play (though that may violate the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement). The rebuilding Texans are just trying to make it through the season before they blow everything up, and have entrusted the team to Taylor, an 11-year veteran who has a respectable 24-21-1 record as a starter.
▪ Chargers (Old: Taylor. New: Justin Herbert) — Herbert made an emergency start in Week 2 last year as a rookie, and proceeded to blow everyone away. Though Herbert had a 6-9 record, he threw for 4,336 yards, a rookie-record 31 touchdowns and easily won NFL Rookie of the Year. Now he enters Year 2 with an improved offensive line, and a terrific defensive coach in Brandon Staley, who led the Rams to the No. 1 defense last year. The Chargers look great on paper, but the expectations may be a little unfairly high for Herbert, who enters the season with a lot of hype.
▪ Rams (Old: Jared Goff. New: Matthew Stafford) — The Rams went to the playoffs in three of the last four years with Goff, including a Super Bowl in 2018, but that wasn’t good enough for coach Sean McVay. The Rams were 22nd in scoring last year, and McVay decided that Stafford, now 33 and six years older than Goff, is the missing piece. Stafford is certainly under some pressure to prove that it was the Lions’ organization who was responsible for all that losing (74-90-1 career record with three playoff appearances in 10 healthy seasons). But the spotlight is really on McVay, who had a pretty good thing going with Goff.
▪ Lions (Old: Stafford. New: Goff) — The rare one-for-one trade, with Goff now taking over in Detroit. The new regime of GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell is blowing up the roster, and wanted a veteran in Goff to help ease the transition. The Lions have low expectations this year, but Goff gets his chance to prove that he wasn’t just a creation of McVay’s system.
▪ Dolphins (Old: Ryan Fitzpatrick. New: Tua Tagovailoa) — Tua took the reins in a messy quarterback switch during the bye last year. While the Dolphins went 6-3 in his starts, Tua was benched twice in the fourth quarter when his team trailed, and he admitted this offseason that he didn’t know the playbook as well as he should have. But the Dolphins have entrusted the team to Tua for 2021, and gave him new receivers in Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle, plus a defense that was sixth in points allowed last year. This is a big prove-it year for Tua.
▪ Washington (Old: Dwayne Haskins. New: Fitzpatrick) — Haskins’s brief tenure in Washington was a disaster. A first-round pick in 2019, Haskins went 1-5 last year as a starter and was dumped in late December after breaking several of coach Ron Rivera’s rules. But Washington still won the NFC East at 7-9, and this offseason eschewed the draft to instead bring in Fitzpatrick to hopefully put the team over the top. Fitzpatrick, 38, certainly makes some risky throws, but he pushes the ball downfield fearlessly and has had his two best statistical seasons in the last three years.
▪ Jets (Old: Sam Darnold. New: Zach Wilson) — It’s hard to have any faith in the Jets in developing a young QB. But CBS’s Tony Romo was raving last week about Wilson, the No. 2 pick. “I think he’s unbelievable,” Romo said. “Zach Wilson is going to be in the discussion as one of the top three to five quarterbacks very quickly, within the next couple of years. It’s rare for me to say someone has the ability to get in the stratosphere of a [Patrick] Mahomes, but I think this kid actually has that ability.” OK then.
▪ Panthers (Old: Teddy Bridgewater. New: Darnold) — The Panthers hired wunderkind offensive coordinator Joe Brady last year, but struggled with Bridgewater, finishing with a 5-11 record and 24th in points. Now we’ll see if Brady can turn around Darnold, who has the worst TD-to-INT ratio of any starting quarterback the last three years (45:39). The Panthers have already picked up Darnold’s fully guaranteed $19 million option for 2022, but they’ll probably find a way to move on if he doesn’t play well in his 2021 audition.
▪ Broncos (Old: Drew Lock. New: Bridgewater) — The Broncos’ path at quarterback was risky two-fold: They are entrusting their team to a QB coming off a poor season, and they chose not to take Justin Fields or Mac Jones, who were both available when they drafted ninth overall. Bridgewater could have success with a couple of nice receivers in Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, a solid offensive line, and reuniting with Pat Shurmur, who was his offensive coordinator in Minnesota. But coach Vic Fangio and GM George Paton are certainly under pressure.
▪ Colts (Old: Philip Rivers. New: Carson Wentz) — The Colts are still piecing things together following Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019. Rivers came for 2020 and led the Colts to an 11-5 record, but decided he’d rather coach high school football this fall. Now coach Frank Reich has cast his lot with Wentz, whose career fell apart in Philadelphia. So far, 2021 hasn’t been much better for Wentz, with a foot injury and his refusal to get the vaccine keeping him off the field for most of training camp. This is a big year for Wentz to prove that he can stay healthy and produce.
▪ Eagles (Old: Wentz. New: Jalen Hurts) — The Eagles wrecked their salary cap to trade Wentz, and are another team looking just to get by in 2021 before starting fresh in 2022. Hurts will get the chance to prove himself, with Joe Flacco and Gardner Minshew backing him up in case of emergency. But unless Hurts has a huge season, expect the Eagles to be all-in on Watson or a rookie QB next year.
▪ Bears (Old: Mitchell Trubisky. New: Andy Dalton) — Coach Matt Nagy seems shell-shocked from his experience with Trubisky, who went 4-8 as a rookie and struggled in his four seasons. Dalton will start for now, and he did go 4-5 for the Cowboys last year, but it’s only a matter of time before Justin Fields gets his opportunity.
• Patriots (Old: Cam Newton. New: Mac Jones) — A new era begins in New England with Jones, the 15th overall pick, becoming the first rookie QB to start in Week 1 for Bill Belichick in his 27 years as a head coach. Of the five QBs drafted in the first round this year, Jones appears to be in the best situation, with a veteran offensive line, a stout defense, and great coaching.
▪ Jaguars (Old: Minshew. New: Trevor Lawrence) — As the Jaguars enter yet another rebuilding phase, a plea to new coach Urban Meyer: Please protect Lawrence. He was sacked three times in the preseason and constantly under duress as the offensive line looked awful. Lawrence looks to be a generational type of talent, and has solid receivers in DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault, but it won’t matter if the Jaguars can’t keep Lawrence upright.
QBs bring new life to AFC
The 2021 season also represents the start of a new era of NFL quarterbacks, particularly in the AFC.
Of the 16 Week 1 quarterbacks in the AFC, eight will be age 25 or younger: Trevor Lawrence (21), Zach Wilson (22), Mac Jones (23), Justin Herbert (23), Tua Tagovailoa (23), Joe Burrow (24), Lamar Jackson (24), and Josh Allen (25), the oldest quarterback in the AFC East. That list doesn’t include a Patrick Mahomes (who will turn 26 on Sept. 17) and Baker Mayfield (26).
Conversely, only four of the 16 AFC quarterbacks are over 30, and only one is over 35: Ben Roethlisberger (39), Ryan Tannehill (33), Tyrod Taylor (32), and Derek Carr (30).
Those numbers are flipped in the NFC. Of the 16 NFC quarterbacks, eight are over 30, and four are over 35: Tom Brady (44), Ryan Fitzpatrick (38), Aaron Rodgers (37), Matt Ryan (36), Kirk Cousins (33), Matthew Stafford (33), Andy Dalton (33), and Russell Wilson (32). Just missing the cutoff is Jimmy Garoppolo (29).
And only four NFC quarterbacks are 25 or under: Jalen Hurts (23), Daniel Jones (24), Sam Darnold (24), and Kyler Murray (24).
The average age of the AFC starting quarterbacks is 26.7. In the NFC, it’s 30.7.
Big struggles following high picks
While training camp was all sunshine and roses for Mac Jones, some of his fellow first-round picks aren’t handling the transition to the NFL as smoothly.
Offensive tackle Penei Sewell, taken No. 7 overall by the Lions, showed significant struggles in pass protection during the preseason.
The problem may be that the Lions made the curious decision to switch Sewell to right tackle, even though he never played the position in college (strictly left tackle), plus he hasn’t played football in a year and a half after opting out of the 2020 season.
“That’s a tough position play out there on that island, and he’s sat out for a year,” Lions GM Brad Holmes admitted last week. “And I know it’s magnified by what may be a hiccup here or there.”
In Cincinnati, Ja’Marr Chase was taken No. 5 overall so the Bengals could reunite him with college quarterback Joe Burrow. But Chase’s first training camp has been plagued by drops, with three in the game against Washington, a couple of bad drops in practice the next week, and a dropped bubble screen in the preseason finale against the Dolphins.
Chase, like Sewell, opted out of the 2020 college football season.
“Me sitting out that year, I’m not going to be so fast getting back to my normal self,” he admitted earlier in training camp. “It’s all mental right now.”
Julian Edelman has eye on Nick Caserio
Recently retired receiver Julian Edelman has joined the cast of “Inside the NFL” this fall, which will now air on Paramount+. Edelman participated in a media call last week to promote the show, and he offered interesting insight into Texans GM Nick Caserio, who spent 20 years with the Patriots.
“He’s got one of those photogenic memories,” Edelman said. “I’m excited for his opportunity because I think he’s a brilliant mind when it comes to football. He was the type of guy where he put on the GM hat, and then he could come into the coaching room and put on a coaching hat. And he was actually leading the [receiver] meetings. He knew the offense, he came from the bottom.”
Edelman said he feels for Caserio for being dealt a tough situation with Deshaun Watson and his legal issues.
“This is a tough spot to be in for a first-time GM,” Edelman said. “I know specifically that Caserio does not like distractions. This is something like Patriot 101 — eliminate all distractions, and this is the biggest distraction in the NFL on multiple levels.”
Edelman said it’s too early to grade Caserio’s performance as GM, but he will grade him as tough as Caserio graded the Patriots’ receivers each week.
“I’ll give him a real grade, too, because ol’ Nick was a little stiff in there sometimes,” Edelman quipped. “But I love that guy.”
Credit to Carson Wentz for taking several questions and patiently answering that his decision to refuse the vaccine is “a personal decision for me and my family.” But it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that Wentz would continue to put his availability at risk, especially after he just experienced the consequences — sitting out several days of practice last week because he was a close contact. Seven percent of NFL players (or about 154) haven’t gotten the shot, but none of them are in Tampa Bay, where coach Bruce Arians announced that his team was 100 percent fully vaccinated (which, of course, would include Tom Brady, whose vaccination status was not previously known). The NFL has made it a distinct competitive advantage to be vaccinated. Is there any doubt that Brady’s team would be 100 percent compliant? . . . Hard not to notice that Bill Belichick didn’t have any warm and fuzzy words about Cam Newton following his release, after practically gushing about him for the past year-plus. And, likewise, noticeable that Newton didn’t thank Belichick and the Patriots for his opportunity. Here’s betting that the news that he lost the job didn’t go over too well with Newton . . . On a related note, Tedy Bruschi sent this interesting tweet on Aug. 29 about the Patriots’ running game: “Great depth at RB, OL is a potential top 5 unit, and the QB is a beast running the rock. Buckle up.” So just two days before Newton was released, Bruschi, who spent at least six full days with the Patriots at training camp, believed that Newton would be the Patriots’ quarterback . . . Props to Raiders bad boy Richie Incognito, who was voted a team captain last week for the first time in his 17-year NFL career. Despite his well-publicized issues, Incognito continues to get jobs, and his teammates continue to respect him . . . Tough few weeks for the Ravens. They lost star running back J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending ACL tear, and will be without first-round rookie receiver Rashod Bateman and third-year receiver Miles Boykin for the first month. Newcomer Sammy Watkins had been out due to injury but returned to practice last week . . . Terry Glenn (43) and David Patten (47): Two Patriots receivers gone way too soon. RIP.