The NFL offseason is here, so it’s time to turn our attention to the most important on-field story of the next few months — the quarterback market.
The game of musical chairs may be heated, because it’s not supposed to be the greatest year for quarterback prospects in the draft. Teams that are in the market for a new starter are the Broncos, Buccaneers, Panthers, Commanders, Saints, and Steelers, while the Colts, Texans, Browns, Eagles, Falcons, and Lions may also be involved.
Let’s take a look at which QBs are probably on the move, and which are likely staying put:
On the move
▪ Tom Brady, Buccaneers: Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski said they believe Brady will be back. Brady said he’s going to take things “day by day” before softly backtracking. And he noticeably hasn’t officially retired, nor has he used that word.
The Buccaneers still control Brady’s rights, though they seem to have a great relationship and the team will probably cooperate with his wishes. Brady is under contract for one more season, and only at $10.4 million. The obvious destination is the 49ers, who probably wouldn’t mind delaying the Trey Lance era for one more season so Brady can finish his career with his childhood team. The Dolphins also make sense. Owner Stephen Ross is a huge Michigan guy, minority owner Bruce Beal is a friend of Brady’s, and Brady just bought a $20 million house in Miami Beach.
There is also some noise about Brady wanting to buy into an NFL ownership group. The Dolphins make the most sense, as do the Raiders, who have an owner in Mark Davis who probably wouldn’t mind the jolt of publicity, and Josh McDaniels at head coach. Perhaps Brady can become the NFL’s first player-owner.
▪ Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers: It was noteworthy that during Super Bowl week 49ers legend Joe Montana told The Ringer that “I don’t think Trey is ready to play yet,” and “I think they should keep Jimmy until they find somebody that helps.” Yet the 49ers’ brass has a lot invested in Lance — two first-round picks, plus their reputations — so it would be a surprise, and potential embarrassment, if Lance sat on the bench for a second season (behind anyone but Brady, that is).
Garoppolo is owed $25.6 million in 2022, the last year of his contract. His no-trade clause also expires March 16. Garoppolo may end up being the second- or third-best quarterback available this offseason, and should have a healthy trade market.
▪ Deshaun Watson, Texans: Nick Caserio played this situation well in 2021, refusing to part with Watson for below-market value and instead paying Watson his $10.54 million salary to sit for a year. But now Watson’s salary balloons to $35 million for 2022. His legal situation remains in limbo, which complicates his trade market. Despite the off-field issues, Watson should be highly coveted — it’s not often that an elite quarterback, who will be 27 in September, and is under contract for four more years for a relatively team-friendly $34 million per year, becomes available. And it seems that the Texans have decided that Watson and the team need a fresh start.
Watson’s contract doesn’t provide for an obvious timetable for a trade, but the Texans would want to get something done before the draft in late April.
▪ Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos: He’s an unrestricted free agent, and after a disappointing season in which the Broncos finished 7-10 and ranked 23rd in points, Bridgewater probably won’t be back. One fit would be a return to New Orleans as a veteran seat-warmer for a rookie QB.
Maybe, maybe not
▪ Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Wilson’s camp has sent mixed messages — first his agent went on the record last offseason with a list of four teams to which Wilson would accept a trade, but Wilson denied that he requested a trade, and last week told Mad Dog Sports Radio that “my hope and goal is to be back and keep winning there.” This may just be about Wilson’s contract, which has two years and $50 million left, nearly half the going rate of the top quarterbacks. My prediction is Wilson stays in Seattle and gets a pay raise.
▪ Carson Wentz, Colts: The Colts would like to move on after Wentz had a subpar season and the Colts missed the playoffs in embarrassing fashion. But the Colts’ investment in Wentz could be a roadblock. No team is going to trade for his contract, which has a $22 million base salary ($15 million fully guaranteed), plus a $5 million roster bonus due in mid-March, plus another $1.3 million bonus due in Week 18 (for a total of $28.3 million).
The Colts could pay the $5 million roster bonus, and pay some of the $15 million guaranteed salary, to facilitate a trade. But they also just gave up first- and third-round picks for Wentz. It may make more sense to just pay Wentz for one more year and move on in 2023.
▪ Jared Goff, Lions: The Lions will certainly be looking for a quarterback in the draft. But Goff could still return next season because of his contract. He has a $15.5 million roster bonus due March 17 that is fully guaranteed, plus $10.65 million in base salary that becomes guaranteed the same day. The Lions could eat the roster bonus and trade Goff before the 17th, but it may be easier to keep him as the veteran seat-warmer for a rookie.
▪ Kyler Murray, Cardinals: He wasn’t on this list until Murray deleted all references to the Cardinals from his social media, and ESPN reported that some inside the Cardinals find Murray “immature” and “self-centered.” Murray’s contract is probably fueling some of this, as he is owed $34 million over the next two seasons, including just $5.5 million in 2022. It seems like the Cardinals want to give it one more year to make it work with Murray, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, but this situation bears watching.
▪ Matt Ryan, Falcons: He seems like an obvious candidate to move on. Ryan turns 37 in May, he hasn’t made the playoffs in four straight seasons, his $23.75 million compensation has no guarantees, and the Falcons can save $8 million or $23 million in cap space with a trade or release. The Falcons also have the No. 8 pick in the draft, putting themselves in prime position to draft a QB. But owner Arthur Blank also indicated a desire to keep Ryan and develop someone behind him.
“Great franchises have a successful transition from one quarterback to the next,” Blank told the Falcons’ website. “We have no reason to think he won’t continue to be playing quarterback for us.”
▪ Baker Mayfield, Browns: He had a terrible 2021 season and clashed with his coaches and front office. The problem is his 2022 salary of $18.858 million is fully guaranteed, and the Browns will have a tough time finding another team to take it unless the Browns pay for some of it. And other than Wilson or Watson, there’s probably not another realistic quarterback worth making the swap for. (Garoppolo is an improvement, but not a major one.) The Browns should swing for the fences for Wilson or Watson, but otherwise give Mayfield one last year to prove himself.
▪ Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Last offseason, it seemed a given that Rodgers would be leaving the Packers in 2022. Now it seems a given that he stays. Rodgers said last month that he and the Packers are “in a way different place.” Packers president Mark Murphy wrote this month that the Packers’ leaders “are all in agreement that we want Aaron to come back.” And last week the Packers brought back quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, 68, who was Rodgers’s right-hand man for the first 11 years of his career. The only move to expect is for the Packers to announce a massive new deal for Rodgers, who is set to make $26.97 million next season, the last year of his contract.
▪ Kirk Cousins, Vikings: The Vikings would probably like to upgrade, but Cousins has a $35 million base salary in 2022 that is fully guaranteed, and good luck finding another team to take that on. Most likely, the Vikings give Cousins one last shot under new coach Kevin O’Connell, then assess their options when Cousins hits free agency in 2023.
▪ Ryan Tannehill, Titans: His numbers dipped in 2021 and his three interceptions led to a playoff loss. But Tannehill has $29 million fully guaranteed in 2022, it’s doubtful another team would take on that contract, and Tannehill still led his team to the No. 1 seed despite a bevy of injuries around him. “Ryan’s our quarterback,” GM Jon Robinson said recently. “We’re looking forward to him getting back in there, and getting back on track, and keeping this thing rolling.”
TYING UP LOOSE ENDS
Final items from the Super Bowl
▪ One superstar player got lucky with his knee injury. Another, not so much.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Joe Burrow’s injury was just a sprained MCL and shouldn’t require surgery, which is a relief given that Burrow’s 2020 season ended with a torn ACL. But Rams receiver Odell Beckham did tear the ACL in his left knee, the same injury to the same knee he suffered in 2020.
The timing stinks, as Beckham is set to be a free agent, and his availability for the 2022 season is in doubt. But former 17-year Chargers physician David Chao said a second tear can often be easier to return from, and predicted that Beckham should be back on the field for the second half of the season.
It appears that Beckham and the Rams want the relationship to continue. Beckham would probably want a one-year deal to make him a free agent again next year, but the Rams may prefer to lock Beckham into a multiyear deal.
▪ Burrow looks to have a bright future after leading his team to the Super Bowl in just his second season. But the last 16 quarterbacks to lose their Super Bowl debut have not made it back — most notably Dan Marino, who also made it in his second season.
Of the 33 previous quarterbacks who lost their Super Bowl debut, only Len Dawson, Craig Morton, Fran Tarkenton, Bob Griese, John Elway, and Jim Kelly made it back.
▪ Burrow, 25, was mic’d up for the Super Bowl. Between talking to himself a lot during warm-ups, complaining about a new pimple on his upper lip, constantly taking in the scenery around him, and going out of his way to introduce himself to several Rams players during the game, Burrow came off as nervous and “happy to be here” instead of locked into the moment.
▪ Rams general manager Les Snead wore a T-shirt that read “[Expletive] Them Picks” to the team’s championship parade, a reference to the fact that he has traded every first-round pick since 2017, and gave up second- and third-rounders for Von Miller. But Snead should give himself more credit, as the Rams’ strategy only worked because Snead also hit on several mid-round picks — Cooper Kupp (third round), Van Jefferson (second round), Rob Havenstein (second round), Cam Akers (second round), Nick Scott (seventh round), and more.
▪ A Super Bowl appearance got Taylor a contract extension through the 2026 season. Now it’s time for Sean McVay to get a new contract from the Rams, as well as Matthew Stafford ($23 million in 2022) and Aaron Donald ($14.25 million).
Are fellow owners shielding Snyder?
Perhaps one reason that Commanders owner Dan Snyder got a light punishment from the NFL and hasn’t been voted out of the club is the other owners know they have some skeletons, too.
Last week, ESPN reported that the Cowboys quietly paid a $2.4 million settlement to cheerleaders in 2015 over potential voyeurism from Rich Dalrymple, who was Jerry Jones’s top PR guy and right-hand man for 32 years before retiring Feb. 2. The NFL is declining to investigate, calling it a “club matter,” but it looks like it is just protecting Jones, the league’s most powerful owner.
Meanwhile, the NFL is cooperating with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform with regard to its sexual harassment investigation into the Commanders, but not to the committee’s liking. The committee, like many of us, doesn’t understand why the NFL didn’t produce a written report, and wants the NFL to turn over more documents than it has. “We have been clear that the NFL must stop hiding the results of the [Beth] Wilkinson investigation and fully comply with the Committee’s requests, or the Committee will have no choice but to take further action,” it said in a statement to the Washington Post.
When Malcolm Butler retired in early September, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said the team was surprised, too, but that Butler had to take care of “some personal stuff.” But Thursday, the Cardinals released Butler from the reserve/retired list, and a source close to Butler confirmed that the cornerback is “definitely” making a comeback and hopes to be on a roster in 2022. The Cardinals were pleased with Butler’s fit in their defense before he stepped away, and there should still be a spot in the league for Butler, a seven-year veteran who will be 32 in March . . . Sean Payton’s departure from New Orleans is looking even more interesting now that the Saints decided to keep the band together. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was elevated to head coach, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael was retained, and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi is expected to take on added responsibilities. The front office also remains intact with GM Mickey Loomis and assistant GM Jeff Ireland. Payton said in his goodbye news conference that he plans to coach again. He just was done with New Orleans, apparently . . . The Rams’ championship is bad news for the Lions and Broncos. The first-round pick sent to the Lions as part of the Jared Goff-Matthew Stafford swap will be 32nd overall, giving the Lions picks 2, 32, and 34. And the second-round pick the Broncos got in the Von Miller trade is 64th overall, giving the Broncos picks 9, 40, and 64 . . . The 2021 season won’t be one to remember for pass rusher Carl Lawson. The Jets’ big free agent signing missed the season after tearing his Achilles’ in training camp. And Lawson had to watch his former team, the Bengals, make a surprise run to the Super Bowl in their first season without him. The Bengals were 19-44-1 with no playoff berths in Lawson’s four seasons.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.