Tom Brady didn’t just retire Wednesday. He changed the quarterback market for nearly a quarter of the NFL.
At least eight teams will enter the offseason looking for a new starting quarterback. With Brady out of the picture (at least for now), the market gets thinner and the competition gets tighter.
Assuming Lamar Jackson gets the franchise tag in Baltimore and isn’t traded, and Geno Smith and Daniel Jones re-sign with the Seahawks and Giants, let’s look at the QB market minus Brady.
▪ Aaron Rodgers: He is now the only real option for any team that believes it’s a QB away from a Super Bowl. Rodgers is owed $59 million fully guaranteed next season, which gives him all the leverage.
My gut says Rodgers returns to Green Bay to finish his career, but the Jets, who have only Zach Wilson under contract and who hired former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to the same job last month, are an obvious trade candidate.
The Raiders are mentioned for Rodgers, but I’m skeptical that they would spend big money and draft picks for an aging QB, or that Rodgers would want to learn a new offense under Josh McDaniels.
I could see the Commanders and Colts being desperate enough to get in on the Rodgers bidding, though.
▪ Jets: Owner Woody Johnson has made it clear that he is willing to pay for a veteran quarterback, and I’d be surprised if they don’t come away with Rodgers or Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo will likely be cheaper than Derek Carr, who will have a $40 million guarantee if a trade happens after mid-February. And Garoppolo knows Jets coach Robert Saleh and some of the staff well from their days together in San Francisco. A trade for Ryan Tannehill is a more expensive Plan C.
▪ Buccaneers: Brady left them with a $35.104 million dead salary-cap hit and Kyle Trask as the only quarterback on the roster. A major rebuild looks to be in store, and the draft seems the obvious place to find a QB, but with the 19th pick, the Buccaneers are in a position of weakness.
Carr makes sense, but he might cost a lot of money for not many wins. The Buccaneers may be better off signing multiple lower-tier guys (Taylor Heinicke, Mike White, Drew Lock, etc.) to just get through 2023 and start fresh in 2024.
▪ Raiders: We don’t know if they benched Carr with Brady in mind, but now they definitely have to extend their search. At minimum, they should re-sign Jarrett Stidham, who played well in his late-season audition and won’t be expensive. They also could sign Garoppolo, but he’s more expensive and not a big upgrade over Stidham.
The Raiders should pencil in Stidham to open the season, then find another quarterback in the draft, either with the No. 7 pick or in later rounds.
▪ 49ers: San Francisco looked like the perfect destination for Brady, with a roster ready to win a Super Bowl but major question marks at quarterback. Trey Lance isn’t ready to take over, and now Brock Purdy has a significant elbow injury.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said that the 49ers likely won’t bring back Garoppolo and won’t pursue a veteran quarterback (a.k.a. Rodgers), but it seems that could change if Purdy’s injury is more serious than a six-month recovery. At minimum, they probably need to sign a Jacoby Brissett or Teddy Bridgewater for depth.
▪ Titans: Another team that probably was going to sniff around Brady thanks to their struggles and Brady’s connection to Mike Vrabel. Tannehill’s time might be up; he’s entering the final year of his deal, and has a sizable salary ($27 million) and only $9.6 million in dead cap money.
But unless the Titans are ready to make a big trade up in the draft — the No. 11 pick is probably not high enough to land one of the top prospects — they probably should keep Tannehill for one more year.
▪ Panthers: Badly want a quarterback, and are in OK position to draft one of the top prospects with the No. 9 pick. Were probably a long shot for Brady, but Carr seems like a good stopgap. A trade for Tannehill also makes some sense.
▪ Commanders: Will have only Sam Howell and Jake Fromm once they likely release Carson Wentz. Brady almost certainly would have gotten a call from Washington.
Coach Ron Rivera probably is feeling the heat — especially if a new owner comes in — so don’t be surprised to see the Commanders take a big swing, whether it’s for Rodgers, Garoppolo, Carr, or Tannehill.
A wild card could be trading for Justin Fields; former Eagles and Browns executive Joe Banner recently made a compelling case for why the Bears should trade Fields and draft another QB with the No. 1 pick.
▪ Falcons: Don’t have a proven QB on the roster but are in decent shape for one of the top prospects (Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis) with the No. 8 pick. A trade for Tannehill is an obvious possibility, which would reunite him with coach Arthur Smith, who was his offensive coordinator in Tennessee for his 2020 career year. Garoppolo also would be a decent fit in this offense.
▪ Colts: Will likely be moving on from Matt Ryan, and have only Sam Ehlinger on the roster. They are in great shape to draft one of the top quarterbacks with the No. 4 pick.
▪ Texans: Were linked to Brady and Garoppolo because of the connection to GM Nick Caserio, but it would be a shock if they didn’t take a quarterback with the No. 2 pick and bring back Davis Mills.
▪ Saints: They have Jameis Winston under contract for just $12.8 million, and their first-round pick is late (29th), so Winston is probably their answer.
▪ Packers: If Rodgers wants out, they will simply turn the team over to fourth-year QB Jordan Love (which may be their preference).
▪ Rams: Matthew Stafford says he is returning, but he’ll be 35 and isn’t long for the NFL given his back and neck injuries. The Rams had their eye on Garoppolo last offseason and will likely try to add a quality veteran backup.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.