The NFL’s quarterback carousel spun quickly over the last week, with 14 noteworthy QBs signing new contracts.
At least five, and as many as 10, could be starters in Week 1. The contracts tell the story of how much teams believe in them, and how the quarterbacks are ranked among the 32 teams.
Let’s take a look at the top signings, from the richest contract on down:
▪ Daniel Jones, Giants: four years, maximum $195 million, with two years, $82 million fully guaranteed.
The Giants made Jones the seventh-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL at $40 million per year before incentives, tying him with Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott. The last two years are non-guaranteed, but Jones will make $82 million over the first two.
The Giants surely don’t view Jones as the seventh-best quarterback, but it seems they have learned their lesson from not triggering his fifth-year option last year. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong decision, but it made Jones’s long-term status with the Giants a distraction throughout the season.
It seems they were willing to overpay Jones to celebrate finding a successor to Eli Manning, and to squash the notion that they don’t believe in Jones. Plus, the Giants can still get out of the deal in two years.
▪ Derek Carr, Saints: four years, maximum $150 million, with two years, $60 million fully guaranteed.
Carr will make about the same money this year that he was supposed to in Las Vegas ($30 million compared with $33 million), and he got two years of job security, plus a no-trade clause. For the Saints, they don’t have much of a shot at the top draft prospects with the 29th and 40th picks. Carr may not be elite, but he provides stability after two years of wandering with Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton.
▪ Geno Smith, Seahawks: three years, maximum $105 million, with one year, $27.5 million fully guaranteed.
The Seahawks rewarded Smith’s breakout 2022 season with a significant payday, but they can release him after this coming season with little financial penalty. The contract also is heavy on performance incentives (nearly 30 percent). The contract won’t preclude the Seahawks from drafting a quarterback, but I’d be surprised if they used the No. 5 pick on one after giving Smith a big check and re-signing Drew Lock. Drafting a quarterback in the middle rounds makes more sense.
▪ Jimmy Garoppolo, Raiders: three years, maximum $77.25 million, with two years, $33.75 million fully guaranteed.
Jimmy G got a decent payday despite his concerning injury history. The contract is the same for all three years — $22.5 million in salary, and $3.25 million in bonuses and incentives. The first 1½ years are fully guaranteed — $22.5 million in 2023, and an $11.25 million roster bonus next March. That guaranteed bonus increases the likelihood that Garoppolo lasts a second season in Las Vegas. The Raiders will likely be trying hard to draft a quarterback with their No. 7 pick, but can afford to sit the rookie for one and possibly two years behind Garoppolo.
▪ Jacoby Brissett, Commanders: one year, maximum $10 million, with $7.5 million fully guaranteed.
There is a big jump in contracts between Garoppolo and Brissett, even though Brissett is in line to start in Washington, with Sam Howell as his only competition. Since the 16th pick is too low to draft one of the top QBs, and Dan Snyder has the team up for sale, the Commanders pretty much had no choice but to go cheap at quarterback. Brissett, who had a respectable 88.9 passer rating in 11 starts for the Browns last year, was their best option.
▪ Taylor Heinicke, Falcons: two years, maximum $20 million, with one year, $6.32 million fully guaranteed.
The Falcons claim to really like Desmond Ridder, but last year’s third-round pick started just four games and only threw for 177 yards per game. Heinicke, who compiled a 12-11-1 record the last two years in Washington, gives the Falcons decent insurance. But this depth chart feels incomplete. Keep an eye on the Falcons making a big move for Lamar Jackson, Ryan Tannehill, or for a rookie with the No. 8 pick.
▪ Andy Dalton, Panthers: two years, maximum $17 million, with two years, $8 million fully guaranteed.
The Panthers traded multiple first- and second-rounders to get the No. 1 pick in the draft and their future quarterback, but also signed Dalton to be the veteran mentor and potential early-season starter. His contract has $7 million in incentives.
▪ Jarrett Stidham, Broncos: two years, maximum $14 million, with two years, $5 million fully guaranteed.
He turned his two-game audition with the Raiders at the end of last season into a decent payday to be Russell Wilson’s backup, getting guaranteed money across two seasons. Stidham may even get a chance to play if the Broncos bench Wilson for contract reasons.
▪ Sam Darnold, 49ers: one year, maximum $11 million, with $3.5 million fully guaranteed.
With Brock Purdy several months away from returning from elbow surgery, and Trey Lance still not 100 percent after a significant ankle injury, the 49ers need Darnold just to get through offseason practices. Darnold played decently for the Panthers last year, and with $6.5 million in performance incentives, the 49ers are acknowledging that Darnold could play a lot this year. But the financial commitment to Darnold (and Purdy and Lance) is so minimal that it still feels as if the 49ers could try to lure Tom Brady out of retirement this summer if they don’t like what they are seeing from their QBs.
▪ Baker Mayfield, Buccaneers: one year, maximum $9.5 million, with $4 million fully guaranteed.
The Buccaneers are in salary-cap jail with Brady’s $35 million dead-cap charge, and only have Kyle Trask on the roster, so Mayfield was the cheap, experienced option they need. He’ll get a chance to resurrect his career like Smith did in Seattle, but the Buccaneers likely aren’t done adding QBs.
▪ Mike White, Dolphins: two years, maximum $16 million, with one year, $4.5 million fully guaranteed.
He has only started seven NFL games, but the Dolphins clearly liked what they saw to make White the primary backup to Tua Tagovailoa, who has missed eight games to injury in the last two years. The base value of the contract is $8 million, with another $8 million in performance incentives, meaning White thinks he has a decent shot to play.
▪ Marcus Mariota, Eagles: one year, maximum $5 million plus incentives.
Thought he might be in play for the Cardinals, who need a quarterback while Kyler Murray returns from ACL surgery. Instead, Mariota signs up to be Jalen Hurts’s backup, giving the Eagles two mobile QBs.
▪ Case Keenum, Texans: two years, maximum $8.25 million, with two years, $4 million fully guaranteed.
The Texans will almost certainly draft a quarterback at No. 2, and they have a decent backup option in Davis Mills, but clearly wanted a veteran such as Keenum to mentor their rookie.
▪ Gardner Minshew, Colts: one year, $3.5 million plus incentives.
The Colts will have Sam Ehlinger and potentially Nick Foles in 2023, but Minshew’s signing signals that they aren’t confident in this year’s draft. The Colts have the No. 4 pick, but at best will get the third-best prospect (Anthony Richardson or Will Levis) after getting leapfrogged by the Panthers in the draft order. The Colts’ only path out of QB purgatory may be to make a big play for Jackson.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Big investments are being made
A look at some other moves from the first week of free agency:
▪ The tight end market moved at a glacial pace, likely because of a deep draft class, with nearly a dozen prospects projected to go in the first three rounds. Mike Gesicki, who made $11 million last year on the franchise tag, settled for a one-year deal worth only $4.5 million, plus $4.5 million in incentives.
▪ Two positions that got paid — offensive and defensive tackle. The largest guarantees given to non-quarterbacks so far: $60 million for Chiefs left tackle Jawaan Taylor, $56 million for Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne, $52.5 million for Broncos right tackle Mike McGlinchey, $50 million for Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, $40 million for 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, $32 million for Broncos defensive tackle/end Zach Allen, and $31.1 million for Bengals left tackle Orlando Brown. Broncos guard Ben Powers got $27 million and Falcons defensive tackle David Onyemata got $24.5 million.
▪ The Bengals got Brown at a relative discount, $64 million over four years. But the trade-off was that Brown gets a lot of it up front (52.6 percent). He will make nearly $34 million in 2023, with $31.1 million coming in a roster bonus that is due Sunday. His compensation over the final three years is $8.6 million, $7.5 million, and $14.2 million.
▪ Texans GM Nick Caserio and Raiders GM Dave Ziegler spent the week rounding up former Patriots. The Texans signed pass rushers Chase Winovich and Derek Rivers, and tight end Andrew Beck. And the Raiders signed Jimmy Garoppolo, fullback Jakob Johnson, and receivers Jakobi Meyers and Phillip Dorsett.
▪ Raiders fans were not pleased that the team traded tight end Darren Waller to the Giants for a third-round pick. But Waller felt like a square peg in a round hole with Josh McDaniels, whose previous offenses never utilized a skinny, receiving tight end who didn’t contribute much in the run game. Add in the fact that Waller has missed 14 games the last two years with various injuries, is 31 years old and is owed $12.475 million this year, and I don’t find his trade too surprising.
▪ The Broncos put that new Walmart money to use, spending more than $200 million in full contract value and $53 million in signing bonuses last Monday alone. Sean Payton wasn’t messing around in awarding $80 million in guarantees to a right tackle (McGlinchey) and a guard (Powers).
▪ Lamar Jackson, who hasn’t signed his franchise tag worth $32.4 million, tweeted that the Ravens previously offered him $133 million fully guaranteed over three seasons. If true, that’s not much of an offer — it’s practically the same amount as giving Jackson three straight franchise tags, the most allowed under NFL rules. If Jackson gets three straight tags, he would make $127 million.
▪ The Bills signed fifth-year journeyman Kyle Allen to be Josh Allen’s backup. Now they need to fill out the depth chart by signing Bengals free agent quarterback Brandon Allen.
Rule proposals will go to a vote
A quick look at some of the rule proposals submitted by teams, to be voted upon at the NFL owners’ annual meeting March 26-29 in Phoenix:
▪ The Eagles are once again looking for a replacement for the onside kick, proposing that a team can instead choose to go for it on fourth and 20 from its 20-yard line. The owners have resisted this in the past on account of it being too gimmicky.
▪ The Eagles also want the game clock to show tenths of a second inside the final 30 seconds of each half, which sounds like a good idea, but also sounds like it could lead to all kinds of shenanigans and accusations.
▪ The Rams want roughing the passer to be reviewable by the officials or a coach’s challenge. I have my doubts that there is much of an appetite for this change, but we will see.
▪ The Chargers propose that a wild-card team would get a home playoff game over a division winner if the wild-card team is at least four games better in the standings, and the division winner was under .500. This would have resulted in the 12-5 Cowboys hosting the 8-9 Buccaneers this past season, instead of vice versa.
▪ Twenty-five teams signed on to a proposal for the NFL to move to just one preseason roster cut, instead of in waves.
The NFL and Big 12 Conference came up with a terrific idea that may upend the NFL Combine as we know it. The leagues announced the creation of a Big 12 Pro Day in 2024 at The Star in Frisco, Texas, that would replace the individual pro days held at each campus and, of course, will be broadcast on NFL Network. The Combine is clearly losing its luster, as evidenced by the weak TV ratings this year. The answer may be turning the traditional Combine into a mostly medical event, and instead creating more conference-wide pro days. It would make life easier for NFL scouts, would allow more prospects to get noticed, and would provide more programming for NFL Network than the current four-day Combine. Win-win-win … This is a first — the NFL wants to ban a maneuver based on player safety, and the Players Association is against it. The competition committee is likely going to propose eliminating the “hip-drop” tackle, in which defensive players grab ball carriers from behind, but the NFLPA believes banning it is “unfair to players” and “unrealistic to implement.” … Why do the Jets need to trade for Aaron Rodgers? Last year, there were 47 quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes. The Jets’ QBs ranked 44th (Mike White, 75.7), 45th (Joe Flacco, 75.2), and 46th (Zach Wilson, 72.8) in passer rating … How much does Matt Ryan want to keep playing? The Colts released Ryan this past week, but still owe him $12 million fully guaranteed, with offsets if he signs elsewhere. It’s hard seeing Ryan get more than $12 million in free agency, so if he decides to play this fall, he’ll essentially be playing for free … It was interesting that Rob Gronkowski gave the same comment in separate interviews with Boston.com and Bookies.com this past week — that the Patriots had to pay Bill O’Brien “head coach money” to come back to the Patriots. That is yet more evidence that O’Brien’s hiring was prompted by the Krafts, not Bill Belichick. The last time the Patriots paid head coach money to an assistant was with Josh McDaniels in 2018, and that decision came from the Krafts, as well … ESPN’s Todd McShay was excoriated in December for saying Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter has “character concerns,” but McShay deserves some apologies. Last fall, Carter received three traffic citations for speeding, including one for driving 89 miles per hour in a 45-m.p.h. zone. In January, Carter lied about being present at the scene of a deadly drag racing crash involving teammates, and this past week was sentenced to probation, community service, and a fine for reckless driving. Also this past week, Carter wasn’t able to finish drills at Georgia’s pro day after showing up out of shape. Carter should still be a first-round pick in April, but he’s hurting his cause.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.