In the NFL, quarterbacks usually get too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when the team loses. I doubt there is a cure for that. As this year’s NFL off-season begins to accrete mass and gain momentum, there is an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding NFL quarterbacks; we have a quality QB who have already announced his retirement; we have QBs wanting to be traded – or rumored to want to be traded – ; we have QBs who are reportedly frustrated with their coaches or former coaches; we have … You get the idea.
So, today I want to try to make some semblance of sense out of all this. I shall do this division by division looking at teams with QB “issues” and/or QB “needs”. Let me start with the AFC East:
- Bills: No issues and no needs; they have their franchise QB.
- Dolphins: Rumors that players and coaches may not be all that enamored with Tua. They have the 3rd pick overall in this year’s draft and some Mock Drafts – – for whatever they are worth – – have them taking another QB there. My guess is that the Dolphins would trade Tua rather than demote him.
- Jets: They need better play from their QB; the question for the new Jets’ regime is simple; can Sam Darnold provide that better play? Rumor has it that Deshaun Watson wants to be traded to the Jets. The Jets pick second and twenty-third in the first round of the Draft; they have assets they can trade…
- Pats: This is a team that needs a serious upgrade at QB. The Cam Newton experiment did not work; Cam Newton is a shell of his former MVP self. However, a reincarnation of John Unitas is not going to resurrect the Pats’ dynasty without a concomitant upgrade in the corps of pass-catchers.
In the AFC North:
- Bengals: Assuming Joe Burrow’s rehab is complete, they have no QB issues or needs.
- Browns: They have their guy on the roster already.
- Ravens: No issues.
- Steelers: I think Ben Roethlisberger is in the same situation as Cam Newton; his body is betraying him. If I read the reports of his contract correctly, he will make $28.8M next year – base salary plus easily achievable bonuses – meaning he has little incentive to retire. After next year, he will be a free agent; that is when he will be motivated to retire. The Steelers need a replacement for him now and that replacement is not currently on the roster – even with the signing of Dwayne Haskins off the scrap heap. If the Steelers cut Roethlisberger, they will have $22.4M in Dead Cap Money to deal with. The Steelers have a QB problem…
In the AFC South:
- Colts: Philip Rivers retired, and Jacoby Brissett is an unrestricted free agent. Jacob Eason is the other QB on their roster. The Colts put a playoff caliber roster around Rivers last year; they can do that for another QB this year. They need to acquire an NFL-competent QB for certain.
- Jags: They pick first in the Draft and they need a QB badly.
- Texans: This is a soap opera. There is obvious friction between Deshaun Watson and the owner and the team President; reports say Watson wants out. Watson’s contract with the Texans runs through 2025; according to Spotrac.com, the Texans would take a dead cap hit of $67.5M in 2021 if they cut or trade Watson; that would leave a team that finished 4-12 last year in dire straits to field a functional squad. I think Watson will stay in Houston because it will be difficult for the Texans to absorb that dead cap hit and because the goofy owner there will likely come to recognize that the team has already alienated part of the fanbase, and he need not pour salt into that wound and piss off another piece of the fanbase.
- Titans: They have their QB…
In the AFC West:
- Broncos: They have 3 young QBs on the roster and my reaction to all of them is, “Meh!” They pick 9th in this year’s Draft; so, that may not provide them with the upgrade they might want. They may need to entice one of this year’s free agent QBs to take up residence in Colorado – – if they can.
- Chargers: They have their QB…
- Chiefs: They have their QB …
- Raiders: Some Raiders’ fans are less than content with Derek Carr as the franchise QB but Carr is more than merely a solid player who does not embarrass himself or the team when he is on the field. Marcus Mariota is a more-than-competent backup. The Raiders did not make the playoffs this year and played poorly down the stretch – – but the reasons for those failures go well beyond QB play in Las Vegas.
Moving to the NFC, let me begin with the NFC West:
- Cardinals: No QB issues or problems here…
- Niners: Jimmy G has had difficulty dodging the injury bug. He is signed through the end of 2023 and stands to make $26M next year. However, if he is released or traded, Spotrac.com reports that his dead cap hit is only $2.8M (I do not understand how that happens but that is what it says.) So, the Niners could be in the free agent marketplace for a QB if they are concerned about that injury history.
- Rams: People have reported that Sean McVey has fallen out of love with Jared Goff. The other two QBs currently on the Rams’ roster are John Wolford and Blake Bortles. Goff is signed through the end of 2024 and his dead cap hit for next year would be $65.5M. The Rams are a playoff team; I just do not see them hamstringing themselves with that much dead cap money. I will be surprised if Jared Goff is anywhere else next year.
- Seahawks: No QB issues here. Just move along…
In the NFC South:
- Bucs: Tom Brady is signed for next year; he will make $27.9M. So long as he does not retire or suffer an incapacitating injury, the Bucs QB situation is resolved.
- Falcons: Matt Ryan is still a capable franchise QB for the team. He is getting to the point where the Falcons should begin to hold auditions for his ultimate replacement. On the Falcons’ roster now are Matt Schaub (not a QB for the future because of his age) and Kurt Benkert (If you believe he is the Falcons’ QB of the future, tell me where he played college football without Googling).
- Panthers: Teddy Bridgewater is signed through the end of 2022 and the Panthers have 3 other young QBs on the roster. My guess is that the Panthers will stand pat here – – but if a quality free agent shows interest there…?
- Saints: Will Drew Brees retire? I think he should; if he does the Saints will eat $22.6M in dead cap money. Jameis Winston is an unrestricted free agent. Taysom Hill has one more year to go on his contract and Trevor Siemien still has a key to the team’s facilities. The Saints should be active in the QB marketplace this year…
In the NFC North:
- Bears: The team declined Mitchell Trubisky’s fifth year option, so he is an unrestricted free agent. Nick Foles is still there and signed through the end of 2022. If the Bears cannot entice a free agent to come to Chicago, they will likely try to resign Trubisky since he “knows the system”. However, the ceiling does not appear to be extremely high if they take that path.
- Lions: Matthew Stafford has asked to be traded – – following in the footsteps of Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson as quality players who do not want to play for the Lions. Stafford will be 33 years old next year and is signed through the end of the 2022 season. Stafford should draw lots of attention on the trade market and the Lions need plenty of help. Stafford fits perfectly with the Colts playoff caliber roster in search of a QB and he would also fit with the Pats, Saints, Steelers and WTFs. The Lions have only 1 pick in the first round of this year’s Draft (#7 overall) and you can expect them to get at least one more in exchange for Matthew Stafford.
- Packers: Aaron Rodgers’ comment that his future is uncertain has created a melodrama here. He is signed through the end of the 2023 season and he will collect a total of $73.5M over the course of that contract. If you hear about him retiring, that is the money he would leave on the table. If the Packers were to trade him – – or release him if you want to think waaay outside the box – – the dead cap hit for the team would be $31.6M. For a team that had the best record in the NFC last season, that makes little to no sense. My prediction is that Aaron Rodgers will get past his current state of butt-hurt and will be wearing #12 for the Packers again in 2021. The curtain will fall on this melodrama.
- Vikes: They have their QB – – for better or worse…
I purposely saved the NFC East for last because there are so many question marks and moving parts here that I did not want to tire anyone out in the early parts of this rant. Grab yourself a cup of coffee – – or an adult beverage if that is of your choosing and the time is right – – and let me dive in here.
- Cowboys: This situation is a soap opera married to a melodrama subsumed in an episode of the Perils of Pauline. And what else would you expect from the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones? Dak Prescott is a free agent – – unless the Cowboys put the franchise tag on him for a second time giving him a guaranteed salary of something in the neighborhood of $38M for 2021 and almost assuredly giving him unrestricted free agency after that. The Cowboys hit the jackpot in the free agent market last year signing Andy Dalton as their backup QB and he saw plenty of action in 2020 due to Prescott’s injury. However, Dalton is also an unrestricted free agent this year; his deal was a one-year deal with no team option in it. Other QBs on the Cowboys’ roster are Cooper Rush, Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci. If any of them are “the answer” then I have no idea what “the question” might be.
- Eagles: Look at their situation one way, and they have a QB controversy between Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts. Look at it another way and they have one QB who has problems between his ears (Wentz) and another QB who played well in one game and was decidedly mediocre in two others. Look at it a third way and the team has made a financial – and personnel – commitment to Carson Wentz that is more than merely significant. Wentz and Doug Pederson reportedly had a major falling out; Pederson is gone; Wentz won that battle. Wentz’ contract runs through the end of the 2024 season and the Eagles would have to eat $59.2M in dead cap space by releasing him or trading him this year. I call that a serious commitment. My guess is that the Eagles will put Carson Wentz under center next year with a new coach and a “new system” and that Jalen Hurts will be on the team with a few “special packages” that he will run a few times a game. Status quo ante is maintained…
- Giants: The Giants have the most stable QB “situation” in the division so long as you believe that Daniel Jones is indeed an NFL-caliber franchise QB. He shows flashes of being just that – – and then he finds a way to make a humongous mistake at just the wrong time in a game. Daniel Jones is certainly not one of the top 5 QBs in the NFL – – but there are probably a dozen teams that would welcome him with open arms as their QB in 2021 if they could shed their incumbent QBs without debilitating dead cap hits.
- WTFs: Alex Smith is the best QB on the roster and gives the team the best chance to win football games; that is the good news. Alex Smith is 38 years old and is one bad hit away from a permanent disability; that is reality. Alex Smith is signed through the end of 2022 and he would create $10.8M in dead cap money for the WTFs should they cut or release him; that is the financial reality here. The other QBs on the roster are Kyle Allen (erratic and injury prone), Steven Montez (totally unknown) and Taylor Heinicke (maybe a player or maybe a one-hit wonder?) The WTFs could be looking for help at the QB position but they do not have a lot of “draft capital” to offer in a trade (they pick #21 this year) so they might have to go looking at the free agent marketplace.
Just so you can have a more complete picture of this situation, here are the meaningful QB free agents on the market in 2021 in alphabetical order:
- Jacoby Brissett: If the Pats do not show interest, I would find that to be a telling negative about him. I suspect the Colts will have their eye on a QB higher on the food chain…
- Andy Dalton: He can go just about anywhere if he is willing to be a backup again. If he wants to start, perhaps he looks to the Bears or the Broncos?
- Ryan Fitzpatrick: If the Dolphins are thinking of trading Tua, they might want to resign Fitzpatrick. If not, maybe the Steelers sign him to give one of their youngsters another year to learn the game?
- Cam Newton: I think he is done as a starter. His place in the league now is as a reliable backup to one of the “young and upcoming QBs” as an insurance policy against injury. Is that a fit with the Chargers or Bengals or Dolphins if they keep Tua?
- Dak Prescott: He will be with the Cowboys next year either on a franchise tag or with a very lucrative long-term deal. He holds all the cards in this negotiation; all he needs to do is not to overplay the hand.
- Tyrod Taylor: I am sure he would love a shot at a starting QB job; if so, maybe the Broncos, Pats or Bears might be attractive. Personally, I think he would be a perfect addition for the WTFs as their backup to Alex Smith.
- Mitchell Trubisky: When all the smoke clears, I think he winds up back in Chicago with the Bears.
- Jameis Winston: Things did not end well for him in Tampa; the question on the table in this year’s free- agent market is simple. Has one-year under the tutelage of Sean Payton rehabilitated him? If folks think so, he will be in high demand – – think Colts, Bears, Lions, Broncos, Pats… If not, he will have to settle for another one or two-year deal as a clipboard holder somewhere…
So, there are my thoughts on NFL QBs and NFL free agency for the upcoming offseason. To give you and idea of how fluid some of these situations are, here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently:
“For what it’s worth: In the wake of his Saturday performance (in the NFC Wildcard round), some will argue that at this moment, Taylor Heinicke is the NFC East’s best quarterback.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports ………