NFL, Read

NFL QB Carousel, Before the Super Bowl

My first version of this ‘QB Carousel’ exercise debuted not too long ago, just earlier this month. Still, now we know that Kansas City and Philly are playing in the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft order is taking its final shape, and some new GMs and coaches have been hired. But more than that…I’m just getting antsy to do this again before the first shoe drops in QB offseason movement.

This will be more fun if the categories remain the same over time. That means The Locks come first, and naturally given that they are locks…nothing has changed here.

  1. Bengals: Joe Burrow
  2. Bills: Josh Allen
  3. Broncos: Russell Wilson
  4. Browns: Deshaun Watson*
  5. Chargers: Justin Herbert
  6. Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
  7. Cowboys: Dak Prescott
  8. Eagles: Jalen Hurts
  9. Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
  10. Rams: Matt Stafford
  11. Steelers: Kenny Pickett
  12. Vikings: Kirk Cousins

Next up is Expect the Same. Two changes from last time at the end!

  1. 49ers: Trey Lance/Brock Purdy – Not going to lie, I had an entire thing written about Tom Brady finishing his career in San Francisco, Brock Purdy backing him up, and Trey Lance getting traded to the Vikings. Then Brady announced his retirement “for good,” which legitimately shocked me. So it will be Lance and Purdy for the Niners, and I definitely expect Lance to be the guy between the two. Here’s a cut-and-paste job from that since-deleted paragraph on trading Lance: Lance is reportedly on track for 100% health by OTAs and is still 22 years old, and let’s not forget that the 49ers didn’t exactly shock the world by taking Lance with the third overall pick. He was a bona fide stud prospect – one that ranked No. 5 on my Big Board for that year – and could have been QB1 in other draft classes. I’d be hard pressed to remember another young NFL player who did less to deserve a reputation as damaged goods; he sat out his rookie season then shattered his leg in the second game of the following season. This isn’t Zach Wilson completing 55% of his passes across 22 starts. Hell, I think Justin Fields’ 2022 performance is damn near the lowest bar that we should expect Lance to clear in his debut season. I don’t know if Lance will crack 1,000 yards rushing, but he’s still an incredible runner and was projected as a better pocket passer than Fields – if, ya know, Lance literally being drafted ahead of Fields didn’t make that clear.
  1. Bears: Justin Fields – Speaking of Fields…I still don’t believe that Chicago considers QB with this pick nor do I believe that they successfully trade out of it – especially with multiple high-end QB prospects available in this class.
  1. Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa – Chris Grier and Mike McDaniel are adamant that Tua is their 2023 QB, even though he is still in concussion protocol. And I believe them. Barring further medical developments, a clear and immediate upgrade at QB doesn’t exist for the Dolphins offense. Note: I’d like to see Miami add Matt Ryan as Tua’s insurance policy.
  1. Lions: Jared Goff – Goff will be the Week 1 starter for the Lions, though I still view Detroit as the favorite to land Bryce Young. I don’t expect Young to be the cup of tea for all GMs around the league – including Nick Caserio in Houston. In that event, a Draft Day trade between Arizona at 3 and Detroit at 6 would be mutually beneficial. The Cardinals need all of the rebuild ammo they can get with a huge undertaking ahead for new GM Monti Ossenfort, and moving up only 3 spots would allow the Lions to finally cash in on the Matthew Stafford trade while still holding onto enough draft capital to address the rest of the roster.
  1. Ravens: Lamar Jackson – No change here; the Ravens will hit Jackson with the exclusive franchise tag, costing them about $45mil for 2023.
  1. Seahawks: Geno Smith – A 2-3 year deal between Geno and Seattle should be one of the first dominoes to fall this offseason. Negotiations should be pretty easy.
  1. Giants: Daniel Jones – And here we go! This is an update from the first version, as I predicted the Giants would negotiate with Jones on the open market and lose him to Carolina in the process. But Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll were adamant in their end-of-season press conference that DJ is part of their vision for the immediate future of the Giants, and they basically admitted that they will franchise tag him if it comes down to that. I was a bit surprised by this development, as I thought the team viewed Jones and Saquon Barkley in equal regards of importance to the offense and therefore would tag Saquon for $10mil over Danny for $32mil, but apparently that’s not the case. 

On an anecdotal level as a Giants fan, I probably would have preferred the latter path but I’m fine with the team tagging Jones instead. They have the cap space and the desire for continuity under center makes sense. Also on the subject, I’m skeptical that the two sides will iron out an extension before the season. DJ’s camp is likely pricing him as an upper echelon QB and, while the front office can like him all they want, I doubt they view him that way.

  1. Patriots: Mac Jones – Following the hire of Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator and even preceding Tom Brady’s retirement news, I pivoted to the Pats sticking with Mac. Brady has his own connection to O’Brien and Robert Kraft would likely drop everything for Brady if he expressed a desire to come out of retirement and return to the Patriots, but the O’Brien move is essentially an admission that the team failed Mac Jones in his second season. Anybody would be better suited to call an offense over the Matt Patricia & Joe Judge pairing, but choosing Mac’s college playcaller is a personal touch.

The Big Fish are the same QBs, minus Tom Brady. But all of their destinations have changed!

  1. Raiders: Aaron Rodgers – I’ll start with this: Aaron Rodgers will be traded. That’s not a prediction; it’s a statement. I’m that confident, for reasons including financials, rebuilding, ego (of both Rodgers and Matt LaFleur), and more. It might be harder to believe that Packers would move on from their Super Bowl champion, multiple-MVP franchise QB for an unproven fourth-year QB if the organization hadn’t literally moved on from their Super Bowl champion, multiple-MVP franchise QB for an unproven fourth-year QB 15 years ago to give Rodgers the job in the first place. Like I wrote about in detail in the previous piece too, this trade will almost certainly transpire (officially) after June 1 to make it feasible on Green Bay for salary cap purposes. I’m sure Green Bay – and certainly Jordan Love – would rather move Rodgers earlier to recoup draft capital in the 2023 Draft, but trading Rodgers before June 1 would require the Packers to max restructure with void years basically all eligible players, and even THAT would leave them with barely any financial breathing room to operate over the season. I don’t envision a world where the Packers, usually among the league’s more conservative front offices prior to the all-in push of the past couple of years, follow the Saints model of team construction.

Previously I had the Giants trading for Rodgers, but I’ve changed course following their endorsement of Daniel Jones and Green Bay’s declaration that they would only trade Rodgers to an AFC team. The Raiders are an obvious fit with Derek Carr on the way out and Davante Adams there, and the money should be no issue. Rodgers technically doesn’t have a say in where he’s traded but he could credibly threaten retirement if he’s not happy with it; I think he’d be fine with Vegas though. In addition to Adams, the Raiders have other good pieces in place on offense with Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow, and Kolton Miller. They have the 7th overall pick in the Draft and plenty of cap space to bolster the rest of the roster. Vegas could also conceivably re-sign Jarrett Stidham as their “Rodgers insurance” temporary QB1 following his somewhat impressive two-game stint as the Raiders’ starter to close the season. If you noticed that I left out Darren Waller from the above list of weapons on the Raiders, that wasn’t an accident. I’m pretty sure they are going to trade him, and Green Bay would be an excellent fit. We’ll call it 2024 Round 1 + 2025 Round 2 + Waller for Rodgers.

  1. Saints: Derek Carr – When outlining this go-around of this exercise, I had Carr ending up with the Jets. (Which is still totally possible!) I had 31 teams figured out with the Saints being the lone outlier; in the original version, I had them leveraging Sean Payton to get up to the 3rd overall pick in a trade with the Cardinals, but that obviously didn’t come to fruition. They did use Payton to get back into the first round and should definitely now be on radar as candidates to trade up for a QB; the Saints are agents of chaos in the Draft. Still, trading to the upper half of Round 1 from Pick 29 would require a package that rivals what the 49ers gave up for Trey Lance (two future 1sts and a 3rd) just for the Saints to get QB3 or QB4 on the board. Honestly, considering the cost of first-round picks and how dour the Saints’ salary cap situation remains, I actually might endorse that strategy. But I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do. I don’t expect Mickey Loomis to exit win-now mode until things completely collapse for the Saints. Carr’s current contract is also structured exactly how the Saints like to structure contracts, with massive annual base salaries offset by minimal bonus figures. Upon receiving Carr, the Saints could restructure his contract and reduce his 2023 cap hit to as low as $10mil.

The more I think about the QB landscape, the more I buy that Carr will be traded, not released, within the next two weeks. Too many teams are just too desperate for a good QB, especially one who can step in and win right away. Carr should be more than fine with the Saints’ roster. They don’t have anything at WR outside of Chris Olave right now, but they have a great offensive line and defense, so with Carr in the picture they’d likely be considered the favorites to win the NFC South next season. Trading for Carr will cost less than it normally would for a QB with his resume since the Raiders are openly moving on from him one way or another, but considering that other teams – like the Jets – will likely compete for him too, I could see it costing New Orleans their Round 2 pick. Or perhaps a later pick plus a player, like Cesar Ruiz.

  1. Titans: Jimmy Garoppolo – Last time, I had the Titans giving Malik Willis a shot at winning the starting job while bringing in someone like Gardner Minshew to push him in camp. I didn’t plan to change that, but the more I thought about it and read into it…Mike Vrabel isn’t pressing any reset button. Vrabel and Titans ownership pulled a Red Wedding on Jon Robinson; he was unexpectedly fired midseason following six seasons as GM. So yeah…don’t expect another teardown move like the AJ Brown trade any time soon in Nashville. Behind Vrabel and new GM Ran Carthon, they should pursue a veteran QB to lead them into the next chapter of Titans football. Enter Jimmy G, who Carthon knows well from San Francisco. One of Carthon’s first moves as Director of Pro Personnel for the 49ers was their trade for Garoppolo, and then Carthon again chose Garoppolo over all other free agent options as Trey Lance’s backup going into 2022. The point is, he likes him, and I bet Vrabel does too. Tennessee’s salary cap situation isn’t great and Jimmy G won’t come cheaply, but they can make it work with a low Year 1 cap hit and roster cuts elsewhere. Garoppolo might field similar or even higher offers from other teams, but I bet after years of instability he’d buy into Vrabel and Carthon’s vision with him at the center of it all.

An exciting change since the first version of this piece is that I’ve evaluated the primary QB prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft, so now there’s more color to The Lottery Picks. 

Note: If you happened to skim to this part, I mocked Bryce Young to Detroit earlier.

  1. Colts: CJ Stroud (NFL Draft Profile) – I am extremely high on Stroud; he’s definitely my QB1 and there’s even a chance that he lands atop my overall big board. I have a hunch that Chris Ballard feels the same way. Here is what he said back in 2020 when asked about the traits he looks for in a QB: 
  • “Accuracy, No. 1.”
  • “Mental aptitude.”
  • “I don’t think it is talked about enough, but a fit with what you’re trying to do schematically, offensively, is critically important.”
  • “I’ve always said they’ve got to have enough escapability, enough feet and accuracy. Those are things you just can’t teach. It’s hard to (find) accuracy. Can you get a little better? Can you get it dramatically better? No.”

I’d concede that Bryce Young also matches that description, but this is the same Chris Ballard who usually drafts freaky players and hopes they learn how to play the position later. Young is like 5’11”, 190lbs; Stroud is 6’3”, 220lbs. (Young is also already picked in this scenario.) The Colts have a ton of work to do, and they’d be blessed to land Stroud and then focus on fixing everything around him. 

  1. Panthers: Will Levis (NFL Draft Profile) – Ironically enough, Frank Reich, Carolina’s new Head Coach, was asked the same question on QB traits given that he and Ballard were partnered in Indianapolis at this time; here’s how he responded:
  • “Toughness — mental and physical toughness.”
  • “Accelerated vision. That’s my word(ing) for: How fast do you think on your feet?”
  • “Accuracy. You have to be really accurate in this league. The windows are small.”
  • “You have to look for the feet. Most sports are played from the ground up. So as a quarterback, that’s really important, how you play with your feet.”
  • “Intangibles. The leadership. Are you a playmaker in big moments?”

There’s enough of a difference between the two sets of answers that it’s probably fair to surmise that Phil Rivers and Matt Ryan were Ballard’s guys in Indy while Carson Wentz and Sam Ehlinger were Reich’s guys. Will Levis is much more the latter type, a bruising runner and certified tough guy who will get praised for his intangibles over the next three months. Levis’ game has its faults – his feet notably suck right now – but he’s proven that he can operate quickly and Reich has a good reputation of coaching up young QBs. 

  1. Jets: Anthony Richardson (NFL Draft Profile) – There might be a feeling of disappointment for fans if the Jets, whose roster is in its best shape in years, struck out during the early wave of veteran QB moves. But honestly, rushing or bending over backwards to acquire a well-known commodity at QB can end in disaster, and the Jets’ roster isn’t THAT good yet. I understand the desperation but they should continue to trust the process, especially following a 2022 draft class that looks like a total home run for the Jets. I like Richardson’s game much more than I expected going into his evaluation. Like I wrote in his profile linked above, I don’t think he’s as far away from readiness for NFL action as others are saying, but it could work out well for the Jets to bring back the internally popular Mike White while Richardson finds his footing in the league. Once Richardson is in charge, the Jets could unleash the downhill, physical offense that Joe Douglas has been building towards all along.

An added benefit of this approach is that the Jets could plan to draft a QB but then change course for Aaron Rodgers if they are all snatched up by the time they’re on the clock. If it came down to that, Woody Johnson would not be topped in a trading duel with the Raiders.

Most of The Stopgaps haven’t changed, with only one exception at the tail end of this section.

  1. Buccaneers: Sam Darnold – I’m fascinated to see how the Bucs go about this offseason. Their cap situation is brutal, for good reason though after going all-in with Tom Brady. They either proceed with a hard rebuild, which would look like Kyle Trask at QB and trades of multiple star players; Tampa could land a Round 1 pick for Chris Godwin if they wanted to. I think they’ll go the path of a soft rebuild though, still with a few notable trades and cuts but extensions and restructures for other key players, like Godwin. In that outcome, they’ll need a QB with even an ounce of promise. It wouldn’t be the most shocking outcome if Sam Darnold had a late bloomer season like Geno Smith did in 2022. At the same time, if he had a season more like Mitch Trubisky in 2022 that wouldn’t be much of a surprise either.
  1. Cardinals: Baker Mayfield/Kyler Murray – Technically I edited this; Baker Mayfield is swapped in for Teddy Bridgewater now that Sean Payton isn’t headed to Arizona. But it’s the same idea of a low upside QB who views himself as a starter filling in for Kyler Murray while he recovers from injury.
  1. Commanders: Sam Howell/Taylor Heinicke – No change here.
  1. Falcons: Ryan Tannehill/Desmond Ridder – In keeping with the idea that Mike Vrabel will refuse to preside over a total rebuild, I suppose it’s possible that Tennessee just holds onto Tannehill for the final year of his contract. I’m doubtful though; as much as Vrabel might support Tannehill, trading him will nearly get the Titans out of the negative of cap space on its own. With a new-look front office, I think calmer heads will prevail and Tennessee will bid farewell to Tannehill – especially if a team like Atlanta takes on his salary in full.
  1. Packers: Jordan Love – No change here. I am really curious how Green Bay handles the QB2 position if once Rodgers is traded, given how unknown of a commodity Love remains. This could be where Zach Wilson’s second chance takes place, especially since it’s a guarantee he’d get dealt if the Jets draft another QB. Honestly, he’s probably getting traded anyway this offseason.
  1. Texans: Jacoby Brissett – Talk about an underwhelming name to end this! That’s probably too mean to Brissett, who legitimately played admirably in Cleveland last season while Deshaun Watson served his suspension. In the EPA (expected points added) + CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) composite stat, Brissett finished 11th in the league in 2022, right ahead of Daniel Jones, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Tom Brady. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that Brissett belongs in the conversation with those other QBs, but the point is that going into 2023 with him atop a depth chart isn’t exactly waving a white flag. More about the Texans, I maintain my strong conviction that they bypass a first round quarterback in the Draft. I felt that way before they hired DeMeco Ryans, and I certainly feel that way now that they have hired Ryans. Even if Houston fans have already endured the final Bill O’Brien years and single years under David Culley and Lovie Smith, their climb out of the gutter of the league is only beginning now. I understand that he hasn’t had a ton to work with and that the Texans became a laughingstock before he was brought in, but Nick Caserio deserves criticism for how far away this roster remains even from competency. They need many more building blocks in place before placing the cherry of quarterback on top, and either Jalen Carter or Will Anderson will be a perfect place to start. 

Thank you, as always, for reading! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej


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