If you thought the 2020 shuffling of quarterbacks was dramatic, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Last off-season we were surprised by Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Cam Newton switching teams. Get ready to be shocked, because the 2021 QB carousel has the potential of being the wildest ride ever.
Think about it. There’s the real possibility that over half of the league’s 32 teams will have new starting quarterbacks. Last weekend alone dialed the intensity of speculation to maximum volume. First came Saturday’s announcement of the Detroit Lions parting ways with Matthew Stafford. And that wasn’t even the most jarring quarterback news in the NFC North. After yet another NFC Championship Game loss, Aaron Rodgers triggered alarm bells around the league by saying he’s “uncertain” about his future in Green Bay.
IF Rodgers wants out, that puts another star passer in play in what’s quickly becoming a glutted market. There was a time when we rarely saw good starting quarterbacks switch teams. Now we might be witnessing tectonic shifts in the balance of power. These high-profile quarterbacks could be on the move: Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Rodgers, and Stafford.
Three future Hall of Famers could be retiring: Rivers (definitely), Drew Brees (probably), and Ben Roethlisberger (possibly). Former first-round picks like Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, Mitch Trubisky, Teddy Bridgewater, and Alex Smith could be available. And don’t forget 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston and 2011 No. 1 overall pick Newton are free agents.
What does this all mean? Let’s put Rodgers aside for a moment. Right now, the biggest winners should be Stafford and Watson. Both could wind up being traded and will likely have a considerable say on where they’ll go.
Stafford has two years left on a contract that will pay him $20 million next season and $23 in 2022. That’s a salary-cap friendly deal for an above-average quarterback. Staying in the NFC makes sense (does the soon-to-be 33-year-old Stafford really want to battle AFC youngsters Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson?) The best fits: the Washington Football Team and the San Francisco 49ers.
Washington (7-9) is coming off a playoff appearance, albeit from the terrible NFC East. The WFT is in dire need of a quarterback, and has good young offensive talent in rookie running back Antonio Gibson and second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin. San Francisco (6-10) was in the Super Bowl a year ago, but was hurt by a rash of injuries. Plus, Garoppolo has been a disappointment. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan would be the best play-caller Stafford has ever had. Shanahan knows how to take pressure off a quarterback by building a great running game and scheming easy completions.
What about New Orleans? Yes, the Saints probably will have a vacancy, but that seems less appealing because they are in salary cap hell (a league-worst $105 million over the cap)
The Watson situation is a little more complex. The Houston Texans don’t have to trade him and don’t want to trade him. But Watson, who’s coming off the best statistical season of his career, has leverage. He reportedly doesn’t trust management, and he doesn’t want to be there. And his no-trade clause allows him to dictate his terms.
The New York Jets are reportedly Watson’s top choice, largely due to new head coach Robert Saleh. That could be a win-win for the disgruntled quarterback and the dysfunctional Texans. The Jets have assets that Houston desperately needs: two first-round draft picks this year and in 2022. Houston doesn’t have a first or second-round pick this year. If the Jets pull this off, they would have a 25-year-old quarterback entering his prime who owns the second-highest career passer rating in NFL history.
The third-highest career passer rating belongs to Rodgers. Let’s get back to him. While it still seems hard to fathom, it is possible that the presumptive three-time league MVP could force a trade. And according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the salary cap hit for the Packers would only be $14 million if Rodgers is traded after June 1.
Rodgers would immediately make any team a Super Bowl contender. The Northern Californian native must be intrigued by San Francisco, for all the reasons mentioned above. Also, he just saw what a change of scenery did for Tom Brady after leaving New England.
Speaking of the Patriots, they’re always lurking. With so many quarterbacks on the market, they could return to playoffs quickly. Ryan, Goff, and Garoppolo are all worth taking a flyer on, assuming they’re available.
The return of Garoppolo seems like a perfect situation. Garoppolo was once viewed as the heir apparent to Brady before being traded to San Francisco in October 2017. Even if he’s not a long-term solution, Garoppolo would be an upgrade over washed Newton. Garoppolo knows offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system and could help the Patriots be a factor in a more competitive AFC East.
This game of musical chairs could also result in Ryan reuniting with Shanahan in San Francisco. Remember what Shanahan did in Atlanta when he was offensive coordinator. Ryan won the 2016 MVP and reached the Super Bowl.
Heck, we haven’t even talked about America’s Team. The Dallas Cowboys and Prescott seem likely to work out a long-term deal. If they don’t, the Cowboys could put the franchise tag on him. Although at $37 million for one season, that’s pricey for a team with only $17 million in cap space for this coming season. But can Dallas really afford to let him walk?
All these quarterbacks. All these possibilities.
Let the great QB carousel of 2021 begin.