The post-Super Bowl hangover has gone, everyone’s finally burned the calories off the in-game snacks, and the offseason lull is upon us.
However, that doesn’t mean that things will settle down in the NFL. In reality, the league and its teams are whirring away in the background as everyone gets ready for next season. One position, in particular, should attract a lot of attention; the quarterback carousel could dominate the headlines as a plethora of signal-callers may change locales ahead of the 2022 season.
Teams in the mix for Quarterback
It is oft-repeated, but it is true, the quarterback is the most crucial position in the NFL. A team without a franchise quarterback is rudderless. These organisations are desperately searching for the solution, although finding an answer is seldom easy. Leading the queue of teams searching for a quarterback is the Denver Broncos.
Following Peyton Manning’s retirement in 2016, the Broncos have failed to replace the Hall of Famer. Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Drew Lock, and Teddy Bridgewater entered the revolving door, and none cemented themselves in Colorado.
Franchise legend John Elway invested heavily over the last few years on offense with the arrivals of Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, Javonte Williams et al. – all great offensive weapons. Still, erratic quarterback play has held them back.
New head coach Nathaniel Hackett will desire a new quarterback to lead his offense. MVP Aaron Rodgers played for Hackett in Green Bay – the rumours constantly link Rodgers to a spot in the Mile High City, and a talented offense and the opportunity to follow Manning and Elway could attract the four-time MVP to Denver.
Elsewhere, the Carolina Panthers almost landed Matthew Stafford last offseason before he chose the Los Angeles Rams. Matt Rhule’s side did make a trade for Sam Darnold; however, the former New York Jet endured an inconsistent year with injuries and mistake-ridden performances.
With a new offensive coordinator in tow and Rhule firmly on the hot seat, David Tepper and the Panthers could be tempted to make a big move to mount a charge at a weakened NFC South without Tom Brady. The Panthers are picking sixth overall, enticing some teams into a potential trade.
Various outlets have suggested Kirk Cousins or a veteran addition in free agency. That is one option. The Panthers could also stay at sixth overall and draft a rookie quarterback. Home-state favourite Sam Howell is a Carolina native, and his big arm will draw eyes on draft night.
The one negative for the Panthers, they have a lot of holes in their current roster: they have open positions on their depth chart at tight end, centre, right guard, defensive tackle, strongside linebacker, cornerback and safety. Couple in the fact they don’t have another draft pick until Day 3 (no second or third rounder), Carolina should look to trade back to acquire more draft capital.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers are two other teams who will attempt to replace legendary figures. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger’s respective retirements have forced their teams into planning for a new future.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a name that both clubs may consider. Garoppolo is on the trade block, and the 49ers are sounding teams out over a possible deal. His veteran experience and leadership skills could land him home with one of these franchises.
The Trade Market
The trade market starts with Aaron Rodgers. The back-to-back MVP failed to update anyone on his future after cryptic Instagram posts emerged on Monday night.
The Packers hierarchy doesn’t want to trade Rodgers; it is up to the quarterback to make his position known. If Rodgers decides his future is away from Wisconsin, the market will explode.
The veteran would command significant interest, and the price could be sky-high for any franchise believing they are one quarterback away from contending. Rodgers is displaying no signs of aging, and several teams would consider acquiring him. The Steelers, Buccaneers, Broncos, and Titans could enter the bidding war to sign Rodgers.
It isn’t just Rodgers that could hit the trade block. Seattle Seahawks superstar quarterback Russell Wilson could also become available. The Seahawks’ first-round pick stocks are low, and after a trying 2021 season, they could choose to rebuild.
The caveat Wilson presents is his no-trade clause. He can pick the team he wishes to join. That undoubtedly limits the number of trading partners for the Seahawks. The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are two teams to consider. Both possess the draft capital to get the Seahawks to the table, and both would offer Wilson an ample opportunity in a big market.
New York feels like the best fit. Wilson’s joined the New York Yankees for various pre-season training camps, and his popstar wife would feel at home in the biggest media market in America.
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Elsewhere, the Indianapolis Colts seem finished with Carson Wentz. Many NFL insiders suggested during Super Bowl week that the Colts are shopping the former second overall pick of the 2017 Draft.
Those noises have probably killed the market; Wentz won’t fetch anything near what the Colts gave up last year. Mix all of that with questions about Wentz’s mentality; it isn’t easy to envisage where the Colts can send the former Eagles star.
Wentz’s situation is similar to Jared Goff’s from last year; only a team requiring a short-term stop-gap should think about trading for him. The Washington Commanders could offer Wentz some refuge.
Finally, the other big-name quarterback possibly on the move is Deshaun Watson. Watson’s time as a Houston Texan is untenable. The significant problems occur when factoring in his legal troubles, no-trade clause, and salary.
Watson’s desire to leave the Texans negates any leverage the team holds in negotiations. Nonetheless, it is challenging to see where Watson could land. Last year, the Panthers had interest, but Watson didn’t want to head to Charlotte. The Miami Dolphins vehemently pursued Watson; however, the 22 accusations of sexual misconduct nixed those plans.
With the Dolphins now under pressure for various allegations raised by former head coach Brian Flores, it looks impossible for Stephen Ross’ side to strike a deal. Pair that with a $35 million salary for 2022 and a year on the sidelines, and Watson’s status in the NFL is in significant limbo.
Slim pickings in free agency
If the trade market fails to take off, several inexpensive options are available in free agency. Veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater headlines the class. The former Minnesota Viking pocketed $4.4 million last year, and his varied experience of offensive systems should ensure he settles into a new team reasonably quickly. Bridgewater is a calming presence and a decent game manager.
Conversely, Jameis Winston is arguably the free-agent quarterback with the highest ceiling. The big-armed gunslinger is recovering from an ACL injury which could negatively sway teams. Winston played ok in 2021, and the continuity within the New Orleans Saints organization makes Winston a no-brainer to return to the Big Easy.
Mitchell Trubisky is a quarterback who will almost certainly move. Trubisky’s former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is the Giants’ new head coach and he waxed lyrical about the former Chicago Bear last year.
In his end-of-season press conference, Giants owner John Mara said that Daniel Jones deserved a fair chance to succeed. It feels like Big Blue will persist with Jones; nevertheless, Daboll may desire an experienced second-string option, and he knows Trubisky very well.
Down year for the draft?
Unlike the 2021 NFL Draft, this year’s draft features fewer bonafide prospects and more unanswered mysteries. There is no undisputed QB1, although there is some talent to pick up.
Ole Miss Rebel Matt Corral was many experts’ favourite before he got injured late last season. Corral is a well-built quarterback with a big arm and excellent athletic traits. His lasso-style action is slingy, although that should lend itself to making the no-look sidearm throws that everyone loves.
Corral’s injury muddies the water a tad around his draft status. Despite that, he is arguably the best quarterback prospect available.
Rivalling Corral for that status is the duo of Sam Howell and Kenny Pickett. Howell experienced a come-down year in 2021 after shining in 2020, yet his stock is still high. Howell is a gunslinger, although his pocket awareness isn’t up to NFL standard just yet. The North Carolina man is a prototypical big-arm quarterback with the toughness and grit to play in the NFL.
Pitt alum Kenny Pickett endured a challenging collegiate career before emerging as a star in 2021. Pickett threw 42 touchdowns to seven interceptions as he quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Panthers to an 11-2 record.
Pickett demonstrated excellent accuracy and competency to lead an offense. While there are concerns around his arm, Pickett is an intelligent quarterback ready to make the jump. Like Mac Jones, Pickett could go a lot higher than anyone expects, and he is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class.
If Pickett is the readiest, Malik Willis is the least-ready with high potential. Willis boasts a cannon arm with outstanding athletic ability. His raw tools are compelling. However, his inexperience and immaturity as a passer could hold him back.
A quarterback-needy team may wish to take a swing and make an aggressive play hoping to develop him into a star. Willis isn’t a day one starter. Drafting him would be a long-term move.
Willis is the antithesis of Nevada Wolfpack signal-caller Carson Strong. Strong might be the best all-around thrower in this class, although there are concerns around his knee and immobility.
Strong is a pure pocket passer with a solid feel on touch throws, and he boasts the ability to let rip and throw deep. The concerns enveloping Strong don’t just come on the injury front; the level of competition he faced in the Mountain West wasn’t the strongest, and his football IQ isn’t as high as others.
Another quarterback that shares similar traits to Strong is Desmond Ridder. The Cincinnati Bearcat is a remarkable young man with all of the intangibles. He leads by example and can lead locker rooms.
The main concern with Ridder is his skill to make consistent throws outside the numbers. Furthermore, he often is guilty of being inaccurate on intermediate throws. Ball placement is critical to being successful in the NFL.
Super Bowl 56 exhibited that at the highest level, and it is something Ridder must hone. Ridder is probably behind Corral, Pickett, and Howell, but a team shouldn’t deem it too risky to select him in round two and develop.
Two players to watch in the late rounds are Bailey Zappe and Kaleb Eleby. Zappe owns a powerful arm with the talent to make throws off-platform. His ad-libbing skills are attractive to many draftniks; however, playing in structure is still something he must learn.
Western Michigan man Kaleb Eleby is another decent prospect. His whippy arm gives him the skill to generate real zip on the ball and rifle over the middle. Where Eleby lacks is in making calm progressions and maintaining his footwork. He is an intriguing proposition, but like Zappe, he will require time to learn the NFL.