Just as entertaining now as free agency is the subset of quarterback movement, or the threat of quarterback movement. This offseason, we have plenty of stalwarts, including Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr potentially on the market, plus a good deal of second-tier passers who could end up factoring in as bridge quarterbacks or spot starters in 2023–24.
Here is our first guess at where everyone goes, why they do what they do and what their other options might be available.
Likely outcome: Retirement. Brady announced as much on Wednesday morning in a moment of oceanside clarity.
Alternative outcome: Un-retirement. Things happen in the NFL, right? And while I think my ultimate hope for Brady is to find joy and contentment away from the NFL football field, that’s not going to stop a bunch of thirsty general managers and owners from calling him in April after the draft when they lost a game of quarterback musical chairs. As we wrote the day he walked away (version 2.0), there is going to be a constant temptation to walk back into a game he can still play better than many others. So, Jets? Raiders? Patriots? Dolphins? Who on earth knows?
Likely outcome: Packers. I feel like we’re falling into a bit of an offseason trap where a passive-aggressive quarterback and a franchise that would like to do some serious long-term planning stand back to back looking in opposite directions for three months before finally coming to some sort of sensible agreement. Rodgers has a nice setup in Green Bay. He has the adulation of a fiercely loyal fan base and the advantages of a (relatively) small market (even though the Packers are covered thoroughly and ably). He also has a developing star receiver (Christian Watson) and an elite running game. One doesn’t just throw that all away.
Alternative outcome: Traded to the Jets. As we wrote, please, please, please let this happen. This isn’t cynical. We aren’t rooting for chaos. We are rooting for Rodgers to help the Jets legitimize this roster they’ve pieced together. While I think new Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is a good hire independent of his relationship with the four-time MVP, Rodgers has said of Hackett: “No one brings me more joy.” This is an adventure worth having.
Likely outcome: Washington Commanders. While we don’t know the breadth of the new coaching landscape yet, Carr has some familiarity in Washington with former coach Jack Del Rio serving as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Commanders are going to be in this perpetual landscape of needing a veteran passer to agree to play there, and then having that veteran passer play well enough to get the team out of a draftable position the following year. Carr and coach Ron Rivera would seem to be a good fit, and he could be in a scenario to potentially influence the team’s upcoming offensive coordinator hire.
Alternative outcome: Los Angeles Rams. Carr could opt for a reset year with former offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who is the team’s senior offensive assistant. Carr could be the Super Bowl–bound backup to Matt Stafford, who has had some injury questions of late. It would be the kind of brief residence that could springboard him into the remainder of a long and successful career as an NFL starter. The Dolphins (and former Raiders tight ends coach, now Miami offensive coordinator Frank Smith) also make some sense. Carr is obviously in play for all of the main openings.
Likely outcome: Dolphins. Garoppolo could pair with former coordinator and offensive wunderkind Mike McDaniel for a familiar and beneficial third act in the NFL. Should the Dolphins determine there isn’t a long-term future for Tua Tagovailoa and miss out on the Brady sweepstakes, Garoppolo feels like an adequate third prize. What’s interesting about him is his expertise in two popular systems, which makes him more flexible ideologically.
Alternative outcome: The Raiders (Patriots offensive system) and Jets (49ers offensive system) both make some sense. The Patriots themselves, with the return of Bill O’Brien, perhaps tired of sparring behind the scenes with former first-round pick Mac Jones, could be one of those teams that swoop in at the last minute.
Likely outcome: Ravens. Baltimore would be remiss if it didn’t give Jackson one more shot, perhaps on the franchise tag, to see what he can do post–Greg Roman. Roman did a great job as the team’s coordinator, but all relationships run stale at some point. Jackson’s relationship with the Ravens could easily become (more?) contentious given Jackson’s wishes to be compensated at the very top of the quarterback market. It could also revert back to sunny skies once all financial matters are resolved.
Alternative outcome: Trade to the Falcons. I would absolutely love to see Arthur Smith blend his Titans’ outside zone offense and the hyper-motion system he developed for Marcus Mariota and hand the keys to Jackson. At some point, the Falcons are going to have to really and truly move on from Matt Ryan after embarrassing themselves in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. Jackson would give the franchise stability and a draw at the box office.
Likely outcome: High upside backup. I think we’re all kind of over the hey-maybe-this-can-work stage with any degree of blind optimism, right? Winston is good to have on the roster. In a Ryan Fitzpatrick–ian kind of way, he’s capable of coming off the bench and throwing four touchdowns. He’s probably capable of doing that for a handful of weeks in a row. A shortlist of teams might include the Broncos, Steelers, Texans, Cardinals and just about anywhere not in Tampa in the NFC South.
Alternative outcome: Emergency starter. If the Commanders, for example, get shut out of the veteran market, could they try and sell themselves on Winston? Would that be any less responsible than selling themselves on Fitzpatrick or Wentz?
Likely outcome: Backup. Mariota is going to be sought-after for any team that depends on the utilization of zone-read concepts to move the football with regularity. Quarterbacks who run get hurt more, which makes the need for solid backups all the greater. A team where the QB moves a lot—Arizona, Baltimore, Chicago, Buffalo, Denver or Cleveland—should want Mariota.
Alternative outcome: Full-time QB2. Put Mariota on the Patriots and make him a full-time change-of-pace quarterback. Outside of the Saints, few teams have committed to the idea of having two stylistically different passers in the huddle with regularity. Mariota could help pull the best out of Mac Jones.
Likely outcome: Coach on the field. Ryan is the consummate professional. He would be invaluable for any of the teams hunting for a first-round pick at QB. Houston, Carolina, Washington, Las Vegas … all of them could benefit from having Ryan as a coach on the field.
Alternative outcome: Emergency starter. As we mentioned with Winston, could Carolina, Washington, Las Vegas, Miami (there is a McDaniel connection there) or some other team that gets boxed out of its top option bring in Ryan and give him a shot? Sure. Ryan’s lack of mobility excludes him from a lot of stops, but not all.
Likely outcome: Bridge starter in an outside zone system. Again, we don’t know which coaches will be hired by which teams at this point. What we do know is that offenses run by, or loosely inspired by, Kyle Shanahan are everywhere, including Miami, Green Bay, Tennessee and the Jets. There are also eight non-head coach play-caller openings. I think Tannehill is good enough to be an Andy Dalton–plus-type player moving forward. The question is where.
Alternative outcome: Titans. Maybe Tannehill likes it in Nashville. Maybe he doesn’t mind some competition in the preseason. Maybe everyone is cool with having a high-end backup who costs $18 million against the cap in 2023. I’m not ruling it out. The 49ers sticking with Jimmy Garoppolo last year paid dividends. If the Titans go get Trey Lance, for example, Tannehill is a useful asset.
Likely outcome: On the outside looking in. Wentz, unfortunately, has been exposed in the NFL. He may also be too polarizing to have as a backup. He’s good enough to cause some degree of controversy but not good enough as a long-term, stable starter. At 30, there’s still plenty of time for him to remake his throwing mechanics. Perhaps taking this season to do so and coming back as an object of intrigue in 2024 might be the best option.
Alternative outcome: Wentz is most likely suited as a backup where there is an unquestioned, alpha starter. Maybe he fits in Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Green Bay or with the Rams, where he can rehab his mechanics and sit with one of the best offensive minds in football.
Likely outcome: Seahawks. Smith will almost certainly be franchised this year and make $32 million for the privilege. Perhaps the Seahawks will put a longer-term deal in front of him in the two- to three-year range. It is hard to imagine that Smith, who revived the franchise and serves as a catalyst for Pete Carroll’s competition mantra, is going anywhere.
Alternative outcome: Smith rescues another franchise in desperate need of a quarterback savior … THE JETS. Kidding. That won’t happen. Smith loves Seattle, and Seattle loves Smith. A lot of these offseason marriages are ones that work specifically for the quarterback and the city in which he already resides. Smith is no exception.
Likely outcome: Franchise tag and short- to midrange contract with the Giants. Owner John Mara loves Jones. That goes a long way in these kinds of situations. Jones is also smart; he realizes that the Kirk Cousins model could suit him just fine … especially if the Giants are going to ask him to run as frequently as they did in 2022. Look for the conversation to focus on a high level of guaranteed money … perhaps a higher percentage of guarantees than Dak Prescott received from the Cowboys in ’21.
Alternative outcome: Jones is allowed to hit free agency while the Giants pursue Jackson. Outlandish? Maybe. Probably. Almost certainly. But … the Giants are set up to run an offense for Jackson. And defensive coordinator Wink Martindale—should he not get the Colts’ head coaching job—has some familiarity with Jackson. Jones could ultimately sign with Atlanta or New Orleans or head back to the Carolinas and regenerate his career under Frank Reich.