First it was the Jan. 30 blockbuster swap between the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams — Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and draft picks. Then, on Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles traded onetime MVP candidate Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts.
The quarterback carousel is certainly spinning — the question is, who’s next?
Several teams are in the market for a QB. ESPN’s Adam Schefter forecast last month that as many as 18 NFL teams could have new starter next season.
Let’s check up on 10 teams, listed alphabetically, that are either looking to upgrade or find a new starter. The Jaguars are expected to address quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft and are not on the list.
CAR | CHI | DEN | HOU | NE
NO | NYJ | PIT | SF | WSH
2020 starter: Teddy Bridgewater
Barring other quarterbacks becoming available via free agency or trade, the Panthers are down to two options after having missed out on Stafford: They can hope the Texans grant Deshaun Watson’s wish to be traded and come up with a suitable package or they can draft a QB, likely with the eighth pick.
The first option is preferable because Watson is a proven commodity and would be a great fit into offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s scheme. That Carolina offered Bridgewater, the eighth overall pick and a fifth-round pick to Detroit for Stafford shows they are serious in upgrading the position.
Outside of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, the other top college QB prospects have flaws and likely wouldn’t immediately elevate the team to the playoff level owner David Tepper wants. If neither of these scenarios plays out, the Panthers are prepared to go with Bridgewater another year and upgrade the talent around him — primarily the offensive line and tight end. — David Newton
Rob Ninkovich and Ryan Clark make the case for the Bears pursuing Deshaun Watson.
2020 starter: Mitchell Trubisky
This is probably GM Ryan Pace’s last shot to get the quarterback position right. From Mike Glennon to Trubisky to Nick Foles, the search continues. Pace might not be able to find a surefire immediate starter where he’s picking in the first round (No. 20 overall). In fact, Mel Kiper Jr. projected five quarterbacks in the top 15. He doesn’t have another first-round quarterback after the 15th pick.
In Todd McShay’s latest mock draft, he had the Bears trading up to No. 12 to take Alabama’s Mac Jones. But that’s only if the Bears don’t land one of the starters who are either on the trade market or want to be.
If the Jets decide to move on from Sam Darnold, then perhaps he would be intriguing to the Bears because he’s on his rookie contract and they would have the choice to exercise his fifth-year option for 2022. Or perhaps Pace is holding out hope the Texans will cave and trade Watson. The Bears are seemingly stuck with Foles as an expensive backup, but Pace remains on the lookout for a better solution. — Rob Demovsky
2020 starter: Drew Lock
The Broncos have a Plan A: Lock is the starter in 2021 and the team will acquire competitive backup who can both push and help him. They could easily go to Plan B if they think they can do better than Lock. They dipped their toe in the Stafford trade discussion before being told what they were offering was nowhere close to what the Lions could get from the Rams.
They have done their due diligence on the quarterbacks who will be available and/or are being shopped by their current teams and will consider any and all moves. And that includes what they can do with the No. 9 pick in the draft. — Jeff Legwold
Damien Woody explains why he’d like to see Deshaun Watson on the Broncos.
2020 starter: Deshaun Watson
The Texans have said, publicly and privately, they don’t want to trade Watson. However, they have had internal conversations about trade partners and what the position would look without Watson, according to a source. Regardless, Watson isn’t taking the team’s calls, so there hasn’t been any progress toward repairing the relationship.
Houston has no incentive to trade the quarterback they signed to a four-year, $156 million contract extension in September that goes through the 2025 season. The big question is whether Watson will sit out if the team refuses to trade him. The cost would be high — he would be fined $95,877 for missing minicamp, $50,000 for each day of training camp he misses and $620,000 — for each preseason game he misses — but it may be Watson’s only choice if he doesn’t want to play in Houston. — Sarah Barshop
2020 starter: Cam Newton
The Patriots will continue to explore all of their options — in free agency, the draft (where they own the No. 15 pick) and trades. There is no surefire answer right now. They didn’t have significant interest in Wentz given the financial commitment, and they dipped their toe in the Matthew Stafford waters but weren’t going to be players at the ultimate asking price.
One of the best things they have going for them is robust salary-cap space, so if an unexpected opportunity presents itself (e.g., Jimmy Garoppolo, Watson etc.), they can pounce. What they won’t do is force it just for the sake of checking the QB box to meet an artificial deadline, even as some in the organization would like to have some clarity going into free agency in a potential competitive situation to sign a receiver or tight end.
One could make a case the Raiders’ Marcus Mariota would make sense as a bridge option in a modest trade. Also, Newton’s return might be a tough sell to fans, but the Patriots aren’t in the position to be closing any doors right now. — Mike Reiss
2020 starter: Drew Brees
The Saints will need a starting quarterback for the first time in 15 years once Brees announces his retirement. They have made it clear they want to re-sign free agent Jameis Winston to compete with fellow backup Taysom Hill for the gig. And coach Sean Payton has repeatedly expressed confidence in both contenders, insisting New Orleans’ next starting QB is already “in the building.”
It remains to be seen whether Winston will draw more interest on the open market than he did last year. But he chose the Saints in part because he anticipated this opportunity, so a team would have to make a pretty enticing offer to lure him away. It’s also possible the Saints could consider other options via trade, free agency or the draft. But all of those avenues seem unlikely considering they don’t pick until 28th in the draft and have severe salary-cap limitations. — Mike Triplett
2020 starter: Sam Darnold
The Jets are in a holding pattern as they continue to evaluate Darnold, the trade market and the top quarterbacks in the draft.
The timing of a potential trade is a delicate balance. If they wait too long to make a decision on Darnold, they run the risk of losing suitors, who may turn elsewhere. With Carson Wentz off the table, quarterback-needy teams are waiting for the Jets to make up their mind. If they’re offered a high second-rounder or low first-rounder, the Jets probably would move Darnold and draft Zach Wilson with the second overall pick. — Rich Cimini
2020 starter: Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers want to add another quarterback to the room — independent of Roethlisberger’s 2021 status. The type of quarterback, though, will depend on Roethlisberger’s future with the organization. If Roethlisberger returns on a reduced 2021 salary, the team can afford to take another developmental quarterback to learn behind him and round out a room of developmental players in Mason Rudolph and former first-rounder Dwayne Haskins Jr.
The most likely route is drafting a quarterback in the third or fourth round of the 2021 draft, similar to their approach in taking Rudolph in the third round of the 2017 draft or Joshua Dobbs in the fourth of 2016. If Roethlisberger retires, though, the need becomes more urgent.
In that case, Rudolph becomes the front-runner for the starting job, but the team could use some of the space freed up by a Roethlisberger departure to lure a mid-level veteran like Tyrod Taylor to Pittsburgh for a one-year deal to compete with Rudolph. Rudolph showed progress under the direction of quarterbacks coach-turned-offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and the organization believes he could lead the franchise if he continues to show the development displayed in the Week 17 loss to the Cleveland Browns. — Brooke Pryor
Stephen A. Smith sees Jimmy Garoppolo starting for the 49ers next season, but Max Kellerman makes a case for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
2020 starter: Jimmy Garoppolo
Despite persistent speculation, the 49ers are standing by Garoppolo. That position seems increasingly unlikely to change, save for the potential of one major development. Coach Kyle Shanahan has indicated it would take an obvious upgrade to spend vital resources and move on from Garoppolo. The Texans’ Deshaun Watson is the only potentially available quarterback who clearly meets that criteria and the Niners are monitoring that situation closely as Houston attempts to reconcile with its estranged signal-caller.
But the 49ers’ comfort level with Garoppolo is high enough they can afford to be patient and wait it out. If the Texans acquiesce to Watson and deal him, the Niners are likely to be involved. Short of that, the more realistic approach for San Francisco remains hanging on to Garoppolo and spending a relatively early draft pick and/or signing an accomplished veteran free agent to bolster their quarterback depth in the event of another Garoppolo injury. — Nick Wagoner
2020 starter: Alex Smith
Washington continues to explore all quarterback options as it looks to upgrade. The team feels confident Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke could help, but they aren’t viewed as long-term solutions. That’s why Washington looked at potentially available quarterbacks, from Sam Darnold to Marcus Mariota.
One team source said there were five quarterbacks Washington wanted to explore deeper, although they didn’t divulge those names. They don’t want to mortgage too much to obtain one — not with key holes still on offense. It’s also possible they bring back Alex Smith, who hasn’t publicly said he wants to play again, but signs point to that desire.
And one source said if Washington can’t upgrade, it could go with Smith, Allen and Heinicke while bolstering the talent around them — and then trying to pursue this position again next offseason. With their defense — plus some more offensive weapons — Washington feels this group could win them nine or 10 games. But if the team goes in that direction, it’s hard to imagine them wanting to bring Smith back at his cap hit of $24.4 million. It’s also unknown if Smith wants to continue to play in Washington. — John Keim