The reason Kirk Cousins got a record-setting guaranteed deal from the Minnesota Vikings when he was a free agent wasn’t because he’s a great player. It’s because he was available.
Good, healthy quarterbacks in their prime simply don’t reach the open market. Look through the history of free agency. It’s incredibly rare. Any quarterback who is available is usually on his last legs, coming off a significant injury or deeply flawed in some other way.
That’s what makes the 2020 offseason so intriguing. We might see more quarterback movement this year than we ever have, including a move from the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Perhaps plenty of the teams listed below stand pat, fearing the unknown at quarterback. That’s what usually happens. But if a few key dominoes fall, things might get really crazy. A deep draft class at quarterback could trigger even more movement than we expect (Eric Edholm examined the possible landing spots for the top prospects).
Here’s a look at all of the quarterbacks and teams that could find themselves as part of a crazy quarterback carousel — and the list is stunningly long:
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
This is the headliner. Considering it has been more than 40 years, but we still recall Joe Namath finishing with the Rams and Johnny Unitas moving to the Chargers. It’s safe to say this could be a historic decision.
It still makes the most sense for the Patriots to run it back with Brady again. The Patriots have no replacement on the roster. Brady, who can hit free agency for the first time in March, starting over with a new team at age 43 seems to be a potential mistake, like Namath on the Rams or Unitas with the Chargers. But if Brady does move on, it will be the story of the offseason.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
While Brees finished last season very well, it’s not a certainty he’ll be back. If he retires that creates an interesting situation, because Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill — New Orleans’ other two quarterbacks — are not under contract anymore.
Brees is one of the greatest ever and it certainly seems he has at least one more good season left if he doesn’t retire. But if he does retire, it would be a franchise-changing day for the Saints.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are going to have to think long and hard about this one. Newton is still a former MVP and only 31 years old next season. Kyle Allen and Will Grier don’t look like the answers. Yet there has been a lot of speculation that the Panthers will move on from their longtime quarterback.
It’s possible Newton will never again be the same dual threat that made him a star. He has taken a lot of punishment and is not a typical 31-year-old quarterback. But he’s still a big name and a capable player. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Panthers to move on unless they have a good backup plan in place, but if they do, Newton is an intriguing possibility for some teams on this list.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
This one seems fairly straightforward. The Cowboys will try to get Prescott signed to a long-term deal, and if not they’ll give him the exclusive franchise tag. It’s not like Dallas is going to let Prescott walk.
But if the Cowboys can’t get Prescott signed to a long-term deal, then there’s a new set of issues. Will Prescott hold out, Le’Veon Bell style? Would the situation devolve like Kirk Cousins in Washington and he leaves after a couple franchise tags? We’ll see.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton won’t be the Bengals’ 2020 starter. That seems like a very safe bet. The first pick of the draft, Joe Burrow or maybe Justin Herbert, will start Week 1. And we have plenty of time this offseason to delve into the Burrow/Herbert debate.
Dalton could end up being a bridge starter to another draft pick. Maybe he lands in New England if Brady moves on? Dalton could still be a reasonable starter for someone in need.
Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Let’s include Garoppolo because there has been some ridiculous overreaction to him after the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV. It is weird to say the 49ers can’t win it all with Garoppolo, considering they had a 95-percent chance to win a Super Bowl a few days ago. But if there’s any hint that the 49ers could find someone else, maybe it goes back to Kyle Shanahan’s father. Mike Shanahan pulled the plug on Jake Plummer after Plummer had a bad game in the 2005 AFC championship game, drafting Jay Cutler in the first round of the following draft. It didn’t matter that the Broncos had gone 13-3 and were on the verge of making a Super Bowl. Mike Shanahan was ready to change and wasn’t going to wait any longer.
Still, unless an upgrade falls into the 49ers’ lap — and keep in mind that clear upgrades from Garoppolo are almost never available — it’s hard to see the 49ers making a change.
Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Tannehill has played himself into an extension with the Titans, and it would be a surprise if that doesn’t happen. Then Tennessee will sign Tannehill and hope this isn’t a replay of Case Keenum having a career year in 2017 and cashing in.
Mariota is certainly on the move, but to where? It seems very hard to believe a team would sign him as a starter, considering how much better the Titans were after he was benched. But he was the No. 2 pick of the draft not long ago and an interesting reclamation project.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Bears fans seem to want Trubisky gone yesterday after his rough 2019 season, but actually replacing him won’t be easy.
Maybe one of these names becomes available and the Bears pounce, but most likely the available players will just be the next guy Chicago fans complain about. Marcus Mariota? Andy Dalton? If those are the best options, the Bears are better off finding out if Trubisky can regain his 2018 form.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins
This is one of the easier situations to figure out. Fitzpatrick is very likely to be back, Josh Rosen has shown he isn’t an NFL starting-caliber quarterback until further notice, and the Dolphins will draft a quarterback of the future in the first round. That script seems set.
Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Brissett was doing just fine before a knee injury last season. Then his play trailed off and everyone gave up on him. The Colts might have given up on him, too. This is a team that can’t really chart its course until it sees which of the names on this list might be available to them. They could feel one of them is a clear upgrade and move on it.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winston is 26, a former No. 1 overall pick and coming off a 5,000-yard season. But we all know that’s not the whole story.
Winston had a hideous season when it came to interceptions — amazingly he reached the 30-30 club for touchdowns and interceptions — and the lack of any news about Winston’s future with Tampa Bay might be telling. The Buccaneers would go into the abyss of unknown at quarterback if they let Winston go, but they might decide he’s not worth the money.
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
It sure seems the Chargers are ready to move on from Rivers, and that leads to an interesting situation for both parties.
The Chargers have the sixth pick of the NFL draft, but that doesn’t ensure them a top prospect at quarterback. They might be a prime candidate to trade up, with or without Rivers. After so many years with Rivers at quarterback, this could be a big shift for the franchise as it moves into a new stadium. Perhaps they’ll want a huge name to usher in that new era. That’s why they always come up with people speculate about Tom Brady’s next move.
Meanwhile, Rivers showed signs of slipping as he turned 38 in December. But he has had a superb career and some team will try to get another year or two out of him. Maybe Tampa Bay.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders are another team moving to a new stadium (in a new town) that could explore options. Carr played fairly well for most of the season, but at this point we probably know what he is. He’s a steady middle-of-the-road option. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it wouldn’t energize a new fan base in Las Vegas, and probably doesn’t do much for Jon Gruden either.
The Raiders just seem like a team that will end up with a fading star at quarterback, trying to get some headlines and maybe one more great season or two. Wouldn’t it be something if Las Vegas is the landing spot for Tom Brady?
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