Early Predictions for the 2019 NFL QB Carousel
Every year, the quarterback carousel drops off old faces in new places. This year, a blockbuster trade between the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins created a pathway for Patrick Mahomes to reach stardom in a short period.
All five rookie signal-callers picked in the first round of April's draft currently start or are listed as the No. 1 quarterbacks on their teams' depth charts. But one of them may need a trade at the position to claim the spot next season, and we could see another big-time transaction involving a veteran passer in the offseason too.
Unlike the 2018 group, the 2019 draft class doesn't feature high-ranking names at quarterback, which may influence teams to hold on to the incumbents, despite some struggles. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller lists Justin Herbert of Oregon as the only passer within the top 10 on his latest big board.
Here, we'll take a look at quarterbacks who could suit up for new teams in the next term and make predictions on whether they stay with their current clubs or sign elsewhere.
Derek Carr Stays with Oakland Raiders
When the Oakland Raiders traded edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears in the offseason and sent wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys before the Oct. 30 deadline, it became clear head coach Jon Gruden returned to rebuild the roster in his vision.
After trading Cooper, general manager Reggie McKenzie said team brass would consider deals with an open mind, per NBC Bay Area reporter Scott Bair.
"As far as communication with me and any team, those lines will be open for anyone, on any one of our players," he said. "Whether I'm going to like it or not, it's hard to say that anybody's untradeable."
As a result, questions emerged about quarterback Derek Carr's future. Early-season struggles added on to the possibility the team could move on from the 27-year-old signal-caller. Through Week 5, he led the league in interceptions with eight.
Since then, Carr hasn't thrown a pick. He's also completing a career-high 69 percent of his passes behind a porous offensive line that ranks 27th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders.
The team would be making a huge mistake if it moved on from Carr after one season in a new system. Competent quarterbacks don't appear every year. Carr has shown the ability to play at a high level, which earned a five-year, $125 million extension in 2017.
Carr is now playing in his fourth offensive system, and the Raiders should stick it out with him to see his potential development in a second year under Gruden.
Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos
In a surprising turn of events, rookie signal-caller Lamar Jackson could usurp Joe Flacco as the starter going forward and save head coach John Harbaugh's job with the Baltimore Ravens.
Following three consecutive losses, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported in early November that Harbaugh's seat in Baltimore was heating up.
Coming out of the bye week, the Ravens inserted Jackson into the starting lineup over Flacco, who suffered a hip injury. The team has gone 3-0 since. The coaching staff will likely keep him under center as long as the team wins and he continues to grow.
At 7-5 with two sub-.500 opponents left on the schedule—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) and Cleveland Browns (4-7-1)—the Ravens have a fair shot at an AFC wild-card spot. If Jackson helps lead this squad to the postseason, there's no reason to keep Flacco around.
Even if the Ravens miss the postseason, it's already clear the team can win with its potential franchise quarterback. As a result, Flacco would likely become available for trade in the offseason.
Similar to the Chiefs dealing Alex Smith in January, Baltimore could make a huge splash by moving Flacco to a new team.
The Denver Broncos signed quarterback Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million contract last offseason, but he's logged just 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 12 games. Flacco has Super Bowl experience with a few years left to play. The 33-year-old's strong arm would provide a better complement to a top-eight rushing offense, keeping the Broncos in postseason contention in the short term.
Eli Manning Stays with New York Giants
At 4-8, the New York Giants haven't thrown in the towel on the 2018 campaign. They've won three of the last four games, and quarterback Eli Manning continues the fight to retain his starting job. He's thrown seven touchdown passes and just two interceptions since Week 10.
Big Blue remains open to Manning trotting out as its starting quarterback in 2019, per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano:
"There is still a chance that Manning will return to the Giants in 2019—and even return as their starting quarterback, according to a team source," he wrote. "The decision on his future has 'absolutely not' been made, the source said, and management is open to the idea that another year with Manning at the helm might be the best option they have."
The incoming 2019 draft class doesn't have a clear-cut No. 1 prospect at quarterback. The Giants selected Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round of April's draft, but he's yet to take a regular-season snap.
Manning also has a contractual no-trade clause that allows him to control his short-term future.
According to Vacchiano before the deadline, Manning "almost certainly" wouldn't waive the no-trade stipulation. Unless the front office forces the 37-year-old out by benching him, he'll play out the final year of his deal with the Giants.
Ryan Tannehill Stays with Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have quarterback Ryan Tannehill's contract on the books through the 2020 term, but there's uncertainty surrounding his future, per Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero. "Tannehill's status with the Dolphins for 2019 and beyond is not settled. In fact, the first seven weeks of this season have made it quite unsettled," he wrote.
Tannehill suffered a shoulder injury, which cost him five games, but he's fared well since returning to action. Though he's not moving the ball up and down the field at an impressive pace, the 30-year-old has been efficient in the pocket, logging 341 yards, five touchdowns and one interception while completing more than 67 percent of his passes over the last two weeks.
With a quarter of the season left to play, the Dolphins are in contention for a playoff spot. The next two games against the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings will help determine this club's fate as a playoff sleeper or a squad with plenty of talent and not enough wins for the postseason.
The Dolphins have a 12-8 record with Tannehill as a starter over the last three seasons. Because of his injury history, the front office should select a quarterback in the draft, but the seventh-year veteran is the team's best option on a deal that holds $13.4 million in dead cap beyond this year, per Spotrac.
Teddy Bridgewater Stays with New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints sent a third-round pick to the New York Jets for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a sixth-rounder, which shows a moderate investment in a player who could go elsewhere in the offseason.
The Saints' decision to surrender a top-100 pick indicates the team has an interest in passing the torch to him once quarterback Drew Brees decides to retire. Ahead of the 2018 season, the 39-year-old signed a two-year, $50 million deal that voids at the end of the 2019 term.
Unless Brees has Tom Brady-like aspirations to play at 45 years old, Bridgewater could lead the Saints' high-powered offense in a couple of years. He would have spent two years in the system before the incumbent starter becomes a free agent likely to walk off into the sunset. It's a perfect setup for the 26-year-old.
Bridgewater would have dynamic running back Alvin Kamara, as well as Mark Ingram and star wideout Michael Thomas, if the front office re-signs those two. More importantly, he would have an opportunity to win right away with a franchise that's probably headed to the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
Teams will attempt to lure Bridgewater, a Pro Bowl signal-caller, away from New Orleans in March. Nevertheless, he's in an ideal spot with Brees likely handing over the keys to the offense in the near future.
Tyrod Taylor to the Carolina Panthers
We didn't see the best of quarterback Tyrod Taylor in three starts with the Cleveland Browns this year. He threw for 462 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in those games before a concussion forced him to leave the field in Week 3 against the New York Jets.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield took over the huddle, and he's led the offense thereafter. Taylor threw one pass for 11 yards in Week 9.
At 29 years old and with three full years of starting experience, Taylor should have a handful of suitors on the open market. The veteran isn't known for stretching the field with highlight plays, but teams can depend on him to protect the football. He threw 16 interceptions in 43 starts between the 2015-17 campaigns.
As a fill-in starter, Taylor could take over an offense and extend plays with his legs to accumulate yardage in dead-end situations. It's a skill that holds value. Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Jackson in Baltimore have won games using their abilities to tuck and run. Taylor's refined arm also gives him the option to challenge defenses through the air with efficiency.
The Carolina Panthers don't have a solid backup to Cam Newton. Taylor Heinicke serves in the reserve role, and his contract expires in the offseason.
Newton has recorded at least 359 rushing yards in each of his eight seasons with the Panthers. If he goes down with an injury, Taylor's 1,836 career rushing yards prove he would be capable of replacing Newton's scrambling ability.
With few teams in dire need of new starters under center, Taylor may have to settle for a one-year deal as a reserve, barring an unforeseen cut elsewhere. He could see action if Newton's body begins to wear down after taking hits through the years as a ball-carrier.
Jameis Winston Stays with Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers picked up quarterback Jameis Winston's fifth-year option, which is only guaranteed for injury. The team can release him without holding on to dead money or find a trade partner willing to acquire a turnover-prone signal-caller with a $20.9 million cap hit for the next season.
Through four seasons, Winston's body of work still leaves doubt about his ability to become a franchise quarterback. After serving a three-game suspension for a personal conduct violation to begin the year, he shared the starting role with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who opened Weeks 9-11 under center.
Winston threw 10 interceptions in his first four appearances. In the last three outings, the 24-year-old threw one pick. He's tossed two touchdown passes in each of those games.
When asked about Winston's 2019 outlook, head coach Dirk Koetter couldn't provide a concrete thought, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud.
"I just don't know, for obvious reasons," Koetter said. "I think Jameis is still a franchise quarterback, but that decision will be made by somebody else at the end of the year."
At 5-7, there's a strong possibility the Buccaneers miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year under Koetter, which may prompt a regime shift from the coaching staff to the front office. A new set of eyes and fresh minds could lead to a renewed opportunity for Winston or induce rapid change. His $20.9 million cap hit likely allows him a short audition with little margin for error in 2019.
Blake Bortles Stays with Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars financially backed themselves into a corner after inking quarterback Blake Bortles to a three-year, $54 million extension in February. Last season, he had a role in the team's run to the AFC Championship Game, but the wheels have quickly popped off his bandwagon.
After a 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 12, the Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched Bortles for the remainder of the season for Cody Kessler. As a result, Jacksonville has a quarterback situation worth monitoring going into the offseason.
If Kessler lights up defenses or outperforms Bortles in the last four outings, team brass should probably have a serious conversation about the former starter's tenure with the club. A trade would be more likely than an outright release. Parting ways with him would result in the largest dead-money cap hit in history as a pre-June 1 cut, per Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac.
Bortles' lack of major improvement makes it unlikely a team would trade for him on his current deal. Similar to the Buccaneers, the Jaguars should acquire a quarterback in the upcoming draft and put the rookie in a position to compete for the starting job during training camp.
Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Washington Redskins
Washington lost its top two quarterbacks in approximately two weeks. Alex Smith sustained a Joe Theismann-like leg injury, which included a compound fracture, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. There's no timetable for recovery or a guarantee the 34-year-old will play another down in the league.
There is still $71 million in guaranteed cash on Smith's deal, but the front office must sign a veteran signal-caller for a contingency plan. Backup Colt McCoy went down with a fractured fibula in Week 13, which prematurely ended his campaign.
Smith will start if he's able to take the field again; McCoy is headed for free agency at 32 years old. Assuming the primary starter needs an extended period to recover, Washington must find a stopgap quarterback to remain competitive in the meantime.
This season in Tampa Bay, Ryan Fitzpatrick flashed his magic in the first three games, notching 1,230 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Going into his age-37 season, Fitzpatrick isn't the long-term answer in Washington, but he's capable of keeping the seat warm before a young signal-caller rises through the ranks or until Smith returns to action. Fitzpatrick would also come at an affordable price, which is appealing for a team that invested a big contract in a starter on the mend.