Ranking Every NFL Team's Need for a New Signal-Caller
Simply put, the NFL has two types of teams. There are those who have a franchise quarterback and those who do not.
While this is true, it doesn't tell the whole story of the quarterback landscape. We've seen teams have plenty of success with merely above-average starters. We've seen guys in the twilight of their careers like Peyton Manning deliver championships. We've seen journeyman backups like Nick Foles do the same.
You don't have to have an elite signal-caller to be a contender, though it certainly helps. At the same time, while not every team is desperate for a new quarterback heading into free agency and the draft, most should at least give the position some thought.
With 2018 winding down, it's the perfect time to rank every team's need for a new quarterback. Counting down to the team that most needs a change, we'll base our rankings on factors like player potential, past production, team fit and player age.
In other words, which teams would surprise us the most and the least by adding a new signal-caller this offseason.
On Top of the World: Teams That Are Set for the Long Term
32. Seattle Seahawks
There are a few quarterbacks who deserve to be in the conversation of the league's best, but there may not be a team that feels better about its quarterback situation than the Seattle Seahawks. There's good reason for this.
Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl winner. He has every physical attribute you could want in a modern NFL quarterback—arm strength, mobility, a quick release and sharp decision-making—and he only recently turned 30 years old. He has several prime years ahead, and this means Seattle can pretty much ignore the position for the foreseeable future.
31. Indianapolis Colts
We're putting Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck just behind Russell Wilson. Luck (3,951 yards, 34 touchdowns) is in the midst of what could be considered an MVP-caliber campaign. Also, like Wilson, he's as physically gifted as you could want, and he's just 29 years old.
However, Luck isn't a proven champion. He also has an injury history that cannot be ignored. However, he does appear to be 100 percent healthy, and he's certainly able to play at the highest level.
There's obviously the concern that Luck could get injured again, but that's the only concern Indianapolis should have.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes may only be in his second season—and his first as a starter—but he's already catapulted himself into elite status. Like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, he has all the physical tools you could want. Heck, he has tools we didn't even realize you could want prior to this season.
Mahomes is accurate, mobile, has perhaps more arm talent than we've ever seen and processes the field incredibly quickly. The former Texas Tech star can see plays and make throws that most other quarterbacks wouldn't even consider.
Mahomes isn't as proven as Luck or Wilson, but the Chiefs appear set for the next decade-plus at quarterback.
29. Houston Texans
Right now, the Houston Texans are in line for a first-round bye. This is largely due to the play of quarterback Deshaun Watson. In many ways, Watson is similar to Patrick Mahomes. He's young, he's an aggressive and accurate passer and has physical tools that other quarterbacks simply aren't blessed with.
Watson is playing great ball right now (3,592 yards, 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions) and has nowhere to go but up. He's recovered from last year's torn ACL and returned to an elite level. If not for Andrew Luck and his missed 2017 season, he'd be a front-runner alongside teammate J.J. Watt for Comeback Player of the Year.
Feelin' All Right: Teams with Young Franchise Cornerstones
28. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns fans may have never thought this day would come, but it's here. Is Baker Mayfield a top-five quarterback yet? Not quite, but he's done absolutely nothing to make one think he won't be. He's done more with less, and in a shorter time, than even young high-end starters like Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
Like Goff, Mayfield has benefited from an innovative play-caller—in his case, Freddie Kitchens—but Mayfield is also showing he can dominate the mental aspect. While he didn't have his best statistical game in Week 15 versus the Denver Broncos, his pre-snap adjustments before Cleveland's go-ahead touchdown were something you just don't see from a rookie.
"What happened on that play was far beyond elementary thinking," Browns backup quarterback Drew Stanton said, per Pro Football Talk's Peter King.
27. Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff has shown he can be a franchise quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. He had a strong Pro Bowl season in 2017 (3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven picks), and that's encouraging. However, he also looked completely lost as a rookie—more so than Mayfield ever has, even under Hue Jackson and Todd Haley—which is why he falls a spot behind this year's No. 1 pick.
Goff has also had some struggles in recent weeks, but that shouldn't cause Rams fans to worry. He can make all the throws, reads the field extremely well and has a great rapport with head coach Sean McVay.
Goff should be a perennial Pro Bowler for the next decade or longer.
26. Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was taken one spot behind Jared Goff. In their second years as pros in 2017, one could easily argue Wentz was the better quarterback. He was playing at an MVP level (3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns, seven picks) before suffering a torn ACL in Week 14.
Though Wentz hasn't been quite as dynamic this season, he's still quarterbacking at a high level—again arguably better than Goff in a vacuum. However, Wentz also suffered a back injury that is about to sideline him for the second consecutive game and potentially for the season.
If Wentz finishes back-to-back seasons on the sideline, it's going to raise a lot of injury concerns...and Philadelphia is set to lose backup Nick Foles in free agency.
25. San Francisco 49ers
The jury is still out on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but in his limited action over the past few seasons, he's looked every bit like a franchise signal-caller. He moves well in the pocket, has tremendous arm talent and sees the field extremely well.
The problem is he's struggled to stay healthy. His brief time as the New England Patriots starter was cut short because of injury, and he suffered a torn ACL early this season.
San Francisco doesn't have to worry about rushing Garoppolo back onto the field, though. Undrafted free-agent Nick Mullens (96.0 passer rating) has played well enough to hold down the job for more than just a few games.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson isn't your conventional NFL signal-caller. However, this doesn't mean he won't be a successful pro. He's doing things we've never really seen a quarterback do—he's made just five starts and has over 800 yards passing and 566 yards rushing—since perhaps Michael Vick. Jackson, though, is a more accurate passer than Vick was coming out of college.
According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Ravens are ready to move on from former starter Joe Flacco in the offseason.
Baltimore may be concerned with Jackson's slight frame and the number of hits he takes. If he learns to play safe, however, the Ravens won't have to worry about finding a new quarterback anytime soon.
We Good: Other Teams That Probably Aren't Making a Change Soon
23. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans signal-caller Marcus Mariota isn't overwhelming as a passer. However, this has more to do with the weapons around him and his role in Tennessee's offense than his own ability.
Mariota has only passed for 2,418 yards this season, but he's also completing nearly 69 percent of his attempts, has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and remains a legitimate dual-threat quarterback in a run-oriented offense. He's also just 25 and has room to grow.
22. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions are in an awkward and unique position. Quarterback Matthew Stafford can be one of the best gunslingers in the league, and he'll be just 31 when next season kicks off. However, he also has yet to win anything of note and has struggled when he doesn't have top-tier pieces around him.
This season, for example, Stafford has 3,395 yards passing but just 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Detroit isn't cutting Stafford with $49 million of his contract still guaranteed after this season, but trading him could be a possibility if the Lions decide to blow the roster up.
21. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott has shown that he can be a top-tier quarterback. He's also struggled mightily as a passer at times. Despite having a strong offensive line and one of the best running backs in the game in Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott was an underwhelming signal-caller early in the season before Dallas acquired wideout Amari Cooper. Since then, he's averaged 274 yards per game and has been able to push the ball downfield.
Prescott can be inconsistent. When he's playing well, though, Prescott is dangerous. Plus, Dallas already appears ready to commit to him for the long term.
"Listen, Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys," owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan, per the team's official website. "He's young, and he's going to get extended."
20. Chicago Bears
Mitchell Trubisky's second season has mirrored Jared Goff's in a few ways. With offensive-minded head coach Matt Nagy calling plays, the Chicago Bears quarterback has shown a tremendous amount of growth. His passer rating after 12 games this season (94.1) is much higher than it was after 12 games in 2017 (77.5).
However, Trubisky still shows a lot of inaccuracy; when his passes are off, they're way off, and at times, he appears to be a better runner than passer. Chicago won't be drafting another quarterback in the next couple of years, but it remains to be seen if Trubisky is a future star or a Blake Bortles-style mirage.
19. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen is a lot like a less accurate version of Marcus Mariota or Lamar Jackson. He just happens to have the size of a tight end and a Jay Cutler-caliber cannon of an arm. Like Jackson, he may never be a truly traditional quarterback—he lacks touch and accuracy on precision throws—but that doesn't mean he can't be a special player.
Allen has already rushed for 506 yards, and he has 12 total touchdowns to go with 11 turnovers. If the Bills are willing to commit to a run-oriented offense that has a boom-or-bust component, Allen can lead it for the foreseeable future.
18. New York Jets
New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold isn't far behind Josh Allen. The Jets certainly won't be looking for a new quarterback within the next couple of years.
While Darnold isn't as special as Allen physically, he does have all the tools you look for—size, arm strength, accuracy and mobility. He's also a much better passer than Allen is right now. However, Darnold also has major flaws that are going to be difficult to correct.
While Allen produces turnovers with mechanical mistakes, Darnold's stem from terrible decision-making. He doesn't sense pressure well, and he often panics and chucks balls he should never let go of. This is why he has a league-high 15 interceptions despite playing just 11 games.
Darnold has the potential to develop into Carson Palmer in his prime. He also has the potential to develop into pick-happy Jay Cutler.
17. Arizona Cardinals
Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen has shown glimpses of promise, but he's also been responsible for some disastrous play. He's completing just over 55 percent of his passes, has 17 turnovers to go with 10 touchdown passes and has taken 35 sacks in 12 games. It's not all Rosen's fault, though, as the talent and coaching around him have been dreadful.
According to Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks will almost certainly be fired after this season.
The problem here is a beaten-down, demoralized Rosen and a new front office may not mesh for long if things go south again next season.
Look Ahead: Teams with Aging, but Not Old Veterans
16. Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback Matt Ryan will be 34 years old when the 2019 season starts, so we have to include the Atlanta Falcons in this section. Ryan is playing at an incredibly high level—he's passed for 4,307 yards with 30 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season—so adding a quarterback is not an immediate concern.
However, it wouldn't be a massive shock to see the Falcons jump on a future franchise quarterback at the right spot in the draft the way the Green Bay Packers once did with Brett Favre as the starter.
15. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are in a similar situation to Atlanta's. Cam Newton is a former MVP and Super Bowl participant, just like Ryan. He's also dealing with a shoulder injury, though, that has significantly affected his play this season.
Newton has missed several throws we're used to seeing him make, and it's cost his team a shot at the postseason.
His shoulder soreness stems from a procedure Newton underwent during the 2017 offseason. That it's flaring up now has to at least concern the Panthers and the soon-to-be 30-year-old quarterback.
14. Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is playing as well as anyone in the league right now. He's already passed for 3,951 yards with 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's also a huge reason why the Chargers are one of the best teams in the NFL right now.
However, Rivers is also 37 years old. While his play hasn't fallen off over the last couple of seasons, it is time for Los Angeles to think about grabbing his successor.
13. Green Bay Packers
While Philip Rivers' play hasn't fallen off, Aaron Rodgers' has. Once—and very recently—considered the most gifted quarterback in the game, Rodgers has been merely average even at his best this season.
According to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Rodgers leads the NFL in bad plays—a combination of incompletions, interceptions, sacks and fumbles—with 255.
There is a chance Rodgers can bounce back, of course. Let's not forget he suffered a serious knee injury early in the season and hasn't looked the same since. However, Rodgers is 35, too, and may not. Whoever the Packers hire as their next head coach must at least consider grabbing a guy who can start in a season or two.
We Can Do Better: Teams with Uncertainty
12. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings brought in Kirk Cousins this offseason to solidify their quarterback position. The move hasn't exactly gone as planned. While Cousins (3,913 yards, 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) has played great at times, he's also shrunk in the biggest moments. This is not what Minnesota brought him in to do.
With all of Cousins' $84 million contract guaranteed, the Vikings aren't likely to cut him before it ends in two years. They probably won't find a willing trade partner, either. However, this doesn't mean Minnesota shouldn't keep an eye out for someone it can develop for 2021.
11. Denver Broncos
Case Keenum is like the Charleston Chew of quarterbacks. He's fine, but he's bland and nothing special. Keenum is good enough to direct a team to the postseason, but he isn't going to carry one there. He's a serviceable starter, but he isn't a franchise quarterback.
In other words, he's no Peanut Butter Twix.
If the Broncos can find an upgrade this offseason, they'll probably pull the trigger. However, they probably won't mortgage the future to trade up in the draft, either. Putting more offensive talent around Keenum for his lone remaining season would make more sense.
10. Oakland Raiders
Does Jon Gruden want his own guy? This is the question that really surrounds the Oakland Raiders' quarterback position. Derek Carr is a legitimate Pro Bowler when he's playing at his best, and it's not like he's playing terribly with the makeshift offense he has in 2018 (96.2 passer rating).
"We are very pleased and proud of what he has done," Gruden said, per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The Raiders probably aren't replacing Carr in 2019, but the possibility remains that Gruden will want to draft his own quarterback to take into Las Vegas in 2020.
9. Miami Dolphins
The future of Ryan Tannehill will very much depend on what the Miami Dolphins decide to do with head coach Adam Gase. If Gase comes back in 2019—a good possibility since Miami is still in the playoff hunt at 7-7—so too may Tannehill. If the Dolphins decide that one playoff loss and a couple of OK seasons aren't enough, Gase and Tannehill could both be gone.
Given Tannehill's injury history and lack of consistent play, the Dolphins may decide to part with him regardless. He has two years remaining on his contract, but only $13.4 million of it is guaranteed. Less than $6 million of that is guaranteed in 2020. Miami has to at least consider guys who could be an upgrade then.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
When everything is going right for him, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looks like an elite signal-caller. When things aren't going perfectly, though, he looks like he doesn't belong. It's this situational dependence that has led to Dalton's reputation as a guy who flounders in prime time.
Cincinnati has to decide if it can stick by a quarterback who is good but doesn't elevate the talent around him. Injuries have hurt the Bengals offense this season, but that unit hasn't really been any less productive with Jeff Driskel under center and Dalton on injured reserve.
Dalton has two years remaining on his contract, but none of his salary is guaranteed. It may be time—and probably should be if Cincinnati replaces Marvin Lewis—for the Bengals to move on.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The future of Jameis Winston will very much depend on what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decide to do with head coach Dirk Koetter. According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Tampa is likely to fire him, which means someone else will be deciding if Winston should be his quarterback.
Winston has all the physical tools, and he is capable of playing at a high level. However, he has serious ball-security concerns on the field—he has 73 turnovers in 54 career games—and character concerns off it. An incoming coach may very well feel he can salvage Winston's career and turn him into a franchise quarterback.
It's just as possible Tampa won't pay his non-guaranteed $20.9 million salary for 2019 and will let him go.
All Things Must Pass: Teams That Must Find a Replacement Sooner Than Later
6. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is 39 years old. The New Orleans Saints cannot wait too long to find his successor. However, he's also having an MVP-caliber season. Despite some recent rough outings, he's still thrown for 3,666 yards with 31 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
The Saints also have 2014 first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater for the remainder of this season. Convincing him to stick around as Brees' potential heir may be easier than finding a guy in the draft anyway.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't as old as Drew Brees, but his playground style of play has subjected him to more abuse over the years. For example, he suffered cracked ribs just two weeks ago during Pittsburgh's trip to Oakland, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
One has to wonder how long Roethlisberger can keep it up. He's still playing well enough, but he also seems to have lost some of his deep-ball touch and accuracy. The end is likely near.
However, Pittsburgh also just spent a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph in this year's draft. The Steelers at least have someone they can develop for the future, which puts them in a better position than, say, the New England Patriots
4. New England Patriots
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wants to play until he's 45. He's already 41, though, and it appears he's finally starting to see his play decline. Of course, for Brady, a decline is 3,979 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions after 14 games.
New England may be trending down. That slide may also be temporary like it was in 2009 or 2015. Regardless, Brady cannot play forever and likely doesn't have another MVP season ahead of him.
The Patriots don't need to find a starter for next season, but they do need to start searching for a guy who will be ready to start in 2020 or 2021.
3. New York Giants
You might believe that the New York Giants absolutely must replace Eli Manning this offseason. We're not all that sure. Manning is playing good, not great (92.1 passer rating), but this has as much to do with New York's shoddy offensive line as it does Manning's decline. When the line has held, Manning has played extremely well this season.
The 5-9 Giants should end up with a top-10 pick, and this is why they'll consider drafting a quarterback after the season. However, they don't have to use that first-round pick on a quarterback if they aren't completely sold on the available options.
New York can win with Manning for at least one more season.
Help!: Teams That Should Look to Move Up in Draft
2. Washington Redskins.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee Alex Smith will ever have a second season with the Washington Redskins. He suffered a brutal spiral fracture in his leg in Week 11 and only recently returned home following multiple surgeries and infection.
Since Smith went down, Washington has tried relying on Colt McCoy (broken leg) and Mark Sanchez (terrible play) and is now starting Josh Johnson—a guy who had last seen the field in 2013. If Smith can return next season, that's great. However, he'll be 35 and Washington cannot bank on his ability to do so after such an injury.
The Redskins need to find a quarterback now and decide in the summer whether he'll play in 2019 out of necessity or down the road as Smith's successor.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars went to the 2017 AFC Championship Game with Blake Bortles under center. They then gave him a three-year, $54 million deal in the offseason. A few weeks ago, Jacksonville benched Bortles for unwanted former Browns quarterback Cody Kessler.
Kessler just started a full game in which he had nine completions for 57 yards.
Bortles has experienced a downward spiral over the last calendar year from which he may never recover. Jacksonville clearly has no faith that he will, or else Kessler wouldn't be starting again in Week 16.
Jacksonville is on pace to earn a top-five draft pick. If the front office determines there's a franchise quarterback in this draft, it needs to pull the trigger. If not, the Jaguars need to go hard after a Teddy Bridgewater or a Joe Flacco. They absolutely cannot head into 2019 with Bortles and Kessler leading the quarterback room.