Predicting the NFL's QB Carousel in 2021 Offseason
Tom Brady was the prize of a prolific quarterback class in last year's free-agency period. He landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now his team is going to the Super Bowl.
While this year's edition of the quarterback carousel might not push a team to the NFL title game, it's going to be every bit as interesting.
Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett, Mitchell Trubisky and Jameis Winston all have starting experience and are slated to hit free agency. Additionally, Matthew Stafford is expected to be traded, while Deshaun Watson is pushing for a move of his own.
So where will the carousel stop this offseason? That's what we're going to try to predict here.
You'll find bold forecasts for some of the top signal-callers expected to be on the move this offseason based on factors like player potential, team fit, cap space and roster construction. Draft positioning will also be considered here as a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own the No. 1 pick in the draft, may not be interested in acquiring a veteran.
Quarterbacks covered are listed in alphabetical order.
Brady is long gone, and the Cam Newton experiment didn't exactly work out as hoped. The New England Patriots may finally be in a position to use a first-round pick on a quarterback. They own the 15th overall selection in the draft and do not appear to be remotely sold on rising third-year man Jarrett Stidham.
Therefore, it would make a ton of sense for New England to bring back Brissett, who was originally a third-round pick of the Patriots back in 2016. He was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in 2017 and went on to start 30 games for the franchise.
Brissett would provide the sort of veteran presence Newton did in 2020 while allowing New England to develop a rookie signal-caller. Of the quarterbacks with two-plus seasons of starting experience, he should also be one of the more budget-friendly options after sitting for almost all of 2020 and merely being an average starter in 2019.
Familiarity with the Patriots organization is a big selling point here, as is the potential price tag. While New England is projected to have more than $50 million in cap space, it won't be eager to overspend on a stopgap quarterback.
A return to Indianapolis would also make sense with Philip Rivers retiring, but the Colts are ready to win now and are likely to go in a different direction.
Prediction: Brissett signs with New England.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has established himself as the ultimate NFL journeyman, capable of mentoring a young signal-caller or spot-starting for a season or more. While he has never been a long-term answer at the position, he has played extremely well in stretches.
His 34,977 career passing yards have not come by accident.
For those reasons, Fitzpatrick would be a tremendous asset for any franchise looking to groom a rookie quarterback or survive a rebuilding year in 2021. However, a return to the Miami Dolphins would also be logical as Miami doesn't quite know what it has in Tua Tagovailoa just yet.
However, the Dolphins seem to like Tagovailoa enough that they aren't considering a new quarterback in the draft—or, at least, that's the front they're presenting.
"I want to be clear: Tua is our starter," general manager Chris Grier said. "We're very happy with his development so far."
The Dolphins are projected to be more than $23 million under the cap, so they can afford to bring back Fitzpatrick, even as an insurance policy. If they're hoping to finally return to the postseason in 2021, they should.
Prediction: Fitzpatrick re-signs with Miami.
While Newton didn't pan out as a high-end signal-caller with the Patriots, he did show he can still be an NFL starter. He only threw eight touchdown passes against 10 interceptions, but he also rushed for 12 scores and helped New England's talent-depleted offense amass seven wins.
A team comfortable with Newton's style of play and in possession of a strong supporting cast should be willing to give him an opportunity this offseason. For those reasons, the Washington Football Team makes a ton of sense.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera spent the bulk of Newton's pro career as his head coach with the Carolina Panthers. If anyone knows how to get the most out of the dual-threat gunslinger, it'll be him. With Washington's second-ranked defense and emerging second-year running back Antonio Gibson providing support, a season of average Newton could be enough to help deliver a second consecutive NFC East title.
The reason a run-oriented offense built around Newton didn't quite work in New England was largely the team's 15th-ranked defense. Washington would be smart to bring back Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke for another go-round, but Newton could be the perfect fallback option if Smith decides to call it a career.
Prediction: Newton Signs with Washington.
Dak Prescott decided not to sign a long-term deal with the Dallas Cowboys last offseason. Given the quarterback market and his status as a 27-year-old two-time Pro Bowler, he had little reason to take an offer he wasn't comfortable taking.
Unfortunately, Prescott then suffered a season-ending ankle injury, which complicates his pending foray into free agency. Teams will need to know that he can get back to where he was prior to the injury before shelling out $100-plus million on the open market.
That gives the Cowboys a bit of an edge as they are more familiar with Prescott's health than any other organization. They should also be eager to keep the Mississippi State product in the fold.
Teams spend years searching for a franchise quarterback. The Cowboys have one and shouldn't be looking to start over at the position.
Negotiations will be difficult, of course, but they can have the benefit of using the franchise tag again while working things out. That would require freeing up some space—they're projected to have just over $9 million in cap space—but they could be in a far worse position cap-wise.
Expect Dallas to tag Prescott before the start of free agency and then work on the long-term financials from there.
Prediction: Prescott receives the franchise tag from Dallas.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't a pending free agent, hasn't publicly asked for a trade and isn't on the trading block. However, there's a chance one of the latter two scenarios could arise in the coming weeks. And when the likely MVP might be available, it's worth discussing.
The Packers drafted Rodgers' eventual replacement when they traded up to select Jordan Love in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL draft. While Rodgers is under contract through the 2023 season, he certainly doesn't sound like a player who is sure of his 2021 status.
"[The Packers have] a lot of guys' futures that are uncertain—myself included," he said about next season
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Rodgers wants a new contract. Would Green Bay really trade a quarterback who is still playing at Rodgers' level rather than extend him? Perhaps for the right price, but it's more likely that the Packers go all-in to make another run with him next season. Adding to the receiving corps and shoring up the run defense are steps they could take to strengthen their roster and help satisfy their quarterback.
The Packers' cap situation is potentially problematic as the team is projected to be more than $32 million over the cap—though a creative extension for Rodgers could potentially cut that number significantly.
The roster is closer to that of a title contender than a rebuilding squad, and starting over right now would make little sense. It may take some work to comfort Rodgers about his future in Green Bay, but that effort would be more worthwhile than sending him to play elsewhere.
Prediction: Rodgers remains in Green Bay.
Matthew Stafford might be the best quarterback in the NFL who has never won a playoff game. That's an unfortunate distinction, but it's one several franchises should be looking to change.
The Detroit Lions, though, are not one of them.
"In an arrangement the two sides have discussed and mutually agreed upon, quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to not return to the Lions this offseason, with Detroit listening to trade offers starting this week, league sources told ESPN on Saturday," ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
However, Stafford is set to carry a cap hit of $33 million in 2021, which means only a few teams will have the financial resources to deal for him. With more than $61 million in projected cap space, the Indianapolis Colts are one of them.
Indianapolis is also ready to win now and has a need for a quarterback following Philip Rivers' retirement. Financially, teams like the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars could also afford to make a move for Stafford.
However, the combination of his age (32) and the franchise's playoff-readiness makes Indianapolis a nearly perfect fit.
Prediction: Indianapolis trades for Stafford.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Chicago Bears weren't sold on bringing back Mitchell Trubisky before this year's playoffs, in which they suffered an early exit in the Wild-Card Round. They should be looking for an upgrade over the 2017 first-round pick who has now had his fifth-year option declined and been benched for journeyman Nick Foles.
Here's the problem, though: Chicago is projected to be more than $10 million over the salary cap and may not be able to bring in said upgrade via free agency. Instead, it may have to roll the dice on a rookie prospect with the 20th overall pick in the draft.
Therefore, bringing back Trubisky on a team-friendly, incentive-laden deal may be the franchise's best bet. The Bears know he can at least play well enough to reach the postseason, which he has done twice.
A short-term deal would allow Chicago to remain competitive in 2021 while also grooming a signal-caller for the future. For Trubisky, such a deal could allow him to re-establish his market value heading into 2022.
There isn't likely to be much of a market for Trubisky as a starter this offseason. If the Bears want him on a budget deal, they should be able to land him.
Prediction: Trubisky re-signs with Chicago.
Deshaun Watson wants away from the Houston Texans, and no pending offseason moves are likely to change his stance.
"As [Chris Mortensen] reported on ESPN's Postseason NFL Countdown, the Texans' head coaching hire is not expected to change Deshaun Watson's thinking. He still is expected to want out of Houston, no matter who the head coach is, per sources," ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted.
Here's the issue for Watson: He just signed a new contract this past offseason, and if the Texans don't want to move him, they don't have to. Sure, he could refuse to play and miss out on making nearly $100 million over the next three seasons, but he cannot actually force his way out of Houston.
Unless the Texans truly believe he will never suit up for them again, they have few reasons to consider offers. The Clemson product is one of the few elite signal-callers in the NFL, and while trading him would likely bring back multiple first-round picks and players, there's no guarantee Houston could find a comparable replacement.
Trading a franchise quarterback is a risk teams simply don't take, and moving Watson could be one of the most colossal mistakes in modern NFL history. Instead, it would make more sense for Houston to gamble on its ability to mend the relationship.
While it might not make for much fun offseason discussion, expect him to be on Houston's roster deep into the summer. Whether he plays in 2021 is another question.
Prediction: Watson remains stuck in Houston.
Jameis Winston didn't get an opportunity to start when Drew Brees was sidelined this season as the team turned to Taysom Hill in Brees' absence. Winston could get that opportunity with the New Orleans Saints in 2021 as Brees is widely expected to retire in the offseason.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, New Orleans likes what it has seen from Winston in practice and would like to bring him back in 2021.
The problem is that the Saints are projected to be more than $112 million over the salary cap. Not only will they have to make magic to free up cap space, but they'll also have to convince Winston to take a team-friendly deal.
General manager Mickey Loomis is great at the former, and head coach Sean Payton may be able to accomplish the latter.
Returning to New Orleans would make a ton of sense for Winston. He's now familiar with the system, a playoff-caliber roster is in place, and while he may still split time with fellow quarterback Taysom Hill, he should have a great opportunity to re-establish his market value.
This is the approach Teddy Bridgewater took in 2019, which led to a three-year, $63 million deal from the Carolina Panthers this past offseason. It'll require some financial finagling, but expect the Saints to bring back Winston for another run next season.
Prediction: Winston re-signs with New Orleans.
Cap and contract information via Spotrac.