Projecting Every NFL Team's Starting Quarterback for 2021March 5, 2021
When the NFL's new league year gets underway later in March, Carson Wentz will officially replace the retired Philip Rivers as the top quarterback on the Indianapolis Colts' depth chart, Matthew Stafford will officially take over under center for the Los Angeles Rams, Jared Goff will do the same with the Detroit Lions and—as we discovered Thursday—Ben Roethlisberger will officially continue to be the starting signal-caller for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But that doesn't mean the quarterback carousel won't still spin viciously between now and the end of March, if not beyond that. There are legitimate questions regarding who might quarterback about half of the league's teams in 2021.
That being the case, let's have some fun and attempt to read the football tea leaves with predictions for who will serve as each team's primary starter next season.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray
The top pick of the 2019 draft made steady progress as a sophomore, looking like a superstar at times. There does seem to be somewhat of a pipeline between Arizona and Houston, which makes you wonder if a team that gambled on J.J. Watt could make a wild run at disgruntled Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, but that's incredibly unlikely considering that Murray's upside is in the same range and he comes cheaper for now.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
There's been some uncertainty here. But last month, Falcons owner Arthur Blank told NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano he'd be "completely shocked" if the 2016 MVP wasn't on the roster in 2021. According to Spotrac, Ryan's dead-cap hit would be in excess of $40 million. Still, I wouldn't be shocked if they used the No. 4 overall pick on Ryan's heir apparent. Because—spoiler alert—we have Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields landing with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets in the top two spots, respectively, let's give them BYU's Zach Wilson over the less heralded Trey Lance or Mac Jones.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson
Safe to say an inexpensive 24-year-old former MVP isn't going anywhere.
Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen
Same for an inexpensive 24-year-old coming off an MVP runner-up season.
Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance
The Panthers have little reason to let Teddy Bridgewater go after just one season, especially because the vast majority of his 2021 salary is guaranteed. But ESPN's Adam Schefter reported they already tried to trade Bridgewater for Stafford this offseason. Plus, head coach Matt Rhule has yet to declare Bridgewater his starter in 2021 and hasn't ruled out drafting a quarterback. The intriguing Lance should be available to them in the No. 8 spot, and it might not take long before he supplants Bridgewater.
Chicago Bears: Jameis Winston
The Bears could go a million different directions in pursuit of their next quarterback, but they don't have the draft capital for a blue-chip rookie and they likely can't afford someone like Watson or Dak Prescott. Winston still has plenty of upside and should come a little cheaper because of his baggage. Beggars can't be choosers. I'd also expect them to bring back Nick Foles (who remains under contract with guaranteed money) while letting Mitchell Trubisky walk.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow
Last year's top pick is locked in for at least another year or two after a strong yet abbreviated rookie campaign in which he lacked support. The Bengals have the cap space and draft capital to change that in 2021.
Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield
The top selection of the 2018 draft posted a 16-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his last 10 starts of the 2020 regular season. He hasn't become a star yet but is on the right track.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott
Here are about 1,000 words on why a divorce between the Cowboys and Prescott is extremely plausible and maybe even logical. That said, there have been no signs the team won't use the franchise tag if it can't get a deal done with the impending free agent ahead of next week's tag deadline.
Denver Broncos: Drew Lock
The Broncos haven't seemed satisfied with their quarterback situation since Peyton Manning retired, but I believe they'll be outbid for Watson and will ultimately give Lock one more shot. Broncos general manager George Paton has spoken highly of the 2019 second-round pick. That said, they could bring in competition with a veteran like Trubisky or Alex Smith.
Detroit Lions: Jared Goff
The Lions' new starter will cost them $27.8 million in 2021.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
There were some questions here at the start of Green Bay's offseason, but it's since become extremely clear the three-time MVP is sticking around.
Houston Texans: Tua Tagovailoa
It seems Watson is pretty adamant about being traded, and the Miami Dolphins can offer more than anybody else when you consider their draft capital (four of the top 50 picks in the draft) and the presence of Tagovailoa. He'd at least bring franchise quarterback potential to Houston at a relatively low cost.
Indianapolis Colts: Carson Wentz
The Colts' new starter will cost them $25.4 million in 2021.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
The Jags can't afford to get cute with the No. 1 overall pick. Lawrence could be a generational talent and this team has swung and missed too often in Round 1. Keep it simple, stupid.
Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
Controversial, I know.
Las Vegas Raiders: Derek Carr
Carr wasn't brought in by the current regime, and he hasn't led the team to much success, but the Raiders sure seem satisfied and they don't have a lot of capital to spend on a potential upgrade.
Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert
The Bolts do some weird stuff, but they're unlikely to part ways with the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Los Angeles Rams: Matthew Stafford
The Rams' new starter will cost them $20 million in 2021.
Miami Dolphins: Deshaun Watson
Unless you scrolled right to this spot, I already spoiled this one. Tua didn't have a promising rookie season and Miami is on a trajectory that could make it a contender in 2021. Offering multiple first-round picks and Tagovailoa to the Texans for Watson makes a lot of sense. The Dolphins would immediately join the Super Bowl conversation with the second-highest-rated passer in NFL history.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins
Both head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have reaffirmed their love for Cousins of late. He's essentially unreleasable and I'm not sure anyone would want to trade for his contract anyway. He's due $76 million the next two seasons. Still, it would make a lot of sense for them to grab somebody like Mac Jones midway through the first round of the draft.
New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo
I don't buy for a second that the 49ers are satisfied with Jimmy G, who blew it in Super Bowl LIV and failed to stay healthy in his other two seasons as San Francisco's starter. They swing him back to the Pats, thrilling the man who drafted him in the first place, Bill Belichick.
New Orleans Saints: Alex Smith
The 36-year-old makes a lot of sense as a potential bridge in several places, and the Bears will be a hot candidate because of Matt Nagy's prior relationship with Smith. But they could instead outbid the Saints for Winston's services, and Smith offers cap-strapped New Orleans a discount in exchange for another shot at a Super Bowl run. He'd work with Taysom Hill.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones
It's been a bumpy ride, but the support hasn't been there for Jones, and he's only 23 after two seasons in New York. There have been enough encouraging moments for the Giants to give him a complete shot at proving his worth in 2021, but it might be a make-or-break year for the 2019 No. 6 overall pick.
New York Jets: Justin Fields
This was not an easy call because there's still a chance 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold comes through there or elsewhere. But this regime didn't draft Darnold, and he was the lowest-rated qualified passer in the league last year. Fields or Zach Wilson will be too tempting with the second overall pick.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts
Hurts was quite impressive under tough circumstances as a rookie, and the Eagles likely won't be in the mood to use a first-round pick on a quarterback one year after selecting the intriguing Oklahoma product in Round 2.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
It's official: Big Ben will be Pittsburgh's quarterback for the 18th consecutive season.
San Francisco 49ers: Sam Darnold
The 49ers save some money and gain some upside in hopes that Kyle Shanahan can get the talented Darnold's career on track. They could also be in on Trubisky and others and will still consider retaining Garoppolo, but Darnold might give them their best chance in the short and long term without costing them an arm and a leg.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson
It's entirely possible a seemingly fractured relationship between Wilson and the Seahawks will further deteriorate and the seven-time Pro Bowler will end up playing somewhere else. But that's a hell of a salary to trade, and Pete Carroll strikes me as the kind of person who will make this right.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady
Not only is the most decorated player in NFL history coming back to the Super Bowl champions, but Brady might also do so with an extension at the age of 44.
Tennessee Titans: Ryan Tannehill
The AFC's highest-rated qualified passer since the start of 2019 isn't going anywhere. Nor is his $29.5 million average annual salary.
Washington Football Team: Cam Newton
The Ron Rivera connection is obvious, but Newton has struggled so much of late that the WFT might also bring in a strong "backup" to push the 2015 MVP. A Newton-Trubisky battle could be fun and worthwhile for a team that lacks draft capital.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.