Predicting the NFL's QB Carousel in 2022 Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2022

Predicting the NFL's QB Carousel in 2022 Offseason

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL quarterback carousel was a wild one. Trades were the flavor of the offseason, as Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold and Gardner Minshew all found their way to new teams via the trade market.

    Trades will again be at the forefront in 2022, especially with an underwhelming quarterback draft class and few big names headed to free agency. Whether we see the flurry of trade activity we saw a year ago is another story, however.

    Here, you'll find a look at some of the latest buzz, a preview of the top free-agent quarterbacks and predictions for where some of the sport's biggest stars will land. Factors like player potential, team fit, cap space and roster construction will be considered, along with 2022 draft capital.

    The Washington Football Team, for example, may be more interested in rolling the dice on a quarterback prospect at No. 11—while allowing Taylor Heinicke to serve as a bridge—than a veteran starter.

    Quarterbacks are listed in alphabetical order.

Tom Brady

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady probably isn't playing for a different team in 2022. However, he may not play at all.

    ESPN's Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington reported Saturday that Brady plans to retire this offseason. However, that report was quickly refuted by both Brady's agent, Don Yee, and by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians.

    "He hasn't [retired] that we know of," Arians said, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

    It's worth noting, though, that the report by Schefter and Darlington suggests that Brady is preparing his retirement announcement, not that he's made anything official:

    "When [Brady] left the field after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss to the Los Angeles Rams last weekend, he knew it was likely his final act as a football player, sources said. In the days since, he has spent time digesting that mindset and is preparing his retirement announcement along with the next chapter of his life and career, sources said."

    Brady has often done things on his own terms, and his retirement will likely come the same way. If Brady has decided to retire, he'll make the announcement when he feels the timing is right—not in response to an insider report.

    The big question might be whether Brady believes the Buccaneers can contend again in 2022. With multiple key contributors—including Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette—headed to free agency and only $7.7 million in projected cap space—Tampa could be set to take a step back next season.

    Does Brady want to be part of that? Probably not, and he probably wants no part of a retirement tour. After 22 seasons and seven Super Bowl victories, he has nothing left to prove.

    Prediction: Brady calls it a career and enters retirement.

Teddy Bridgewater

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not awful in 2021, finishing with a passer rating of 94.9. However, he didn't bring much potency to the Broncos' 19th-ranked passing attack and went only 7-7 as a starter.

    Expect recently hired head coach Nathaniel Hackett to want an upgrade at the quarterback position. Given his previous position as the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator, a trade for Aaron Rodgers may be at the top of Hackett's wish list.

    However, this doesn't mean that Bridgewater cannot be a serviceable starter for a different team in 2022. Those looking for a bridge quarterback or a veteran stopgap could do worse than Bridgewater, who has 63 games of starting experience.

    If Brady leaves Tampa, Bridgewater could be the perfect placeholder while the team continues to develop Kyle Trask.

    Two years ago, NBC Sports' Peter King wrote that the Buccaneers were "optimistic" they could target Bridgewater if their pursuit of Brady fell through. Revisiting that idea would make a ton of sense.

    The Bucs aren't loaded with cap space, and Bridgewater isn't likely to command a ton of cash in the free-agent market. He carried a cap hit of only $4.4 million in 2021 and might take a similar deal for a starting opportunity in Tampa.

    Bridgewater isn't the gunslinger that Brady was this past season, but he should be good enough to make the Buccaneers relevant in the NFC South next year.

    Prediction: Bridgewater signs with Tampa Bay.

Kirk Cousins

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is entering the final year of his contract and could become trade bait if Minnesota can find a trade partner willing to take on his $45 million, fully guaranteed salary next season.

    According to The Athletic's Chad Graff, the top options for a Cousins deal "seem to be" the Broncos, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Carolina Panthers. All three teams should be interested in finding a new starter in 2022, though none of them have the cap space needed to absorb all of Cousins' salary.

    The fact that Cousins' salary is fully guaranteed is a big obstacle for new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Trading Cousins may be downright impossible unless Minnesota is willing to absorb a large chunk of what he's due to earn.

    While Minnesota may look to move on from Cousins next season, it doesn't make much sense to pay a significant portion of his salary—only to part with a quarterback who was well above average in 2021. While Cousins only went 8-8 as a starter, he passed for 4,221 yards with 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

    In fact, Cousins might be a selling point for Minnesota's next head coach. Starting over with a less impressive free-agent veteran or unproven 2021 third-round pick Kellen Mond may be far less enticing.

    The Vikings owe it to themselves to see what results they can get from a new coach before entering the unknown at quarterback. Given the financial implications of trading Cousins, that's exactly what they'll do in 2022.

    Prediction: Cousins plays out the final year of his contract.

Aaron Rodgers

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Rodgers is the proverbial big fish in this year's trade pool. The reigning MVP remains one of the best quarterbacks in the game and will become a top target if Green Bay makes him available.

    Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported during the season that the Packers verbally agreed to trade Rodgers in 2022 if he wants out.

    After Green Bay lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round, Rodgers made it clear that he isn't certain of what he wants to do—be that requesting a trade, staying put or entering retirement.

    "Everything is on the table," Rodgers told The Pat McAfee Show (h/t Gabe Lacques of USA Today). 

    If Rodgers is hoping to win another Super Bowl, Green Bay may represent his best option. A lot may hinge on whether the team can retain impending free agent Davante Adams, but the Packers have a championship-caliber roster ready to make another run with Rodgers.

    According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Packers believe they have a shot at bringing Rodgers back for the final year of his contract.

    "Sources say Rodgers stayed in the building for a few extra days to plot out the team's future, huddling with coach Matt LaFleur and others and mapping out what's next," Rapoport wrote. "It left those in the organization with confidence moving forward that Rodgers will return for the 2022 season."

    We'll see if Green Bay's direction in free agency changes things for Rodgers, but for now, a return feels more likely than a trade or retirement.

    Prediction: Rodgers plays for the Packers in 2022.

Mitchell Trubisky

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    Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

    Mitchell Trubisky may not top many fans' wish lists this offseason, but the 2017 first-round pick would make for an intriguing reclamation project. While he couldn't establish himself as a franchise quarterback with the Chicago Bears, Trubisky is 29-21 as a starter and flashed a fair amount of upside.

    With an adequate NFL arm and plenty of mobility, Trubisky is a perfect understudy for Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. However, he should be inclined to leave if given a starting opportunity.

    The Steelers should be interested in trying to revive Trubisky's starting career. Ben Roethlisberger officially retired last week, and neither Mason Rudolph nor Dwayne Haskins possesses the mobility needed to thrive behind Pittsburgh's underwhelming offensive line.

    "Man, quarterback mobility is valued not only by me but everyone," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told reporters in his postseason press conference. "It's just a component of today's game and increasingly so."

    Trubisky, who has 1,081 career rushing yards, can be a dangerous scrambler and could add a new element to Pittsburgh's rushing attack. Despite getting a solid rookie season from running back Najee Harris, the Steelers only ranked 29th in rushing in 2021.

    It would make sense for the Steelers to also dip into the draft pool for a quarterback to develop. However, the 27-year-old is young enough to become a long-term piece of the puzzle if Pittsburgh can uncover the potential that Chicago could not.

    Prediction: Trubisky signs with Pittsburgh.

Deshaun Watson

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson didn't play in 2021 as he faced 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women who have accused him of sexual assault or misconduct. However, the Texans were interested in trading him before the deadline.

    According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, multiple teams were eager to land Watson had he settled his civil and criminal cases:

    "Multiple teams were willing to offer packages including three first-round picks and two third-round picks for Watson, 26, before the trade deadline, sources say, but the lack of resolution to Watson's legal situation scuttled the chances of finalizing a deal."

    Even if Watson settles his cases before the start of the new league year, he could still face discipline under the league's personal conduct policy. Therefore, teams will want a bit more clarity on Watson's future before pulling the trigger on a trade.

    Still, if the reported interest in Watson is accurate, it's hard to envision him being with Houston in 2022. The uncertainty surrounding his availability may leave Watson as a backup target for a team that doesn't land Rodgers or Russell Wilson.

    On the field, Watson is a three-time Pro Bowler, and he can help a team win.

    It's hard to nail down a landing spot for Watson now because we don't know what will happen with Rodgers or Wilson yet. Once their situations are clearer, we should have a better idea of which teams will be willing to take a chance on Watson.

    Prediction: Watson is traded after the start of free agency but before the 2022 NFL draft.

Russell Wilson

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Wilson didn't try to force a trade from the Seattle Seahawks this past offseason. However, he did hint at the idea by listing teams to which he would accept a trade.

    According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, Wilson's relationship with the Seahawks was "very dicey" at the time, which could lead to Wilson trying to force a trade in 2022.

    "Right now everything's great," Glazer said in October on the NFL on Fox pregame show. "But in the offseason, can I see Russell do this again? A million percent. I see Russell trying to do this again."

    The big question is whether the Seahawks would be willing to move on from the future Hall of Famer. It seems that unless Wilson is absolutely adamant about never playing in Seattle again, they won't.

    "The Seahawks have shown no interest in trading Russell Wilson unless they're absolutely forced to do so, according to a source," The Athletic's Jeff Howe wrote. "... Unless Wilson demands a trade or a new contract, the Seahawks won't be inclined to move him."

    Now, it will be worth following the Seahawks in the offseason, as his desire to stay may be influenced by the team's free-agent and trade moves. For now, though, it feels like Seattle is prepared to run things back with the 33-year-old and head coach Pete Carroll in 2022.

    A trade may be more likely in 2023, when Wilson's dead-cap figure is set to drop from $26 million to $13 million. If the Seahawks cannot return to relevance next season, Wilson may be more eager to get out as well.

    Prediction: Wilson stays in Seattle for one more year.

Jameis Winston

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston is the best quarterback option on the free-agent market. He's coming off a torn ACL but has 77 games worth of starting experience and went 5-2 with the Saints before the injury.

    New Orleans, though, may not be able to retain him. The Saints are likely entering a rebuild following the resignation of head coach Sean Payton. The Saints are also in dire financial straits. They are projected to be $76.1 million over the cap in 2022.

    If general manager Mickey Loomis can conjure some financial wizardry and create a fair amount of cap space before March 16, the Saints may retain Winston. However, he may want to look elsewhere now that Payton is no longer guiding the offense.

    The Panthers could make it three NFC South teams for Winston. Sam Darnold is not the answer, and impending free agent Cam Newton no longer appears to be a starting-caliber quarterback—he went 0-5 in 2021 while posting a passer rating of only 64.4.

    Carolina is projected to have $18.9 million in cap space, which should be more than enough to make Winston a fair offer. He played on a one-year, $5.5 million deal this past season. The Panthers' second-ranked defense and weapons like Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore should also appeal to Winston.

    Winston has spent his entire NFL career in the NFC South and knows how to battle divisional foes. He's the best option barring a blockbuster trade if the Panthers are looking to win now—and with head coach Matt Rhule firmly on the hot season, the Panthers are looking to win now.

    Prediction: Winston signs with Carolina.


    Contract and cap information via Spotrac.