This week brought shockwaves to the always-fascinating quarterback landscape.
The Broncos exited the QB wilderness by acquiring Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade for the ages. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers settled their differences with one of the biggest contracts in NFL history. The Colts, meanwhile, decided life would be better without Carson Wentz, while the Commanders welcomed the former No. 2 overall pick with open arms.
Wilson, Rodgers and Wentz know what their immediate futures look like. The same cannot be said for other prominent quarterbacks who enter a new league year in various states of limbo.
(Due to the troubling and uncertain nature of Deshaun Watson's legal situation, we're largely steering clear of speculating about his future here. Obviously, Watson continues to loom as a major figure in the quarterback market.)
Now, on to the QB carousel.
NOTE: Players are listed with their ages as of Sept. 8, when the 2022 NFL season is set to kick off.
Best-case scenario: The new braintrust in Minnesota looks at Cousins' consistent production and ironman durability, surveys an open market with no obvious upgrades and decides to hand out an extension that makes the veteran one of the highest-paid players in the league (while lowering Cousins' eye-popping $45 million 2022 cap hit). Justin Jefferson and immense wealth. Good gig.
Worst-case scenario: New general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O'Connell have been playing poker this entire time. The tandem decides to flip Cousins to a team in QB purgatory (Carolina? Indianapolis? Seattle?) and start anew at the game's most important position. Cousins, absent a no-trade clause in his contract, ends up in a place he does not want to be.
Most likely scenario: The Vikings swallow hard and do the deal. Throughout his career, Cousins has done a masterful job maximizing leverage. To wit: Spotrac has Cousins' career earnings north of $160 million across 10 pro seasons -- not bad for a guy with a single playoff win on his ledger.
Best-case scenario: The Panthers suffer a nasty case of déjà vu and strike out in their quest to make a big quarterback splash for the second straight offseason. With Darnold already on the books in the final option year of his rookie deal, Matt Rhule and Co. bite down hard and hope Darnold bounces back in 2022.
Worst-case scenario: The Panthers add a veteran quarterback in the coming weeks or select a QB in the early rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. Darnold's $18.9 million in guaranteed money likely keeps him entrenched with the team, but as nothing more than an expensive backup before a certain trip to free agency in 2023.
Most likely scenario: The Panthers lock in on a preferred starting option this spring, and Darnold goes through the offseason program heading toward a training camp "competition" he knows the team does not want him to win.
Best-case scenario: Those whispers about Trey Lance's glacial development give Niners brass just enough pause to open the door for the incumbent's return. Garoppolo, fully healthy after offseason shoulder surgery, keeps the reins of an NFC superpower and has the opportunity to send Lance into a Jordan Love-like soft exile.
Worst-case scenario: Lance is deemed ready to take over the offense and assumes starting duties. Still wary of the 2021 No. 3 pick's inexperience, Kyle Shanahan decides it's in his best interest to hold on to Garoppolo, making the veteran the highest-paid backup quarterback in NFL history. Jimmy G opens the 2022 season holding a clipboard while FOX telecasts linger on his handsome, grimacing visage on the sideline.
Most likely scenario: Jimmy G gets his expected fresh start and is traded to another contender with a void under center. Onward and upward.
Best-case scenario: The Lions use their sizable offseason war chest to build around their QB rather than address the position. Goff enters the season as the unquestioned starter and gets another chance to pitch himself as the long-term answer in Motown.
Worst-case scenario: GM Brad Holmes decides to draft a QB, and Detroit throws its new passer into the fire as a rookie. Goff enters the mentor stage of his career and is replaced as starter by Halloween. The journeyman portion of his career then begins.
Most likely scenario: The Lions accept that they have the No. 2 overall pick in a draft class without an impact quarterback and extend the Jared Goff Bridge another mile. Goff continues to make bank as a QB1 with an improved supporting cast in Year 2 of the Dan Campbell era. There are worse fates.
Best-case scenario: All the chatter from management and new coach Brian Daboll is legit. The team believes in Jones' upside and decides to give him one more chance to prove himself as The Man in the Meadowlands. Daboll spends the offseason trying to turn the former first-round pick into the next Josh Allen.
Worst-case scenario: The Jones support is a thick smokescreen for a Giants team looking for a fresh start in a post-Dave Gettleman universe. New York acquires a new starter via the draft or trade, and Jones is either sent packing or assumes QB2 duties.
Most likely scenario: The Giants survey the landscape and decide one more look at the undeniably toolsy Jones makes the most sense. New York hedges its bet by bringing in camp competition (hello, Mitch Trubisky). The tri-state area lets out a bored sigh.
Best-case scenario: The Browns give Mayfield a mulligan for a disappointing and injury-plagued fourth season. The former No. 1 overall pick heads into 2022 as the unquestioned starter and absent the lofty expectations that centered around him and the Browns last summer.
Worst-case scenario: Cleveland decides it can't win big with Mayfield and flips him to Houston when a deal for Deshaun Watson becomes possible. The final year of Baker's rookie deal begins with a summer camp battle against Davis Mills for the right to lead the rebuilding Texans.
Most likely scenario: The Browns come out of free agency and the draft without a big splash at quarterback. A new veteran replaces backup Case Keenum, but Mayfield enters preparation for another season as the unquestioned QB1, with the opportunity to memory-wipe 2021 from the collective consciousness.
Best-case scenario: An offseason of ugly headlines is effectively vaporized by a huge contract extension that keeps Murray in Arizona long-term and makes him one of the highest-paid football players on the planet. Turns out money can buy happiness ... at least for the Cardinals and their franchise star.
Worst-case scenario: The Cards and their QB proceed with a marriage on rocky ground. Contract talks stall, and reports ahead of training camp center around Murray's unhappiness, the team's unhappiness with Murray's unhappiness, cryptic social media dispatches and the very real possibility of a holdout. Divorce starts to feel inevitable.
Most likely scenario: The situation remains far too fluid to provide an educated prediction at this time. GM Steve Keim said he wants to keep negotiations out of the media spotlight going forward, but Murray's agent has already released one novel-length statement and could drop a sequel at any moment. Murray is likely a member of the Cardinals come Week 1 -- forecasting anything beyond that would feel like a dart throw.
Best-case scenario: Winston's recovery from reconstructive knee surgery is a success, and the Saints decide he put out enough positive tape in 2021 to offer a new short-term contract to the pending free agent. Taysom Hill slides back into his role as gadget player and Winston gets a shiny "new" No. 1 wide receiver in former All-Pro Michael Thomas, back from 2021 ankle surgery.
Worst-case scenario: With Sean Payton out of the building, Winston loses one of his biggest supporters. The Dennis Allen-led coaching staff adds a new quarterback to the mix, and Winston is left with the option to re-sign with the Saints and prepare for a camp battle or hit the open market in search of a starting job, perhaps at a time when few are available.
Most likely scenario: With NFL Network's Jane Slater reporting this week that Winston is "still at the top of the list" for the Saints, the team ultimately decides the former No. 1 overall pick is the most sound choice when compared to another veteran, the shaky incoming QB draft class or the murky waters surrounding Deshaun Watson.