Analysis

2022 NFL offseason: Ten quarterbacks worth pursuing via free agency, draft or trade

Tuesday provided two massive developments on the quarterback front.

First, Aaron Rodgers agreed to a four-year, $200 million extension with the Green Bay Packers. The deal, which includes a whopping $153 million in guaranteed money and makes Rodgers the highest-paid player in NFL history, ends a Titletown melodrama that stretched back to last offseason. But while Rodgers is staying put, another Super Bowl-winning superstar is on the move, as the Seattle Seahawks agreed in principle to a blockbuster trade sending Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. Having piled up a 104-53-1 record over a decade with the 'Hawks, Wilson is set to duke it out with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr in a fascinating AFC West.

With free agency on tap next week and the 2022 NFL Draft coming down the pike next month, the shakeup at the game's most important position is only beginning. So, what does the collection of potentially available arms look like now? Below, I've assembled a list of the top 10 quarterbacks worth pursuing via free agency, draft or trade.

NOTE: In terms of veteran trade candidates, it is theoretically possible for anyone to be moved -- but for the sake of this piece, I wanted to avoid speculation and stick to players who NFL.com has reported are on the trade block. So you won't see names like Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray or my brother, Derek, listed here.

Rank
1
Deshaun Watson
Houston Texans · Trade

Teams aren't just trading for the football player here. Watson comes with 22 allegations of sexual misconduct that are currently the subject of civil lawsuits, a police investigation and an NFL probe. To date, he hasn't been charged criminally. These legal matters must be taken into serious consideration. It's also difficult to imagine a deal getting done given the lack of clarity there, which already prevented him from being traded last season. But for the purposes of this ranking, I'm focusing on on-field play. Watson has the talent and ability to take any team that is believed to be a QB away (hello, Pittsburgh) to a championship. We saw it work with Matthew Stafford and the Rams this past season, and there's no doubt Watson could do the same with another contender. He is still quite young (26) and would thrive with a staff willing to take a chance on him after a year away.

Rank
2
Jameis Winston
Free agent

Just last week, we saw Winston running for the first time since he tore his ACL in Week 8. Prior to his injury, the former No. 1 overall pick excelled under Sean Payton, proving that his one-year apprenticeship behind Drew Brees paid off. In seven games in 2021, Winston had a 5-2 record, a 59.0 percent completion rate, 167.1 passing yards per game, 7.3 passing yards per attempt, 14 passing TDs, three INTs and a career-high 102.8 passer rating. Jameis was a completely different quarterback than he was in Tampa in 2019. The Saints would be smart to keep Winston around to head Pete Carmichael's offense.

Rank
3
Marcus Mariota
Free agent

Mariota has a great skill set for today's NFL; he's a quarterback with a strong arm who can move the pocket and successfully win with his legs. In fact, his 8.9 yards per rush on designed runs since 2020 ranks first among quarterbacks with at least 10 such runs, according to Next Gen Stats. Mariota's physical ability is still really high -- he boasts a higher career passer rating as a starter (89.7) than every notable 2022 free agent QB, with the exception of Teddy Bridgewater (91.4). Having had conversations with Mariota, I know he's learned a ton from his time with the Raiders and feels he can lead an offense, even though his last start came in Week 6 of 2019 with Tennessee.

Rank
4
Mitchell Trubisky

Trubisky has a 25-13 record as a starter since 2018; his .658 win percentage is sixth-best among quarterbacks in that time span (min. 20 starts), behind only Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. This tells me the physical traits have always been there. Encouragingly, the ex-Bear appears to have spent 2021, his lone season backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo, working on his mentality and approach to playing winning football:


"Going to Buffalo really opened my eyes," Trubisky told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler last month. "After being in Chicago for four years, there was only one way I knew how to do things. [Being] in Buffalo and [having] a different way of doing things, you learn what's possible. It helped me get back to instinctual football and using my talents rather than overthinking.


"You can't be afraid to make mistakes. When guys are playing free, you can be at your best. I wanted to learn how [the Bills] helped Josh, and I saw that firsthand."


The 27-year-old signal-caller appears ready to turn the page and get another chance to become a starter in the NFL. With plenty more to offer, he should get a shot for a team that's looking for competition at the position. 

Rank
5
Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh · Prospect

Coming off a solid showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, Pickett is the top quarterback in this year's draft class. I really like his poise in the pocket, as he never looks rattled by pressure, and he has plenty of arm strength to make all the throws. He took a lot of heat for a fake slide that led to a score in the ACC Championship Game -- and rightfully so -- but I love the swagger and confidence behind the decision. He'll bring that same confidence to the next level and will be a guy who commands the huddle and rallies the locker room. I see Pickett as the most pro-ready QB in this class. 

Rank
6
Malik Willis
Liberty · Prospect

Willis is a rare talent with outstanding rushing ability and a big arm. He wasn't asked to do a ton in Liberty's limited passing offense, so there are a lot of questions as to what he'll be able to offer a team at the next level, similar to when Justin Herbert was coming into the draft after running an Oregon offense that did not allow him to show off his full skill set and potential. This doesn't mean Willis can't excel as a passer in the NFL. We've seen how Herbert has elevated the Los Angeles Chargers in his first two seasons, and I don't think it's out of the question to believe Willis could have that same type of impact in the right offense, especially with Josh Allen-type rushing ability. He could help the right team from the jump.

Rank
7
Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers · Trade

Garoppolo is likely headed elsewhere for the 2022 season, as the 49ers have voiced their plan to trade the eighth-year veteran and hand the reins over to 2021 first-rounder Trey Lance. Jimmy G is a proven winner, with a 35-16 career record (including playoffs) as a starter. He's also generated a career passer rating of 98.9 while playing in multiple systems -- under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and Josh McDaniels in New England. Though he won't throw for 16 weeks (missing OTAs and minicamps), thanks to the surgery he had on his throwing shoulder this week, Garoppolo is coming off a solid campaign in which he helped lead the 49ers to the NFC title game. Assuming his recovery proceeds smoothly and he's back come late June, he should serve as a viable starter for a team looking for a bridge quarterback, or someone to compete with a passer already under contract. 

Rank
8
Matt Corral
Mississippi · Prospect

Corral has good arm strength and didn't shy away from throwing into tight windows in Ole Miss' quarterback-friendly scheme. He can go through all of the progressions and makes good decisions. At 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, Corral is a little undersized, but his play is reminiscent of a young Drew Brees. I'd be remiss if I didn't bring up the fact that he played in his school's bowl game this year -- something that's rare among college players who enter the draft. And while Corral suffered a minor lower-body injury in that game that prevented him from participating in on-field workouts during the NFL Scouting Combine, you have to admire the toughness, competitive drive and desire to win.

Rank
9
Teddy Bridgewater

By now, teams know exactly what they'll get with Bridgewater. If anything sums up Bridgewater's career perfectly, it was this last season in Denver. The Broncos won all seven games in 2021 in which Bridgewater had a 100-plus passer rating and lost all seven games in which he had a sub-100 passer rating. He had zero INTs in the Broncos' seven victories and threw seven picks in the seven losses. The veteran quarterback is as good as the system and players around him are. He can help a team get out of QB purgatory but won't elevate the offense much beyond that.

Rank
10
Desmond Ridder
Cincinnati · Prospect

As I wrote in the intro, I want to avoid speculating too much about veteran QBs who could be available via trade. Given that caveat, at this point in the list, QB-needy teams would benefit more from considering a young up-and-comer like Ridder over, say, Colts QB  Carson Wentz. The Cincinnati product is a pure athlete who can excel outside of the Xs and Os and make throws in rhythm. Evidenced by his 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Ridder can extend plays and forces defenses to account for his running ability. He had inconsistencies in big games at the college level, so there are still plenty of areas in which he can improve. But put Ridder in a decent position with talent around him, and he's more than capable of leading an offense at the NFL level. 

Follow David Carr on Twitter.

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