I dug into this same topic in this space last year at this time, identifying seven teams whose 2021 starting quarterbacks were not on their roster -- and six trotted out new QBs in Week 1 this season. (I feel like I was thisclose to going a perfect seven-for-seven!)
I'm giving it another shot this season. Here are four NFL organizations who, in my opinion, will be looking beyond their current rosters to find a new starting quarterback for the 2022 season.
Bridgewater beat out Lock for the QB1 job in the preseason and has started every game since. One of the reasons he was brought in was to protect the ball, and he's done a good job of that, with just seven INTs and one fumble lost so far. But the veteran, who is headed for free agency, hasn't proven he can also put up enough points to help the Broncos go toe-to-toe with the rest of the AFC West. Looking at the Broncos' roster, it seems like they're a quarterback away -- not just from making the playoffs, but from being a Super Bowl contender. It feels like when Peyton Manning left Indy to sign with Denver, making the franchise a candidate to win the Lombardi overnight. The offense is stacked with stars (Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant and Javonte Williams) who will return next season. The defense is stout, though there are some decisions to make there this offseason. The one wrinkle is the head-coaching position; with Vic Fangio fighting to finish with his first winning season in three years on the job, it's possible the team will make a change, introducing a significant variable here. Even so, based on the offensive talent at hand, Denver figures to be one of the most attractive spots in the NFL to quarterbacks.
Neither Hill nor Siemian is the long-term answer. Siemian went 0-4 as a starter this season, and Hill's poor Week 13 performance proved he should stick to being a Swiss Army knife in Sean Payton's offense -- not the QB1. The one thing I'm on the fence about is whether New Orleans should try to bring back Winston, whose season was ended by a knee injury in Week 8, and who is headed for free agency. After sitting behind and learning from Drew Brees in 2020, Winston showed improvement as the team's starter in 2021, helping New Orleans to a 5-2 record before his injury. Sure, he made some mistakes, but his 14:3 TD-to-INT ratio is a far cry from the 30:30 campaign he had in 2019 with Tampa. That said, the Saints boast quality offensive pieces (when healthy) and a solid defense. I'm sure they don't want to waste another season. No disrespect to Winston, but acquiring a quarterback who can definitely get them back to where they were with Brees (and beyond) should be the goal, and to me, that means looking for a new option.
I guess I was jumping ahead of the editorial calendar when I wrote in last week's look at the trade market for Jimmy Garoppolo that the Steelers' 2022 starting quarterback isn't on their current roster. I just don't see how the Steelers could move forward with Roethlisberger, Rudolph or Haskins beyond this season. All signs point to Big Ben retiring this offseason. Rudolph looks more like a backup than a starter, while Haskins is in line for restricted free agency. I will remind you that Steelers QB coach Mike Sullivan told me last offseason that he thinks Haskins can be a starter again in the NFL -- I just don't see that happening in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have a good crop of offensive talent, but they desperately need better quarterback play. They need a confident, consistent signal-caller who can elevate and keep the offense competitive in the AFC North and within the conference. I see them seeking out a veteran quarterback (like Garoppolo) via free agency or trade rather than looking to the draft in 2022.
Fitzpatrick's season ended just as quickly as it started, and the 28-year-old Heinicke has stepped up to the challenge (like he did late last season). He's helped the Football Team assemble a four-game win streak, which has them in the NFC playoff picture as the sixth seed. Heinicke has a 110.0 passer rating since Week 10, ranking third in the NFL. But the sad, cold, hard truth is that he's not going to be guy in Washington next season, unless he does something major in the postseason. Like the other teams on this list, Ron Rivera's team doesn't have a glaring weakness -- but when you really sit down to analyze Washington, what you see is a limited quarterback holding this group back. Heinicke ranks 17th in yards per attempt (7.1) on the season, with a good-but-not-dazzling figure of 7.4 (ranking ninth) during the winning streak. He also ranks 15th in yards per game since Week 10 (220.3). He has a team-friendly contract next season, and he isn't necessarily the weak link. But Washington could be more dominant with an upgrade under center.
Top 15 Offensive Players
Each week in the 2021 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season's efforts. The Week 14 pecking order is below.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.
Rodgers and the Packers sit firmly atop the NFC North, but that's never been the end goal. What can help them achieve greater glory is the way Rodgers, who ranks in the top 10 in most passing categories, is playing right now. The Packers have a favorable slate over the last five weeks, with three games against division opponents sandwiching contests against a pair of unpredictable AFC North squads (Baltimore, Cleveland). I expect Rodgers and Co. to hit another level down the stretch.
Another day, another dominant performance by Taylor. He's playing like the MVP race is wide open for the first time in years, and I love to see it. With Taylor adding 143 rushing yards and two rushing TDs in a shutout victory over Houston, his season is in line to rank alongside some of the great running back campaigns in NFL history. With Sunday's effort, Taylor became the first player with 1,300-plus rushing yards and 16-plus rushing TDs through his team's first 13 games since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson did it in '06 -- when he won the MVP award.
Murray didn't skip a beat in his return after missing three games with an ankle injury. In guiding the Cardinals to their 10th victory of the season, Murray had the same amount of touchdowns (four -- two rush, two pass) as he did incompletions. An inconsistent Bears squad was the perfect warm-up for next week's Monday Night Football clash with the division-rival Rams, who are second in the NFC West at 8-4.
While Mac Jones was asked to do very little, Allen carried his team and played relatively well in the game-altering wind, putting Buffalo in position (several times) to beat the Patriots on Monday night. Unfortunately for Allen, his offensive weapons in the run game (Allen led the team with 39 rushing yards, despite three backs logging 19 combined carries) and pass game (Dawson Knox and Stefon Diggs made key drops) didn't quite do enough to complete the mission. Allen needs more help from his supporting cast if the Bills wish to make a run.
Brady just owns the Falcons, having posted a 10-0 career record against the Bucs' division rival (including playoffs). Brady even threw a bad pick-six late in the first half, but the Bucs are able to overcome big mistakes because of their ability to score often and in a pinch. The Bucs were far from perfect Sunday, but even when they're off, they routinely find ways to get the job done. It was around this time last year when the Bucs turned into a true Super Bowl contender. I'm curious to see when that switch flips this time around.
I love seeing Kupp at the top of the wide receiver ranks. Since entering the league in 2017, he's been an A-plus receiver, showing off outstanding hands and the route-running ability to create separation. He's finally getting well-deserved attention on a national scale, reaching career highs already in receptions (100), receiving yards (1,366) and touchdowns (11).
A career day for Jefferson -- with 11 catches, 182 yards (both career highs) and a late-fourth-quarter receiving touchdown that gave Minnesota its first lead since the first quarter -- was overshadowed by the Lions earning their first win of the season. I'm not going to dwell on this loss (though it was bad), because what Jefferson is doing in his first two seasons is quite remarkable. On Sunday, he passed Jerry Rice (2,497) for the third-most receiving yards in a player's first two seasons in the Super Bowl era. With five games left, Jefferson (2,609) now has his sights set on Randy Moss (2,726) and Odell Beckham Jr. (2,755).
As great as Adams' 2020 season was, he's having an even better campaign in 2021 in some areas. Picking up steam with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games prior to Green Bay's bye, Adams is on pace to record 98.5 receiving yards per game (would be a career high).
Though the Cowboys snapped a two-game skid with a prime-time win over a banged-up Saints team, Prescott hasn't been the dynamic player we're used to seeing of late. He's had a passer rating under 80.0 in three of the last five games after not being below the mark in his first six games. Dak may be able to sneak by some teams with mediocre quarterback play, but the Cowboys won't get where they want to go if his struggles continue.
The 49ers had their chances to come out of Seattle with a win, but you have to wonder how different this game is if Samuel plays. The team was trending in the right direction before a groin injury sidelined the all-world playmaker. I'm just hoping Samuel's extended absence isn't what dooms the 49ers' playoff bid.
Stafford and the Rams needed this get right game. After posting multiple giveaways in each of his previous three games, the veteran QB cleaned up his play against the Jaguars, logging his first turnover-free effort since Week 8. Like Kyler Murray, Stafford got a nice, little warm-up ahead of a much taller task in Week 14.
Turnovers were the Bengals' undoing against the Chargers, and Mixon's fourth-quarter fumble, which the Chargers returned for a touchdown, derailed a late comeback effort. Look for a bounce-back effort from Mixon, who still ranks second in the league in rushing yards and rushing TDs, against the 49ers.
The Raiders have struggled since their bye week, losing four of the last five games and going 0-3 at home. In the narrow loss to Washington, Derek went 28-of-38 for 249 yards but finished without a touchdown. This is a game of inches, and the conversation here could be entirely different if Derek had hit on the Hail Mary.
A healthy Gronkowski changes the entire complexion of the Buccaneers' offense. The run game is better. The pass game is better. Tom Brady is better. In the Bucs' three-game win streak, Gronk has put up 17 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came in Sunday's 30-17 win over Atlanta. After all these years, the Brady-Gronk connection is still as good as ever.