Welcome to the Offseason of Maybe at quarterback. I count just 13 teams locked in to their 2022 starters. Another 13 have maybes, with some of those players -- such as Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff -- very likely to be back with the same offense. Another six teams should clearly be looking for a new option: Houston, Pittsburgh, Carolina, New Orleans, Washington and Denver.
"Lying season" won't wait until the NFL draft this year. There are too many teams that could be willing to make a move at quarterback -- and in the meantime, too many egos to manage while surreptitiously investigating the market.
It's early. But trades for Matthew Stafford and Alex Smith were both agreed to before the Super Bowl, so it's not that early, even as coaching jobs and front offices remain in upheaval. History indicates that most of the 13 maybes below will stay put, but I expect more starters to move than a year ago, when the Carson Wentz and Stafford trades shaped the offseason.
2022 status written in pencil
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Dolphins believe in Tua and expect the new coaching staff to build around him. The same report said that will remain true "barring some sort of unforeseen occurrence." (Like, say, a great quarterback becoming available?)
Miami's previous actions speak loudest. The Dolphins went further in their pursuit of Deshaun Watson at the trade deadline than any team, with owner Stephen Ross requesting to speak directly with the Texans quarterback. Tua's season was a mixed bag after that, with a disappointing end. The 2020 No. 5 overall pick has a sneaky-high ceiling, but it's hard to believe the Dolphins' commitment is iron clad considering their past behavior. His low-cost rookie contract would have significant value in the eye of the right beholder.
I was surprised, not shocked, to hear from Rapoport before the Raiders' playoff loss that Carr's future in Las Vegas is in question. Carr has one year left on a below-market deal and is due an extension. The Raiders have already fired general manager Mike Mayock, and Rapoport has noted that Carr is a big fan of interim coach Rich Bisaccia, who may not be around much longer. Rapoport called the uncertainty "mutual."
The 30-year-old's market value has never been higher in both contract and trade terms coming off a strong season. Would the Raiders try selling high?
There was reportedly an agreement with the ManningCast to avoid talking about Wilson's future on Monday night. Maybe the seven-time Pro Bowler's looking to handle this offseason differently than what we saw a year ago, when his agent publicly listed the teams he'd prefer to be traded to. But the end result may not be so different.
Rapoport reported that Wilson wants to explore his options. The front office and offensive coaching staff haven't changed in Seattle. Wilson says his "plan" is to be in Seattle, but remember that press conference prior to the home finale against Detroit, when Wilson brought up -- unprompted -- that he hoped it wouldn't be his last game at Lumen Field in a Seahawks uniform? Fans like to blame these stories on the media when they are surely part of a calculated strategy by Wilson. Whether that results in a team like the Eagles offering multiple first-round picks -- and whether the Seahawks would want to make such a move -- is an entirely different question, but spare me the press blame when this conversation is exactly what Wilson wants.
Hurts had his worst start in the playoffs. While highly drafted quarterbacks get mulligans -- often for entire seasons -- late second-round picks have less margin for error. The logical move is to build around Hurts, considering he was a league-average starter in his first full season at the helm. And on Wednesday, GM Howie Roseman said Hurts has earned the starting job for 2022. But the Eagles have three first-round picks and a penchant for big trades. They have the ammunition to take a big swing, and Hurts could be part of a package going elsewhere.
Jones was the least of the 2021 Giants' problems. The same is true for the 2022 Giants, with the quarterback having a cap number ($8.4 million) of a high-priced backup. At worst, Jones is a mid-to-low-level starter. It'd be nice to see him play under different leadership, but that leadership could also look for a clean break. Like Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, Jones' contract terms would only make him more valuable in a trade.
Everyone interviewing for the general manager position in Minnesota will be asked about Cousins. Same story with the head-coaching search. If the Vikings' new brain trust is aligned in wanting to move on, Cousins could be peddled to a team like the Broncos, Panthers or even 49ers. Cousins' contract makes that complicated. He's due $35 million guaranteed in the final year of his deal, which would make him a lot tougher to trade.
The easiest route here would be keeping Cousins for one more season while also bringing in a rookie QB. But would a new regime view that as a wasted year?
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry came out strong publicly in support of Mayfield after the season, which is significant. It doesn't necessarily mean the Browns are out of the quarterback market. Instead, it could be a recognition of how complicated it would be to find an upgrade and how important it will be to manage their relationship with Mayfield, knowing that a contract extension isn't coming.
In other words, the Browns probably aren't looking to swap Baker for another question mark like Kirk Cousins. The front office, however, does have the cap space and resources to possibly go after Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson, with Mayfield a potential chip in a bold name deal. The MMQB's Albert Breer reported in December the Browns could be players for Watson. I would not put it past this front office to be bold because the Browns have championship-level parts, especially along both lines. Mayfield could fit better in an offense that uses more spread concepts.
It's strange to include a Divisional Round starter on this list, but here's what Kyle Shanahan said in November when asked if Garoppolo would be on the team in 2022:
"There's a chance for anything, but I think we've made it pretty clear that Trey is our guy of the future, whenever that happens."
Jimmy G's trade value is already being positioned as rising, presumably from the team. Garoppolo's $24.2 million base salary in 2022, the last year of his deal, is reasonable by today's standards. The impossible question: Is there a level of play by Jimmy G (or a trophy he could help win) that would keep him ahead of Lance for one more season?
The postseason comments from general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich were noncommittal. There was reporting in The Athletic that made me wonder if ownership is pushing the brain trust to upgrade. Wentz is guaranteed $15 million this season, but the Colts could still save money by trading or cutting him, and they have plenty of cap space to get aggressive. I think he's one of the more likely maybes listed here to change teams.
A change would be surprising
Green Bay has Rodgers under contract for 2022. I never bought the notion that he would play elsewhere this season because the Packers had all the leverage and motivation to keep him. That is doubly true now, seeing how he's quarterbacking the NFC's No. 1 seed, likely about to receive his second straight league MVP award.
Before Wilson's late starts against the Jaguars and Bucs, I wondered if the Jets could consider getting competition for Wilson after one season, like a softer version of what the Cardinals did to Josh Rosen. That seems unlikely because Wilson showed some progress and there's no Kyler Murray in this draft class. Still, the Jets should consider bringing in a more formidable veteran backup plan.
Goff was the right quarterback for a rebuilding 2021 Lions team. He might be the right quarterback for a rebuilding 2022 Lions team, too, alongside a rookie to be named later. He's due a guaranteed $15.5 million roster bonus and a $10.7 million salary on top of that, so those draft picks in the Matthew Stafford trade didn't come cheaply. If someone else on this list were to strike the Lions' fancy, they could ultimately trade or cut Goff, but the dead-cap pain would be a deterrent. And going from Goff to another temporary solution doesn't make a lot of sense.
I hesitated to even include Ryan on this list at all. ESPN's Chris Mortensen said Arthur Smith has "made it clear" he wants Ryan back, and I believe it, despite Smith bucking back publicly. Ryan often had no chance this season behind the Falcons' offensive line, provides league-average-starter play and his contract makes any move prohibitive for another year. One year after passing on Mac Jones and Justin Fields in the draft, the Falcons could look for a developmental prospect to pair with Ryan.