Carousels typically are lined with horses, zebras and tigers — not MVPs, No. 1 draft picks and Super Bowl winners.
But this isn’t your county fair’s merry-go-round. This is an NFL offseason of unprecedented quarterback possibilities.
Tom Brady and Philip Rivers changing teams last offseason might be peanuts compared to the movement that is expected to happen around free agency and the NFL draft this offseason. Already, two trades involving three quarterbacks have proven the long-standing fear of dead salary-cap space is gone: Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will cost their old teams a combined $73.8 million to play elsewhere.
Here is a look at the quarterbacks riding the carousel to a new destination — or an awkward maintaining of the status quo:
On the move
Matthew Stafford, Rams
He was 74-90-1, plus 0-3 in the playoffs, with the Lions, where he was hampered by a revolving door of coaches and 11 total games with a 100-yard rusher. Now he is in “the right situation” and getting MVP hype. Expectations might be too high.
Jared Goff, Lions
Two years after a Super Bowl run, Goff was treated as a salary dump in the Stafford-for-draft-picks trade. The former No. 1-overall pick has a lot to prove in a short time because his contract only requires a one- or two-year commitment.
Carson Wentz, Colts
He experienced a drop-off in passer rating unmatched by a quarterback in his prime over the past 70 years. A lot is riding on his reunion with coach Frank Reich (his offensive coordinator his first two seasons in Philadelphia) after forcing a trade from the Eagles gave him the reputation as fragile mentally and physically.
Staying? Never Say Never …
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Complaints about the Seahawks’ inability to build an offensive line were the first warning sign. Then came a report his camp is broaching the possibility of a trade to the Raiders, Bears, Saints or Cowboys with the front office because he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks would take a NFL-record $39 million dead-cap hit to trade him, driving up the asking price.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Team ownership and Roethlisberger’s agent say he’s coming back for an 18th season. That’s nice. But until a tricky contract renegotiation lowering his $41.2 million cap hit is finalized (Does he want a restructure with money kicked down the road or is he really willing to take a pay cut?), nothing can be certain.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys
It has been 845 days since Jerry Jones first said Prescott will get an extension. Still no dice. Now there’s the unknown of season-ending ankle surgery in the never-ending negotiations. A second straight franchise tag will keep him from free agency and result in a $37.7 million salary in 2021.
Drew Brees, Saints
It is widely assumed Brees will retire, with a NBC broadcasting job awaiting. He even took a pay cut to help the Saints manage the salary cap. But the longer he waits, the more it feels like his surprise return last year, especially when a new video shows him training like only active players do.
Alex Smith, Washington
The 2020 Comeback Player of the Year is contemplating retirement with one year left on his contract. Smith was 5-1 as a starter in returning from 17 leg surgeries, but he missed the playoffs due to injury. When is enough just enough?
Jameis Wintson, Saints
Logical destinations: Saints, Bears, Washington
After five years starting for the Buccaneers, Winston took a cheap one-year contract to study under Brees and coach Sean Payton. Winston could re-sign and replace a retired Brees, if he’s not wary of competing against Payton’s pet, Taysom Hill. Or he could air it out elsewhere.
Cam Newton, Patriots
Logical destinations: Washington, Broncos
The 2015 MVP form is long gone. Newton still runs like a power back, but it doesn’t matter if his arm strength is gone. If Washington doesn’t bite — coach Ron Rivera passed on a reunion last year — who will save him from a backup role?
Mitch Trubisky, Bears
Logical destinations: Panthers, Bengals, Falcons
He has college roots in North Carolina, but will be the consolation prize after the big names settle. Best-case scenario is an open competition or a one-year prove-it deal on a team not planning to immediately start its rookie. Most likely? A backup.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins
Logical destinations: Dolphins, Washington, Jaguars, Texans
Fitzpatrick knows this drill by now. He is most likely to be signed as a veteran by a team about to draft and groom a rookie.
Deshaun Watson, Texans
Logical outcomes: Jets, Dolphins, 49ers, Panthers, Bears
The Texans are playing with fire if they call Watson’s bluff on a trade demand. If he is willing to sit out games and lose paychecks, they will be trading in September without the certain return of top-10 draft picks. League sources believe he’s worth three first-rounders plus.
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Broncos, 49ers
The Falcons could draft a quarterback at No. 4. But the finances of Ryan’s contract make a trade more likely next offseason than now.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Patriots, Jets
Bill Belichick once envisioned Garopollo as his successor to Tom Brady. It can happen with (a one-year gap) if the 49ers win the Watson sweepstakes. Maybe the Jets’ new coaching staff — with deep 49ers’ ties — wants Garopollo as a bridge. He is 24-8 as an injury-plagued starter.
Marcus Mariota, Raiders
Logical outcomes: Eagles, Washington, Patriots, Jets
Mariota could be the bridge that Newton wasn’t for the Patriots, especially now that the offense is melded to scrambling quarterbacks. His former Titans position coach (Jason Michael) works for the Eagles, who need a veteran behind Jalen Hurts.
Derek Carr, Raiders
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Texans, 49ers, Washington,
The Raiders have flirted with dumping Carr since coach Jon Gruden returned in 2018. It’s a marriage of convenience because neither side has a better option — unless Gruden chooses to instead keep Mariota.
Sam Darnold, Jets
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Texans, Bears, Steelers, Broncos, Washington
He could stay. He could be part of a Watson trade. Or he could be dealt and replaced by a rookie. Darnold is a good option for playoff contenders drafting too low for a top rookie, but not ready to mortgage the farm. The Broncos were interested before the 2018 draft.
Nick Foles, Bears
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Eagles
It feels like one of two spots for Foles: compete with whomever the Bears bring in to replace Trubisky, or return to the city where he is an icon — but that might be more competitive pressure than the Eagles want to put on Jalen Hurts.
Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Texans, Saints, Dolphins
The Panthers reportedly are all-in for an upgrade. Bridgewater would be the bridge return in a Watson trade. He was a disappointment in his first season as a full-time starter since 2015.
Drew Lock, Broncos
Logical outcomes: Stays put, Vikings, Texans
In fairness, 18 starts aren’t enough to judge Lock. But the Broncos reportedly inquired about Stafford. New GM George Paton’s old team, the Vikings, could use a cheap young alternative to Kirk Cousins, who is off the carousel for the first time in six years.