No one is likely to get forget the NFL’s 2020 offseason any time soon, marred – like seemingly most aspects of daily life – by the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet it will also mark a point in league history when so many prominent quarterbacks were due new contracts, some – namely Hall of Fame-level passers Tom Brady and Philip Rivers plus (eventually) Cam Newton – leaving the franchises that launched them to stardom.
But even as Newton and Jameis Winston wait to learn where they’ll take their next snaps, the league’s collective QB depth chart is also set to absorb four likely first-rounders in the draft – LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love – and other high-end prospects, like Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Georgia’s Jake Fromm, who project as eventual starters.
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Given the veteran talent still available and the incoming haul of rookies, seems like the right time to explore the quarterback situations for all 32 teams, ranked from most to least stable:
No tinkering required
32. Baltimore Ravens: They’re obviously set with multi-dimensional league MVP Lamar Jackson. Backup Robert Griffin III is under contract for 2020, and 2019 sixth-rounder Trace McSorley might be able do execute an attack tailored to Jackson for a limited run. Feels like a long time since 2018, when Baltimore tried to cobble together game plans encompassing both Jackson and Joe Flacco. Recommendation: Hurts is starting to generate first-round buzz, which would obviously put him out of Baltimore’s price range. But if he dips into the latter part of Round 2, where the Ravens have two selections (55th and 60th overall), might be hard to pass on the former Alabama transfer, a potentially perfect fallback behind Jackson in the near term and perhaps a player who could bring back serious draft resources down the road.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: They’ve got Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. And journeyman backup Chad Henne. And practice squad project Kyle Shurmur. And XFL starter Jordan Ta’amu. Recommendation: If Andy Reid is satisfied with this group – meaning the guys vying to hold the clipboard on game day – you should be, too.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Though Jimmy Garoppolo took heat for his fourth-quarter showing in the Niners’ Super Bowl setback – inviting outside chatter of a Brady homecoming to the Bay Area – he’s safely entrenched. Jimmy G. also enjoys what is probably the premier two-headed backup tandem in the league with C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. Recommendation: This is the only team realistically in position to trade a backup and get something decent in return. Barring that, no reason GM John Lynch shouldn’t stand pat as it pertains to his depth chart.
29. Houston Texans: They’re set with starter Deshaun Watson and could do far worse than understudies AJ McCarron, the vet, and Alex McGough, the project. Recommendation: Coach/GM Bill O’Brien has too many other self-inflicted wounds on the roster to worry about his quarterback room right now.
28. Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray, 2019’s offensive rookie of the year, projects as a decade-long answer here. Brett Hundley seems like a reasonable QB2 heading into the final year of his deal. Recommendation: Wouldn’t make much sense to bring a player like Hurts, who took over for Murray at Oklahoma, into this situation. But maybe targeting an athletic passer like Shea Patterson late in the draft as an option post-Hundley might be a reasonable plan.
27. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield had a rough sophomore campaign, but let’s give him time to reset under new coach Kevin Stefanski, who will have help teaching his offense from newly signed backup Case Keenum. (Keenum had a career year in Minnesota in 2017 with Stefanski as his position coach.) Recommendation: Unless Burrow is available at the 10th spot of the first round – as if – Cleveland has plenty of other problems to address while hoping Stefanski gets Mayfield back on track.
26. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, their first-round pick from 2018, appears to be nicely progressing from raw prospect into a player with a skill set similar to Newton, the league MVP in 2015. Matt Barkley isn’t the most gifted backup around, but the Bills liked him enough to re-sign him to a two-year deal in 2019. Davis Webb has now been rostered by all three New York clubs and might eventually follow in Barkley’s path as a career backup. Recommendation: They’re in decent shape shape, unless a prospect with a higher ceiling than Webb’s becomes readily available.
25. New York Giants: Last year’s first-rounder, Daniel Jones, enters this season as the unquestioned starter following Eli Manning’s retirement. Newly signed Colt McCoy should provide a good sounding board for Jones and is generally effective in a pinch. Recommendation: This isn’t to suggest the G-Men have one of the best QB rooms in the league, but after investing so heavily in Jones and importing a non-threatening vet – and Alex Tanney is also on the roster – little reason to mess with this mixture.
24. Chicago Bears: They’ve got issues aplenty, GM Ryan Pace admitting Friday that struggling Mitch Trubisky is now in an “open competition” with Nick Foles, recently reeled in from Jacksonville for a fourth-round pick. Recommendation: An otherwise talented team was too often held back by Trubisky in 2019. But there’s realistically nothing left to do this year considering the Bears have no draft picks in Rounds 1, 3 or 4.
23. Carolina Panthers: They’ve almost completely reset the position, getting rid of Newton and Kyle Allen, opting to sign Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year deal before adding presumptive XFL MVP P.J. Walker. Will Grier, a third-rounder last year who was dismal in two starts, also remains. Recommendation: Probably best to let Bridgewater settle in – though Walker might have something to say about that – as new coach Matt Rhule’s program takes root.
Depth is an issue
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brady’s on board for two years, Blaine Gabbert (a veteran of Bruce Arians’ system) just re-signed, and longtime Bucs backup Ryan Griffin remains. Recommendation: A team built to win now doesn’t need to be chasing passing prospects in the draft. However if Winston languishes on the open market, why not attempt to lure him back rather than rely on Gabbert or Griffin in an emergency?
21. Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott’s contract situation will almost certainly have clarity the next time this team is on a practice field. Recommendation: The depth chart beyond Prescott is more muddled, Cooper Rush and Clayton Thorson currently the fallbacks. Wouldn’t hurt to look at a vet like Josh McCown or even take a draft flier on Patterson.
20. Minnesota Vikings: Newly extended Kirk Cousins is coming off his most efficient season, which included his first playoff victory. But if he goes down, Plan B is either unproven Sean Mannion or undrafted Jake Browning. Recommendation: Fromm, whose game resembles Cousins’ in some regards, might make sense with the 58th overall pick.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz is a special talent … when he’s on the field, which has been too rare in recent seasons. With McCown unsigned, Philly is betting that unproven Nate Sudfeld or Kyle Lauletta can save a season like Foles once did. Recommendation: Assuming he becomes medically cleared, as expected, go sign former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, who hails from nearby Audubon, New Jersey.
18. Los Angeles Rams: Questionable as Jared Goff’s four-year, $134 million extension looks after last season, onward they go. The next man up, for now, is John Wolford, he of the Wake Forest/Arizona Hotshots pedigree. Recommendation: This seems like a spot that might make significant sense for Winston. Even if he can’t unseat Goff, polishing his game with Sean McVay’s oversight might portend nicely for 2021. Otherwise, may as well bring Blake Bortles back.
17. Tennessee Titans: You likely knew they just extended a four-year, $118 million commitment to Ryan Tannehill. You likely didn’t know his backup is Logan Woodside. Recommendation: Could do what they did with Tannehill last year and bring in an experienced player who might have some long-term viability – maybe Bortles or Geno Smith. Could also try to pluck a heady player like Fromm, whose intangibles are off the chart, on Day 2 of the draft. Could also use both those stratagems.
16. New York Jets: Not much behind Sam Darnold, unless you have faith in David Fales or Mike White. The Jets were not only 0-3 without Darnold last year – he went 7-6 as their starter – they weren’t competitive, losing by an average of 20.3 points. Recommendation: Bringing back McCown or adding someone on par with Matt Moore or Cody Kessler would make sense, but probably no reason to spend a high pick or import a big-name veteran who would effectively serve as a distraction in a town that loves them.
15. Denver Broncos: Understandable buzz around Drew Lock after he won four of five starts, a strong exclamation to his rookie season. But if he struggles to maintain his momentum, will Jeff Driskel or Brett Rypien be able to pick up the slack? Recommendation: GM John Elway has become infamous for misevaluating the position he played so well. He might have found something in Lock, but why not kick the tires on Newton or Winston?
14. Seattle Seahawks: They have an MVP-caliber player at his peak in Russell Wilson. The only reason it took this long to mention the ‘Hawks is that they’re literally the only team in the league with one quarterback on the roster. Obviously, that will change. Recommendation: Worrying about a backup is almost frivolous considering Wilson has never missed a game in his eight NFL seasons. However he will turn 32 this season. The path of least resistance would be re-signing Smith. But if you want a tantalizing thought, how about this: GM John Schneider deals out of Round 1, as he often does, and picks up Hurts in Round 2 with one of the extra picks he’d get in return. Developing Hurts behind Wilson might open up juicy possibilities.
Planning for future
13. Washington Redskins: The future is rather uncertain in the nation’s capital, where 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins failed to impress as a rookie and will have to beat out newly acquired Kyle Allen and possibly even Alex Smith. Recommendation: Seems like a fluid situation for new coach Ron Rivera, who notably opted to obtain Allen from his former team, Carolina, rather than Newton. Whether he’s healthy enough to play or not, expect Smith to be a steadying presence in the building. And while it doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense for the ‘Skins to target Tagovailoa with draft’s second pick, signing Newton to amp up the competition quotient seems like a potentially high-reward, low-risk move.
12. Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford is 32 but was on course for perhaps his best season in 2019 until his back gave out halfway through it. The Lions didn’t win again after he was shut down following a Week 9 loss at Oakland. Recommendation: If Stafford goes down again, Detroit should be in better hands this year after signing longtime backup Chase Daniel to a three-year deal. A regime that needs to win now likely won’t be focused on Stafford’s successor with the third pick of the draft. But if a good prospect falls to them at the top of Round 2 (35th overall) or Round 3 (67th overall), a high-level discussion would be warranted.
11. Las Vegas Raiders: It’s quickly becoming a rite of winter for speculation to swirl around Derek Carr’s job status … before GM Mike Mayock comes to his defense. Yet Mayock also handed new backup Marcus Mariota a two-year, $17.6 million pact last month and still has Nathan Peterman and DeShone Kizer in the fold. Recommendation: Seems like the Raiders have plenty of options, but wouldn’t be surprising if they consider Love or Herbert in the middle of the first round, especially if one or both are still available at No. 19.
10. Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He’ll also turn 35 next month and is still backstopped by Matt Schaub … who turns 39 in June. Recommendation: GM Thomas Dimitroff only has three Day 3 picks but two are in the fourth round. Might be worth earmarking one for a developmental prospect like Iowa’s Nate Stanley.
9. Green Bay Packers: Believe it or not, Aaron Rodgers, 36, is now older than Brett Favre was when the Pack surprisingly picked Rodgers in Round 1 of the 2005 draft. A-Rod’s numbers have declined in recent years, though that seems more circumstantial than a function of any notable physical decline. That said, are Tim Boyle and Manny Wilkins the best contingency plans for a starter who’s closer to 40 than 30? Recommendation: Like Favre in 2005, Rodgers almost surely has several good years left, perhaps a half-dozen or more. Yet if a player like Love, who could probably use a few years of sideline development, tumbles to the 30th pick, it might be an opportunity too good for GM Brian Gutekunst to pass up.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers: They’re currently carrying five quarterbacks on their expanded roster. Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges were a mixed bag in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence last year, so much so that Paxton Lynch was signed off the scrap heap. (Former Ohio State star J.T. Barrett is also in this QB stew.) But as optimistic as Big Ben and the team are about his surgically repaired elbow, Roethlisberger’s 2004 draftmates, Manning and Rivers, have both seen their circumstances change as Father Time advances. Recommendation: With no first-round pick, hard to envision Pittsburgh drafting a passer … unless maybe Washington’s Jacob Eason drops into the middle rounds. Otherwise, Mike Tomlin and Co. might want to weigh the advice from my colleague Jarrett Bell and study Winston.
7. New Orleans Saints: How many seasons does 41-year-old Drew Brees have left? And is Taysom Hill really next in line? As much as coach Sean Payton talks him up, Hill – he’ll be 30 in August, incidentally – has 86 combined carries and receptions since 2018 but just 13 pass attempts in that span, when Bridgewater started six times in Brees’ stead. Recommendation: Payton wanted Mahomes in 2017 but just missed out. He’ll surely be assessing the attributes of Herbert and Love, especially if either is available at pick No. 24.
6. Indianapolis Colts: They’ve got a fading star in Rivers and an experienced player in Jacoby Brissett, who has 32 starts under his belt. That said, neither is signed beyond the upcoming season. Recommendation: GM Chris Ballard understandably exchanged his first-round pick for DT DeForest Buckner. However Ballard also owns the second pick of the second round and might have to take a long look at Love, perhaps trading into the bottom of Round 1 to scoop him up. Barring a Love connection, Hurts, Fromm or Eason could be considerations at No. 44.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: One of the trickier teams to evaluate given Foles’ departure. Gardner Minshew played well enough as a rookie that he deserves to be penciled in as the starter. But he also needs better competition than Joshua Dobbs if he’s going to truly establish himself. Recommendation: Herbert or Love should be on the board with the ninth pick of the first round – maybe at No. 20 for that matter – and the Jags should consider pouncing. If they understandably go for quality position players with those selections, why not bring in Newton or Winston to push Minshew?
4. New England Patriots: Brady is gone. Brian Hoyer is essentially a career backup. And Jarrett Stidham is an unknown commodity, even though all signs point to him getting first crack at the starting role. Recommendation: Given their other holes, probably doesn’t make sense to spend the No. 23 pick (or move up) for Herbert or Love while Stidham gets his shot. But why not bring in a player like Newton or Winston to upgrade the talent level?
3. Los Angeles Chargers: They’ve gone out of their way to talk up Tyrod Taylor since severing ties with Rivers. Yet they haven’t signed Taylor beyond this season and badly wanted Brady, so what does that tell you? Recommendation: Seems a foregone conclusion they’ll draft a passer in Round 1. Question is, might they try to trade up from No. 6 for Tagovailoa? Or are they satisfied Herbert or Love is the right guy to galvanize a lapsed fan base? Or do they reconsider Newton, who would allow coach Anthony Lynn to build this offense around the run, if the draft doesn’t pan out?
2. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton, 32, is coming off his worst NFL season but is still a capable player. Ryan Finley looked anything but in three disastrous starts as a rookie. Recommendation: Burrow to the Bengals is a slam dunk given how capable he is above and below the neck, with all the potential to jumpstart a moribund franchise in his native Ohio. Still, given Dalton didn’t board the 2020 QB merry-go-round, nice to know he can mentor Burrow and perhaps let him watch from the sideline for a while.
1. Miami Dolphins: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen and Jake Rudock occupy the roster, but the rebuilding Fins are in line for a new franchise face. Recommendation: Though they love Burrow, according to ESPN, the Dolphins likely need to thoroughly vet Tagovailoa and Herbert before pulling the trigger for one … and Tagovailoa might require a trade up from No. 5 to guarantee his services. Regardless, nice to know Fitzpatrick can hold down the fort for another year.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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