Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers will undoubtedly all land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the end of their prolific careers. All three are among the top 10 all-time for passing yards and touchdowns, and were three of the top four passers for the 2017 season.
But they’re all into the twilight years of their career.
The New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Chargers all would’ve made sense as landing spots for Louisville’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. All three passed on the opportunity to take him.
Now, three franchises that haven’t had quarterback issues in more than a decade could be backing themselves into a corner:
New England Patriots
Depth chart: Tom Brady (40), Brian Hoyer (32), Danny Etling (23)
In October, the Patriots thrust themselves back into the quarterback market by trading Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers. With Brady a few months away from his 41st birthday, it seemed like a trade that didn’t make sense.
But Garoppolo was due to become a free agent this spring and the Patriots weren’t going to be able to keep him without the franchise tag or a lucrative contract. Brady was playing at an MVP level, with no sunset in sight for the five-time Super Bowl winner. That left the Patriots no choice but to trade Garoppolo.
That also meant it was time to hunt for a new quarterback. Despite a flurry of rumors about the team’s interest in Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield, they drafted LSU’s Danny Etling in the seventh round.
“We knew we were going to add a quarterback to our team at some point, so it’s relative to what other options we might have, relative to other positions,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the 2018 NFL Draft.
“There’s no template like, ‘Well, we’re going to take one here, we’re going to take one there.’ You just evaluate the player and, look, we think Danny [Etling] has some decent traits and some decent qualities to work with so we’ll put him in our program and see how he does.”
Brady was a sixth-round pick and Hoyer was undrafted, but it’s a stretch to think New England has an eventual starter on their hands with Etling.
With a first-round and two second-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Patriots already have a decent amount of draft capital to address the position next offseason. But it’d be helpful for New England if Brady manages to play well for as long as he thinks he can.
New Orleans Saints
Depth chart: Drew Brees (39), Tom Savage (28), Taysom Hill (27), J.T. Barrett (23)
The Saints waited until the last minute before free agency, but finally got Brees locked in for another two years.
Even though Brees is about a year and a half younger than Brady, the Saints should be bracing for a drop off in his play soon. He was as efficient as ever in 2017, but 39 is historically an age where many passers’ play starts a noticeable decline.
Brady is already bucking that trend by winning MVP at 40, but it wouldn’t be smart for the Saints to just assume that Brees can do the same.
It’s also worth noting that the Saints have three young quarterbacks behind Brees. Savage is a Houston Texans’ castoff, while Hill and Barrett were both signed as undrafted free agents. Expecting any of the three to produce as a starter is optimistic.
The hunt for a future Brees replacement may be difficult for the Saints after trading away their 2019 first-round pick to get Marcus Davenport. New Orleans is also near the bottom of the NFL in cap space.
Like the Patriots and Brady, things would be much easier for the Saints if Brees’ play stays at a high level beyond 2018. But if he can’t sustain that, New Orleans is not in the best shape to address the concern.
Los Angeles Chargers
Depth chart: Philip Rivers (36), Geno Smith (27), Cardale Jones (25), Nic Shimonek (23)
Rivers hasn’t missed a game since he took over as the starter for the Chargers in 2006. He’s definitely had his bumps and bruises though, including a concussion in 2017.
It’s fair to consider the possibility that Rivers could retire soon. He said he definitely has no intention of playing as long as Brady intends to, and he still hasn’t moved from his home in the San Diego area to be closer to the Chargers’ new home in Los Angeles.
If he does hang it up, the Chargers have a decent amount of talent behind him. Smith was taken in the second round by the Jets in 2013. Jones was a fourth-round pick by the Bills in 2016. Shimonek was added as an undrafted free agent after the 2018 NFL Draft.
But are any the future of the franchise for the Chargers? Probably not.
The last time the Chargers drafted a quarterback was in 2013 when Brad Sorensen was taken in the seventh round. Before that was Jonathan Crompton in the fifth round in 2010 and Charlie Whitehurst in the third round in 2006.
Chargers GM Tom Telesco on not drafting a QB for a fifth straight year: "No. 1, we feel good about the quarterback room. And then No. 2, it has to be the right player, at the right time at the right place. So that’s just how it played out."— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) April 28, 2018
The Chargers have all their draft picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. It might be the perfect time for Los Angeles to find the successor for Rivers.
2019 NFL Draft
There’s no clear-cut quarterback at the top of the class, and it doesn’t appear likely that passers will fly off the board at the top like they did in 2018. That’s not ideal for three teams that need to find a replacement for their franchise stalwart. It also means the top passers of 2019 could be more in reach for potential contenders.
In the first mock draft of the year from SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, five quarterbacks landed in the first round but just one in the top 10. Those five passers were:
- Oregon’s Justin Herbert (true junior)
- Missouri’s Drew Lock (senior)
- Michigan’s Shea Patterson (true junior)
- Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham (redshirt junior)
- South Carolina’s Jake Bentley (true junior)
NC State’s senior quarterback Ryan Finley is another to watch in the 2018 season.
Free agent and trade options
Kirk Cousins reaching the market made him arguably the top free agent quarterback ever. However, free agency is usually — and will probably continue to be — a place to find backup quarterbacks or spot starters.
For now, the top options on the 2019 free agent include:
- Tyrod Taylor
- Josh McCown
- Teddy Bridgewater
- and ... uh ... Colt McCoy?
Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
The trade market has traditionally been a better way to find foundational talent — like Garoppolo in 2017. But that’s another area where it’s difficult to find logical options.
There’s Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who will be a backup for Carson Wentz once again, Colts backup Jacoby Brissett, or other young players like Paxton Lynch or Christian Hackenberg.
There’s not a long list of opportunities for the Patriots, Saints, and Chargers to eventually find replacements for their long-time quarterbacks. All three teams passed on Lamar Jackson, who landed with the Baltimore Ravens, and could come to regret the decision.
Finding replacements for Brady, Brees, and Rivers isn’t going to be easy and the grains continue to fall in the hourglass.