This is a great time to be in the market for a veteran quarterback. This spring’s crop of available passers may be the deepest in league history, with former MVPs (both regular-season and Super Bowl), Heisman winners, All-Pros, and No. 1 overall picks all hitting the open market in either free agency or via trade.
The first two days of the NFL’s legal tampering period brought a flurry of deals that re-shaped teams’ DNA across the league. Tom Brady, like most New Englanders, spent two decades working in the cold and decided to spend the next phase of his life in Florida. Nick Foles went from being the Jaguars’ problem to a possible solution in Chicago. The Panthers put Cam Newton on the trading block, which was news to Cam Newton.
With all of this action condensed into a short time frame, these moves can be difficult to track. Fortunately, we’ve got just the thing for that.
Let’s start by talking about the players who either haven’t found new homes or are still waiting to hear their names called in free agency.
Remaining unsigned free agents: Blake Bortles, Joe Flacco, Mike Glennon, Brett Hundley, Josh McCown, Trevor Siemian, Jameis Winston
Likely available via trade (or if they’re released): Andy Dalton, Cam Newton,
Now, let’s talk about who changed addresses this offseason.
The unquestioned starters
How it affects the Patriots: Across the Northeast, a quiet, post-St. Paddy’s breakfast gave way to muffled sobs into home-brewed Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Brady, following two decades in New England, is gone. Now the club has a few options. The Patriots can either roll with 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, select a QB (starting with the 23rd pick of April’s draft), or dive into the group of available veterans.
How it affects the Buccaneers: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin go from the Schrodinger’s Cat of quarterbacks to one of the game’s most consistent passers by upgrading from Jameis Winston to Brady. The 42-year-old’s gonna love working with them. Brady will also get to work with Bruce Arians to try to bringing Tampa back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
How it affects the Chargers: Los Angeles and Rivers decided to part ways earlier in the offseason, so his move to Indiana didn’t come as a surprise. Reports the team won’t be hunting in free agency suggest the Chargers will instead opt for their quarterback of the future with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. Whomever gets the call will battle former Pro Bowler (and current high-value backup/low-ceiling starter) Tyrod Taylor for the top job.
How it affects the Colts: Indianapolis’ playoff dreams now rest on the shoulder of a quarterback with a 23:20 TD:INT ratio last season. The Colts are hoping the 38-year-old Rivers will be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett, who faded massively in 2019 after suffering a midseason knee injury. Unless general manager Chris Ballard can add the receiving talent to rival what Rivers left behind in LA, though, Indy’s new QB could suffer the same fate as its old one.
How it affects the Saints: The 41-year-old Drew Brees re-signed with the Saints for two more years, but New Orleans lost its “Brees succession plan 1A.” Bridgewater used his status as the league’s top backup to find a starting job in Carolina. Succession plan 1B, Taysom Hill, received a first-round tender from the Saints.
How it affects the Panthers: It took four years, but Bridgewater’s long journey back to a starting role is complete. His 5-0 run as a starter in Brees’ absence convinced the Panthers to build their post-Cam Newton era around him. He’ll bring accurate, turnover-averse passing to a Carolina lineup in need of playmakers.
The guys who could start or take a backup role
2019 team: Tennessee Titans
2020 team: Las Vegas Raiders
How it affects the Titans: Tennessee moved on from Mariota in 2019, benching the former No. 2 overall pick in favor of Ryan Tannehill in Week 6. Tannehill went on to the AFC title game and earned a four-year, $118 million contract extension as a result. While he may not be able to live up to the standard set by that massive deal, he’ll probably be good enough that the Titans won’t regret letting Mariota go.
How it affects the Raiders: Derek Carr has been fine as the Raiders’ incumbent, providing efficient but unexciting play that’s failed to match his breakout 2016 season. Mariota could push Carr to new heights with a little competition. Or, since head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have each previously swooned over Mariota back in his prospect days, he could be Vegas’ new starting quarterback.
How it affects the Jaguars: Jacksonville not only got out from Foles’ onerous contract (three more years, without having to take on any deferred salary), but also got the Bears to pay them for the privilege. This may be the best thing to happen to the Jaguars since their playoff run in the 2017 season.
How it affects the Bears: Chicago is hoping it’s getting the 2017-18 backup QB versions of Foles and not the 2019 version that was eventually replaced in the lineup by Gardner Minshew. It was just two years ago that the former Eagle was a Super Bowl MVP, and the Bears are betting big he can regain that form if Mitchell Trubisky can’t make any strides. However, last year’s version of Foles was a low-wattage, replacement-level quarterback (but that still might be better than Trubisky in 2020).
How it affects Washington: Keenum was a solid placeholder for Dwayne Haskins, who will be the unquestioned starter in Washington in his second year — assuming the franchise doesn’t shock draft experts and select Tua Tagovailoa over Chase Young with the No. 2 pick. With Keenum gone and Colt McCoy a free agent, the club still will have to find a viable backup for its prized young QB.
How it affects the Browns: Cleveland paid a lot of money for a backup QB, but Keenum’s move to Ohio reunites him with Kevin Stefanski. The current Browns head coach was Keenum’s quarterbacks coach in his breakthrough 2017 campaign with the Vikings. If Baker Mayfield gets injured, Stefanski’s offense should still be in capable hands.
How it affects the Bears: Chicago has Foles around to make Mitchell Trubisky look bad if he struggles. It won’t take much effort.
How it affects the Lions: Detroit nosedived after Matthew Stafford was lost for the season with a back injury. Adding Daniel gives the Lions a reliable backup in case something similar happens this year.
2019 team: Detroit Lions
2020 team: Denver Broncos (two years, $5 million)
How it affects the Lions: They’re fine. They’ve got Chase Daniel, who will continue signing $12 million contracts long after the heat death of the universe.
How it affects the Broncos: Driskel’s signing almost certainly means the end of the Joe Flacco era in Denver. He probably won’t be missed. Otherwise, Driskel may still be growing as a QB, but he hasn’t shown he’s capable of more than a backup role in the NFL. He’ll be Drew Lock’s understudy this season.
2019 team: Washington
2020 team: New York Giants (terms TBD)
How it affects Washington: With Keenum gone (see above), the team still needs a proven backup for Dwayne Haskins.
How it affects the Giants: Eli Manning’s retirement put New York in the market for a veteran backup. The starting job is unquestionably Daniel Jones’ now, so McCoy is strictly a “break glass in case of emergency” option. He’ll have to beat out Alex Tanney for the No. 2 position on the team’s depth chart.