What if every NFL quarterback were made available in a QB dispensation draft?
Who would go first? How would playoff teams recover from losing their signal callers? Who’d risk their future for the short-term boost of an accomplished, but aging, veteran?
Let’s give it a shot and shuffle the league’s QB decks. Every club takes a turn drafting a passer. This isn’t a ranking of NFL quarterbacks 1 to 32, though. Each team drafts based on its current roster and coaching lineup, so fit matters.
Age and contract status matter as well. Young and cheap are major assets for building a championship roster. Lamar Jackson will be saving Baltimore upwards of $30 million in salary cap space the next two seasons thanks to his team-friendly rookie contract. Patrick Mahomes may obliterate the league’s salary record in the near future, but he’s currently set to make just $5.3 million next fall.
Below, the teams are listed based on the 2020 NFL Draft order. The Bengals start us off. The defending champion Chiefs wrap things up. Every quarterback in the league — including backups, free agents, and this year’s rookie class — is eligible.
Here’s how this theoretical QB rundown shakes out.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Patrick Mahomes (24 years old)
The reigning Super Bowl MVP and easiest pick in this draft. Pairing up Mahomes with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, John Ross, and Auden Tate would turn Cincinnati from the NFL’s least watchable team into a legitimate reason to buy Sunday Ticket.
2. Washington: Lamar Jackson (23 years old)
The reigning league MVP owns the NFL record for most single-season rushing yards as a quarterback and led the league in passing touchdowns while doing so. He’s 19-3 as a starter during the regular season. His playoff record could use some polish, but even if he’s done growing as a player, he’s an absolute monster capable of single-handedly swinging games. Washington needs that, because its offensive depth chart is just a picture of the Mongrovian flag.
3. Detroit Lions: Russell Wilson (31 years old)
Wilson is a perennial MVP candidate with Super Bowl bonafides. He’s also the reason the Seahawks refuse to slide into rebuilding mode following year after year of baffling draft decisions and shoddy blocking (99 sacks allowed the past two seasons). Now he gets to oversee a perpetual rebuild (bad) while throwing to Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and D’Andre Swift (better).
4. New York Giants: Deshaun Watson (24 years old)
Watson goes from a franchise that just fixed a gaping hole at left tackle (albeit by giving Laremy Tunsil record-setting money) to one that hopes it has after drafting Andrew Thomas at No. 4 overall. Watson guided Houston — a team that went 1-11 in the games he didn’t start in 2017 — to a 24-13 record in his three seasons. He’s also responsible for the only Bill O’Brien playoff win that didn’t come against Connor Cook.
5. Miami Dolphins: Aaron Rodgers (36 years old)
Is Rodgers fading as he heads into his late 30s? Or were the past two seasons of good, not great, play the product of a lackluster cast of receiving talent behind Davante Adams? Even if it’s the latter, he’s made too many insane throws in big moments to be ignored. Plus, he’s younger than Ryan Fitzpatrick so ... youth movement in South Beach?
6. Los Angeles Chargers: Dak Prescott (26 years old)
STILL the best quarterback of the class of 2016. The Cowboys asked him to throw more than ever in 2019, and he responded with a career-high 4,902 passing yards (more than 1,000 more than his previous best) and a 30:11 TD:INT ratio. The Chargers, forever on-field drama magnets, get a player who led 14 game-winning drives in his first three seasons.
7. Carolina Panthers: Drew Brees (41 years old)
Brees was 40 years old last season and still finished second in the league in passer rating — albeit after missing five games with a torn ligament in his thumb. He may not have more than the 2020 season left in his NFL career, and the odds he’d leave New Orleans, especially to play for a division rival, are roughly zero. Still, there’s no denying his greatness.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Joe Burrow (23 years old)
This seemed like a good spot for Tom Brady — Larry Fitzgerald and DeAndre Hopkins! — until I remembered what an immobile veteran with a wavering deep ball would look like in Kliff Kingsbury’s system. I hated that idea and opted for a college quarterback who threw 60 touchdown passes last season, averaged more than 14 yards per completion, and who would absolutely lose his mind in Kingsbury’s adapted air raid.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tom Brady (42 years old)
Brady remains in Florida, but doesn’t get the receiving upgrade of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Instead, he’ll throw to D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Laviska Shenault Jr. His 2019 season was one of the least efficient of Brady’s career, though many of those struggles could be attributed to a disappointing surrounding cast in New England.
Does throwing Brady on a tanking team make sense? Nope! That’s why it’s an extremely Jaguars move.
10. Cleveland Browns: Carson Wentz (27 years old)
Here’s where things get difficult. There’s a host of good, not yet great, young-ish quarterbacks and heady veterans who make up the next tier.
I opted for Wentz — the quarterback the Browns traded back from possibly drafting in 2017. He arrives carrying the hope Cleveland’s massive upgrade at wideout (and to a lesser extent, tight end) will unlock the player who threw 54 touchdown passes against just 14 interceptions in 2017 and 2018. This could be my dumbest selection of the day, seeing as the Eagles may have drafted his replacement last week and have appeared very stupid doing so.
11. New York Jets: Jimmy Garoppolo (28 years old)
As much as a stately veteran like Matt Ryan or Kirk Cousins would fit here, Garoppolo’s ability to exceed expectations makes him New York’s pick. The 49ers signal caller was a few bad decisions away from being the reigning Super Bowl MVP. He’s also 21-5 as a regular season starter, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranked third in the NFL last year.
12. Las Vegas Raiders: Kyler Murray (22 years old)
Jon Gruden loves Kyler Murray. His cheap salary would help Las Vegas continue to spend big in free agency and give a club in a new home a young, bankable star. The 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year wasn’t amazing in his debut, but he finished strong enough to showcase his potential.
Here’s what he did in his final eight starts as a rookie: a 65.2 percent completion rate, 217 passing yards per game, 6.9 yards per pass, 33 rushing yards (on 6.2 per carry) per game, and an 89.3 passer rating. The 13:8 TD:INT ratio over that span is worrisome, but that’s something Gruden can tolerate if it means getting his guy.
13. Indianapolis Colts: Matt Ryan (34 years old)
The Colts chose a prolific, experienced quarterback when they signed Philip Rivers this offseason. They do it again by selecting Ryan, a former MVP who completed a league-high 408 passes last fall despite sitting out one game in the middle of the season. Ryan had 11 300+ yard performances in 2019 thanks, in part, to a defense that kept him frequently playing from behind. He’ll get a boost on that side of the ball in Indianapolis, but the lack of Julio Jones could put his high-volume passing in a new light.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kirk Cousins (31 years old)
Cousins’ two seasons since being freed from the shame treadmill that is the Washington franchise: 69.7 percent completion rate, 56 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 255 passing yards per game, and a 103.0 passer rating.
Now he gets to whip passes at the Evans/Godwin combo Brady was forced to vacate in the draft.
15. Denver Broncos: Matthew Stafford (32 years old)
6’1 Baker Mayfield is probably the highest-upside player available. But Matthew Stafford is 6’3 — closer to the tall QB ideal general manager John Elway absolutely loves. Stafford’s more than willing to take chances downfield, as proven by his league-high average throw depth of 10.6 yards downfield last year. That makes him 100 percent the kind of gunner Denver wants launching deep balls to Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, Jerry Jeudy, and KJ Hamler.
16. Atlanta Falcons: Ryan Tannehill (31 years old)
Tannehill is the draft’s X-factor. He’s a player whose 2019 season measures among the league’s best but who is also capable of reverting back to the ineffective form that ended his Miami tenure. The Falcons need a win-now quarterback to keep Dan Quinn’s employment hopes alive, and Tannehill’s ability to air the ball out would help keep a passing game that features Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley running smoothly.
17. Dallas Cowboys: Baker Mayfield (25 years old)
Mayfield could be the draft’s biggest bargain if he can harness the power that pushed him to MVP-caliber numbers over the second half of his rookie season (68 percent completion rate, 19:7 TD:INT ratio, a 106.2 passer rating). Playing behind an offensive line that allowed Dak Prescott to be sacked on only 3.7 percent of his dropbacks — and playing for a head coach who isn’t Freddie Kitchens — should spur an improvement in his return to Texas.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger (38 years old)
The Steelers almost made it to the postseason with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph starting the majority of their games. Bringing Big Ben back into the fold after he slid down the draft board makes more sense than hitting reset and starting over with one of the available, unproven QBs like Sam Darnold,
19. Chicago Bears: Josh Allen (23 years old)
Chicago’s facing a hard reboot following Mitchell Trubisky’s failure to become a franchise quarterback. Allen’s recent development makes him a better bet than Daniel Jones, another quarterback who wasn’t amazing playing college ball in the state of North Carolina but still enjoyed a meteoric rise through the pre-draft process.
Allen made the improvements necessary to guide Buffalo back to the postseason last year, upping his completion rate by a full six percent and cutting his interception rate nearly in half. He’s a capable runner (1,141 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns the past two years) who can exceed the production a healthy Trubisky provided. He’s also pretty cheap; Allen will count less than $13 million against the team’s salary cap through 2021.
20. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff (25 years old)
LA was forced to shed contracts this spring, somewhat as the result of Goff‘s massive extension after he led the Rams to Super Bowl 53. He rewarded that faith with a backslide in 2019.
Even a bad season in which his touchdown rate and yards-per-attempt figures shrunk and his interception rate rose, he’s still the quarterback who piloted a stacked offense to a 33-14 record the past three years. Sean McVay would be happy to have him back this late in the draft.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Carr (29 years old)
The Eagles worked hard to overhaul their WR corps this offseason by adding skillful deep threats like Marquise Goodwin, Jalen Reagor, and John Hightower to the mix. None of those wideouts are sure things, however, and it could behoove the Philadelphia to find a passer capable of efficiently moving the ball in the mid-range.
Carr hasn’t gotten much recognition since his MVP-adjacent 2016 season, but there’s only one thing he truly does poorly as an NFL quarterback; hold on to the football while diving for the end zone. He attempted the fewest deep balls of his career last fall thanks to the Raiders’ lack of targets, but he was rock solid in the intermediate game. He completed 78 percent of his passes from 0-19 yards.
22. Buffalo Bills: Tua Tagovailoa (22 years old)
The Bills took a chance on a big-armed college passer in 2018. They do the same here with Tagovailoa, who was a better collegiate quarterback (by a mile) than Josh Allen but brings several questions about his health following last year’s dislocated hip. He’ll look great in Buffalo’s continually evolving offense.
23. New England Patriots: Teddy Bridgewater (27 years old)
The Patriots could swing on higher-upside quarterbacks like Jones, Dwayne Haskins, or Sam Darnold. Instead, Bill Belichick’s refusal to spend anything more than a Day 3 pick on a quarterback indicates he may be more interested in veteran help to replace Tom Brady. Bridgewater, fresh off a 5-0 stint as the Saints’ spot starter, is used to filling in for a future Hall of Famer.
24. New Orleans Saints: Philip Rivers (38 years old)
Out goes one prolific passer who used to play for the Chargers. In comes another. Michael Thomas may be the perfect eraser for Rivers’ increasingly erratic throws.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Sam Darnold (22 years old)
Darnold has been in the league two years and is still one of the youngest starting QBs. He improved steadily throughout 2019 as long as he wasn’t seeing ghosts in the Patriots’ secondary, going 7-6 as a starter in an otherwise ugly Jets season. He threw only four interceptions in his final eight games to go along with an efficient 93.3 passer rating. Now Minnesota gets to see if he casts off some Kirk Cousins vibes once freed from Adam Gase’s influence.
26: Houston Texans: Daniel Jones (22 years old)
Jones swaps out Dave Gettleman as his GM for Bill O’Brien. He may be cursed.
Jones somehow had three different games where he had at least four touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He also had seven games with multiple turnovers, including so, so many embarrassing fumbles. He is the Schrodinger’s Cat of second-year quarterbacks. Houston is perfect for him.
27. Seattle Seahawks: Cam Newton (30 years old)
Being able to avoid pressure is a prerequisite for a Seattle quarterback. Newton can do that — though his injury concerns suggest this could end poorly for the Seahawks. Still, they get a former MVP who may just need a change of scenery to put his last two disappointing seasons behind him.
28. Baltimore Ravens: Drew Lock (23 years old)
As tempting as it would be to snag Dwayne Haskins and once again show Washington how developing a franchise QB is done, the Ravens have a special place in their heart for anyone who makes Joe Flacco expendable. The Broncos scored 15.9 points per game in their 3-8 start without Lock. They averaged 21.4 in a 4-1 finish with the rookie in the lineup.
29. Tennessee Titans: Jacoby Brissett (27 years old)
Tennessee took one roughly average quarterback and turned him into found money when it traded for Tannehill last offseason. Brissett is another buy-low passer with the capability to throw a gorgeous deep ball. The former Patriot looked like a real franchise building block in the Colts’ 5-2 start, but a Week 9 knee injury sapped his effectiveness in a disappointing finish.
30: Green Bay Packers: Justin Herbert (22 years old)
They already drafted Aaron Rodgers’ real life replacement in 2020’s first round. Herbert’s availability allows the Packers to follow up on that instinct with a more productive college quarterback.
31: San Francisco 49ers: Dwayne Haskins (22 years old)
Haskins was a monster in college, but he struggled in his NFL debut with an undermanned Washington team. He’d get an immediate upgrade and the opportunity to fulfill his potential with the Niners — and he’s got the upside to make his drop all the way to 31 look downright stupid.
32: Kansas City Chiefs: Ryan Fitzpatrick (37 years old)
This is partially a win-now move and partially because I want to see some FitzMagic involving Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman, and Sammy Watkins. Would Gardner MInshew or Jordan Love be better forward-thinking moves? Yep. Would Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, or Nick Foles provide similar instant gratification and a longer runway to the future? Probably.
But the NFL is better when Fitzpatrick is given the green light to close his eyes and chuck it deep. Kansas City is perfect for that.