What Could a 2021 Quarterback Shuffle Look Like?by Andersen Pickard January 15, 2021 0 comments
As the 2020 NFL season nears its end, a few teams remain in contention for the Super Bowl. However, most teams are preparing for the offseason. For many of these franchises, uncertainties have been running rampant regarding roster construction, draft analysis, and coaching staff makeup. At the center of those concerns rests one burning question. Who will open the 2021 season under center?
Four quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2019 draft and three of them have leapfrogged veterans to become the starter. The one who isn’t starting? Jordan Love, who is backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
That leaves Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, and Joe Burrow as the three first-round rookies who have taken over as their team’s surefire starter. The list doesn’t end there, though. Players on short-term contracts like Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, and Mike Glennon have all secured starting roles despite crowded depth charts. These shakeups at quarterback in 2020 will surely lead to further madness when the upcoming offseason hits and the free agency and trading period commences.
With that in mind, the NFL is expected to witness another quarterback shuffle in March and the following months. What could that look like? Here is a deep-dive into every legitimate quarterback who could find themselves on a new team next year, as well as every team that might employ a new signal-caller.
Darnold does not appear to be the long-term solution for the New York Jets, who went 2-14 before firing head coach Adam Gase. Darnold, who missed four games due to injury, making just 12 starts and completing 59.6 percent of passes for 2,208 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He finished with more sacks this year than he did in his other two seasons despite a stronger offensive line. Darnold’s contract expires after 2021, though the team could cut or trade him during the offseason. Such a move would incur roughly $9.6 million in dead money. There are several teams who would take a chance on him as a backup with starter upside, but he does not fit the Jets’ plans going forward.
The New England Patriots signed Newton to a one-year, incentive-laden contract last offseason. While they inked him for a bargain, he did not provide New England with the talent and upside that they expected. In 15 starts, the 31-year-old posed just eight passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions, though he added 12 rushing touchdowns. The former Pro Bowler and MVP finished 7-8 and is clearly not the long-term answer for the Patriots. While Newton has been a solid bridge quarterback to transition New England out of the Tom Brady era, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Patriots pay Newton what he thinks he deserves in 2021. The Auburn product will be approaching 32 years old when he hits the open market in March.
The Miami Dolphins’ journeyman backup impressed immensely during the first half of the season before being benched in a move that allowed rookie Tua Tagovailoa to take the reins. Fitzpatrick, a 38-year-old Harvard graduate, has spent the latter half of the season serving as a relief option in case Tagovailoa shows signs of struggling in critical situations. However, Fitzpatrick is an impending free agent and likely won’t return next season. While Miami would love to employ a reliable player like Fitzpatrick to back up Tagovailoa, Fitzpatrick makes more sense as a transition starter for a team like the Patriots or Jacksonville Jaguars.
The jury is still out on how the Indianapolis Colts will handle Philip Rivers, who is in the waning months of the one-year, $25 million deal he signed last March. The veteran won’t be able to receive $25 million again, but his continued value under center still makes him an intriguing option for several teams. He has impressed with the playoff-bound Colts, but it remains to be seen if they have any interest in re-signing him to start and therefore take away from the development of second-round pick Jacob Eason. Nevertheless, Rivers provides reliability under center and terrific veteran presence, making him a decent option for several teams.
When the Jaguars benched Minshew this season, it was to let him rest his fractured thumb so he could return at full strength. Since then, he made just one start. Head coach Doug Marrone said he is unafraid to make unpopular decisions at quarterback, and that mindset has been on display as he continued to pick the 31-year-old Glennon over Minshew, who is in his second year, and rookie Jake Luton. While Minshew finished just 1-7, his skills were on display with a 66.1 percent completion rate, 16 touchdowns, and five interceptions. Minshew continues to be overlooked due to the Jaguars’ struggles, but the statistics show that the Washington State product is worthy of settling into a new starting job soon, whether that be via release or trade.
One of the most fascinating spirals of the season was Carson Wentz, who appeared to have tremendous job security even after the Philadelphia Eagles used a second-round pick on Jalen Hurts. It paid off, as Wentz struggled and was replaced by Hurts later in the season. Hurts’s sample size has been small, so it is challenging to determine which quarterback is better. However, Hurts is cheaper, younger, and more mobile, so it appears that he has a grasp on the starting job. Of course, with that said, the Eagles fired head coach Doug Pederson on Monday. Wentz originally intended to ask for a trade, but that was with Pederson in tow. Owner Jeffrey Lurie likes Wentz and might just consider keeping him around to compete for the starting job next summer. Just 28 years old, Wentz could still build an impressive career if he is able to turn things around.
The most exciting free agent this offseason, Prescott finds himself in an interesting situation after missing most of 2020 due to a gruesome leg injury. Prescott was playing the season under the franchise tag and could be tagged again, though a second tag would cost the Dallas Cowboys roughly $37.7 million. His injury all but ended any chance of him signing an extension in Dallas; considering the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement last offseason, a deal is even less likely with the Cowboys brass being able to use his injury in an attempt to negotiate a discount. The two-time Pro Bowler is one of the brightest stars in the league and should command top dollar this offseason. The Jaguars, Jets, Colts, Patriots, and Football Team all need quarterbacks and have the cap space to afford Prescott.
Dalton should find himself in a position to fight for a starting job out of camp, no matter where he goes. In nine starts this year, the Red Rifle completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,059 yards, 14 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. The three-time Pro Bowler is 33 years old and could be an intriguing fit on a team like the San Francisco 49ers, who are contenders but need more stability and depth at the quarterback position.
Dwayne Haskins Jr.
This Ohio State product’s journey has been incredible, and not in a good way. In his second pro season, Haskins struggled on the field and off of it. The first issue came following a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The team was distraught following a tough showing, but Haskins allegedly paraded around the locker room, cheering and hyping himself up after throwing for 314 yards in garbage time. He also was stripped of his captain title after violating COVID-19 protocols while partying, thus putting himself before the team. On the field, he was benched several times, being replaced by Kyle Allen, Alex Smith, and Taylor Heinicke. He went 1-5 with a 61.4 percent completion rate before being cut loose. Haskins could be an intriguing add on a prove-it deal this offseason, though his instability and lack of maturity mean he likely won’t open next season as a starter.
Rumors have started to swirl that Matthew Stafford could find himself on a new team next season. This is all speculation at this point, but it carries some weight with the outlook of the organization. In 165 starts, Stafford has completed 3,898 passes for 45,109 yards, 282 yards, and 144 interceptions. The 12-year veteran has one Pro Bowl appearance and, much like every quarterback available, has been linked to teams like the Patriots and 49ers.
When the 49ers acquired Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second-round pick, everyone thought San Francisco committed theft. While New England could have received a larger haul, the pick was more than appropriate considering Garoppolo’s production so far. After starting just eight games through his first two seasons, Garoppolo returned healthy and fired up in 2019. He helped lead the 49ers to an NFC title before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl. However, the injury bug plagued him again in 2020, forcing him to miss 10 games as San Francisco finished last in the NFC West. Garoppolo, who has 8,042 passing yards, 51 touchdowns, and 26 touchdowns to go along with a 24-8 career record, has proven himself as an above-average signal-caller when healthy. However, the 49ers organization is starting to grow impatient with their quarterback’s frequent injuries and it could be time to cut bait. He has two more years under contract, though the 49ers would save $24.8 million by releasing or trading him after June 1.
Do you remember when Watson was frustrated with the Houston Texans for trading DeAndre Hopkins? His anger level then was a two out of 10, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Now, after the Houston brass failed to include Watson when discussing the franchise’s plans, the Clemson product’s frustration has soared to a 10. He wants out of Houston, and his newly-signed four-year, $156 million contract could be surprisingly easy to trade if the Texans are willing to eat some of the money. One of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Watson is a perennial Pro Bowl candidate with the ability to transform an organization. The disgruntled star has a no-trade clause but would reportedly consider a trade to Miami. While all speculation at this point, a trade to Miami would likely send Tua Tagovailoa and at least one draft pick back to the Texans. It could be a while until we see a resolution here, but the Watson trade rumors have certainly gained tremendous steam over the past few days.
It’s fair to argue that a starting job, several millions of dollars, and a future with the Chicago Bears was on the line for Trubisky on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well. Trubisky struggled until a game-ending garbage time touchdown drive padded his stats, but it was evident that the North Carolina product can not handle a legitimate defense. Or the playoffs. Or both. Instead of putting himself in position to sign a multi-year extension, Trubisky will likely find himself hitting free agency with underwhelming interest from prospective teams. While his youth gives him an advantage over the rest of the market, Trubisky’s failure to prove himself as a capable starter could severely plague his free agent stock this spring.
Foles finds himself in a similar situation as Dalton. He served as an average-at-best stopgap when needed, but he’s not going to be a part of the Bears’ future under center. The former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion was 2-5 in nine games this season, tossing for 1,852 yards, 10 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He holds a 28-27 record through 67 career games, completing 1,253 passes for 13,753 yards and 81 scores. He is also responsible for 43 career interceptions and 35 fumbles. The soon-to-be 32-year-old still has two years under contract but could find himself being a salary cap casualty when the offseason rolls around.
Next up, here’s a breakdown of each team that could make a serious push to bring in a new starting quarterback next season. Teams like the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, and Indianapolis Colts, who could make non-major forward-thinking moves at quarterback, were left off this list.
New York Jets
The Jets have a major franchise decision ahead of them as they decide what to do with Sam Darnold, the No. 2 overall pick, and an intriguing head coaching vacancy. Justin Fields and Zach Wilson should be on the board at No. 2, but there is no guarantee the Jets sit tight. There has been a lot of speculation that they could trade back, acquiring extra draft capital while still adding a franchise signal-caller. Of course, it’s also possible that they could keep Sam Darnold. He has shown signs of concern through three pro seasons, but some (or most?) of the blame can be placed on Adam Gase. Whatever the Jets do, general manager Joe Douglas knows he has to be cautious while avoiding a major move that digs the franchise into a deeper hole.
New England Patriots
2020 wasn’t the same in New England. With Tom Brady gone, Cam Newton came in and led the team to a 7-9 finish as they missed the playoffs for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. While Bill Belichick refuses to rule out re-signing Newton, it appears that the former MVP won’t return to Foxborough, Mass., in 2021. The Patriots own the 15th pick in the draft and also have $58.7 million in cap space next season, which is the third-most in the league. The Patriots clearly have the resources necessary to land their next franchise quarterback, but how they plan to approach the market remains unknown.
It’s no secret that Trevor Lawrence is in a class of his own this year. The consensus No. 1 pick is nearly a lock to go to the Jaguars, meaning the biggest question now centers around Gardner Minshew. The most likely and valuable outcome would be trading him prior to the draft, but holding on to him as a top backup option could be worth sacrificing the late-round pick that he would fetch in a trade. It’s safe to say Jacksonville will be busy this offseason.
2020 was supposed to be a breakout year for Lock. Instead, the team took early hits with Von Miller and Courtland Sutton suffering season-ending injuries. Lock himself missed time with an injury, which launched the team into a downhill spiral. Now, after finishing 5-11, the Broncos own the ninth overall pick. They won’t be looking for a quarterback in the first round of the draft, but they will be on the prowl everywhere else (free agency and the later rounds of the draft). Lock needs to take the next step, and that can’t happen without legitimate competition in training camp. Whether the Broncos have faith in Lock or not, the Denver brass is certainly going to be active in the quarterback market.
The Cowboys hope they can re-sign Dak Prescott, but how badly do they really want it? The two sides failed to agree on an extension last offseason, and now, after Prescott’s injury, the Cowboys’ offer has likely decreased. Meanwhile, it is hard to imagine that Prescott’s asking price has budged at all. The franchise tag seems like the most likely outcome, but even that could be too expensive for Jerry Jones. The Cowboys have the makings of a good team but need to set their priorities and find consistency at quarterback, whether that be Prescott or somebody else.
Things don’t look too good in Chicago right now. After starting and finishing the year strong (with a weak stint in between), the Bears choked in the opening round of the playoffs. Mitchell Trubisky looked horrendous and likely played himself out of an extension. Meanwhile, Nick Foles remains under contract but struggled severely when under center. It’s incredibly challenging to predict what could transpire in Chicago over the next few months, but is evident that we are heading towards a major roster shakeup.
Washington Football Team
Alex Smith’s story is incredible and Taylor Heinicke is a joy to watch. However, if Washington wants to be a legitimate playoff contender, they need to address the quarterback position. The rest of the roster features some of the flashiest players in the league, yet the team needs help at quarterback. While Washington could find interest in Watson and Prescott, the most likely course of action appears to be drafting and developing a Day 2 quarterback who can slowly transition into being the future of this franchise.
Nobody knows who is going to start under center for the Texans next season, but Deshaun Watson certainly hopes it is not him. The Texans need a true miracle right now or else they will find themselves losing leverage and trading their elite signal-caller. It’s too early to pinpoint exact team and player names in a potential Watson trade, but it’s safe to say that Texans fans should brace themselves for another major offseason shakeup.
San Francisco 49ers
It’s tough to tell how the 49ers internally view their quarterback room. However, the public perspective is well-documented. A large portion of the 49ers fanbase has been advocating for a change at quarterback. Well aware that Garoppolo likely won’t cut it, the San Francisco football faithful could be rewarded with a change at the position this offseason. Many people have linked them to Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, and Kyle Trask, all of whom could be available when the 49ers make their picks. With a healthy defense and rejuvenated offense in 2021, the 49ers could be one young hurler away from playoff glory.
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