For months, you've heard plenty about Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm, and probably a few other quarterbacks primed to be the first players chosen at football's most vital position in next year's draft, but who exactly will pick them?
Every year a select few teams are obvious, clubs without a young passer with any legitimate semblance of promise on the roster. And others are not so obvious. In fact, predicting them to be in the quarterback market in the next draft seems ridiculous before the season.
But did anyone expect the Cardinals to draft a quarterback in Round 1 in 2019 before last season started?
Let's pinpoint all the teams we should expect to be in the market to draft a quarterback (relatively) early in the 2020 NFL Draft. Teams are listed in order, based on how likely they are to pick a quarterback in next year's draft.
Ryan Fitzpatrick always goes down swinging, it's just that those swings completely lose their power by November. He was outstanding to start last season in Tampa Bay, then fizzled in mid-November, as Jameis Winston re-assumed the starting gig.
Fitzpatrick has been the consummate bridge quarterback his entire career in the NFL, so for a rebuilding Dolphins squad, he was the ideal choice in free agency. But who is he the bridge to? Josh Rosen? Or a 2020 first rounder?
I liked Rosen as a prospect. Really did. He was my No. 3 quarterback in the famed 2018 class. And yes, his situation was disastrous in Arizona as a rookie. Can't fault him for the porous offensive line, unimaginative offensive coordinator, and relatively pedestrian group of receivers outside of elder-statesman Larry Fitzgerald.
But unfortunately for Rosen, Miami's roster isn't noticeably better and has nearly the same problems on paper that the Cardinals had last season, namely the patchwork offensive line and lackluster wideout group.
Also, history's a pretty good teacher. And what it says about the future for Rosen based on his rookie season isn't promising. Since the merger in 1970, there have been 26 quarterbacks who attempted more than 200 passes in their first year and finished with a yards-per-attempt average below 6.0. Of those 26, only Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, and Donovan McNabb went on to be "franchise" quarterbacks. Ghastly first-round busts like Joey Harrington, Rick Mirer, David Carr, Kyle Boller, Ryan Leaf, and Blaine Gabbert stick out like sore thumbs.
Of course, yards per attempt isn't the only method to measure quarterback quality, but it's a straightforward way to track efficiency. Maybe, just maybe, the mostly dazzling play Rosen put on film during his UCLA career will come to life in Miami. But the best bet is that the Dolphins' ground-floor-of-the-rebuilding-process roster will lead to neither of their 2019 quarterbacks playing well enough to stop the team from picking a quarterback in the first round in 2020.
There are precisely zero guaranteed dollars left on the six-year extension Andy Dalton signed with the Bengals in 2014. None. He's bound to be Cincinnati's starter in 2019, but with a new head coach -- Zac Taylor -- running things, it's reasonable to assume he'll want a quarterback of his choosing next year.
Sure, there's a chance Dalton plays well this season. A new system could be beneficial. But he's already 31. And the past two years his quarterback ratings have been 89.6 and 86.6, close to his career rating of 88.8. Today's league average is right around 90.
And the Bengals' offensive line is a major work in progress that received a major blow when news broke that first-round pick Jonah Williams would miss his rookie season with injury. While he's still probably underrated, A.J. Green turns 31 in July. Cordy Glenn is 30 in September.
Outside of Tyler Boyd, who looks like a budding star at receiver, Cincinnati is devoid of young, legitimately promising talent at the position.
Playing in what's become a vastly improved AFC North, it will be surprising if the Bengals approach the .500 mark, and 2020 seems like the perfect time to begin a mini rebuild under Taylor by selecting a quarterback in Round 1.
Marcus Mariota's career 7.5 yards-per-attempt average is the most impressive aspect of his five-year resume in Nashville with the Titans. But his tenure as Tennessee's starter has been consistently inconsistent. Even after his second season, with 28 touchdowns to just nine picks and a 7.6 YPA, he dipped to 13 touchdowns, 15 picks, and a YPA of 7.1 the following year.
In 2018, he had a career-best 68.9 completion percentage but threw 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Sure, the Titans loved running the football, which kept Mariota's volume low. Yet essentially a 1:1 TD-to-interception ratio is nowhere near what it takes to deserve a monster extension as a quarterback in today's NFL.
Also, for as much as the Titans have invested in their offensive line and for as mobile as Mariota is, he takes way too many sacks.
The teams' 2018 blocking unit came in at No. 9 in Pro Football Focus' end-of-season rankings, but Mariota's sack rate was 11.3 percent, a disastrously high figure that was, believe it or not, higher than Deshaun Watson's (10.9 percent).
Even if Tennessee wants to be the run-heaviest team in the league, thereby relegating Mariota to a secondary role on the offense, I can't imagine the organization feels confident in even giving him a middle-of-the-road extension after his contract is up following this season unless he takes a major leap in Year 5, which seems unlikely.
It's a make-or-break season for Carr in Oakland. Widespread roster changes yielded the veteran quarterback Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, a brand new, highly-effective right tackle in Trent Brown, and a youthful first-round running back in Josh Jacobs.
Carr should be good in 2019. As the Raiders improved around him from his rookie campaign in 2014 to 2016, Carr became more effective as a passer each year, and his 2016 season sparkled. He completed 63.9 percent of his passes with a rather high 5.0 TD percentage, a low 1.1 interception rate, a respectable 7.0 YPA, and a league-best 2.6 percent sack rate.
Since then, Oakland's roster has deteriorated. And it's undoubtedly impacted Carr's play. Although he completed 68.9 percent of his throws last season and had the highest YPA of his career -- 7.3 -- his sack rate swelled to 8.4 percent, and the former second-round selection was risk-averse to a fault.
Per Next Gen Stats, in 2018, Carr finished tied for last among qualifying quarterbacks in Intended Air Yards -- the average distance beyond the line of scrimmage throws were made -- at 6.7 yards. Compare that to 7.9 in 2017 and 8.4 in his breakout year of 2016, and it's easy to see he's gotten less aggressive over the past three seasons.
Being a conservative thrower isn't the worst thing in today's NFL -- where YAC is king -- but if that's the type of quarterback you're going to be, you can't take a ton of sacks.
Carr is poised to have a strong, rebound season with the Raiders in 2019. But if he doesn't, Jon Gruden and Co. will be positioned to pick a quarterback early. In 2020, Carr could be cut with only $5 million in dead cap and $16.5M in savings.
If you solely looked at Jameis Winston's numbers and never watched him play, you'd think he was a young quarterback well on his way to stardom and a lucrative contract extension.
But he's a prime example of why stats are just a part of the picture. Not the whole picture.
Winston's fresh off back-to-back seasons with YPAs of 7.9 and completion percentages over 63.0 despite finishing in the top 3 of Intended Air Yards each year. In short, he was very aggressive, efficient, and accurate in 2017 and 2018. His off-field issues are well-documented as are his interceptions.
Winston has tossed 18 fourth-quarter picks in just 56 games since entering the league in 2015, trailing only Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Eli Manning in that statistic. Ben Roethlisberger has 17 of them and the same number of fourth-quarter touchdowns (33) as WInston in that time frame too. Winston's the epitome of boom or bust.
Like Mariota, Winston is playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. He'll represent a cap hit of $20.9M this year. After that, it's either contract extension or free agency for the former No. 1 overall pick.
With aggressive-minded head coach Bruce Arians now calling the shots in Tampa Bay, Winston has the perfect play-caller on the sidelines and a solid group of pass catchers in Mike Evans, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, and Chris Godwin. But it's put up or shut up time. If he has another highly volatile season, the Buccaneers very well could peek at the draft to find their next starting quarterback.