Offensive players, excluding quarterbacks, and defensive players to keep an eye on were covered in articles last week. Now, the focus turns to passers.
Every season, a different set of players face a crossroads or have something to prove for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are related to age, contract or salary cap concerns, injury, performance or off-the-field issues.
Eleven such quarterbacks to watch during the 2022 season are below.
Wentz is on his third team in three seasons. His poor play down the stretch last season, particularly in the regular-season finale against the lowly Jaguars, when the Colts controlled their own playoff destiny but failed to secure a postseason berth, led to his departure. Getting rid of Wentz was a little surprising considering the Colts gave up a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 first-round pick for Wentz to be a one-year rental. Colts owner Jim Irsay called acquiring Wentz a mistake shortly after he was dealt to the Commanders in March for essentially 2022 and 2023 third-round picks. The 2023 selection becomes a second-round pick with Wentz taking at least 70% of Washington's offensive snaps this season.
Wentz should be a big upgrade over Taylor Heinicke, last season's starting quarterback who replaced an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick. If not, Wentz won't see the final two years of his contract worth just over $53.4 million and his days as a starting quarterback in the NFL will likely be over.
Mayfield became expendable after the Browns unexpectedly gave up 2022, 2023 and 2024 first-round picks, a 2022 fourth-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Texans for Deshaun Watson and a 2024 sixth-round pick in March. The Browns held on to Mayfield until the middle of July before dealing him to the Panthers for a conditional 2024 fifth-round pick, which becomes a fourth-round pick with him taking at least 70% of Carolina's offensive snaps this season. Mayfield took a slight pay cut from his fully guaranteed $18.858 million fifth-year option to $15.358 million with $3.5 million of incentives being added to facilitate the trade.
The 2018 first overall pick beat out Sam Darnold, 2018's third overall pick, for the starting quarterback job while learning Carolina's offense on the fly. By demonstrating that a disappointing 2021 was attributed to playing most of the season with a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, Mayfield should be a starting quarterback in 2023 whether with the Panthers or somewhere else.
A Rams trade for Matthew Stafford that brought Goff to the Lions paid immediate dividends in Los Angeles. The Rams won the Super Bowl last season, which is something that wasn't done during Goff's five seasons with the team.
Goff got off to a rocky start in Detroit but played his best football down the stretch as the Lions' only three wins last season came in the four games he played in December and January. He completed 66.9% of his passes (91 of 136) for 965 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions to post a 103.3 passer rating during those games. Goff may need to pick up where he left off last season to remain in Detroit long term since there isn't any more guaranteed money in his contract after this year. He has two more years on his deal with $25.65 million and $26,650,064 salaries in 2023 and 2024.
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A dismal three-interception game in a divisional playoff loss to the Bengals as the AFC's No. 1 seed overshadows a solid 2021 season. Tannehill was the NFL's 45th best-performing player in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. Seven quarterbacks (Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Joe Burrow, Kirk Cousins, Justin Herbert, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford) ranked ahead of him. The AFC South should be a two-team race between the Colts and Titans. Tannehill and/or the Titans faltering could result in 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis becoming quarterback next season. The 2023 season is the final year of the four-year, $118 million contract Tannehill signed in 2020. His $36.6 million cap number is the NFL's sixth largest for 2023.
Winston beat out Taysom Hill last preseason to replace a retiring Drew Brees as Saints quarterback. He had significantly cut down on the turnovers that plagued him during his five years with the Buccaneers (2015-19) before suffering a season-ending left knee injury during a Week 8 victory over his former team. Only three interceptions were thrown in the seven games Winston played last season.
Winston returned to the Saints on a two-year, $28 million deal with $21 million in guarantees. Incentives and salary escalators make the deal worth as much as $39 million.
Winston will have much better wide receivers at his disposal than in 2021 as 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas returns from an ankle injury that kept him out of action last season. The Saints traded up to take Chris Olave with the 11th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and Jarvis Landry took a modest one-year, $3 million deal (worth up to $6 million through incentives) after the Browns released him.
Tagovailoa's 2022 performance will determine whether the Dolphins pick up his fully guaranteed, fifth-year option for 2024, which could be in the $25 million neighborhood. The Dolphins have given Tagovailoa, 2020's fifth overall pick, tools to succeed. Five draft picks (2022 first-, second- and fourth-round picks as well as 2023 fourth- and sixth-round picks) were given to the Chiefs to obtain wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the NFL's most dangerous deep threat. The offensive line was upgraded in free agency by signing left tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams. An offensive-minded head coach, Mike McDaniel, was hired to replace Brian Flores. McDaniel, a Kyle Shanahan disciple was the 49ers' offensive coordinator last season.
Hill's high praise of Tagovailoa during the offseason raised some eyebrows. It remains to be seen whether Tagovailoa can come close to living up to Hill's lofty expectations.
Hurts and the Eagles were better than expected in 2021 during his first season as a full-time starter. The Eagles surprisingly made it to the playoffs with a 9-8 record in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. Hurts proved to be a dangerous dual threat by rushing for 784 yards with 10 touchdowns while completing 61.3% of his passes for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Expectations are raised for both the Eagles and Hurts with an infusion of talent. Hurts got the No. 1 wide receiver that was lacking in A.J. Brown, who was acquired from the Titans for 2022 first- and third-round picks in a draft day trade. If Hurts doesn't show improvement as a passer, the 2023 draft is quarterback heavy. The Eagles have the Saints' 2023 first-round pick in addition to their own.
The new regime of head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen declined to pick up Jones' fully guaranteed $22.384 million fifth year for 2023. Daboll developed Josh Allen as Bills offensive coordinator. If Daboll can't get Jones to start living up to the potential that made him 2019's sixth overall pick, he's destined to be a backup quarterback with another team next season.
Trey Lance, 49ers
Lance becoming starting quarterback in 2022 seemed inevitable ever since the 49ers moved up to the third overall pick prior to the 2021 draft to take him. San Francisco's plan to trade Jimmy Garoppolo early in the offseason went out the window because an injury to his throwing shoulder during the playoffs required surgery in March. The trade market never materialized thanks to Garoppolo's right shoulder injury.
Garoppolo surprisingly agreed to a massive pay cut last week, from the $25 million he was scheduled to make this season to $7 million with additional $5.65 million in incentives, to stay with the 49ers as Lance's backup. Growing pains with Lance shouldn't be a surprise given his inexperience. Lance has only thrown 389 passes since high school (318 in college and 71 as a rookie last season). The 49ers, who lost to the Rams in last season's NFC Championship Game, have the league's best backup quarterback in Garoppolo waiting in the wings if things go wrong with Lance.
Trubisky gets first crack at replacing Ben Roethlisberger, who retired after 18 years in Pittsburgh. He signed a two-year, $14.285 million contract worth up to $26.785 million through incentives. Trubisky served as Josh Allen's backup with the Bills in 2021 after starting 50 of the 51 games he played during his four seasons with the Bears. Since Kenny Pickett was taken 20th overall in this year's draft, Trubisky has a somewhat tenuous grip on the starting quarterback job.
Mariota is getting the chance to resurrect his career after spending the last two seasons with the Raiders backing up Derek Carr. The opportunity came about because Atlanta's failed pursuit of Watson prompted Matt Ryan to seek a trade. Ryan was dealt to the Colts for a 2022 third-round pick.
Mariota reunites with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, who was the Titans' offensive coordinator in 2019 when he was benched during the sixth game of the season for Tannehill. The Falcons hedged their bets at quarterback by drafting Desmond Ridder in the third round of this year's draft. Mariota signed a two-year, $18.75 million contract. It's probably just a one-year deal for $6.75 million because $12 million is in 2023, including a $3 million fifth day of the league year roster bonus (March 21), unless Mariota plays at a fairly high level.