We are now less than two weeks away from what will certainly be an unprecedented period of transactions on the quarterback market. The 2020 NFL offseason will forever be defined by the activity at the most important position in all of professional sports, with an array of all-time greats and former Pro Bowlers and top overall picks from recent drafts all unsure of where they will be playing next season.
After spending time at the combine with agents, team executives and coaches, this much remains clear: there are more needy mouths than spots at the table, and the free-agent or trade market for at least two or three QBs is going to be much softer than those players are anticipating. There are going to be some ticked off quarterbacks out there by the end of March, and several guys will either be facing less money than they anticipated or fewer opportunities than they anticipated … or both.
"There are going to be starting quarterbacks in this league who are going to be very unhappy campers," as one team exec put it to me. "Do the math. It doesn't all add up."
I've been chronicling this pending phenomenon in this space since midseason, when it became clear the market was about to be glutted with options from a wide pantheon of quarterbacks of varied accomplishment, compensation level and upside. Whatever your desire, there would be a QB to fill it from the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and possibly Ryan Tannehill, as free agents, to potentially guys like Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Derek Carr via trade. A lot to wade through, and when coupled with a 2020 draft that will feature at least four quarterbacks taken in the first half of the first round – and with a growing sense of four possibly in the top 10 alone – and five likely among the top 30 or so picks, there simply aren't enough starting positions to go around.
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I provided a projection on how I could see this shaping up a while back, based on how things would play out if Tom Brady ended up with the Chargers. This week I spoke to a longtime NFL source of mine, who is particularly connected in quarterback circles and has unique relationships in the executive and agent community. He is someone who over the years has always had great instincts and an uncanny feel for how the quarterback market – both free agent and draft – would play out. I wanted to see how strongly he felt about certain possibilities this year.
Of course, he issued the caveat everyone is uttering around the league right now – "I've never seen anything like this before with this many starting quarterbacks possibly on the move," he said – but definitely has some strong, informed hunches as to how this might all play out. Here was how he sized up the oncoming onslaught of quarterback movement:
Tom Brady: New England
No matter what anyone is reporting, the Patriots will have a role in this saga at the appropriate time. Robert Kraft will get his time with Brady. And while the Chargers, Raiders, 49ers (I suppose), Titans and Bucs will sniff around, and some will have serious interest, I would never discount Brady finishing his career with the only franchise he has known after fooling around with some potential suitors.
Philip Rivers: Tampa Bay
This source thinks Bruce Arians will be able to speak Rivers' language and recruit him to Florida, especially with the Rivers family already relocating to that state. "Of all the options, Philip is the one who fits this scheme best," he said. "Indianapolis makes sense, too, because of (Frank) Reich, but I think Tampa is the best overall fit."
Ryan Tannehill: Tennessee
"I would transition him," he said. "If you get Brady you could let him go or trade him if he's signed the tag. This is the best fit for the player and the team. I don't think he leaves."
Teddy Bridgewater: Carolina
"He fits the mold of what Matt Rhule would want from his QB. He is steady. He is a leader. He is still really young. Keep your picks for other positions (than QB). I don't see them building around Cam (Newton) and this is a team in transition. I think, assuming he is healthy enough at some point this spring, Cam gets traded."
Cam Newton: Las Vegas
"If he is healthy this is a great fit. (Jon) Gruden knows all of these quarterbacks from studying them and meeting them at ESPN. I could see him buying low on Cam. He's ready to move on from (Derek) Carr. The Panthers need draft picks and the Raiders have plenty." I have heard similar sentiments from other well-connected sources about this proposition and have yet to encounter a trusted source in the NFL who believes Carr will be back with the Raiders.
At this point I asked if he thought Winston could be in play with the Raiders, which is something I have heard myself. "Totally, I could him with Gruden. Big arm. Wants to go downfield. Different from Carr in a lot of ways. That makes sense to me, too." I also asked about a proposition I have been thinking a lot about lately – the prospect of Carr and Newton being part of the same trade. This source hadn't considered that but it didn't sound crazy to him, either. Carolina would get more service time on a contract with Carr at the same team-friendly rate as Newton. "I could see it being a scheme fit," he said.
Andy Dalton: Chicago
Dalton's connections to new Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are well known.
Nick Foles: Indianapolis
"He has strong ties to the coach and he's cheaper than Rivers. He was with (GM Chris) Ballard in KC. The Bears have some interest too, and (coach Matt Nagy) likes him, too. I think he gets traded."
Marcus Mariota: Arizona
"Totally fits what they are doing. I think he'd be great with Kyler (Murray)."
As for the teams not mentioned here, this source expects the Chargers to draft a quarterback in the first round: either Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. He doesn't see the Lions drafting one but does expect them to trade down. He believes the Skins are serious in their investigation of Tua Tagovailoa, but I also asked about Carr possibly being a fit in Washington if the Raiders move on from him. Carr has strong ties to defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and he protects the football. "What did he do against (new Skins head coach) Ron Rivera?" he asked me. Only a one game sample, but Carr was strong, going 26 for 38 for 315 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT in his only game against Rivera, FWIW.
Ultimately, he expects four quarterbacks to be selected among the top six picks. No one has a crystal ball, especially in a market as bizarre as this one, but I found myself nodding along in agreement through much of this conversation. We'll see how the scorecard plays out in a few weeks, but I suspect there are more than a few prescient predictions in here.