Behind the scenes, the scrambling has already begun.
In war rooms and meeting rooms, on yachts and within palatial estates -- anywhere billionaire NFL owners meet with their coaches and management teams -- the plotting and planning and pleading and praying has long been underway. For the legion of teams that are unsettled at the quarterback position, the desperation is already palpable in some corridors of the league. Hope is in short supply.
Hands are wringing. Jaws are clenched.
Probing questions are being asked of those in charge of NFL teams that are at times impossible to answer. Supply and demand in The Great QB Chase of 2022, alas, are not aligned, and many a general manager or offensive coordinator or head coach is already losing sleep wondering how this riddle will be solved. How can we get a franchise quarterback? And at what cost?
The draft offers few solutions. No sure things. More questions than answers there as well. Sure, two to four of them will likely get snatched up in the first round, but expecting immediate dividends is folly. Many a gaze is already being cast at the 2023 quarterback crop, which looks to be more robust. GMs are scurrying for any morsel of information about what legal consequences Deshaun Watson might face, knowing full well that clarity about any criminal charges he might face, let alone a suspension, is highly unlikely before the draft. Skepticism is growing about Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers truly becoming available, although actual details are in short supply. And regardless, those two will be able to steer where they land, and many of the teams most in need of their services aren't close enough to winning to attract their attention.
Interest in guys like Jimmy Garoppolo and Carson Wentz is lukewarm as best I can tell, while some rumblings about Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan have picked up. But, again, how much can they elevate a franchise at this point? Make a play for Gardner Minshew? Yeah, that's the landscape.
The free agent class is less-than-stellar. There are some narratives within the scouting community about Marcus Mariota and Mitch Trubisky benefitting from a reset, perhaps, but try selling your owner on that outcome as the panacea to all that ails many of these franchises. Jameis Winston looked to be turning the corner under Sean Payton's tutelage, but there are concerns about his past behavior and that pesky 30-pick season from just a few years back. Teddy Bridgewater continues to make the rounds. Tyrod Taylor is a great mentor to a young QB, but good luck finding someone to uplift the franchise in free agency at this position.
Slim pickings. Pretty bleak.
It got me to thinking about which teams really are the most desperate to make something happen at quarterback. Among the many clubs lacking anyone on their current QB roster who realistically portends to be the long-term solution at this spot, which would be most willing to sell their collective souls to get a franchise guy? I have some thoughts. From most panicked to least. None of these clubs is in a great spot, but some seem more stuck than others:
Pittsburgh doesn't give off the air of being in a QB pickle, and Mason Rudolph continues to be propped up, but this team can't afford to waste the blue-chip talent it has on defense. The Steelers don't have losing seasons under Mike Tomlin, and they reached the playoffs a year ago with poor quarterback play, but you aren't winning in January in the AFC with the QBs they have right now. And I doubt either understudy proves to be the heir to Big Ben in the end. Add a legit QB who can push the ball downfield, upgrade the offensive line, and 2022 could be quite interesting while avoiding any long rebuild.
Life comes at you fast. Going from defending a Lombardi Trophy to waving goodbye to Tom Brady is a lot to swallow. And even with their cap issues, and a roster purge, there will still be abundant talent here and the NFC South will be up for grabs. Could they be the landing spot for Wilson or Rodgers? Still would have a lot to offer. It obviously worked out well for TB12 there!
You can almost feel the organization sweating all as one while owner David Tepper frets about all the mistakes they have made at this position already. The NFC South looks fairly wide open, with Payton and Tom Brady gone, and the Bucs and Saints in a cap crunch, but Carolina is stuck with Sam Darnold's $18M albatross contract, and the reports about the team poking around on Cousins doesn't surprise me. Jobs are on the line there. The Panthers have to get this QB thing fixed in the coming weeks. It won't be easy. If they took one sixth overall, few would be surprised.
I'd be all over keeping Winston. They have solid bones on this roster, the defense is legit, the offensive line is still good, and they can find a few more skill guys. Taysom Hill ain't it, I know that much. I could see Trubisky here, too.
Their turnover at QB the last two decades is nothing short of staggering. No one lasts as the starter more than a couple of years. It's become a generational issue for a once-proud franchise. And this is a bad year to try to fix it. They just might be stuck going through the draft, too. Mock draft nation is already bracing for it.
I'd be researching those cleanses Rodgers is raving about. Embrace yoga and self-induced vomiting. Get my offers ready for the Packers and my recruiting pitch fired up in case he becomes available. Short of that, or Wilson (who I don't see living in Denver), I don't know. They have been in QB purgatory since Peyton Manning started falling apart. Brutal place to be. Tough to get out from unless you end up picking very high in a strong QB draft (or mortgage multiple drafts to move up to do so). Going with another mid-tier, short-term QB would be fairly hopeless.
If they didn't have $18M committed to Baker Mayfield for 2022, I believe this team would be angling for a multitude of options. But the Browns are likely stuck with the former top-overall pick. I could see them doing something on Day 2 of the draft.
I get how badly they want to improve from Wentz. I also don't see an easy path to do so. As I have suggested in the past, swapping QBs with the 49ers (for Jimmy G) might make some sense, though I am not sure either guy is markedly better than the other. But it would be a change. Their hands might end up tied.
They could get to the playoffs with Cousins next year, but that experiment isn't going to bring them a Super Bowl. And the jury is out on Kellen Mond. Year 1 with a rookie head coach, so they don't need to figure it out this offseason, but doing another short-term deal with Cousins to get more cap relief would be misguided. I don't see it.
A lot like the Vikings, with the Falcons sticking with their older quarterback too long, paying him too much money and missing a window to get decent return for him via trade. Hijacked by the QBs cap situation, which is a problem of their own making. Ryan can still help you beat middling teams, however, of which there appear to be plenty in the NFC. It could be worse.
The new coach and GM got six-year deals in 2021. They are stuck with Jared Goff's brutal contract for another year. They don't need to force the QB issue this year, as they will almost certainly be picking very high again in 2023. I'd focus on upgrading the overall roster this offseason since this was always going to be a multi-year rebuild.
This Daniel Jones thing is highly unlikely to work out. But Brian Daboll, in his first year as a head coach, doesn't need to overreact to a problem that he did not create. He and rookie GM Joe Schoen inherited it. They can attack it in 2023.
Davis Mills intrigues me. Not enough to not still be looking for other developmental passers, but enough not to chase one of these free agents or lock myself into taking a QB in the top rounds this spring. There is some clay to mold there, and this front office clearly has the owner under their spell, and I suspect if they do make a bold QB move it's next year. I also wonder if at some point they just cut Watson, because paying him $35M not to play this year, if that's what it comes to, seems crazy to me.