If you were to describe the 2021 NFL quarterback market now that the biggest waves of free agency have come and gone, you might say call it "a bit over-hyped." Not that this offseason hasn't been chock-full of juicy rumors. Big names around the league have felt increasingly empowered to lobby for more support or a new destination, and we've legitimately entertained the possibility of guys like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson changing teams. But the two earliest moves at the position -- trades of former No. 1 picks out of Philadelphia and Los Angeles -- proved to be the blockbusters of the offseason rather than the precursor to unprecedented movement.
Still, more than a dozen teams made significant changes at the No. 1 and/or backup QB spots, and a few paid handsomely to do so. Which QBs will ultimately give their teams the most bang for their buck? Here's how we'd rank the moves according to that criteria:
1. Rams trade for Matthew Stafford
Cost: QB Jared Goff, 2022 first-rounder, 2023 first-rounder, 2021 third-rounder
Contract: 2 years, $47.4 million ($10 million guaranteed)
The Rams easily gave up the most for their new QB, at least in terms of combined draft assets and salary cap space, but the fact is Stafford is also the safest upgrade of the entire bunch. L.A. fans should note that he was rarely consistently special in Detroit, but he'll also be working with his best supporting cast in a while, if not ever. They should be playoff contenders while he's around, so the first-rounders they're losing shouldn't be franchise-crippling losses. Best of all, the floor for their QB output has been raised so much just by swapping Stafford in for Goff. This was a totally acceptable gamble for a team on the brink.
2. Colts trade for Carson Wentz
Cost: 2022 conditional second-rounder, 2021 third-rounder
Contract: 4 years, $98.4 million ($35.4 million guaranteed)
Boring to have the two biggest trades rank atop the list, right? That depends who you ask, because after his disastrous 2020, Wentz has been all but written off by plenty. The Colts are inheriting a bigger, less flexible contract than the Rams with Stafford, but it's going to be awfully hard for Wentz not to take a step forward in 2021, let alone under his favorite tutor in Frank Reich and alongside a sturdier offensive line and defense than he had in Philly. Odds are Wentz will end up being more like the 2018-2019 version of himself than the MVP-level 2017 edition, but even that would ensure a return to the playoffs for Indy, not to mention give Reich his first long-term answer at the position since before Andrew Luck's abrupt retirement.
3. Saints re-sign Jameis Winston
Contract: 1 year, $5.5 million (up to $12 million)
Is Winston a top-15 starting QB? No one knows at this point, but the upside is inarguable here. Whereas Taysom Hill gives you grit and versatility, Winston gives you a legitimate NFL arm, not to mention 70 career starts of experience. It'd be foolish to assume he'll make a seamless transition into Drew Brees' No. 1 job, but the cost is minimal and the ceiling is high. Two years removed from a Buccaneers sendoff that saw him throw over 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, would anyone be stunned if he hit 4,000 and 25 under Sean Payton, with the Saints' weapons, to keep New Orleans in the hunt?
4. Cowboys re-sign Dak Prescott
Contract: 4 years, $160 million
The Cowboys are worlds better with Prescott than without him. With a healthy Dak and a healthier O-line, they can easily talk themselves into leading the NFC East once more. The reason this isn't incredible value, though, is precisely because Dallas waited too long to pay up. At $40 million per year, Prescott will make more than every QB except Patrick Mahomes. While the Cowboys have ways to create cap space in future seasons, there's no doubt they've handicapped their ability to build a contender around Prescott so deep into his career. And contrary to what his salary suggests, he's not that elite that he can win it all without steady weaponry and defense.
5. Washington signs Ryan Fitzpatrick
Contract: 1 year, $10 million (up to $12 million)
Fitzpatrick doesn't solve the biggest hole on Washington's roster: long-term QB. What he does offer, however, is a major upgrade on 2020 starter Alex Smith, whose return from injury was far more inspirational than his passing. In the same financial ballpark as Andy Dalton, Taysom Hill and Nick Foles, he's darn near a steal as a one-year Band-Aid. There may be more interceptions than you'd like, but his moxie alone should keep Washington in the thick of the playoff race.
6. Bills sign Mitchell Trubisky
Contract: 1 year, $2.5 million (up to $4.5 million)
This is one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. Trubisky was out of his league as the No. 1 in Chicago, where he got little coaching or O-line help down the stretch, but you couldn't have found a more ideal backup for Josh Allen. Both guys thrive when showcasing their mobility. Allen's aggressive nature makes the No. 2 spot all the more important in Buffalo. And Brian Daboll would assuredly get the most out of Trubisky in the event of an emergency start or two, not to mention at an incredibly low price tag.
7. Lions trade for Jared Goff
Cost: QB Matthew Stafford
Contract: 4 years, $104.1 million ($20.5 million guaranteed)
Even at 26, Goff doesn't necessarily feel like a real long-term answer in Detroit, which was more interested in absorbing the ex-Ram's contract for the sake of adding future first-rounders. This move, then, is tough to love or hate entering 2021. On one hand, the Lions are getting a guy who can provide top-12 production when upright and comfortable (unlikely on a rebuilding team), plus the benefit of more assets to replace him if it doesn't pan out. On the other, he can't be cut with substantial savings until 2023, and the Lions still have to hit on those future picks to make the deal worthwhile.
8. Patriots re-sign Cam Newton
Contract: 1 year, $5.1 million (up to $14 million)
It'll be hard for Newton to be much worse than he was in 2020, and the Patriots' offseason spending spree gives him at least two major safety valves in tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The $5 million deal also doesn't prevent New England from adding more at QB. The reason it's not higher on the list: Newton hasn't been a good QB for six years and counting. While he's still a strong runner and could improve with new weapons, recent history begs us to admit he just might be past his prime. If he were specifically slotted as the Patriots' backup in 2021 rather than the presumptive starter, this deal would look better.
9. Dolphins sign Jacoby Brissett
Contract: 1 year, $5 million (up to $7.5 million)
Brissett's ceiling isn't nearly as high as that of Fitzpatrick, who was lightning in a bottle as the Dolphins' "relief pitcher" in 2020. But like Trubisky in Buffalo, he's a near-perfect skill-set mirror of the starter, the conservative but efficient Tua Tagovailoa. If anything were to happen to Tua this year, Miami can rest easy knowing Brissett won't lose them a playoff spot in an emergency start or three.
10. Bears sign Andy Dalton
Contract: 1 year, $10.5 million
Dalton is a good guy, by all indications, with a respectable career under his belt. His connections to Bears staffers just might make him a slight upgrade on Nick Foles. The contract, in that scenario, isn't unreasonable. But everything else about this stinks of dysfunction. A team on the brink of the postseason, with a coach and front office on the hot seat, and Andy Dalton not only gets paid over guys like Fitzpatrick and Winston but then gets handed the uncontested starting job? Trubisky would've offered a higher ceiling, for crying out loud. The Bears needed a home run or at least a big swing, but instead they settled for an infield single.
11. Washington re-signs Taylor Heinicke
Contract: 2 years, $4.5 million
Fitzpatrick isn't necessarily a guarantee to last all 16 games at age 38 with just one full season played in the last eight years. Heinicke also isn't close to a proven backup. But at $2.25 million per year, you can do worse betting on a young dual threat. He showed fire in the playoffs and has played well under coordinator Scott Turner. A classic low-risk, high-reward play.
12. Texans sign Tyrod Taylor
Contract: 1 year, $5.5 million (up to $12.5 million)
With or without a swift resolution to Deshaun Watson's legal situation, Taylor may end up starting for the Texans this year. That may make his contract look more reasonable, but it wouldn't bode well for Houston. At this point in his career, Taylor is like Brissett, except older and worse -- an ultra-conservative but not even particularly accurate game manager.
13. Eagles sign Joe Flacco
Contract: 1 year, $3.5 million
It's a fine veteran placeholder to bring some experience and arm to a team in major transition. Nothing more, nothing less.
14. Giants sign Mike Glennon
Contract: 1 year, $1.35 million
New York is barely paying Glennon, who might be a slight upgrade over 2020 backup Colt McCoy, and the Giants best hope they barely play him, too. Daniel Jones may not be a star, but he offers way more play-making ability.
15. Jaguars sign C.J. Beathard
Contract: 2 years, $5 million
The price tag is fine, considering Beathard flashed as a spot starter in San Francisco. But chances are he's not going to look quite as good in emergency situations in Jacksonville, if needed.
Contract: 1 year, $2.5 million
Good for them purging an Aaron Rodgers understudy (and surprise summer competition for Goff?) from Green Bay, but why on Earth did they need to pay him more than Glennon and Blaine Gabbert combined for his four career passes?