We are a week away from the NFL’s legal tampering period, when free agents are allowed to start negotiating with other teams. Most are expecting the coming days to be among the wildest free-agent signing periods in NFL history, especially on the quarterback front – there are over a dozen QBs that could be on the market.
If the dominoes fall in the right places, there is potential for free-agency fireworks. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers are available. So are Ryan Tannehill, Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston. Cam Newton and Derek Carr could even be traded, too. But there is also potential for a doomsday scenario — where nothing really happens.
Let’s start by looking at the NFL landscape as a whole. There are 19 teams that appear set at starting quarterback going forward: the Bills, Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Browns, Bengals (expected to draft Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick), Texans, Chiefs, Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Vikings, Lions, Saints, Falcons, Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals. None of these teams will be in play for a free-agent QB, other than perhaps to add a low-end backup.
From there, the Broncos got spurts of strong play out of Drew Lock and could ride with him in 2020. Same with the Jaguars and Gardner Minshew. Dwayne Haskins wasn’t great in his rookie season, but he showed flashes, and Washington may be too invested in him after using a first-round pick on him a year ago.
The Panthers, facing a huge rebuild, looked like they might trade Cam Newton, but comments from new coach Matt Rhule suggested otherwise. The Bears have been rumored to be shopping for a veteran QB, but GM Ryan Pace says he still believes in Mitchell Trubisky. Jimmy Garoppolo got the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his first full NFL season.
Which leaves seven teams that truly don’t know who their starter will be in 2020. That’s still a lot, but two of them – the Dolphins and Chargers – have high picks, and could very easily draft a Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert or Jordan Love. (The Panthers have the No. 7 pick, as well). If that happens, both have serviceable bridge QBs on the roster: Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor, respectively.
The teams that appear most in flux at the QB position are the Patriots, Titans, Colts, Raiders and Buccaneers. Brady is the key figure among this group, as New England, Tennessee and Las Vegas (weird, right?) all are rumored to be in the running for his services.
As Brady shops around, he could decide his best chance to win a seventh championship in his twilight years would be to stay with Bill Belichick in New England. The Raiders, upon learning they’ll miss out on Brady, could then decide to stick with Carr in Las Vegas. Another year of awkwardness between him and Jon Gruden ensues.
The Titans then keep Tannehill, if they had not already put the franchise tag on him, hoping they can run it back in 2020 with the same personnel. The Buccaneers do the same to Winston, hoping his LASIK surgery will help him stop mistaking opposing defenders for his own teammates.
The Colts could even stick with Jacoby Brissett, although they seem like the team that is destined to add a new starter no matter what. The tea leaves say the Colts will pursue Rivers, who played for Frank Reich when he was the Chargers’ QB coach and offensive coordinator. But Brissett is owed $15 million in 2020.
At the end of the day, the league would look mostly the same as it did in 2019.
So what would happen to all the other free agents and lame-duck QBs in this scenario? Maybe history repeats itself for Bridgewater, and he patiently signs as a backup in New England, again lying in wait for a future Hall of Famer to retire. Maybe Marcus Mariota signs with the Bears in case Trubisky falters again. Maybe Case Keenum ends up backing up Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. Maybe Jacksonville offloads Nick Foles’ contract back to Philadelphia, the only place he has ever been a decent quarterback. Maybe Rivers tries his hand in the TV booth.
For fans, this would be the most boring outcome, but it is possible. It’s also possible that the exact opposite happens – there could be craziness in the works. Brady signs with his hometown team in San Francisco, which trades Garoppolo back to New England. The Panthers go full rebuild and trade Newton to the Chargers, who trade back with the Raiders so they can draft Jordan Love. Gruden then ships Derek Carr to Chicago, as he has been known to do with his players.
There are dozens of different potential outcomes next week, so prepare for an adventure – or for nothing at all.