N.F.L. Quarterbacks on the Move: a Guide

N.F.L. Quarterbacks on the Move: a Guide

It is not two weeks since the Super Bowl, and already three quarterbacks — including the first and second picks in the 2016 draft — have been traded. More movement, possibly much more, will follow. Frustrated stars, well-priced veterans, young starters — all could be on the move, as this emerging era of quarterback empowerment collides with a salary-cap crunch that compels teams to assess their resources at the sport's most critical position.

All deals cannot be made official until the new league year begins on March 17, but here’s a partial list of quarterbacks who will be — or might be — wearing new uniforms when the 2021 season opens next fall.

Quarterbacks Who Have Already Been Traded

Jared Goff, Rams to Lions Whether Goff, 26, revitalizes his career with Dan Campbell’s merry band of kneecap biters in Detroit depends, in part, on his aptitude for doing something with the Lions that he did not do with the Rams: hold on to the ball. Considering Campbell’s apparent penchant for cannibalism — beyond vowing to bite off opponents’ kneecaps, he also stated at his introductory news conference that the Lions would “take another hunk out of you” — Goff would be wise not to approach the 17 turnovers he committed last season.

Matthew Stafford, Lions to Rams After 12 seasons without a postseason victory in Detroit, where he became the Lions’ franchise leader in passing yards, completions and touchdowns, Stafford will join the Rams, a team that acquired him to win far more than just one playoff game. Backed by a ferocious defense, Stafford, 33, should allow Coach Sean McVay to unbridle a downfield passing game that rarely materialized with Goff.

Carson Wentz, Eagles to Colts Wentz was done with the Eagles, and the Eagles were done with him, so their ability to turn one of the N.F.L.’s worst quarterbacks last season (and his onerous contract) into a decent return from Indianapolis — a third-round pick in April and a second-rounder in 2022 that could turn into a first — is a small, if pyrrhic, victory. But his departure from Philadelphia still signifies a failure for an organization that 20 months ago rewarded him with the most guaranteed money (more than $107 million) in league history at the time. The Colts are betting that Wentz will be invigorated by reuniting with two former mentors in Philadelphia, Coach Frank Reich and the assistant Press Taylor, and by joining a roster laden with foundational talent on both sides of the ball.

Quarterbacks Who Might Be Traded

Sam Darnold, Jets Though Darnold would seem a not-incompatible fit for the run-heavy scheme of the new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, his future with the Jets hinges on two factors: the team’s interest in Deshaun Watson and its evaluation of every draft-eligible quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence. If General Manager Joe Douglas perceives potential successors like Justin Fields of Ohio State or Zach Wilson of Brigham Young as better long-term options, or if he succeeds in prying Watson from Houston, then Darnold — drafted third over all only three years ago — could be gone.

Deshaun Watson, Texans Watson has requested a move away from Houston and, armed with a no-trade clause negotiated into the four-year extension he signed last September, can influence his destination. The Texans, when not doing things that alienate their star quarterback, have been adamant in saying they want to keep Watson. Considering he counts a bargain-rate $10.54 million against the salary cap in 2021, they have no incentive to offload him. But with Watson steadfast in his desire to leave, at some point the Texans must determine if they can remain steadfast in their desire to hold on to him — and if not, just how colossal a bounty they can extract for him.

Marcus Mariota, Raiders His lone appearance last season — when he accounted for 314 yards, including 88 rushing, in the Raiders’ Week 15 loss to the Chargers — showcased the tantalizing skills that prompted Tennessee to draft Mariota No. 2 over all in 2015. With a reasonable $10.6 million cap hit next season, Mariota may be able to parlay that single game, and some untapped promise, into a better opportunity elsewhere.

Quarterbacks Who Are Unlikely to Move, but Who Knows?

Derek Carr, Raiders To be clear, the Raiders have shown no inclination to trade Carr, who was the only regular-season quarterback to outduel Patrick Mahomes (and nearly did it twice). But in a division ruled by Mahomes, and with the rookie Justin Herbert of the Chargers ascending, the Raiders might be swayed to move Carr provided they were assured of a definite upgrade. Beyond possibly Watson, there aren’t many of those available.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers The 49ers nearly won a Super Bowl with Garoppolo and may be quite content to try to reach another again with him. But he has missed 23 games across the last three seasons, and according to overthecap.com, San Francisco could save $23.6 million by releasing or trading him. Could this be the off-season Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch get younger at the position?

Drew Lock, Broncos The Broncos’ struggle to develop a successor to Peyton Manning led them most recently to Lock. His uneven second season suggested he continues to tilt on the team’s scale of tall, big-armed quarterbacks more toward Brock Osweiler than John Elway, who picked Lock in the second round in 2019. Lock would figure to be involved in any potential deal for Watson, who might be enticed by Denver’s receiving talent.

Dak Prescott, Cowboys When healthy, Prescott ranks among the league’s best quarterbacks. So there is a better chance that Dallas lures Troy Aikman out of retirement than lets Prescott, recovering from a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, leave in free agency. The Cowboys are still hoping to complete a long-term deal with him before March 9, the deadline for applying a franchise tag, and if the sides can’t agree, Prescott would play under the tag for a second consecutive season.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Roethlisberger, who turns 39 next month, told The Athletic that he would be glad to restructure a contract that next season carries a $41.25 million cap charge. That could free up money to help the Steelers retain some of their 19 unrestricted free agents, but the gesture is moot if they decide the team’s long-term prospects are better without him.

Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins It’s possible that Miami, instead of using the third overall pick to surround Tagovailoa with more offensive talent, will choose to draft his replacement instead. But the only plausible scenario in which Tagovailoa is traded this off-season involves the Texans, who would almost certainly demand his inclusion as part of any package for Watson.

Quarterbacks Who Could Be Availa— Nope

Aaron Rodgers, Packers: <eyeroll emoji>

Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Wilson went all Festivus on the Seahawks, airing his grievances during a recent media blitz. He lamented getting hit so frequently and, spurred by watching Tom Brady and pals power Tampa Bay to a title, indicated he would like a larger voice in personnel decisions. Both are legitimate gripes. The Seahawks know how rare Wilson is. They may appease him. But they’re not trading him.

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