The San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams are studying whether they want to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff. The same is true for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger. The New York Jets will choose between keeping Sam Darnold and drafting a quarterback with the second pick. The Philadelphia Eagles appear to be staying with Carson Wentz, but that could change.
What makes this offseason quarterback shuffling so complex is that it will involve trades and, in some cases, finding a way to fit quarterbacks under a salary cap that could go down by more than $20 million next season.
Let’s take a look at the four highest-profile situations — Watson, Rodgers, Stafford and Roethlisberger — and make predictions on how things will play out.
Watson hasn’t officially asked the Texans to trade him, but he has let it be known that he wants out of Houston. The Texans are a mess. Watson is so upset with ownership and upper management that he wants to be traded even if the team hires Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is believed to be Watson’s preferred choice as head coach.
Watson is arguably one of the six best quarterbacks in the NFL. Teams interested in him will have to offer — at the least — two first-round draft picks and a high-level player. The Jets have the most to offer. They have two extra first-round picks from Seattle after the Jamal Adams trade. They could offer the second pick in the draft, another first-rounder and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. They could throw in Darnold, too.
The Miami Dolphins have the second most to offer. They have Houston’s first- and second-round picks as well as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, last year’s fifth pick. They also possess their own first- and second-round draft choices. Carolina, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Washington will certainly call. It might be tough for the Rams and New Orleans to do much, because they don’t have the draft capital.
Prediction: I think Watson will stay with the Texans. Owner Cal McNair doesn’t want to trade him. He knows that it would turn off the fan base and that the Texans’ rebuilding effort would take even longer if Watson isn’t on the team. And he’s such a good quarterback that it’s difficult to find a deal that would return equal value.
Rodgers, who said after Sunday’s loss that his future with the Packers is uncertain, is expected to take some time away from Green Bay to think things through. He was able to put aside his anger this season at the Packers’ decision to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round and not add help at wide receiver, but the NFC championship game defeat opened up fresh wounds.
Even though Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, Coach Matt LaFleur decided to kick a field goal on fourth and goal from the 8-yard line late in the game instead of allowing Rodgers the chance to tie it with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. And defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made a terrible call just before the end of the first half to allow Tom Brady to complete a 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller past cornerback Kevin King in single coverage.
That’s back-to-back brutal NFC championship game losses for Rodgers, who also knows the Packers will move on to Love as the starter at some point.
Prediction: Rodgers will stay in Green Bay. Despite the disappointments, Rodgers clearly likes playing in the Packers’ offense under LaFleur — and for a trade to happen, it will almost certainly require Rodgers to force one. The salary cap consequences of trading Rodgers could cripple the Packers’ ability to stay atop the NFC, even if they believe Love, who did not play as a rookie, is ready. Plus, how can a franchise trade a player who is expected to win the MVP award after a season with 48 touchdown passes?
Stafford is a realistic possibility for the Colts, 49ers, Panthers, Steelers, Patriots, Saints and Washington. Were this a normal year, his high salary might have put his value lower than a first-round pick. But with so many QB-needy teams expected to get in on the bidding, it probably will take a first-round pick to get him.
He will soon turn 33, meaning he is young enough to remain a starting quarterback for several years, and he would represent an upgrade for many franchises.
Prediction: Stafford goes to Washington for the 19th pick in the draft and a third-rounder. The Panthers will be aggressive, but they may not want to give up the eighth pick, which they could use to draft a quarterback. The Steelers and Saints, at No. 24 and No. 28, are probably too far back in the draft order, and both have salary cap issues that could keep them from adding Stafford’s contract.
Stafford will have a voice in the process, and one option that could be desirable is the Colts, who have a playoff-ready roster and an opening after Philip Rivers’s retirement. They are a couple of spots behind Washington in the first-round draft order at No. 21. One team that Stafford might want to avoid is New England, given the struggles the Lions had under Matt Patricia.
When the Steelers started 11-0, it seemed Big Ben was poised to be around for two more seasons. But after a disappointing finish, including a first-round playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers are doing some thinking about whether to bring back Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger’s salary cap number for next season is $41.25 million. To keep him, the Steelers are going to have to replace his salary with a signing bonus and spread it out over several years.
Prediction: Roethlisberger stays with the Steelers. The team still believes in him, and it would take a $22.25 million cap hit to move him. Plus, the Steelers have always been loyal to their top players. But they are still thinking through their options, so like all of the predictions on this list, nothing is guaranteed.
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The Packers were playing from behind, so they had to abandon their plans to run the ball. During the regular season, they had the seventh-best percentage of run-to-pass in the NFL, but against the Bucs, Rodgers dropped back to pass 53 times and the Packers had only 16 running plays. Rodgers was sacked five times and had an interception.
The Chiefs also could have a tough time blocking the Bucs’ pass rushers. Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul were effective rushing off the edges against the Packers, and Kansas City has lost left tackle Eric Fisher with a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in the AFC championship game. It doesn’t look like starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has been out since suffering a back injury in Week 6, will play in the Super Bowl, either.
The Bucs will have to come up with ways to double-team Tyreek Hill. Carlton Davis is the Bucs’ best cornerback, but asking him to match Hill’s speed is unfair. Hill had 172 yards on nine catches Sunday, after his 13-catch, 269-yard, three-touchdown performance in the teams’ regular season meeting. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will need to find a way to slow him down.