The quarterback match game: Who’s going where in the NFL?

Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr could all be on the move. (John Raoux, Matt Slocum and John Locher/AP) (John Raoux ,Matt Slocum and John Locher/AP)
8 min

Tom Brady is waiting patiently for his market to take shape; Aaron Rodgers is growing restless in Green Bay (as we figured he would); and each day seems to bring a new narrative about what the future holds for Lamar Jackson.

This is going to be another wild offseason in the NFL, with more than ample quarterback drama and intrigue. After delving into several of the higher-profile quarterback targets at length in recent weeks, it seems appropriate to look at this group of free agent, trade-target and probable first-round passers on the whole. Their outcomes are invariably linked: When one finds a new home, it will leave fewer opportunities for the remaining quarterbacks.

What is certain is that an array of them will be on the move again, with the demand for quality signal callers as high as ever. By the time the scouting combine kicks off at the end of February, there almost certainly will be handshake deals all around, with teams fearful of being left behind. I went through the list of potentially available quarterbacks with an NFL general manager to craft this early projection about how it all might go down.

Tom Brady — San Francisco 49ers

I have a feeling Brock Purdy is going to look like Mr. Irrelevant in Philadelphia on Sunday. Regardless, if the 49ers can win with a raw rookie who barely got reps in the offseason — while leaning on their defense, running game and offensive scheme, with Purdy attempting around 20 passes per game — couldn’t they do the same or better with the GOAT? Kyle Shanahan has coveted Brady in the past, they need a veteran somewhere in the mix, and Trey Lance is a complete unknown entering his third year and coming off a serious injury. Peyton Manning barely threw the ball downfield during his final season in Denver but snagged a Lombardi Trophy because everything else was in place.

What’s next for Tom Brady? Here are four potential NFL destinations.

Lamar Jackson — Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have always stood out as a prime destination. “I think it’s the best fit for him,” said the GM, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the league’s tampering regulations, “and they match up for a trade.” The Ravens could get Jackson out of the AFC and land a top-10 pick as part of a draft haul along with star cornerback A.J. Terrell, while Falcons owner Arthur Blank could finally get some sizzle to try to fill his stadium and get back to the playoffs.

Aaron Rodgers — Las Vegas Raiders

“If Brady is in San Francisco, then I think Rodgers goes to Vegas,” the GM said. “I don’t see him in New York” with the Jets. This would reunite Rodgers with top receiver Davante Adams in an offense loaded with weapons. The Raiders want to make a splash, and they could put the franchise tag on Josh Jacobs, the NFL’s leading rusher, and focus on bolstering their defense. At this point, I doubt it would take more than a mid-round pick to get Rodgers.

Derek Carr — New York Jets

“This is the best [Jets owner Woody Johnson] can do,” the GM said. Agreed. It has been a long time since they had a proven veteran quarterback at the helm. It’s clear that Johnson wants to upgrade significantly at the position — that’s a low bar to clear after the Jets’ 2022 quarterback play — and this contract is well within their means. Expect the rumor mill to link the Ravens and Commanders to Carr as well.

Ryan Tannehill — Baltimore Ravens

Ravens Coach John Harbaugh made it clear that while the team searches for a new offensive coordinator and Jackson’s future hangs in the balance, many overarching principles will not change. In other words, the Ravens will run the hell out of the football with a multitude of backs and lean on the fullback like no one else. Tannehill has played well against Baltimore (including in the playoffs), is a master of the play-action game and is accustomed to the running game being the focus after all these years with Derrick Henry in Tennessee. The trade compensation wouldn’t be substantial, and the Ravens would be loaded with picks after trading Jackson. I could also see Jacoby Brissett being an intriguing stopgap free agent option for Baltimore.

Jimmy Garoppolo — Miami Dolphins

“Even if they stick with Tua, they have to bring someone else in,” the GM said, alluding to the concussion history of starter Tua Tagovailoa. Of course, this could be Brady, whom Miami ownership loves (and already lost a first-round pick for tampering with). But Garoppolo would be a great fit in the scheme, with Miami Coach Mike McDaniel overseeing the 49ers’ running game during Garoppolo’s prime there. Garoppolo and Brady have the same agent, Don Yee, who will have as strong of a read on the quarterback carousel as anyone.

NFL franchises in need of a QB might face a difficult offseason

Daniel Jones — New York Giants

“I’d put the [nonexclusive franchise] tag on him,” the GM said. “No way I’m letting him walk. I want to see him with [Coach Brian] Daboll for another year.” The Giants can easily afford to rent Jones for around $30 million after his breakthrough 2022 season, now finally surrounded by an elite coaching staff. (He had never had even a competent one in New York.) Jones has top-end athleticism and curbed his turnover issues for the most part.

Geno Smith — Seattle Seahawks

This is just about as much of a no-brainer as Jones. Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider love Smith’s redemption story; his decline in the second half of the season should lessen his outside market; and this just makes sense. The Seahawks are basking in a drama-free space after years of butting heads with Russell Wilson. “He’s not going anywhere,” the GM said.

Jacoby Brissett — New Orleans Saints or Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Both NFC South teams need to draft a quarterback of the future, and neither is positioned to get anywhere close to the top prospects in this draft. Brissett flourished in Cleveland and has the perfect temperament to handle the bridge quarterback role. Playing in better conditions wouldn’t hurt, and he would embrace the mentorship component.

Gardner Minshew II — Washington Commanders

After years with Taylor Heinecke, why not get a player with a similar profile, only better? Sam Howell has some strong support in the organization and showed well in Week 18, but the Commanders will need to have a veteran around just in case. And unlike a lot of backups, Minshew can hold up if you need him for a longer haul, not just a few games.

What to know about the Commanders’ offseason, from roster needs to QB options

Bryce Young — Houston Texans

They’ve been tanking for years, and now it’s finally time to add the potential franchise quarterback. There have been strong rumblings in the scouting community since midway through the college season that Houston GM Nick Caserio was a big fan of the star from Alabama, a program he is wired into after all his years under Bill Belichick, who has an epic bromance with Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban.

Will Levis — Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have to stop renting broken veteran quarterbacks and finally invest real draft capital in that position. And it just so happens that by hiring someone totally ill-equipped to coach an NFL team, they lost seven straight to end the season and now have a top-four pick. The Kentucky quarterback has some high highs — along with some lower lows than you would like — but is probably the second passer off the board.

C.J. Stroud — Carolina Panthers

The Heisman Trophy finalist from Ohio State is raw but has size, strength and accuracy, which will resonate with owner David Tepper after watching Ben Roethlisberger all those years as a minority owner with the Steelers. Here’s guessing they probably won’t have to move up from the ninth pick to land him.

Anthony Richardson — Baltimore Ravens

The fourth first-round quarterback just makes sense here, and the Ravens could use Atlanta’s No. 8 pick on another need and grab the Florida product with their original pick at No. 22. Richardson is an amazing talent who will need serious development but can do special things athletically. Hmm. I found it noteworthy that draft maven Daniel Jeremiah — a former Ravens scout with close ties to that organization and the best in the biz for my money — had Richardson to Baltimore in his first mock draft. Longer hmm.