Quarterback Roulette – Who Bets the House?

Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. It’s the topic that dominates any off-season dialogue, but this year has some big names potentially on the move. Derek Carr is two feet out the door. Aaron Rodgers is “undecided” on if he will play in 2023 (he is not walking away from $60 million or sharing his HOF induction spotlight with Tom Brady) but it sure seems like he and the Packers are headed for divorce. Speaking of Brady, who replaces the GOAT down in Tampa? Hell, who replaces each 2022 Week 1 starter in the entire NFC South? Where is Jimmy going? What about the rookies?

It’s time for predications that will inevitably be proven wrong four seconds after I hit publish.

Lamar Jackson – Ravens

Let’s just get this one out of the way. Lamar isn’t going anywhere. If they can’t get a deal done by the tag deadline Baltimore is going to slap him with the exclusive franchise tag, meaning Lamar can’t negotiate a contract with another team. It will also cost the Ravens an extra ~$13 million.

The AFC is in the midsts of perhaps the biggest arms race in NFL history. You can reasonably argue that the four best quarterbacks in the league (Mahomes, Burrow, Allen, and Herbert) all reside in the AFC, and then deem Lamar as the 5th best quarterback (not to mention that at this time next year Trevor Lawrence could very well be in this conversation). If the Ravens were to trade Lamar for a billion picks the hope would be that they’d end up with someone… as good as Lamar.

Prediction: Lamar and Baltimore eventually come to a long-term agreement. It may not happen until after he receives the tag, but they’re not letting him out of the building. He gets five-years, $231 million to beat Kyler and Watson’s total value with $180 million guaranteed, making it the second largest guaranteed sum in NFL history.

Derek Carr – Falcons

Before the Raiders can find their next quarterback they have to deal their current one. To me, Carr doesn’t make sense for teams hitting the reset button, or teams that may be a year away from hitting the reset button. Carr has a no-trade clause so he’s going to get to pick his next destination either by dictating who trades for him or forcing his release and signing as a free agent. As Carr’s contract is currently structured, whoever his team is in 2024 can easily cut him and move on, eating a $3.75 million cap hit while freeing up over $40 million in space. Do you think Derek wants to go through this entire process of changing teams later this month just to end up finding a new home again in 2024?

I’d bet a lot that whoever trades for Carr immediately hands him a reworked deal that results in a longer commitment. The Bucs and Saints are in cap hell anyway and probably can’t afford Carr, but why tie yourself to him when you might just blow the whole thing up in 11 months from now?

Atlanta, however, is in a prime position to pounce on Carr. They already have over $56 million in cap space and can free up another $9.5 million by cutting Mariota. The NFC South is wide open. The Falcons would immediately by the heavy division favorite if they acquired Carr. They have the cap space, and timeline, to commit long-term money to him. Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have been laying a foundation for the past two years and it is now time they strike to turbo charge this rebuild.

Carr figures to be a good pairing with Smith’s offense for two reasons. One, he has the athleticism for all these bootlegs. Two, you might not believe this but Marcus Mariota actually led the NFL last year in Average Intended Air Yards at 10.2 yards (among qualified passers). Carr was 5th at 9.3 yards. Carr has the arm, and willingness (he was 5th in aggressiveness last year to Mariota’s 7th), to air it out.

Prediction: Whoever trades for Carr will hand him a new deal, so it’s difficult to gauge his trade value. Carson Wentz (twice), Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield fetched multiple picks, though they were younger at the time. They also had never been as good as Carr, except for a 10 game run for Wentz in 2017. Matt Ryan got a 3rd round pick and he was washed. Atlanta probably sends their 2023 second rounder to Vegas along with a 2024 conditional 4th that can become a 3rd (or conditional 5th that becomes a 4th).

My reservation about this trade is that once Carr picks his team they’d only be bidding against themselves, so why give up a 2nd? Apparently Vegas is trying to go about this like Houston, only allowing Carr to speak with teams that have preemptively agreed to their trade terms. However, if Carr doesn’t want to play for any of those teams he can simply trigger his no trade-clause. Are the Raiders really going to lose Carr for nothing instead of just trading him to where he will sign in free agency anyway?

Aaron Rodgers – Raiders

Las Vegas goes all in on black (I’m hilarious). Vic Tafur of The Athletic laid out a good argument for why the Raiders should go with a rookie quarterback. In a nutshell, Rodgers salary is exorbitant and you have to trade picks to acquire him. That combination is bad news for a top heavy roster. With a rookie scale quarterback, Vegas can spend the necessary resources building out the rest of the roster. In his Tafur’s, “..then you have a real window with the quarterback’s rookie contract to quickly build a contender in the next four years.”

Next four years eh?

The prevailing wisdom when these incumbent regimes drat a rookie quarterback is that it buys them time as ownership will be patient with the quarterback’s development. But does that ever actually come to fruition? Lovie Smith was fired after Jameis Winston’s rookie year. Jeff Fisher was fired after Jared Goff’s rookie year. John Fox was fired after Trubisky’s rookie year. Matt Nagy after Fields’ rookie year.

You can rightfully accuse me of cherry-picking, but the point remains: with two of the four best quarterbacks in the AFC West, can Josh McDaniels spend the next 1-2 years losing games while developing a rookie/sophomore quarterback after already having logged a 6-11 season?

I say no. McDaniels and Dave Ziegler came to town last year and traded for Davante Adams and signed Chandler Jones. They’re not here to wait out the Chiefs dynasty as if this were NBA teams punting six-years of competition because the Warriors are flat out unfair. Do you think the son of “Just Win Baby” wants to see his hated division rivals rack up wins while his new $1.9 billion dollar stadium is treated as Triple-A facility until 2025?

I have no idea if Rodgers is washed or not, but before the season I said we were underestimating the odds the 2022 Packers were the 2019 Patriots. Well, the next year Brady went to Tampa after looking like shit, and with a bounty of offensive weapons and was back to normal and won a Super Bowl. Could something similar happen for Rodgers by reuniting with Adams, and upgrading to Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow? Sure, why not?

The other huge factor here is the Raiders cap situation. Rodgers keeps getting linked to the Jets, with unsubstantiated rumors that Joe Douglas is just telling everyone he’ll do whatever it takes to get Rodgers. That’s cool, but how realistic is it?

Rodgers has $59.5 million guaranteed for 2023 with a $31.6 million cap number. The Jets are about $1.3 million over the cap, but can free up ~$25 million by cutting Carl Lawson and Corey Davis. Compare that to Las Vegas, who is about $19.8 million under the cap and will free up somewhere between $29-$35 million after trading Carr. Let’s just peg the Raiders at roughly $50 million in cap space and call attention to the fact Rodgers told Pat McAfee he would be willing to rework his deal to make it easier on Green Bay or another team. It is going to be much easier for the Raiders to fit that reworked deal onto their books than New York.

It’s very difficult to figure out what Rodgers will fetch in a trade. Brett Favre was traded for a 3rd round pick, but considering the recent trade returns on Carson Wentz (twice), Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Matt Ryan, I’m sure Rodgers will get more. It is, however, difficult to see him garnering a first. 2023 is his age 40 season and he has $110 million coming his direction over the next two seasons. He said he would rework his deal, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to take a pay cut.

Prediction: Vegas is going to end up armed with two second-rounders due to the Carr trade. I think they’ll both get shipped to Green Bay, perhaps along with a 2024 conditional 4th that can become a 3rd.

Jimmy Garoppolo – Jets

For any Jets fans that just scrolled down to the Jets section (you know who you are), here’s a recap: New York is about $1.3 million over the cap as of today. They can clear about $25 million off the books by releasing Carl Lawson and Corey Davis. It’s the NFL so I’m sure if they *really* wanted to, they could make the money work for Rodgers or Carr.

However, I just don’t see how viable those options are. Garoppolo will not only command the cheapest salary but also the cheapest acquisition cost, aka nothing. People are pointing to LaFleur’s dismissal as reason Jimmy won’t come to New York, but I beg to differ. Hackett’s zone-based offense is a variation of Shanahan’s system, and Robert Saleh went to a Super Bowl with Garoppolo.

Garoppolo re-did his deal last year to stay in San Francisco, agreeing to a $6.5 million salary plus per game bonuses. I find it likely Garoppolo takes a journeyman veteran deal, such as Chicago Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, Mitch Trubisky, and Marcus Mariota that pays him somewhere between $7-$14 million per year in base salary, but the deal will be bonus and incentive laden.

Prediction: Jimmy signs a two-year, $26 million deal laced with incentives and bonuses to drive his potential earnings above $20 million a year, but the Jets front load the guarantees so they have an out in 2024.

Daniel Jones – Giants

New York is about to enter their Washington-Kirk Cousins era. It doesn’t seem as if the team really wants to commit to Jones long-term, but with a lack of superior alternatives they don’t have much choice but to run it back while trying to retain flexibility. Last year I said the Giants would be wise to mimic the Eagles by trading one of their two first-rounders for a pick in 2023, so should they want to move on from Jones they would have the ammo to go up the board and get a top tier quarterback prospect. They didn’t and now they have a $140 million decision on their hands.

Prediction: One way or another I think Jones will be playing on a functional one-year deal in 2023. New York might just tag him if they can’t agree on an extension. But if they do come to an agreement, the reported numbers may be $30-$35 million a year for 3-4 years, but the guarantees structure will give the Giants an out in 2024.

Geno Smith – Seahawks

I don’t think Geno is going anywhere. Pete Carroll is too loyal to his players, sans Russell Wilson, and is too old to go the rookie route. The Seahawks have five picks in the top 84 this year, including four in the top 53. I believe Pete Carroll and John Schneider will view retaining Smith and loading up the roster with those picks as the most viable path toward immediate contention.

Prediction: The market for Geno won’t be that hot as the other teams interested in veterans either find a different solution (see above) or are in cap hell (Tampa Bay, New Orleans). He signs a three-year, $75 million deal with $60-$65 million guaranteed. For someone that’s made about $17.5 million in his career, that’s still a lot of bread. Washington might come calling after they cut Wentz with a bigger offer, but Geno opts for a more comfortable environment than whatever the fuck is going on in the nation’s capital.

Houston Texans/Indianapolis Colts – QB1/QB2

I’m lumping these two together because their situations are similar. They’re in the AFC South, they’re picking in the top 4, and they seem locked in on drafting a quarterback. Speaking of them being in the same division, Todd McShay believes there will be a bidding war for the first pick between the two clubs.

“I don’t think [Houston] will sit at two. I think they’ll do everything they can [to trade for one], and the Colts are going to be the driving reason,” McShay said on the First Draft podcast with Mel Kiper and Field Yates. “The Colts are done with veteran quarterbacks who come in and just don’t fit the bill,” McShay said.

In my initial mock draft I projected the Colts to trade with the Bears and select Bryce Young, with the Texans taking C.J. Stroud second. For more on Chicago’s trade market with the first pick, and why I think Indianapolis is the most likely trade partner, click here.

It could be the case Houston does move up one spot and QB2 just falls to the Colts at #4. Or maybe the Bears swing two trades; moving down from 1 to 2 and then 2 to 4 (or 2 to X).

Prediction: The Texans are Colts are the two teams picking highest that need to settle their quarterback position, so they’ll be the teams taking the first two quarterbacks off the board.

Carolina Panthers – QB3

In my mock draft I also had the Panthers trading up with the Seahawks to secure Will Levis, aka QB3. With Vegas and Atlanta trading for veterans, Carolina is the first team in the draft order after the Colts that needs a quarterback.

Washington might be a bidder to leap frog Carolina for QB3. However, I don’t know what to expect out of Washington. Whether it’s trading for a veteran or trading the farm for a prospect, is ownership going to sign off on such a commitment when they’re trying to sell the team and prospective buyers will want flexibility to put their own handprint on the roster? What about Rivera and Mayhew? Will they try to act in self preservation and get a veteran? Can they really go into next season with Sam Howell and except a new ownership group to keep them around after the season?

Tennessee might want to take this opportunity to go up the board while within striking distance (#11) if one of the three quarterbacks falls far enough.

Prediction: Carolina will go up the board at least some to make sure they get the 3rd quarterback, as they’re fearful someone behind them will jump ahead.

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