As Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams continue to celebrate their Super Bowl title, the rest of the league is fast at work trying to find a way to make sure they are the last one standing in February of 2023.
For many teams, the quest to get better stars, and perhaps ends, at the quarterback position. The NFL offseason typically involves some game of quarterback musical chairs, and this year's edition should be a doozy.
Tom Brady is retired, for now. Aaron Rodgers is upset, probably still. Russell Wilson might need a change of scenery. And Jimmy Garoppolo's time with the 49ers almost certainly has ended. The 2023 season should be a banner same face, new place year.
Here are eight bold-ish predictions for the NFL QB carousel to come:
1. Steelers go for it
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an elite defense, a Super Bowl-winning head coach, talent at the skill positions, and had to spend the last two years being held hostage by their loyalty to Ben Roethlisberger. No more.
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers don't do rebuild. Pittsburgh takes advantage of a messy situation in the Pacific Northwest, trading three first-round picks to the Seattle Seahawks for Wilson.
While Wilson and the Seahawks had a down season by their standards in 2021, it's easy to forget that Seattle still ranked eighth in DVOA and seventh in offensive DVOA. The Steelers have solid passing game weapons in Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and tight end Pat Friermuth, and a good running back in Najee Harris. Add Wilson to the mix, and the Steelers are right back among the AFC's elite.
2. Eagles aren't totally sold on Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts was fine in his first full season as a starter, leading the Eagles to the No. 7 seed in the NFC and a berth in the wild-card round.
Hurts had prolonged stretches of borderline horrific play followed by spells of action where he looked like a middle-of-the-road starter. The Eagles should keep Hurts around and use their three first-round picks to address their defensive needs. But that doesn't mean Philadelphia should hand the starting job to Hurts in 2022.
The Eagles sign Marcus Mariota to a two-year contract. Mariota spent the last two seasons backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas. He used the first half of the 2020 season to get healthy and played well in relief of an injured Carr late that season. Mariota deserves another shot to be a starter and would be the ideal veteran to push Hurts and potentially usurp him in Philly.
3. Aaron Rodgers is the new Jordan Belfort
Yeah, he's not going anywhere.
I get Rodgers is pissed at how the Packers have handled some things. Sure, losing to Garoppolo and the 49ers in the NFL Divisional Playoffs was a gut punch. But look around the NFC. How many teams are you honestly scared of if you're Rodgers? Two? Three?
The Packers, with Rodgers, will be one of the best teams in the NFC next season and among the Super Bowl favorites.
There's a ton of noise about Rodgers heading to the Denver Broncos to play for his now-former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Why would he want to be in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr when he can be in one with Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, and Jared Goff? It's chess, not checkers.
4. Bucs ride into the danger zone
Tom Brady is gone, and he's not coming back. Or is he? We'll get to that.
But what is clear is Brady won't be playing for the Bucs next season.
Bruce Arians wants a quarterback who can push the ball down the field and isn't afraid to take chances. That style of offense looked a lot better with Brady running it than Jameis Winston, but that's to be expected.
The Bucs have some salary cap issues. I don't think they'll be real players for Rodgers, Wilson, or Deshaun Watson if he's allowed to play.
The Bucs take a low-risk, high-reward approach and trade a fourth-round pick to the Eagles for Gardner Minshew. Minshew put up good numbers during his time in Jacksonville and impressed during spot duty with the Eagles last season.
The pairing of Minshew and Arians should be good enough to compete in the down-and-out version of the NFC South.
5. Commanders gamble
Last offseason, the Washington Commanders signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year contract, hoping the veteran could be a good enough stop-gap to allow them to compete for the NFC East crown.
But Fitzpatrick went down with an injury in Week 1, and the then-Football Team had to rely on Taylor Heinicke to pilot their offense. Heinicke was solid, but Ron Rivera and the Commanders believe they have a playoff-caliber roster that is just in need of a quarterback upgrade.
The Commanders, with their questionable name and uniforms, find it in Carson Wentz.
Wentz played OK for the Indianapolis Colts last season but wasn't good enough to get them back to the playoffs, and his Week 18 stinker against the Jacksonville Jaguars should be enough to show the Colts he isn't the long-term answer.
Wentz has a $15 million dead cap hit if he's traded. That's a lot for the Colts to stomach, but sometimes you have to know when to cut bait.
The Commanders trade a third-round pick to the Colts for Wentz. Indy signs Jameis Winston in free agency to a one-year contract.
6. South Beach Jimmy
Yeah, I know Mike McDaniel said he wants to make Tua Tagovailoa great. But he also wants to keep his job longer than Brian Flores did.
McDaniel knows Garoppolo and knows he can run his offense. The Dolphins don't have a good running game, but I think McDaniel can fix that, and Garoppolo would have a scaled-down version of the YAC Bros in Mike Gesicki, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVante Parker.
The 49ers want to send Garoppolo to a winning scenario. He knows McDaniel and the Dolphins aren't NFL Siberia like the Commanders or Texans. Second-round pick gets it done. Maybe?
7. Tua on Bourbon Street
With Tua Tagovailoa's time in Miami over, the Dolphins look to recoup the draft capital they lost for Garoppolo by dealing the young signal-caller.
Enter: The Saints.
New Orleans has some cap issues, no quarterback, and needs at least a half reboot.
Trading for a talented quarterback on a rookie contract is a good way to start that semi-rebuild.
Dolphins get a second and a third for Tua and call it a day. Dennis Allen has his guy. At least it's not Taysom Hill?
8. Tom Brady comes home
I had to do it.
I know there are many reasons it's unlikely, but these are bold predictions, so let's have a little fun.
Trey Lance has a ton of talent but could use another season to finetune his mechanics, immerse himself in the 49ers' system and learn how to be an NFL quarterback. Who better to learn from than Brady?
As for Brady, the 49ers are a no-brainer. They were a handful plays away from a Super Bowl berth while trotting out a banged-up Garoppolo under center. They have a loaded roster and just need an upgrade at quarterback to get them over that final hurdle.
Trent Williams and Alex Mack are in their mid-30s, while George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner, and Nick Bosa are in their primes. The 49ers' time is now, and Brady makes too much sense.
Brady comes home for one final season, leading his hometown team to their sixth Super Bowl title in franchise history before actually bidding the NFL adieu. Come on, who says no?