As the Bears spend their early offseason days in the war room at Halas Hall crafting free-agent wish lists and an NFL draft plan, general manager Ryan Poles surely will have one eye on the two massive decisions looming over the rest of the league.
While they won't be directly involved in the potential pursuit of 46-year-old Tom Brady or longtime nemesis Aaron Rodgers, the uncertain future of both legends will impact a quarterback carousel the Bears are ready to take advantage of when it stops.
There's no question that if Brady returns to play in 2023 and Rodgers asks for a trade out of Green Bay, the Bears' grand offseason plan, centered around the auctioning of the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, could be drastically altered.
Let's start with Brady.
After briefly retiring for 40 days last offseason, the GOAT returned to Tampa Bay and drudged through one of the most miserable seasons of his professional career.
Brady's powers aren't entirely zapped even as he nears 50. He still has the arm strength to make all the throws, but the Bucs' banged-up offensive line and disjointed offensive game plan made life hard for the 46-year-old. He can still play but needs more around him than ever before to make it work.
Brady put up a stinker in the Bucs' NFC Wild Card Round loss to the Dallas Cowboys. While it's hard to imagine he'll exit on that note, Brady made it clear on the latest episode of his "Let's Go!" podcast that he doesn't yet know his plan for 2023.
“If I knew what I was going to f-----ng do, I would’ve already f----ng done it,” Brady told Jim Gray. “I’m taking it a day at a time."
At 46, the list of teams that can provide Brady with the offensive line and weapons needed for him to play at a near-elite level is slim. While ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Tuesday that teams around the league don't believe the Bucs are out of the picture, Brady appeared to say goodbye to the local media after the loss to Dallas.
Assuming the Bucs are out, Brady's options likely are between the Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins (if the NFL would allow it given the previous tampering smoke), New York Jets, and perhaps a triumphant return to the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins and Patriots aren't in the quarterback market, but Brady would be an upgrade over Tua Tagovailoa or Mac Jones. Neither Miami nor New England figure to factor into the Bears' likely desired plan to trade the No. 1 pick to a quarterback-needy team. Should Brady go to either, it will be status quo for the folks at Halas Hall.
Put a pin in the Raiders and Jets. We'll get back to them.
That brings us to Rodgers.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported over the weekend that it was a "real possibility" that the Packers could trade Rodgers this offseason should he not retire. Meanwhile, Schefter reported Tuesday that the Packers would "explore" trading Rodgers only to teams in the AFC.
The Jets lead the list of potential trade destinations for the surefire Hall of Famer. They are stacked with young talent at receiver, have a young running back in Breece Hall, and have one of the top defenses in the league.
It's clear New York whiffed on Zach Wilson. After the end-of-season debacle, the Jets would risk losing the locker room should they give Wilson another chance. Mike White was solid in spot duty, but the Jets need someone with a higher ceiling to get them to the mountaintop.
That was supposed to be Wilson.
Missing on Wilson could make general manager Joe Douglas desperate to find a quarterback to maximize the window he has created. Rodgers would be an easy sell to owner Woody Johnson.
Rodgers' contract likely will be a big sticking point in any potential deal. Rodgers has a $58.3 million guaranteed balloon payment that must be paid out between March 17 and Week 1. Any team looking to trade for Rodgers must have the cap space to absorb that guaranteed payment. Rodgers said Tuesday on "The Pat McAfee Show" that "there would have to be some adjustments" to his contract this offseason.
The Jets believe they are a quarterback away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. If they don't get Rodgers and miss out on Derek Carr, could New York be tempted to give a 49ers-like haul to the Bears to move up to No. 1 to ensure they get it right? The Jets currently own the No. 13 pick. That would be a big move-down for the Bears, but if the trade package is robust enough, Poles will have to consider it.
The Indianapolis Colts are another team to keep an eye on should the Packers truly look to trade Rodgers.
The Colts still have a veteran offensive line, a star running back in Jonathan Taylor, a budding star wide receiver in Michael Pittman Jr., and a talented defense. General manager Chris Ballard has repeatedly missed plug-and-play veteran retread quarterbacks since Andrew Luck retired.
With his job on the line, would Ballard be more interested in risking it all on Rodgers or trading up to No. 1 to go with an unproven rookie?
Brady and Rodgers' decisions/desires will also impact Carr, the best veteran option on the carousel at the moment.
Many believe the Jets will pounce on the chance to sign/trade for Carr. But the possibility of adding Rodgers could lead them to gamble and pass on a solid but unspectacular veteran in Carr. That could leave Carr as an option for the Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, or someone else.
The Houston Texans own the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft, and most believe it's a near certainty the rebuilding Texans will leave the draft with one of the top quarterbacks. But what if the Texans, who have holes across the roster, choose to follow the Lions' rebuild path and choose to address all their other deficiencies while rostering a good-not-great veteran at quarterback?
We're slowly creating a world where Brady ends up in Las Vegas, Rodgers in New York or Indianapolis, and Carr in Houston that sees the Bears' pool of potential trade partners for the No. 1 pick dry up. That would take two or three potential trade partners for the No.1 pick off the board.
If a combination of the Jets, Colts, Raiders, and Texans fill their quarterback need prior to the draft, the Bears will be looking at a different plan come draft time.
Brady to Vegas seems possible. While the Packers moving on from Rodgers feels less likely, it can't be ruled out until both parties say the 39-year-old is returning to Green Bay. I still feel like Carr winds up in Washington, New Orleans, or New York.
As the Bears prepare to watch the quarterback carousel intently, the futures of two all-time greats could wind up significantly impacting the biggest piece of what is supposed to be a transformational offseason in Chicago.