Derek Carr had a head start on free agency, thanks to the fact that the Raiders cut him for salary cap reasons. While it looked for a while like Carr would be waiting on Aaron Rodgers' decision, and the New York Jets, Carr instead reportedly has signed with the New Orleans Saints, joining former coach Dennis Allen.
At his best, Carr could be a small upgrade for Chris Olave and Michael Thomas, if he sticks around. But in terms of Carr's actual Fantasy value, this is a tough sell. The Saints have just a 49.3% pass rate over the past three years and attempted just 512 passes in Dennis Allen's first year as head coach. Carr is not a runner, so he needs gaudy pass numbers just to be a low-end starting quarterback. Unless there is a huge philosophical change in New Orleans this year, that seems unlikely. View Carr as a mid-range QB2 at best, which may be as good as it gets from a Fantasy perspective for this free agent class. But we may not find out about the rest of them until Rodgers makes his decision.
Rodgers has completed his darkness retreat, but he didn't emerge with the clarity to state his intentions. At least not publicly. At least not yet. Whether he chooses to return to Green Bay or request a trade will shape the entire market because if he leaves, that's one less job available. The Packers appear to be ready to hand the reins to Jordan Love as soon as Rodgers walks away. They may even prefer it.
The team most closely associated with Rodgers so far has been the New York Jets. They also happen to be arguably the best landing spot for a free agent quarterback. With Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, and Elijah Moore they have one of the best young cores of offensive weapons in the league. The fact that they added Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator only adds fuel to the fire of speculation that Rodgers may land there.
Even in New York, Rodgers would not be a top-12 QB for me. But he would move up from his current ranking of QB19, likely into the top-15. It is hard to project a big bounceback from a 39-year-old quarterback who just changed teams even if we saw Brady have success doing it at four years older.
While the Jets are the best landing spot, there are at least 12 teams that could be looking for a starting quarterback, including the entire NFC South. How many of those teams are actually looking will depend on what happens with Lamar Jackson, Daniel Jones, and Geno Smith. I'm expecting all three to get a franchise tag if they can't come to terms with their current team, but that's not a guarantee. Before we get to the top five QBs I actually think will get to free agency, let's take a quick look at what happens if one of these three leaves.
Jackson is obviously the most interesting from a Fantasy perspective. He's struggled to stay healthy the past two years, but when he's been healthy he's been a must-start Fantasy option and flashed that league-winning upside in small spurts. If the Ravens decide to tag and trade him, Jackson could see a boost in value because almost any team that would take him would have better weapons around him. It's not hard to get excited about Jackson in a Falcons uniform throwing to Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
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Jones is probably in the perfect spot for him, so it's hard to see a destination that would be a big upgrade. Brian Daboll got more than anyone could have expected from Jones last year and now the Giants have to decide how much they're willing to invest in hopes that Jones continues to grow and doesn't regress. If Jones leaves, he would have to go somewhere that values his legs if he's going to remain Fantasy relevant. Atlanta would make the most sense, but Jones seems very likely to stay put.
Smith is the most difficult quarterback to analyze. Strictly as a passer, he was better than Jackson and Jones last year. You can make the argument he was better than Rodgers as well. But a career year at age 32 does scream regression. If he leaves, I'd want Smith in a place like Tampa Bay with a pair of veteran wide receivers like he had in Seattle. Carolina, with Frank Reich, would be a second option if they add another weapon outside.
LV Las Vegas • #10
Age: 31 • Experience: 10 yrs.
Strictly from an efficiency perspective, Garoppolo looks like the best quarterback available. His 8.3 career yards per attempt is elite and his 103 passer rating in 2022 was the highest mark of his career as a full-time starter. His 40-17 mark as a starting quarterback is remarkable, but it also highlights two of the biggest questions. How much of his success was being in San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan? Can he stay healthy for 16 games? He's only done the latter once in his career. If the Jets don't get Rodgers, Garoppolo would be my top option for them. His accuracy on short-area throws could turn their trio of young weapons into YAC stars. And it could turn him into a mid-range QB2 for as long as he stays healthy. A more likely landing spot may be Las Vegas, with former coach Josh McDaniels.
Andy Dalton QB
CAR Carolina • #14
Age: 35 • Experience: 13 yrs.
Having Dalton second here will raise some eyebrows, but as a low-volume game manager, I'm not sure you can do much better. He had a big-time bounce-back in 2022 in terms of efficiency, setting a career-high with a 66.7% completion percentage despite having his highest intended air yards per pass attempt since 2018. His 78% on-target rate ranked fifth in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference. His value is more appealing to a run-first NFL team than a Fantasy manager, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets paired with a rookie. If those teams give him a chance, he will win a competition against Kyle Trask or Desmond Ridder.
Sam Darnold QB
SF San Francisco • #14
Age: 25 • Experience: 6 yrs.
It sure sounds like going back to Sam Darnold is the Panthers' plan at quarterback. I would anticipate they'll draft a quarterback too, so Darnold may face an uncertain future even if he stays put. Statistically speaking, last year was Darnold's best as a passer, but it was only six games. Considering he's played 56 games in the NFL and ranks as one of the worst statistical QBs in the NFL in that timeframe, it's hard to put too much hope on six games. Darnold's return would be good for D.J. Moore, who has played his best football the past two seasons with Darnold under center.
TB Tampa Bay • #6
Age: 28 • Experience: 6 yrs.
I really have no idea what to make of Mayfield after last year, but the fact that there is some reason for hope gets him into the top five. In Carolina, he looked like maybe the worst quarterback in the NFL. And I'm including the backups. In Los Angeles, he looked like the guy we saw in Cleveland, not perfect, but he definitely flashed potential. The hope would be that he lands somewhere with good coaching and good weapons. Tampa Bay would probably be the best option, and he'd have a decent chance of beating out Kyle Trask or taking over if Trask struggles. A long shot is Las Vegas. Pairing Mayfield with Josh McDaniels and Davante Adams would be a high-ceiling move with no floor at all.
Others to watch: Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Taylor Heinicke, Jacoby Brissett