Nothing moves the needle in the NFL landscape quite like the quarterback position. If you have an elite signal-caller, you're usually guaranteed a playoff bid, regardless of most other issues. If you don't have one, you're either working hard to elevate him, or working hard to replace him. With that in mind, what does the next NFL offseason have to offer at QB?
Here's a complete early guide, with a look at the most QB-needy teams (and the resources they possess to acquire help), top free agents, trade targets and draft prospects, as well as projected/proposed landing spots for the biggest names:
Note: Projected cap space courtesy Over the Cap.
Why: Tom Brady, 45, is retired, and 2021 second-rounder Kyle Trask has yet to take an NFL snap.
Projected cap space: ($-57.5M)
Top draft pick: No. 19
Projected 2023 QB: Gardner Minshew
Why: Matt Ryan, 37, is likely done -- perhaps with football entirely -- after a turnover-riddled debut behind a battered line, leaving them in exactly the same position they've been for years: looking to wash their hands of a veteran past his prime.
Projected cap space: $11.9M
Top draft pick: No. 4
Projected 2023 QB: Will Levis
Why: Both Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke are virtual locks to depart after trading mercurial stretches as Washington's starter. Like the Colts, they've gone from one castoff to the next, and rookie Sam Howell entered Week 18 with no experience.
Projected cap space: $15.7M
Top draft pick: No. 16
Projected 2023 QB: Andy Dalton
Why: Tua Tagovailoa took a big leap forward under Mike McDaniel, but his short- and long-term availability is in question after suffering multiple concussions. The only other QB under contract beyond 2022 is rookie Skylar Thompson.
Projected cap space: ($-16.7M)
Top draft pick: No. 51
Projected 2023 QB: Tua Tagovailoa (now that Brady retired)
Why: Marcus Mariota, their stopgap successor for Matt Ryan, literally left the team after landing on injured reserve, and has no clear path back to a starting job. Rookie Desmond Ridder, meanwhile, has just a handful of starts under his belt.
Projected cap space: $66.4M
Top draft pick: No. 8
Projected 2023 QB: Ryan Tannehill
Why: Former first-rounder Daniel Jones, while vastly improved under Brian Daboll, will be a free agent after New York previously declined to exercise his fifth-year option. The only other QB under contract is veteran backup Tyrod Taylor.
Projected cap space: $46.1M
Top draft pick: No. 25
Projected 2023 QB: Daniel Jones
Why: Dancing between 2021 No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson and veteran fill-in Mike White, New York has lacked consistent, serviceable QB play all year, despite making a playoff bid. Wilson has already been benched multiple times.
Projected cap space: $-1.7M
Top draft pick: No. 13
Projected 2023 QB: Aaron Rodgers
Why: Rams castoff Jared Goff took an underrated step forward for a surprise wild card contender, but approaching 30, he's paid like a borderline top-10 starter despite physical limitations. Detroit would be wise to explore longer-term upside.
Projected cap space: $22.M
Top draft picks: Nos. 6 and 18
Projected 2023 QB: Jared Goff
Why: Sam Darnold has played some of the best, most confident ball of his polarizing career to close 2022, but he's headed for free agency and has yet to produce a full year of reliable play. Like Indy, they've swung and miss on too many stopgaps.
Projected cap space: $-2.4M
Top draft pick: No. 9
Projected 2023 QB: Sam Darnold + Anthony Richardson
Why: Mac Jones is just two years removed from arriving as the 15th overall pick, but 2022 was a big step backward in an erratic new setup -- sizable enough that Bill Belichick briefly flirted with rookie Bailey Zappe as a replacement.
Projected cap space: $32.0M
Top draft pick: No. 14
Projected 2023 QB: Mac Jones + Taylor Heinicke
Why: Even before he was benched and effectively exiled from the building in favor of Josh McDaniels disciple Jarrett Stidham, veteran Derek Carr, who was cut and now a free agent, was a logical candidate to be moved after nearly a decade of gutsy but unreliable production.
Projected cap space: $39.1M
Top draft pick: No. 7
Projected 2023 QB: Jimmy Garoppolo
Why: Former MVP Lamar Jackson is headed for free agency after a prolonged public failure to strike a lucrative extension with team brass. Baltimore controls what happens next, with the franchise tag at its disposal, but long-term uncertainty remains.
Projected cap space: $22.5M
Top draft picks: No. 22
Projected 2023 QB: Lamar Jackson
UPDATE (3/6): The Saints have signed former Raiders QB Derek Carr.
Why: Both Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston, backup-level vets who took turns under center this year, are headed for free agency, and a clear, reliable, long-term answer hasn't revealed itself at QB since Drew Brees' retirement after 2020.
Projected cap space: ($-25.2M)
Top draft picks: No. 29
UPDATE (3/6): The Seahawks are re-signing Geno Smith to a three-year, $105 million deal, per reports.
Why: Geno Smith has been a revelation as Russell Wilson's successor, emerging as a more confident, decisive version of his ex-Jets self.
Projected cap space: $23.1M
Top draft picks: Nos. 5 and 20
Why: Ever since losing embattled standout Deshaun Watson, first to a holdout/unofficial leave of absence and then via trade, they've been floating along with backup-level passers like Davis Mills, Kyle Allen and Jeff Driskel.
Projected cap space: $40.9M
Top draft pick: Nos. 2 and 12
Projected 2023 QB: Bryce Young
Why: Aging and injured starter Ryan Tannehill has a pricey contract that can be dumped after 2022, third-round rookie Malik Willis struggled in limited action this year, and journeyman reserve Joshua Dobbs is their only other in-house arm.
Projected cap space: $13.3M
Top draft pick: No. 11
Projected 2023 QB: Jacoby Brissett
The following QBs will become eligible for long-term contract extensions for the first time this offseason:
- Joe Burrow (Bengals)
- Justin Herbert (Chargers)
- Jalen Hurts (Eagles)
- Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins)
As perennial MVP candidates when healthy, Burrow and Herbert could conceivably approach $50M per year on new deals, making them among the highest-paid QBs in the game. Regardless of whether they ink extensions ahead of the 2023 season, they're locks to remain in Cincinnati and Los Angeles, respectively; both teams can exercise fifth-year options that retain the QBs through at least 2024. As a second-round pick, Hurts does not have a fifth-year option, making him an even likelier candidate for an extension, as 2023 will be his contract year. It's possible his per-year average could fall more in the $43-46M range, in line with current deals for Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Tagovailoa is the wild card, now facing serious medical concerns.
Top free agents
Jackson is one of the NFL's biggest difference-makers when healthy, often single-handedly guiding the Ravens' receiver-challenged offense, and as the open market approaches, that'll overshadow the fact he's now missed at least four games in back-to-back years, and is still hunting a deep playoff run. A tag-and-trade would be splashy, and an extension would probably be smart for both sides, but the most likely scenario may well be another "trial run" under the exclusive tag, which would prevent other teams from negotiating. This would give Jackson a one-year raise while asking him to prove he can stay on the field, hopefully with better weapons, in his age-26 season.
Projection: Re-signs with Ravens on exclusive franchise tag ($45.2M)
After nine hard-fought but mediocre seasons with the Raiders, Carr is one veteran QB who will definitely play elsewhere in 2023, after being released per his request.
UPDATE (3/6): Signed with Saints
Few QBs have elevated their stock as quietly but impressively as Jones, who's gone from turnover machine to literally one of the best ball-protecting signal-callers in the game under Brian Daboll. There are still questions about whether Jones can consistently win through the air, mostly because of New York's makeshift receiving corps, but they've lessened as his pairing with Daboll has progressed. Injuries are another concern, but at 25, you could do a lot worse for a high-upside bet, especially considering Jones has also been a smooth scrambler and designed runner. The Giants may or may not be sold on him as the face of the franchise for the next half-decade, but he's done enough to warrant a modest extension as their guy to open 2023.
Projection: Re-signs with Giants on two-year, $59M extension
Like Jones, Smith has seen his value skyrocket thanks to an improbable ascent as a decision-maker. The former Jets flop and longtime backup was surprisingly far more efficient and explosive than his star predecessor, Russell Wilson, in 2022. Pressured to deliver down the stretch for a team with a porous defense, his forced throws have increased, rendering him more good than great. He's also 32 with only one full season of passable production under his belt. Still, for Seattle, which may well prioritize defensive reinforcements and has now witnessed him grow in the system for four years, he's a logical short-term investment.
UPDATE (3/6): Re-signed with Seahawks, per reports
Few QBs have had such a roller-coaster season. The 49ers spent all of last offseason broadcasting his departure, only to abruptly welcome him back as Trey Lance's No. 2, then lean on his surprisingly explosive arm once Lance got hurt. Now, Garoppolo's in no man's land again, recovering from yet another injury of his own while rookie Brock Purdy flashes veteran-level poise in his place. Having played just a single full season in his nine-year career, he can't be trusted as more than a temporary point guard, and even then, he's typically capped out as a top-15ish starter. When healthy, however, he's proven capable of controlling the ball for contenders, making him a viable insurance bet for Josh McDaniels, his former Patriots offensive coordinator, in Las Vegas.
Projection: Signs one-year, $15M deal with Raiders
Top trade candidates
Tannehill is a perfectly capable starter for a team that doesn't necessarily lean on his arm to win anyway, and he helped transform the Titans into what they are today. He's also struggled mightily in his last few playoff appearances, he's both banged up and particularly costly going into 2023, when he's due $36.6M. And Tennessee remains in the midst of organizational overhaul, with general manager Jon Robinson axed in-season. A teardown may well await, and if the team doesn't find a trade partner to absorb the remainder of his deal, he can be cut as a post-June 1 release to save up to $27M. A logical next step: Atlanta, where the Falcons could use a mentor/competition for Desmond Ridder, and ex-Titans coordinator Arthur Smith oversees a run-first approach.
Projection: Released, then signs two-year, $50M deal with Falcons
- Aaron Rodgers (Packers): A trade would be spicy, but it feels far more likely that Rodgers runs it back in Green Bay or hangs it up while wearing green and yellow. If we're just guessing, his personal best-case scenario is probably capping 2022's improbable playoff bid with a second Lombardi Trophy, then riding into the sunset on top.
- Jordan Love (Packers): If Rodgers retires, he's a safe bet to return as the new QB1 in Green Bay, especially after a short-lived but lively stint filling in for A-Rod this year. Even if Rodgers is back, however, he's still under contract through at least 2023, and possibly 2024, if they use the fifth-year option. Pencil him in as a Packer.
- Matt Ryan (Colts): Barring another freak injury in San Francisco, where Kyle Shanahan offers a personal connection and needs Ryan to become the 49ers' next emergency fill-in, Ryan seems destined to hang up the cleats after getting battered and benched in Indy. His heyday with Atlanta is long in the rear view.
- Kirk Cousins (Vikings): He just got an extension last offseason, but if any GM would be willing to make a surprise deal that prioritizes the future, it might be Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who publicly questioned Cousins' ceiling a year ago. They'd actually save $17.5M by trading Cousins. The issue is, they're not in a prime position to draft a premium successor.
- Jared Goff (Lions): Detroit would save anywhere from $20-25M by cutting or trading Goff despite his mostly promising 2022 campaign. But even if the Lions use a top pick on a QB, Dan Campbell probably values his leadership and experience enough to retain him as the placeholder atop the depth chart.
- Trey Lance / Brock Purdy (49ers): Both youngsters have flashed big-time ability and/or poise in small sample sizes, but can both stick around if the latter takes San Francisco to the biggest stage in the postseason? Lance is pretty much a total unknown going into his third season, but we hesitate to think they'd part with such a major investment, even if it somehow means sitting him behind Purdy to open 2023.
Top draft prospects
All indications are that Young is the total package except for his smaller, slighter build. He's polished, poised, and smooth in everything he does. With the No. 1 pick, in dire need of a new face of the franchise, the Texans may prefer a more prototypically sized signal-caller, but it'll be hard for them to pass up such a clean prospect at the most important position.
Projection: Drafted No. 1 overall by Texans
Some would argue he's just as, if not more, likely to go No. 1 overall because he pairs more standard size (6-3, 218) with maybe the best precision pocket passing in the 2023 class. Regardless, he feels like a virtual lock to go in the top five. Seattle picks at No. 3, and while the Seahawks could easily double-dip on defense in the first round, the luxury of owning two Day One picks could also convince them to find a longer-term alternative to Geno Smith, even if Smith returns as the rookie-year mentor.
Projection: Drafted No. 3 overall by Seahawks
One of the biggest risers of the 2023 class, Levis is the quickest to draw Josh Allen comparisons, boasting not only plenty of bulk (6-3, 231) but a tantalizing combo of passing zip and scrambling toughness. He is a bit older (24 in June) and less polished, but the athletic traits alone should have a team like the Colts, who have cycled through one aging/injury-prone vet after another, drooling at the thought of a 10-year partnership, let alone in a winnable division like the AFC South.
Projection: Drafted No. 5 overall by Colts
The wild card of the top four QB prospects, Richardson is the biggest (6-4, 231) and arguably most explosive, doing some of his best damage on the ground, while lacking some of the refined passing ability of his peers. Patience may be key here, and a desperate team like Carolina may not have an abundance of it, but then again, if the Panthers also retain Sam Darnold or add a similar veteran placeholder under a new staff, they could be an ideal landing spot for the next Cam Newton-esque play-maker.
Projection: Drafted No. 9 overall by Panthers
Cut candidates/second-tier free agents
These veteran QBs figure to be available after the first wave of big-name acquisitions:
|QB||Current Team||Projected Team||Notes|
Mentor/competition for Malik Willis
No. 1 before Anthony Richardson
Competition with mid-round rookie
Competition for Jimmy Garoppolo
Competition with early-round rookie
Backup for Matthew Stafford
Competition for No. 1 job
Backup/competition for Mac Jones
Backup for Justin Fields
Backup for Josh Allen
Backup for Jalen Hurts
Backup for Trevor Lawrence
Backup for Kirk Cousins