We simulated the offseason NFL QB market: Trades, free-agent offers, draft picks and who’s staying put
This NFL offseason promises to have plenty of quarterback movement intrigue. Will Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson be traded? How will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers replace retired legends Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, respectively? Will teams on the cusp of contention make a big change, and who will land the top free agents and draft prospects at the QB position? We decided to play out how it might all happen.
First, we looked for teams that could theoretically make a change this offseason, and 20 of the 32 franchises jumped out. Then we asked our NFL Nation reporters to serve as GMs for their teams and decide what to do at their most important position. The stand-in GMs put together trade packages for Rodgers, Wilson and others. They pitched offers to free agents (national reporter Dan Graziano played player rep to “sign” new deals here). And finally, they mocked the first two rounds of the 2022 draft to address the future.
We kept this exercise to quarterbacks who will either start or compete to start in 2022, with the exception of a few QBs in this draft class who might sit right out of the gate. And the object for this project wasn’t to “win” negotiations but rather to accurately reflect how a team might approach the QB market. (We did not include Deshaun Watson in this market simulation since his legal issues are still unresolved.)
So which teams landed a new starting quarterback? Let’s predict this offseason’s QB movement with some hypothetical trade offers, free-agent signings and draft picks.
Rodgers/Wilson | Trade market
Free-agent deals | Early draft picks
Staying put | Every team’s starter
Twelve NFL teams seem to be locked into their current starter for, at the very least, another season. Those teams include: Cardinals (Kyler Murray), Ravens (Lamar Jackson), Bills (Josh Allen), Bears (Justin Fields), Bengals (Joe Burrow), Cowboys (Dak Prescott), Jaguars (Trevor Lawrence), Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes), Chargers (Justin Herbert), Rams (Matthew Stafford), Patriots (Mac Jones) and Jets (Zach Wilson).
THE BIG-NAME DOMINOES
It’s no surprise that Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson could determine how the quarterback market shifts this offseason. Rob Demovsky will play GM for the Packers, while Brady Henderson serves as the decision-maker for the Seahawks for the offers below from other NFL Nation reporters, standing in as their teams’ GMs.
Contract status: one year left, $46.6M cap hit
Why he might be available: Despite being disgruntled during the 2021 offseason, Rodgers returned to the Packers on a reworked deal this past season — though the team agreed to revisit his situation during the 2022 offseason. Rodgers has said he expects to make a decision on what he wants to do by the time free agency opens, and the options range from returning to Green Bay, requesting a trade or even retiring.
Broncos‘ offer: 2022 first-rounder (No. 9), 2023 first-rounder, 2022 second-rounder, 2022 third-rounder and a WR/TE from current Denver roster for Rodgers
There would also have to be assurances that Rodgers and his representatives would be ready to do an extension beyond 2022 that makes sense. The Broncos need a solution at quarterback, with Teddy Bridgewater being an unrestricted free agent and Drew Lock headed into the final year of his rookie deal. Rodgers isn’t a long-term solution, even with an extension, so the Broncos would need to at least entertain the idea of also drafting a quarterback. — Jeff Legwold
Matt Hasselbeck believes if Aaron Rodgers wants to win another Super Bowl, his best chance is to stay with the Packers.
The Packers’ decision: No deal
The Packers simply aren’t ready to move on from Rodgers, who provides Green Bay with the best chance to get back to a Super Bowl. Unless Rodgers says that he wants out now, we’re not trading him. Jeff, call back in a month or so, and perhaps we can talk after we’ve given Aaron some time to think about what he wants to do. — Rob Demovsky
Contract status: two years left, $37M/$40M cap hits
Why he might be available: Wilson voiced frustrations with Seattle last February, and though he didn’t demand a trade, he listed four teams that he would consider lifting his no-trade clause for: the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders and Bears. The QB was vague about his future at the end of the 2021 regular season, too. It’s unclear if Wilson’s four-team list has evolved and expanded, so each offer below would also need Wilson’s approval, in addition to the Seahawks’ acceptance.
Panthers‘ offer: QB Sam Darnold, RB Christian McCaffrey, 2022 third-rounder and fifth-rounder, 2023 first-rounder and 2023 third-rounder for Wilson
We’d also send half of Darnold’s $18.9M salary as part of the deal. The Panthers need a long-term solution at quarterback, and Wilson would be a good fit on many levels. — David Newton
Browns‘ offer: QB Baker Mayfield, 2022 first-rounder (No. 13) and 2023 first-rounder for Wilson
Wilson would seemingly fit in well in coach Kevin Stefanski’s run-heavy/play-action/rollout scheme, while Mayfield would get a new start with a franchise that could be ready for a transition. The Browns have a roster that is ready to win now, and perhaps it’s time for a bold move. — Jake Trotter
Raiders‘ offer: QB Derek Carr, S Johnathan Abram and 2022 second-rounder for Wilson and 2022 fifth-rounder
While Carr holds virtually every passing record in franchise history, he has probably reached his ceiling, and his contract situation makes things tenuous. Both QBs could benefit from a change of scenery. — Paul Gutierrez
Saints‘ offer: 2022 first-rounder (No. 18), 2023 first-rounder, 2022 third-rounder and 2023 second-rounder for Wilson
The Saints have a hole at QB as long as Jameis Winston remains unsigned as a free-agent — and they have a win-now roster with stars like Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis and Malcolm Jenkins in their 30s and Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas still in their prime windows. Although it doesn’t look like we have the cap space, we can make it work. — Mike Triplett
Giants‘ offer: QB Daniel Jones, 2022 first-rounder (No. 5) and 2022 second-rounder for Wilson
If Wilson really wants to be in New York, the Giants could build around him. — Jordan Raanan
Eagles‘ offer: QB Jalen Hurts, two 2022 first-rounders (Nos. 15, 16) and 2023 second-rounder for Wilson
While Hurts has shown promise, Wilson is a sure thing and immediately elevates Philadelphia into the top-tier of teams in the NFC and opens up a legitimate championship window. — Tim McManus
Commanders‘ offer: 2022 first-rounder (No. 11), 2022 second-rounder, 2023 first-rounder and 2023 conditional second-rounder for Wilson
The 2023 conditional pick would become a 2024 first-rounder if Washington wins the Super Bowl next season. The Commanders need to land a QB who can be the face of a rebrand, and Wilson — who is from nearby Richmond, Virginia — has a Super Bowl on his resume and is a top-10 quarterback. He’s also an excellent play-action passer, something Washington likes to use. — John Keim
The Seahawks’ decision: No deal
Any discussion of a return for Wilson needs to be rooted in the understanding that the Seahawks don’t have to trade him and can be exceedingly picky while listening to offers. Unless he becomes so disgruntled that he tries to force his way out — there’s been no indication that he’s nearing that point, and he has said his preference is to stay — it’s not as though the situation is so toxic that it’s untenable. Wilson remains an elite quarterback, even after a down year in which he suffered a serious finger injury. We’re probably talking something in the neighborhood of three first-round picks and, most important of all, a viable path to a QB who can win them a Super Bowl.
This is a bad draft for quarterbacks, and any 2023 first-rounder acquired in a Wilson trade would likely be near the end of the round, given how much better he’d make his new team. The Giants may be an exception (and Seattle liked Jones coming out of the 2019 draft), but the rest of their offer isn’t nearly good enough. The Browns’ and Raiders’ offers get Wilson out of the NFC, but the trade packages aren’t strong enough to make up for the drop-off from Wilson to Mayfield or Carr. Ditto for the Eagles’ and Panthers’ offers. Washington and New Orleans both proposed decent deals that included two first-rounders and then some, but again, they wouldn’t clearly position us to find Wilson’s replacement. We’ll pass. — Brady Henderson
WE’VE GOT OTHER TRADES, THOUGH!
OK, nothing doing with Rodgers or Wilson — but two quarterbacks were ultimately dealt. Reporters now have the chance to make trade offers to other teams (represented by their own reporters) for other quarterbacks who might be available.
Contract status: one year left, $26.9M cap hit
Panthers‘ offer: 2022 fourth-rounder and 2023 second-rounder for Garoppolo
Garoppolo has proven he can lead a team to the playoffs, and the Panthers believe with a rebuilt offensive line and a defense built to win now, he would do the same for them. And Carolina can use its first-round picks over the next two years to add help around him, starting with a left tackle. — David Newton
Steelers‘ offer: 2022 third-rounder, 2023 sixth-rounder and half of Garoppolo’s salary for Garoppolo
Garoppolo can help transition the Steelers’ offense following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. — Brooke Pryor
Buccaneers‘ offer: 2022 second-rounder for Garoppolo
Assuming the Bucs can keep their core roster intact, one could argue that they’re really only a quarterback away from staying in contention — and this one wouldn’t break the bank, allowing them to keep their key free agents. Garoppolo is no Tom Brady, but he has Super Bowl experience, played with Brady in New England and could, at the very least, serve as a bridge to Kyle Trask. — Jenna Laine
Marcus Spears reacts to Tom Brady officially retiring, saying he was relatable to people, which made him loved by fans.
Commanders‘ offer: 2022 third-rounder and 2023 fourth-rounder for Garoppolo
Garoppolo is considered a strong leader, and while his injury history is concerning, the cost is not prohibitive. He’d be an upgrade — though perhaps just a temporary one, depending on his play. — John Keim
The 49ers’ decision: Tampa Bay
Finding the right match was a bit more difficult than expected, considering Rodgers and Wilson ultimately weren’t traded. The offseason’s QB market demand far outweighs supply in that case, and while the Niners are happy to recoup the second-round pick they traded to New England for Garoppolo in 2017, I was hoping for an additional mid-to-late-round pick in 2023, too. But this is a fair deal for both sides, as we clear the decks for Trey Lance, who spent the year learning from Garoppolo and bolstered his stock with the team for how he handled everything and improved as the year went on. Lance will be our starter for 2022. — Nick Wagoner
The Buccaneers’ aftermath: Garoppolo’s cap hit would be a challenge for the Bucs, who only have about $20 million in salary cap space at this time. But Tampa Bay could convert about $23.2 million of Garoppolo’s deal to a signing bonus, which would drop the cap number to $5.9 million. Then the question becomes, how long would they extend him for if he’s simply viewed as a “bridge quarterback” until Kyle Trask is ready? — Jenna Laine
Contract status: one year left, $19.8M cap hit
Commanders‘ offer: 2022 first-rounder (No. 11) and 2023 conditional fourth-rounder for Carr
The conditional pick would become a second-rounder if Carr signs an extension, and if Washington makes the playoffs and wins 10 games in 2022. Washington has started eight quarterbacks over the past three seasons and has been stuck in QB purgatory for nearly three decades (32 starters since it won the Super Bowl in the 1991 season). It has a roster that is capable of being a consistent playoff contender — with the right quarterback. Carr finished last season well in part because the Raiders used a lot more play-action down the stretch; Washington attempted the fifth-most play-action passes. — John Keim
The Raiders’ decision: Washington
While Raiders owner Mark Davis said Las Vegas was not in a rebuild or a reload after hiring new coach Josh McDaniels, it is a fresh start. And if the Raiders could get an immediate first-rounder for Carr, who is in need of an extension, as well as a potential third-rounder next year to quicken said fresh start, what’s the debate? — Paul Gutierrez
The Commanders’ aftermath: Washington has the NFL’s worst Total QBR since Kirk Cousins left after the 2017 season. With a rebrand of the name and franchise identity, it needs to win fans back with on-field success. Carr might not be a top-10 quarterback, but he’s in that 12-15 range, an area Washington hasn’t consistently been in a while. This trade would enable the Commanders to keep building, too. As far as an extension goes, he would likely receive more than $100 million in guaranteed money and a salary between $30-35 million. It’s a lot for a QB of his stature, but Washington has paid the price for not having someone in this category for too long. — John Keim
OPEN MARKET SIGNINGS
OK, we’re through the trade market and on to free agency. Our reporters — serving as their teams’ GMs — will make contract offers to free-agent QBs, and our own Dan Graziano will play the role of player representative and “ink” a deal for each quarterback.
2021 team: Saints
Saints‘ offer: Two years, up to $30M ($7.5M guaranteed)
The first year would be $7.5M guaranteed with incentives up to $15M, and the second year wouldn’t be guaranteed and would include similar incentives. It’s tough to get too specific until we know the next head coach, but there could be a lot of coaching carryover with a team that has believed and invested in you over the past two years. And you should have a much healthier receiver corps and offensive line around you this time around. — Mike Triplett
Steelers‘ offer: Two years, $10M ($6.5M guaranteed)
There would be up to $3.5M in snap-count incentives for at least 70% of snaps, plus a playoff bonus (if you play at least 70% of snaps), and the deal would carry a team option for the second year. Surrounded with young offensive weapons and a complementary star-studded defense, you’ll help keep the Super Bowl window open and have a real opportunity to be the next franchise quarterback of the Steelers. — Brooke Pryor
Winston’s decision: New Orleans
I’m making more guaranteed money in the first year of the Saints’ deal than I could make total in two years on the Steelers’ deal. Even if I think the Steelers are closer to winning than the Saints are (and honestly, who knows?), Pittsburgh would have to be more competitive with its offer. — Dan Graziano
The Saints’ aftermath: We explored several avenues, including a blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson, because we remain in win-now mode despite a coaching change and salary-cap constraints. However, a short-term deal with Winston makes the most financial sense. Winston would be the projected starter in 2022 as long as he recovers fully from his torn ACL. — Mike Triplett
Marcus Spears breaks down what the future free agent market holds for Saints’ QB Jameis Winston.
2021 team: Broncos
Broncos‘ offer: Two years, $39M ($20M guaranteed)
The deal has an additional $2M bonus for 70% of offensive snaps in 2022 or 2023, $2.5M bonus for 80% of offensive snaps in 2022 or 2023 or $3M bonus for 85% of offensive snaps in 2022 or 2023 — so it could actually be worth as much as $45M. The Broncos have a core of youthful playmakers at the skill positions with a newly-minted offensive-minded head coach in Nathaniel Hackett. — Jeff Legwold
Bridgewater’s decision: Denver
I like it here! Hopefully Denver doesn’t draft my replacement this year, though. — Dan Graziano
The Broncos’ aftermath: Look, this isn’t the scenario most Broncos’ fans want, but until Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson is actually in the trade market, the Broncos have to have a plan to play in 2022 and move forward. The free-agent class of QBs is ho hum at best, and Bridgewater fits what the Broncos will do on offense. And if Denver does use an early draft pick to select a quarterback, Bridgewater will be the best option as a mentor, as well. — Jeff Legwold
2021 team: Raiders
Raiders‘ offer: Two years, $20M ($14M guaranteed)
Incentives include a $250,000 bonus for Pro Bowl selection, $250,000 bonus for playoff appearance while taking at least 75% of season snaps, $500,000 for being named Super Bowl MVP and $500,000 for being NFL Offensive Player of the Year. You’ve already been here for two years, so the familiarity is there. And after two years of gadget plays under an old regime, here’s your chance to become a full-fledged starter again with Derek Carr traded. — Paul Gutierrez
Steelers‘ offer: Two years, $14M ($8M guaranteed)
We will include snap-count incentives for 70% of snaps, and making the playoffs while playing 70% of snaps. There’s no better place to prove you’re still a starting quarterback in this league than in Pittsburgh, with an offense that works to your strengths. And you’ll have premium offensive weapons like running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth and receiver Diontae Johnson. — Brooke Pryor
Mariota’s decision: Las Vegas
Give me a shot with new coach Josh McDaniels. With Carr out of the picture, here’s my chance for a Ryan Tannehill-style career rebound. — Dan Graziano
The Raiders’ aftermath: Mariota has been in Las Vegas for two years, but he has only appeared in a handful of games. This represents a fresh start for the former Heisman Trophy winner, whose skill set portends well in the red zone. He is the kind of mobile quarterback needed in today’s NFL — and McDaniels’ offense. — Paul Gutierrez
2021 team: Panthers
Panthers‘ offer: One year, $5M ($1M guaranteed)
There will be an additional $5M in incentives based around making the playoffs and the Super Bowl that could get the deal to $10M. You brought a lot of energy to the team in 2021, so we’ll give you a chance to compete with Sam Darnold for the starting spot and prove you still can be viable, as you said you could be after the season. — David Newton
Newton’s decision: Carolina
Sure, why not? No one else seems interested, so let’s run it back. — Dan Graziano
The Panthers’ aftermath: Keeping Darnold wasn’t really a decision, since the Panthers picked up his fifth-year option after trading for him last year. So Carolina is stuck with that $18.9M cap hit in 2022. Ideally, we would have traded for Russell Wilson or maybe even Jimmy Garoppolo, but the team doesn’t have the draft capital to do it — in part because of the Darnold trade. If Deshaun Watson‘s legal situation becomes clearer, Carolina could still be in the mix there, and this deal doesn’t change anything. Newton provides veteran competition for us at a low risk. And the door is still open to look at quarterback options in the draft. — David Newton
Israel Gutierrez, Clinton Yates and Joon Lee evaluate whether Sam Darnold can be the starting quarterback for the Panthers next season.
2021 team: Dolphins
Steelers‘ offer: Two years, $10M ($10M guaranteed)
The total value could increase up to $15M based on playing-time incentives. We’ll give you a shot to compete for the starters’ gig, and our offense has plenty of targets for you in the passing game. — Brooke Pryor
Brissett’s decision: Pittsburgh
If that’s my only offer, I’ll take it. Good spot, with an organization that always has a chance to win. Maybe I have a chance to compete for the starting job, but if not, it’s not a bad place to be the backup. — Dan Graziano
The Steelers’ aftermath: Pittsburgh wasn’t willing to part with the draft capital necessary to land Jimmy Garoppolo, and Marcus Mariota’s asking price was higher than expected. So we went with a different mid-tier veteran in Brissett. He’s an intriguing candidate partly because of his mobility, something that both coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney II have emphasized as a priority in the next quarterback. Bringing him in also gives the Steelers the flexibility to draft a quarterback in 2022 or use him as a bridge option to get to a stronger 2023 or 2024 class. And as veterans of the Steelers’ system, Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins could compete with Brissett. — Brooke Pryor
DRAFTING FOR THE FUTURE — AND PRESENT
There are still some free agents out there who could potentially start (Tyrod Taylor? Ryan Fitzpatrick? Andy Dalton? Mitchell Trubisky?), but the quarterback market has essentially come down to the draft. The class is not seen as QB-heavy, but a handful of prospects have first-round billing. We simulated the quarterback picks for the first two rounds.
Look, there is a greater need at left tackle here, but ultimately the team felt it couldn’t pass on Pickett’s potential. Remember, Pickett once accepted a scholarship offer from Carolina coach Matt Rhule to come to Temple before going to Pittsburgh. We’ll see how it plays out, but Darnold is likely the starter. Newton will only make the roster if he starts, and Pickett is the future. — David Newton
Mariota would be the unquestioned starter in 2022, with Corral learning behind him. Yeah, we’re using a high draft pick — the one we got in the Carr deal — on a QB who will sit. But unless Mariota gets injured (he has had a history of that, by the way), it’s a great scenario for Coach McDaniels to implement his vision with quarterbacks who are more than willing to run and give Corral time to adjust to the NFL game. — Paul Gutierrez
The Steelers come out of free agency and the draft with not one, but two new quarterbacks. Because of his mobility and big arm potential, Howell is a fit for the Steelers. Brissett and Howell (and perhaps Rudolph) could compete for the starting job in camp, but the team would have flexibility to sit Howell for a year — or as long as possible in the 2022 season — and develop. — Brooke Pryor
The Lions will ultimately stick with Jared Goff for 2022, but they desperately need to address the backup quarterback situation right now and the starting spot for the future. In a perfect world, Goff will get off to a better start than the 2021 season, where the Lions started 0-8. It’s unlikely that Willis competes right away, but the coaching staff could develop him smoothly without much pressure. He has time to learn from Goff, who has Pro Bowl and Super Bowl experience. And by using the second first-rounder on Willis, rather than the Lions’ early second-round pick, we secured the fifth-year option, too. — Eric Woodyard
After re-signing Winston, and with Taysom Hill also on the roster, we won’t have to reach for a quarterback in the draft unless we like the value — which we did here with Ridder in Round 2. — Mike Triplett
Todd McShay goes through the pros and cons if a team decides to draft Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder.
STICKING WITH WHAT WE GOT
Even with all the movement, plenty of other teams that were thought to be in the QB market opted to keep their current starter without bringing in serious competition or drafting a top-tier future starting option. Here’s why our stand-in GMs decided to stand pat.
We listened out of curiosity, but there weren’t any offers for the Falcons to look at for Ryan, who has massive $48.6M and $43.6M cap hits over the next two seasons. Ryan and second-year Falcons coach Arthur Smith like working together, and Ryan continues to offer stability at the position. And the way this particular draft board fell, the options in the second round didn’t quite make sense for Atlanta, and No. 8 felt too high to take a quarterback, particularly with the amount of other areas that need work. — Michael Rothstein
After failing to land Wilson via a trade, the Browns move forward with Mayfield. Remember, he did lead Cleveland to its first playoff victory just a year ago. The Browns are banking that Mayfield, with a mended left shoulder, can rekindle that 2020 form after struggling through an injury-plagued 2021 season. — Jake Trotter
Although Mills struggled in his first six-start stint replacing an injured Tyrod Taylor, he showed enough improvement in his final five games to be considered the starter going into the 2022 season. The Texans will need to sign a backup quarterback — and could choose a veteran quarterback who could truly compete with Mills for the starting spot — but Houston is also waiting for some clarity on Deshaun Watson‘s legal situation before a potential trade. — Sarah Barshop
No first-round pick. Not a strong quarterback draft class. The same could be said about the free-agent group. And cutting ties with Wentz would give an indication that coach Frank Reich didn’t believe the quarterback could get his career back on track. — Mike Wells
After spending the fifth overall pick on Tagovailoa in 2020, the Dolphins will want to give him an opportunity to develop under an offensive-minded coach who can extract the most out of him. That mindset should not, however, stop them from adding a high-level backup who could push Tagovailoa for the starting job if he fails to improve in 2022. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Finding a trade partner who is willing to take on Cousins’ $35 million fully guaranteed base salary is no simple task. The Vikings would undoubtedly be on the hook for millions if they traded the 33-year-old quarterback (by absorbing a big part of his salary to move him) when there’s only one year left on his deal. While that one year does come with a $45 million cap hit, Minnesota can look to restructure other veteran contracts (Harrison Smith and Adam Thielen?) and/or trade edge rusher Danielle Hunter to free up cap space so they can keep Cousins for 2022 without having to pay him another lucrative extension. — Courtney Cronin
The Giants have made it abundantly clear that they want to give Jones at least one more season to prove he can be their franchise quarterback. “We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up since he’s been here,” said co-owner John Mara recently, blaming the team — not the QB — for his struggles. Jones’ injury history does warrant some competition regardless, whether it comes in free agency or the first few rounds of the draft. — Jordan Raanan
It was worth making a modest run at Wilson but the most likely outcome was that it would be Hurts under center in 2022 — and now it’s time to build up the roster around him. Using a first-round pick on a quarterback this year isn’t prudent, particularly given how suspect this QB class is. The better play is to take a midround flier on a prospect this year and push back some draft stock to 2023 to make a hard charge at a quarterback should Hurts not pan out. — Tim McManus
Starting with coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans believe Tannehill has the necessary tools to lead them and is a major reason for their franchise turnaround. Tannehill holds a $38.6 million cap hit as well, so it will be difficult to move him in a trade (but not impossible). — Turron Davenport