Trade talk overshadows marginal class of QBs in free agency
An underwhelming free agent class for quarterbacks is overshadowed by the possibility of multiple big names changing teams, most notably Aaron Rodgers.
From the potential move of Rodgers out of Green Bay to the likely departure of San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo despite the 49ers reaching another NFC championship game with him, trades, not courtships, are the talk of the QB market.
The constant chatter about Rodgers drowns out a change that would be equally seismic — Russell Wilson leaving Seattle. Tension between Wilson and the Seahawks surfaced last offseason. Now the issue is what’s best for the club’s future, although the Seahawks keep saying they’re not shopping the Super Bowl 48 winner.
“I love the East Coast, but I think the West Coast is better for me right now,” Wilson said this week on NBC’s “Today” show, responding to a question from a Washington Commanders fan. “I’ve got people hitting me up every day, all my friends and all that from the East Coast. But Seattle’s the place where I’m at right now and I love it and it’s great.”
Wilson has two years left on a contract with a no-trade clause, meaning he controls where he would go. And that raises another key question: Which teams need a quarterback? Washington is on a list perhaps topped by Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh with the retirements of Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
Rodgers’ stalemate with the Packers last summer ended with an agreement to void the final year of his contract in 2023. The club has said it will wait as long as it takes for the MVP of the past two seasons (four overall) to decide whether he wants to play for them, or play at all.
If Rodgers seeks a trade, that adds another domino among teams seeking a starter in free agency. Those pickings aren’t much past slim, if at all.
THE OPEN MARKET
Jameis Winston arguably tops the list of free agents because New Orleans appeared on track to make the playoffs to start the post-Drew Brees era when Winston’s season ended with a left torn anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 31.
The flip side is the Saints were winning (5-2 after the game in which he was injured) without leaning heavily on Winston as a passer. The 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick didn’t get a second contract in Tampa Bay because he threw too many interceptions (88 in five seasons).
Marcus Mariota is forever tied to Winston as the No. 2 pick in that draft, and the other QB who also didn’t get a second contract. Tennessee moved on, so Mariota was Derek Carr’s backup in Las Vegas the past two seasons. Could Mariota get another chance to start?
Mitchell Trubisky is perhaps the most intriguing option after a tumultuous stint in Chicago was followed by a year as Josh Allen’s backup in Buffalo. The Bears declined his fifth-year option.
Cam Newton didn’t show he has anything left in a reprise with Carolina, while Denver’s Teddy Bridgewater appears headed for his fourth team in four seasons. Jacoby Brissett and Tyrod Taylor are backups at best.
Andy Dalton never gained traction in Chicago even though he signed expecting to be the starter after a year as Dak Prescott’s backup (and injury replacement) in Dallas. Everything changed when the Bears moved up nine spots in last year’s draft to get Justin Fields at No. 11.
Dalton, 34, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, 39, are the elder statesmen. Fitzpatrick is coming off a hip injury that limited him to one start in Washington.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
The Packers aren’t pretending to know what Rodgers will decide, and seem to be putting off all major roster decisions until he does. Rodgers said he would make up his mind before free agency, but the club has less than a week to decide whether to place the franchise tag on Rodgers’ top target, Davante Adams.
Given the movement last offseason of Carson Wentz (Philadelphia to Indianapolis) and Matthew Stafford/Jared Goff (a Los Angeles Rams-Detroit swap), it shouldn’t be difficult for Green Bay to engineer a trade. There will be plenty of interested teams.
Garoppolo took the 49ers to the Super Bowl three seasons ago, when they lost to Kansas City. San Francisco fell to Stafford and the Rams in a surprising run to the NFC title game last season. But the front office has been clear that it’s ready to turn over the team to Trey Lance, the third overall pick in last year’s draft.
Garoppolo’s cap hit is a fairly manageable $27 million, particularly assuming he starts somewhere. However, any potential trade was complicated recent surgery on his throwing (right) shoulder.
The outlook is still unclear for Houston’s Deshaun Watson, who faces civil lawsuits over allegations of sexual assault and harassment. There has been no official word on possible criminal charges. Any club pursuing Watson will want clarity on those issues. Before the allegations became public, Watson demanded a trade, saying he wouldn’t play for the Texans again. He didn’t suit up in 2021.
WHERE THERE’S A NEED
There’s little reason to believe Mason Rudolph is the long-term answer for the Steelers, who haven’t been in the market for a starter in almost 20 years. The outlook is even more uncertain with the Buccaneers.
The decision to replace Winston got a quick and easy answer with Brady. Neither “quick” nor “easy” come to mind now. Journeyman Blaine Gabbert is a free agent, and third-stringer Kyle Trask has yet to take a snap. He was a second-round pick out of Florida last year. The Bucs are a strong candidate for a trade.
The Saints have a $12 million cap hit for a gadget QB in Taysom Hill. The money alone would seem to make him a candidate to start without another veteran coming in. The re-signing of Winston shouldn’t be ruled out.
Houston might go with second-year man Davis Mills after he showed significant improvement late last season following the benching of Taylor.
Washington, Carolina and Denver are still looking for quarterbacks after 2021 decisions flopped because of injuries (Fitzpatrick’s hip in Washington) or ineffectiveness (Sam Darnold with the Panthers, Bridgewater in Denver).
The Broncos’ new coach is Nathaniel Hackett, praised effusively by Rodgers coming off three seasons as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator. Plus, Denver turned the addition of Peyton Manning a decade ago into a pair of trips to the Super Bowl in four seasons, capped by winning the 2015 championship before Manning retired.
ONE MORE THING
The uncertainty of Wentz’s future with the Colts adds one more dynamic to quarterbacks in free agency. There are indications the Colts could dump him. If so, there’s little question a third club would give him a shot at starting, despite flameouts in Philadelphia and Indy.