One of my favorite columns to write toward the end of every NFL season is a look at which possible vacancies might appeal to the league’s top head-coaching candidates. There’s a lot to be learned from evaluating where each team stands, scoping out what their roster looks like over the next couple of seasons and how each organization tends to treat the people they hire when things go wrong.
Let’s approach a similar problem through the same lens. By my count, there are 13 teams that could plausibly add a veteran quarterback to their roster who could start for them in Week 1 next season. In some cases, those teams have no choice but to add a signal-caller. Others would only make the move if they failed to come to terms with their current starter.
I’m going to rank those 13 possibilities from least desirable to most. Obviously, quarterbacks want great receivers and a brilliant offensive mind, but there’s more to consider. Do those teams have great defenses to take some of the load off the offense? Do they play indoors in an income tax-free state, or are they traveling further than any other team? Are they likely to be replaced by a rookie before the season ends? Do they give their coaches time to develop, or does ownership make rash decisions? Do they even have a coaching staff at all?
The first veteran quarterback moves could come at any time, with Derek Carr on the trade market and Aaron Rodgers potentially joining him. Tom Brady won’t be involved, but Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to follow them in free agency, and 2022 standouts Daniel Jones and Geno Smith could be on the move if they don’t work out deals with their current teams.
Where should they hope to land? Let’s start with the least exciting situation, where the NFL’s most confusing team has a lot of work to do before finding their latest starter:
Jump to a team:
49ers | Buccaneers | Colts
Commanders | Falcons | Giants
Jets | Panthers | Raiders
Saints | Seahawks | Texans | Titans
Pros: Division, indoors, running game
Cons: Ownership, coaching questions, receivers, offensive line
It seems close to impossible to assess the Colts until team owner Jim Irsay makes a coaching decision. Given what Irsay decided last time he needed a coach, there’s obviously a wide swath of possibilities for what Indianapolis could choose to do, ranging from incumbent Jeff Saturday to any one of 10 other candidates who received interviews and remain on the market for consideration. The fact that Irsay hasn’t yet hired a coach might hint he’s leaning toward someone still competing for a Super Bowl title, which would identify Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as the most likely option of the remaining candidates.
It’s also likely the Colts spurn the veteran quarterback market and finally draft a player to be their long-term replacement for Andrew Luck. They cycled through short-term options over the last few seasons — plus a solution that turned into a short-term option in Carson Wentz — and own the No. 4 overall pick in April’s draft. Given that Indy likely will move on from Matt Ryan and Nick Foles and have a wide-open depth chart, though, we can’t rule out the possibility of the team drafting a passer and bringing in a bridge option to serve as the Week 1 starter.
That signal-caller would get to play indoors and hand the ball off to running back Jonathan Taylor. That’s about all we know. Indy’s offensive infrastructure cratered last season. An offensive line that had once been the league’s best fell apart amid holes at left tackle and right guard. Michael Pittman Jr., who had looked to be on the verge of becoming a No. 1 wide receiver, averaged just 9.3 yards per catch. Taylor’s efficiency fell off even before suffering a series of ankle injuries. It’s difficult to evaluate any of these players amid the shuttle of quarterbacks and coaches the Colts endured in 2022.
To recap, the Colts have serious questions about the offensive infrastructure, the playmakers, the line, there’s no coaching staff and there’s likely to be a first-round pick coming in at quarterback behind whichever veteran joins: Does this sound like an exciting opportunity?
Pros: Running game, division
Cons: Receivers, defense, lack of an offensive coordinator, No. 2 overall pick, ownership
The Texans made one of the two essential hires for their rebuild when they convinced former linebacker DeMeco Ryans to take over as the team’s fourth coach in four seasons. Ryans, who inked a six-year deal, isn’t likely to endure the same fate as predecessors David Culley and Lovie Smith, both of whom were fired after one season. Ownership in Houston has been a disaster recently, but the hope has to be that Ryans rights the ship and stops the inconsistent decision-making we’ve seen under chairman and CEO Cal McNair.
He won’t inherit much, although general manager Nick Caserio’s first significant draft class yielded several promising contributors, including cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., safety Jalen Pitre and running back Dameon Pierce. First-round pick Kenyon Green was a mess at guard, but the hope has to be that he improves in Year 2. Laremy Tunsil is one of the league’s best left tackles, although he will soon require a new contract.
Pierce impressed as a rookie, but there are questions about the other playmakers on this offense. Second-round wideout John Metchie can’t really be graded after he missed his entire rookie season while battling leukemia, but Brandin Cooks wanted out of Houston and was frustrated to not be traded, while Nico Collins struggled with injuries and consistency. I’d like to see this group with a healthy, returning Metchie, but the Texans probably need to add a receiver during the offseason, especially if they move Cooks.
Ryans still has to hire an offensive coordinator, and the likelihood of the Texans drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick raises concerns this will be a part-time position for any veteran passer who joins the organization. For veterans who are close to retiring — such as Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco — this could essentially amount to a player-coach role.
Pros: Running game, division
Cons: Offensive line, receivers, lack of offensive coordinator
Remember the last time the Titans were in the market for a veteran quarterback? They ended up taking on Ryan Tannehill in a 2019 salary dump and the pieces fell into place around him. Running back Derrick Henry‘s late-2018 breakout turned out to yield superstar production in 2019 and 2020. Former general manager Jon Robinson found No. 1 wideout A.J. Brown in the middle of the second round. Jack Conklin had a career year at right tackle. What looked to be a struggling offense turned out to be one of the league’s best, and the Titans came within a game of the Super Bowl.
Here’s hoping the pieces come together again in 2023, because things don’t look as exciting at the moment. Henry has been less efficient amid massive workloads when healthy the past two seasons. The line is being retooled and might not have veteran tackle Taylor Lewan. Rookie receiver Treylon Burks didn’t look like a Brown replacement, and the most exciting wideout on the roster might be tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, who finished his rookie season with 450 yards.
New general manager Ran Carthon will have his work cut out for him, given that the Titans are $23 million over the 2023 cap. They can create plenty of room by moving on from Tannehill, Lewan and veteran receiver Robert Woods, but rookie third-rounder Malik Willis didn’t look NFL-ready in his brief stint as the quarterback. Henry is a free agent after the season, so his long-term future might also be in question.
The Titans should still benefit from an AFC South that is easier than most of the other divisions, albeit one in which the Texans will be stiffer competition after hiring DeMeco Ryans. Tennessee has to make a hire of its own and bring in a new offensive coordinator, and the hire might not be tied to its quarterback decision.
Pros: Division, running game, coach
Cons: Upheaval, defense
Let’s start with Carolina’s new coach. I’m of the opinion that Frank Reich generally did a good job in Indianapolis, given the turnover at quarterback and how his passers played before they arrived with the Colts (with Matt Ryan as a notable exception):
Luck had a great season in 2018. Brissett was fine in 2019. Rivers played better after joining the team in 2020. Wentz played much better in his one year with the Colts than he did in 2020 with the Eagles or this year with Washington. So, is 2022 enough to say Reich is bad? https://t.co/XjzGhGozEA
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) November 7, 2022
Others might disagree — and Reich’s offense certainly seemed to collapse at the end of 2021 and for most of 2022. This could be similar to Doug Pederson’s renaissance in Jacksonville, where Reich will turn things around and we’ll wonder why things went wrong in his prior stop. Of course, Pederson has Trevor Lawrence, while the most eligible quarterback on Carolina’s roster is third-round pick Matt Corral, who missed his entire season with a Lisfranc injury.
Reich will inherit an offense that improved after moving on from quarterback Baker Mayfield and coach Matt Rhule. The Panthers ran the ball effectively after trading away Christian McCaffrey, with the duo of Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman combining to generate 238 rush yards over expectation across 298 carries. Foreman is a free agent, but a reunion would make sense for both sides and shouldn’t be hard to execute.
The offensive line falls between the pro and con section, given the rookie season struggles of first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu. If he improves in Year 2, Ekwonu and right tackle Taylor Moton would form one of the league’s top bookend duos. Wide receiver D.J. Moore seems perennially on the verge of a massive breakout with better quarterback play, but Terrace Marshall hasn’t lived up to his status as a 2021 second-round pick. The Panthers need a second option to take some of the pressure off Moore.
Carolina’s defense took a major step backward last season, falling from 15th to 25th in DVOA. It has a star edge rusher in Brian Burns and a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback in Jaycee Horn, but depth is a concern. It looked like the Panthers were about to break out into a top-10 unit after impressing in 2021; maybe they’ll head back in that direction with a new coordinator.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if all four NFC South teams imported new starting quarterbacks this offseason, which invites natural comparisons between the four jobs. The Panthers have been desperate to add an established quarterback after moving on from Cam Newton, but their moves for Mayfield and Sam Darnold have been disappointing. Reich will have his work cut out quickly rebuilding this offensive infrastructure, and it might not be appealing to veteran quarterbacks who have the option of heading elsewhere.
Pros: Defense, emerging young playmakers
Cons: Offensive line, ownership/coaching uncertainty
If NFL teams could get punch cards for being frequent shoppers, the Commanders would qualify for a free quarterback by now. Since Kirk Cousins left the organization as a free agent after the 2017 campaign, Washington has made a major quarterback addition four times in five years.
Those moves haven’t worked out. After trading for Alex Smith in 2018, Smith suffered a career-threatening leg injury. The Commanders used a first-round pick on Dwayne Haskins the following year, but he struggled before being released in 2020. (He was picked up by the Steelers before tragically dying last year.) Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a career-ending hip injury in his debut start with the team in 2021, while Carson Wentz struggled to stay healthy (and play well) after joining the team last spring.
It would be a surprise if that streak didn’t stretch to five in six offseasons. The Commanders could go all-in to try to add a young quarterback, but since arriving, coach Ron Rivera has typically looked toward veterans. They signed Fitzpatrick, traded for Wentz and reportedly attempted to deal for Russell Wilson before the Seahawks standout was sent to the Broncos. Taylor Heinicke kept the team afloat during a midseason run of success — and rookie Sam Howell beat the Cowboys in his first career start to close out the campaign — but Rivera will at least consider adding a veteran to replace Wentz in the months to come.
They’ll get to work with a true No. 1 receiver in Terry McLaurin, whose career has consisted of playing with the quarterbacks mentioned above. Rookie first-round pick Jahan Dotson and veteran Curtis Samuel flashed at times this season, although Samuel might be a cap casualty and Dotson missed five games with injuries. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. courageously returned from a gunshot wound to tote the ball 205 times as a rookie. Dotson and Robinson haven’t emerged yet as above-average contributors, but they should each be better in 2023.
Whoever ends up at quarterback for the Commanders will play behind a line which ranked 27th in pass block win rate. General manager Martin Mayhew will need to retool the interior, where veteran guards Wes Schweitzer and Trai Turner and center Nick Martin are all free agents. Chase Roullier will return after missing most of the season with a knee injury, but the 29-year-old center has been unable to play in 23 of the previous 34 games. Andrew Norwell should be back, but the Commanders likely will need to add at least two interior linemen to their rotation.
Rivera also will need to shop for an offensive coordinator after the team fired Scott Turner. The Commanders reportedly sought to interview Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for the same role, but Bieniemy will have better offers if he wants to leave Patrick Mahomes & Co. With no quarterback, they might realistically be more in position to trade for a signal-caller and then grab a coordinator who has experience with that quarterback as opposed to pursuing things the other way around.
Pros: Coaching staff, bookend tackles
The Giants are likely to bring back Daniel Jones after he impressed toward the end of the season. He was being asked to throw the shortest passes of any quarterback and excelled most as a scrambler, but their unexpected run to the postseason and playoff victory over the Vikings should lock him in for at least one more season. A multi-year deal worth north of $40 million per year would be aggressive and probably foolish, but the team has the option of using a franchise tag at $32.5 million.
If the Giants decide to move on from Jones and don’t draft a quarterback in the first round, a veteran should welcome the chance to work with coach Brian Daboll. He helped mold Josh Allen into a superstar and coaxed Jones’ best season after arriving in New York last year. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka is a budding head-coach candidate after spending time as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator with the Chiefs.
The Giants also have invested heavily in their offensive infrastructure over the last few seasons, although the results haven’t been consistent. Andrew Thomas has emerged as an upper-echelon left tackle and a building block, but right tackle Evan Neal struggled in his rookie season. Neal should improve, but 2021 first-round wideout Kadarius Toney was shipped off to the Chiefs after failing to impress the new staff.
Jones developed a rapport with Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James, but the Giants undoubtedly will want to address the receiver position this offseason. Kenny Golladay is a surefire cap casualty after two anonymous seasons, while Sterling Shepard is unlikely to return after tearing his ACL. Wan’Dale Robinson, a second-round pick last year, might be unable to open the season in the lineup after his own ACL tear, leaving the team in the market to add at least one veteran.
The bigger question might be whether the Giants are able to bring back star runner Saquon Barkley, who re-emerged as an impact player during an impressive season. Barkley’s presence would make any quarterback’s life easier, as he certainly did for Jones. Reports after the season-ending loss to the Eagles suggested Barkley will attempt to re-sign with the Giants without attempting to reset the running back market, which makes an extension more realistic. Retaining him would make this job more compelling for quarterbacks, but it would also increase the possibility Jones returns to the organization on the franchise tag.
Pros: Excellent defense, promising young playmakers
Cons: Questions along OL, playmakers, offensive coordinator, commitment to current starter?
The Jets look like one of the most obvious candidates to add a veteran quarterback. Coach Robert Saleh’s defense got off to a slow start before righting the ship in dramatic fashion, finishing fourth in expected points added (EPA) per play allowed from Week 3 onward. With eight of the 10 defenders who played more than half of the snaps returning, the Jets should again field a championship-caliber defense.
The big question for Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, instead, is whether they want to add a quarterback who can push disappointing third-year passer Zach Wilson or supplant him in the lineup. Saleh has said the Jets are going to go through “hell or high water” with Wilson, but this is the same coach who benched him midseason, criticized an “instant coffee world” for wanting to see immediate results from the 23-year-old, and then benched him again the following week for the remainder of the season. Put it this way: Saleh’s actions should mean a lot more than his words.
The hiring of Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator at least hints toward the possibility the Jets will make a run toward fellow Packers legend Aaron Rodgers. Hackett’s presence might be a positive for his former running buddy in Green Bay, but it’s hard to figure he’ll excite many other signal-callers.
Hackett’s offenses in Buffalo and Jacksonville were underwhelming, ranking 25th or worse in DVOA four times in five seasons. The results were much better when he was the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, but that also came under the auspices of coach Matt LaFleur, who served as the team’s primary playcaller. Left to his devices with the Broncos last season, well, you saw what happened. Veteran quarterbacks are going to see what happened with Russell Wilson and worry whether Hackett can put them in position to succeed.
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Can New York overcome that with superior personnel? Perhaps. There’s an exciting, emerging core of young talent. Rookie Garrett Wilson ranked 19th in ESPN Analytics’ receiver rankings this season, which attempt to separate a wide receiver’s ability from quarterback play. Wilson ranked 27th in yards per route run among wideouts, owing in part to a handful of drops. I’m reasonably confident he will emerge as a No. 1 wideout in 2023, which would be a great starting point for the Jets on that side of the ball.
Otherwise, there are questions. Guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and running back Breece Hall looked excellent early in the season, but both suffered season-ending injuries. Vera-Tucker should be able to bounce back quickly after tearing his triceps, but Hall is in a more tricky spot after tearing his ACL. Backs are typically able to return at or near 100% after suffering an ACL tear, but we have examples of players — including Saquon Barkley or J.K. Dobbins — taking time to get back to their prior level of play.
The players around that core are less compelling than they might have been a year ago. Wideout Corey Davis likely is a cap casualty, while Elijah Moore struggled with injuries, fell out of favor with the coaching staff and requested a trade. Mekhi Becton missed the entire season with a fractured kneecap and has played one game in two season; it’s possible the Jets decline the once-promising tackle’s fifth-year option this offseason. Tackle George Fant missed half the season and didn’t repeat his breakout 2022 performance, racking up eight penalties and allowing 3.5 sacks in eight games.
Jets fans are demanding, but they’re also starved for good quarterback play. The last time a Jets quarterback posted back-to-back seasons with at least 10 starts and an era-adjusted yards per attempt mark greater than the league-average was Ken O’Brien in 1985 and 1986. The hope was that Wilson could be that savior, but the team understandably has soured on its overmatched young passer. Even if Rodgers wasn’t around for a long time, two above-average seasons from the future Hall of Famer would be something fans haven’t enjoyed in nearly 40 years.
Pros: Young star receiver, division, indoors
Cons: Cap woes limiting ability to add talent to an aging roster, declining line
I’ve written a lot about the bind the Saints find themselves in after they traded their first-round pick to the Eagles last spring. This is a team still conducting itself like it should be all-in despite scant evidence it has the sort of roster that could do anything in the postseason. Its short-term prognosis is middling and getting worse over time until it bites the bullet and starts over, which won’t appeal to a veteran quarterback.
As usual, the Saints are way over the salary cap. This year, it’s $57.4 million, a figure which will be even harder to hit given how often they’ve restructured deals in years past. They will get there, but it won’t be fun. They will have to restructure the contracts of cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive linemen Ryan Ramczyk and Erik McCoy and edge rusher Cameron Jordan. Waiving quarterback Jameis Winston and wideout Michael Thomas as post-June 1 cuts should free up $14.4 million, although it’ll just create more cap problems for future seasons. Defensive linemen David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport are likely to leave in free agency without being replaced.
The Saints will be active for veterans who don’t have markets in free agency, as they were for safety Tyrann Mathieu and receiver Jarvis Landry last year. Given their cap constraints, though, this organization is perpetually trying to squeeze wins out of a roster that looks less imposing with each passing year. New Orleans had the oldest team this season by snap-weighted age, which weighs a team’s age by how often each player stepped onto the field. It won’t be getting much younger in 2023.
The good news for the Saints is they have a young building block at receiver in Chris Olave, who had one of the most impressive rookie seasons in recent memory given who was throwing him passes. There might not be much else in terms of playmakers. Tight end Juwan Johnson caught touchdowns at a Gronkowskian rate this season, which is unlikely to recur. Thomas likely will be cut, and the Saints would move on from running back Alvin Kamara if it saved them any money. Undrafted free agent Rashid Shaheed flashed as a deep threat in December, but Olave needs to be an All-Pro wideout to keep this offense going next season.
General manager Mickey Loomis & Co. have poured resources into the offensive line in recent years, but the results aren’t as clear as the organization might have hoped. McCoy and Ryan Ramczyk are stars, but neither played a full season in 2021 or 2022. Cesar Ruiz is coming off his best season by a considerable margin, but he also suffered a Lisfranc injury in December. Andrus Peat hasn’t been healthy or dominant since signing a massive extension in 2022, while left tackle Trevor Penning is untested after injuries limited him to one start as a rookie. There are more reasons to be optimistic about the line than there are about any other spot on the roster, but the Saints even have significant questions with what should be their biggest strength.
The biggest selling point might be what they can offer away from the field and in their front office. Playing indoors makes any quarterback’s life easier. The NFC South is wide open, and the Saints still have enough veteran talent on their roster to squeeze out eight wins, which might be enough to win the division in 2023. Given their self-made problems, though, the other teams in the South might each be more appealing for veteran quarterbacks.
Pros: Receivers, weather, offensive line, division
Cons: Declining roster, lack of coordinator
The Buccaneers were once able to parlay what looked like a good situation on paper into signing Tom Brady, and it won them a Super Bowl. Now, with Brady retiring for the second time, the quarterback job won’t be quite as appealing to veteran passers. The core of the team is older, there are legitimate questions about the coaching staff and the defense isn’t what it was before Brady arrived. Even allowing for those realities, this will be an interesting opportunity.
Start with the wideouts. The Bucs can call upon the duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who form one of the league’s best one-two punches when healthy, but there are concerns about both. Evans struggled to get on the same page with Brady for most of the season and turns 30 before the season begins, while Godwin wasn’t anywhere near as efficient after tearing his ACL the prior year. Russell Gage, signed to be the No. 3 wideout, left the playoff loss to the Cowboys with a scary neck injury and concussion. This is still an exciting group for a veteran quarterback, but it looked a lot more appealing three years ago than it does now.
Tampa can be more optimistic about its offensive line with Ryan Jensen returning from his injury during training camp, but it was clear the 31-year-old center wasn’t close to his normal self. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs is a star, but left tackle Donovan Smith was a liability and the Bucs might target a replacement for the 29-year-old veteran this offseason. There’s enough to like here to keep this group as a positive, but again, it’s just a little bit less compelling than what Tampa had during Brady’s first season.
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A defense that ranked in the top 10 in DVOA during each of Todd Bowles’ three seasons as coordinator fell to 13th this season as Bowles took over head-coaching duties. The Bucs have lost contributors such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Jordan Whitehead to free agency, while edge rusher Shaquil Barrett tore his Achilles and just about everybody in the secondary missed some time. They should be healthier on that side of the ball, but it’s possible that the defense lost some level of efficiency once Bowles moved into the head role.
The Bucs will also need to hire a new offensive coordinator after firing Byron Leftwich this offseason. Leftwich struggled to build a running game and wasn’t able to solve the miscommunication issues, which seemed to plague the passing attack throughout the season. As important as it will be for Bowles and general manager Jason Licht to find a quarterback, it might be nearly as essential for Tampa to land the right playcaller behind him.
Pros: Receivers, draft capital, tackles
Cons: Division, location
The Seahawks barely qualify for consideration in this column, because they’re not likely to have a new veteran passer taking snaps for them in 2023. It seems more likely they will either choose to bring back Geno Smith, draft a quarterback in the first round with the No. 5 pick or opt for both options. You can’t rule out the possibility of a team with their draft capital doing something dramatic if the option presents itself, but it would be a surprise if it went off the board.
Of course, the Seahawks have plenty to offer a quarterback if one had a hankering to play in the Pacific Northwest. There aren’t many receiver duos better than Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf when both are healthy. General manager John Schneider & Co. nailed their 2022 draft and turned over their pass protection in one fell swoop by selecting tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas. Both excelled in their debut pro campaigns, and second-round pick Kenneth Walker flashed special big-play ability after taking over as the full-time running back for the injured Rashaad Penny.
In a season in which warm-weather destinations and domed stadiums rank as possibilities, Washington might not loom as the most desirable locale for a veteran quarterback. Russell Wilson proved passers can throw the ball in Seattle — and Seahawks fans make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks — but they also perennially rank among the teams who rack up the most travel of any team.
Should the NFC West qualify as a burden? I wouldn’t want to play in a division with Aaron Donald and Nick Bosa for my own health, but 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is headed to Houston and the Cardinals are a mess on both sides of the ball. This is one of the most appealing opportunities in the league, but it’s also one of the least likely to come open.
Pros: Young receivers, successful running game, cap space, indoors, division
Cons: Run-heavy approach
While the Falcons weren’t the league’s most progressive offense in 2022, what they did worked. With Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder under center, coach Arthur Smith dialed up the league’s most run-heavy attack in neutral situations and threw the ball just 24.4 times per game.
Only the Bears dropped back less frequently, but it worked: The Falcons generated 0.04 EPA per play, the 11th-best rate. Smith’s offense finished ahead of more glamorous attacks like the Chargers, Packers and Buccaneers, and the Falcons actually ranked in the top 10 before turning to Ridder after their Week 14 bye.
Smith’s offenses in Tennessee also relied heavily on the run and large doses of play-action, but that was also based on personnel, given that he had prime Derrick Henry and found plenty of success with Ryan Tannehill off play-fakes. I would be fascinated to see how the offense might change with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, although I don’t think Smith is ever going to be a guy who throws the ball 45 times a game, regardless of who is playing quarterback.
Fantasy football players might have been frustrated by the inconsistency of wideout Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts before the latter went down with a season-ending injury, but each has flashed big-play ability and plenty of promise after being drafted in the first round. Pitts was excellent as a rookie, while London averaged a whopping 2.29 yards per route run, which was ahead of Amari Cooper, Terry McLaurin and DeAndre Hopkins. London likely would lose some of that efficiency if the Falcons throw the ball more often, but his numbers would spike if they threw at something closer to an average rate next season.
Other players also have emerged. Tyler Allgeier became the focal point of the rushing attack as the season wore on and impressed; from Week 11 on, he ranked fifth among running backs in yards per carry (5.5), fourth in rush yards over expectation (94), first in rushing EPA (13.6) and fourth in success rate (50%). The Falcons still need a second wideout alongside London after trading away Calvin Ridley, but starting with Allgeier, London and Pitts gives them a very exciting big three.
After years of struggling, the Falcons have reasons to be optimistic off the field, too. General manager Terry Fontenot will have more than $56 million in cap space to work with this offseason, a figure which should rise by $12 million after the team parts ways with Mariota. The offensive line has been inconsistent, but right tackle Kaleb McGary had his best season after he struggled through his first three years in the league (though he’s now a free agent). The defense still isn’t great, and budding star A.J. Terrell had a rough season at corner, but a quarterback would have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his future in Atlanta.
Pros: Playmakers, indoors, coaching staff, running game
Cons: Division, defense
Any pitch to a veteran quarterback for the Raiders will start with their playmakers. Injuries meant they only saw running back Josh Jacobs, wideouts Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller on the field for 76 offensive snaps together, but a franchise tag for Jacobs should allow the team to bring back all four players in 2023. Adams is on the wrong side of 30 — and Waller has struggled with injuries over the past couple of seasons — but this is a top-three group on paper after Jacobs’ breakout campaign.
Coach Josh McDaniels might not be seen as a positive by every onlooker, but in a league in which so many teams are desperately seeking offensive minds, his résumé will appeal to quarterbacks. There will be those who worry about McDaniels immediately running Jay Cutler and Derek Carr out of the organizations he took over by the end of his first year at the helm, but this will be his chance to pick his quarterback of the future. Last time, it was Tim Tebow.
The Raiders play indoors in Las Vegas, where the lack of income tax makes this job even more appealing. The downsides here really don’t have much to do with the offense: Vegas’ defense is porous and needs yet another rebuild, while the team is stuck in an AFC West that has grown stronger after the Broncos hired Sean Payton on Tuesday. Taking on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs twice a year won’t be fun, but at least a quarterback will have better receivers than he does.
Pros: Coaching staff, playmakers, running game, defense
Cons: Long-term options on roster, injuries
The 49ers’ job wasn’t on the list until Monday afternoon, when we heard Brock Purdy had suffered a complete tear of the UCL in his throwing elbow. Purdy could opt for an internal brace which would help him heal without surgery, but there’s always a chance the rookie sensation will require a more significant procedure and miss time past September.
Even if Purdy is ready to go in September, the 49ers could make changes around their playoff starter. Jimmy Garoppolo is a free agent and is unlikely to return. (Famous last words.) Trey Lance will be recovered from his fractured fibula in several weeks, but Purdy seemed to usurp Lance during his breakout run in December and January. The 49ers could trade Lance to recoup some of the draft capital they shipped out when moving up in the draft to acquire Lance two years ago and bring in a veteran as Purdy insurance or to be the short-term starter.
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Whomever that is will inherit the league’s most quarterback-friendly situation. The addition of Christian McCaffrey gave the 49ers the best set of playmakers in the NFC, as San Francisco is stocked with players who can play anywhere in the formation and do anything with the ball in their hands. Coach Kyle Shanahan is widely regarded as one of the NFL’s foremost offensive minds, and while the Niners have lost assistants and coordinators to other roles, he’s not going anywhere. Even with DeMeco Ryans departing for the Texans, they have enough talent on defense to feel confident that they should be a top-10 unit in 2023.
A run with Tom Brady in 2023 made sense, given that he was probably only going to play one final season. Now, that’s off the table. Veterans with aspirations of playing past 2023 might not fit quite as well, if only because Purdy seemed to thrive after taking over as the starter. The ideal scenario for the 49ers would be for the seventh-round pick to play above-average football while making peanuts, which would allow the organization to keep a stocked roster around their young quarterback. They could use the savings to address their offensive line. Still, if Garoppolo really wanted to come back one more time to play ahead of Purdy, would San Francisco say no?