By Cody Smith
With the 2021-’22 NFL season coming to a close, and the rumor mill currently swirling around whether or not Jimmy Garoppolo has played his last game in a 49ers uniform, I felt compelled to try to figure out where he may end up. As I mulled the potential destinations around in my head I realized something. The potential turnover among NFL quarterbacks this offseason could be tremendous. The retirement of Big Ben, the potential return of DeShaun Watson, the pending departures of Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins and even Russell Wilson among others could really shake up the league.
That’s where this article comes in. I’ve decided to take some guesses as to who will take the opening snap of the ’22-’23 season for each NFL team. Some of these are completely obvious (*cough* Patrick Mahomes) but there are a ton of potential surprises out there. At exactly this time last year Matthew Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and multiple first round picks. Even as a vivid Rams' fan it was hard to see that coming, but crazy things can happen in the NFL. So, lets jump into it as I give my best guesses. Hopefully, I can look back in September and have a decent chunk of these correct.
Buffalo Bills – Josh Allen
The Bills definitely have their guy in Josh Allen. The team was 13 seconds away from a trip to the AFC title game this year before Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs ended their season. I think Allen and the pieces that currently surround him are good enough to reach a Super Bowl sooner rather than later.
New England Patriots – Mac Jones
Another team that seems to have found their guy is Mac Jones. Jones arguably looked the best out of all the rookie quarterbacks this season, leading the Patriots to a playoff berth. I think their road to a Super Bowl is tough over the next few seasons with the current dominance of the Bills, but in a few short seasons Jones will be a seasoned vet and should keep the Patriots as a perennial contender in the AFC East.
Miami Dolphins – Tua Tagovailoa
Here is where things begin to get a little tricky. I don’t believe this is a lock, but I think the Dolphins stick with Tua for one more season. Miami’s 2021 season was interesting to say the least. The team started 1-7, then turned things around to go 8-1 over the second half of the season. In a shocking move the team then fired head coach Brian Flores despite sweeping the Patriots in the regular season for the first time since 2000 and compiling a winning season in back-to-back years for the first time since 2002-2003. I think the front office hopes to hire a coach that will have a better relationship with Tagovailoa, but I expect them to at least bring in another option to light a fire under the young QB. Maybe someone like Mitchell Trubisky would provide at least the illusion of a preseason QB competition.
New York Jets – Zach Wilson
Another rookie this past season, the Jets need to see more from last year’s No.2 overall pick before moving on. He’ll get the nod next season in hopes of a major improvement. I don’t personally believe Wilson is the long-term answer but moving on already would be a head-scratcher.
Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow
This is one of those no-doubters. Burrow led his team to the Super Bowl in just his second season – and first full season – in the league. He’s got a ton of offensive weapons and has looked incredible down the stretch. He’s locked in as Bengals starting QB for the near future
Pittsburgh Steelers – DeShaun Watson
The first team on the list that absolutely needs a new quarterback following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, I believe the Steelers should spend up and go after a big name. The pieces are there for this offense to be great. Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, maybe the return of Juju on a one-year prove it deal? This offense is loaded for bear. This team can’t afford to hand the reigns over to Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins. The rest of the team is too loaded with talent to do that. I think the Steelers should take a page out of the Los Angeles Rams' playbook and say, “eff those picks” and send as many as it takes to Houston for Watson. Whoever gets Watson will have four years of team control. That opens a nice-sized win-now window for a solid Pittsburgh team.
Cleveland Browns – Kirk Cousins
Despite Cousins having a solid season in Minnesota, rumors are swirling that the Vikings may be looking to move on. Should they choose to do so, the Browns seem to be a solid match. Cousins could reunite with former offensive play caller Kevin Stefanski on a team with some decent pieces. With the Browns and Baker Mayfield’s relationship on the fritz, this trade is not outside the realm of possibilities.
Baltimore Ravens – Lamar Jackson
Playing on his fifth-year option, Lamar Jackson ought to enter the season as Baltimore’s starting quarterback. Despite a down 2021 season where he battled with injuries, Jackson has played well enough in the past to retain this role and likely get a contract extension in the offseason.
Tennessee Titans – Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill enters 2022 on year three of a four-year deal in which the Titans earned the top seed in the AFC despite losing Derrick Henry for the majority of the season. The team will likely run it back with Tannehill.
Indianapolis Colts – Carson Wentz
The Colts enter 2022 in a comparable situation as the Titans. Wentz will be in the second year of his four-year contract and the team will likely move forward with him after coming up one loss to the Jaguars away from a playoff berth.
Houston Texans – Davis Mills
Houston needs a straight-up rebuild. In what seemed like a surprise move to me, the team decided to move on from head coach David Culley following a four-win season. This team has more holes than Swiss cheese and the quarterback should be the least of their worries at the moment. If the team trades Watson – which I expect them to do – I can’t see them going any other way than Davis Mills. As a rookie, Mills played quite well, passing for over 300 yards in a single game on four separate occasions and threw for three or more touchdowns in a game twice. I think the team will look to improve elsewhere this offseason and take one more year evaluating Mills as the potential long-term answer.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence
Another rookie QB last season, the 2021 No.1 overall pick will remain the starter for Jacksonville. The rookie was doomed by the front office’s hiring of Urban Myer at head coach as well as… well… just being on the Jaguars in general. The new staff will likely want to evaluate Lawrence and hope he improves before moving on.
Kansas City Chiefs – Patrick Mahomes
Not much to say here. Mahomes is perhaps the best quarterback in the league and recently signed an incredibly long-term deal with Kansas City. He’ll be there for a while.
Las Vegas Raiders – Derek Carr
Another popular candidate to be traded this offseason is Carr, but with the hiring of Josh McDaniels as the next head coach makes me believe he is staying put. Rumor has it the Patriots thought about offering up a trade for Carr last offseason to bring him to New England, but nothing ever materialized. The hiring of McDaniels puts the two together after all on a team that made the playoffs despite multiple in-season distractions.
Los Angeles Chargers – Justin Herbert
Herbert looks like the long-term answer in LA. The Chargers offense looked good this season despite missing the playoffs. Mahomes vs. Herbert in this division will be fun to watch for a while.
Denver Broncos – Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers seems more likely to stay in Green Bay right now than he did at this time last season, but its Aaron Rodger. You know there is going to be some sort of offseason drama. With Denver hiring former Packers' Offensive Coordinator Nathanial Hackett and John Elway’s propensity to go get veteran quarterbacks to lead the team, Rodgers doesn’t seem like a long shot to be playing in Denver at all. Imagine Rodgers with an offense including Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick and Javonte Williams. It would make the Broncos a solid playoff contender immediately.
Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott
Prescott enters year two of a four-year deal with the NFC East champions. He’s locked and loaded to remain the Dallas starter.
Philadelphia Eagles – Jalen Hurts
The rumor mill is churning around the Eagles and who their starting quarterback for next season may be. I personally believe the team sticks with Hurts. Hurts led the team to a playoff berth this past season and despite playing poorly at times, he has the athleticism needed from the quarterback position. Just two weeks ago Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman stated that he believes Hurts will open the season as the starter, but I don’t think that stops the Eagles from using a first-round pick on the quarterback position in the upcoming draft. Its Hurts’ job to lose in 2022.
Washington Commanders – Jimmy Garoppolo
The Washington Commanders are in desperate need of a solid starting quarterback. They thought they had it with Ryan Fitzpatrick before a hip injury forced him out for the rest of the season. Adding a veteran QB like Jimmy G may be just what Washington needs. Putting Garoppolo in an offense with weapons like Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Antonio Gibson gives him similar playmakers to get the ball to quickly, just like he did in San Francisco with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell. Adding Jimmy G would clearly make Washington a better football team going forward.
New York Giants – Russell Wilson
It seems unlikely that Seattle actually trades Russell Wilson, but as a hopeful Rams' fan, lets project him outside the NFC West. Wilson would be a great fit for the Giants in many ways. The team is loaded with offensive talent. Perhaps solid quarterback play could bring Kenny Golladay back from the dead and help instigate a Kadarius Toney second-year breakout. Saquon Barkley would also give him a reliable pass-catching option out of the backfield. Wilson could thrive in the bright lights of New York.
Green Bay Packers – Jordan Love
Since I’ve got Aaron Rodgers headed out of town, the Packers former first-round quarterback waiting in the wings will get a chance to lead the team. Love is next in line for the job and if the Packers move on, they will likely give him a chance to lead the team.
Minnesota Vikings – Baker Mayfield
With Mayfield and the Browns' franchise fed up with each other, Minnesota would be a solid landing spot. In Minnesota, Mayfield would get a change of scenery and a season to try to prove his worth and earn a big contract moving forward. I think the Vikings invest in a quarterback in the draft, but with Mayfield on a one-year deal, I could see them letting him have the reigns to either sink or swim.
Chicago Bears – Justin Fields
It seems the Bears are ready to move forward with Justin Fields. Fields took over for Andy Dalton as a rookie this season and did a good enough job to get another look next year under a new coaching staff. Fields will likely start here for at least a few more seasons.
Detroit Lions – Jared Goff
Goff wasn’t a great option at quarterback for the Lions last season, but his dead cap hit is double what his salary will be for the 2022 season. This means that more than likely the Lions are stuck with Goff for at least one more season. They’ll hope he continues to develop as a potential team leader next season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Teddy Bridgewater
Following reports that Tom Brady will be retiring, the Bucs find themselves in need of a quarterback. This offense has a handful of decent weapons returning, though Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones are all slated to become free agents this offseason. With Rodgers headed to Denver in my projections, current Denver QB Teddy Bridgewater needs a new team to call home. Reportedly in the 2020 offseason, before the Bucs signed Brady, they kicked the tires on Teddy B. Maybe they'll return to him again after seeing how he slung the ball around for the division rival Carolina Panthers just a few seasons ago.
New Orleans Saints – Jameis Winston
This was a tough one. The Saints are going to be entering the season with a new head coach as Sean Peyton has decided to step away. They’re committed to Taysom Hill, but he is a better change-of-pace quarterback than an every-down player. They can bring Winston back off his ACL tear for just $3 million and after the hot start he was having last season, I believe that’s the way they’ll decide to go. They may decide to invest in the future in the draft, but as far as taking the first snap of the season, I believe that honor will go to Winston.
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan remains under contract with the Falcons for two more seasons. Though he has looked as if he is trending downward over the past season or two, he’ll more than likely continue to be the Falcons' starting quarterback moving forward.
Carolina Panthers – Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Panthers funneled through a myriad of quarterbacks last season, none of which look to be the answer to the team’s quarterback situation. Sam Darnold, Cam Newton and PJ Walker all got a shot to lead the team and all three fell flat on their face. The team needs a solid bridge quarterback to get the Panthers from now to the future. Should Fitzpatrick decide to return and forgo retirement following his lost 2021 season, he would be the perfect candidate. The gun-slinging Fitzmagic would have DJ Moore and Robby Anderson as solid pass-catchers, not to mention Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. I’m not so sure this one actually happens, but I’d love to see it.
Los Angeles Rams – Matthew Stafford
Stafford has one more year left on his current contract with the Rams and has them playing for a Super Bowl. At just 33 years old he is a lock to remain the Rams' starter for at least one more season.
Arizona Cardinals – Kyler Murray
Murray is locked and loaded as the Cardinals' starter for likely this year and the next. He is on the final year of his rookie deal and the team will likely pick up his fifth-year option or just straight up offer him an extension.
San Francisco 49ers – Trey Lance
With the Jimmy Garoppolo window seemingly coming to a close, the Trey Lance era looks to begin. Last season’s No.3 overall draft pick is nearly a lock to start for the 49ers next season. The only thing in his way would be the organization allowing Garoppolo to stick around for the final season on his contract. There is potential for that to happen as Garoppolo did just lead the team to an NFC Championship game appearance, but the best move for the 49ers would be getting something for Jimmy G while they can.
Seattle Seahawks – Tyler Huntley
This is also a long shot as Huntley is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning if he is offered any kind of contract from the Ravens – even if its league minimum – he must accept it and cannot negotiate with any other teams. I’d expect Baltimore to take advantage because Huntley looked great when needed last season. Though Huntley is unlikely to start anywhere else next season, I’d love to see him get a chance, so maybe Seattle swings a trade in order to give him a shot.