Aaron Rodgers will enter an AFC flooded with star quarterbacks, adding intrigue to a stacked conference. The NFC features more questions at the sport's marquee position. After free agency's early waves and the draft, here is how the 2023 QB situations look.
Desmond Ridder started four seasons at Cincinnati and four games for the 2022 Falcons, but if Atlanta was on the cusp of paying three first-round picks and change for Deshaun Watson last year, Ridder should not have been a sufficient roadblock to a Lamar Jackson offer sheet. The Falcons did add Taylor Heinicke, who once waged a surprising playoff duel with Tom Brady before two extended regular-season cameos as Washington's starter, but Arthur Smith has already proclaimed Ridder the starter. Although the Browns' outlier Watson guarantee scared off the Falcons last year, they should have made a Jackson push during his franchise-tagged period.
The Colts will join the Commanders in going into a seventh straight season with a different Week 1 starter; only the Chargers (from 1987-93) and Browns (2013-19) matched that QB turnover rate since 1970 . That might expand to eight in 2024, seeing as Indianapolis' No. 4 overall pick -- Anthony Richardson -- is one of the boom-or-bustiest prospects in modern QB history. The Colts might not be through with veteran retreads, with ex-Nick Sirianni Eagles charge Gardner Minshew likely needed early. Jim Irsay's fingerprints were all over the Colts' 2022 chaos -- a Carson Wentz-Matt Ryan-Sam Ehlinger-Jeff Saturday stew of dysfunction -- and it will be interesting to see if the owner mandates early Richardson reps.
Were Sean McVay coming with Baker Mayfield to Tampa, this placement would be too low. But Mayfield solo helped lead Matt Rhule out of Charlotte. The former No. 1 pick's 2018 form nearly won him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and his 2020 performance had the Browns on the cusp of the AFC championship game. His stunning two-days-notice comeback against the Raiders aside, the 6-foot QB has driven his stock downward since. The Bucs passed on Will Levis and Hendon Hooker, with only ex-second-rounder Kyle Trask representing Mayfield competition. Mayfield has yet another chance to reboot his career, and this will be his best NFL receiving corps.
Either a smokescreen effort or ownership pressure moved C.J. Stroud to Houston, and with the Texans trading back up to No. 3 to draft the player they had become tied to (Will Anderson Jr.), the Cardinals stand in position to capitalize. Houston has earned a top-three draft slot from 2021-23. Aside from how the Texans landed here, they have their first bona fide QB prospect since Deshaun Watson's scandal torpedoed the team's on-field relevance. Stroud should see action quicker than the other AFC South rookie arms, moving Case Keenum -- back in Houston after leaving in 2015 -- to his usual QB2 role. Davis Mills now makes more sense on another team.
After Jacoby Brissett looked borderline inept in Miami, he outplayed Deshaun Watson last season in Cleveland. The Commanders may need to turn to the former Andrew Luck emergency fill-in this season, though an unusual level of Sam Howell buzz has followed the ex-fifth-rounder's one-start rookie year. A Brissett-Howell battle in Ron Rivera's hot-seat year puts the Commanders in the same lot as the Falcons. Lamar Jackson may not have signed a Commanders offer sheet, but the team both not pursuing a former MVP and then punting on the position in the draft creates a curious depth chart.
Packer fans south of about 37 may need to ask relatives what QB mediocrity looks like. After 31 years with two all-time greats at the controls, the Pack will belatedly see if GM Brian Gutekunst made a terrible mistake in trading up for Jordan Love in 2020. The three-year backup has 83 career pass attempts, and while he looked better in a brief cameo in Philly last season and has apparently impressed in practice, the Brett Favre-to-Aaron Rodgers transition is a historically difficult blueprint to replicate. After trading Rodgers, Green Bay will try. Life with substandard QB play would hurt this particular market more than any other.
How much of last year's sophomore slump was Mac Jones actually regressing and how much was his placement within a foolish concept? The team will find out, with Bill O'Brien charged with rescuing Jones -- who once helped teach him the Alabama offense on his way out -- and perhaps ensuring Bill Belichick can chase Don Shula's wins record in New England. The Patriots replacing Josh McDaniels with Matt Patricia will go down as one of the worst ideas in modern coaching history. Jones' QBR dropped nearly 15 points from 2020-21, and calls for Bailey Zappe rang out for weeks. Will Belichick-Jones tension give the ex-Western Kentucky stat-stuffer a legitimate chance?
Kenny Pickett managed just seven touchdown passes in 13 games, but last year's lone first-round QB showed late-season growth. Pickett steered the Steelers to three straight victories to close the season, leading game-winning drives against the Raiders and Ravens. Pittsburgh was not the easiest watch last season, but the Pickett-George Pickens connection did intrigue. The Steelers will run it back with Pickett, OC Matt Canada and, rather than their usual Day 2 wideout draft pick, Allen Robinson alongside a Diontae Johnson-George Pickens wideout duo. How far can Pickett climb in an AFC QB gauntlet this season?
The Eagles bet upgrading the weaponry around a run-oriented quarterback would unleash him, and the Jalen Hurts-led team nearly won Super Bowl LVII. Justin Fields has a long way to go as a passer, and despite attempting just 318 throws, he took an NFL-most 55 sacks. GM Ryan Poles will bet on the Ryan Pace-era pick, and D.J. Moore is now in town to help the cause alongside Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool. Fields also would have likely broken Lamar Jackson's single-season QB rushing record had he played in Week 18. This is a high-variance situation, but the Bears' new regime is betting more Fields leaps are coming.
Due to the injury history that altered multiple 49ers seasons, Jimmy Garoppolo fetched a deal in a bridge-QB tax bracket Geno Smith had recently created. Suffering injuries during the 2018, 2020, '21 and '22 seasons, Garoppolo still fetched $24.25 million per year. While Kyle Shanahan can be credited with much of the handsome QB's success, Garoppolo being back with Josh McDaniels -- his OC for three-plus years in New England -- represents a nice landing spot. The Raiders lost Jarrett Stidham to the Broncos, and given Garoppolo's injury history, they might need more than 37-year-old Brian Hoyer (a fellow McDaniels ally) at QB2.
The 49ers' Mr. Irrelevant revelation will be on ice until at least training camp, and Kyle Shanahan confirmed what the previously reported timetable appeared to: Brock Purdy might not be ready until after the regular season begins. Purdy's UCL rehab pauses one of the better QB stories in modern NFL history, but the 49ers did add Sam Darnold to a mix that now includes two former No. 3 overall picks. Purdy is the starter, but how Darnold and Trey Lance -- the 49ers' 2022 Week 1 starter whose stock has cratered following a broken ankle -- fare this offseason could affect the seventh-round gem. This conundrum overshadows a top-flight roster.
Moving more aggressively than a team has at QB in years, the Panthers will halt their brigade of post-Cam Newton stopgaps. Since the NFL settled on April for its draft in 1976, no team had acquired a No. 1 overall pick earlier in an offseason. And Carolina will turn into a 5-foot-10 passer who will likely weigh around 190 pounds (his Combine bulk-up to 204 notwithstanding) come Week 1. But the 2021 Heisman winner brings a high floor to Carolina and carries reasonable upside when compared to Anthony Richardson's risky profile. Coming off a decent season in New Orleans, Andy Dalton represents a quality mentor type. Though, the veteran is unlikely to start barring a Young injury.
Ryan Tannehill is two years removed from piloting an injury-plagued Titans team to the AFC's No. 1 seed. He is four years removed from supplanting Marcus Mariota and averaging 9.6 yards per attempt -- still top 10 for a season -- ahead of a Tennessee run to an AFC title game. But the Titans have a new GM now. Ran Carthon tried to trade up in Round 1 and managed to land Will Levis at No. 33. With Tannehill in a contract year and Malik Willis woefully unready as a rookie, Levis has a clear path to taking over. The strong-armed Kentucky product may need a redshirt year, but the Titans have dangled Tannehill in trades. Is an Arthur Smith reunion in Atlanta too farfetched?
While it might not be book-worthy, Daniel Jones parlaying a 15-touchdown pass season into a $40 million-per-year contract -- with $82M guaranteed -- will warrant at least an oral history or two. Especially if the Giants' investment bombs. But Jones curtailed his turnover habit, leading the NFL in INT percentage, and piloted a Giants offense devoid of above-average receiving talent to the playoffs. The Dave Gettleman-era draftee played efficiently in Brian Daboll's offense and will have better receivers -- the Giants seem good on slot bodies, but they just keep adding -- including a likely first- or second-round pick. Tyrod Taylor remaining at QB2 boosts this group's standing.
On talent, Kyler Murray would rank the Cardinals higher. But his December ACL tear appears likely to sideline him into the season. The now-rebuilding Cards, who had made a slew of poor personnel decisions during Steve Keim's final years as GM, likely will not rush their dual-threat talent back. While not quite taking the criticism Russell Wilson did in 2022, Murray veered off track during a rocky fourth season with Kliff Kingsbury. First-time OC Drew Petzing will coach Murray now, with Colt McCoy still in place as a mentor. With DeAndre Hopkins not a lock to be back, this does not appear a promising setup for Murray in Year 5.
The behind-the-curtain numbers on Geno Smith's extension -- initially reported at three years for $105 million -- illustrated more about the Seahawks' faith here; only $27.3M is guaranteed. Still, Smith signed for just $3.5M last year and emerged from nowhere guide the Seahawks to a wild-card spot. While better in the first half of the season, the Comeback Player of the Year will have a chance to disprove fluke notions in 2023. If he does, the Seahawks have him locked into bridge-QB money through 2025. Anthony Richardson being on the board at No. 5 could have changed Seahawks history, but Drew Lock is back to work as Smith's caddy.
Broncos ownership lured Sean Payton, but the decision to extend Russell Wilson -- at the NFL's second-highest AAV -- before he threw a pass in Denver limits the new coach. It is hard to overstate how disjointed the Broncos offense looked under the overmatched Nathaniel Hackett, who played a lead role in Wilson's shockingly shaky season. Payton will not give Wilson the autonomy Hackett did, and the coach that turned Drew Brees from inconsistent Charger to Saints superstar will likely help Wilson rebound. O-line upgrades and still-untapped receiving potential await, but if the possible Hall of Famer's prime has truly ended, Jarrett Stidham awaits while Payton plots his next move.
Continually refusing to peg Jared Goff as a stopgap, the Lions have given the player they once added reluctantly -- as the throw-in piece in the Matthew Stafford swap -- a quality foundation. Goff, who began his Lions career 0-9-1, finished fifth in QBR last season and has an O-line returning en masse and OC Ben Johnson back as well. Teaming with Amon-Ra St. Brown, first-rounder Jameson Williams will be a much bigger factor after an injury-restricted rookie year. This will be a pivotal year for Goff's earning potential, as he tumbled into contract-albatross territory after two strong years under Sean McVay.
Derek Carr commanded nearly double the guaranteed money Garoppolo received, and the ex-Raider's health helped convince the Saints to bet on a reliably average -- and occasionally good -- passer going into his 10th season. New Orleans guaranteed Carr $60 million. Certainly not the bargain Andy Dalton was at $3M, Carr will play behind a better O-line in New Orleans. The AFC-tilted quarterback imbalance, at least, helps Carr now as well. But this was a steep payment. Carr did pilot a flawed Raiders team to the 2021 playoffs and is two years removed from back-to-back top-11 QBR finishes. Jameis Winston also sits as a nice backup.
This ranking is not about the contract, which the Browns restructured to help them now (eye-popping cap mid-2020s cap hits be damned). Watson did lead the NFL in passing yards during his last full season as a starter (2020), but so much has changed since then. Although the Browns gave Watson no financial incentive to prove his greatness, via the $230 million guaranteed, the 27-year-old QB needs to rebound after a sluggish start in Cleveland. The Browns still roster three high-end O-linemen and added Elijah Moore via trade. Josh Dobbs' return as a backup should also be a solid choice, seeing as he nearly saved the Titans on short notice.
One of the league's lightning-rod passers, Tua Tagovailoa displayed franchise-caliber talent armed with Tyreek Hill in Mike McDaniel's offense. Tua ranked third in QBR, led the NFL in yards per attempt (8.9) and sported a 25-8 TD-INT ratio despite finishing just 12 games. But the NFL's lone southpaw starter came into the league with injury trouble and has not shaken it. Tagovailoa's two- or three-concussion slate defined his third season, which otherwise went according to plan, and clouds his NFL future. Tua's backup (Mike White) has also been injury-prone, but the ex-Mike LaFleur pupil should translate well into McDaniel's offense.
Matthew Stafford proved the missing piece for McVay's perennially all-in team, lifting the Rams to their second Super Bowl title. Stafford earned his $40 million-per-year extension, a slight discount that helped the team give Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp raises. Everything combusted in 2022, and Stafford red flags emerged. The elbow trouble he battled in the offseason preceded a spinal cord contusion during a disastrous Rams season. Stafford remaining on L.A.'s roster in March locked in $57M in additional guarantees, including his 2024 base salary. The Rams will need to protect their QB better in 2023, as soon-to-be 26-year-old rookie Stetson Bennett is now positioned as the backup.
Accomplishment-wise, the Vikings should not be listed ahead of the Rams. But, as Stafford's durability has waned, Kirk Cousins has continued to suit up. The Vikings starter has not missed a game due to injury during his five-year Minnesota run. Cousins has provided enough evidence he will top out at the "good" level, but the immobile talent keeps putting up numbers for a Vikings team that has been unable to land a better option. The soon-to-be 35-year-old passer did finish with his worst QBR figure as a Viking, and a failure to outgun Daniel Jones enhanced skeptics' talking points regarding big-stage shortcomings.
Dak Prescott has not reached the heights Jackson has, but the Cowboys have no concerns about their 2023 quarterback's roster status. Prescott led the league in INTs, despite missing five games, but again quarterbacked the Cowboys to the postseason -- before slicing up a top-10 Buccaneers defense. Dallas has equipped the former Offensive Rookie of the Year with Brandin Cooks -- to go with CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Tony Pollard -- and brought back Cooper Rush, after the six-year Dak backup kept the team afloat during Prescott's thumb-driven absence. Will the Cowboys regret axing Kellen Moore to install Mike McCarthy as play-caller?
As no team wanted to follow the Browns in giving a quarterback a Watson-like guarantee, Jackson "settled" for a traditional extension after Jalen Hurts' deal laid the groundwork. The Ravens also have given the former MVP the best receiving corps of his career, adding Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers to the mix. Injury questions engulf Baltimore's offense; Jackson's health is front and center. Jackson has missed 11 games over the past two seasons. His 727 carries are in another stratosphere compared to other QBs through five years, and his skillset will almost definitely lead to a shorter career compared to his superstar peers. But the Ravens are pot-committed now.
Rodgers is entering the AFC at one of its highest peaks for quarterback talent. The step Trevor Lawrence made in 2022, after an Urban Meyer-restrained nightmare of a rookie season, could soon propel him onto the Joe Burrow-Josh Allen tier. Lawrence threw 12 TD passes as a rookie -- during a season in which his 17 INTs led the NFL -- and tossed 25 last season, a campaign that included three fourth-quarter comebacks. Those came ahead of the third-greatest playoff rally ever. Lawrence (feat. come-with guy C.J. Beathard) will also have Calvin Ridley to target next season, adding to a talented pass-catcher stable. Ingredients are here for another leap.
The Jets and Packers finally completed their Aaron Rodgers trade, closing a complex process eerily similar to the parties' 2008 trade. The Jets gave up far more for Rodgers than they did for Brett Favre, who cost only a third-round pick, but they have their coveted QB upgrade. Rodgers' increasing vendetta spree and thin-skinned reputation will be tabloid gold, but the Jets employ a four-time MVP at a discount compared to what a trade would have cost in 2021 or '22. It cannot be assumed Rodgers will play in 2024, and he is coming off an injury-plagued season. Still, going from the Zach Wilson- Mike White-Joe Flacco platter to an all-time great will be transformative for the Jets.
Patrick Mahomes is probably not a runaway MVP if Jalen Hurts plays all 17 games. The voters docked the Eagles QB for missed time just as they did Carson Wentz in 2017. Hurts, however, outplayed the face of the NFL in Super Bowl LVII to punctuate his breakthrough season. And, four years after the Eagles extended Wentz, they rewarded his replacement. Stationed in an NFC light on enviable QB situations, the Eagles have seen their 2020 second-round flier turn into a golden ticket. Hurts' skillset has created nine-yard first-down scenarios for the Eagles, whose rugby sneak remains legal, but the progression he made as a passer with A.J. Brown on the roster represents a more important development.
As Rodgers becomes part of the equation, AFC teams without top-caliber quarterbacks will struggle to gain divisional-round access. The Chargers have one of the best, though their Justin Herbert rookie contract period did not produce success as his conference peers' early-career spurts did. Hindered by a rib injury last season, Herbert still checks nearly every box. He will now work with Kellen Moore, who will hope the Bolts can keep Keenan Allen and Mike Williams healthy for extended stretches. Another jump from Herbert, the AFC's Pro Bowl starter when last fully healthy, could shake up the conference's ruling class.
The Bengals' O-line injuries last season likely denied the team a repeat Super Bowl berth. Burrow played behind one of the worst O-lines in Super Bowl history in 2021 and had his team on the doorstep of winning a title on the road. The Bengals maintaining success without Ja'Marr Chase for a period last year and coming within a late hit of overtime at Arrowhead -- despite missing three O-line starters -- made a sufficient argument the team has found a franchise-changing piece. Burrow has a winning record against Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen and should have better protection in 2023, thanks to ex-Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. changing sides.
Undoubtedly affected by the elbow injury that moved him off the MVP perch in October, Allen still fired at least 35 TD passes for a third straight season and eclipsed 5,000 total yards. In a tiebreaker of sorts, Allen's $43 million-per-year contract will likely be team-friendlier than Burrow's in 2023, and the sixth-year do-it-all talent has eclipsed 1,500 rushing yards over the past two seasons. The Bills went 17 seasons without a playoff berth this century; with Allen, they have stampeded to three straight AFC East titles. The team is too reliant on Allen in the run game, but the 6-foot-5 superstar's athleticism is an incredible weapon in tight spots.
Roster-wise, the 2022 Chiefs did not match the Eagles or 49ers; the Bengals and Bills probably had the eventual champions outflanked as well. Kansas City's plan would have unraveled without Travis Kelce , but the team trading Tyreek Hill and still winning it all creates separation between Patrick Mahomes and his rivals. The two-time MVP has vaulted onto his own tier during one of the QB position's zeniths, and with Andy Reid running this operation, the Chiefs' roster does not have to stack up evenly with the competition. This is one of the best QB-HC combos in NFL history. Blaine Gabbert, a Missouri alum whom Chad Henne once replaced in Jacksonville, will now be on standby if Mahomes needs another short hiatus.