NFL Front Office Survey: Which Available QB–Veteran or Draft Prospect—Would You Take?

We asked more than a dozen decision-makers across the NFL: If you could acquire any of the available quarterbacks—via free agency, trade or draft—who would you take? Plus, ranking the draft QBs, what Caserio's extension in New England means, and much more.
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I wrote and podcasted about it yesterday, and we’re going to be talking about for the next five weeks in every form imaginable: The Offseason of the Quarterback is here.

Given the importance of the position maybe you could say that about any offseason, but it’s especially appropriate this time around. We have a blend of expiring contracts, teams itchy about their QB situations, and intriguing draft prospects with serious question marks poised to fill column inches, television segments and sports radio airwaves.

Tom Brady’s contract is up. So too is Philip Rivers’s, as are the deals for all three Saints quarterbacks. Ryan Tannehill’s one-year, prove-it pact in Tennessee ended with Tannehill proving it. Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota just finished rookie deals. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton could be dealt. And Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa are hovering as potential Top 10 picks once the veteran market is sorted out.

Accordingly, the Patriots, Dolphins, Bengals, Colts, Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Chargers, Panthers and Buccaneers are among those who could have new starting quarterbacks when next season kicks off in seven months. So how do we sort this out? Well, I thought of a single question to ask, to see how all those teams are going to approach this, and how the chips might fall in the end. I think you’ll like the results.

The GamePlan is here for Week 2 of that offseason, and we’re still under construction a little bit. So come workshop with us …

• We’ve got a different set of Power Rankings for you this week.

• We’ll bring back The Big Question for a second week.

• And we’ll discuss What No One Is Talking About.

But we’re starting with all the madness that is to come over the next few weeks.

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To be clear, I don’t think all the quarterbacks mentioned above are switching teams, nor do I think all the teams I listed will have new quarterbacks. I didn’t even include the Cowboys in the rundown, because I believe—whether it’s via the franchise tag or a long-term deal—that Prescott will be quarterbacking in Dallas in 2020.

But the prospect of massive movement is there, unlike it has been in a long time. That, to me, raises two overarching questions.

1) Which quarterbacks are the best ones to acquire, whether it be sign/draft/trade for?

2) How will teams approach the rare year where QB supply may outweigh QB demand?

And to get answers, I came up with one tidy, catchall question, and sent it out, via text, to a couple dozen high-ranking team people on Wednesday. All of them work for clubs that aren’t among those I named, which I figured would make them neutral on the topic. Here’s how I phrased it:

If you were in charge of an average team, and you had a choice of all the quarterbacks available this offseason, who would you take and why?

Here are the 13 answers I got back.

NFC Exec: “I would go with older QB, build up the core of the team and draft a young QB this year. [Who?] Rivers, because if the QB isn’t there this year, you still feel good enough about him for another year. I don’t see the other younger guys willing to do a shorter-length deal.”

AFC Exec: “Average is the key word in your question. Don’t think Brady would be interested in that situation. That would lead me to Rivers, Cam (medical?), Mariota, Winston & I would throw Dalton in that group as well. Rivers has better durability history than Cam at this point. There are really 3 categories depending upon your competitive status.

1) competitive team all in for 1-2 yet SB run: Brady & Rivers. This most likely also incorporates a change to their offense, certainly for Brady I would imagine.

2) rebuilding team - Burrow, Herbert, Tua (medical?) - going for youth & hope of a franchise building block.

3) competition / depth - Cam, Mariota, Dalton, Winston.

AFC Scouting Director: “Burrow. Youth and balled this year.”

NFC Exec: “Lot of variables with an average team! If you’re not one player away, then probably Burrow. Low money compared to the vets, can use that money and other draft capital to build around him and be able to make a run in a year or two. Of the rookies, he is the most likely and ready to be good in a short timeframe. Otherwise, I go Brady and go all in.”

AFC Exec: “I’d say if we’re an average team, would want someone who could lead and bring others along with them through their play and leadership: so I would say Brady. Then Burrow. Although an average team, we would be installing a culture fit player to begin the process of laying the foundation of the types of players—and people—will want to build the team with.”

NFC Exec: “An average team I would go with a young college guy in the draft or a project like Mariota and use the money to build team. If I’m the Colts or a team that’s in the mix, I would go after Rivers, Cam or Brady. Bengals, Lions, Dolphins would be a young guy like Burrow or Herbert and use the money to invest in OL etc.”

AFC Scouting Director: “Average team on the rise without one, I’d take a draft pick. QB isn’t a stopgap position. The older bridge-the-gap types are short terms and when they leave you’re right back at square one again. Bridgewater would be my vet preference. Still ‘young’ and has won.”

NFC Scouting Director: “Burrow’s gonna be number one on everyone’s board, followed by Tua then Herbert. Brady’s a really good short term fix, so you wouldn’t want him unless you had a good team setup for a Super Bowl run, same with Rivers, to a lesser extent. I wouldn’t invest in Winston. Too many INTs and questionable makeup. Mariota has to be in the right scheme. Case is a backup. I would actually take Teddy Bridgewater over any of these guys. All that being said, if I had an average team, I’d be focusing more on the draft/future. I gotta do more work on Burrow, but our guys love him.”

AFC Exec: “Burrow. Young and talented and if you’re an average team, I’d want young. Build for future. He’s the best of the young crew.”

NFC Exec: “Burrow, something to build around for next 10 years. Smart, tough, athletic and accurate. Rare poise with an ‘it’ factor. The vets available may help in short-term but unlikely to elevate an average team to great.”

AFC Exec: “Burrow because if your team is average Brady and Rivers don’t make sense. Best draftable qb and chance to build for future.”

NFC Scouting Director: “Burrow/Herbert. Youth. Five-year contract which gives you options to put pieces around him.”

AFC Exec: “Brady. Elite professional, work ethic, best of all time. Maybe declining physically but could raise boats and take an 8-8 team to the playoffs next year with his intangibles and still good enough physical skill set. And you can still draft a guy in April to groom him to take over in 2 years for Brady.”

NFC Scouting Director: “Give me a completely healthy Tua. So much of him and his game reminds me Russell Wilson. He understands complimentary football, deadly accurate and when healthy, he’s a threat with his legs.“

AFC Scouting Director: “Burrow or Herbert. Probably Burrow. He’s not quite as talented as Herbert, but his DNA and work ethic as the young QB would infiltrate the building and set the tone. I’d definitely go young over old.”

Add it up, and Burrow was mentioned by 11 of the 15 guys here. Brady was second with six mentions. The former tells me that the NFL has built a decent consensus that the Heisman Trophy winner is top quarterback in the draft. The latter indicates that a lot of people feel like the Greatest of All-Time will still have bullets left in the chamber at age 43.

And that so many guys got mentioned? That just is further confirmation that we’ve got a wild few weeks ahead.

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We can’t really power-rank teams in the offseason, so I figured this would be a good spot to put in a random, informative ranking each week. This week, to kick things off with a bang, we’ll keep the quarterback theme going and give you a pre-combine Top 5 for the 2020 draft class.

1) Joe Burrow, LSU: There aren’t any major flaws in his game – the biggest criticism I’ve gotten from scouts is that he was only played at a super elite level for a single year. Which is kind of reaching, if you think about it. My guess is whoever takes him will be glad they did.

2) Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: I’ve said it before, the comp coming from people inside the Tide program is Drew Brees-from-the-left-side. And my amateur eye can see it. Were it not for the health issue, Tagovailoa would probably be neck-and-neck with Burrow headed to Indy.

3) Justin Herbert, Oregon: Herbert’s athleticism is there. His arm strength is there. His size is there. The question with him is one of consistency. His footwork, pocket presence and accuracy are issues. Some questions have been raised about how sheltered he’s been, too, and his personality—though he answered a lot of those at the Senior Bowl.

4) Jordan Love, Utah State: Love has fantastic tools, and can make some eye-popping throws. But there have been maturity questions, and his final college season, under a new coaching staff, was a little bit of a mess. I think some teams will love him and make an effort to keep that affection quiet, which is a little like it was with Patrick Mahomes (to be clear, I’m not saying he’s Mahomes) in 2017.

5) Jake Fromm, Georgia: I’ll give Fromm the slight edge over the guy he beat out for the job in Athens, Jacob Eason. Fromm is small, doesn’t have a great arm and isn’t an incredible athlete, but he’s accurate, tough and can handle a ton of volume scheme-wise, which would seemingly make him a fit in places like New England and Las Vegas.

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What does the Nick Caserio extension mean in New England?

A lot, actually. Caserio’s deal was set to expire in May, which is when Patriots college scouting director Monti Ossenfort’s deal runs out. That’s two of the top-three ranking scouts in the building (pro scouting director Dave Ziegler is signed through the 2021 draft), and it left the Patriots looking at the possibility of a pretty major shakeup in the front office.

This averts that and provides New England with a layer of long-term stability too, that I believe you can link back to Robert Kraft’s aggressive play to keep Josh McDaniels in 2018. In February of that year, after the Patriots lost to Philly in Super Bowl LII, Kraft looked out on the field and saw a 65-year-old coach and 40-year-old quarterback. What he took issue with 20 years earlier with Bill Parcells—having the team operating on a year-to-year basis—was surfacing again within his organization, with the expectation that he’d lose both his coordinators that week.

Then, Kraft sensed doubt in McDaniels’s plan to go to Indianapolis and pounced. There was no guarantee that the OC would stick around to succeed Bill Belichick. But keeping McDaniels did give the team options going forward, with an organizational cornerstone sticking around. I think similar logic applies to Caserio. Maybe he’ll be GM when Belichick retires. Maybe not. But for now, the idea of that remains an option.

The functional impact of that? Well, consider where we’d be if McDaniels went to Indy in February 2018 and Caserio to Houston in June 2019. Belichick would have found replacements, of course. But replicating the institutional knowledge of those two would be impossible, as would finding two guys as qualified to eventually carry the torch.

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The job the Ravens have done developing talent. Consider this: They let go of defensive bedrocks Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs last year, and never really felt the effects.

This isn’t to denigrate those guys. It’s more a tribute to what Baltimore has accomplished. Weddle was replaced by a 24-year old Swiss Army knife named Chuck Clark, and Clark was just rewarded with a new deal. A lot of Suggs’s work went to Matt Judon, who’s a couple weeks away from cashing in as a free agent. And the Ravens somehow found Mosley’s replacement, veteran Josh Bynes, on the scrap heap.

Few teams can have long-term, front-line players leave and not miss a beat. GM Eric DeCosta’s tenure in Baltimore—this was his 24th season with the team but first in charge, after taking over for Ozzie Newsome—has been pretty good.

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I’m now 11 days from landing in Indianapolis for the combine. And from there, it’s pretty much straight through to the draft. (That’s for people who ask what we do now that the season is over.)

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