It’s coaching and general manager carousel time, and if you don’t think some of your favorite teams aren’t already knee deep in the process of replacing their incumbent coaches and general managers, I have an extended warranty to sell you. The timing of everything got me thinking: Let’s say I was a prospective head coach or general manager and knew this would likely be my one and only shot at the big time. What job would I target?
The answer likely starts and ends with these few questions: Who is playing quarterback, how much longer do I have him and what does he cost me over the next few years? As a subset, one might ask: What kind of equity do I have to replace him if he’s gone, or who else is on the roster to fill the spot?
Hence, the forthcoming list. We’re ranking the best quarterback situations in the NFL. A disclaimer for those who like to read the top 10 on Instagram and then fly into a fit of comment rage before clicking on the article: This takes into account everything. A quarterback who is maybe the 14th best at his position but is on the first year of his rookie salary is way more valuable to me than the 10th best quarterback nearing age 32 and to whom I owe $25 million-plus next season. All of it matters, and we’ll do our best to explain our decision in each blurb.
With that in mind, let’s get started…
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Shane Buechele
My theory on the Chiefs’ brief lull this season was that it will make Patrick Mahomes an even better quarterback. Those who know him paint the picture of near perfection, but would suggest, if they had to nitpick at all, that he could improve on the non-theatrical stuff. And, as most quarterbacks over time do, he could become better at setting protections, diagnosing the defense at the line, etc. So, a quarterback who is already this good and has room to grow and is not in the top five when it comes to money guaranteed at the signing of his 10-year contract is quite attractive to me. Mahomes will likely renegotiate this deal once he’s bypassed a handful of times, but until then, this is still among the best $45 million a season you can spend (especially since his actual cap number doesn’t climb into the $40 million range until 2023).
2. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
I remember the idea of taking the Jets general manager job a while back was intimidating because whoever inherited the job would also have to trade Darrelle Revis. I would guess some would hesitate to jump at the Packers job if it mysteriously opened in the winter (it won’t) because you don’t want to be the guy who has to trade one of the best players in franchise history. The flip side is that if Rodgers is indeed serious about forcing his way out of town, he’ll command a steep price tag that will net the Packers replacement equity beyond their wildest imagination. Rodgers just turned 38 which, in current quarterbacking terms, could mean another five years under center depending on his post-career aspirations. He’s not going to be free. The Packers have a first-round pick in Jordan Love who could be in the mix to replace him or, if not, could also probably be flipped for a few pennies on the dollar. If Rodgers reconciled in Green Bay, he’s currently not among the top five quarterbacks in average per year value or total practical guarantees in his contract, per Spotrac. That might be the best value in all of sports at the moment.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
If Kyler Murray spent the entire season healthy he’d be neck and neck with Tom Brady for an MVP with a year (and the fifth-year option) still remaining on his rookie deal. It’s no secret why the Cardinals decided to push all in on 2021. They are following the Seahawks/Eagles model of Super Bowl contention and packing a roster while the quarterback is still affordable. Murray has been the most efficient and explosive quarterback in the league this year. His backup, Colt McCoy, is 2–1 as a starter this year with a completion percentage in the mid 70s. This is a group you would have no complaints about inheriting.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
Tom Brady is your likely 2021 MVP and is coming off a Super Bowl MVP in 2020. He makes less per year than Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s easy to sit back and say the Buccaneers discovered some kind of market inefficiency. We often forget how Brady and the Patriots looked at the end of 2019 and that there were not a whole lot of teams in on the Brady sweepstakes, including the That Motherf------ Raiders. Still, Brady, in this offense, drawing the salary he draws, can keep this team competitive for another two years, easily. His body seems simply unbreakable. His value is exponential.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
It’s good to have the reigning rookie of the year who, despite a different coaching staff and new system, is building on the solid foundation and becoming a better player (while leading the league in expected points added). Herbert is on a rookie contract for two more years before the fifth-year option hits. By then, quarterbacks will be worth more than $50 million. Until then? He costs less than a mid-sized ranch in a Los Angeles suburb with quality schools.
6. Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen, Mitch Trubisky
The only reason Allen is not higher on this list is because, for all intents and purposes, he has the most lucrative contract in the NFL right now. Even though he makes a few million less per season than Mahomes, his practical guarantees, signing bonus and money guaranteed at signing are all better. He is taken care of for the long-term and theoretically re-ups for another mega deal in his early thirties.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jacob Eason
Wilson is both high and low on this list. In terms of an elite quarterback who is still young and spry, it doesn’t get better than Wilson’s combination of experience and exuberance. The problem becomes whether you keep Wilson and force him through this rebuild. To me, that lowers the value and ups the price tag. If you trade him, he becomes one of the most valuable open market assets in NFL history. We saw what the Bears were willing to pay a year ago. What might the Giants, Saints or Broncos (the three teams on Wilson’s reported wish list) fork over now?
8. Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
Prescott gets penalized here because he has a smart agent. He’s up for a contract again in four years which, as we mentioned before, which means that he’ll be ready to strike again once the quarterback threshold tops $50 million. He is piloting a first-place offense and, while having an O.K. season by his standards, may just be rounding into form after coming back from a serious ankle injury.
9. Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Josh Johnson
Tyler Huntley is looking like a great find, but that’s not why you’re here. Why is Lamar Jackson so low? Because he is about to become a $45 million-plus player, or be subject to the embarrassing game of Baker Mayfield contractual chicken. While I think the Ravens will do right by Jackson, it is a nail-biting moment for a franchise tethering themselves to a quarterback who is wonderfully adept at avoiding contact but whose value diminishes somewhat if he takes serious hits (or rolls an ankle). I would hate to be at the bargaining table as a general manager here. Jackson is a self-represented fan favorite. There are lots of emotional components involved here.
10. New England Patriots
Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
Jones is on a No. 15-pick salary but will likely take home rookie of the year honors. New England takes the all-time award for quarterback value given what Tom Brady cost them throughout their dynasty and what he was actually worth. Jones, who is currently under center for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, is following suit.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
Burrow is elevating everyone and everything around him and is still cheap enough for the Bengals to splurge this offseason if they so choose (they had a somewhat intimidating presence on the free agent market a year ago). Life is good when you’re paying a phenomenal quarterback less than Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Taysom Hill.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
The Jaguars still have another two years after this one before Lawrence’s cap hit eclipses $10 million per season. Why so low? It doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to grow properly in his current situation. And while we think we know what the Jaguars should do, Jaguars owner Shad Khan has not tipped his hand despite the mounting criticism surrounding Urban Meyer.
13. Los Angeles Rams
Matt Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
This is probably going to be the biggest gripe on the list and I understand the criticism. Stafford is fourth in the NFL in EPA this season and third in total quarterback rating. He’s absolutely blossomed under Sean McVay. But … if the Rams don’t win the Super Bowl this year, what will the experiment have looked like once they have to sign Stafford to a $45 million-plus contract. And, what would Stafford’s ultimate value outside of a star-studded Rams offense actually look like?
14. San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
While one could make the argument that this is a top five room given my logic on the Packers, Garoppolo is not netting you anywhere near what Rodgers will in a trade. He’s also about 15 points above average per game less than Rodgers in terms of overall production, though his contract is wonderfully affordable. Their middling ranking here could also reflect my relative disappointment that Trey Lance isn’t ready, or hasn’t been utilized to a point where it matches the relative preseason hype. Lance has a great QB coach, the best play-caller in the NFL and a dominant run game at his disposal. While Garoppolo is playing well enough to keep him off the field, I was hoping it would be more of a competition right now.
15. Tennessee Titans
Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
I have a much different opinion of Ryan Tannehill’s contract extension now than I did in 2020. I think we all do. He’s an incredible value at $29.5 million per season, which is middle of the road money for an NFL starter despite a consistent top-10 performance. He is almost certainly a lock to be in Tennessee next year, but beyond that, the contractual tea leaves are ominous at best. So this is not a long-term solution, but a comfortable short-term one.
16. Las Vegas Raiders
Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota
The front end of Carr’s season was among his best in years, and while his surrounding cast (including coach and No. 1 wide receiver) has changed considerably over the past few weeks, he remains a consistent performer with top-12 talent and some gutsy moments on his resume in 2021.
17. Indianapolis Colts
Carson Wentz, Sam Ehlinger
Depending on what analytical service tickles your fancy, Wentz is either having a meh season on paper or a pretty darn good one. The naked eye test still shows a quarterback capable of incredible feats who is also guilty of the occasional boneheaded, game-changing play. He cost Indianapolis a first-round pick plus the remainder of his Jared Goff-ian contract, which is not cheap by quarterback standards but also not the kind of prohibitive money the Chiefs and Bills have been tossing around.
18. Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew, Reid Sinnett
Hurts has played solid football in 2021 and is exceptionally cheap for the next few years on the remainder of his second-round pick rookie deal. He’s shown enough to trigger an expedited rebuild attempt buoyed by what should end up being three Eagles first-round picks a year from now. With all that capital added in, plus a solid rookie season from DeVonta Smith, Hurts looks to be a candidate for the all-value team in 2022.
19. Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond, Sean Mannion
Cousins is relatively expensive but almost always earns his money. The problem is that consistent top 10 seasons statistically are not materializing into meaningful victories. Minnesota could be in for a rug cleaning this offseason, but having the developmental Mond, a rising star of the 2021 draft process, ready to compete with whomever remains next year is a solid start. Hurting the Vikings here is the relative difficulty in trading Cousins’s current contract, which would saddle the Vikings with $45 million in dead money.
20. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
Ryan remains one of the more gifted quarterbacks in the NFL, but as he approaches his 37th birthday in 2022, could use a change of scenery to brighten his remaining years. If the Falcons were to trade him, this would be the offseason to do it, granted Arthur Smith is not going to want to start over without a developmental backup option or the draft capital to nab a successor.
21. Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
The Browns are low on this list because they are in such a difficult position. They’ll likely extend Mayfield’s evaluation period into his option year, which could create more discontent and rumbling in Cleveland. Meanwhile, the club is ready to win now, with an offensive line almost any quarterback in the NFL would trip over themselves to play for.
22. Chicago Bears
Justin Fields, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles
Fields looks to be in the unenviable spot of starting over in his second year with a new coach and offensive system. While this can sometimes benefit a quarterback, it can also complicate a developmental process that is hard enough on coaches and surrounding talent. In addition, how high is Chicago going to be on a prospective head coach’s wish list? Fields had some moments of O.K.-ness this year but is lacking a that’s-why-we-picked-him kind of game.
23. New York Giants
Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon, Jake Fromm
I would like to see Daniel Jones in an offense not currently designed by anyone on the Giants’ staff. Is that asking too much? It might be. Despite the Russell Wilson rumors, which seem quite out of character for the Giants’ organization, they are relatively steady at the position and will get another evaluation year out of Jones in 2022 before deciding on a fifth-year option. If they are truly rebuilding with Joe Judge, it makes sense to guarantee that the inexpensive Jones is not the option before swinging for the fences.
24. New Orleans Saints
Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book, Jameis Winston
Hill is rightfully beloved by Sean Payton and may be the most consistently valuable backup in the NFL. He would pair nicely with a premium veteran starter for 2022, which I imagine Sean Payton has the clout to acquire. Until then, this is a platoon of O.K. to good. New Orleans’s record reflects as much.
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25. Washington Football Team
Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen
Depriving their fans of the Fitzpatrick Roller Coaster Experience, Washington went into the year betting high on Heinicke as a potential spot starter. Their faith has been rewarded. For the meager sum of $3 million over the next two years, Heinicke provides a rambling, poor man’s Brett Favre; he's a quarterback who has outplayed Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan and Jared Goff in 2021 with little fanfare. Washington is still in the playoff hunt and has the flexibility to find its full-time starter next year, or invest in Heinicke for one more season.
26. New York Jets
Zach Wilson, Mike White, Joe Flacco
Dolphins fans will be rightfully incensed given that I have the Jets first, but Wilson looked similar to the way Tagovailoa looked during his rookie year: occasional moments of brilliance dotted throughout a tapestry of hard knocks learning. Will he be as good as Tagovailoa is after three years? If the Jets keep their offensive staff together and continue to add pieces, I have no doubt. If the Jets do what they tend to do, which is uncomfortably scrap a work in progress halfway through its completion, you can kiss any sunny long-term projections goodbye.
27. Miami Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett
It stands to reason that if the Dolphins put in half the man hours building around Tua Tagovailoa as they did pursuing Deshaun Watson they might already have a playoff spot. The former No. 5 overall pick is not perfect but he’s functional and getting better with consistent reps. Over the Dolphins’ recent winning streak, Tagovailoa is completing almost 78% of his passes, with five touchdowns and one interception. He’s also rushed for another touchdown. He costs the Dolphins next to nothing over the following two years. Adding to their depth chart’s relative value: Brissett at $5 million, which still feels like a bargain to me.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
The Steelers and Roethlisberger are drifting apart after a relationship that lasted almost two decades. The upside was almost constant playoff contention. The downside? There is no backup plan as of right now. Pittsburgh could be in a decent position to draft Roethlisberger’s successor given that the best of the reportedly underwhelming 2022 quarterback class could land in the middle of the first round. Or, they could have the salary to land a veteran replacement and they remain one of the league’s blueblood franchises. Only five current players have guaranteed money remaining on their contracts for 2022, according to OverTheCap.com.
29. Denver Broncos
Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock, Brett Rypien
Bridgewater had one of the quietest top 15 seasons in recent NFL history and could very well lead the Broncos to the playoffs, continuing a trend of him being a solidly underrated quarterback worth every penny of his $4.25 million base salary. That said, there doesn’t seem to be a long-term future here, as the Broncos appear to be on the wish lists of just about every free agent quarterback prepping a run at the carousel this offseason.
30. Houston Texans
Davis Mills, Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson
I suppose one could make the argument for Houston being higher up on this list based on the fact that we scored Seattle and Green Bay quite high for their quarterbacks’ inherent trade value. However, as we’ve stated numerous times, there is no discussing a Watson trade reasonably without the adjudication of his court case, which includes both criminal and civil complaints. So, with that in mind, the list focuses primarily on Taylor and Mills who, let’s be honest, we didn’t have high expectations for. Mills had a good game this year. Taylor helped the Texans steal a win in their season opener. Houston is probably hoping Mills is a high-end backup next year.
31. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton, P.J. Walker, Matt Barkley, Sam Darnold
Trading somewhat valuable equity for Sam Darnold may have turned out to be the worst administrative move of the year thus far. For a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick the Panthers got the sixth-lowest total QBR in the NFL. While Darnold started out hot against inferior competition, some of the same quirks that sunk him against the Jets hampered his ability to succeed in Carolina.
32. Detroit Lions
Jared Goff, David Blough
When the worst team in the NFL (statistically speaking) is paying the sixth-highest average contractual annual value for their quarterback, the logic dictates these two factors (high price, bad roster) cannot coexist for the long-term. Goff was on a short-term trial this year and it stands to reason the record has spoken for itself.
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