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The Short, Sweet Era of Mercenary Star QBs May Already Be Over

We seemed headed for another offseason of several top-tier quarterbacks swapping teams. But that looks unlikely for now and the near future.

INDIANAPOLIS — When the Rams and Buccaneers won back-to-back Super Bowls with something resembling the same formula—acquiring an elite quarterback to steer a roster that was otherwise packed full of elite players—there came an idea that this could supercede traditional, slow-burn roster building and represent a new kind of standard for general managers willing to roll the dice.

This week at the NFL scouting combine, we’ve seen the deterrent: the moment when a team realizes that no star quarterback is coming to rescue the fine roster a given GM has built for himself, no matter how many levers he might try to pull behind the scenes at the league’s annual let’s-tamper-safely convention.

For now, at least, just a few days before the start of free agency and Lord knows how long before Aaron Rodgers announces his decision through a series of tarot cards, it seems like a lot of the posturing about quarterback movement (outside of the teams that are willingly jockeying for a quarterback who is under police investigation for sexual assault, which you can read more about here) was just that. Quarterbacks wanted to redistribute the balance of power, rode the tailwind of Tom Brady and Matt Stafford’s departures and seem to have gotten concessions on the part of their respective clubs. If they had gone a few years without feeling that requisite appreciation, they are most certainly feeling it now.

The Seahawks were bullish on Wednesday about not trading Russell Wilson. General manager John Schneider said that, while he’d surely pick up the phone, no offer has come close to interesting. And, if a Bears’ offer a year ago of three first-round picks, a third-round pick and veteran players wasn’t interesting enough, what would be? 

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) bumps fists with head coach Pete Carroll during the fourth quarter two-minute warning against the Detroit Lions at Lumen Field.

All appears well between Russell Wilson and the Seahawks after last offseason featured reports of discontent from Wilson’s camp.

The Cardinals re-signed their general manager and, more tellingly, their head coach to shockingly long-term extensions, which would be ludicrous without some degree of certainty that Kyler Murray, who has operated in a version of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense since grade school, will eventually end his own bout of posturing and return to the Cardinals long-term.

All indications point to the Packers being willing to accommodate Rodgers at the bargaining table. While he could always stun his team and the rest of the world by walking away, it would seem that a return to Wisconsin is the most likely scenario. Matt LaFleur, who spoke to reporters here Wednesday, admitted that the hiring of longtime Rodgers ally Tom Clements as quarterbacks coach was Rodgers–related. They are currently giving Rodgers some breathing room.

The Buccaneers dug in on their stance that they wouldn’t simply let Tom Brady play for another team if he came back out of retirement. And, it would seem, Brady would prefer to explore life outside of football right now than play for the Buccaneers. Who wouldn’t want to make a movie with Sally Field?

So it goes that the veteran QB market is now down to the likes of Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky and possibly Jimmy Garoppolo. While all of them have their strengths—two of them led their respective teams to the Super Bowl and Trubisky played in a Pro Bowl at one point—none would seem to be the kind of seismic force that would hurl a roster waiting for its savior into Super Bowl contention. Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan might eventually join the fray. But by the time they hit the open market, would Ryan remain a Super Bowl–caliber talent into his late thirties? Would Cousins eventually mature into that kind of talent?

The Rams are obvious contenders to repeat as Super Bowl champions, but as they face their own vulnerabilities—a coach on the verge of burning out, a star defensive tackle who has mentioned retirement multiple times—we may already be looking at the death of the superteam era (for now). With a middling draft class of quarterbacks rising this year (though Liberty’s Malik Willis is much better than he’s been credited for at this point) there seems to be a logjam of teams that could benefit from the arrival of a superstar passer (the Broncos, Panthers, Commanders and Steelers to name a few), without any of the passers to fill said vacancies.

Of course, this may have always been the most likely scenario. The Chiefs signed Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year contract extension to prevent a similar threat from taking place, even if Mahomes will likely redo that deal time and time again before his decade is up. The Bills signed Josh Allen early. The threat of quarterback movement was always going to be terrifying for the teams that let their respective situations reach a crisis point. The benefit of quarterback movement was always going to be exciting for teams that were somehow good enough to assemble an intriguing roster but unlucky enough not to develop the player who matters the most.

It was fun while it lasted, unless, of course, you were one of the teams expecting it to last a little longer than it actually did.

More NFL Coverage:

Mailbag: Where Will Deshaun Watson Play In 2022?
• NFL Combine 2022: The Value of Seeing Players in Person
The Cardinals Aren’t Giving In to Kyler Murray’s Contract Demands Just Yet
The Top 100 2022 NFL Draft Prospects