The NFC South's QB Carousel
Over the past several years, the NFC South had the most stable quarterback situation of any division in the NFL. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has put together a Hall of Fame career as the record-setting signal-caller for the Saints for 14 seasons. Matt Ryan has been behind center for the Atlanta Falcons for the last twelve years after being drafted 3rd overall in 2008. Cam Newton was drafted 1st overall in 2011 and quarterbacked the Carolina Panthers for nine seasons.
Jameis Winston also came into the league as the first overall draft selection, getting picked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015 and leading them for five seasons. All four quarterbacks had their share of success. Each made multiple Pro Bowls, Newton, and Ryan both won league M.V.P. awards while leading their teams to a Super Bowl, and Brees won a Super Bowl MVP while winning a World Championship and is the holder of most of the league's career passing records.
The stability at quarterback within the NFC South began to crumble this offseason. However, expect more turnover to occur at the position after 2020. Carolina parted ways with the battered Newton and will now line up former New Orleans backup Teddy Bridgewater behind center. Tampa Bay elected not to renew Winston's contract and instead signed the six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady away from the New England Patriots. Winston landed in New Orleans, replacing Bridgewater as the backup to Brees.
Newton moved north, signing with the Brady-less Patriots. The 41-Yr old Brees may play his last NFL season in 2020, leaving many to wonder about the quarterback future in New Orleans. Brady, who turns 43 next month, has shown a sharp decline in his play and is merely a temporary solution for the Buccaneers. Ryan, who is now 35, was sacked more times than anyone in the league last season and could also be on the backside of his productive career. Here is a look into each NFC South team's quarterback situation heading into the 2020 season.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Quarterback: Drew Brees (age 41)
- 8-3 record (0-1 playoffs)
- 2,979 yards, 27 TD, 4 INT, 74.3% completion percentage, 12 sacks
Despite missing five games with an injured hand, Brees was as sharp as ever while earning his 13th trip to the Pro Bowl. The NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, touchdown passes, and completions, and several other marks is back for another run at a title with one of the league's most talented teams. New Orleans signed Winston, the former Tampa Bay starter, to a 1-Yr contract this offseason to back up their veteran legend. The 26-Yr old Winston led the league in passing yardage last season with 5,109 yards and threw 33 TD but also led the league with 30 INT and has been turnover-prone throughout his career. If he can show better decision-making and prove he can efficiently run the Saints offense, it may lead to a contract extension with the team next season if Brees retires at season’s end.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Quarterback: Tom Brady (age 43)
2019 Statistics (w/New England Patriots)
- 12-4 record (0-1 playoffs)
- 4,057 yards, 24 TD, 8 INT, 60.8% completion percentage, 27 sacks
Brady showed a sharp decline and had his second-lowest completion percentage in sixteen seasons and his fewest touchdowns in seventeen years. He is now learning a new offensive system with unfamiliar weapons, a porous offensive line, and a limited offseason. Even if the Brady-to-Bucs experiment works as Tampa Bay fans hope, he is still at the tail-end of his Hall of Fame career without a clear future in sight.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (age 35)
- 7-8 record
- 4,466 yards, 26 TD, 14 INT, 66.2% completion percentage, 48 sacks
“Matty Ice” has looked anything but cool under pressure over the last two seasons while being sacked 90 times. He’s looked shaky under pressure, and his decision making in crucial moments has come under fire. The Falcons hope that a rebuilt offensive line and the addition of veteran running back Todd Gurley will add balance, but this could be a crossroads season for Ryan leading an Atlanta team that has been in a steep decline the last two years. Ryan's cap hit escalates from $19M to $41M in 2021, so a further decrease in his play could cause the Falcons to move on from the four-time Pro Bowler.
Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater (age 27)
2019 Statistics (w/New Orleans Saints)
- 5-0 record
- 1,384 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT, 67.9% completion percentage, 12 sacks
Bridgewater played the best football of his career while winning his five starts in relief of an injured Brees last season, parlaying that into a 3-Yr contract with the Panthers worth a reported $63M. Still, a young player who has taken little punishment, Bridgewater once quarterbacked the Vikings to a playoff appearance before a gruesome knee injury that nearly ended his career. He will be the youngest of the starting quarterbacks in the division this season with the longest term contract. But Bridgewater also takes over a rebuilding team and must likely play well quickly to maintain job security.
Drew Brees and Matt Ryan remain the longest-tenured quarterbacks in an NFC South division without a change at the position for five years. With the Panthers and Buccaneers making moves with QBs behind center this offseason and the ages of Brady, Brees, and Ryan, what was once the most stable division in football now looks to be in a state of flux for at least the next few NFL seasons.