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Forecasting the 2021 quarterback carousel

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Back in late-January, NFL insider Adam Schefter provided what some assumed was a hot take when he said that he would put the “Over/Under” at 18 in regard to the number of teams that would have a new starting quarterback come Week One of the 2021 season.

In some circles, this would qualify as a bold prediction rather than a hot take since the NFL record is 16 (1999).

To me, it’s an interesting offseason story . . . that sort of misses the point.

I am not particularly interested in how many teams will have a different starter in Week One of the 2021 season than they had Week One last year.

I understand that Week One makes for a convenient way to measure turnover, but I am more interested in which teams, barring injury or suspension, will have moved on from their 2020 starter(s) and entrusted their franchise to a different starting QB by the END of 2021.

To me, the Chargers are a good example of why this distinction is important.

Tyrod Taylor got the start for the Chargers in Week 1 last year. It was his only start of the season. Justin Herbert got the start Week 2 and ended up Wally Pipp’ing him.

Tyrod Taylor is now in Houston and Justin Herbert is firmly entrenched as QB1 in L.A.

Yet Schefter’s list would include the Chargers as team that has a new QB.

Mine would not. Not unless someone other than Justin Herbert is starting for them by Week 18 of the 2021 season.

***

What follows is my (brief) take on each of the 32 teams and my own estimation of their odds of having a different starting quarterback at any point in the 2021 season than they had at the END of the 2020 season - regardless of whether they have a different quarterback in Week One of the 2021 season.

Note: The teams are listed in draft order because (a) it gets most of the obvious ones out of the way first, and (b) it saves 2 of the 3 most interesting teams for the end.



Jacksonville Jaguars

The Gardner Minshew era was fun while it lasted. At least for those of us who aren’t diehard Jaguars fans and can overlook the fact that the team “earned” the #1 pick on his watch.

Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville front office can try to pretend that there is a chance they’ll take someone other than Trevor Lawrence at the top of the draft, but I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who believes them.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


New York Jets

When a team trades the QB that started the last game of the 2020 season, the odds of them having a new QB starting the final game of the 2021 season are 100% by default. The only question is which QB will be starting the Week 18 game for them and the smart money is on Zach Wilson.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


San Francisco 49ers

This is an interesting one. Even if we completely ignore the fact that they’re division rivals.

On the one hand, the only reason to trade three #1s - and a 2022 R3 - to move up to #3 in the draft is to take a QB. And San Francisco has admitted that’s the case.

But that trade is just the appetizer.

Question #1: Who will the Niners pick at #3?

Question #2: Are they really going to keep Jimmy Garoppolo?

Let’s look at Question #2 first.

My take is that saying they’re going to keep Jimmy and actually keeping Jimmy are two very different things.

Obviously, they have to to say that they’re comfortable keeping him or they lose all leverage when it comes to a trade (and/or when they ask him to redo his contract). And obviously they would trade him if they got an offer they liked, almost regardless of anything else.

But . . .

I think they’re serious about hanging onto him.

In part, because of what I think the answer to Question #1 is.

Popular opinion has the Niners taking Alabama QB Mac Jones at #3. It would be a solid choice - a safe choice. And as a Seahawks fan, I hope and pray that IS who they pick.

But my money is on Trey Lance.

Lance has less experience than Jones, faced “lesser” foes at NDSU, and is much more “raw talent” than “finished product”. But he arguably has the highest ceiling of any QB in the draft and is far more dangerous now than Jones will ever be.

Given the division they’re in and the fact that they have a quality starter that they (arguably / at least theoretically) still believe in . . .

I think they’d be wise to play “the long game” and make Trey Lance their selection at #3.

Now, about those odds . . .

Technically, the odds are 100% because C.J. Beathard started the final game of the 2020 season for the Niners and he is now in Jacksonville. But Jimmy G would have been the starter at the end of last season if he wasn’t on IR and there’s a decent chance he’s their starter throughout the 2021 season, so . . .

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 75%

Note: I think the odds are 100% if San Francisco drafts Mac Jones, but probably only 50/50 if they draft Trey Lance. If Jimmy is healthy and playing well and/or if the 9ers are playing for a spot in the playoffs, then I think Jimmy is still under center Week 18. Whoever the 9ers pick at #3 is almost certainly the starter come Week 1 of the 2022 season . . . but 2021? - that’s less certain.


Atlanta Falcons

Matty Ice is one of my favorite quarterbacks. Hopefully the Atlanta brass shares that opinion because they are stuck with him . . . at least for now.

Dude has $65M in dead money on his contract in 2021.

Dollar Sign. Six. Five. Comma. Zero. Zero. Zero. Comma. Zero. Zero. Zero. Dot. Zero. Zero.

Amusingly, even with $40.5M in dead money left next year, the Falcons would save $8M by cutting him loose (or trading him). As is, his $48,662,500 cap hit in 2022 makes RW3’s $37M 2022 cap hit seem like a bargain.

That said . . .

The Falcons need a succession plan.

They have a new head coach and a new GM and new regimes typically want “their” guy, not the guy the previous regime selected.

And . . .

Atlanta has the #4 pick.

The team is reportedly “open to trading the pick.”

I call bullshit.

Or, rather, I think that’s a dumbass move.

Mainly because unless they suck again in 2021, they’re unlikely to have a top-5 pick next year which means ANY draft capital they add this year will be given away next year when they have to move up in the draft to take a QB who may or may not be better than the QB they could take now.

And if I’m wrong about the Niners taking Trey Lance than I’ll double down on the stupidity factor if Atlanta trades #4. Because Trey Lance sitting behind Matt Ryan for a year would be the perfect scenario for the Falcons.

Matt Ryan is their starter in 2021 though. All year long.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Cincinnati Bengals

I’m not going to play the “technically . . .” card for every team.

It doesn’t matter that Joe Burrow didn’t start the final game of the 2020 season; he’s Cincinnati’s QB for the foreseeable future.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Miami Dolphins

If the ‘Fins were going to grab a new QB, they wouldn’t have traded the #3 pick. At this point, barring a franchise-altering trade, Tua is their guy for the next year or three.

And, personally, if I’m Miami, I’m good with that decision. At #6, I’m taking Kyle Pitts or one of the Alabama receivers and at #18, I’m taking Najee Harris (or trading back and taking him in the 20’s).

Sure, the Dolphins could use some help on the O-line and on defense but that’s what their three Day Two picks are for, starting with #36. On Day One, I’d be adding playmakers and giving my QB some weapons.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Detroit Lions

It would be easy to joke about the Lions needing to pick a QB at #7 since they traded Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and Goff is . . . um . . . not good. But have you seen their wide receiver group post-free agency?

The Lions are the only NFL team outside Seattle that I pay “close attention” to and if I were them, I’d trade back from #7 (a few times) and add some picks. Sure, it would mean passing on one of the top-3 wideouts in the draft, but they could take two of the top-10 wideouts with a couple of trades and be much better off.

Even with the esteemed Jared Goff throwing them the ball.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Carolina Panthers

Despite reports that the Panthers are “open to drafting (a) quarterback with (the) no. 8 pick”, I don’t see it happening.

With one of their later picks? Sure.

If Kyle Trask is available at #39 or if Kellen Mond is available on Day 3? Sure.

But at #8? That would be . . . well, really smart actually.

It isn’t very likely though.

Given that the Panthers have told Teddy Bridgewater that he can explore trade options, calculating the odds of the Panthers having a different QB taking snaps at the end of 2021 than they had at the end of 2020 is pretty darn easy.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Denver Broncos

Should the Broncos move on from Drew Lock? Maybe. Probably.

But will they?

At #9, there is a chance that they could get one of the top 5 QBs in the draft. But, honestly, it’s a pretty slim chance.

It’s a foregone conclusion that the first 3 picks will all be QBs. Personally, I think the first 4 will be - either Atlanta will take a successor to Matt Ryan or they’ll trade the pick to a team that plans to take a QB.

Cincy and Miami will (should) stay put at #5 + #6 and neither is taking a QB.

Detroit should trade back though. And Carolina is a wildcard.

I think that we could absolutely see 5 of the first 8 picks being used on QBs.

That said . . .

IF there is a QB on the board that the Broncos like at #9 then they should absolutely take him. But if it’s a question of rolling with Drew Lock again in 2021 or trading their future to move up in the draft . . .

I would stay put at #9. Especially since there are likely to be multiple bidders for any pick that’s offered up while any of the top QBs are still on the board and Denver won’t win a bidding war.

Putting this another way . . .

Denver has too many needs on defense to mortgage their future for a QB. If one “falls” to them, great. If not, take a defensive player at #9 and move on.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 50%


Dallas Cowboys

Technically . . .

Yeah, just kidding - I’m not actually going there.

Last year’s Week 17 starter, Andy Dalton, is now in Chicago and Dak Prescott just signed a 4-year, $160M contract. Assuming he’s 100%, Dallas is set at QB for the foreseeable future.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%

On a non-QB note, please, please, PLEASE DO NOT let Kyle Pitts end up in Dallas.


New York Giants

Despite public sentiment, the Giants appear to be “all-in” with Daniel Jones. I won’t say there’s NO chance they make a change but . . .

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: < 1%


Philadelphia Eagles

I could write an entire article on the mess that is the Eagles’ QB situation and how their handling of that position would make Bill O’Brien proud.

For now though, I’ll just say that they wouldn’t have traded back from #6 if they had any intention of moving on from Jalen Hurts this season.

Next season though . . . when they could have as many as three first round picks . . . LOOK OUT!

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert is the real deal. The Chargers are set at QB; they just need to build up the team around him.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Minnesota Vikings

Regardless of what you may think of Kirk Cousins, the Vikings are pretty much married to him for the next two seasons. Unless they trade him - which seems unlikely.

Why? I’m glad you asked.

By virtue of being on their roster on March 19th, Kirk Cousins’ $35M base salary for the 2022 season became fully guaranteed which means he’s now guaranteed $56M in base salary the next 2 seasons. Add $20M in prorated bonuses and you get $76M - which is how much dead money there is on his contract right now.

Ouch!

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


New England Patriots

Personally, I like seeing the Patriots (and especially Bill Belichick) knocked off their pedestal. And I sincerely hope they keep riding the subpar version of Cam Newton for another season or three.

However . . .

I think Cam is just a placeholder and despite their reluctance to mortgage the future in the past, I think the Patriots will make a big jump up the board in this year’s draft - especially if Justin Fields is still on the board at #7. (which is where I think they’ll jump to)

If they don’t move up, I think they’ll make Florida’s Kyle Trask the 6th QB off the board.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 75%


Arizona Cardinals

100% set at QB. Will not be making a change.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Las Vegas Raiders

I’m not a Derek Carr fan. And it’s no secret that the Raiders aren’t 100% committed to him. Plus, they have reportedly gotten offers for him. Yes, he’s still on their roster, but . . . for how long?

Personally, I think they move him if they get an offer they like. They’ve already got Marcus Mariota under contract and both their O-line and their defense (as a whole) need more attention than they can provide with the picks they currently have.

I don’t see them getting an offer they like though.

Which brings us to “Plan B” . . .

My prediction is that they’ll insert Mariota into the lineup around midseason and then, if that goes well, they’ll trade (or release) Derek Carr sometime between the trade deadline and next year’s draft.

But . . .

Carr only has $2.5M in dead money on his contract right now and the team would save $19.625M if they moved on from him right now. Next year, there’s ZERO dead money and the team would save $19,777,519.

Obviously they don’t want to let him leave and get nothing in return, but they also have roughly 39 million reasons to at least consider doing just that.

At literally any moment.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 50%


Washington

Yeah . . . I’m not ever going to call them the Washington Football Team - except in a sardonic, sarcastic, or condescending way. Reports that they may keep that as their name are . . . fitting. And so completely stupid.

Regarding their quarterback situation . . .

Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a 1-year deal. He’s not the long-term answer and, honestly, I’ll be surprised if he’s still there in 2022.

Their current backups are . . . uninspiring.

#19 . . . won’t get them a Top-5 QB.

Could they trade their entire draft to move up for Trey Lance? Sure. I’d like to say that I’d be shocked if they do, but . . . Dan Snyder.

Personally, I think it’s much more likely that they stay put and take Kyle Trask (or one of the Tier 3 QBs later in the draft).

Either way . . .

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Chicago Bears

Mitchell Trubisky is out and Andy Dalton is in so this one’s 100%.

But . . .

A. I’ll be surprised if Dalton is still the starter come Week 18; and

B. I don’t think they’ll be starting a rookie.

To be clear, yes, I do think RW3 is still “in play” and that he could yet end up in the Windy City this year.

That said, I think it’s far more likely that Chicago will make a trade for a different QB - one that would cost them a lot less.

Very specifically, I think that we could see either Derek Carr or (maybe) Jimmy Garappolo end up in Chicago by midseason.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Indianapolis Colts

They already made their change. And, honestly, I think Wentz will do much better in Indy than he did in Philly. I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right. Go Colts! (unless they’re playing us)

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Tennessee Titans

Ryan Tannehill’s picture ought to be in the dictionary next to “fresh start.” Dude is solidly entrenched as their starter.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger is coming back in 2021 and the team restructured his contract to minimize his 2021 cap hit. Of course, the four void years and $10.34M in dead money the restructure brings with it could be problematic, but that’s a concern for another day.

It will be interesting to see if they try to find a successor in the draft or if they choose to kick the can down the road a bit further next offseason.

In the meantime . . .

Big Ben was their starter at the end of last season and almost certainly will be again at the end of this season (unless he’s on IR or they’re resting him for the playoffs).

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 2%


Cleveland Browns

I don’t see them moving on from Baker Mayfield - not after letting him and his wife use the stadium as their house in all those Progressive commercials.

He’ll cost them $18.858M on his 5th-year option next year but he’s only making about $5.1M in 2021 and the Browns will (rightly) view his option as a bargain.

Baker isn’t going anywhere.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Baltimore Ravens

They’re already looking at a contract extension for Lamar Jackson. ‘Nuf said.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


New Orleans Saints

I don’t personally find either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston all that inspiring and I would hate being a Saints fan right now. Drew Brees is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and there is honestly only one person that I could see having ANY chance of replacing him in the Bayou.

Okay, two people if we include RW3 - which I’m not since I don’t think there’s any chance in hell that the Saints could make an offer that Seattle would even consider.

Amusingly, the one person that I think could do an adequate job replacing Drew Brees is the one person who did just that a couple years ago . . .

Teddy Bridgewater.

I don’t know if the Saints would be willing to send much (if anything) to the Panthers in trade, but if Carolina were to release Teddy B outright . . .

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Green Bay Packers

Man, did Aaron Rodgers give the middle finger to the Packers’ front office regarding their selection of Jordan Love in the first round last year or what?

The question is “Now what?”

There’s $31.5M in dead money on Rodger’s contract right now so that makes moving on from him “tricky” - but not impossible.

Personally, my money is on them trading Jordan Love and rolling the dice on Aaron Rodgers being able to play at a high level for at least three more years (i.e. through the end of his current contract).

Realistically though, they can afford to let Love sit on the bench another year and push the decision to next offseason.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 5%


Buffalo Bills

Josh Allen answered the doubters. Barring some sort of “regression to the mean,” I don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.1%


Kansas City Chiefs

Hahahaha. . .

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 0.0%


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Interestingly, I don’t think the Bucs have a 0% chance of having a new QB at the end of 2021. Even with Tom Brady’s recent extension.

Here’s my take . . .

Brady is 44. Yes, he just led the Bucs to the Super Bowl title. But he looked like he was 44 for most of the season. Russell Wilson apparently sent TB12 some NanoBubbles during the Bucs’ (very late) bye week and . . . the rest is history.

But Brady’s current contract, extension and all, is actually pretty team-friendly.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 2021: $1.075M base salary + $8M prorated bonus + $1,470,588 roster bonus = $10,545,588 cap hit
  • 2022: $8.925M base salary + $8M prorated bonus + $1,470,588 roster bonus = $18,395,588
  • 2023: Void year for cap purposes ($8M prorated bonus, no other $$)
  • 2024: Void year for cap purposes ($8M prorated bonus, no other $$)
  • 2025: Void year for cap purposes ($8M prorated bonus, no other $$)

Some relevant details:

  • The roster bonus was negotiated “in case” the league added a 17th game - which they obviously did - and brings his annual average to $25M per season for 2021 + 2022.

  • Per Spotrac, if Brady retires after the 2021 season, the team would recoup $16M of his signing bonus which essentially means that he would get ~$37M for the 2021 season - spread out over 2 (or maybe 3) seasons for cap purposes.

As I said . . . it’s actually pretty team-friendly.

To be clear, I’m not saying that I think it’s likely that Tampa Bay would replace Brady this season, but I am saying that they’re probably okay with the idea that they could be paying him roughly $37M for what might be his final season in the league.

Putting that another way . . .

Don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay drafts a quarterback or decides to trade for one sometime in the next 6 months.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 50%


Seattle Seahawks

If you want to know my thoughts on RW3’s status, there’s a Fan Post from a month ago (3/17) that sums them up pretty well.

For now though, as a writer on this site, I’m going to say that the odds of Seattle having a new QB by the end of 2021 are much closer to 0% than to 100%.

I won’t say they’re 0% though.

Honestly, for as good a job as I think the front office has done in free agency, I don’t really think they’ve adequately addressed Wilson’s concerns. Right now, if I were in Vegas placing a bet, I’d put money on Wilson being sacked 40+ times again in 2021.

And that’s going to be a problem if I’m right.

Sure, the new OC could help with that.

As could the new Left Guard.

But we’ve got the same coach, the same QB, and 80% of the line is unchanged from last year . . . which brings to mind a popular saying about doing the same thing and expecting different results . . .

I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but I am skeptical (at best) about our ability to keep Mr. Russell Carrington Wilson both upright and happy.

This article isn’t about that though.

This article is about the likelihood of each team having a different starting QB at the end of the 2021 season than they had at the end of the 2020 season and . . . with some caveats . . . I think Seattle is probably okay.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: < 12%


Los Angeles Rams

Amusingly, I was on my 3rd edit of this article before I realized that I had left the Rams off the list. It wasn’t intentional, but I think it could have been a Freudian slip. After all, the initials of my pseudonym are F.T.R. for a reason . . .

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 100%


Houston Texans

Man, how much difference does a couple of months make?

If you’d asked me in February if I thought the Texans would have someone other than Deshaun Watson under center come Week 18 of the 2021 season, I’d have said, “No.”

Even after he said he wanted to be traded.

I honestly didn’t believe that the new regime would have the guts to pull that trigger.

Now?

I think they’d pull that trigger in a heartbeat.

But I don’t think there’s anyone that would dumb enough to make them an offer. At least not until there’s some clarity on Watson’s ongoing and serious legal troubles.

And even then, I will be shocked if he doesn’t spend most of the 2021 season on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and/or isn’t suspended for violating the league’s Personal Conduct policy.

Putting that another way . . .

Houston signed Tyrod Taylor as insurance against Watson “forcing” his way out of town. My money is on him starting all 17 games for them in 2021.

Odds of a new QB starting at any point in 2021: 99%



Final thoughts

I know that I looked at this a little bit differently than Adam Schefter did but I think I’d go with the “Under.”

Schefter said that he thought 18 teams might have new QBs in 2021.

The record is 16.

The record was threatened 3 years ago (when 15 teams started new QBs Week 1) but I think the record is safe in 2021.

And probably 2022 as well.