In this series, NFL.com analysts look at the best players available via free agency, the NFL draft or trade at the following positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back. Today, David Carr looks at the top 10 quarterbacks worth pursuing.
There has been no shortage of quarterback movement already this offseason, and we’re still several weeks away from the start of NFL free agency. Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff swapped teams in a blockbuster trade back in January, while Carson Wentz was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts in February.
What will be the next domino to fall?
My guess is it won’t be too long until Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston are retained by the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, respectively. Prescott, who’s recovering from an injury that sidelined him for most of last season, could be in line to receive the franchise tag for the second straight year before getting signed to a long-term deal — and Jerry Jones has publicly voiced support for the idea of locking up Prescott. Winston, on the other hand, could seamlessly step into Sean Payton’s offense if Drew Brees decides to retire. I believe in the former No. 1 overall pick despite his flaws, and I think Payton and the Saints do, as well, after one season with Winston as a backup.
Assuming this pair of passers will be off the table soon, I’ve exempted them from my list of 10 quarterbacks worth pursuing via free agency, the 2021 NFL Draft or trade this offseason. Let’s get started.
The Houston Texans have stayed adamant about keeping Watson despite the quarterback’s trade request. It feels like we’re a long way from seeing Watson taking snaps with another team — and don’t forget, the QB must want to play for the potential trade partner, due to the no-trade clause in his contract — but we’ve also seen unhappy superstars switch organizations during their primes in the past. Given that Watson is coming off a career year in which he recorded 33 touchdowns and a 70.2 completion percentage while leading the NFL with 4,823 passing yards and 8.9 yards per attempt, there should be about 25 clubs doing everything they can to drag him out of Houston. (If I’m being perfectly honest, though, the only offense I want to see him in is Kyle Shanahan’s in San Francisco or a spinoff version like … the Jets.) Make it happen, people.
The veteran passer vocalized his frustrations with “getting hit too much” and his desires to be part of personnel decisions after the 2020 season, prompting his camp to reportedly discuss trade destinations with the organization. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that 10-plus teams have reached out to the Seahawks to inquire about Wilson. All this said, no one within the organization has suggested they would trade him, and Wilson hasn’t officially demanded a trade. Wilson wants to stay in Seattle, per his agent, though his agent also said if a trade were considered, Wilson would only consider going to Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas or New Orleans. Thanks to the no-trade clause in his contract, Wilson, like Watson, would have to approve of the suitor.
If I’m a QB-needy team, I’m picking up the phone yesterday. He is everything you want in a quarterback, with endless talent, arm strength, poise and intelligence. Plus, he has the kind of ice in his veins that gives his team a chance to win late in games, no matter how great the deficit. He’ll cost a GREAT deal, but the on-field production and leadership you’d get in return would be worth it.
New York Jets
Darnold’s been dealt a tough hand in New York and needs a reset. The former No. 3 overall pick could get it under the new regime in New York; however, I think Darnold would be better suited elsewhere. A clean slate offers the young passer the opportunity to become a tremendous quarterback in the NFL. His downfield and intermediate passing could use some improvement, but again, I would expect to see improvement across the board with boosted confidence in a new situation.
Lawrence’s pro day performance confirmed what we already knew about the Clemson passer: He lacks nothing in terms of what teams want in a franchise quarterback. He has great accuracy, a strong arm, good touch, pocket awareness and running ability. The Jaguars will most likely take him with the No. 1 overall draft pick in April and won’t look back, God willing, for two decades.
Despite Lawrence being the consensus top quarterback in the 2021 prospect class, he isn’t my favorite player in the draft. Wilson holds that title. He has the incredible ability to throw the football with any arm angle and to any place on the field. I’m thinking of how Patrick Mahomes wowed us in the Super Bowl with some of the most amazing incompletions I’ve ever seen; if you want to watch a quarterback drop dime after dime to some of the most insane locations, just pop in some BYU game film and watch Wilson do the same. He’s mind-blowingly talented, but that might not even be his best quality. He’s a tireless worker — often joining the coaching staff for film sessions — and possesses the leadership necessary to be the face of a franchise.
I see a lot of similarities between Fields and Jalen Hurts, in terms of the athletic ability, the playing style and the likelihood that they have always been the best athlete on the field. Even from a young age, Fields has never been afraid to utilize his best attributes. His arm is “live” and can reach any area on the field, and his occasional struggles with accuracy stem only from a lack of time in the saddle. The Ohio State product puts pressure on the defense and should continue to do so at the next level. He’s a player I’d love to coach, because all options are on the table.
Las Vegas Raiders
Though trade talks have “dried up significantly” recently, per Rapoport, I believe Mariota still has starter ability in the right system, which I wrote about in this same space last year. Often used in the West Coast offense (or a variation of it) during his days in Tennessee, Mariota is a spread quarterback who’s best when using his legs. He’s not the most polished passer and will make mistakes at times, but to me, he’s a better passer than most quarterbacks whose strength is mobility. Plugging Mariota into a creative, run-oriented offense will allow him to thrive, not just survive.
Teams shouldn’t let the fact that Jones is a prototypical pocket passer deter them from drafting this kid. His poise and ability to stare down the pipe and face any threat without flinching is spectacular. He knows his limitations as a runner and realizes his strength lies within reading coverage and accurately delivering the football to his target. Watching him throw with stunning accuracy against pressure is special. He’s an excellent option for teams that run a prototypical NFL offense.
As well as the 38-year-old played on the field last season, he was better off it with how he balanced his own roller-coaster season while helping create an incredible work environment for Tua Tagovailoa. Everyone had their opinions about Brian Flores’ decision to shuffle back and forth between the two quarterbacks, and it honestly could have been a disaster if not for Fitz’s maturity and experience. How he handled the situation should make him one of the most sought-after veteran quarterbacks on the market.
Just think about it: Fitzpatrick would be a perfect closer in two-minute drills. I imagine him in this role in Baltimore. When Lamar Jackson drops back to pass (this happens more often at the end of the second and fourth quarters, when there is limited time to move the ball), there is no threat of a run, and the advantage shifts to the defense — allowing defensive coordinators to breathe a sigh of relief for a brief moment. Fitzpatrick’s experience and magical presence could give a team the upper hand in these situations.
Dalton played some good football for Dallas last season in relief of Dak Prescott, proving he still has plenty left in the tank. The 33-year-old passer could be a great option for a team looking for a pocket passer with experience who will ultimately serve as a bridge quarterback. There are a number of teams that come to mind, including New England and Chicago.