It could be another interesting NFL offseason for quarterback movement. Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield are free agents, and a few big-name quarterbacks might join them on the open market if their teams make a change. Plus, the Bears could shake up the QB dominoes with their looming decision on whether to keep Justin Fields or tap into a very good quarterback draft class, which starts at the top with Caleb Williams. In all, more than a dozen teams could move on from their current starting signal-caller.
We asked our NFL Nation reporters to serve as general managers for the teams they cover and decide what to do at the most important position in football. The stand-in GMs made decisions on their current starters, put together trade packages for passers who might be made available by their teams and came up with contract terms for free agents. They also projected extensions and cap casualty cuts. And finally, they mocked the first three rounds of the 2024 draft to address the future. This exercise was limited to quarterbacks who would either start or compete to start in 2024, with the exception of a few Day 2 draft picks who will almost certainly sit in Year 1, wherever they land.
So which teams pick up a new starting quarterback in our movement simulation of the next few months? Let’s predict the offseason’s starting QB changes with hypothetical trade packages, free agent signings and draft picks.
The past few offseasons have brought a few enormous quarterback trades, including Aaron Rodgers going to the Jets, Deshaun Watson joining the Browns and Russell Wilson heading to the Broncos. We might not see a deal of that level over the next few months, but at least one starting-level quarterback could be involved in a trade. Here’s one move to kick us off.
2023 team: Bears
Contract status: Fields has one more year left with the Bears on his rookie deal, which will pay him $3.2 million in 2024 and cost $6 million against the cap. A decision on whether to accept or decline his fifth-year option for 2025 is due May 2, and it would cost $22 million.
The Raiders’ offer: In this scenario, the Raiders offered second- and seventh-round picks in the 2024 draft for Fields. Champ Kelly, who was their interim GM in the last half of the 2023 season, was with the Bears when they drafted Fields, and although Tom Telesco was hired as general manager, Kelly remains with Las Vegas as assistant GM. Some of this might hinge on how Telesco and whomever the Raiders hire as the offensive coordinator view Fields. But it makes financial sense for the Raiders because Fields — a three-year NFL vet who is younger than rookie Aidan O’Connell — is on his rookie contract and under team control for the next two years.
Las Vegas needs a long-term answer under center for Antonio Pierce (who had the interim tag removed from his head-coach title), and it is likely to move on from expensive vet Jimmy Garoppolo, who didn’t work out after signing with the Raiders last offseason. Fields threw for 2,562 yards, 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions over 13 games, and he rushed for 657 yards and four scores on the ground. — Paul Gutierrez, Raiders reporter
Why the Bears agreed: Chicago general manager Ryan Poles has repeatedly mentioned the “unique” position the Bears find themselves in this offseason with the No. 1 pick, which they didn’t earn by way of their own record (Carolina’s pick). The Bears have a chance to insert the top QB in the draft class onto a team that has a solid foundation on offense and one of the league’s top defenses, which could turn them into a contender by next season.
So while the Bears may or may not want to move on from Fields, if they get an offer like this one — which allows them to recoup an early second-round draft pick — they would have a difficult time saying no. — Courtney Cronin, Bears reporter
As things stand right now, there are a few standout quarterbacks near the top of the upcoming free agent class, including a past No. 1 pick who just led his team to the divisional round. Teams still have a chance to either re-sign or franchise-tag their pending free agents, however, so we asked our reporter GMs whether their team would tag or extend its starter before free agency opens. Two of them did …
2023 team: Vikings
The Vikings’ decision: Cousins’ deal doesn’t void until after the deadline for franchise tags, so this would be an extension. He has repeatedly said he wants to end his career in Minnesota, and as he departed the locker room for the offseason, Cousins left the clear impression that he hoped the Vikings’ offer would reflect a similar wish.
“It’s not about the dollars,” he said, “but it is about what the dollars represent.”
In other words, Cousins — who threw 18 touchdown passes in eight games this season — isn’t likely to be seeking a record-breaking deal in terms of average annual salary, but he does want the Vikings to back up whatever commitment they make with guaranteed money. Drafting at No. 11, Minnesota isn’t likely to select one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the class, so it makes sense to bring back Cousins. So in this case, let’s re-sign him to a two-year, $85 million fully guaranteed extension. That gives the Vikings two years — until Cousins is 38 years old — to draft and develop his successor. — Kevin Seifert, Vikings reporter
2023 team: Buccaneers
The Buccaneers’ decision: With multiple high-profile free agents in the mix, I’m signing Mayfield to an extension and keeping my franchise tag options open for safety Antoine Winfield Jr. or receiver Mike Evans. Using Geno Smith‘s deal from last offseason as a template but factoring in some cap inflation, I’m doing three years and $80 million with escalators that can bolster the contract up over $100 million. Mayfield will be 29 years old when next season kicks off (Smith signed his new deal last year at age 32), has two playoff wins under his belt and threw for 4,000 yards this past season.
The Bucs will have salary cap space in the $40 million to $50 million range and can absorb this through void years — or they can backload the deal, as the Seahawks did with Smith. The length of the contract provides enough stability to be more than a bridge deal but gives all parties some degree of flexibility, considering Mayfield has had some injury issues. — Jenna Laine, Buccaneers reporter
Our stand-in GMs also projected a few cuts ahead of the free agent negotiation window that could shake up the quarterback market. The cuts include a past Super Bowl champion looking for a starting job:
Why the Broncos move on: When Denver coach Sean Payton benched Wilson with two games remaining in the season, he signaled a move toward a divorce from the 35-year-old quarterback and that five-year, $245 million extension signed in 2022. And while Payton and general manager George Paton have both left the door ajar on Wilson’s return, the Broncos are more likely to take an $85 million dead money hit over the next two years and reset at the position. — Jeff Legwold, Broncos reporter
Kimberley A. Martin: Russell Wilson trade is one of the worst in NFL history
Kimberley A. Martin breaks down why the Broncos’ trade for Russell Wilson is one of the worst in NFL history.
Some other potential cuts around the league: Four other passers were mentioned as possible cuts, but none of them is likely to have a starting job in 2024. That list includes Garoppolo (Raiders), Mac Jones (Patriots), Zach Wilson (Jets) and Taylor Heinicke (Falcons).
FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
OK, we’re on to free agency. Our reporters — serving as their teams’ GMs — made contract offers to top free agent QBs, starting with one who was just cut in our projection.
2023 team: Broncos
The new contract with Atlanta: Three years, $36 million, with $20 million guaranteed. I would frontload the contract with $15 million fully guaranteed in 2024, $12 million in 2025 ($5 million fully guaranteed) and $9 million in 2026. We’d include NLTBE incentives (classified as not likely to be earned) each year of $1 million for an NFC South title with Wilson playing 80% of the regular-season snaps, $500,000 for each playoff win in which he plays 75% of the snaps, an extra $1.5 million if he reaches the Super Bowl while playing in 75% of the playoff snaps and an extra $2.5 million if he wins a Super Bowl while playing 75% of the snaps.
How he fits with the Falcons: The Falcons learned this season what below-average quarterback play can do to a franchise’s playoff hopes. Owner Arthur Blank and CEO Rich McKay made it clear the plan is to win with this roster, and Wilson is the best option out there and has the most experience. The team around him would take pressure off Wilson, with playmakers Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Drake London and Kyle Pitts all set for big roles in 2024. And the contract terms also allow for a fairly painless separation if it doesn’t work out. I considered a Fields trade, too, but here Atlanta retains its second-round pick and gets a quarterback upgrade on a decent deal for coach Raheem Morris. — Michael Rothstein, Falcons reporter
2023 team: Colts
The new contract with Denver: Two years, $14 million, fully guaranteed. The deal would add in $500,000 if Denver wins the AFC West and $250,000 if it makes the playoffs, plus $500,000 for playing 70% of the offensive snaps and another $500,000 for 80%.
How he fits with the Broncos: The Broncos would be eating a big chunk of money after cutting Wilson, and they aren’t picking high enough in the draft to land one of the top three options. They’ll have Jarrett Stidham in the second year of a two-year, $10 million deal, but Minshew fits Payton’s offense well and has shown he can be a serviceable starter after leading the Colts to a nine-win season after Anthony Richardson (shoulder) went down. Minshew is younger than Jameis Winston and could be in Denver’s price range. The Broncos will be a cap-pinched team this offseason. — Jeff Legwold, Broncos reporter
2023 team: Commanders
The new contract with New England: Two years, $15 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed and a signing bonus. We can also build in incentives based on starts.
How he fits with the Patriots: The Patriots are most likely going to address the starting quarterback spot in the draft, but this move allows for some veteran competition and a fallback if the first-round pick isn’t ready yet. Brissett signed a one-year, $8 million deal in Washington last year, so the financial terms here seem to be in line with his market. — Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter
There are still free agents available who could potentially start in a pinch (Ryan Tannehill?), but the quarterback market has essentially come down to the draft in our simulation. Our reporters continued serving as their teams’ general managers and played out the quarterback-only picks for the first three rounds — including a few picks right at the top of Round 1. (Note: We didn’t project trades here.)
It’s difficult to envision the Bears trading the No. 1 pick in back-to-back years when they have the chance to take Williams — who presents as a better NFL prospect than Fields — and reset the quarterback clock. Williams threw 72 touchdown passes over the past two seasons. We traded Fields to Las Vegas in the simulation and get to start over in Shane Waldron’s offense with the top QB in the class. — Courtney Cronin, Bears reporter
2. Commanders: Drake Maye, North Carolina
Although Sam Howell flashed as a starter this past season, he ended with 21 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, and he did not finish the season strong. With a new front office and coach, the Commanders will want their own guy to develop. This could just as easily have been LSU’s Jayden Daniels — and in the end, he might be the guy for Washington, thanks to his playmaking ability. Much of this depends on who gets the coaching job. But for now, Maye’s arm strength and size — he is the same height as Daniels but weighs around 30 pounds more — give him the edge. — John Keim, Commanders reporter
Just as DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud created an exciting coach-QB reboot in Houston, New England would be counting on a Jerod Mayo/Daniels combination sparking similar hope. It is awfully hard to pass on Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. here, but the Patriots badly need a quarterback, and Daniels’ dual-threat skill set could ultimately secure the position for the next decade. And remember, we signed Brissett, so Daniels could be eased into the mix instead of thrown right into the fire. — Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter
Perhaps the Giants ultimately try to trade into the back end of Round 1 to secure the fifth-year option on a quarterback, but they get their pick of the next tier near the top of Round 2. I went with Penix over Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy in this scenario because of his big arm and ability to get the ball downfield. That makes him an ideal fit for Brian Daboll’s offense. This is of course contingent on Penix’s physical going well, given his extensive injury history (two shoulder injuries, two knee injuries). The pick gives New York options should Daniel Jones not rebound in 2024 after coming back from his torn ACL. — Jordan Raanan, Giants reporter
The Vikings would be thrilled with this outcome, whether they get McCarthy via a trade up into the first round or by having him fall to them on Day 2. Oregon’s Bo Nix was also available here, and he might have been the choice if Cousins hadn’t been re-signed. But with the veteran under contract for the next couple of years in this scenario, the Vikings have a longer runway to develop McCarthy, who is 21 years old. — Kevin Seifert, Vikings reporter
J.J. McCarthy picks up big first down with his legs
J.J. McCarthy avoids the rush and picks up the first down with a 22-yard run.
74. Falcons: Bo Nix, Oregon
This is pure value at this point in the draft for the Falcons, who could remake their quarterback room under their new coaching staff. With Wilson signed as the locked-in starter for anywhere from one to three seasons, Nix can be developed. Nix has shown improvement every year in his career, completing 77% of his passes this season with 45 touchdown throws and three interceptions. So he is worth taking a chance on at this point in the draft with the understanding he and Desmond Ridder could battle for the No. 2 spot. — Michael Rothstein, Falcons reporter
The Broncos will be dealing with a tight salary cap after releasing Wilson, limiting what they can do at quarterback. With just six picks in this draft — including only two in the first two rounds — they also don’t have the firepower to trade up for someone, and they need their future draft capital to improve an aging roster. But Pratt would give Payton a ground-floor rookie to work into his offense from the start. He is big and physical, showcases top-shelf throwing mechanics, and processes well. Pratt might be a bit of a reach in Round 3, but he is still an ascending prospect and is worth a long look. — Jeff Legwold, Broncos reporter
84. Steelers: Jordan Travis, Florida State
At his end-of-season news conference, coach Mike Tomlin said Kenny Pickett will resume his status as the team’s starting quarterback in 2024 but will have competition. Travis’ season ended prematurely with a left lower-leg injury that will likely hamper him in the pre-draft evaluation period, but taking a swing on him could have big upside for the Steelers. Travis is undersized, but his mobility, playmaking ability and pocket presence make him an intriguing prospect in a league that increasingly values quarterbacks with versatile skill sets to run the offense. — Brooke Pryor, Steelers reporter
With the dust settling on our mocked quarterback movement, let’s take stock of how every team’s starter situation would look. This includes a few situations where there would be competition in training camp and the early parts of the 2024 season.
And remember, there are plenty of quarterbacks who are free agents and could sign on as high-end backups. That includes Tannehill, Winston, Drew Lock, Joshua Dobbs, Marcus Mariota, Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco. Plus, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler didn’t go in the first three rounds of our mini mock draft, and he could push a starter as a Day 3 pick if he lands in the right situation.