QB Domino Theory
Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Saddle up, because this could get weird. The 2022 offseason felt like a jump into hyperspace with all the wacky, zany, and downright insane quarterback movement around the league. We saw Russell Wilson go from Seattle hero to Denver zero. We saw Tom Brady retire, and then unretire, then retire - maybe. We saw Baker Mayfield lose his job in Cleveland, lose his job in Carolina, and then go on one of the best stretches of his career filling in for Matt Stafford in Los Angeles. The 2023 offseason could be even stranger.
The NBA has always been the sports league known for dramatic player movement. No one bats an eye anymore when a superstar player demands to be traded, and you’d be laughed out of the arena for suggesting the status quo might not be all that desirable. Last year was the first time that the NFL experienced that kind of upheaval - and it certainly won’t be the last. Players, especially quarterbacks, are taking greater control of their future than ever before. Whether it’s escaping a losing situation, joining a contender to add a Super-Bowl stamp to a Hall-of-Fame resume, or simply wanting more opportunity to showcase their skills, QBs have the leverage to position themselves as best they see fit.
This year, quarterback movement could reach new heights. Derek Carr was recently cut by the Las Vegas Raiders, making him and free agent Jimmy Garoppolo the Bells of the unsigned-QB Ball. Aaron Rodgers may or may not be in the middle of a “darkness retreat” where he contemplates life, love, and potentially leaving $50 million guaranteed on the table. Tom Brady is officially retired, probably (maybe), but waving a hundred million in someone’s face can have a curious effect - like, say, not retiring?
The crown jewel of the offseason, though, is Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who remains unsigned after playing out his rookie contract. Odds are he ends up playing with the Ravens, given they can franchise tag him and prevent him from negotiating with other teams, but we’ve seen contract blowups before. Could Lamar pull a Le’Veon Bell and sit out a full season rather than sign the franchise tag? It’s unlikely, but I’ve learned to never say never when it comes to wild decision-making by athletes.
If I’m being honest, I expect Lamar to play for the Ravens in 2023. But that’s no fun. I want excitement, I want the strange, I want all the confusing, baffling, eye-bulging action. So, in honor of the upcoming offseason, I’ve devised the most out-of-control, absurd QB dominos imaginable. One by one, they each move sets off a ripple effect felt league wide. Hold on to your butts…
Lamar Jackson —> Atlanta Falcons
In all likelihood, Lamar Jackson will be franchised tagged. There’s very little incentive for the Ravens to allow him to negotiate freely with other teams. After all, the contract impasse between Jackson and the Ravens stems from the idea that Jackson wants a fully-guaranteed contract à la Deshaun Watson in Cleveland, and the Ravens can’t allow him to get an offer from someone that they can’t (or won’t) match. Now, both sides are at a standstill.
Franchising Jackson means the Ravens will have their superstar QB under contract for at least one season while paying him the average of the top five salaries at his position (about $32.5 million). What the Franchise Tag doesn’t guarantee, though, is that Jackson will be happy about it. Actually, there are few NFL tactics better at pissing off players than the Franchise Tag - and the Ravens could find this out first-hand.
If Lamar is going to end up in Atlanta after being tagged by the Ravens, it’s going to take some mighty stiff posturing. Jackson has to make it clear that he will not suit up in a Baltimore uniform while playing on the tag. The Ravens can call his bluff and force him to sit out a year, but if Jackson can win the staring contest and force himself to the Falcons, things could be peachy in Atlanta.
Of course, acquiring Jackson would not come cheaply. In my highly scientific, calculus-based trade generator called my brain, the Ravens trade Jackson to the Falcons in return for the Falcons 2023 first-round pick (#8 overall), their 2024 first-round pick, their 2024 second-round pick and second-year QB Desmond Ridder. The Falcons will need to make it clear to Jackson that they will fulfill his contract demands before they execute this trade, but if they can clear all those hurdles, they’ll have their dynamic franchise QB.
For the Ravens, this trade would be a bit of a reset. Ridder didn’t turn many heads as a rookie, but he has some pedigree, being a second-round pick, and the Ravens might offer him more opportunities for growth. Furthermore, the draft capital they received will allow them to address some of the weaker aspects of the team, namely, wide receiver and pass rusher.
Carolina trades up to draft a QB
Lamar Jackson landing with the Falcons in the NFC South would be quite the shakeup in a division that saw some of the worst QB play in the league in 2022. The Falcons would, overnight, become the favorites. The Carolina Panthers, though, don’t seem like a team to stand by idly.
Seeing one of their division rivals suddenly land a former league MVP, the Panthers immediately spring a trade with the Arizona Cardinals to move up from the 8th pick to the #3 spot in the 2023 NFL Draft. By doing so, the Panthers position themselves to select one of the top three QB prospects in Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or Will Levis. For the Panthers, this is an opportunity to grab that coveted, cost-controlled rookie QB that’s so valuable in today’s NFL.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, stand out as a likely candidate to move down in the draft. Even though he’s currently injured, QB Kyler Murray is one of the most explosive players at the position in the entire league. He’s far from perfect, but he’s young and talented - the Cardinals would be foolish to give up on him now, especially with the ink still drying on the five-year, $230 million contract-extension he signed with the team in July. To move up to #3, the Panthers offer the #8 pick, a 2023 second-round pick (#40 overall), as well as a first-round pick in 2024 to the Cardinals. With all this extra draft capital, the Cardinals are now in a good spot to do a soft reset while their star QB is on the mend.
The Panthers, meanwhile, will be anxiously awaiting to see how the rest of the dominoes fall. Now armed with the #3 pick, the Panthers have guaranteed themselves one of the top three QB prospects, and with the team being fairly-well assembled, they might just be a QB away from making things awfully interesting for the now-Lamar-Jackson-led Falcons in the NFC South. Whether it's Young, Stroud or Levis, the Panthers will have found their guy for the future - something they’ve been striving for ever since Cam Newton first left town in 2019.
Indianapolis sells the farm for the #1 pick
Currently, the Indianapolis Colts sit at #4 in the NFL Draft. It’s a curious spot. In theory, if the current order remains the same, the Colts should have a reasonable shot at drafting one of the top three QB prospects. The Chicago Bears, at pick #1, already have a former first-round quarterback on their roster, and while it’s certainly possible they punt on Justin Fields and take a QB at #1, it seems the most likely route for the Bears is to shop the pick. With the Panthers having leapfrogged the Colts in my QB-carousel prediction, my guess is Colts owner Jim Irsay decides to sell the farm to move up to #1 and select his guy: Bryce Young.
Young, the former Alabama QB and 2021 Heisman winner, is a slippery athlete with exceptional accuracy and the crucial ability to make positive plays out of structure. He’s not perfect, though. Young stands just six-foot and under 200 pounds, and there’s legitimate concern that he may never be able to withstand the pounding of a full NFL season given he struggled some with injuries in 2022. Still, Young might have the best combination of production, high-level performance, and consistency of all the top QB prospects, and that’s enough to get the Colts to move heaven and earth to select their desired passer.
There are sure to be other suitors for the #1 pick, so moving up from #4 to #1 will still require a massive investment from the Colts. I suggest a package including the #4 pick, a 2023 second-round pick (#36 overall), a 2024 first-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick would be enough to facilitate this deal. For the Colts, this deal makes sense because they believe (rightly or wrongly) they’re already in a championship window. To be fair, this is a talented team - except for the obvious void at the QB spot. If Young can be a difference-maker right away, there’s no reason the Colts couldn’t win a weak AFC South in 2023.
For the Bears, moving down to #4 and collecting more draft capital is a win-win. If the Bears are content with Fields, and have no interest in selecting a QB, they will be perfectly positioned to select the best player available. With the Colts now at #1, the QB-needy Houston Texans at #2 and the Panthers now at #3, that’s three teams selecting QBs with the first three picks - and that suits the Bears just fine. They might have taken one of the top defenders at #1 anyway; now, they get that player three picks later, and with a few more picks in the bank to boot.
Jimmy Garoppolo —> Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Tom Brady officially retired (we think), the Buccaneers are now back to square one at the QB position. Jimmy Garoppolo was always the perceived successor to Brady in New England before he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, and now we come full-circle with Garoppolo finally replacing his mentor - just a few years and a couple different teams later.
With Carolina moving up to select a rookie QB and Atlanta securing the services of one Lamar Jackson, the Buccaneers recognize the NFC South arms race happening in their midst and strike out for a QB who never gives you everything you’re looking for, but damnit the guy wins football games. The Buccaneers still have a talented roster sans Brady; Garoppolo would be the perfect player to keep their ship afloat for a few more years.
Aaron Rodgers —> Las Vegas Raiders
Aaron Rodgers is all about experimenting and trying to broaden his mind these days. Where better for him to fulfill all his inner desires than Vegas, baby? And it doesn’t just make sense on a personal level for Rodgers: the Raiders offer a good opportunity to win football games, too.
It’s amazing how closely the end of Rodgers’s career in Green Bay has mirrored the guy he replaced, Brett Favre. It’s become a yearly will-he-won’t-he retire saga, and now the Packers have another first-round QB who’s been waiting in the wings for years in Jordan Love - the same situation Rodgers was in behind Favre. This time, the Packers are more proactive, capitalizing on Rodgers’s still-high trade value and unloading him to a Raiders team desperate to make postseason noise.
For the Raiders, reuniting Rodgers with Davante Adams, his wide receiver teammate in Green Bay for eight seasons, is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Raider-dom. At their peak, Rodgers-to-Adams was about as automatic as it gets. It won’t take much convincing to get the Raiders to take a big swing at reuniting this dynamic duo.
The logistics of moving Rodgers are tricky, though. He’s due a ton of money, and his yearly retirement ponderings aren’t exactly the most assuring to any potential suitors. If the Raiders are going to make this deal, they’re going to need some assurances that Rodgers will play the next two seasons. If Rodgers acquiesces to the Raiders and signs on for two more seasons, the Raiders will immediately insert themselves into the top-tier of Super Bowl contenders.
As for the Packers, this trade offers them the opportunity to reload under the cheaper Love. With the #7 pick, a 2023 second-round pick (#39 overall) and a 2024 second-round pick they received from the Raiders in exchange for Rodgers, the Packers are able to build around their fourth-year QB, strengthening their roster while also getting the chance to find out, once and for all, if Love can be their Rodgers-replacement.
Derek Carr —> New York Jets
I know, it’s hard to believe, but the New York Jets have one of the best rosters in the NFL. Seriously, look for yourself. Having the 2022 Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year on the same team is one thing, but the Jets also have a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Quinnen Williams, a ridiculously talented running back in Breece Hall, and a developing offensive line. All they need is the QB - and boy, is that an understatement.
The Jets drafted QB Zach Wilson with the #2 pick just three years ago, and in that span of time, Wilson has established himself as one of the worst players in the NFL and one of the worst draft picks in NFL history, even rivaling prodigious busts like JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith. Just about anybody would be an upgrade. Fortunately, Derek Carr is a fine player in his own right, and the kind of player that could push the Jets into Super Bowl contention.
Carr isn’t a superstar, but he can at least complete a dump-off pass to a running back, something Wilson has struggled to do on a regular basis. Signing Carr not only raises the Jets’ ceiling, but it also significantly raises their floor as well. With a supporting cast featuring ORotY Garrett Wilson, explosive gadget-receiver Elijah Moore, Breece Hall and fellow running back Michael Carter, the Jets offense could take off in 2023.
Jacoby Brissett —> New Orleans Saints
Jacoby Brissett played pretty well in 2022. He was never going to get the chance to play all year with the Browns - everyone knew he was just a placeholder until Watson returned from his suspension. But even with all the noise and controversy swirling around Cleveland, Brissett rose to the occasion. He gave the Browns a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for in your QB2.
The New Orleans Saints are desperate for stability at QB. Since Drew Brees retired, it’s been a little Jameis Winston here, a little Andy Dalton there, with some Taysom Hill sprinkled in for good measure. Unfortunately, that’s not a recipe for anything but garbage QB play. Enter Brissett as a free agent, and the Saints finally have a reliable presence at the position.
Brissett isn’t spectacular. He isn’t going to wow you with acrobatic scrambles or threading passes through double-coverage, but he’ll take what the defense gives him and can keep cornerbacks honest with his more-than-capable arm. Brissett is like the perfect mix of what Dalton and Winston gave the Saints the past two years: the steady, low-risk playmaking of Dalton while still having Winston-caliber arm strength to test defenders downfield. With the rest of the NFL South overhauling their QB depth charts, the Saints can’t afford to sit on their hands - Brissett allows them to keep pace.