Around the NFL’s wild QB carousel: Projecting the starting quarterbacks for all 32 teams in 2021
The 2021 NFL offseason quarterback carousel could be the wildest ride yet. It is not a stretch to say that almost half of the 32 teams in the NFL could have a different starting quarterback next season.
Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to their second straight Super Bowl appearance, is one of the few locks to return.
Which future Hall of Fame quarterbacks will retire? Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are among the big names who could join Philip Rivers. Which star quarterbacks will be traded? Matthew Stafford is on the way out in Detroit. Where will Deshaun Watson land? Would the Packers shake up the entire offseason and trade Aaron Rodgers? How will the 2021 NFL Draft shake out? Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson are among the quarterbacks who could start right away. Those questions will be answered in an offseason filled with more drama than ever. Sporting News sizes up the QB situation for all 32 teams. NFL MOCK DRAFT 2021: Justin Fields falls to Falcons after Jets skip QB; Packers, Bills fill holes on offense
Arizona Cardinals Who started last year? Kyler Murray started in 15 games in his second season and inched the Cardinals closer to the playoffs with coach Kliff Kingsbury. Murray passed for 3,971 yards, 26 TDs and 12 interceptions. Who starts in 2021? Murray. He’s in the third year of a four-year deal. Backup Chris Streveler played in five games. Atlanta Falcons Who started last year? Matt Ryan passed for 4,581 yards, 26 TDs and 11 interceptions, but the Falcons finished 4-12 and were haunted by close losses. First-year coach Arthur Smith takes over this season. Who starts in 2021? Ryan will start, but Atlanta is a strong candidate to draft his successor in the 2021 NFL Draft. Zach Wilson is one candidate, but would that plan speed up if Justin Fields – a Georgia native – is available at No. 4? Baltimore Ravens Who started this year? Lamar Jackson passed for 2,757 yards, 26 TDs and nine TDs and broke 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season. He also won his first playoff game for the Ravens. Who starts in 2021? Jackson, of course. He is in the final season of a four-year deal, so an extension could be coming soon. MORE: Projecting Josh Allen’s next contract with the BillsBuffalo Bills Who started this year? Josh Allen led Buffalo to the AFC championship game with 4,544 passing yards, 37 TDs and 10 interceptions. Including playoffs, Allen is 25-10 the last two seasons. Who starts in 2021? Buffalo has their franchise quarterback. Allen is in the final season of his four-year deal. Carolina Panthers Who started this year? Who starts in 2021? Teddy Bridgewater started in 15 games in Matt Rhule’s first season, and the Panthers are tied to him for at least another year. Carolina could easily draft a rookie in the first round such as Wilson or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Who starts in 2021? Bridgewater will start in Week 1, but if the Panthers draft a first-round rookie it’s only a matter of time before they want to see that quarterback. Wilson and Lance are the most viable candidates. Chicago Bears Who started this year? Mitchell Trubisky started nine games this season and led the Bears to the NFC playoffs, but the limitations showed up in losses to Green Bay and New Orleans to end the season. Veteran Nick Foles also started seven games. Who starts in 2021? Did Trubisky do enough to get an extension? The Bears can explore other options such as Deshaun Watson or Matthew Stafford, or they could buy low on Jameis Winston or Cam Newton. Yet another option is trading for Kirk Cousins. The only other path is to draft the next quarterback in the first round. The Bears might want to go in a new direction, but why do we still feel like Trubisky will be the Week 1 starter?
Cincinnati Bengals Who started this year? Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, started in 10 games before a season-ending knee injury. Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley closed out the next six games. Who starts in 2021? Burrow, provided he is all the way back from his rehab, will lead Cincinnati in a pivotal third season for coach Zac Taylor. It’s on the Bengals to protect their investment by bolstering the offensive line this offseason. Cleveland Browns Who started this year? Baker Mayfield turned the corner with first-year coach Kevin Stefanski and led the Browns to the AFC divisional playoffs. Mayfield had his best season with 3,563 passing yards, 26 TDs and eight interceptions. Who starts in 2021? Mayfield. This will be the first time he has the same coach/offensive coordinator combo in four seasons with the Browns. It’s the final season of his four-year rookie deal, too. IYER: Dak Prescott’s injury gives Cowboys even more reason to work out contract Dallas Cowboys Who started this year? Dak Prescott started five games before suffering a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle. Andy Dalton started nine of the remaining 11 games. That makes the question about whether Prescott is worth a long-term deal that much more interesting. Who starts in 2021? Dallas owner Jerry Jones will most likely sign Prescott to that deal, and he should be good to go in Week 1. The other options would be to trade for either Watson or Stafford, but those quarterbacks haven’t made the conference championship round either. Prescott will be the starter. Denver Broncos Who started this year? Drew Lock started 13 games for a 5-11 team, but when he was injured Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton made starts for Denver. Lock is not a guaranteed starter for 2021. Who starts in 2021? Lock is the best option on the roster now, but the Broncos should explore a trade to bring in yet another quarterback. Sam Darnold would be an intriguing buy-low option if the Jets opt to draft a quarterback in the first round. If not Darnold, then why not beat the Colts to the punch for Matthew Stafford? One of those buy-low options will be the starter. Detroit Lions Who started this year? Former No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford started in 16 games for the Lions. In 12 seasons with Detroit, Stafford finished with 45,109 passing yards, 282 TDs and 144 interceptions. Who starts in 2021? Given the Lions are moving on from Stafford, it seems almost a lock that they are going to draft a quarterback in the first round with first-year coach Dan Campbell. That means Detroit is thinking about either moving up to get Justin Fields or taking its pick among Zach Wilson, Mac Jones or Trey Lance. If the Lions can move up to get Fields, then that’s the best play. MORE: Why the Packers won’t trade Aaron Rodgers — yetGreen Bay Packers Who started this year? Aaron Rodgers is on track to win his third MVP award after passing for 4,299 yards, 48 TDs and five interceptions, but his postgame comments about “uncertainty” after the NFC championship have ramped up speculation about his future. He has three years left on his contract. Who starts in 2021? Rodgers will be the starter unless he demands a trade this offseason, where the 49ers, Rams and Broncos would be intriguing suitors. If Rodgers were somehow traded, the Packers would likely seek a veteran quarterback while 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love continues to develop.
Houston Texans Who started this year? Deshaun Watson passed for a league-best 4,823 yards with 33 TDs and seven interceptions, but the Texans finished 4-12 and Watson has requested a trade. Houston hired Ravens passing game coordinator David Culley as its next head coach. Who starts in 2021? A Watson trade likely will need to come with a quarterback in return. That means Miami would have to give up Tua Tagovailoa. New York would have to get the No. 2 pick to get Justin Fields. San Francisco would include Jimmy Garoppolo. Those are the three most likely starting options for the Texans. MORE: Timeline of dysfunction details Deshaun Watson’s rift with TexansIndianapolis Colts Who started this year? Philip Rivers started 15 games and led the Colts to the AFC wild card round. Rivers had 4,169 passing yards, 24 TDs and 11 interceptions, but he retired after the season. Who starts in 2021? This is the most-logical landing spot for Matthew Stafford. Frank Reich would be working with a veteran quarterback for the second straight season, but the Colts aren’t in position to grab an immediate starter in the 2021 NFL Draft. If it’s not Stafford, then would Reich look for a reunion with Carson Wentz? Jacksonville Jaguars Who started this year? Gardner Minshew started eight games, and Jake Luton and Mike Glennon combined for the rest of the starts in a 1-15 season that marked the end of the Doug Marrone era. Urban Meyer was hired in the offseason, and the Jaguars have the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Who starts in 2021? There will be a discussion about whether Jacksonville should take Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields with the No. 1 pick, but it should be a short conversation. Lawrence will be Jacksonville’s starter in Week 1. MORE: How the Jaguars can avoid ruining Trevor LawrenceKansas City Chiefs Who started this year? Patrick Mahomes II passed for 4,740 yards, 38 TDs and six interceptions and led the Chiefs to Super Bowl 55. The Chiefs have a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Including playoffs, Mahomes is 30-4 as a starter the last two seasons. Who starts in 2021? Mahomes. End of story. Las Vegas Raiders Who started this year? Derek Carr passed for 4,103 yards, 27 TDs and nine interception for Oakland, which finished 8-8 in Jon Gruden’s third season. Marcus Mariota also is under contract for another season. Who starts in 2021? Carr played well last season, but is it enough to take the step to the postseason? The Raiders must answer that question before considering trade options. Carr likely will be the starter again in 2021. Los Angeles Chargers Who started this year? Justin Herbert started in 15 games and set rookie records with 4,336 yards and 31 TDs. The Chargers first-year coach Brandon Staley to continue to that development with the new franchise quarterback. Who starts in 2021? Herbert. It’s another lock in the AFC West. Los Angeles Rams Who started this year? Jared Goff started in 15 regular-season games, and he finished with 3,952 yards, 20 TDs and 13 interceptions. The Rams and coach Sean McVay have been noncommittal about Goff’s future with the franchise, however, even though that would come with a massive cap hit. Who starts in 2021? John Wolford is the Rams’ backup, and it is difficult to envision him being the starter. Moving away from Goff would come via trade. Aaron Rodgers would be the biggest splash, and Matthew Stafford is another possibility. Goff faces a prove-it season if the Rams stick with him.
Miami Dolphins Who started this year? Rookie Tua Tagovailoa made nine starts, and veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick made seven starts for a Dolphins’ team that just missed the playoffs at 10-6. The two quarterbacks combined for 24 TDs and 13 interceptions, but there is another trade talk to believe that an upgrade might be on the way. Who starts in 2021? If Miami can get Deshaun Watson, then that would be one of the biggest storylines heading into 2021. It also would make the Dolphins an interesting playoff contender given how close they were in 2020. Minnesota Vikings Who started this year? Kirk Cousins is 25-21-1 in three years as the Vikings’ starter, and there are two years left on a monster contract. Cousins passed for 4,265 yards, 35 TDs and 13 interceptions last season, but Minnesota finished 7-8 and missed the playoffs. Who starts in 2021? If the Vikings want to move on from Cousins, then they need to find a trade partner. The 49ers and Colts could be possibilities, and San Francisco makes the most sense of the three teams. Minnesota is most likely stuck with Cousins in 2021. New England Patriots Who started this year? Life after Tom Brady wasn’t easy. Cam Newton started 15 games for the Patriots, and New England quarterbacks combined for 12 TDs and 14 interceptions. It’s anybody’s guess where Bill Belichick will turn next, but there are several intriguing options. Who starts in 2021? If the Pats move on from Newton, Jarrett Stidham would be the best in-house option. Which veteran quarterback can New England get with the best trade value? Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan are the two best options, unless there is a reunion with Jimmy Garoppolo via a trade-back with the 49ers. MORE: What is the Patriots’ future at QB?New Orleans Saints Who started this year? Drew Brees played in 12 games and led the Saints to the NFC divisional playoffs, but the sentiment is the future Hall of Fame quarterback will retire this offseason. He passed for 2,942 yards, 24 TDs and six interceptions in 2020. Who starts in 2021? If Brees retires, then Sean Payton could build the offense around Taysom Hill, and New Orleans could re-sign Jameis Winston as a backup. Sam Darnold would be a trade option, but Hill could be the more reasonable solution while the Saints go find the next quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. Trey Lance would be an intriguing option in New Orleans. New York Giants Who started this year? Daniel Jones started in 14 games in his second season, but the offense struggled to maintain consistency under first-year coach Joe Judge. Jones finished with 2,943 passing yards, 11 TDs and 10 interceptions. Colt McCoy also made two starts. Who starts in 2021? Jones will get a third make-or-break season with New York, who could go quarterback shopping in the 2021 NFL Draft or free agency. New York Jets Who started this year? Sam Darnold started in 12 games and Joe Flacco made four starts in a 2-14 season that marked the end of the Adam Gase regime. First-year coach Robert Saleh has options to change the quarterback situation. Who starts in 2021? New York can make the best offer to get Deshaun Watson with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and that’s what they should do. Darnold also could be shipped to another team looking for a viable starting option. The Jets didn’t win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, but this might be an even better scenario.
Philadelphia EaglesWho started this year? The Eagles have a new coach in Nick Sirianni, who worked with Frank Reich in Indianapolis the last three season. Reich, of course, was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator and has experience with Carson Wentz. The Eagles have Wentz and Jalen Hurts, and that promises to be an interesting training camp battle. Who starts in 2021? It will either be Wentz or Hurts. Wentz is under contract through 2024, and the Eagles could shop him around to open the door for Hurts, who showed flashes as a rookie but would need to prove he’s the long-term solution. It’s an interesting dilemma for Sirianni. MORE: Can the Eagles trade Carson Wentz?Pittsburgh Steelers Who started this year? Ben Roethlisberger passed for 3,803 yards, 33 TDs and 10 interceptions, but a miserable performance in the AFC wild card loss to Cleveland ramped up speculation about a potential retirement. Who starts in 2021? The Steelers signed Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph is still on the roster. Those aren’t legitimate starting options for 2021. If Roethlisberger retires, then Pittsburgh could be active in going after Sam Darnold or Matthew Stafford. Florida’s Kyle Trask could be an interesting solution in the first round, too. San Francisco 49ers Who started this year? Jimmy Garoppolo started in six games and missed most of the season with an ankle injury. Nick Mullens made eight starts, and C.J. Beathard also saw time. The 49ers finished 6-10. Who starts in 2021? The 49ers are one of the teams in the market to make a bold offseason trade. Garoppolo has two years left on his contract, but the dead cap is manageable. Will San Francisco get Deshaun Watson? Will the smoke around the Aaron Rodgers’ rumors come true? Watson would be the more logical target, and it could happen. MORE: Deshaun Watson’s best NFL trade fitsSeattle Seahawks Who started this year? Russell Wilson passed for 4,212 yards, 40 TDs and 13 interceptions for the Seahawks this season. The Seahawks have won double-digit games in eight of his nine seasons as a starter. Who starts in 2021? Wilson, 32, has three years left on his contract. He is one of the few sure things among NFC contenders in 2021. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Who started this year? Tom Brady passed for 4,633 yards, 40 TDs and 12 interceptions in the regular season. He led the Buccaneers to a run from the wild card to Super Bowl 55 with the trademark clutch play that has defined his ageless career. Who starts in 2021? Brady, who turns 44 in the offseason, has one year left on his contract. The only way he’s not the starter is if he retired after Super Bowl 55.
Tennessee Titans Who started this year? Ryan Tannehill led the Titans to the playoffs for the second straight season, and he has 55 TDs and 13 interceptions in that stretch. Tannehill has three years left on his contract.
Who starts in 2021? Including playoffs, Tannehill is 20-10 as a starter for the Titans the last two seasons. He’s entrenched as the starter for the foreseeable future. Washington Football Team Who started this year? Dwayne Haskins was released this season. Alex Smith and Brandon Allen combined for nine starts, but it was Taylor Heinicke who started in the NFC wild card matchup against Tampa Bay. Washington quarterbacks combined for 16 TDs and 16 interceptions. Who starts in 2021? SN’s latest mock draft has Washington selecting Mac Jones in the first round, and perhaps Ron Rivera can reunite with Cam Newton as a backup option. Washington also would be in the market for a trade for Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Derek Carr.