March 4, 2021
BY Lance Cartelli

2021 QB Carousel: Projecting the Starter for Every NFL Team

The NFL offseason is always unpredictable. 

Sure, you knew that the Colts would trade for Carson Wentz. That was easy. But how many people would have guessed that the Rams would deal Jared Goff and two first-rounders for Matthew Stafford

While this offseason could be as wild and unstable as the Hex in WandaVision, we're here to make some educated guesses on who will be starting quarterbacks, and, more importantly, where they'll be playing. 

Let's start with the most obvious opening. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence

This one might sound obvious, and it is, but there are reports that some teams have BYU's Zach Wilson ahead of Trevor Lawrence on their draft board. But that's just nonsense that doesn't really mean anything since the Jaguars are the only team that matters in this equation.

And after sending new coach Urban Meyer to Lawrence's pro day at Clemson for some great photo ops, it's clear that he's their guy and will be the No. 1 pick. 

Ignore the smokescreens, friends. 

New York Jets: Zach Wilson

Speaking of Wilson, he'll be the next highly drafted passer to try to turn around the J-E-T-S.

While the talented Sam Darnold is still young and full of promise, it just doesn't make sense from a team-building standpoint to pass on a potential franchise QB to try to resurrect Darnold's career.

There's no guarantee that Darnold will turn his career around, and if he does, then the Jets will have to pick up the former USC QB's fifth-year option or sign him to a pricey contract extension.

Instead, they elect to start fresh with an incredibly entertaining passer in Wilson, who will be on a rookie contract for at least four years.

Denver Broncos: Sam Darnold

With Wilson in tow, the Jets put their former prized possession up for auction to teams that missed out on Stafford and Wentz.

While the Broncos could hope for a QB to drop to them in the draft — or give up valuable draft capital to trade up for one — Denver decides to take a chance on Darnold. John Elway is no longer the general manager in Denver but this would be a move that he'd surely approve of.

If Darnold can do what nearly every former Adam Gase player does and improve without the coach, then Denver might have found a gem to unlock that stacked offense. 

Miami Dolphins: Deshaun Watson

The biggest fish on the market is, of course, Deshaun Watson.

One of the best quarterbacks 25 and under, Watson would unsurprisingly be coveted by 90% of the league if the Houston Texans give in to his trade demands. And it appears that they might have no choice.

If they do deal Watson, then the Dolphins represent the best package available — and 49ers-dolphins-top-deshaun-watson-wishlist-596" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">Miami reportedly sits atop his preferred destinations. A package including Tua Tagovailoa, the Nos. 3 and 18 picks, among other assets, would probably get a deal done and give the Texans a new starting QB in Houston.

Houston Texans: Tua Tagovailoa

If the Texans do deal Watson to the Dolphins, then Houston will have an interesting decision on their hands in terms of their next starting quarterback.

If the 'Fins include Tua in the swap, the Texans could then trade the No. 3 pick for even more selections, especially since the franchise doesn't have a second-rounder. The Texans could then build around the former Alabama quarterback.

On the other hand, the Texans could select at QB at No. 3 and trade Tua or keep him as competition with the rookie.

We expect the Texans to give Tua a chance and sell the No. 3 pick if they're forced to be without Watson.

Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott

This is a pivotal offseason for the Dallas Cowboys' future. Along with a top-10 pick, the 'Boys need to finally figure what they're going to do with Dak Prescott.

Season-ending injury or not, the franchise clearly screwed up by not signing Prescott to a long-term contract over the past few offseasons and now they're going to have to pay for it by either giving him more than they wanted or franchise tagging him for a second time which would set up a potential exit out of Big D following the upcoming campaign.

Prescott is a game-changing talent who has all the leverage in contract negotiations. Either he'll get everything he wants from Jerry Jones and the Cowboys or he'll happily bet on himself again and potentially hit the free-agent market in 2022. 

San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields

Another team with a big decision this offseason at quarterback is the San Francisco 49ers. They might not admit it, but the Niners are clearly searching for an upgrade on Jimmy Garoppolo.

Struggling to stay healthy in San Francisco, the ridiculously handsome quarterback hasn't quite fit into Kyle Shanahan's offense and, if cut or traded, he'll count for just more than $2 million against the salary cap. That makes Jimmy G highly expendable.

While the 49ers would love to get in on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, they probably don't have enough to pull off a deal unless Watson demands he's dealt to the Niners. That leaves the 49ers, with the No. 12 pick, slightly out of quarterback range.

We expect Shanahan and Co. to be aggressive in trading up for one of the top-tier passers. And Ohio State's Justin Fields could be the perfect fit in an offense that values accurate passers.

New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo

With the 49ers finding their quarterback of the future, it could mean a homecoming for Jimmy G.

The Patriots are in a tough spot. They are probably going to miss out on the top four — or five — rookie QBs in the draft. Being in no man's land, New England might be forced to find their passer on the trade market and nobody is more attractive to Bill Belichick than Garoppolo.

He was drafted by the Patriots and would be welcomed back to the Death Star with open arms. Jimmy G probably wouldn't mind going back to the Pats, either. 

Washington Football Team: Marcus Mariota

Another team that will likely have to trade for a quarterback is the Washington Football Team.

While WFT does have Taylor Heinicke under contract, he's probably better suited as the team's backup QB. And with so many teams desperate for a QB, Washington could miss out on some of the top options and settle for a reclamation project like Marcus Mariota.

WFT reportedly has interest in the former No. 2 overall pick who showed flashes in his lone start with the Raiders last year. 

Chicago Bears: Mac Jones

The Bears might be the franchise most desperate to find a solution at quarterback. Both general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy are squarely on the hot seat in Chicago, so they'll likely do whatever it takes to acquire a quarterback to save their jobs.

But with the 20th overall selection, they might have to settle for the fifth and final first-round quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft in Alabama's Mac Jones.

Jones won't wow you with his physical skills, but he's an accurate passer who should be able to operate Nagy's offense. 

Carolina Panthers: Trey Lance

The Bears might be the most desperate team in searching for a franchise quarterback, but the Panthers appear to be the most aggressive.

Carolina is reportedly going to go all-in to acquire Watson, but, as we've predicted, he'll be joining the Dolphins. That means the Panthers will shift their focus to the NFL draft.

The Panthers could trade up for any of the top QBs not named Lawrence. We think they'll be infatuated with Trey Lance's upside and rushing ability. 

New Orleans Saints: Jameis Winston

In salary cap hell and with Drew Brees set to retire, the Saints don't have a ton of options to find the future Hall of Famer's replacement.

New Orleans has Taysom Hill under contract, but it'd be hard to imagine coach Sean Payton handing the keys to the car over to him for a full season.

Payton has praised Jameis Winston for his year in NOLA, but will his rave reviews raise Winston's price on the free-agent market? After a year without much interest, we don't think so. Plus, being a quarterback in Payton's offense will hopefully help the former No. 1 overall pick regain his value. 

Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts

Now that Wentz is gone, it should be clear that it's Jalen Hurts' job to lose in Philadelphia. While there are rumors that the Eagles could spend the No. 6 pick on a quarterback, it's likely that's a smokescreen to get a team to trade up with the Eagles.

Hurts might not be perfect, but he showed plenty of playmaking ability behind a terrible offensive line in his rookie year. The Eagles appear to be in tear-down mode, which will make evaluating Hurts even harder. 

Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan

The Falcons have the No. 4 pick in the draft which sets them up perfectly to find their Matt Ryan replacement. But, with Matty Ice's hefty contract, and the Falcons' massive holes on the roster, we expect Atlanta to trade their pick to the highest bidder, like the 49ers. 

Under new coach Arthur Smith, the Falcons could run it back one more year with Ryan and Julio Jones while selecting a quarterback in the middle rounds to develop. 

That being said, if the Falcons stick and pick at No. 4, they could easily take one of the highly touted rookie signal-callers. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger

Despite Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert being noncommittal to Ben Roethlisberger's future, it's hard to imagine Big Ben not being back under center in Pittsburgh. 

The 38-year-old quarterback looked old and washed last season, but his contract makes things very difficult for the Steelers. Whether he's on the team or not, Big Ben will count for more than $22 million against Pittsburgh's cap. If he doesn't restructure his deal, he'll count for more than $40 million, which is untenable for a franchise that is more than $30 million over the cap. 

Expect the Steelers and Roethlisberger to renegotiate his deal so that the Steelers can get under the salary cap and potentially sign some help for what could be Big Ben's final campaign. 

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