Musical chairs: Trying to predict the veteran quarterback market

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Mark Schofield
·12 min read
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The end of Super Bowl Week often delivers some overwrought storylines.

This week is no exception.

Having spent the past few days scrutinizing the game between the Tampa bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs the collective attention span begins to wane, and the conversation turns elsewhere. A major driving force right now behind football coverage? Predicting where some of the well-known quarterbacks are going to land next season. The Deshaun Watson trade rumors are a big reason why, but in the past 24 hours or so much of the coverage has been focused on speculation over Carson Wentz.

After all, when Adam Schefter states that his best guess is that Wentz is going to be traded, that moves the needle. As a result, many hours have been spent predicting the offseason quarterback carousel.

We already have one major move, with the Los Angeles Rams trading for Matthew Stafford, and sending Jared Goff to the NFC North in the process, but how will the rest of the game of quarterback musical chairs play out? Here is one attempt at finding the best landing spots for some of the quarterbacks being discussed, from both a scheme fit and a roster construction standpoint.

Carson Wentz: Indianapolis Colts

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

A throwback to happier days... But this might make the most sense, both in terms of which quarterback/team pairing to start with, and which of the potential pairing is the best overall fit. The speculation over Carson Wentz has kicked the quarterback discussion into overdrive, and given what happened in Philadelphia over the past few months, it is fair to wonder how much longer the quarterback is going to be calling Philadelphia home. Sure, the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, but that is not the major reason for the speculation. What drives this is first, Wentz's play this past season. It was, to use a very technical term, bad. Next, the team did turn to Hurts, and while they ended up sitting him down during the season finale - much to the chagrin of the New York Giants - the rookie showed some flashes of what he could be if named the full-time starter. Is he a complete prospect? Absolutely not. But is there potential there? Indeed their is. Now when you add to that a coaching change, all bets are off. Incoming head coach Nick Sirianni has not committed to a starting quarterback, and their is speculation that his main task is to fix Wentz beyond all else. There are means to do that, such as implementing the layered elements and triangle reads that Sirianni and Frank Reich installed for Philip Rivers this past season, and even used with Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett before him. But it is that name, Frank Reich, which makes the potential of a reunion in Indianapolis compelling. After all, when Reich was part of the holy trinity coaching Wentz early in his career, along with Doug Pederson and John DeFilippo, that is when Wentz was at his best. That is when he put together a potential MVP season until his knee gave out, and the team turned to Nick Foles for a Super Bowl run. So sure, Sirianni can use some of those concepts in Philadelphia to try and fix Wentz, but if the quarterback wants a fresh start - as reported by Schefter - then the Indianapolis Colts are the best fit for him. The schematic elements are in place for him to succeed, and he will be on familiar ground with a head coach he has worked with, and trusts. Trust and familiarity are critical components to a head coach/quarterback relationship, and rather than building that with Sirianni, he can go to a place where that foundation is already in place.

Deshaun Watson: Miami Dolphins

(Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

As outlined, Carson Wentz is not the only quarterback rumored to be looking for a new home. Much of the speculation in recent weeks has centered on Deshaun Watson, and his eagerness to be traded away from the Houston Texans. Watson has gone as far as to submit a formal request for such a deal, and the hiring of David Culley as the team's next head coach did not sway the quarterback's thinking. Watson is the kind of player that teams covet, an elite talent at the most important position in the game. If you have this player, you do wat you can to hold onto them. If not, you do what you can to acquire them. So there is no shortage of teams that should be calling new general manager Nick Caserio about what it would cost. A name on many sets of lips is the Miami Dolphins. Despite missing the playoffs this past season, Miami looks poised to have a bit of a contention window, provided they can get some stability at the quarterback position. Adding an elite talent like Watson gives them that stability. In terms of what the Dolphins could offer, it might begin with the pair of first-round selections they have in this upcoming draft. Perhaps a future first-rounder or two. Maybe even - likely, perhaps - Tua Tagovailoa. If the rumors are true that the Texans would want a defensive player or two in the deal, there are pieces in place that the Dolphins could consider on that side of the football. Purely through the prism of "what team can put together the best package?" the Dolphins are near - or at - the top of such list. But what about Watson's perspective? What would be best for him? Miami still looks like a great fit for him. This is a roster that is on the verge of the post-season that is built to win now, and still has cap space available to fill into pieces that might be folded into a potential deal. As far as the scheme fit question, Miami is going with a co-offensive coordinator approach with Eric Studesville and George Godsey, but does that truly matter? Watson is a fairly scheme-diverse quarterback, who can function in almost any offensive system imaginable. Would he be great in an offense rooted in the McVay/Shanahan elements? Absolutely. Would he be great in a more downfield system? Also absolutely true. That's what makes Watson on of the game's premier talents: He can transcend the offense itself.

Tua Tagovailoa: Houston Texans

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

If Deshaun Watson indeed ends up in Houston, that might mean finding a new home for second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. If he is part of such a deal - or not - the Texans might still be the best spot for him. First, however, a few more words on trading Tagovailoa if that indeed is the approach by Miami. Many would like to see the Dolphins try and build around Tagovailoa rather than immediately move on from him, myself included. But from the franchise's perspective, their window to be competitive is here, it is now. They were perhaps a year ahead of schedule in terms of getting there as a team, and now they cannot wait on Tagovailoa's development schedule if they want to compete right now. Adding Watson to this roster makes them a playoff team in 2021. Waiting for Tagovailoa to develop is a bet with longer odds. From the quarterback's perspective, landing with a team looking to take a longer-term approach at becoming competitive is likely the ideal situation. As we saw last year, Tagovailoa struggled in acclimating to life in the NFL. There was a tension between what the offense needed to do to win games, and what the offense could do with Tagovailoa under center. That led to some losses, Tagovailoa getting pulled from games for Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a franchise caught between what it could be, and what it wanted to be. That would not be the case in Houston, where Tagovailoa could be part of a young nucleus being built around him and the assets acquired as part of a Watson trade. If, hypothetically, the Texans acquire Miami's pair of first-round picks in this draft, that is an immediate injection of talent. (For example, in the Touchdown Wire Mock Draft 2.0 that deal was indeed made, and the Texans were able to draft Ja'Marr Chase in the third spot, and Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai at 18 to pair with J.J. Watt at the front of their defense. As it stands right now, the Texans do not pick until 67. Tagovailoa would be paired with Tim Kelly, the incoming offensive coordinator for the Texans. Kelly cut his teeth under Bill O'Brien and has spent time coaching a number of different positions, including serving as the Texans quarterback coach this past season. That background lends credence to the idea that he could be a good offensive coordinator for Tagovailoa's development, and his background in the college game leads me to believe the offense will be one that caters to what Tagovailoa is familiar with and can run right now while he learns.

Jimmy Garoppolo: New England Patriots

Jimmy Garoppolo 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo 49ers

(Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

It is no secret that both the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots are looking to address the quarterback position in this offseason. Perhaps the two teams can help each other. From San Francisco's perspective, they were rumored to be in the mix for Matthew Stafford, and now that he is a member of the NFC West, they are forced to change gears. Deshaun Watson might be a great fit in that offense, but it does seem like the Miami Dolphins can put the best package together for him. So Kyle Shanahan and company will look elsewhere, and while many have connected them with Kirk Cousins, given how Shanahan feels about his former quarterback, it is likely that if the 49ers do move on from Garoppolo they are looking to get into the rookie QB market. As for the Patriots, they might love to be in on a quarterback out of this draft class, but they only have a pair of picks in the top 100 of this upcoming draft, with picks at 15 and 46. Perhaps someone falls to them at 15, but with all the quarterback-needy teams this off-season, that seems unreasonable. That might mean if they want to draft someone at 15, they might have to reach in that spot, which is something Bill Belichick is usually reluctant to do. Which brings us to the potential return of Garoppolo to New England. As mentioned earlier, familiarity is the bedrock of good quarterback play. By returning to the Patriots Garoppolo returns to an offense he already knows, a play-caller he already knows, and a system that created him out of college. If you turn on Garoppolo's film from Week 1 of the 2016 season, when he was starting in place of the suspended Tom Brady, you see a quarterback who is confident and comfortable in the pocket, making reads and throws that are on time and in rhythm. This is an offense that he could run right now, and if the Patriots could make this move while keeping onto the picks at 15 and 46, they could add a weapon or two around him (glances at both Kyle Pitts and D'Wayne Eskridge).

Sam Darnold: Washington Football Team

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Expectations are high that the New York Jets are going to build around a rookie quarterback that they draft with the second-overall selection, perhaps BYU's Zach Wilson. Which could mean that Sam Darnold needs a new home, and he might find that new home in the nation's capital. From Washington's perspective, they made the playoffs this past season by winning the NFC East, but that cost them a slide from the 11th pick in the draft to the 19th. At 11 there is at least a possibility of moving up to grab one of the quarterbacks available. At 19 you are probably on the outside looking in. But you are also a team coming off a run to the playoffs, with a solid defensive core and some pieces in place on offense. Adding a quarterback might keep you competitive into 2021 and beyond. If you cannot add one via this year's draft, why not add one from a previous draft class who is still on his rookie deal, and who still managed to show flashes under Adam Gase? I'm not ready to give up on Sam Darnold, and the league should not be as well. I think Darnold was put in a difficult position and it was made worse with the Gase hire, and in the right offense with the right coaching around him he could capture what made him such a coveted prospect. Now, does Scott Turner have a long and impressive resume of quarterback development? No, but we all saw how he was able to make that offense functional with Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen last season. Darnold could thrive in that offense, with the combination of flood concepts, play-action elements, and quarterback-friendly designs that seemed to elude Darnold during his time in New York. If Washington does indeed miss out on a rookie they might be willing to go the more veteran route. They were rumored to be in on the potential Matthew Stafford deal before that was executed with the Los Angeles Rams (although it has not been finalized and will not be until the start of the league year, so stranger things have happened) and have also been linked with Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins in recent days. Since I believe both Carr and Cousins are going to remain where they are, Darnold might be the next best option for them, particularly if he becomes available as we expect.