Exactly two weeks after Cam Newton re-signing with the New England Patriots became big news in terms of this offseason’s version of quarterback dominoes, another major Friday news dump produced an even larger ripple effect.
Two big trades involving the Miami Dolphins took place a few days ago. The San Francisco 49ers traded the farm to move up to spot No. 3 in the draft, while the Dolphins moved back to No. 12 before springing back forward to pick No. 6 in an exchange with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Throw out your mock drafts. Time to start over.
The moves have several implications in terms of quarterback destinations for both soon-to-be drafted passers, and veteran ones.
We broke it all down, team-by-team, with predictions for each.
Jacksonville Jaguars & New York Jets
We'll pair these two together since there will likely be little to no surprises at the top of the draft. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is lauded as a generational quarterback prospect a la Peyton Manning (1998) and Andrew Luck (2012). The Jaguars will almost certainly select him first overall. As for the Jets, there's an outside chance the Jets go with Justin Fields or Trey Lance, or even trade their No. 2 picks and stick with Sam Darnold, but that seems unlikely. Decision making and accuracy from the pocket remain the most critical attributes for a NFL quarterback, but I think the Jets will take their chances with BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who seemingly has Aaron Rodgers-like throwing ability as his top skill. Prediction: With the first two picks of the draft, Trevor Lawrence goes to the Jaguars, and Zach Wilson is selected by the Jets. The Jets then start fielding offers for a Sam Darnold trade.
San Francisco 49ers
Here comes the intrigue. The 49ers obviously will be selecting a quarterback with pick No. 3, but which one? And will they really hold on to Jimmy Garoppolo? There's a lot of takes involving Alabama's Mac Jones to the 49ers with pick No. 3. San Francisco gave up a haul (including three first-round picks) to move up that far, but if they really wanted Jones, they probably could have traded with the Eagles (like the Dolphins did) for a bit less for pick No. 6 to to snag him. It doesn't seem to add up. So that leaves Ohio State's Justin Fields and North Dakota State's Trey Lance (assuming the Jets go with Zach Wilson). https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1375830267340881923 This is a really close call, and the athleticism and arm talent of Fields makes him the most interesting possible fit for the 49ers. Plus, any takes on Fields' ability to "process" (which are probably a tad bit overblown) in an NFL offense would likely be mitigated by Kyle Shanahan's QB-friendly offense. But Trey Lance is likely an even better pairing for the 49ers. With more experience under center in college, Lance would work nicely in some of San Francisco's bootleg and play-action passing concepts. https://twitter.com/DataNiner/status/1375589618758864900?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1375589618758864900%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Ftouchdownwire.usatoday.com%2Flists%2F49ers-trade-2021-nfl-draft-justin-fields-zach-wilson-mac-jones-trey-lance%2F Lance is the most raw of the top five quarterbacks expected to go in Round 1, but in San Francisco, he'd be in a great situation to flourish under a great coach and team, sort of how Josh Allen has matured into a top-end quarterback with the Buffalo Bills. If San Francisco did view Lance as their guy, it would make sense that they would stick with Garoppolo as QB1 for 2021, with Lance looming as a successor. https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/1375500955748212736 That would make some of the reports about Garoppolo still being San Francisco's top guy for 2021 seem genuine. Prediction: The 49ers snag Trey Lance with pick No. 3, but Jimmy Garoppolo stays put as the team's starting quarterback heading into the season. The situation has loose similarities to the 2011 and 2012 49ers QB room (Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick) as well as the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs QB group (Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes). Lance will be the 49ers' future starter, but will first learn behind Garoppolo.
Like the 49ers, Trey Lance is probably the best fit for the Atlanta Falcons under new head coach Arthur Smith, who uses some of Kyle Shanahan's concepts on offense. But Lance is gone in our current scenario, so what do the Falcons do next? With Matt Ryan in place as the team's starter in 2021, the Falcons can still mull over the athletic Fields with pick No. 4. If not, they can take offers by QB-needy teams looking to move up to snag Fields, or Atlanta can stay put and select any non-quarterback of their choosing. Prediction: Instead of conducting a trade with NFC South rival Carolina or others, the Falcons stay put and pick the top non-QB on their draft board.
Miami Dolphins & Philadelphia Eagles
As we go down the draft board, we come to the Dolphins at pick no. 6, after they made a deal with the Eagles. The moves of each team suggests both Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are the starting quarterbacks for Miami and Philadelphia. Prediction: Tua and Jalen will forever remain connected, as their respective teams make a deal that ensures their confidence in each of them as their teams' starting quarterbacks.
Despite not being able to trade up to No. 4, the Panthers luck out when both Justin Fields and Mac Jones fall past the Falcons. Both Fields and Jones, despite being vastly different players, project as fits in Matt Rhule's offense, which features spread concepts. The Panthers coaching staff got a first-hand view of Jones when they coached him in the Senior Bowl a month back, but the upside of Fields may be too much to pass up. In a league in which teams are becoming savvier than ever in creating an offense best suited for their quarterback's skill set, Carolina may look at the prospect with the most upside. Prediction: Carolina lucks out and gets Justin Fields either with pick No. 8 or by moving up to pick No. 5 or No. 7 in a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals or Detroit Lions to box out other suitors. Fields then becomes a Day 1 starter for Carolina come September.
The Broncos are a team always laying in the weeds, ready to pounce when it comes to adding a quarterback. It doesn't appear they will be as aggressive as say, the Panthers, when it comes to selecting one in the draft, but in our exercise, Mac Jones is still available. Still, the Broncos could be content with Drew Lock for another season if they can't get their preferred rookie QB in the draft (if they have one they prefer). Prediction: Denver either trades down or ops to draft a non-quarterback with pick No. 9, sticking with Lock for 2021.
Washington Football Team & Chicago Bears
We still have one projected first-round pick left at quarterback in Alabama's Mac Jones. The thought of Jones slipping to a competent organization such as the Pittsburgh Steelers or New Orleans Saints could be a dream scenario for Jones, but there are other teams who likely will be willing to move up to snag him, including the two headlining this section. Prediction: Either the Bears or WFT moves up a few slots in the first round to select Mac Jones. The remaining team who doesn't draft Jones may be in the market for Sam Darnold.
New England Patriots
As we finally enter the section with our beloved Patriots, we've already matched up five rookie quarterbacks with other teams, and have suggested that Jimmy Garoppolo will stay in San Francisco. Still, there's a lot of talk surrounding Jimmy G returning. The tweets below are just a snippet of what NFL media members are arguing about on Twitter when it comes to this subject. https://twitter.com/Schultz_Report/status/1376218724034871301 https://twitter.com/MikeGiardi/status/1376286087304392710 The Patriots remained very interested in Garoppolo into last week, per ESPN's Dianna Russini, which means they liked the idea of adding him, even after signing Newton. As of now, Miguel Benzan (@patscap on Twitter) projects that New England currently has just over $12 million in available cap space. Jimmy Garoppolo's current cap number is about double that figure, meaning he'd have to restructure his deal to come to New England, perhaps with void years (not unlike what the Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did with Tom Brady) to help spread out the impact of his contract to future years. And, of course, New England could do the same for other players on the roster. The biggest hangup, however, would be if the 49ers draft Lance, who would need time to develop behind Garoppolo, making the quarterback essential in San Francisco for 2021. In terms of rookie quarterbacks, if you rule out Lawrence and Wilson, Lance seems like the best fit in New England. Now that the Patriots added both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith at tight end this offseason, it's obvious they are making a drastic shift back to heavy 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) usage on offense, suggesting Shanahan-like concepts from Tennessee and San Francisco could be coming to the Patriots offense. That fits Lance. Of course, the Patriots will likely lead with some offensive scheme of their own out of 12 personnel, and seeing as they have been master adapters throughout the Belichick era, both Jones and Fields could likely fit into their plans as well. If the Patriots are truly interested in Fields as their guy, Belichick could continue his aggressive offseason by offering a mega-deal to the Falcons for pick No. 4. Tailoring the offense to Fields would be a better bet than the presumed safe pick with Jones. But we already slotted Lance to the Falcons, Fields to the Panthers and Jones to either the Bears or Washington. And after Friday's trades, it would simply cost New England an absolute fortune to move up to pick No. 4, No. 5 or No. 7, to select the likes of Lance or Fields (if they were available). After their spending spree in free agency, it's clear Belichick is ready to win now. That theoretically could include a rookie quarterback, but where they are slated in terms of draft order handicaps them unless they are willing to give up an awful lot to move up>. Additionally, it does genuinely seem like Belichick believes in Newton as the team's starting quarterback in 2021. It's hard to predict what the Patriots will do at the quarterback spot in the draft next month, let alone in 2022, but it could be that Belichick is simply rolling with Newton in 2021, only to revisit any potential veteran quarterbacks that may come available in 2022 — Garoppolo? Matt Ryan? Aaron Rodgers!? It sounds like a ridiculous hot take to mention Rodgers, but would him and the Green Bay Packers finally welcome a divorce if the Packers were to fall just short of the Super Bowl in devastating fashion once again? Both Rodgers and Belichick know they are playing and coaching in their final few seasons. The pair would be interesting, but is also impossible to project, and is just the best example of what Belichick could be hoping for if he opts for the veteran market route next season. Prediction: Patriots pass on trading up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones and select a quarterback on Day 3 of the draft. If Newton has another iffy season, Belichick will then evaluate the position once more in 2022, possibly hoping the perfect veteran passer becomes available for his win-now roster.