Simulating NFL QB offseason changes: Trades, signings, draft picks

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Get ready for yet another wild NFL offseason of quarterback movement -- which is already underway afterTom Brady announced Wednesday morning that he's retiring from the NFL after 23 seasons.Stars like Lamar Jackson, Daniel Jones and Geno Smith are on expiring contracts, a handful of big names could be on the move via a trade and the draft class is loaded with first-round signal-callers. So with 30 teams already thinking ahead to next season, let's look closer at the QB carousel.

We asked our NFL Nation reporters to serve as GMs for their teams and decide what to do at their most important position. The stand-in GMs put together trade packages for passers who could be made available by their teams and pitched contract offers to free agents, with national reporter Dan Graziano playing the role of player rep to "sign" new deals here. They also projected franchise tags and cap casualty cuts. And finally, they mocked the first two rounds of the 2023 draft to address the future.

We kept this exercise to quarterbacks who will either start or compete to start in 2023, with the exception of a few draft picks who might sit in Year 1. And the object for this project wasn't to "win" negotiations but rather to accurately reflect how a team might approach the QB market. So which teams landed a new starting quarterback? Let's predict this offseason's QB movement with some hypothetical trade offers, free agent signings and draft picks.

Note: This project was originally published before Brady's retirement announcement. The simulation was amended to account for the change in the QB landscape.

Jump to:

Trades| Tags| Cuts

Free agency| Draft

Full QB lineup


We might not have trades of last offseason's magnitude, when Russell Wilson went to the Broncos and Deshaun Watson joined the Browns -- though that could change if Green Bay decides to make Aaron Rodgers available. But reporters still made trade offers to two teams (represented by their own reporters) for quarterbacks who might be available.

Derek Carr, Raiders

Contract status: Carr signed a three-year, $121.5 million extension last spring, which included a no-trade clause. Las Vegas has a three-day window after the Super Bowl to cut Carr for a salary-cap hit of $5.6 million. If not, his $32.9 million salary for next season and $7.5 million of his salary for 2024 would become guaranteed. Trades won't become official until March, which means any team trading for Carr would take on that guaranteed money -- and Carr has the right to veto any move.

Jets' offer: 2023 third-round pick for Carr.The Jets want to keep Zach Wilson in a backup role, so they will need an experienced win-now starter. Carr will be 32 next season and has proved durable (91 straight starts before his Week 17 benching), and he has the kind of accuracy (64.6% career completion percentage) that fits the Jets' West Coast offense. Turnovers are a concern (28 interceptions over the past two seasons), but he had to play a lot of catch-up on the defensively challenged Raiders. Carr has never had a defense ranked higher than 20th in points allowed. The Jets' defensive unit can support him.-- Rich Cimini

Saints' offer: 2023 third- and fourth-round picks for Carr. He would be reunited with Saints coach Dennis Allen, who drafted him and made the decision to start him as a rookie. This would give the Saints more clarity at quarterback, but they would once again need to work salary-cap magic to fit Carr onto the roster. That'd likely require taking most of his base salary and converting it to a signing bonus, then adding years to the deal to spread out the hit. -- Katherine Terrell

RAIDERS' DECISION:Carr vetoes move to New Orleans. The Raiders would no doubt like to recoup something in a trade for Carr. But his statement wishing fans farewell leaves Las Vegas with little-to-no leverage, especially given his no-trade clause. The Raiders would prefer the Saints' offer, but Carr has to sign off on any deal -- and he likely wouldn't accept a trade at this point, knowing that he could probably end up a free agent in a month's time.-- Paul Gutierrez

Ryan Tannehill, Titans

Contract status: Tannehill signed a four-year extension in 2020, and he has one year left with a $27 million base salary and $36.6 million cap hit for 2023. But he does not have any guaranteed money left on his deal.

Jets' offer:2023 fourth-round pick for Tannehill. No luck with Carr, so let's see if Tennessee is interested in making a move. Tannehill (35 years old next season) is older than Carr, but the financial commitment wouldn't be as hefty. He has played in a similar offense, so it would be an easy transition from a scheme standpoint. The Jets are looking for a proven starter, which would allow them to keep Wilson on the bench for more development. -- Rich Cimini

TITANS' DECISION: No deal. Tannehill feels he has a lot of good football left ... and so do the Titans. Tennessee is 37-20 with Tannehill as its starting quarterback since Week 6 of 2019. Rather than trade Tannehill, the Titans decide here to build around him. His cap number will be $36.6 million, but Tennessee can extend him to lower it and bring him back for at least another season. The Titans will likely carry three quarterbacks on the active roster with a veteran as the backup and Malik Willis continuing to develop as the No. 3 option. -- Turron Davenport


At the moment, the free agent class is led by one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league. But will Lamar Jackson really reach free agency? We asked our reporter GMs whether their team would be most likely to either tag or extend their starter before free agency opens. Two of them did ...

Ravens tag Lamar Jackson

It seems apparent that the Ravens and Jackson are headed for the franchise tag in March, which will be $32.4 million. The sides haven't come close to an agreement after two years of negotiation. The real questions come once the tag is placed: Will Jackson skip the offseason practices and most of training camp? Will he even play under the tag? And would the Ravens be tempted to trade him if a team offers three first-round picks for him? There is plenty of uncertainty in Baltimore, where the Ravens are 40-17 (.702) with Jackson as their starting QB since 2019 and 4-9 (.308) without him (including playoffs). But the franchise tag seems like the most likely starting point for what could be an eventful offseason in Baltimore. -- Jamison Hensley

Giants extend Daniel Jones

The Giants made it clear that they intend to bring back Jones. GM Joe Schoen even slipped and said at his season-ending news conference, "We're happy Daniel is going to be here." The hope is to get a long-term deal done quickly to leave the franchise tag as an option for running back Saquon Barkley. Regardless, Jones is about to get paid in excess of $30 million per season, and he isn't likely to reach free agency. Let's say four years and $152 million, with $82 million guaranteed.-- Jordan Raanan


The free agent class already includesJimmy Garoppoloand Geno Smith, but our stand-in GMs projected a few cuts ahead of the negotiation window that will surely liven up the quarterback market. First, Las Vegas released Derek Carr after it was unable to make a trade happen. It appears the Raiders are ready to move on and reset at the position.

Joining Carr are Carson Wentz (Washington), Jameis Winston (New Orleans), Matt Ryan (Indianapolis) and Marcus Mariota (Atlanta).


OK, we're on to free agency. Our reporters -- serving as their teams' GMs -- made contract offers and pitches to free agent QBs, and our own Dan Graziano played the role of player representative and "inked" a deal for each quarterback.

Derek Carr

2022 team: Raiders

Panthers' offer: Three years, $102 million ($68 million guaranteed). He'll have a stable offensive line, a solid defense and a new offensive-minded head coach committed to making this work in an NFC South that will be winnable with QB uncertainty throughout the division. The deal will include a $40 million signing bonus and would void after the second year if he doesn't start 70% of games in 2024. -- David Newton

Buccaneers' offer: Two years, $80 million ($30 million guaranteed). Incentives will be included for trips to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. This is a team built to win and has made the playoffs in three straight seasons with two 1,000-yard receivers. -- Jenna Laine

Jets' offer: Three years, $120 million ($55 million guaranteed). That will include a total of $75 million in total compensation for the first two years, and for cap purposes, the deal will have void years in 2026 and 2027. Carr has played with mostly bad defenses with the Raiders, but New York boosts a top-five unit. He also has two potential stars at offensive skill positions in receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall. -- Rich Cimini

Saints' offer: Three years, $90 million ($40 million guaranteed). We will include void years in 2026 and 2027 to help out the cap situation, and the contract would also include $10 million roster bonuses in 2024 and 2025 that can be converted into signing bonuses. The Saints liked Carr enough to try to trade for him, and if he does ultimately want to join New Orleans here, he can reunite with Dennis Allen, who drafted him. -- Katherine Terrell

Falcons' offer: Three years, $57 million ($24 million guaranteed). The deal will also have a $6 million signing bonus. It's a lower offer than Carr is likely to get elsewhere, but it's also a hedge because we like what we've seen out of Desmond Ridder in the four games of his rookie year. But we're definitely willing to talk, and between running back Tyler Allgeier, receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts, we've got young talent at every skill position. -- Michael Rothstein

CARR'S DECISION:Accept the Jets' offer. The Panthers offered a solid deal, and I seriously considered the Saints' offer -- they're still in their win-now window with good skill position talent and an offensive line that will improve with better health next year. But the Jets fit that description as well, and it feels like they're operating in an earlier part of their window. And they offered $10 million more per year. Start spreadin' the news. -- Dan Graziano

The Jets' aftermath:Carr is a significant upgrade for the Jets because he's an experienced, durable quarterback with a background in the West Coast offense, which they will run under new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. He has averaged 24 touchdown passes per year over his career, and the Jets would've been a playoff team in 2022 with that kind of production. And the defense should reduce the pressure on him. The Jets' pursuit of Carr could be influenced by whether Aaron Rodgers becomes available, but that's a big question mark. -- Cimini

Geno Smith

2022 team: Seahawks

Seahawks' offer: Three years, $90 million ($50 million guaranteed). The deal would include a $42 million signing bonus, along with base salaries of $2 million guaranteed in 2023, $13 million in 2024 ($6 million of that is guaranteed against injury at signing and becomes fully guaranteed six days after the 2024 Super Bowl) and $26 million in 2025. And there is a $5 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2025 league year and $2 million in per-game roster bonuses that season. Smith can stay with a team that has a promising young core, plenty of offensive assets and an offensive system in which he played by far his best football. -- Brady Henderson

SMITH'S DECISION:Accept the Seahawks' offer. Pretty simple. Seattle's offer is a strong one, and Smith is happy here. Why mess with a good thing?-- Dan Graziano

The Seahawks' aftermath:A short-term deal makes sense for both sides here, allowing Smith to get back to the bargaining table in a few years if he continues to ascend while also giving the Seahawks the flexibility to move on after two years if his play regresses. Seattle looks like the best situation for him given his familiarity with their offense, the impact players around him and all the resources the Seahawks have this offseason to continue building up their roster. Part of that will be trying to re-sign Drew Lock to continue his development behind Smith and maybe spending a middle- or late-round pick on a quarterback in the draft. -- Henderson

Jimmy Garoppolo

2022 team: 49ers

Raiders' offer: Two years, $70 million ($32 million guaranteed). Garoppolo has played in Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels' offensive system, and he can come to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and join an already high-powered offense. -- Paul Gutierrez

Texans' offer: Two years, $50 million ($30 million guaranteed, all in Year 1). The deal has a signing bonus of $15 million. Yes, we are heavily considering drafting a quarterback this year, but Garoppolo can revive his career and market value in Houston while the rookie learns behind him. -- DJ Bien-Aime

Saints' offer: Three years, $66 million ($44 million guaranteed). The contract includes a $20 million signing bonus, $6 million cap hit in Year 1, $10 million roster bonus in Year 2 and $6 million roster bonus in Year 3. And we're going to tack on two additional void years at the end of the deal for 2026-27 to help our cap situation. The Saints have no quarterback waiting in the wings, so the starting job would be all Garoppolo. The team has stability with its ownership, coaching staff and front office, and it has shown a willingness over the years to spend in free agency. -- Katherine Terrell

GAROPPOLO'S DECISION:Accept the Raiders' offer. The numbers are right, and this is a chance for Garoppolo to play with top-level receivers and a coach he knows well in a system he should have no trouble relearning. And Vegas sounds like a blast.-- Dan Graziano

The Raiders' aftermath:It has been a minute (2016) since Garoppolo last played in McDaniels' system, but it's like riding a bike. At least, that's what Las Vegas is gambling on here. While many might see moving from Derek Carr to Garoppolo as a mere lateral move, all Garoppolo does is win. His career record of 40-17 shines next to Carr's 63-79, and Garoppolo has more experience in McDaniels' scheme. The Raiders need to re-sign Jarrett Stidham, as well, and perhaps have a camp competition. They must still address the offensive line and defense, but the roster does have receiverDavante Adams, and any learning curve should not be very steep. -- Gutierrez

Taylor Heinicke

2022 team: Commanders

Commanders' offer: One year, $6 million ($3.5 million guaranteed). We will have a $3 million signing bonus and per-game roster bonuses up to $250,000 for the season. Heinicke knows the players and works well with the team's other QB (Sam Howell), and the town loves him. -- John Keim

HEINICKE'S DECISION:Accept the Commanders' offer. It's the only one he got here, and he likes it here. Heinicke could probably start six or seven games when something inevitably goes wrong, too. -- Dan Graziano

The Commanders' aftermath:Washington wants to give Howell a shot to be the starter, but Heinicke provides insurance, especially if it continues with a similar system. It's a one-year deal, and with uncertainty about ownership, there's no reason to push money into the future on a backup QB. Heinicke likes Howell quite a bit, so he'd be fine backing him up or starting if necessary. -- Keim

Jameis Winston

2022 team: Saints

Colts' offer: One year, $6 million ($3 million guaranteed). He'll have an opportunity to start, at least initially (Indy will be looking at QBs in the draft). The Colts want to resurrect their downfield passing attack, which meshes with Winston's strengths. -- Stephen Holder

WINSTON'S DECISION:Accept the Colts' offer. He has to get on the field for someone, and even if the Colts take a quarterback in the first round, he can take his chances on being able to beat out the rookie for at least one year. -- Dan Graziano

The Colts' aftermath:Before learning of Matt Ryan's availability in March 2022, the Colts were actually in discussions with Winston and were strongly considering him as an option. In this instance, the Colts go back to him as a veteran fallback plan for the rookie they plan to draft in April. One hope is that Winston's willingness to push the ball downfield could help revitalize the Colts' deep passing game and perhaps give life to their play-action game with running back Jonathan Taylor. One thing's for sure: The Colts intend to finally put a stop to their quarterback carousel this offseason. -- Holder

Andy Dalton

2022 team: Saints

Saints' offer: One year, $10 million (fully guaranteed). The Saints missed out on other free agent targets, so Dalton would be the assumed starter going into this season. He gets a chance to come back to a place he has said he really enjoyed -- and he could be the starter at a stage in his career when he's a journeyman. -- Katherine Terrell

DALTON'S DECISION:Accept the Saints' offer. It's the only offer on the table, and Dalton is the expected starter? I'll take it. -- Dan Graziano

The Saints' aftermath:This might not thrill Saints fans hoping for a change, but general manager Mickey Loomis spoke recently about needing to get "back to the middle" on the salary-cap situation. For now, that means they have to sit back and watch other teams outbid them on the top free agent quarterbacks. They don't seem to be leaning toward major changes this offseason and are keeping offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael in the fold, so it would make sense to try to give him and Dalton another go together and use the extra money toward adding offensive help in free agency. -- Terrell

Sam Darnold

2022 team: Panthers

Panthers' offer:One year, $7.5 million ($2 million guaranteed). He can enter training camp as the starting quarterback and be given a full opportunity to earn the starting job and get a long-term extension. -- David Newton

DARNOLD'S DECISION: Accept the Panthers' offer. He has gotten used to it here, and while he still thinks he can make starter money in this league, those opportunities aren't out there right now. So Darnold chooses to stay in a place where he's comfortable and looks forward to his next opportunity to prove himself. -- Dan Graziano

The Panthers' aftermath:Darnold was 4-2 as the starter to end the 2022 season and flashed with seven touchdown passes to three interceptions. He might just be capable of getting Carolina to the playoffs if given ample protection and a solid running game. He also gives Carolina insurance as the team develops 2022 third-round pick Matt Corral and one of the top quarterbacks from the 2023 draft as a long-term solution. -- Newton

Blaine Gabbert

2022 team: Buccaneers

Buccaneers' offer: Two years, $7 million ($3.5 million guaranteed) We will include incentives for starts, passing yards, completions, completion percentage and playoff starts. This has been Gabbert's home for four years, and he has done a great job helping Tom Brady prepare each week. Now he gets a shot to start again. He has relationships with the coaching staff and all the receivers, and he can help a younger quarterback learn behind him. -- Jenna Laine

GABBERT'S DECISION:Accept the Buccaneers' offer. An honest shot at a starting job is more than Gabbert could ask for at this point in his career, and he's glad the organization wants him back. Down the road, maybe it means more money, too. -- Dan Graziano

The Buccaneers' aftermath:Brady's retirement means Tampa Bay must look at other possibilities here. And while there are other veteran options, Gabbert makes the most sense here in that he and coach Todd Bowles have a great relationship. Bowles called him "one of my favorite players." Gabbert is a strong leader, knows these receivers, has the respect of the locker room and can serve as a bridge toward the future. -- Laine

Jacoby Brissett

2022 team: Browns

Falcons' offer: One year, $5 million ($2 million guaranteed). It would include a $1 million signing bonus, plus incentives up to $3 million for playing time and team success. Brissett can compete for the starting job with Desmond Ridder and have a chance to hit free agency again in 2024. -- Michael Rothstein

BRISSETT'S DECISION:No deal. Brissett would likely wait this one out, since he can likely do better by being patient and seeing if a team's situation changes and offers him more. Brissett's performance in 2022 merits more than this; he was eighth in QBR (59.8). -- Dan Graziano


There are still some free agents out there who could potentially start (Brissett?), but the quarterback market has essentially come down to the draft. Our reporters continued serving as their teams' general managers and simulated the quarterback-only picks for the first two rounds -- including four first-rounders.

2. Texans: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

Let's draft our quarterback of the future with this high pick. Stroud is an excellent prospect, and his performance against Georgia in the College Football Playoff was special (348 yards, four touchdown passes). If he can make those elite flashes consistent in the NFL, we're talking about a Pro Bowl, top-of-the-league quarterback.-- DJ Bien-Aime

4. Colts: Bryce Young, Alabama

The size knocks (6-foot, 194 pounds) on Young are legitimate and perfectly fair. He is an outlier when it comes to measurables. But his unique talent supersedes those concerns, from his accuracy to his playmaking ability to his elite pocket presence -- all of which can help immediately jump-start a punchless Colts offense. And Young wouldn't be forced to start right away with Jameis Winston also in the fold.-- Stephen Holder

9. Panthers: Will Levis, Kentucky

The Panthers like Levis a lot, and to have him fall to No. 9 now feels like a gift. But don't count out a trade-up if needed. One of the reasons that Carolina traded running back Christian McCaffrey was getting the ammunition to do just that. Either way, Levis joins Sam Darnold and can be the Panthers' franchise quarterback. He has a big arm and can make all the throws but needs to clean up the turnovers (23 interceptions over the past two seasons).-- David Newton

19. Buccaneers: Anthony Richardson, Florida

Bucs coach Todd Bowles said, "You never want to rebuild; you're always reloading." But Tom Brady not returning, it certainly feels like a rebuild and will warrant some patience. Drafting Richardson and having Blaine Gabbert serve as a bridge makes sense. Richardson is still a raw prospect but won't be asked to start right away. The interceptions are concerning (nine), but he has a big arm and plenty of mobility, and his ability to improvise when plays break down brings another dimension to the offense.-- Jenna Laine

40. Saints: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

This would be a great scenario for the Saints after failing to acquire a QB in free agency and missing out on the top four passers in the draft class. The idea would be that 35-year-old Andy Dalton is the bridge quarterback for 2023 and Hooker could either sit behind him or push him for a starting job if he's ready -- though he is still recovering from a torn ACL. The Saints haven't developed a young QB in a long time, and being able to get a signal-caller on a rookie contract would be ideal for their cap situation.-- Katherine Terrell


There are still some unsigned starter possibilities, including Jacoby Brissett, Mike White and Baker Mayfield. The Falcons, having waited out the cycle of quarterback movement, still have their offer to Brissett, which would allow him to compete for the job there if he wants. The Cardinals might be looking to add, depending on whenKyler Murrayis expected to return from a torn right ACL. Perhaps a team might look to sign Cooper Rush, Drew Lock or Jarrett Stidham as high-end backups who could spot-start, too. And don't forget about Rounds 3-7 in the draft, where the likes of Tanner McKee, Jaren Hall and Jake Haener should be available. But the dust has mostly settled here for our exercise. Here's the full QB landscape.

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