Ranking 10 NFL teams most likely to make a QB move in 2023: Panthers, Commanders headline neediest franchises

Quarterbacks: you either have one, or you don’t. OK, so it’s not that simple; plenty of competitive NFL teams (see: Falcons, Giants, Jets) are finding surprise success in 2022 while keeping their signal-callers in the background. Generally speaking, however, the easiest path to contending for a championship is possessing one of the game’s elite players under center. And the quickest path to wallowing at the cellar of league standings — as teams like the Commanders and Panthers will attest — is betting on damaged goods at the same position.

There’s a long way to go before certain franchises make QB decisions for 2023, whereas others are already virtual locks to make big changes. Almost halfway through 2022, here’s a look at the 10 teams we view as most likely to make a significant move at QB following the season:

Geno Smith has been one of 2022’s top underdog stories to date, but we’ve got a long way to go before crowning him the surefire long-term successor to Russell Wilson. It’s possible, if not probable, they could end up paying him to stick around while also investing premium assets into his successor, a la the multiple-dart strategy that brought them Wilson the same year they spent big money on Matt Flynn. Either way, with two 2023 first-round draft picks and lots of cap space on deck, they’re better positioned than most to acquire a new face of the franchise, either through the draft or trade.

Jared Goff has played good soldier as a quiet leader of the never-quit Lions, but 2023 will be year three of the Dan Campbell regime, and Goff, though just newly 28, is due $31M next year — 11th among all QBs. With another top-five pick potentially on the way, Detroit almost can’t afford to ignore the possibility of adding competition under center. Trading Goff, or designating him a post-June 1 release, might be the best way of ripping off the Band-Aid, unless they’re that convinced they can make the defensive improvements to carry a Goff-led roster to their first playoff berth in over a half-decade.

The current front office does not appear overly invested in Justin Fields, or else they might’ve surrounded the 2021 first-rounder with a starting-caliber O-line and receiving corps. Amid the shaky supporting cast, Fields hasn’t given team brass an abundance of reasons to invest, either. On pace for a top-10 pick in 2023, the Bears are also set to lead the NFL in salary cap space by a long shot. If GM Ryan Poles wants his own guy, he’s got the ammunition to make it happen.  

Yes, really. After his 40-day retirement this offseason, Tom Brady will be a free agent after 2022, which means he’s got two avenues out of Tampa Bay if he so chooses: retirement (for real), or another relocation. Considering all the smoke around his flirtation with the Dolphins, and the possibility of other historic landing spots emerging (see: San Francisco, depending on Trey Lance’s recovery), it’s not hard to envision TB12 forcing the Bucs to pivot at the position after three years together.

6. Falcons

Frankly, it wouldn’t be totally shocking if Arthur Smith actually buys into Marcus Mariota as a viable multi-year starter for his run-heavy offense, but if the QB’s erratic passing marks don’t convince the coach otherwise, then history suggests durability issues eventually might. Either way, Mariota is easily expendable — due $14.5M in 2023, he can be cut to save almost all of that — and they’ve got lots of cash to spend after rebuilding the roster for a second straight year.

5. Giants

No offense to Daniel Jones, who’s controlled the ball and showcased his legs as a quiet figurehead for Brian Daboll’s surprise, spicy contender. There’s still time for the former first-rounder to prove he’s also taken sustainable steps as a passer. But this organization elected to make him a free agent after the year, and it’s hard not to see Daboll, Saquon Barkley and their feisty defense as the bigger reasons for their success. With lots of cash to spend in 2023, they’re primed to explore their options.

Before re-signing Jameis Winston and adding Andy Dalton as the new backup this offseason, they tried to land Deshaun Watson, which tells you everything you need to know: they’re not settled here. Neither Dalton nor Winston can be trusted in the short or long term, and both could easily be dumped after the year; designating the latter as a post-June 1 cut would save them almost $13M. The unfortunate hurdle they’ll have to clear, however, is the fact they do not own a 2023 first-rounder.

By the end of 2022, this team will be two full seasons removed from having Deshaun Watson take the field as their QB. Maybe then general manager Dave Caserio will finally realize it’s time to add competition for 2021 third-rounder Davis Mills. Their long-term vision remains an absolute mystery after back-to-back years of hiring senior-citizen coaches while prioritizing free-agent leftovers. But with two first-rounders at their disposal again in 2023, they have no reason not to pursue another signal-caller.

2. Commanders

Ron Rivera recently — and controversially — identified QB as the reason Washington isn’t up to par with the rest of the NFC East, but the real controversy is how many times that’s been the case over the last half-decade. Kirk Cousins looks like an All-Pro in their record books after bits and pieces of Alex Smith, Case Keenum, Josh Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick to name a few. Their most recent bet on Carson Wentz has failed for multiple reasons, including an inability to protect the much-maligned QB; and backup Taylor Heinicke, while spunky, isn’t a long-term answer. With or without Rivera in 2023, they can save $26M by releasing Wentz, then hopefully aim to build from within through the draft.

1. Panthers

Nothing new here. Ever since Cam Newton’s decline and initial departure, they’ve been swinging and missing at the most important spot. David Tepper’s brief ownership of the franchise has been defined by his club’s increasingly desperate gambles: Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, Cam Newton 2.0, Baker Mayfield. With Matt Rhule out and a new staff inevitably on the way, along with a potential No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, they’ll be motivated to finally handpick their new face of the franchise.

Honorable mention

  • Colts: The carousel must go on, right? Matt Ryan is signed through 2023, but he’s due over $35M next year at age 38, and that’s not saying anything about his physical state behind an unreliable line. His fate probably hinges on that of the entire regime, including coach Frank Reich and GM Chris Ballard. If they can’t make the playoffs in a wide-open AFC South, after all the QB turnover they’ve had in recent years, they can cut Ryan and save at least $17M to start fresh once more.
  • Jets: Surely they wouldn’t look to replace Zach Wilson, their No. 2 pick in 2021, if New York keeps it up as a surprise competitor in the AFC East. Or would they? GM Joe Douglas has built the rest of the team up  — the run game, the line, the receivers, the secondary all appear improved — but Wilson has essentially stayed in the background during their recent success. It’s possible, depending on his trajectory, they could view themselves as a proven QB away from making a real run.
  • Titans: As goes Derrick Henry, so goes Ryan Tannehill, basically. The latter helped turn Tennessee into a viable competitor under Mike Vrabel, but he’s probably hit his ceiling as a Jimmy Garoppolo-esque placeholder. More than that, he’s owed $36.6M at age 35 in 2023 — the fifth-highest total among all QBs. After spending a third-rounder on Malik Willis, Tennessee could easily talk itself into another cheaper and/or higher-upside alternative to separate from the pack in the AFC South.

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