With quarterback the most important position in football (and likely all team sports), it’s no surprise that position dominates the NFL’s most impactful changes leading into next week’s regular-season openers.
Here’s my list of each NFL division’s most important 2023 offseason change:
Important Offseason Changes
AFC East: Aaron Rodgers Joins New York Jets
On the day before the 2023 NFL Draft and after many months of speculation, the Green Bay Packers traded their four-time MVP and 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback. They also traded first- and fifth-round 2023 picks to the New York Jets in exchange for the Jets’ first-, second- and sixth-round selections in 2023 and a conditional second-round pick in 2024.
Aaron Rodgers provides a major upgrade for a team that lost its last six games to finish 7-10. Subpar quarterback play was the biggest problem for the Jets, who had a top-five defense. Surprisingly, Rodgers helped the Jets’ salary cap by agreeing to a $34 million pay cut over 2023 and 2024.
Rodgers started last week’s preseason finale and threw a touchdown pass in his limited action. As he heads into the Monday night opener against the Buffalo Bills, there are two big questions. Will Rodgers play better than he did in his final Packers season (with the help of a good supporting cast at the Jets’ skill positions)? And can a Jets offensive line that was banged up last year and in the preseason hold up for him to help deliver the Jets’ first playoff team since 2010?
The NFL’s biggest storyline this season is Rodgers going to the Jets and how things unfold this season.
AFC North: Lamar Jackson Gets Long-Term Deal
Lamar Jackson represented himself in protracted negotiations with the Baltimore Ravens over several years. It appeared he would be forced to play under the non-exclusive franchise tag of $32.4 million after no teams tried to sign Jackson under the non-exclusive tag. Any offer Jackson accepted would’ve given the Ravens two first-round picks in compensation.
So, Jackson and the Ravens continued to negotiate a long-term deal. The five-year, $260 million contract signed by Jackson in April made the 2019 NFL MVP the highest-paid quarterback in actual compensation. Justin Herbert’s $262.5 million extension over five years is worth less when factoring in his two remaining years under contract prior to the extension.
Jackson also received $135 million guaranteed at signing and $185 million in total guarantees, a $72.5 million signing bonus and clauses stating no trade and no franchise or transition tag after the final year.
The Ravens also helped Jackson by upgrading his receiving corps with the additions of free agent Odell Beckham Jr. and first-round pick Zay Flowers. The big question is whether Jackson — as a great running quarterback — can stay healthy after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, including the playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in January.
AFC South: First-Year QBs to Start in Houston, Indy
C.J. Stroud was picked second overall by the Houston Texans, and Anthony Richardson was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the fourth overall pick. These two rookie quarterbacks were named starters by their head coaches, who are both entering their first seasons at the helm: DeMeco Ryans with the Texans and Shane Steichen with the Colts.
Stroud was expected to start over Davis Mills after an outstanding two years as Ohio State’s starter. He compiled a 21-4 record with 85 touchdown passes and only 12 interceptions.
Richardson is considered more raw after just one season as Florida’s starter. He completed only 53.8 percent of his passes with 17 TD passes and nine interceptions. But he showed his athleticism with 654 rushing yards and nine rushing TDs.
Gardner Minshew is the Colts’ backup quarterback. He was with Steichen in Philadelphia when Steichen was offensive coordinator, and Minshew was the backup to Jalen Hurts the past two seasons. Minshew entered the offseason much more familiar with Steichen’s offense. Yet, Richardson will start the opener against the defending division champion Jacksonville Jaguars with Minshew ready to step in if needed.
AFC West: Can Sean Payton Restore Russell Wilson?
After a disastrous 5-12 season in 2022 that resulted in the firing of coach Nathaniel Hackett after only one season, the Denver Broncos traded a first-round pick in 2023 and a 2024 second-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for Sean Payton and the Saints’ 2024 third-round pick.
Payton was the Saints’ head coach for 15 years, with seven division titles, nine playoff berths and a victory in Super Bowl XLIV. He is a renowned offensive and quarterback guru who helped elevate Drew Brees to a Hall of Fame career. Now Payton is tasked with resurrecting Russell Wilson as an elite quarterback after his down season in 2022. He was 4-11 as the Broncos starter with a career-low 84.4 passer rating.
As he seeks to improve the league’s No. 21-ranked offense, Payton must shore up Wilson’s protection after he was sacked a league-high 55 times last season.
It will be a big challenge for Payton to return the Broncos to the playoffs after a seven-year absence and to prominence in the tough AFC West. The division features the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs led by league MVP Patrick Mahomes, a 2022 playoff team in the Los Angeles Chargers with a dynamic quarterback in Herbert and the Las Vegas Raiders, who made the playoffs in 2021 and have a new starting quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, who has a 40-17 career record in New England and San Francisco.
NFC East: Eagles Retool, Remain Conference Favorite
Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman again proved he’s one of the league’s best at maneuvering within the salary cap. He worked voidable deals and the draft to keep the team likely among the league’s elite.
The Eagles lost seven starters off last year’s NFC champion team yet re-signed many of their top players and team leaders, including center Jason Kelce, cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry and defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
Roseman attempted to offset the loss of Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders by trading a fourth-round pick to the Detroit Lions for D’Andre Swift and signing free agent Rashaad Penny, a former first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks.
Most importantly, the Eagles locked up Second-Team All-Pro Hurts on a five-year, $255 million extension after his great 2022 season. He went 14-1 as the starter, finished second in the MVP voting and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles also worked the draft to acquire talented (but controversial due to character questions) defensive tackle Jalen Carter to replace the departed Javon Hargrave. They also added a late first-round edge rusher in Nolan Smith.
NFC North: Jordan Love Era Begins in Green Bay
The Packers are under scrutiny after moving on from their drama-filled relationship with Rodgers and turning over the quarterback reigns to 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love. The Packers hope this long-awaited transition works out as well as when they elevated Rodgers to the starting spot by trading Brett Favre to the Jets in 2008.
Love has only one career start (a 2021 loss to the Chiefs when Rodgers was on the COVID-19 list). He replaced an injured Rodgers in Week 12 last season in Philadelphia and was impressive. He completed six of nine passes for 119 yards and one TD in the 40-33 loss.
After the Rodgers trade, Love signed a one-year extension through 2024 that includes $9 million of potential 2024 salary escalators based on his performance this season.
There’s been plenty of chatter about whether the Lions are going to overtake the defending champion Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. Still, the biggest spotlight in this division will be on Love’s performance as he replaces a future Hall of Famer. The focus is similar to what was on Rodgers in 2008 when he stepped in for the Hall of Famer Favre.
NFC South: Starting QBs in Flux For All Four Teams
Speaking of future Hall of Famers, the blockbuster story early in the offseason was the retirement — again, but this time apparently for good — of seven-time Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The quarterback wheels began turning during free agency, the draft and through training camp to the point that all four NFC South teams will have new starters this season.
Baker Mayfield for the defending division champion Buccaneers, Derek Carr, who has moved from the Raiders to the Saints, first-overall draft pick Bryce Young for the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons second-year man Desmond Ridder, who was their third-round pick in 2022 and went 2-2 in four starts last season.
All four teams had losing records last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see that happen again with these teams all in transition at the most critical position. The division champ this season will likely be the team whose quarterback plays the best from among Mayfield, Carr, Young and Ridder.
NFC West: Brock Purdy Still QB Amid Much Drama
The overriding story in this division during the offseason was the progress of Brock Purdy following his elbow surgery after his first-quarter injury in last season’s NFC title game doomed the San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes. Purdy, of course, saved the 49ers’ season when he stepped in for the injured Trey Lance and Garoppolo and won his first seven starts, leading the team to the division crown and two playoff victories.
Purdy’s surgery was delayed until early March as doctors waited for the swelling to subside. There were periodic updates from the team. First, the doctors did not find further damage and then anticipated timelines for Purdy to begin throwing, which occurred in late May. Then, he was cleared for full participation in training camp in late July.
Purdy was on a positive path during the offseason, so the dominoes began to fall in the 49ers’ quarterback plans. Garoppolo signed with the Raiders; Sam Darnold was signed to compete with former No. 3 overall pick Lance, whom Darnold beat out. That led to Lance’s trade to the Cowboys for only a fourth-round pick.
Purdy started the last two preseason games and played three total series to prove he’s ready to go on Sept. 10 for the opener in Pittsburgh. It was quite the eventful rookie season and past offseason for the last pick in the 2022 draft who emerged as QB1 for a Super Bowl contender.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.