Last spring, with the Eagles still not quite sure about Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman made the first of many shrewd offseason moves.
The Eagles had three first-round picks in the 2022 draft – Nos. 15, 16 and 19. But the quarterback crop in the draft wasn’t very good. Just one – Pitt’s Kenny Pickett – would end up drafted in the first two rounds.
When the Saints approached Philadelphia in early April about a swap that would send the Eagles’ 16th and 19th overall picks to New Orleans in exchange for the Saints’ first-round pick (No. 18), their first-round pick in the 2023 draft and their second-round pick in the 2024 draft, Roseman was happy to oblige.
With the quarterback forecast for the 2023 draft much better than ’22, Roseman figured adding a second first-round pick in ’23 would come in handy if Hurts struggled this season and the Eagles decided they needed to shop for another quarterback. If Hurts didn’t struggle, well, the Eagles would have multiple first-round picks to spend on other positional needs, plus a primo Day 2 pick in ’24.
Hurts hasn’t struggled. He’s blossomed into one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Twelve games into the season, the 11-1 Eagles have the best record in the NFL, and Hurts is the league MVP frontrunner.
When the season is over, Roseman won’t be spending his time evaluating the 2023 quarterback draft class. He’ll be spending it trying to sign Hurts to a contract extension.
While the Eagles’ quarterback situation is settled, that’s not the case with several other NFL clubs.
Spinning Offseason QB Carousel
The Panthers became buyers – again – this week when they released Baker Mayfield five months after trading for him. He was picked up by the Los Angeles Rams, whose Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Matthew Stafford, will miss the rest of the season with a spinal cord contusion.
The 1-10-1 Texans benched Davis Mills two weeks ago and no longer view him as a possible long-term answer. So they’re expected to use their first-round pick, which could be the first overall selection, on a quarterback.
In Indianapolis, the chances of Matt Ryan returning for a second year with the Colts are somewhere between slim and none, which means they need to find another quarterback.
The picture is a little more muddled in some other places. Carson Wentz almost certainly won’t be back with Washington. Plucky Taylor Heinicke has energized the Commanders and helped keep them in the playoff hunt since he replaced Wentz two months ago. But they don’t really view him as a long-term answer.
Andy Dalton has played pretty well for the 4-9 Saints. And since the Saints’ first-round pick is now in the Eagles’ possession, Dalton could wind up being their best 2023 quarterback option. Or it could be Jameis Winston. Or it could be neither.
The 5-8 Falcons have decided that they want to go with rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder down the season’s final stretch to see what they have in him. But getting somebody else isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“This much is clear: If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re going to keep digging until you get one. Because if you want to win in this league, you need one.” — Charles Davis
The Giants have to make a decision on their quarterback, Daniel Jones, who has played well, but will be a free agent after the season.
Their MetLife Stadium neighbor, the Jets, have to decide what to do about their struggling young quarterback, Zach Wilson, who was benched two weeks ago.
And who knows what’s going to happen with the Packers and Buccaneers, where Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady likely will determine their own fates. If they want to return, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.
In Denver, the Broncos — for better or worse — are stuck with Russell Wilson and his $245 million contract, while his old team, the Seahawks, are hopeful of re-signing the guy that replaced him, Geno Smith.
“I think we’re going to see a reasonable amount (of quarterback change) in the offseason,” said Charles Davis, an analyst for The 33rd Team. “This year was a referendum on certain quarterbacks and where certain teams were going to go.
“This much is clear: If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re going to keep digging until you get one. Because if you want to win in this league, you need one.”
Yes, you do. But you need to get it right. You can’t keep flailing in the dark the way Carolina has the last few years, going from Cam Newton to Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to Mayfield.
“Everybody thinks they have a quarterback issue,” said Rich Gannon, an analyst for The 33rd Team who played 17 years in the NFL and was the league MVP in 2002. “They all say the same thing. We’ve got to get rid of this guy. We can do better than Derek Carr or whomever.
“No problem. Do it. But who are you going to get to replace him? That’s the question. Is there somebody on the roster or in the draft or in free agency that can come in and be better?”
The early reviews on the quarterback crop in the 2023 draft are fairly positive, certainly better than a year ago. Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis all could be top-10 picks. A total of nine quarterbacks currently are ranked in The 33rd Team’s big board of the top 100 draft prospects.
Giants: Has Daboll Fixed Jones?
The Giants drafted Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft. But they didn’t exercise the fifth-year option on his contract in April, which seemed to be an indication that 2022 would be his last year with the team.
But Jones has had a solid season despite playing behind a work-in-progress offensive line and having possibly the league’s worst receiving corps at his disposal. He’s completed 66.4% of his passes, has thrown just four interceptions, and has rushed for 522 yards and four touchdowns for the Giants, who are an impressive 7-4-1 under first-year coach Brian Daboll.
“Has he shown enough that they’ve seen what they want in terms of their future?” Davis said. “I think (general manager) Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll will make that assessment when all is said and done. And I don’t think they’ll tip their hand until they’ve made that full assessment. But as well as he’s played, I still would be very surprised if they weren’t assessing this quarterback class as well.”
Gannon thinks Daboll has had a very positive impact on Jones’ improved play this season.
“I think the best thing that happened to him was Brian coming in and putting his arm around him,” Gannon said. “It’s similar to what happened in Miami with Tua (Tagovailoa). I don’t even know if (former Dolphins head coach) Brian Flores talked to Tua. He didn’t know whether he was coming or going.
“Then Mike McDaniel gets hired. Before he even gets off the plane, he calls Tua from his jet and says, ‘Hey, you’re my guy.’ He rehabilitated his confidence. I’m seeing a lot of that with Daboll and Jones. He said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to help him this year and make him a player. And then, at the end of the season, we’ll make a decision.’
“I think the best thing that happened to him was Brian coming in and putting his arm around him. It’s similar to what happened in Miami with Tua. I don’t even know if Brian Flores talked to Tua. He didn’t know whether he was coming or going.” — Rich Gannon
“Daniel Jones has played really solid football this year. They’ve been in just about every game with a chance to win. He’s taken care of the football. He’s made good decisions despite the fact that they’re terrible around him. I mean, if he and Saquon Barkley don’t have a great game, they ain’t winning.
“So, I give the kid a lot of credit. He’s got some real toughness to him. When his feet are good and he’s able to set his feet, he can be a very accurate thrower. And he’s got a lot of intangibles that you like at the position.
“He’s picked up some bad habits. He’s been through some coaching changes and coordinator changes and system changes that haven’t helped his growth and development. But I haven’t given up on him. I think these next four or five weeks are critically important to him as the Giants prepare to make a decision. I don’t think the book’s been written on him yet in terms of how good he can be. He may turn into another Alex Smith, I don’t know.”
As things stand right now, the Giants would have the 23rd overall pick in the draft, which obviously isn’t high enough to get one of the draft’s top three or four quarterbacks. That limits their options and puts a little more pressure on them to re-sign Jones. But Jones almost certainly will have other suitors because of the way he’s played this season.
“As I mentioned earlier, they may not absolutely, positively love the guy and be convinced that he’s the long-term answer,” Gannon said. “But given where they’re probably going to be drafting, there’s not going to be a slam-dunk guy there. And it’s not like there’s going to be a lot of great quarterbacks bouncing around in free agency.”
Jets: Wilson or White?
Down the hall at MetLife Stadium, the Jets are also facing a quarterback dilemma, though not as time-sensitive as the one the Giants are facing. Wilson, who was the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, has struggled. He threw just four touchdown passes and had five interceptions in seven starts, with a 55.6 completion percentage. Worse, his attitude and work ethic have come into question.
Head coach Robert Saleh benched him two weeks ago. His replacement, Mike White, played well in a win over the hapless Bears, and threw for 369 yards last week in a five-point loss to the 10-2 Vikings.
White will make his third straight start Sunday against the 9-3 Bills. The Jets haven’t given up on Wilson, but only time will tell what kind of impact his benching will have on him.
“I’m going to use the Joey Tribbiani air quotes here,” Davis said. “I think they’re going to do everything possible to ‘fix’ Zach Wilson. But what does ‘fix’ entail?
“Everybody piles on when it all goes south with a guy. But the playmaking ability, the daring-do that he has, you don’t want to take that out of him. But you want to get it to where he understands when and where to use it.
“I don’t really think the players respect Zach Wilson’s preparation. I don’t think they respected the fact that he was handed the job. I think (benching him) was the best decision Robert Saleh’s ever made. We’re going to find out how this guy responds to adversity. And whether he got the message.” — Rich Gannon
“Zach Wilson’s mechanics are destroyed right now. He wasn’t stepping into his throws. He was falling off his back foot. He was making these sidearm throws for no reason.
“They’re going to do everything possible to get it right with Zach Wilson. You don’t spend a No. 2 overall pick and give up on him that quickly. But they’re definitely evaluating that position. Mike White is doing a nice job, but (general manager) Joe Douglas is one of the better guys in the league and he’s going to his due diligence.”
Gannon thinks getting benched has been a good thing for Wilson.
“This is an experience he needed to go through,” he said. “My take is he came in and was handed the job. I think his performance last year was bad. Typically, you see a lot of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. But we haven’t seen that with him. His numbers this year are pretty much the same as his rookie year.
“At some point, you have to teach a guy that ball security is important, preparation is important. I question his preparation. When I watch him play and then watch Mike White come in and play, White is processing faster (than Wilson). He’s getting the ball out quicker. He knows where the quick-answer throws are. The timing, the anticipation, the rhythm of the offense all are better with White at quarterback.
“I don’t really think the players respect Zach Wilson’s preparation. I don’t think they respected the fact that he was handed the job. I think (benching him) was the best decision Robert Saleh’s ever made. We’re going to find out how this guy responds to adversity. And whether he got the message.
“If you want to be a top-tier quarterback, a franchise-level player at that position, the most important part of it is the preparation. If you’re not putting the hours in on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if you’re not the first guy in and last to leave, if you’re not studying, if you’re not the CEO and the air-traffic controller, then somebody else is going to be playing.”
Commanders: Heinicke Decision
Since Taylor Heinicke replaced Carson Wentz as the starter in Washington, the Commanders have gone 5-1-1 and remain in the thick of the playoff hunt with a 7-5-1 record.
Wentz has almost certainly started his last game in D.C. Heinicke’s future beyond this season remains to be seen. Like Daniel Jones, he’ll be a free agent in 2023.
“It’s been night and day watching how that team has rallied around Heinicke compared to when Wentz was in there,” Gannon said. “Heinicke is who he is. He’s gritty. He’s tough. I think he wears No. 4 because of (Brett) Favre. He’s got some of that Favre mentality. He’s physically and mentally tough. He’s got a lot of qualities that you like.
“Is he going to be a perennial Pro Bowl player? No. He’s got some physical limitations size-wise and with his arm. I think Washington is going to continue to look at that position (for someone better). But in the meantime, Heinicke is a pretty good option. He’s growing on people there.”
Saints: Starting All Over Again?
The Saints have to make decisions on two quarterbacks – Dalton and Winston. Three if you count jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill. The Saints would be in decent position to draft a quarterback if they hadn’t traded away their first-round pick to the Eagles. Even without a first-round pick, Davis thinks there’s a good chance neither Dalton nor Winston, who started the first three games this season before getting hurt, will be back.
“I don’t know what (Saints coach) Dennis Allen’s thinking is down there,” he said. “But I think there’s a strong possibility we’re looking at two quarterbacks potentially being gone from New Orleans and they start fresh. And Taysom Hill isn’t the starting fresh guy. Hill is best in the role he’s in. He’s wonderful at it. But he’s not your starting quarterback going forward.”
Brady, Rodgers Control Own Futures
There will be a lot of conjecture about Brady and Rodgers as we get closer to the end of the season. Gannon and Davis think they’ll both play and stay put in 2023.
“Anybody who has any doubts about the physical abilities of those guys right now, there are no physical limitations with either of them,” Gannon said. “I think both of them are struggling with trust issues right now with both their receivers and their protection. They’re getting by by being checkdown kings. But that’s it.”
Said Davis: “The decision about whether they come back will be made by them. I was shocked last year when Tom initially retired. It just didn’t seem real to me. And he came back. I think he wants to keep playing.
“Rodgers, if anybody wants to know how he feels about playing, just turn on the tape from Sunday (in a 28-19 win over the Bears). They were down. He’s hurt. They were essentially a loss away from shutting him down so they could get some snaps for Jordan Love. Didn’t happen. He brought them back from 13 points down.
“He doesn’t act to me like a guy who wants to sit down, who wants to call it quits. I think he wants to keep playing. Green Bay will have to figure out some other things. But if he wants to play (next year), they’d be crazy not to bring him back and let him play.”