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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Analyzing the NFL quarterback landscape

Elite talent, big money and questionable quarterback rooms make an interesting quarterback landscape

By PATRICK FIGUEROA — sports@theaggie.org

The major portions of the NFL offseason, such as free agency, the draft and the schedule reveal, have passed. While there still may be transactions in the future, it is a good time to analyze the current quarterback landscape in the NFL. With elite names, controversies, young players looking to take the next step and questionable quarterback rooms, the quarterback position around the league is at an interesting spot. 

Starting with the upper echelon of the position, the elite quarterbacks in the NFL right now include Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Josh Allen. These quarterbacks have all played at very high levels in big moments, along with being the primary reasons for their teams’ success. 

Patrick Mahomes is arguably the most talented quarterback ever and despite having a regular season below fans’ expectations, he still managed to throw 48 touchdowns along with 5,896 yards across the regular season and postseason. Aaron Rodgers is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons after posting an efficient 37 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Tom Brady continues to beat father time after finishing second in the MVP race and posting 5,316 yards, 43 touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.1 during the 2021 regular season. Josh Allen is a new face in this tier of quarterbacks, but has earned this spot after a phenomenal 2021 postseason where Allen threw nine touchdowns, had no interceptions and had a passer rating of 149. 

The next tier of quarterbacks are franchise quarterbacks whose teams are comfortable paying a high salary because of their talent. All of these quarterbacks have the potential to move up to the upper echelon of quarterbacks as well. In this tier, there is Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Matthew Stafford, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson. 

From this list of players, one of the more notable players is Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Coming off a season where he threw 24 touchdowns for 3,787 yards while also accumulating 423 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in 14 games, Murray was an early season MVP candidate before suffering an injury. However, the season did not end well after a disappointing 34-11 Wild Card loss versus their division rival, the Los Angeles Rams. Murray was in the headlines earlier in the offseason after unfollowing the Arizona Cardinals and scrubbing the team from his social media in early February. Analysts speculated that Murray wanted a new contract and the lack of negotiations upset Murray. However, he would later restore all of his Instagram posts in March and respond to questions regarding these decisions.

“I’m an Arizona Cardinal,” Murray said. “I’ve done nothing but give my all to the Cardinals and will continue to do that.” 

Murray is tied to the Cardinals for at least two more years before his rookie contract is up. He will be worth keeping an eye on to see if he will receive a contract extension anytime soon. 

Another quarterback from this tier worth mentioning is Russell Wilson. Traded from the Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos, Wilson looks to return to elite form after an underwhelming 2021 season highlighted by a thumb injury. The injury hampered Wilson as he only threw for 3,113 yards and 25 touchdowns in 14 games. However, going to the Broncos will give him an opportunity to bounce back. The Broncos have talented offensive players like wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Javonte Williams that can help Wilson do so. 

In the next tier of quarterbacks, these are guys who are good quarterbacks but are heavily reliant on having a good surrounding core of offensive players around them to succeed. This tier includes Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Derek Carr recently signed a contract extension for three years that is worth 121.5 million dollars. While making him the fifth-highest paid quarterback in the NFL stands out, Carr has performed well in recent years. He looks to help the Raiders compete in a competitive AFC West, especially after adding star wide receiver and his former college teammate Davante Adams. 

Matt Ryan was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a third round pick prior to the NFL draft. He is yet another new quarterback in this Colts’ quarterback carousel, which has now featured a new starting quarterback every year for the last five years. The Colts hope the 37 year-old quarterback can offer some stability for at least a few years, and help the Colts make the playoffs. 

Jimmy Garoppolo was expected to be traded earlier this offseason, but is yet to be moved. Possibly due to shoulder surgery, the quarterback was not traded and remains on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster. This makes the 49ers’ quarterback room intriguing, as second year quarterback Trey Lance appeared to be the team’s new starting quarterback for the 2022 season. Will Jimmy Garoppolo be traded soon or will there be a quarterback competition between Garoppolo and Lance for the starting job? That’s the question that will follow the 49ers the rest of the offseason.

Speaking of Trey Lance, he and other young quarterbacks make up a tier of quarterbacks with uncertain futures. Many of these players have the potential and opportunity to be franchise quarterbacks, as well as a high draft pedigree. However, they must make a successful transition to the NFL. In this tier, there is Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, Jordan Love, Jalen Hurts, Davis Mills and Kenny Pickett. Some of these players have much higher potential than others, but there is an element of uncertainty with each one. 

Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love is in an interesting position. A first round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, Love’s in-game action has been limited because he is playing behind Aaron Rodgers. With Rodgers signing a contract extension worth 150.8 million dollars over three years, this means that Love’s rookie contract is set to expire before Rodgers’ new contract. Ideally, Love should have been traded this offseason, but he was not. The former first round pick’s future is uncertain. 

The final tier of quarterbacks are players who are low-end starters and are more likely to be short-term options for their respective teams. In this tier, there is Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, Sam Darnold and Marcus Mariota.

Baker Mayfield stands out in this tier of quarterbacks. The former first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft is sitting on the trade block after the Cleveland Browns acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans, leaving Mayfield to look for a new team. 

Mayfield was rumored to be traded to the Panthers on draft night, but the negotiations fell apart as there was disagreement on which side would pay the rest of Mayfield’s $19 million dollar salary. The Panthers also drafted young quarterback Matt Corral from Ole Miss in the third round, which effectively ended any chance of the Panthers acquiring Mayfield. With no clear trade partner, Mayfield remains on the Browns roster. Cutting Mayfield would result in the Browns taking nearly a 19 million dollar cap hit, but it may be their only option at this point. 

The quarterback position is vital to team success. When comparing the best quarterbacks in the NFL to the bottom tier, it is night and day. With a high-end quarterback, there is much less uncertainty regarding what on-field product teams will receive, and a clearer picture of teams’ futures for the 2022 season and beyond. It is why teams will do anything to get “their guy.” With offseason training ramping up, it is time for these quarterbacks to step up and lead their team into the 2022 NFL season. 

Written by: Patrick Figueroa — sports@theaggie.org