Five weeks remain in the 2021 NFL season, and the playoff races are tight, particularly in the AFC. However, it's never too early to look ahead to the offseason, and you can bet several franchises are already focused on it.
One of the biggest storylines of this past offseason was the quarterback carousel. Five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, while Carson Wentz, Gardner Minshew II, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold were all traded.
We could see a similar amount of quarterback movement this offseason, even though the rookie quarterback class isn't perceived as especially strong. Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Bridgewater are just some of the signal-callers scheduled to hit the free-agent market. Quarterbacks may again be popular on the trade market, too.
Here, we'll dive into the seven teams most likely to have a new starter in 2022. We'll dive into their current quarterbacking situations, why changes are likely to occur and what the options are moving forward.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order.
The trade for Darnold has not worked out for the Carolina Panthers. The former New York Jets quarterback was a disaster before landing on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, posting a career-worst passer rating of just 71.3.
The Panthers have already picked up Darnold's fifth-year option, but it would be a shock to see him as Plan A in Carolina next season.
The Panthers brought back Cam Newton after Darnold's injury. While he played well in his first start of 2021, Newton was miserable in Week 12. He completed just five of 21 attempts in a 33-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins. That lopsided defeat led to the dismissal of offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
Unless Newton makes a significant improvement under interim coordinator Jeff Nixon, it's hard to envision him as more than a current-season stopgap.
According to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, the Panthers were interested in acquiring Deshaun Watson before the trade deadline but ultimately backed off. Watson could be an option in the spring, but he still faces 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints from women who have accused him of sexual assault or misconduct.
Carolina probably won't make a move on Watson until/unless his situation is resolved. Instead, the Panthers—who currently hold the No. 8 pick—will likely examine other options or take their chances in the 2022 draft.
Bridgewater beat out Drew Lock for the Denver Broncos' starting gig in camp, but he has failed to flourish in his new home. Bridgewater has a solid passer rating of 95.0 on the season but has struggled with consistency and pushing the ball down the field. He ranks 19th in yards per completion among qualifying quarterbacks.
In a division that features Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, a good game-manager isn't enough. With Bridgewater slated to hit free agency, expect the Broncos to look for an upgrade in the offseason.
The draft will be an option, but Denver is likely to first try its hand at the trade market. Along with Watson, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson could be available.
According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, the Packers have agreed to trade Rodgers after this year if he still wants out. Glazer also believes Wilson could try forcing his way out of Seattle in the offseason.
"Right now, everything's great. But in the offseason, can I see Russell do this again? A million percent. I see Russell trying to do this again," Glazer said on the NFL on Fox pregame show in October.
There's no guarantee Green Bay or Seattle will be willing to trade its quarterback, but the Broncos—who have the league's third-ranked scoring defense—are at least likely to try for a win-now move.