Relationships are hard to explain even when they are easy to feel. The same is true in football. The relationship between a team and quarterback is rarely as simple as “franchise player.” The relationships between teams and QBs have more in common with our own personal relationships than we’d like to think. Considering this is the time of year that NFL teams must reflect on their personnel, your NFL team might be experiencing the same emotions around Valentine’s Day as you. This year, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day (and by “celebrating” I mean “watching it come and go while eating chocolate”), by ranking every team’s relationship with their starting quarterback from least committed to most committed. Advanced stats can define player value, but this is the only place anyone will Define The Relationship (DTR) for every team in the NFL.
Getting Older and Getting Over
32. New England Patriots and Tom Brady: Dad is living in a hotel for a few weeks to figure things out.
Right now Tom just needs some space. Considering what a dedicated partner he’s been for two decades, he’s earned it. Brady is a free agent for the first time in his career, but nobody is sure whether he really wants to leave or whether he is just trying to send a message.
These two have had so much success it’s easy to forget all the warning signs that things weren’t as they appeared. There were fights in public, and that time the Pats told Tom they didn’t want his trainer around the house anymore. And who could forget all of those cheating scandals? There were also those rumors that the Pats were thinking about running away with a younger guy.
But after 20 years and six rings together, it’s hard to imagine either side with anyone else. It feels more likely that Tom just wants his voice to be heard, and that meant showing the Patriots he is serious about leaving if they don’t clean up their act. When was the last time the Patriots bought Tom a nice pair of wide receivers? No, N’Keal Harry and Phillip Dorsett don’t count. The Patriots have been with Brady for two decades and they don’t even know what kind of players he likes. If they haven’t changed by now, maybe they never will. Tom Brady’s father always said this relationship would end badly.
31. Los Angeles Chargers and Philip Rivers: “It was mutual.”
The Chargers wasted the best years of Philip’s life. In truth, this relationship was over two years ago when they moved out of their place in San Diego for Los Angeles. Everyone told them moving was a mistake. (Sometimes people look for change for change’s sake, which is how you end up playing football in a soccer stadium.) But now that they’re no longer together, they’re finally in a position to thrive. Philip moved to Florida, and maybe he’ll reunite with his buddies in Indianapolis.
30. Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton: Haven’t Instagrammed in months.
Panthers owner David Tepper already said all options were on the table with Newton, who is entering the final year of his contract. Newton missed most of the 2019 season with a foot injury, and this week Tepper said he didn’t even know how Newton was health-wise.
“There’s a lot of different things that can happen,” Tepper told reporters about Newton in 2020. “But first, is he healthy? Tell me that and we can talk.”
Ah, so this is an I don’t have to text them, they have to text ME situation. Classic. Considering Tepper gave new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule a seven-year contract worth $60 million, and Newton turns 31 this year, they may not be on the same timeline.
29. Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton: Keeping the seat warm.
The Bengals are used to settling. They stuck with Andy Dalton for years even though everyone knew he was perfectly average. For a long time they gave up on hoping they’d ever find someone better. But Cincinnati has a feeling that its dream guy is right around the corner.
Going Through a Rough Patch
28. Chicago Bears and Mitchell Trubisky: “I know I need to break up with him, but I don’t have the strength to do it.”
Chicago doesn’t want to seem ungrateful. The Bears have much to be thankful for: the Khalil Mack trade, the Allen Robinson signing, the Kyle Fuller extension. Other teams have real problems—imagine being Jacksonville! But the Bears still feel like they’re in a rut. They know what they have to do, but they can’t find the strength to do it.
Mitchell Trubisky is a nice guy. He’s polite and respectful. But Mitch is not the one, which is tough to swallow since the Bears spent the no. 2 pick on him in 2017 instead of Deshaun Watson or Pat Mahomes. (Why does Chicago have the worst taste in quarterbacks?!) Kansas City and Houston are going to propose to Mahomes and Watson any week now, but the Bears are about to be single again just when the franchise turns 100 years old this year. Single at a century is too much for Chicago to bear. It’s hard to break up, but it’s harder when your friends are settling down.
27. Los Angeles Rams and Jared Goff: Got married too young.
The Rams tied the knot by signing Goff to a four-year, $134 million extension last year, and the marriage is already a disaster. Two years ago, Jared and the Rams were everyone’s golden couple. Goff outdueled Mahomes and the Chiefs in a 54-51 win on Monday Night Football and made the Super Bowl. That feels like forever ago. He’s not himself in the pocket, has lost his confidence under pressure, and all the spice is gone on third down. Those spontaneous play-action fakes are now predictable. The Rams’ love language is gift giving, and they’ve gotten Goff players like Brandin Cooks and Sammy Watkins the past few years, but Goff got bored of throwing to those guys pretty quickly.
Worst of all, they are too financially intertwined to split. Goff ranked 23rd in ESPN’s total quarterback rating in 2019 but will have the highest cap hit ($36 million) in 2020. Goff, Sean McVay, and general manager Les Snead all signed extensions last year. They’re going to have to make the best of this situation, but it seems like the best is already behind them.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jameis Winston: A roller-coaster ride.
Some people don’t take out the trash and blame their back problems, some people throw 30 interceptions in a season and get LASIK surgery. The highs are high with Jameis, but the lows are so low the Bucs are probably better off solo.
25. Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr: This relationship will not survive a trip to Las Vegas.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and Derek Carr are planning to live next door to each other in Sin City. It’s good that their trip to Vegas is beginning on a strong note, because it will not end that way. Gruden is easily distracted by younger, sexier quarterbacks. As former Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms said about playing for Gruden last year: “Unless you’re the MVP of football at the quarterback position, he’s just the type of guy that is always going to be looking at the quarterbacks if he can improve the position. Is there anybody out there that I’m missing? [Gruden] is very hard to satisfy that way.”
Carr has already struggled to satisfy Gruden in their time together. In Vegas it will be hard for Gruden not to notice all the other quarterbacks out there. Teddy Bridgewater? Cam Newton? Philip Rivers? It will be hard for Gruden to keep his Spider 2 Y Banana to himself.
24. Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz: Happy on Instagram but always fighting IRL.
We all know the couple who fights in private and makes up in public. Eagles fans don’t complain about Carson Wentz in front of company, but in private all they do is bicker about him. Is he there when you need him? Is he the right long-term guy? Why didn’t we stick with Nick when we had the chance? On the surface, Eagles fans will defend Wentz, but deep down they wonder whether they chose the wrong guy.
23. Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield: The honeymoon is over.
Baker thought he could be the Browns’ dream guy by being brash. Back in August, football fans were inundated with magazine profiles and national advertising campaigns starring the Browns’ new beau. But Cleveland didn’t need large, flashy, declarative acts of love. In fact, the team doesn’t even know what to do with that (just like Baker didn’t know what to do with his mustache). Cleveland needs stability. Baker wasn’t quite ready for that. He tried to put the entire home stadium on his shoulders in those Progressive ads, but all he learned was that protecting the Browns’ house isn’t so easy. The smart money is still on this couple working out long-term. The honeymoon is over, but Baker understands this is where the hard work begins.
22. Indianapolis Colts and Jacoby Brissett: Twosome who might add a third (it can work).
The Colts were left at the altar by Andrew Luck, and now they’re in an experimental phase. They fell into a great situation with Jacoby Brissett, who gave them what they needed at first (the Colts began the season 5-2, even better than they did with Luck in 2018). But that hot start quickly faded, and it made the Colts wonder whether Brissett would work out.
“The jury’s still out,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters after the season. “That’s why we did the short-term deal with Jacoby, to have the security of a player we liked and to find out if he can be the guy.”
Ballard didn’t rule out adding another quarterback into the mix. Sometimes a competition can be productive, but sometimes it can be toxic. The key is making sure everyone is on the same page and managing expectations.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars and Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew II: Threesome looking to add a fourth (these never work).
The Jaguars finally got out of a disaster they willingly stayed in for years (his name was Blake, that’s a whole ’nother story we don’t have time for right now) and picked up Nick Foles. But all of Jacksonville’s friends are obsessed with Gardner. It’s going to be hard to pick between the two of them, but the deeper truth is that Jacksonville’s relationship with Blake set the bar so low that anyone may have been an improvement. The Jaguars may have to add another person to the mix to find the right quarterback.
20. Miami Dolphins and Ryan Fitzpatrick: They say they want to settle down but keep hanging with older bad boys.
The Dolphins say they are about to embark on a youth movement, but they are taking Ryan Fitzpatrick into a contract year. Perhaps they could find someone more age appropriate in the draft, like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, but would you really be surprised if they spent the rest of 2020 with Fitzmagic?
“Where Is this Going?”
19. Denver Broncos and Drew Lock: Dorky, but kind of in a funny way?
18. Washington and Dwayne Haskins: The boyfriend who is always on his phone.
Haskins missed the final snap of his first win as Washington’s quarterback because he was taking a selfie with a fan. When you’re committed to a 22-year-old, sometimes they’re going to be on their phones when they shouldn’t be.
17. New York Giants and Eli Manning/Daniel Jones: Got divorced and found a younger version of the same guy.
The Giants dumped Eli Manning and immediately began dating a much younger version of Eli Manning.
The heart wants what the heart wants. Daniel Jones is the same height as Eli, the same weight as Eli, and apparently has many of the same speaking patterns and personality traits as Eli. They even had the same coach in college. Some people just have a type.
16. New York Jets and Sam Darnold: His family is the worst.
The Jets like Sam Darnold. He’s a talented young man who has shown some real promise as a long-term quarterback. But the people he comes with—head coach Adam Gase, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and the rest of the Jets staff—are a complicated bunch. Gase’s former players, like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Kenyan Drake, and receiver DeVante Parker, have had the best seasons of their careers immediately after escaping the coach’s clutches. Gase has already undermined free-agent running back Le’Veon Bell, and Darnold might be next.
15. Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins: You love that?
The Vikings and Kirk made the rash decision to move in with each other a couple of years ago. Two seasons in and it’s going … fine. The playoff win this year was nice, but has it moved the needle on whether fans want to settle down with Kirk long-term? He’s entering the last year of his contract, and fans Vike him, but they aren’t sure if they Vove him.
14. Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen: They make each other happy, and that’s what matters.
Is Josh right for everyone? No. But Buffalo isn’t for everyone, either.
13. Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger: Neither has a better option.
Nobody expects this to last much longer, but nobody is in a rush to end things either.
12. Detroit Lions and Matt Stafford: Good dude in a toxic relationship.
Matt Stafford has always been there for the Lions, but if it doesn’t work this year, it might never work. The Lions are nowhere near the disaster they were when Matt came into their life in 2009, but they haven’t improved enough to let him really thrive, ya know? Everyone wants Matt to succeed, and the Lions are afraid they’re holding him back. With the no. 3 pick in the draft, maybe it would be better if the Lions got some time to work on themselves while Matt tries something new. It’s not you, it’s me, but for real.
11. San Francisco 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo: Trophy husband who signed a prenup.
Jimmy looks the part, but nobody is sure what else he’s bringing to the table. The 49ers signed Jimmy to a large deal: five years for $137.5 million. But most of the guaranteed money has already been paid. If the 49ers wanted to trade him in any of the next three years, it would cost them a small cap penalty. Without a true commitment to him, nobody is quite sure how this relationship will age over time.
10. New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees/Teddy Bridgewater/Taysom Hill: Afraid to commit.
The Saints have three quarterbacks, all of varying ages and none under contract. Drew Brees is obviously their favorite, but he’s 41. That relationship is not going to last much longer. The inability to move on has probably cost them a chance to settle down with Teddy Bridgewater, who is likely going to end up with somebody else next month. Keeping Taysom Hill on the back burner through all of this has made him want to have a prominent role, whether with the Saints or elsewhere. By playing all three quarterbacks, the Saints may have played themselves.
Gonna Have to Put a Ring on It
9. Tennessee Titans and Ryan Tannehill: Met on spring break and it … worked?
Last year, the Titans made a surprising decision in mid-March to add this guy Ryan. Everyone figured it was a short-term thing—it’s spring break in Miami, right? Nobody thought much of it. But it turns out he has been a dedicated and excellent partner, and they’re even thinking about moving in together. Who would have thought this one would work out?
8. Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott: Waited too long to propose and now they have a deadline.
The Cowboys and Dak Prescott have known they want to settle down with each other for years, but Dallas has been dragging its feet. Jerry Jones is not afraid to publicly announce his devotion to Dak long-term, but there is still no ring on Dak’s finger or long-term contract with Dak’s name on it. Now the Cowboys have delayed so long that they’re going to have to buy one big ring for Dak to say yes.
7. Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan: Happily married, boring sex.
You know it’s true.
6. Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers: Fighting complacency.
Aaron was perfect for so long, but now he isn’t pulling his weight around the house. It’s hard not to wonder whether he is resting on his laurels. Packers fans can’t remember the last time he took out the trash or hit Geronimo Allison in stride.
5. Cardinals and Kyler Murray: Madly in love.
Last year, Kyler Murray was the homewrecker ruining Josh Rosen’s life. But we may look back and see Kyler as the Jim to Kliff Kingsbury’s Pam (and see Josh Rosen as the Roy in all of this).
4. Houston Texans and Deshaun Watson: Bill O’Brien’s outkicking his coverage.
Deshaun Watson is out of the Texans’ league, so him falling to Houston in the draft was stunning. Considering Bill O’Brien is three-quarters coaching the Texans and one-quarter running the front office (but excelling at neither), he never could have landed such a steal again. He’ll do whatever it takes to sign Watson on long-term.
3. Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson: Ciara and Russell Wilson.
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks are completely and utterly devoted to each other. They exist in perfect harmony and their relationship seems to get better with each passing year. It’s a lot like Russell Wilson’s relationship with his actual, real-life wife Ciara. Every Sunday, Russ makes Seahawks fans swoon like he does to Ciara in this Mother’s Day Instagram (instead of a third child, Russ teases a third Super Bowl appearance).
2. Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson: Relationship goals.
Few thought this relationship would happen. Even the Ravens passed up their first opportunity to take Jackson in the first round of 2018 before trading back into the first round for him. But once Baltimore saw what Lamar could do, they dedicated themselves to each other for the long haul.
That is the NFL MVP—Most Valuable Partner.
1. Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes: Always the bridesmaid, finally the bride.
It used to be that everyone would root for Andy Reid, but it would never happen. Not when the Eagles made four consecutive NFC championship games. Not when the Chiefs collapsed against the Colts or Titans in the playoffs. Not when his squad lost to the Patriots. After coming so close and failing so many times, people began to wonder whether Andy was the problem. But all that experience gave Andy soft eyes. Nobody saw Patrick Mahomes’s potential as clearly as the Chiefs did. It took 20 years, but Reid has finally found the perfect guy. At least somebody is happy.