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The 2021 NFL Quarterback Commitment Index

Cuffing season is almost over, and an unprecedented number of teams are looking for new quarterbacks. Will Deshaun Watson be sweeping a new franchise off its feet next season? Who will the Jets be courting? And can the Packers’ public declarations of love keep Aaron Rodgers happy? 

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Spring is just around the corner, which means cuffing season is concluding. People are starting to exercise, post thirsty Instagrams, and find new partners. The football world is no different. Finding a quarterback in the NFL is like finding the right partner: It’s the most important decision a team can make. But teams, like people, make bad decisions all the time. And a lot of teams enter this offseason in quarterback limbo. There might be more new starting quarterbacks in 2021 than ever before. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted this week that he thought more than 18 teams would change passers, and only 10 starting jobs in the league are truly safe.

With all of this potential for movement, let’s check in on every team’s relationship with its starting quarterback. We’ll group them based on how things are going, starting with ...

Happily Married

  • Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes
  • Arizona Cardinals and Kyler Murray
  • Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson
  • Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield
  • Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Burrow
  • Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen
  • Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson
  • Los Angeles Chargers and Justin Herbert
  • Tennessee Titans and Ryan Tannehill
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady

These teams are madly in love with their quarterbacks. They’re like that annoying couple who has the audacity to be happy on Instagram. How dare you? Don’t you know the rest of us are miserable?

Newly Single and Looking to Mingle

Jacksonville Jaguars

Trevor Lawrence is Jacksonville’s dream catch.

New England Patriots

The one-year Cam Newton fling did not go well. Jarrett Stidham is a late-night text option, but nothing more.

Detroit Lions

The Lions will likely trade Matt Stafford this offseason, and the QB reportedly wants to go to a contender. A third of the league’s teams have already contacted Detroit about a trade, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, and honestly, good for Stafford. He has never been the bride, nor has he been the bridesmaid. He spent 12 seasons in Detroit and won zero playoff games. Almost half the teams in the league would be upgrading by getting him. He deserves to be in a more, uh, stable relationship.

Washington Football Team

Washington broke up with Dwayne Haskins a week after he was seen partying without their knowledge. A tale as old as time.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees is widely expected to retire this offseason. Breaking almost half of your ribs in your 40s will do that. Jameis Winston is a free agent, and considering Sean Payton’s obsession with Taysom Hill, it seems Hill is the favorite to take over in 2021.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have had a tough time since they were left at the altar by Andrew Luck. Philip Rivers retired, and now Colts owner Jim Irsay is talking wistfully about Luck again.

“[Luck] knows how much we’d love to have him be our quarterback, there’s just no question about that,” Irsay told reporters Wednesday. “But at the same time, we know for it to work out, he has to be the one that says, ‘You know what? I’m ready.’” The Colts clearly want him back, but they are waiting for him to make the first move.

Fighting in Public

Houston Texans

Deshaun Watson has officially requested a trade. The report came one day after the Texans hired [double-checks Google] David Culley? to be their next head coach. But Watson doesn’t want out because of Culley’s hiring. Instead, he’s reportedly upset about the many months of incompetence Houston had before that—that peaked when owner Cal McNair hired former Patriots executive Nick Caserio to be the team’s GM without consulting Watson. Watson was unhappy that his input on the GM search was ignored, and Adam Schefter reported that Watson found out about Caserio’s hiring on social media. Schefter also reported that Watson’s anger was at a 10 after the Caserio hiring, compared to the 2 he felt when DeAndre Hopkins was traded last spring. Watson all but confirmed that report with a tweet of Future lyrics earlier this month.

Watson is under contract for the next five seasons and is due nearly $150 million in that time. Players in that position usually have zero leverage. But this might be the perfect storm for a trade. NFL players can gain leverage in contract talks (or in this case, trade demands) by being willing to miss game checks. If players refuse to play, they don’t get paid. That is often a big enough threat to end disputes before they really begin. But Watson has made more than $40 million in his career thus far, plus endorsements. He has enough money to sit out and take a principled stand if that is what he wants. Another key aspect is that, unlike most NFL holdouts, many fans will be on Watson’s side. Oftentimes fans turn on players who seek trades, but the Texans have so thoroughly beclowned themselves in the past year that it’s easy to see Watson as the adult in the room. And while the Texans do not have to honor his request, Watson waiting them out could force the team to trade him and get draft picks in return.

Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz was so bad in 2020 that it seemed like the Eagles would do anything possible to offload his massive four-year, $128 million deal. That is over now. The Eagles fired head coach Doug Pederson earlier this month and hired former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni as his replacement. That move seems to show that owner Jeffrey Lurie chose Wentz over Pederson. Wentz’s relationship with Pederson was reportedly “unsalvageable.” And Sirianni recently worked under Frank Reich, who was the Eagles offensive coordinator in 2017 when Wentz had his near-MVP season. Philly firing Pederson and replacing him with one of Reich’s guys is entirely about the team trying to get Wentz back on track. The Sirianni hire is Philly’s version of marriage counseling.

Are They DMing With Someone Else?

New York Jets

When New York was on pace to get the no. 1 pick in April’s draft, the Jets were all but certain to select Trevor Lawrence and move on from Sam Darnold. When the regular season ended and they wound up with the no. 2 pick, the prevailing wisdom was that they’d still draft a quarterback—likely either Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson. Some expected Darnold would get traded to the 49ers because of how San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system could elevate Darnold’s game. But the Jets hired 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to be their head coach earlier this month, and Saleh hired 49ers passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur as his offensive coordinator. So instead of sending Darnold to San Francisco, the Jets brought San Francisco to Darnold, and it seemed like they might decide to keep him after all.

Now, though, there’s another plot twist. Deshaun Watson has formally requested a trade, and the Jets are one of the most logical destinations for him, considering they have four first-round picks over the next two years, plus Darnold. The other logical trade partner for Watson is ….

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins refuse to be satisfied with just one quarterback. Last season, Miami coach Brian Flores occasionally started rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa only to bench him for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick when things got tight in the fourth quarter. Flores dubbed Fitz a “closer,” and wouldn’t commit to one QB (how Miami of him). Tua’s benchings led to questions about whether the team should draft a quarterback in April, as they have the no. 3 pick (that they got from Houston in last year’s Laremy Tunsil trade). But Dolphins GM Chris Grier said the team was staying with Tua. “I want to be clear. Tua is our starter,” Grier told reporters earlier this month. “We’re very happy with his development so far.”

But Miami is a city full of wandering eyes, and Watson’s availability might make the Dolphins rethink their plans. Miami, like the Jets, has a bunch of draft picks it could package along with Tua in exchange for Watson. And the stakes are high considering they are competing with their division rival for the same man.

In a Relationship (but Re-Downloaded Tinder)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger was awful last season. He looked old, slow, and injured. He is reportedly contemplating retirement, and the Steelers would be far better if he rode off into the sunset instead of returning with a $41.25 million cap hit—the largest of any NFL player on the books in 2021. He is, however, willing to renegotiate his deal. “I don’t care ’bout my pay at all this year!” Roethlisberger told The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette on Thursday. “I am pretty sure I want to go one more year [because] I think I can do it and give us a real chance of winning.”

Even so, the Steelers would be much better off trading a first-rounder for Matt Stafford than running it back with Roethlisberger.

San Francisco 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo is the real life Vinny from Entourage. Like Vinny, he is competent at his job but deludes people into thinking he’s great because of his exceptional jawline. In truth, Garoppolo is as good as the system around him. And Kyle Shanahan’s system can make anyone good. It turned Matt Ryan into an MVP in 2016. Hell, Garoppolo’s backup Nick Mullens has been playing well enough in the place of the injured starter that he has the second-most passing yards of any quarterback ever in their first 16 starts. Seriously, here’s the all-time leaderboard:

  1. Patrick Mahomes
  2. Nick Mullens
  3. Andrew Luck
  4. Kurt Warner
  5. Tony Romo

Mullens wasn’t even drafted. If he could do this while filling in for Garoppolo, almost anyone could. The 49ers need to find a quarterback who doesn’t just succeed in Shanahan’s system, but improves it. Vinny—or, sorry, Jimmy—is not that guy.

The 49ers can cut Garoppolo this offseason and save more than $23 million, which is more than enough to justify them going after one of the many players available this offseason. Perhaps Jimmy G. can go back to New England like Vinny went back to Queens.

Los Angeles Rams

“Jared Goff is a Ram in this moment,” Rams general manager Les Snead said this week. “It’s way too early to speculate the future. That’s a beautiful mystery.”

If Snead qualifying his statement with “at this moment” wasn’t enough, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Rams will go into training camp with Goff competing for the starting job with John Wolford, the undrafted backup who started in Week 17 and the wild-card round. Goff has not been good enough to get an endorsement from Snead or head coach Sean McVay despite signing a four-year contract extension worth more than $134 million two offseasons ago. In fact, McVay, Snead, and Goff all signed contract extensions in the same summer, like friends getting matching tattoos. Now two of the friends don’t want to hang with the third anymore, and they’re left Googling how much laser removal costs (expensive and painful!). Regardless of what Snead says, this Goff situation is neither a mystery, nor is it beautiful.

Denver Broncos

In 2020, Drew Lock tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead in interceptions, ranked 29th in QBR (behind Wentz), and ranked dead last in completion percentage. The caveat is that Lock injured his throwing shoulder in Week 2, and may have been compensating for that for a good chunk of the season. New Broncos general manager George Paton now has to decide how much of Lock’s abysmal year was due to injury, and how much was plain ineffectiveness. But it’s unclear if even a healthy Lock is worth keeping around when there are so many options for Denver to consider.

Carolina Panthers

“Teddy [Bridgewater] has to have a tremendous offseason,” head coach Matt Rhule said earlier this month. “Part of being a quarterback in this league is being able to withstand the physical toll of the season, playing your best football at the end of the year. I don’t think I’ve seen that from him.”

Bridgewater didn’t play well after injuring his knee against Tampa Bay in November. Crucially, Bridgewater also went zero of eight on potential game-winning drives this season.

Chicago Bears

You know the couple who needs to break up, and stays together way too long even though they aren’t right for each other? That’s the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky. It’s tempting to discuss the other guys they could have had. (Why didn’t they ask out Patrick or Deshaun?!) But we can focus only on the present. Unfortunately, the Bears had one last fling with Mitch in December, when he went on a three-game winning streak and tossed six touchdowns to just two interceptions. Don’t fall for it, Chicago. Just move on!!!

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have a new head coach and general manager, so they may move on from quarterback Matt Ryan. Does this elicit any emotions from you? Of course not. Ryan has been in the NFL since 2008. He has started 205 NFL games at quarterback in 13 years, won an MVP, and nearly won a Super Bowl. Yet do you know—or really want to know—a single thing about him? Do you even have an opinion about Matt Ryan? No. He’s just there. And soon he might be somewhere else.

Public Declarations of Love

Green Bay Packers

What a whirlwind of a week for Green Bay. First, the Packers made it back to the NFC championship game for the second consecutive season. Then, they lost a heart-breaking game to Tom Brady and the Bucs. And then, Aaron Rodgers gave a moody postgame press conference that threw the sports world into a tizzy speculating about whether he wants out. (This, of course, comes on the heels of the Packers drafting Jordan Love, Rodgers’s potential replacement, last April.) But that speculation may have been for naught. “We’re not idiots,” team president Mark Murphy said this week. “Aaron Rodgers will be back.”

Luckily someone has the sense to hold on to a keeper.

Dallas Cowboys

This team was fighting in public until Dak Prescott broke his ankle in October. After that, they became the couple who posts on Instagram about “my better half” in an attempt to make up after a fight.

“Dak is deserving of anything that you want to put on a piece of paper, relatively speaking,” Jerry Jones said on 105.3 The Fan after the injury. “He’s deserving of that. If you evaluate what he can do to help us win championships, you can see that it’s there. Plus, he’s a leader at the premier leader spot. We’ve got to make it work.”

Say what you want about Jerry, but at least he stands by his man.

Spiceless Marriages

Las Vegas Raiders

Three seasons into Jon Gruden’s 10-year, $100 million deal, the Raiders have recorded 19 wins total. Gruden has a reputation for getting bored with his players who underperform, and Derek Carr has been underwhelming for most of his career. While the Raiders are not getting as much publicity as the other teams who could change QBs, Gruden’s eyes must have widened when he heard Stafford was available. The Raiders may not ultimately be able to do better than Carr, but it would be surprising if they didn’t try.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have paid Kirk Cousins nearly $100 million in three seasons, and he’s delivered a frustrating lack of consistency patched up by one strong wild-card win over the Saints. He is better than many NFL quarterbacks, but does not elevate Minnesota’s offense in a way that could lift this team to a Super Bowl. Still, the Vikings are so locked into his contract that moving on from him this offseason doesn’t seem possible.

Should Dump Him (but Won’t)

New York Giants and Daniel Jones

This whole relationship has been a mistake from the beginning, and the Giants seem to be the only ones who don’t realize it. More than half the teams in the NFL may move on from their starter this offseason, and it’s astonishing that the Giants aren’t mentioned among these teams. Jones has flashed talent in his two years in the league, but he does not have NFL-caliber pocket awareness and infamously fell down while running in a straight line. Even with all those obvious signs, though, GM Dave Gettleman appears to still be smitten—and that’s all that matters.