A team’s relationship with its quarterback is like a romantic partnership: There are a thousand ways to make it work and a billion ways to screw it up. This year in particular, QB situations across the NFL have presented plenty of drama. Five quarterbacks were taken in the first half of the first round of the NFL draft (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones). Two quarterbacks who were previously drafted no. 1 were traded for each other (Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff). And another former top pick
was run out of Philadelphia asked for a trade (Carson Wentz). Russell Wilson lightly suggested he wanted a trade. Aaron Rodgers heavily suggested he wanted a trade and debated retirement. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers did retire.
There’s a lot of goss to catch up on before cuffing season—a.k.a. Week 1—begins. So let’s define the relationship and see how happy each NFL team is with their current quarterback.
1. Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes
2. Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen
3. Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott
Patrick Mahomes is the ultimate husband. Want someone who brings home the bacon and also cooks it in a seasoned cast-iron pan? Someone who can play in rhythm and also make no-look passes? He and the Chiefs are a perfect fit, a perfect couple who’ll be together for at least the next five seasons. Talk about #relationshipgoals. I mean, look at the size of that ring.
The Bills and Josh Allen got off to a relatively rocky start. Few thought things would work out between them (including us) and those first two years seemed to prove us right: Allen was last in completion percentage in 2018 and 2019. But look at them now: Josh finished second in MVP voting to Aaron Rodgers last season; he took Buffalo to the doorstep of the Super Bowl; and he locked down a six-year contract that will pay him roughly $43 million annually. The Bills followed their heart and stuck by their man.
In Dallas, Prescott stood by the Cowboys for years even though they refused to give him a long-term deal. But when Dak broke his ankle, Dallas didn’t dump him at the altar. The team committed, signing him to a four-year deal for $160 million and affirming that this couple will be together for a long time.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence
5. New York Jets and Zach Wilson
6. New England Patriots and Mac Jones
7. Chicago Bears and Justin Fields
8. Los Angeles Rams and Matthew Stafford
Everybody loves Trevor Lawrence (including the Jets, who were interested last fall but blew their chance to draft him by winning a game). But there are a lot of questions about this new team, especially coach Urban Meyer, who has a history of leaving teams on short notice.
The Jets and Zach Wilson are honeymooning, but this is the third man the team has drafted in the past 12 years (Mark Sanchez, Sam Darnold, and now Wilson). The Jets say it is different this time, but is it really?
New England just went through a tough divorce with Tom Brady and then watched Brady win the Super Bowl with his new squad. In response, the Patriots drafted Jones, whose predraft comparison for build, style, and tools was … Tom Brady. Don’t we all know someone whose new guy looks just like their ex, but younger?
The Bears are that friend that has always been stuck in bad relationships. Fields seems to finally be the perfect guy, but Chicago isn’t ready to play him just yet. Andy Dalton is starting Week 1, and coach Matt Nagy seems happy to let Fields sit as long as necessary. But the Bears can’t hide their new man from us forever. We want to meet him! We promise we won’t judge!
The Rams and Matthew Stafford recently left their first marriages and are now enjoying some post-wedding bliss. Stafford had been married to his college sweetheart for more than a decade and just worked up the courage to leave. The Rams followed suit, ditching their unreliable partner (Jared Goff) for someone more steady. The Rams loved being with Goff when things were going well, but he and McVay grew apart. Then McVay and Stafford happened to be in Cabo at the same time and, well, it all went down.
9. San Francisco 49ers and Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo
10. New Orleans Saints and Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill
Everyone knows the 49ers will commit to Trey Lance after trading up to take him third in the NFL draft. But San Francisco is still playing Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 1, and this preseason, the team rotated between Garoppolo and Lance on different plays. That’s, uh, experimental. But I guess there’s no problem with it if everybody is on the same page!
In New Orleans, Jameis Winston will start the season under center, even though Sean Payton’s longtime muse Taysom Hill has thought he would be the starting quarterback for years. The Saints even gave Hill a whole (fake) contract paying him quarterback money in an effort to keep him around. Hill isn’t the first Other Man to be given false promises.
11. Cincinnati Bengals and Joe Burrow
12. Los Angeles Chargers and Justin Herbert
13. Arizona Cardinals and Kyler Murray
Joe Burrow has been with the Bengals for only one season, and he’s already scarred.
The Chargers got a guy who always puts his shopping carts back.
Arizona and Kyler Murray are in love, but the question now is whether the Cardinals are treating him right. Arizona’s run game is creative, but Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense has been more of a soft breeze for two years. The Cardinals dumped Josh Rosen a year into their marriage for Kyler, who left the MLB’s Oakland Athletics just to elope with Arizona. But the desert gets cold at night, and the heat of their forbidden love might soon turn icy.
Putting a Ring on It
14. Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson
15. Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield
The Ravens and Browns are both in negotiations for long-term deals with their passers, but there’s a question of who’ll propose first.
Lamar Jackson is negotiating his deal without an agent, but his mom is helping him. Getting the parents involved can be a blessing or a curse.
Baker Mayfield is also in talks with the Browns, but if a deal isn’t done by Week 1, he may wait until the season is over. With all the men Cleveland has gone through (30 in 20 years), it should lock things down fast.
Thriving Second Marriages
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady
17. Tennessee Titans and Ryan Tannehill
Brady got divorced, moved down to Florida, and found happiness with his new team. He’s smiling again, drinking too much tequila, and throwing the Lombardi Trophy from boat to boat. This is what peaking in your 40s looks like.
Ryan Tannehill was that guy everyone always believed was capable of more, but he finally had an early-30s glow-up in Nashville and is now thriving with the Titans. He led the NFL in yards per attempt in 2019, then followed it up with another playoff appearance in 2020. It’s amazing what leaving a toxic ex (Adam Gase) can do.
Still Talking to Other People
18. Miami Dolphins and Tua Tagovailoa
19. Philadelphia Eagles and Jalen Hurts
Hurts and Tua were always replacing each other at Alabama, and now they can’t get a firm commitment from their NFL teams, either. The Eagles have already traded for Gardner Minshew II, and both these teams have reportedly expressed interest in other QBs as well.
Met on Hinge
20. Carolina Panthers and Sam Darnold
21. Denver Broncos and Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock
The Panthers traded a second-rounder for Sam Darnold, a former top prospect who just got out of a bad relationship in New York. Darnold’s ex, the Jets, were run by Adam Gase, and put him in a spectacular position to fail (he and Tannehill should probably grab a beer). The Panthers think Sam is a great guy, but there will definitely be some issues to work through (he ranked 33rd of 35 quarterbacks in total quarterback rating last year). That ex did a number on him.
The Broncos have had terrible luck since Peyton Manning left, and they’re now trying to move forward with Carolina’s ex. Denver traded a sixth-rounder to the Panthers for Teddy Bridgewater this spring. And while Bridgewater is a super nice guy, the Broncos are juggling him and Drew Lock. The thing is, Teddy and Drew are totally different. Lock has a huge arm and takes risks. He makes spontaneous moves—like planning a surprise weekend trip or throwing a pick-six after forcing a slant route. Teddy isn’t as spontaneous, but he’s reliable. Denver needs that right now after their run of Brocks and Trevors and Paxtons.
Met on Tinder
22. Washington and Ryan Fitzpatrick
23. Detroit Lions and Jared Goff
No pretext needed, these parties all know what they’re here for. This might be Fitz’s last ride—and while Washington’s last man, Alex Smith, was defined by cautiousness, Fitz throws caution to the wind (he had the highest completion percentage on deep passes among qualified quarterbacks last year). If the whole Fitz thing doesn’t work out, Washington still has the number for Taylor Heinicke, who was … surprisingly good that one night in January. Not good enough to bring him as the starter, but good enough that Washington re-signed him to keep him in their back pocket.
While Stafford and the Rams are in their honeymoon phase, Goff and the Lions are just trying to make enough noise to make their exes jealous. If something long term comes from it, great. If not, these two will just have some fun in the interim.
“We Used to Work Together”
24. Indianapolis Colts and Carson Wentz
The Colts traded a second- and third-rounder to the Eagles for Carson Wentz, and if he plays three-quarters of the Colts’ snaps this season, that pick becomes a first-rounder. Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich was the one who orchestrated Wentz’s career-best campaign during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in the 2017 season. Now the two are reunited, but will the spark—and third-down efficiency—be the same?
25. Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger
26. Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan
Pittsburgh is sticking with Roethlisberger this season, though everyone knows he’ll be retiring soon.
The Falcons still have Matt Ryan, who is the epitome of average. He’s not great. He’s just there.
27. Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson
The couple who looks so happy on Instagram that your antenna goes up. Why are they trying so hard to tell us things are great? Wilson and the Seahawks had a fight in public earlier this year, and Russ implied he wanted to leave (he even cited other teams he’d want to be with!).
Russell Wilson has told the Seahawks he wants to play in Seattle but, if a trade were considered, the only teams he would go to are the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders and Bears, his agent Mark Rodgers said to ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 25, 2021
This is like listing four people you’d want to sleep with if you got divorced (hypothetically!). Maybe that threat was just designed to get attention, and if so, it worked: Seattle made some changes to its offensive line, and Wilson may be throwing more this season than in years past. But there are a lot of issues here beneath the Instagram veneer.
Need Some Spice in the Bedroom
28. Las Vegas Raiders and Derek Carr
29. Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins
Derek Carr and Jon Gruden have houses next door to each other in Vegas, but we all know Gruden has a wandering eye. When Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson both put the Raiders on their list of preferred trade destinations this offseason, there’s no way Vegas didn’t consider it.
Kirk Cousins is boring on the surface, but this relationship is surprisingly volatile. Cousins is locked in for another couple of seasons, but the Vikings also drafted Kellen Mond in the third round in April, so he could be Kirk’s replacement-in-waiting. Minnesota says Kirk has nothing to worry about, and his contract is fully guaranteed each of the next two seasons (his cap hit next season will be $45 million, or almost a quarter of the team’s budget, which is like spending a quarter of the household budget on white bread). But Kirk got his start as the other man behind Robert Griffin III, so he knows how this goes.
I Like the Idea of Us
30. New York Giants and Daniel Jones
The Giants divorced their longtime hubby (Eli Manning) and then landed a new, younger guy who is like a carbon copy of their ex. Jones is Eli’s height, Eli’s weight, and he speaks with Eli’s cadence. The Giants just want to be with Eli again. But it isn’t working. Jones has led the NFL in fumbles two years in a row, and the Giants are tied with the Jets for the worst record in the league through the past four seasons. New York is bending over backward to make this work by signing receiver Kenny Golladay to give Jones better options in the pocket and drafting receiver Kadarius Toney rather than Justin Fields. When you have to try this hard to make something so unremarkable work, you have to ask: What exactly are we chasing here?
31. Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers
Everyone knows these two are just holding on for this (wedding) season and then will go their separate ways. Rodgers was quiet this summer, but stunningly honest at his opening press conference in training camp. For all the happy marriages on this list, a quarter of these teams would throw their current quarterbacks to the wind for the chance to get Rodgers. The teams in love will stay in love—but all the other ones could search for new thrills.