The first wave of NFL free agency truly reshuffled the league deck, with the quarterback position -- per usual -- playing a leading role. Tom Brady's a Buccaneer, Philip Rivers is a Colt, Teddy Bridgewater's a Panther, Nick Foles is a Bear and Marcus Mariota's a Raider. So, what's next at the game's most important position?
Now that the dust is settling on the frenzied portion of free agency, I'm thinking about possible homes for the top quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Who fits where? Feels like a perfect time to explore prospect-team pairings.
Before I play matchmaker, though, I want to address one team that you won't find attached to a QB below: the New England Patriots. Obviously, everyone's wondering how New England will replace Brady. But personally, I don't see Bill Belichick and Co. drafting a QB early. I've been told the Pats are very high on Jarrett Stidham, expecting the 2019 fourth-rounder to be their guy next season and into the foreseeable future.
So, with that out of the way, let's get to some hypothetical marriages that would make plenty of sense:
The Bengals are poised to land Andy Dalton's replacement in the 2020 NFL Draft. All signs continue to point to Burrow. A couple months back, there were rumors and chatter about Burrow potentially trying to persuade the Bengals to avoid picking him. I can't see that happening. He is a perfect fit for Zac Taylor's offense and his leadership will be essential in turning around the organization.
One thing to keep in mind: I won't be surprised if the Bengals ultimately decide to hold onto Dalton. Seeing how COVID-19 figures to have a significant impact on the NFL offseason, Dalton's presence would allow the Bengals to avoid rushing Burrow onto the playing field before he's comfortable in his new setting.
The Dolphins were very aggressive in free agency, addressing several needs on their roster. One area they didn't address: quarterback. Bucky Brooks and I had a good chat with Dolphins GM Chris Grier during the NFL Scouting Combine. He mentioned to us that his player personnel staff had spent time studying the QB crop in the 2021 class, as well as the current one. This led us to believe there was an outside chance they could address other needs in this year's draft and pursue their signal-caller in next year's class. Scratch that theory off the list. They've greatly improved their roster with an aggressive free agency approach that will likely take them out of the running for a top pick in the 2021 draft.
I've been told by trusted personnel sources around the league that the Dolphins have strong grades on Burrow, Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. I could see them attempting to move up for Burrow, but I seriously doubt the Bengals will trade the top pick. It's not hard to imagine the Fins making a move up to the No. 3 slot in order to land their preferred choice between Tagovailoa and Herbert. However, I'm not certain which player will top their list. I'll stick with Tagovailoa under the assumption the Dolphins are comfortable with his recovery from hip surgery.
The Chargers made a strong play for Tom Brady, but ultimately lost out to Tampa Bay last week. There have been credible reports -- including one from NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport -- that the Bolts will not pursue any other veteran options (Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are still available) at this time. Head coach Anthony Lynn has a strong affection for Tyrod Taylor, after their experience together in Buffalo. He appears to be the bridge QB to whomever they select in the upcoming draft.
Tagovailoa would be the home run selection, if he were to fall to the Chargers at No. 6. I won't be surprised if Los Angeles looks to aggressively move up and snag the Alabama product. However, here's the problem: If the Bolts get into a bidding war with the Dolphins, Miami has considerably more ammo (draft currency). Herbert would seem to be the most likely option if L.A. sits and picks at 6. He could sit behind Taylor until he's ready to go, either later in the 2020 season or at the beginning of the 2021 campaign.
I won't be shocked if Love goes in the top 10. I also won't be surprised if he falls to the bottom of the first round. Grades are all over the place on the Utah State product. He is the most talented natural thrower in the entire draft. However, due to a variety of circumstances (losing a number of starters, dealing with a new coaching staff and scheme, etc.) his play dramatically fell off this past season. He will need some time to sit and develop, but the payoff could be huge.
Prior to free agency, I felt like his sweet spot was between Pick Nos. 7 and 14. Things have changed since then. The Panthers, picking seventh, have signed Teddy Bridgewater and appear set at the position for the next few years. The Colts, initially picking 13th, traded their top selection to the 49ers for DL DeForest Buckner. That takes another potential landing spot off the table. The Bucs, picking 14th, signed Tom Brady. Logically, signing a soon-to-be 43-year-old QB shouldn't preclude anyone from taking another signal-caller in the first round. However, you don't sign Brady without making an all-out effort to chase a championship in the next two years. Plus, there's an intriguing option that likely won't cost them a first-round selection (see below). That's why I think there's a good chance Love could begin to slide.
Enter the Packers, currently holding the No. 30 pick. Aaron Rodgers is still playing at an elite level. That said, he's 36 years old and there has been some minor slippage in his performance. Green Bay has been blessed to have stability at the position for nearly three decades with Rodgers and Brett Favre. If a talented player like Love slides to the Pack, I think they will pull the trigger and take their time developing Rodgers' eventual replacement. This could lead to another 15-plus years of stability at the position.
As I mentioned above, the Bucs won the Tom Brady sweepstakes in free agency. For this reason, I believe they will give him some help (likely on the defensive side of the ball) in the first round. However, I could see them targeting a quarterback in the second round to eventually take over for Brady. Everyone I've spoken to about Eason believes he'll end up in Tampa Bay. His big arm is a great fit for Bruce Arians' offense and he would be afforded the luxury of time to develop behind Brady. In a perfect world, Eason would sit for two seasons before Brady retires and hands him the reins to the offense.
Hurts is the one quarterback who keeps me up at night. He still has some improvement to make as a passer -- mostly, his ability to throw with anticipation -- but there's a lot to like in this prospect, both as a player and as a competitor. He has the arm strength to make every throw on the field. He can extend plays with his legs and create big plays both throwing and running. He is very smart and his competitive spirit is outstanding. He embodies a lot of what the Raiders have tried to build since Mike Mayock took over as general manager.
The Raiders made an interesting acquisition when they inked Marcus Mariota to a deal in free agency. They made it clear to Mariota that he was coming in as the No. 2 quarterback. He'll have a chance to revitalize his career if Derek Carr takes a step back this fall. However, I still expect Las Vegas to bring in a quarterback in the draft. Hurts will likely go in the second round. The Raiders don't currently own a second-round pick, but I could see them trading out of one of their first-round selections to secure more draft capital.
Fromm is a fascinating evaluation. He doesn't possess a huge arm or special athleticism. His statistics don't jump off the page, but he won a bunch of games at Georgia. He's lauded for his intelligence and leadership. I asked a handful of teams which quarterback was the most impressive in their combine interview and every single one of them mentioned Fromm at or near the top of the list. His physical limitations will limit the number of teams interested in him, but I believe someone will fall in love and take him in the second or third round.