This is not your average offseason -- especially at the game's most important position.
Try to think of another year with this much unsettled business at quarterback. By my (very) unofficial count, there are 15 established, name-brand signal-callers -- including premium draft picks, former league MVPs, Super Bowl MVPs, first-ballot Hall of Famers, the Greatest Damn Player Of All Time -- who approach the start of a new league year on March 18 in some state of limbo. Trepidation reigns.
For some of these passers, the game of musical chairs will produce little more than anxiety and a couple hundred extra texts to their agents. But for other veteran QBs? Their livelihoods hang in the balance. With the opening of free agency less than a fortnight away, let's comb through this list and figure out best-case (and worst-case) scenarios for each of these field generals.
(I've emptied out my entire bench of quarterback synonyms. Guess that means we should get to it.)
The aforementioned GOAT, Brady is the big domino. Once his status is clarified, everything else in the QB market will fall into place. Imagine having that much sway as a professional athlete months shy of your 43rd birthday? Brady is a different one. This week on the Around The NFL Podcast, NBC Sports Boston's Tom Curran -- a guy as plugged into the New England scene as anyone in the business -- said Brady's chance of return to the Pats is "50/50." A day later, he told SiriusXM's Chris Russo that the Pats and Titans are the most likely Brady landings spots, but the 49ers were "closing hard." Whoa.
Best-case scenario: Brady and Bill Belichick play nice and the GOAT finishes his career where it began.
Worst-case scenario: Brady follows the money to a team that knows nothing of The Patriot Way. Think Johnny U with the Chargers. Joe Namath with Rams. You get the picture.
Most likely scenario: From everything we know, there is no "most likely scenario." It's a wide-open, fluid situation. But seriously: Is Tom Bradyreally going to leave the Patriots? I just can't see it.
Imagine you're Jimmy G. You spent the first 3.5 years of your pro career behind the ageless and relentlessly great Tom Brady. You're dealt to the 49ers in a surprise trade, enjoy immediate success in your first season by the Bay, blow out your knee in the second, then nearly win a Super Bowl in the third. Now buzz is percolating that Brady could swoop in and take the reins. Jimmy can't even vent to his agent, who represents another client of note ... Tom Brady. Jimmy G is not an easy guy to feel sorry for, but it's getting close.
Best-case scenario: The Brady reports are just smoke, and Garoppolo remains The Man for the defending NFC champs.
Worst-case scenario: The Niners land Brady, and Garoppolo gets shipped out of town for a first-round pick.
Most likely scenario: Jimmy G -- bruised ego and all -- stays right where he is. Everyone says the right things in July, and life goes on.
Derek Carr just wants to be loved ... which I guess makes Jon Gruden the withholding father who won't let his son in. Things aren't much better with Uncle Mike. Here's what Mike Mayock said at the NFL Scouting Combine when asked about potential changes for the Silver & Black: "Every position gets evaluated every year, and if we can upgrade it, we will." OK. If Mayock calls Gruden this month and tells him the Raiders have acquired Tom Brady for draft picks, does Gruden even survive the euphoric shock? Carr is a good quarterback -- but what if that's not good enough?
Best-case scenario: The Raiders realize they have more pressing upgrade needs than quarterback. Carr can move into that house he bought in Vegas.
Worst-case scenario: Brady lands in Vegas and Carr is shot out of town in one of those human cannons from Cirque du Soleil.
Most likely scenario: Carr stays, but an intriguing rookie quarterback enters the equation in late April. Dad has a new favorite.
The reigning Comeback Player of the Year, Tannehill resurrected his career with the Titans and established himself as one of the game's best downfield passers. (Raise your hand if you saw that coming.) Now Titans brass must decide whether they should pay the 31-year-old quarterback like a star. Tannehill's probably not feeling great about that FaceTime call between Titans coach Mike Vrabel and Brady at the Syracuse game last week. See? Brady looms over everything.
Best-case scenario: The Titans decide they have The Guy that Marcus Mariota never was and give Tannehill a beefy long-term extension.
Worst-case scenario: Brady lands in town, and Tannehill has to hit the reset button again in another city.
Most likely scenario: The Titans hedge their bets and slap Tannehill with the franchise tag.
This week on the Around The NFL Podcast, we also chatted with Matt "Money" Smith, our NFL Media colleague and the voice of the Chargers' radio broadcasts. I asked Money if he thought Rivers still had something left. "I think he can still play, absolutely," Money said. "I think you put him behind a good offensive line and he is still as masterful at diagnosing defenses and recognizing a weak spot as anyone." Is Rivers headed for his Favre-in-Minnesota moment? (The first year, of course.)
Best-case scenario: Common sense carries the day and Rivers lands in Indianapolis with Frank Reich and a stellar offensive line.
Worst-case scenario: Rivers signs with a middling franchise that grabs a QB Of The Future in April's draft.
Most likely scenario: Smoke meet fire. Rivers to the Colts.
Could Andy Dalton become the 2020 version of Ryan Tannehill? The former-franchise-cornerstone-turned-backup-QB who rises from the ashes in a new setting? It all feels possible for the Glowing Ginger Man, who desperately needs a fresh start outside Cincinnati limits. He'll get that, but his chance at a successful career reboot all depends where he lands.
Best-case scenario: Dalton is traded to a playoff-ready team that immediately installs him as its QB1.
Worst-case scenario: The Bengals, forever determined to never do anything fun, decide it's in their best interest to retain Dalton in a backup/mentor role. Everyone cries.
Most likely scenario: Dalton does indeed go the Tannehill route, landing with a team that's not feeling so hot about its incumbent. C'mon, Bears.
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported this week that the Jaguars are not actively shopping Foles, but it's safe to say the Jags will jump at any sensible opportunity to unload Foles' bloated salary if they get a chance. That might take some aggressive maneuvering on Jacksonville's part, considering the nightmarish nature of Foles' 2019 debut in Duvaaaaaaaaaal.
Best-case scenario: It's Foles vs. Gardner Minshew in a legit camp battle with QB1 on the line.
Foles gets shipped to another bad team with a crummy offensive line and starts pondering retirement again.
Most likely scenario: The Jags swallow hard and take the Texans/Brock Osweiler trade route. Foles is playing for his third team in three years. Send him back to Philly!
Speaking of Super Bowl heroes ... Hi, Joe Flacco! The former Ravens QB is likely heading to his third team in as many years after an ugly season with the Broncos. How much of an afterthought is Flacco in Denver right now? At the NFL Scouting Combine, head coach Vic Fangio didn't even mention the veteran when talking about the depth behind second-year man Drew Lock. Flacco's a goner. Given his age (35), injury issues and declining production, what kind of market awaits him?
Best-case scenario: Bruce Arians squints at Flacco's game tape and sees a veteran in the late-period Carson Palmer mold. Arians makes Flacco his downfield bomber in Tampa.
Flacco attracts little interest as trade bait or as a free agent. He ponders his options: join a team with an established QB as a clear backup ... or dust off that Johnny Unitas biopic screenplay.
Most likely scenario: Flacco's championship pedigree and positive medical reports lead to a backup gig with a path to the starting lineup. Think Chicago, Indy, Los Angeles.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport opened combine week with the report that the Panthers were moving forward with Newton as their quarterback. New coach Matt Rhule lent credence to that report by saying he was "unbelievably excited" to work with the 2015 NFL MVP. Before that flurry of information, it had appeared that Newton was all but out the door in Charlotte. Perhaps he still is. Yes, Newton's recent injury record makes him a risk moving forward -- but NFL history is loaded with teams that wandered the desert for decades looking for a true franchise star behind center. Newton is the greatest player in Panthers history ... and he's still just 30 years old. Beware before rebooting.
Best-case scenario: Rhule, general manager Marty Hurney and owner Dave Tepper reaffirm the faith and keep Cam as the franchise cornerstone.
Newton is traded and starts over as a reclamation project for another organization.
Most likely scenario: Like Brady, this one feels 50/50. We'll flip the coin, then keep him in Charlotte.
Young Mitch received extremely poor grades in his junior year. As a result, his scholarship at the University of Chicago (Bears campus) has been revoked. Not a single person in the universe believed Ryan Pace when the general manager said at the end of the season that the Bears were standing by their former first-round pick in 2020. Sure enough, combine week brought the expected whispers that Chicago will bring in an "established veteran" to push (and very possibly overtake) Trubisky for the starting job. The big question: Who will that be?
Best-case scenario: The Bears acquire an underwhelming recycled QB and Trubisky calms the natives (for the time being) with a strong camp and preseason.
Worst-case scenario: Trubisky gets beaten out in August and becomes someone else's cost-effective backup/redemption project in 2021. Full Mariota.
Most likely scenario: Trubisky survives the summer and enters September as the Bears' starter. But will he exit the month that way?
Trying times for Jake Brisket. The Colts made it clear after the season they weren't satisfied with the production at quarterback, and now the civilized world is prepping for the Philip Rivers introductory press conference at Lucas Oil Stadium. Brissett's game never really recovered after he suffered a knee injury in Week 9, but his critics can fairly point to the fact that the QB's play started to level off even prior to the MCL sprain. Brissett was a quality backup before the Andrew Luck bombshell -- it feels inevitable he'll find himself in that role once more.
Best-case scenario: The Colts lose out on their preferred upgrade targets in free agency and decide to stick with Brissett to start 2020.
Worst-case scenario:Mr. Bolo arrives and charms the pants off everyone in Indiana. The Brissett era is rendered a distant memory. In time, the local folk will privately discuss whether it ever actually happened.
Most likely scenario: Brissett's days as a starter are numbered. If it's not Rivers, it will be someone else.
Is anyone holding out hope that Winston's LASIK surgery will make him the greatest quarterback who ever lived? It would be the most amazing story in NFL history. The Bucs obviously aren't holding their breath on that front as they wait to see how the market plays out. I still wonder how different the narrative around Winston would have been had he not flamed out in two final meaningless games in December. The season-ending pick-six was especially cruel theater.
Best-case scenario: The Bucs and Bruce Arians give Winston one more shot as their QB1.
Tampa Bay walks away, and Winston wanders the free agency wilderness looking for a starting job that might not exist.
Most likely scenario: Wearing a new uniform, Winston is on the sideline in Week 1 as someone's backup.
And a few more QBs who might be squirming in their seats ...
Dan Hanzus hosts the award-winning Around The NFL Podcast and is the official Power Rankings guy for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter.