The dust hasn’t even fully settled from the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV parade, but many people’s attention is already turning to what could be a landmark offseason for quarterbacks.
Some of the game’s biggest names, including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, could find themselves in new uniforms next season. Multiple bright, young stars could sign record-breaking contracts. And of course, there’s always a few franchise tag candidates in the mix.
Here’s a preview of things to come:
Tag, you’re it
Dak Prescott ranks among the leading candidates to receive the franchise tag this offseason after the Cowboys were unable to sign him to a long-term deal in 2019.
It’s widely expected that the Cowboys will use the franchise tag by the March 10 deadline to prevent the 2016 fourth-rounder from hitting the open market. Negotiations will likely continue, however, with July 15 serving as the cutoff for any player on the tag to sign a multiyear contract.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million deal that featured a record $107.97 million guaranteed last June. A few months later, the Rams’ Jared Goff signed a four-year, $134 million contract with $110 million guaranteed. Prescott, who before last season turned down an offer that would have paid him just more than $30 million a year, likely will measure any offer against those two agreements.
There’s no question regarding his standing as the offensive leader, so the Cowboys will likely use the exclusive-rights version of the franchise tag, which would give Prescott a salary of roughly $32 million for 2020.
Meanwhile, a couple of other quarterbacks face some uncertainty but still could receive franchise designations.
Ryan Tannehill went 7-3 in the regular season after taking over as the Titans’ starter and helped steer Tennessee to the AFC championship game.
Still, questions remain about the eighth-year veteran. Was last season an aberration? Can he live up to the terms of a hefty long-term contract? By retaining Tannehill with the non-exclusive franchise tag, Tennessee would pay him roughly $27 million for one more year while evaluating him further.
Another candidate for the tag is Jameis Winston. In his first season with Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Winston passed for a league-leading 5,109 yards and a career-high 33 touchdowns. The bad news: He also threw a league-leading 30 interceptions, seven of which were returned for touchdowns. Tampa Bay could give Winston, who has struggled with ball security since his college days, one more year to see if his coaches can help fix this fatal flaw.
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Old faces in new places?
It almost doesn’t even seem real that Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers would enter free agency in the same year. But there’s a chance that it could happen, particularly for Brady and Rivers. Brees seems most likely to sign one more short-term deal with the Saints or to retire altogether.
All three of New Orleans’ quarterbacks have expiring deals this offseason, so coach Sean Payton has decisions to make. The Saints first must wait on Brees, who said he plans to use this month to decide his future. But they are preparing for multiple scenarios, according to two people inside the league who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak for the team. One of their leading choices, per the two people: signing Brees to a one-year deal, extending a second-round tender to restricted Taysom Hill and turning the team over to the do-it-all backup in 2021. In that scenario, backup Teddy Bridgewater would depart.
All signs point to Rivers’ 16-year run with the Chargers ending this year after he moved his family to Florida.. Could he wind up in Tampa if the Bucs opt against retaining Winston? Could he help put the Titans over the top?
Brady’s future, however, will command the most attention until resolved.
Various people within the league, speaking to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for Brady or the Patriots, hold conflicting opinions about how this will play out. While some believe it’s “all but a done deal” that Brady leaves New England after 20 seasons, others see a return to Foxborough as highly likely given owner Robert Kraft’s fondness for the quarterback and New England’s lack of a clear successor.
Brady turns 43 in August and didn’t look great this past season, and Belichick is famous for moving on from players at least one year before it’s too late. But for New England, re-signing Brady — who one contract negotiator predicted could command a two-year, $70 million contract if he desired — while bolstering the roster around him and drafting the quarterback of the future makes sense.
But what if Brady does leave? Rumors have linked the Chargers, Colts and Raiders, among others, to the six-time Super Bowl champion. But don’t rule out Tennessee, where Brady has close connections in the front office, on the roster and, of course, to coach Mike Vrabel. Brady seems unlikely to join a non-contender, so a Titans squad that reached the conference championship game might be his best bet if he wants to go elsewhere.
Once the top of the market is set with the biggest names and their destinations determined, then landing spots for Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Case Keenum and other second-tier options will come into focus. The Panthers’ Cam Newton and the Raiders’ Derek Carr would add to the intrigue if they became available, though it’s not a given either one will be cut loose from his team.
Breaking the bank
Two quarterbacks going absolutely nowhere: Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. The 2017 first-round picks are entering the final season of their respective rookie contracts, though each is a lock to have his fifth-year option exercised. Both have positioned themselves for lucrative contract extensions.
Even before he led the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years, Mahomes had a strong chance to command the first NFL contract in excess of $200 million. Now, such a deal is nearly a given. The Chiefs should eventually sign him to a five-year deal that will pay him an average of at least $40 million a season, and the guaranteed portion should shatter Wentz’s previous record.
But prior to that, Watson might sign his own megadeal.
A second consecutive divisional title and playoff appearance for Houston, as well as the first playoff victory of his career, will likely earn Watson a contract that tops the high for guaranteed money and Russell Wilson’s bar-setting annual average salary of $35 million.
Watson’s average payout likely will garner him between $36 million and $38 million over five years, people within the league told USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of Watson or the team.
Should he get his deal done first, the Texans’ quarterback will likely own the distinction of being the highest-paid player in the league. Then, of course, Mahomes would be poised to change the quarterback landscape forever.
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