We have already covered both(excluding quarterbacks) and to keep an eye on in previous articles. Now, the focus now turns to passers.
Every season, a different set of players face a crossroads or have something to prove for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are related to age, contract or salary cap concerns, injury, performance or off-the-field issues.
Ten such quarterbacks to watch during the 2023 season are below. Kyler Murray is not included. If the Cardinals are truly tanking to be in position to select USC's 2022 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams with the first overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, Murray won't see any action once he recovers from the torn right ACL he suffered late in the 2022 season.
The Broncos gave up multiple players (tight end Noah Fant, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and quarterback Drew Lock) and draft choices (2022 and 2023 first-round picks, 2022 and 2023 second-round picks) last offseason to acquire Wilson and 2022 fifth-round pick from the Seahawks. Wilson had the worst season of his 11-year NFL career in 2022. He had career lows in completion percentage (60.5%), passer rating (84.4) and touchdown passes (16). Wilson ranked 30th, 27th and tied for 19th in the NFL for these respective categories.
The Broncos compounded the situation by signing Wilson to a five-year, $245 million contract extension last August shortly after the franchise's sale to a new ownership group led by Walmart heir Rob Walton. Wilson's shocking decline has raised questions about his longevity in Denver.
Wilson's $49 million per year extension runs though the 2028 season because of the two preexisting contract years for $51 million. Overall, he is under contract seven years for a total of $296 million. The deal contains $165 million in guarantees with $124 million fully guaranteed at signing.
The Broncos hired quarterback whisperer Sean Payton as head coach at the end of January. It wouldn't be surprising for the Broncos to release Wilson in 2024 if Payton can't resurrect his career next season.
The Broncos would have to contend with $85 million in dead money, a salary cap charge for a player no longer on a team's roster, with a Wilson departure next offseason because his contract has a double option bonus structure. Option bonuses are prorated on the salary cap just like signing bonuses. Wilson would surely be released before the fifth day of the 2024 league year when his injury guaranteed $37 million 2025 base salary becomes fully guaranteed.
A post-June 1 designation would probably be used so the dead money could be taken over two years. The dead money could be split into $35.4 million in 2024, which equals Wilson's current 2024 cap number and $49.6 million in 2025. Wilson would be off Denver's books beginning in 2026.
The expectations for the Jets have been raised exponentially with acquisition of Aaron Rodgers from the Packers. The Jets sent the Packers a 2023 first-round pick (13th overall), a 2023 second-round pick (42nd overall), a 2023 sixth-round pick and a conditional 2024 second-round pick in exchange for Rodgers and a 2023 first-round pick (15th overall pick). The 2024 second-round pick becomes a first-round pick if Rodgers is on the field for at least 65% of New York's offensive snaps this season.
Rodgers had a subpar 2022 season after winning back-to-back NFL MVP awards. His 12 interceptions were his most since 2008 when he first became a starter. Rodgers threw 13 interceptions combined over the 2019-2021 seasons. His 91.1 passer rating was the lowest in his career. Rodgers' 217.4 passing yards per game were also a career low.
Surprisingly, Rodgers took a substantial pay cut to allow the Jets to build a more competitive roster. He was originally scheduled to make $108.815 million over 2023 and 2024. Rodgers reduced this compensation by $33.765 million to $75.05 million.
The Jets haven't made the playoffs in 12 years, which is the longest postseason drought in North American professional team sports. It will be considered a disappointing season if the Jets miss the playoff again with Rodgers running the offense.
Last season was a down year by Prescott's standards. He uncharacteristically led the NFL with a career-high 15 interceptions.
Prescott is in the third year of the four-year, $160 million deal averaging $40 million per year with $126 million in guarantees he signed in March 2021. The $95 million fully guaranteed at signing and $66 million signing bonus were the most ever in an NFL contract at the time.
Prescott's contract situation should come to a head next offseason. He has the NFL's second-largest 2024 cap number at $59.455 million, which will be untenable, thanks to Dallas restructuring his contract for cap purposes on three different occasions since he signed.
Prescott also has a clause prohibiting Dallas from designating him as a franchise or transition player in 2025 should he play out his contract. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones just introduced a new variable into the equation by acquiring 2023 third overall pick Trey Lance from the 49ers for a 2024 fourth-round pick without informing Prescott or Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy before making the deal.
Acquiring Lance could become significant if Prescott regresses badly this season. The Cowboys would be contending with $61.915 million of dead money by releasing him. It would be the same amount with a trade, which would require Prescott waiving his no-trade clause.
A bounce-back year where Prescott returns to his 2021 form, which was arguably the best season of his NFL career, would give him the leverage under the circumstances to become the league's highest-paid player. Prescott posted career highs in completion percentage (68.8%) and touchdown passes (37). His 104.2 passer rating and 4,449 passing yards were the second-best marks of his career. It's conceivable that Prescott could command in excess of $55 million per year provided he chose to fully exploit his leverage.
Ability isn't the issue with Tagovailoa. It's availability as the 2022 season was marred by the concussions he suffered. Tagovailoa performed at a Pro Bowl level in the 13 games played by completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 3,548 yards while throwing for 25 touchdowns with eight interceptions to post a league-leading 105.5 passer rating. A concussion-free season could be the difference between joining the $50 million-per-year quarterback club on a long-term deal in offseason and playing 2024 on a fully guaranteed $23.171 million fifth-year option.
Fields proved to be a dangerous offensive weapon by rushing for 1,143 yards, which was 64 yards shy of breaking Lamar Jackson's single-season rushing record for a quarterback, in his first season as a full-time starter. He completed 60.4% of his passes for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Expectations are raised for Fields after upgrading the offensive talent around him. Fields has the No. 1 wide receiver he was lacking in D.J. Moore, who was acquired in the blockbuster trade where the Panthers got 2023's first overall pick from the Bears. The offensive line was addressed in free agency and in the draft. Offensive tackle Darnell Wright was selected with the 10th overall pick. The Bears should have a much better indication whether Fields is a franchise quarterback after this season.
Signing DeAndre Hopkins to a two-year, $26 million deal at the start of training camp signified that the Titans believe they are AFC South title contenders and Tannehill was secure as quarterback (at least temporary). The Titans clearly have an eye toward the future at quarterback after moving up in the second round of this year's draft to take Will Levis with the 33rd overall pick and using a 2022 third-round pick on Malik Willis. Tannehill should be treating the 2023 season as an audition for a starting job with another team since he is in the final year of the four-year, $118 million contract he signed in 2020. Tannehill or the Titans faltering will likely result in Levis and/or Willis getting an opportunity at some point this season.
Concerns about Garoppolo's surgically repaired left foot led to the three-year, $72.75 million contract (worth up $77.25 million through incentives) he agreed to in free agency to be reworked before signing. The $33.75 million that was going to be fully guaranteed at signing, which included an $11.25 million signing bonus that was deleted, become contingent on Garoppolo passing his physical. When Garoppolo got a clean bill of health at the start of Raiders training camp, his $22.5 million 2023 base salary and $11.25 million 2024 base salary both become fully guaranteed.
Durability was a big issue with Garoppolo during the five and a half seasons he was with the 49ers. He only played 57 of a possible 82 regular-season games after signing a five-year, $135 million contract in 2018 that briefly made him the league's highest-paid player.
Continuing to be bitten by the injury bug makes a one-year stay in Las Vegas a realistic possibility. The Raiders would have $11.25 million in dead money for 2024 by releasing Garoppolo before his $11.25 million fifth day of the 2024 league year roster bonus is due next March 17.
Mayfield's subpar play was an impetus for the Panthers firing head coach Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start and his own subsequent departure. The 2018 first overall pick's 54.9 completion percentage and 71.9 passer rating were last in the NFL when Rhule was fired.
The Rams claimed Mayfield on waivers after the Panthers released him last December 13 weeks into the season. The highlight of Mayfield's season was earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for Week 14 because of leading the Rams to a 98-yard, game-winning drive against the Raiders with only 1:45 left on the clock two days after being claimed.
Mayfield signed a fully guaranteed one-year, $4 million deal worth up to $8.5 million through incentives with the Buccaneers in March. He beat out Kyle Trask in a competition to replace Tom Brady, who retired in early February, as starting quarterback. Mayfield will be destined to become a career backup if he performs like he did with the Panthers last season.
A promising rookie campaign in 2021 was derailed by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick turning playcalling duties over to Matt Patricia last season after offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become the Raiders head coach. Patricia was previously the Patriots' defensive coordinator before a 42-game stint as Lions head coach. Former Texans head coach Bill O'Brien left the University of Alabama to return to New England as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. O'Brien had manned those positions in 2011, which was the last of his five years as an offensive assistant coach with the Patriots. Jones' 2023 performance will likely determine whether the Patriots pick up his fully guaranteed fifth-year option for 2025, which should be in excess of $25 million.
The Packers didn't balk at Rodgers' request to be traded to the Jets because of being comfortable with Love taking the reins at quarterback despite his extremely limited track record. Love has thrown 83 passes in his three NFL seasons. The Packers hedged their bets by signing Love to a one-year, $13.5 million extension worth up to $22.5 million through salary escalators before the May 2 deadline to pick up his fully guaranteed $20.272 million fifth-year option. Love is making $7.5 million more this year than he was scheduled to in the fourth year of his rookie contract. If Love can't build upon his promising preseason during the regular season, Packers could look to go in another direction at quarterback in 2024.