The NFL offseason quarterback carousel is well underway. Tom Brady, the longest-tenured quarterback in the league with a single team, left the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Philip Rivers, who had spent his entire career with the Chargers franchise, moved on to the Indianapolis Colts. Teddy Bridgewater leveraged a strong showing for the New Orleans Saints in […]
The NFL offseason quarterback carousel is well underway. Tom Brady, the longest-tenured quarterback in the league with a single team, left the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Philip Rivers, who had spent his entire career with the Chargers franchise, moved on to the Indianapolis Colts. Teddy Bridgewater leveraged a strong showing for the New Orleans Saints in 2019 into a contract with the Carolina Panthers.
One by one, quarterback dominoes are falling. But two huge names currently find themselves without a seat at the table: Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.
Make no mistake: there’s no way these two signal-callers aren’t among the best 32 quarterbacks in the league. They should both be starting somewhere in 2020, barring injury or a steep regression in skill.
Newton is coming off a left foot injury that limited him to just two games in 2019. In his last extended action, he went 6-8 as the Panthers starter in 2018, completing a career-high 67.9% of his passes. Just four seasons ago, Newton was arguably the best quarterback in the league: leading Carolina to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance, while also being named First-Team All-Pro and leading the league in touchdown pass percentage (7.1%.)
Carolina is set to start from scratch at the quarterback position: releasing Cam Newton and bringing in Teddy Bridgewater and P.J. Walker, the XFL’s most explosive quarterback. Kyle Allen, who performed well at first before falling off in the season’s second half, is now with the Washington Redskins.
Jameis Winston is a unique quarterback. He led the NFL in passing in 2019, amassing 5,109 yards through the air. He threw 30 touchdown passes, an impressive mark, but also threw a league-leading 30 interceptions. Winston plays a high-risk, high-reward brand of football, and it resulted in a 7-9 record for the Buccaneers in 2019.
Seven wins is the 2nd-most Winston has ever earned in a season, as he went 9-7 in his sophomore season with Tampa Bay.
Winston comes with problems, but still deserves a starting gig in the NFL. The Buccaneers couldn’t move on from him without a succession plan in place, and they hit a home run in that department: earning the rights to Tom Brady’s services at quarterback.
With openings dwindling and the market starting to settle, where will these two quarterbacks play in 2020? Will they walk on to a team as the starter, or be forced to earn the position in the preseason? Could they take short-term deals to re-establish themselves for 2021 or 2022 free agency?
Cam Newton Landing Spots
1. Los Angeles Chargers
The team with the most glaring hole at the quarterback position may be the Los Angeles Chargers after the departure of Philip Rivers. Though, depending on who you ask, there might not be a hole at all. On March 18, it was reported the Chargers were fully committed to rolling with former Buffao Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor as their next starter. This came shortly after the Chargers were known to be out of the running for Tom Brady’s services.
This was also before Cam Newton became a free agent (though the writing was definitely on the wall in Carolina.) Newton would absolutely be an upgrade over Taylor, and even better, the two quarterbacks could likely both run a playbook with read-options and designed quarterback runs.
Adding a ton of fuel to the fire, Newton was seen working out with Taylor on March 26. If Newton does land in Los Angeles, he might not be immediately named the starter. But assuming full recovery from his foot injury and a good showing in training camp, I would expect him to earn starting honors by Week 1.
2. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots aren’t going to attempt to defend their AFC East crown with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, or Cody Kessler at quarterback. But with options starting to dry up, who will Bill Belichick turn to next at the position?
Newton and Winston both deserve full consideration, but each would come with pros and cons. For now, we’ll focus on the idea of Newton as the Patriots quarterback. With Super Bowl experience under his belt, a strong aerial game, and smash-mouth running ability, Newton would be an interesting successor to Brady.
Belichick could either insert Newton into the quick-read, quick-release system that worked for so long with Brady, or perhaps design more plays around Newton’s athletic ability. On paper, Newton is not a pure pocket passer though, which may be a bonafide occupational qualification to run Belichick’s system.
If Newton was the starter in New England in 2020, I would fully expect to see the Patriots qualify for the playoffs.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Nick Foles experiment ended as quickly as it began in Jacksonville, with Gardner Minshew assuming starting duties for most of 2019. Minshew slots in as the Jaguars starter for 2020, but the Jaguars can definitely explore another upgrade at the position. But after the failed Foles experiment, they may be hesitant to go big at the position again this offseason.
Newton wouldn’t put this current Jaguars team over the top, but he’d be a strong piece to build around. If Newton was the Jaguars starter, I would expect Jacksonville to be fringe playoff contenders in the new 14-team playoff field. Still, they would face an uphill battle in their own division alone, with three teams looking better than them on paper.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have both a crowded quarterback situation and a need for a clear-cut starter at the position. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen traded starter and backup roles throughout 2019, and the Dolphins made strides with some last season wins. But with a slew of draft picks and cap room, the Dolphins could make a major upgrade at the position if they want to compete sooner rather than later.
That might not mean the Dolphins make the playoffs in 2020. Even with Newton as the starter, Miami could finish 4th in the AFC East, as the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and New England Patriots all have more well-rounded rosters.
But in just a year or two, with the right pieces around him, Newton could lead a dangerous Dolphins squad. There’s rumors Miami is considering a quarterback with the fifth overall pick, but if the Dolphins secure a quarterback before the draft, that pick could go towards filling another hole in the roster.
Jameis Winston Landing Spots
1. New England Patriots
Jameis Winston led the league in passing yards in 2019. But with 30 interceptions thrown and starting positions dissappearing, few teams would be likely to pay Winston to be their sure-fire quarterback.
There’s questions as to whether Belichick would spend big at the position, but with an obvious need for an experienced quarterback, Winston could make sense. He would easily be the starter over Stidham and Hoyer, and he could keep the Patriots in playoff contention in 2020.
Winston’s turnover rate is easily his biggest red flag. Tom Brady has never thrown more than 14 interceptions in a season, and has thrown just 27 picks over the last four seasons for New England. If Winston started for the Patriots and threw 30 interceptions, he would create enormous strain on the defense and hamper the team’s ability to win football games.
Still, Winston and Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians found a way to salvage a 7-9 season off Winston’s 2019 production. Could Belichick do better under the same circumstances? Most of all, his system would allow Winston to complete more quick reads, and task him less often with throwing risky deep passes down the field.
An advantage Winston has over Newton is his pocket presence. Winston stands big and tall in the pocket, reserving the option to run usually for emergency situations. Winston carried the ball a career-high 59 times in 2019, gaining 250 yards and a touchdown.
For comparison, Newton has never had a full season with less than 90 rushing attempts, 359 rushing yards, or four rushing touchdowns. Newton’s play style would be a more drastic change for New England’s offense compared to Winston’s.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
With options becoming slim, Winston may need to bite the bullet and enter a short-term situation where he comes in as the backup, but with the potential to start.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would be an intriguing option for this kind of role. Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return as the starter in 2020, but the now 38-year-old quarterback showed signs of regression after a career-statistical season in 2018. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges showed some promise, but didn’t exactly sell themselves as long-term answers in Pittsburgh.
Winston could be a great backup, and if things head south, starter for the Steelers. His 6’4″, 231-pound frame is very similar to Roethlisberger’s 6’5″, 240-pound stature. Both quarterbacks stand in the pocket and have the ability to deliver late throws while absorbing hits. Winston’s rushing tendencies are similar to Roethlisberger’s as well, with Big Ben only taking off when needed to, but finding moderate success when doing so.
Winston could learn a lot under Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger. And if the Steelers need to make a change at quarterback, whether due to injury, poor play, or a lost season, Winston would be perhaps the best backup option in the league.
3. Tennessee Titans
Last offseason, the Tennessee Titans signed Ryan Tannehill to push Marcus Mariota as the starter. Of course, the move would prove to be a huge success, and the Titans would advance all the way to the AFC Championship before losing to the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Tannehill was paid accordingly this offseason, begging the question: why would they spend more money at the position to acquire Winston? With Mariota off the roster, the Titans could be in the market for another experienced backup, ready to rise to the occasion if necessary.
There’s no guarantee that Tannehill’s success wasn’t a fluke last season, and the Titans would be wise to invest in a solid backup option. Winston would certainly have to take a pay cut in this scenario, but could do it on a one-year deal of his own if he feels the situation merits it.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
Again, the Chargers may be ready to roll with Tyrod Taylor as their quarterback in the post-Philip Rivers era. But as one of the remaining teams that lost their 2019 starter, the Chargers still have to be in consideration for free agent quarterbacks.
I see Newton fitting better in Los Angeles, especially to complement the playstyle of Taylor. But if the Chargers don’t sign Newton, and Winston makes his services available for less money, then Winston could just as well be the Chargers starter in 2020.
He would have to, again, take a pay cut, and would likely start training camp behind Taylor on the depth chart. But with great raw passing ability, I would expect Winston to win over the Chargers coaches by Week 1. And if Winston doesn’t work out as the starter, Taylor would be a good insurance plan.
5. Miami Dolphins/Jacksonville Jaguars
I listed these two teams as potential landing spots for Newton, so naturally, they make some sense for Winston as well. But Miami, with Fitzpatrick and Rosen already on the roster, wouldn’t want to create a mess where there’s no clear-cut starter. I think Newton would merit the starting role over those quarterbacks, where Winston may have to earn it in a three-way camp battle.
In a similar vein, I don’t think the Jaguars will go after a quarterback unless they think it’s a home run. It would be easy to sell fans and players on the idea of Newton starting over Minshew, but perhaps not for the risky Winston. If Winston came at a significantly lower price than Newton, however, then Jacksonville could definitely entertain the idea of a Minshew-Winston duel for the starting position.
Predictions for Newton and Winston in 2020
All things considered, the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots can certainly use upgrades at the quarterback position. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins could also be in the market for a starting-caliber signal-caller.
I predict that the workout with Taylor wasn’t just a ploy, and Newton is serious about trying to join the Chargers. Los Angeles, after a head-scratching 2019 season, would be a competitive team with Newton as their starter in 2020.
I understand why teams would be hesitant to give Winston a big contract, between his turnover rate and 28-42 record as a starter. Still, I find it hard to believe that last yea’s league leader in passing yards wouldn’t be able to find a starting job in 2020. I think the Patriots make the most sense, but ultimately don’t think he’s the kind of quarterback that Belichick wants under center. I’ll predict the Jaguars give Winston a chance, on a short-term deal, but with intents of him being the starter.
All statistics courtesy of the always incredible Pro Football Reference.com
Header Photo Credit: Loren Elliot/Tampa Bay Times
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