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Intrigue abounds in 2020 off-season quarterback watch

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30th December, 2019
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With the 2019 NFL regular season in the books, 20 teams not participating in play-off football will soon set their sights on the 2020 season.

For some, this will include franchise-altering decisions at the games most vital position: quarterback.

Here’s a list of quarterbacks to keep an eye on this off-season, beginning with two of the game’s most iconic figures.

Certainties to be re-signed

Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Status: free agent at seasons end
It’s impossible to envision Brady in any NFL uniform bar the Patriots uniform he has made so recognisable in the 21st century. At the end of the 2019 regular season Brady finished with an average of 6.6 yards per pass attempt, his lowest such number since 2002, and a passer rating of 88, which was well down on his career average of 97 and his lowest number since 2013. Brady is obviously closer than ever to retiring, though he still has three years left if you believe the man himself. Contractually the GOAT cannot be franchise tagged by the Patriots as he enters next season at the unprecedented age of 43.

Likely outcome: Back in New England on a short-term deal

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Status: free agent at season’s end
After returning in Week 8 from a serious thumb injury, Brees immediately resumed at his brilliant best, finishing the regular season in which he missed five games in the top ten for both average passing yards per game (270.8) and passing touchdowns (tied fifth with 27). If the Saints win the Super Bowl in just over a month from now, the future hall of famer may be tempted to bring to a close one of the all-time NFL quarterback careers on the highest of notes. He may be just as tempted to protect his newly achieved passing touchdowns record (544) from the man listed above, but will that be as a Saint with Teddy Bridgewater waiting in the wings?

Likely outcome: back in the Big Easy on a short-term contract

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(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Safe for now

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Status: free agent at season’s end
Sometimes things you don’t expect to work out just do. Tannehill has had such an impact in Nashville in 2019, finishing the regular season with a passer rating of 117.5, the best in the league, that it would be ludicrous not to bring the former Dolphin back in 2020. Whether that be via the franchise tag or a longer-term deal remains to be seen, although the Titans appear to be destined to double-dip this off-season by re-signing Tannehill and investing an early draft pick on their future signal call. It will be interesting to note the interest in Tannehill from rival teams come the off-season.

Likely outcome: franchise tag

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Status: free agent at season’s end
This may be the one player on this list we hear about the most this off-season. While Dak put together a strong season in a contract year, passing for the second-most yards (4902) and third-most passing touchdowns (30), the fact he will be likely playing for a new head coach in 2020 complicates matters. The Cowboys are caught between a rock and a hard place with Prescott – he probably isn’t worth the money it would require to keep him in Dallas, yet he is too good an option to let walk.

Likely outcome: Prescott becomes the highest-paid quarterback in league history

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and Tony Romo (9) warm up

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Status: free agent at season’s end
The former No. 1 overall pick for the Bucs had his annual late-season flurry that could ultimately save his backside in Tampa Bay. Working with Bruce Arians for the first time didn’t reap the immediate dividends Bucs fans were hoping for – Winston become the first player in league history to throw 30 interceptions, six of those returned for touchdowns – yet it seems as though Bucs fans will have to settle for at least one more tantalising yet excruciating season with Winston at the pirate ship wheel. If this is to be Winston’s final season in Tampa Bay, his first and last pass attempts will have both been intercepted and returned for touchdowns. Such is life with famous Jameis.

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Likely outcome: back on a short-term deal but unlikely to receive a franchise tag. Sorry, Bucs fans

Jameis Winston

(Thomson20192 / Flickr)

Grab the popcorn

Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Status: contracted for the next three seasons
Carr’s MVP-calibre season in 2016 feels like a lifetime ago. Despite the Raiders turning the corner somewhat in coach Jon Gruden’s second season, there appears to be a level of discontent between Gruden and his quarterback. Carr has done a serviceable job as quarterback for the Oakland Raiders – 143-62 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an overall quarterback rating of 90.7 in six seasons in Oakland – but has he done enough to prove to Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock he’s the guy to lead them in their new city of Las Vegas? Remember that the Raiders have the draft capital to make a move up the draft board this off-season for another quarterback of their choosing. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, perhaps?

Likely outcome: Carr gets first crack in Sin City with a first-round rookie quarterback breathing down his neck

Oakland Raiders' Michael Crabtree and Derek Carr

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Phillip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Status: free agent at season’s end
Rivers has been one of the most respected passers in the league for some time now. However, a disastrous 2019 season in LA in which Rivers threw 20 interceptions, the equal second-most of his career, and 23 touchdowns, the least since 2007, might mean the Chargers look for a new passer to take an otherwise stacked roster to the franchises first Super Bowl title. With a top-ten pick at their disposal, the temptation to take Rivers’s heir apparent could be too much, with Oregon’s Justin Herbert or Washington’s Jacob Eason likely to tempt Chargers general manager Tom Telesco. In that scenario Rivers would have multiple suitors as a veteran stopgap with a point to prove.

Likely outcome: back on a one-year deal with a shiny new rookie in tow – think the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes situation in Kansas City

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Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Status: contracted for 2020 with a fifth-year option in 2021
Much of the Bears’ struggles in 2019 have been placed at the feet of their third-year quarterback. While this criticism has been largely unfair, it is true Trubisky has not progressed as the Chicago front office and die-hard fan-base had hoped after trading away a fortune to move up one spot to draft him in 2017. Trubisky’s yards per attempt dropped from 7.4 in 2018 to 6.1 this season while throwing for seven fewer touchdowns – 24 in 2018 to 17 in 2019. He might be saved simply due to it being financially unjustifiable to cut him and the unlikely event in which the team finds a willing trade partner. It is foreseeable Trubisky will be back in Chicago after a late-season spike in production, but will he be back as the presumptive starter? And Bears fans thought kicker Cody Parkey was the root of all their trials and tribulations.

Likely outcome: back in Chicago to compete with a newly signed veteran

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Status: contracted for 2020
One of only two former MVPs on this list (along with Brady), Newton’s career really does feel at a crossroads after missing all bar two games in 2019 with a Lisfranc injury. With a change of general manager expected and a change of head coach certain, it’s fair to wonder if the new regime will stick with Newton or look to find a trade partner and start fresh. There will be interest in the market place for a fit and healthy Newton if coaches think they can get him back to his best, but that sadly looks like a big if. There will be a raft of changes in Carolina this off-season, but the decision on Cam Newton looms large.

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Likely outcome: if a juicy trade offer is put forward from a team like the LA Charges or Chicago Bears, expect the Panthers to seriously consider; otherwise Cam returns for one last season in Carolina

Gone

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Status: contracted for 2020
Dalton is a victim of both circumstance and the fact he’s not that great. Forever the punchline for mediocre quarterback play, Dalton’s claim to fame will be having taken the Bengals to five consecutive play-off appearances from 2011 to 2015 without a single victory. After being benched in Week 10 in favour of rookie Ryan Finley and with the Bengals likely to draft Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and local Ohio wunderkind Joe Burrow with Pick 1 next April, Dalton’s days in Cincy appear numbered. Dalton is scheduled to earn a modest $17.5 million in 2020, which wouldn’t be too high a price to pay if the team wants him to stick around and mentor Burrow through his rookie season. Dalton is also within his rights to move on and compete for a starting job elsewhere in 2020.

Likely outcome: playing in different colours in 2020 via a cheap trade

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Status: out of contract at season’s end
The second Titan on this list, it’s never a good sign when a player at a premium position is benched in a contract year as Mariota was in 2019. In his six starts this season Mariota threw for 1179 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, with a paltry completion percentage of 59.1. Mariota will be a reclamation project for whoever acquires his services this off-season. However, like Newton, there will be suitors. The top two selections from the 2015 NFL draft – Winston and Mariota – could both be signing their second pro contracts with new teams in 2020.

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Likely outcome: competing for a starting job elsewhere next season

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota

(AP Photo/James Kenney, File)

Eli Manning, New York Giants
Status: out of contract at season’s end
A borderline hall of fame candidate, Eli Manning will finish his career as a Giant with the most passing yards (57,023) and passing touchdowns (366) in franchise history. After orchestrating two of the franchise’s most iconic victories (defeating New England in Super Bowls 42 and 46) and the Giants’ most famous play (the David Tyree helmet catch in Super Bowl 42), Manning will go down a great of one of the NFL’s blue-blood organisations. While he may have stayed on a season or two too long in the eyes of some, Manning has taken the Giants’ preference to play rookie Daniel Jones over him like a true champion. Any contract for Eli in 2020 would be as a veteran backup.

Likely outcome: retire

Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants changes the play at the line during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 12, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers defeated the Giants 31-21.

(Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans Saints
Status: out of contract at season’s end
Bridgwater’s five-game stint as replacement for the injured Drew Brees this season read like this: 1205 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions, an average passer rating of 118.1 and a 100 per cent winning record. After deciding to re-sign with the Saints as Brees’s backup last off-season, Teddy B looks to have done enough to earn a starting spot on a roster in 2020, five years after taking the Minnesota Vikings to the play-offs in just his second season. If Brees decides to re-sign and play on for the Saints in 2020 and Bridgwater decides to exercise his rights as a free agent, the bidding war from quarterback-starved teams could escalate quickly.

Likely outcome: will be a starting quarterback once more in 2020