The Tom Brady-fronted quarterback market has obscured the top prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine. How this historically crowded signal-caller landscape disperses will reshape many teams’ depth charts, but April presents an interesting second chapter.
After the free-agency and trade dominoes fall, some teams will have seminal decisions to make near the top of the draft. Picking at Nos. 2, 3 and 4, the Redskins, Lions and Giants may soon have roster-reshaping opportunities despite being seemingly set at quarterback.
Although overshadowed by Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert have been known commodities for years. Each would have been a top-five candidate last year. Their statuses, coupled with the rise of Utah State’s Jordan Love, should generate frequent communication between quarterback-seeking teams and the Washington-Detroit-New York contingent.
While the Giants and Redskins did not move up for Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins last year, most quarterback picks in recent years came via trades. From 2016-18, 10 of the 11 first-round quarterbacks were acquired through trades. Round 1 QBs possess more value now than ever, considering their cost-controlled contracts and fifth-year options. These 2010s components will remain in place through the ‘20s, if the players ratify the owners’ CBA proposal.
The Eagles, Rams and Chiefs made Super Bowl appearances largely because of respective decisions to trade up for Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes. Some teams that traded down benefited too.
The Bills used the picks obtained in 2017’s Mahomes deal to select cornerstone defenders Tre’Davious White and Tremaine Edmunds. The Titans would not have encountered Mahomes in January’s AFC title game were it not for the Rams’ 2016 Goff-centric trade package producing right tackle Jack Conklin and rushing champion Derrick Henry. In dropping from No. 3 to No. 6 before the 2018 draft, the Colts turned the Jets’ Sam Darnold trade haul into two-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson, starting right tackle Braden Smith and starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
Teams will plot similar strategies this year, highlighting the values of the Nos. 2-4 selections. The Dolphins, Chargers and Panthers (at Nos. 5-7) will be linked to the non-Burrow quarterback contingent. So will select other teams –- likely the Colts at No. 13, regardless of their Philip Rivers interest –- who will know they need to climb ahead of the not-so-subtly QB-committed Dolphins.
Perhaps no team in recent memory has faced a more interesting decision at the top of a draft than the Redskins. Each of their three options –- selecting superstar edge defender Chase Young, trading the pick or drafting Tagovailoa -– make sense. Option 3 would double as one of this century’s draft bombshells.
Before the Cardinals went Josh Rosen-Kyler Murray in 2018 and ‘19, no team had chosen quarterbacks in consecutive first rounds since the Baltimore Colts picked Art Schlichter and John Elway in 1982 and ’83. But Haskins posted the league’s worst 2019 QBR (26.0) by a wide margin. Ron Rivera’s new regime plans to work out Tagovailoa. The Redskins could follow the Cardinals’ lead, but owner Daniel Snyder’s push to draft Haskins last year may tie the new head coach’s hands on a Tagovailoa pick.
Washington’s workout with Tagovailoa could be a play to entice the Dolphins to give up two of their three first-round picks and then some to move into the Redskins’ spot to draft him. The traditional draft value chart assigns 2,600 points to Washington’s No. 2 pick; that sets a high price for any of the teams drafting in the middle of the top 10. It would likely cost the Chargers or Panthers their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks to make that move. The Lions and Giants have more interesting situations to navigate.
Detroit and New York featured bottom-six DVOA defenses last season. The Giants are desperate for linebacker and secondary help; the Lions could use aid nearly everywhere on defense. Each would benefit from trading down, but an issue could arise in the Dolphins’, Chargers’ and Panthers’ close draft-slot proximities.
The Bills and Browns pried two first-round picks from the Chiefs and Texans, respectively, in 2017 because those franchises made 17- and 13-spot jumps to land Mahomes and Watson. Unless a stealth QB suitor outmaneuvers the Miami-L.A.-Carolina trio, the draft value chart does not point to Detroit or New York collecting an extra first-rounder in one of those trades.
That said, the stakes associated with modern quarterbacks stand to increase the Lions’ leverage at No. 3 and possibly the Giants’ at 4. The Redskins threw out the value chart in 2012, sending the Rams three first-rounders and a second to move from No. 6 to No. 2 for Robert Griffin III. If teams become fixated on some of the non-Burrow passers, the Lions or Giants could have a chance to significantly enhance their supporting casts -– provided the Redskins go chalk with Young.
Lions GM Bob Quinn and Giants GM Dave Gettleman indicated they are open to negotiations, but the latter has a bizarre history pointing to Detroit being likelier to land a trade package. In Gettleman’s seven drafts as Panthers or Giants GM, he has never traded down in any round. Establishing a staggeringly poor asset-collection resume, the 69-year-old executive has made 44 picks without making a deal.
The possibility of QB-needy teams waiting for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields in 2021 would theoretically diminish the 2020 class’ value. Franchises have tried this; the Dolphins last year and Browns in 2017 being recent examples. But teams not knowing their 2021 draft slots makes such a path riskier.
The Giants are 12-36 since 2017; the Redskins have one 10-win season in the past 14 years. No NFC team matches the Lions’ 28-year playoff-win drought. One or two of these embattled franchises may well exit this draft with a much-improved long-term outlook, doubling as ancillary beneficiaries from what could be the wildest quarterback offseason in NFL history.