Six of the last eight Super Bowl quarterbacks became that team’s starter within the two years prior to reaching the biggest stage. That much we know is true after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs won their respective championship games on Sunday.
Will the Los Angeles Rams be among the team’s to make a QB change next?
The Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft despite already having a capable quarterback in Alex Smith, and they’ve now made the Super Bowl in two of Mahomes’ three seasons as the starter. Mahomes was the league’s MVP in his first season at the helm.
The Buccaneers could have given Jameis Winston another opportunity, or shied away from giving a 43-year-old quarterback a two-year, $50 million contract, but will be hosting the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay in large thanks to their decision to sign Tom Brady.
In 2019, it was Mahomes against Jimmy Garoppolo, a quarterback whom the San Francisco 49ers acquired in trade two seasons earlier. Not only was it Garoppolo’s first season as a full-time starter, it remains the only season in which he played in more than six games. The 49ers may have had an opportunity to replace Garoppolo with Brady in 2020, but they didn’t have the same confidence in him that the Bucs did.
The 2016 NFL Draft not only featured two quarterbacks who’d soon help their teams reach the Super Bowl, but both players were acquired in major draft deals.
The Philadelphia Eagles made the Super Bowl in Carson Wentz’s second season, and although he missed the postseason, his play helped the Eagles secure an important number one seed. Backup Nick Foles, reacquired by the Eagles on a two-year contract that year, did the rest of the work.
Then of course, it was Jared Goff’s turn to face Brady the following year.
That makes six of eight, with the two exceptions being Brady in ‘17 and Brady in ‘18; A player who has now made the Super Bowl so many times that he qualifies as both a longtime veteran with one team and a newbie with his new team.
The 2016 Super Bowl between Brady and Matt Ryan featured two longtime veterans with their teams, but you only have to go back to 2015 to find one of the best free agent acquisitions of all-time: Peyton Manning going to his second Super Bowl in three years with the Denver Broncos.
You’ll then find the Seattle Seahawks going to back-to-back Super Bowls with a starter in his first three seasons. Then the 49ers in 2012, after they made the switch to Colin Kaepernick.
Other 2020 postseason teams with recent-ish changes at quarterback also included the Indianapolis Colts and Philip Rivers, the Tennessee Titans and Ryan Tannehill, the Baltimore Ravens and Lamar Jackson, the Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield, and the Buffalo Bills with Josh Allen. (Or the 2018 draft class is just going to be really good.)
The 2021 quarterback market could prove to be even more interesting than the 2020 carousel that saw Brady land in Tampa Bay and Rivers go to the Colts.
Matthew Stafford is probably on the trading block and Deshaun Watson is plausibly available given that Houston has no first round pick and a team in the top-five could consider making an incredible offer with an intriguing quarterback class waiting.
There may not be any free agents near the caliber of Brady, but Dak Prescott is technically available until the Cowboys tag him, while Mitchell Trubisky and Winston are hopeful that they have “Tannehill moments” ahead. Same goes for others who may seek the “change of scenery” like Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Garoppolo, Gardner Minshew, and even Tua Tagovailoa.
Then there’s a draft class where one of the most rare outcomes in football is happening: two quarterbacks who were the highest rated recruits coming out of high school are still the highest rated prospects three years later! Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields belong to the Jacksonville Jaguars and (somebody) but Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones are among other top-15 hopefuls. And it does not matter what the scouts say about one player’s “ceiling” and another player’s “floor” and which quarterback is being “settled for.”
Justin Herbert was the third QB drafted last year.
Mahomes and Watson went after Trubisky — and it wasn’t relatively close.
But the Chiefs and Texans fought to acquire those quarterbacks on draft day. The Bills also traded up for Allen. The Ravens traded up for Jackson. The Rams and Eagles traded up for Goff and Wentz. The 49ers traded for Garoppolo when they felt it was the right time. The Bucs fought for Brady and you have to wonder what Jon Gruden and John Lynch were thinking on Sunday other than, “Hmmm, I remember when we went to the Super Bowl with the Bucs.”
And it wasn’t because they played it safe, which is what they were doing in the offseason when the Raiders and 49ers might have had a chance to make a change at quarterback with Brady.
The Rams getting into serious discussions with Brady in 2020 was implausible. They lacked money, they were locked into Jared Goff’s deal, and there were reasons to be optimistic about a rebound. Not much has changed in 2021:
- The Rams will have a difficult time getting away from his contract.
- The Rams do not have a first round pick.
- The Rams do not have much salary cap space.
However, one thing has certainly changed and that’s the optimism of a rebound. I think what Los Angeles will ultimately end up doing is doubling down on their defense and attempting to get even better on that side of the ball with Raheem Morris, but changes at quarterback will have to be explored.
As we’ve seen in the Super Bowl recently, changes at quarterback should almost always be explored.