At the time, it felt like a singular event, the natural culmination of a spectacular 20-year career in New England followed by a mutual understanding that Tom Brady deserved to call his next — and almost certainly final — move as a six-time Super Bowl champion who had given the Patriots all he had.
Brady got that chance and has made the most of it with a stunning run to Super Bowl LV next Sunday in Tampa, where he will face off against Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the young superstar who has a chance to dominate the NFL as Brady has done for these last two decades-plus.
But there’s more to Brady’s departure from New England that we now realize. And while he had the choice to make his next move as an unrestricted free agent, the 43-year-old’s insistence that he have a chance to go elsewhere now must be viewed as the first domino in what will be a seismic event in terms of quarterback movement.
What we are about to witness is something we’ve never encountered before. In fact, it’s already started.
There could be upwards of a dozen moves among quarterbacks that would drastically change the balance of power in the NFL and perhaps forever change the way teams do business at the most important position in all of professional sports.
The Rams and Lions got things rolling Saturday night when quarterbacks Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford were traded in a blockbuster deal. According to ESPN, the Rams acquired Stafford in exchange for two future first-round picks, a third-round choice and Goff.
There will be more.
From Deshaun Watson, who has asked to be traded from the Texans, to Sam Darnold, who might not be entrusted with the Jets’ franchise any longer, to Dak Prescott, whose future in Dallas is not assured, we may see an unprecedented eruption of movement among quarterbacks.
Here’s a look at who already has or will figure most prominently in the impending game of musical quarterbacks that will feature different passers occupying different chairs heading into next season:
Matthew Stafford, Lions/Rams: New coach (Dan Campbell), new general manager (Brad Holmes), and that’s a wrap for Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009. He is a richly talented quarterback who has never had a complete team around him, and Stafford now has been given the chance to play with the Rams and quarterback-friendly coach Sean McVay. The Colts and 49ers also had interest, and other quarterback-needy teams such as Denver, New England, New Orleans, Washington and Chicago surely were aware of the Stafford sweepstakes.
Jared Goff, Rams/Lions: The Rams had invested heavily in the top pick in 2016, extending his contract in hopes he could be the long-term answer at quarterback. But you knew his time with the Rams was up when a reporter asked the general manager about Goff’s job status and he responded with the following: "Jared Goff is a Ram at this moment," Les Snead said in a media briefing Tuesday. Asked to amplify his response, Snead said Goff is "a Ram right now. What’s today? Jan. 26." Well, it’s Jan. 31, and Goff no longer is a Ram. He’s the Lions’ successor to Stafford.
Deshaun Watson, Texans: My, how things have changed since Watson’s emotional Zoom conference call last September to announce a four-year, $156 million contract extension. The Texans had hoped the 25-year-old would be around for 10 or more years, but he may have taken his final snap for Houston. Dysfunction in ownership and the front office and the firing of Bill O’Brien just a month into the 2020 season have prompted Watson to want out. He has a no-trade clause in his contract, and while the Texans insist they don’t want to trade their franchise quarterback, they may be left with no choice. Watson may be eyeing the Jets and Dolphins among his preferred landing spots, but look for half of the NFL — or possibly even more — to make inquiries. It is almost unfathomable that a quarterback in his prime and under contract through 2025 would be available, but here we are.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers: Rodgers and the Packers were shocked by Brady’s underdog Buccaneers in last week’s NFC Championship Game, and it was Rodgers himself who sparked a ton of speculation about his future by expressing uncertainty about what lies ahead. It’s hard to see the Packers moving on from Rodgers, 37, even though they made the controversial decision to draft Jordan Love in the first round last season. Rodgers is coming off a presumptive MVP performance in the regular season, and despite the upset loss to Tampa Bay, Packers president Mark Murphy said he isn’t going anywhere. "We’re not idiots," Murphy told reporters. "Aaron Rodgers will be back." Look for that to be the case, and look for Green Bay to sweeten Rodgers’ contract to eliminate any questions about whether he might enter 2021 as a lame duck. That said, we are talking about the team that moved on from Hall of Famer Brett Favre once Rodgers was ready to take over. And while it’s difficult to see Rodgers playing anywhere else next season, it’s expected that teams — particularly the 49ers, who passed over Rodgers in favor of Alex Smith in 2005 — will at least inquire about his availability.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys: The Cowboys blew it by not signing Prescott to a long-term contract, and now they’re in a most unenviable position. Prescott, who will be ready to return from an ankle injury in 2021, has all the leverage, and while the Cowboys want to sign him to a long-term contract, it will be far more expensive than it would have been as early as two years ago. If Prescott doesn’t re-sign with Dallas, there will be plenty of suitors. Again, that scorecard of teams looking for quarterbacks: Indianapolis, San Francisco, Denver, New England, New Orleans, Washington and Chicago.
Sam Darnold, Jets: He once was viewed as the answer for the Jets, but after three seasons, some serious regression in 2020 and the change from Adam Gase to Robert Saleh as the head coach, Darnold’s future is murky at best. The Jets will make a run at Watson, and if the price isn’t prohibitively high, he could be their starter in 2021 and beyond. Which leaves Darnold potentially going to Houston in a deal or to a quarterback-needy team such as Washington, Chicago, Denver or San Francisco. He probably won’t fetch more than a second-round pick, but if the Jets do deal him, general manager Joe Douglas certainly will look for a decent return. And, as he showed by getting two first-round picks for safety Jamal Adams, he’s certainly capable of that.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers: Jimmy G. led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2019 season, but injuries and coach Kyle Shanahan’s search to potentially upgrade the position might mean he’ll play elsewhere next season. Don’t discount the Patriots, who drafted Garoppolo as a potential heir apparent to Brady before trading him to San Francisco in 2017.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: If Roethlisberger plays anywhere in 2021, it will be for Pittsburgh, where he has been the quarterback since he became a first-round draft pick in 2004. His Steelers future is somewhat uncertain because of salary-cap issues — he will count $41.2 million toward next season’s cap — and Pittsburgh needs to rework the deal to make it work. Roethlisberger, who will turn 39 in March, showed signs of age during the second half in 2020 and into the playoffs. If he does come back, it’s difficult to see him playing beyond 2021.
Carson Wentz, Eagles: Philly made a dramatic move up the draft board in 2016 to take Wentz at No. 2 overall, but after a knee injury short-circuited an MVP-caliber season in 2018, Wentz has been on a steady downward track. There’s talk of a reunion with former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich in Indianapolis, but the more likely scenario is Wentz remaining in Philadelphia and seeing if new coach Nick Sirianni can coax improvement out of him.
Matt Ryan, Falcons: There’s no guarantee the Falcons will keep him, but first-year coach Arthur Smith may be willing to give it a year with Ryan, in part because of his onerous salary-cap situation. Ryan isn’t what he was in his prime, but he’d certainly draw attention if he were made available via trade or in the unlikely event the Falcons release him.