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Free agency in the NFL doesn’t officially start for another week. But already this year’s game of musical chairs at football’s most important position has begun—and one chair has been filled.
Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, the Saints inked Derek Carr to a four-year, $150 million contract that includes $100 million in total guarantees. The Saints have been courting Carr since before he was released by the Raiders in February, and with the 31-year-old now in the fold, they may well be the preseason favorites in an NFC South with lots of uncertainty under center. There will be some tough financial decisions to make—the Saints are $24.6 million over the 2023 cap, per Over the Cap. They have apparently already made one, as the team is expected to release Jameis Winston.
For Carr, it’s a reunion with head coach Dennis Allen, who was with the Raiders when Carr was drafted in 2014. In October, Carr told reporters ahead of the Raiders matchup with the Saints that he and Allen still have a great relationship.
“[Allen] and I have a great relationship still to this day,” Carr said. “And I still talk to him and things like that—obviously not this week and all those things—but we’ve always kept in contact. We’ve always been close.”
This is a signing that shakes up the balance of power in the NFC South. But its impact goes well beyond that division. The Saints were hardly the only team looking to upgrade under center, and with Carr off the board there’s one fewer option available.
That ratchets up the pressure to grab a seat before the music stops.
Panic Time in New York?
Carr was linked to the Jets quite a bit since his release. In fact, as recently as Sunday there were reports that he was leaning toward signing with New York. That’s not surprising—the Jets have been linked at one time or another with just about every free-agent quarterback with a pulse.
Now that Carr is in New Orleans, the attention in New York has turned to one player—one game-breaker of an option.
At this point, it could be Aaron Rodgers or bust in the Big Apple.
Rodgers is still under contract in Green Bay, and he has yet to indicate whether he plans to play again. Or if he wants to play in Titletown or elsewhere. But while appearing on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Friday, Adam Schefter said that the tea leaves are pointing toward Rodgers’ days in Green Bay being over.
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“My sense is there continues to be more and more signs about him leaving Green Bay,” Schefter said, via WFAN. “And I think in the end, my sense is ultimately it will come down to whether he wants to play elsewhere, which would be really the New York Jets, or whether he wants to retire. To me, those are the two most logical options and the two most likely scenarios here. But again, we have not heard from Aaron Rodgers himself.”
Now, a desire from Rodgers to play in New York isn’t the only stumbling block here. A package of picks that Green Bay is willing to accept for Rodgers has to be worked out. There’s also the matter of the nearly $60 million in guaranteed money Rodgers is owed in 2023 alone—a sum that Jets owner Woody Johnson isn’t keen on paying out, per The Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt.
But with no Carr to fall back on, the pressure to make a Rodgers trade happen has ratcheted up considerably—in part because the other fallback option among veteran free agents has suitors of his own.
Jimmy G Headed to Sin City?
The Jets have also been linked to Jimmy Garoppolo, but again that isn’t especially surprising—given the desperation for an upgrade under center in New York, the Jets have been linked to, well, everyone.
However, New York won’t be the only team interested in Garoppolo. Per ESPN’s Dan Graziano, if the Raiders can’t maneuver their way into the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes, Garoppolo could be the team’s Plan B.
“The Las Vegas Raiders remain a team to watch in the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes, whenever those kick off,” Graziano said, via Kyle Posey of Niner Nation. “Coach Josh McDaniels has long been an admirer of his, and Rodgers would be the best possible addition at quarterback if the Raiders and McDaniels are trying to win in the 2023 season.
“If they can’t get him, a lot of people in Indianapolis this week expect McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler to pursue free agent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they know from his time in New England early in his career. There’s also some chatter that McDaniels might try to acquire Mac Jones from the Patriots, though it seems unlikely New England would consider moving the 2021 first-rounder.”
Of course, just as with Rodgers the problem for teams like the Raiders and Jets is that they are hardly the only teams that could make a play for Garoppolo. The Houston Texans are expected to draft a quarterback second overall in 2023, but they could be looking for a “bridge” starter. The Washington Commanders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both have unproven youngsters atop the depth chart. The Carolina Panthers have been trying to upgrade at quarterback for years.
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There are just too many teams and too few chairs. Someone is going to be left sifting through the likes of Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett and Baker Mayfield while trying to convince itself those cast-offs can still be viable NFL starters.
There is, however, one more potential option—one that could be an even bigger game-changer than Rodgers.
Could Lamar Jackson Leave Baltimore?
The deadline to apply the franchise tag to impending free agents is Tuesday. And unless a last-minute, long-term deal is reached ala Geno Smith on Monday, there appear to be two quarterbacks who will be tagged—Daniel Jones of the Giants and Lamar Jackson of the Ravens.
That part isn’t especially surprising. But the latest news from Baltimore is eye-opening—and a development that could completely reshape the free-agent dynamic at quarterback. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Ravens are considering applying the non-exclusive franchise tag to Jackson.
“Baltimore has had a challenging time negotiating with Jackson, so this allows him to shop his own services and bring an offer to the Ravens, taking out the guesswork and the haggling over guaranteed money,” he wrote. “The tag should also fall somewhere around $32 million, far less than the projected $45 million for the exclusive franchise tag. And transferring the work to Jackson and other teams helps Baltimore maintain neutrality in any potential breakup.”
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To say this is a major gamble for the Ravens is an understatement. The major sticking point between player and team has reportedly been guaranteed money—Jackson is reportedly seeking a contract similar to what the Cleveland Browns gave Deshaun Watson. Given his recent injury history, it’s understandable that the Ravens might be reluctant to do that.
But just because the Ravens are reluctant to acquiesce to Jackson’s demands doesn’t mean other teams will be. All it takes is one team desperate for a franchise quarterback (like the Panthers) to give Jackson what he wants. At that point, the Ravens would have two choices.
The first is match the offer for a quarterback they inferred wasn’t worth that offer in allowing him to test the market to begin with.
The second is to let him walk, receiving two first-round picks in compensation. That might sound like a lot, but given what the Texans got for Watson, two firsts for a 26-year-old former MVP is a paltry return.
If Jackson tests the market, there will be suitors—quite possibly every team listed in this column and some that aren’t. And while Carr joining the Saints may have started the quarterback carousel spinning, it’s Rodgers and Jackson who could really kick it into high gear.