The 11* best quarterbacks available in 2022 NFL offseason: Jimmy Garoppolo among top options
The NFL is perpetually referred to as a "quarterback league," and this week – when there have been zero football games played by our count – serves as a stark reminder as to why.
Tuesday, Aaron Rodgers finally revealed his decision to return to the Green Bay Packers – not really a surprise – but the ripple effects were almost instantaneous. With Rodgers remaining in Wisconsin, the Denver Broncos pulled the trigger on a deal with the Seattle Seahawks for Russell Wilson hours later. The Washington Commanders, who failed to acquire Matthew Stafford last year and couldn't pry Wilson loose last week, decided Wednesday to make a (panic?) move for Carson Wentz, though a net loss of two third-round picks to the Indianapolis Colts – or potentially a second- and third-rounder if Wentz plays enough – is hardly a king's ransom.
So now what? With three high-profile passers landing in their musical chairs, who fills the remaining seats? A pretty motley crew actually, though one that will offer quarterback-deficient teams compelling options.
Here are the top 11* signal callers still currently available ahead of the 2022 season:
11. Teddy Bridgewater
His name says it all – a bridge over troubled waters. Sure, he hasn't taken a playoff snap since before his horrific knee injury in Minnesota, and maybe he's not going to light up highlight reels with his legs or deep downfield shots. But Teddy B. is beloved in every locker room he's graced and will protect the ball – definitely the type of savvy game manager who could guide a strong roster into postseason. Potential fits: Colts, Saints, Seahawks
10. Marcus Mariota
He hasn't started a game in two years, but his athleticism remains so intriguing that the Raiders regularly brought him in for special packages the past two seasons, Mariota running the ball (22 attempts) nearly as often as he threw it (30). Also popular with teammates – and perhaps rehabbed from his shortfall in Tennessee, which drafted him second overall in 2015 – it might be time for someone to give the 28-year-old another shot ... or at least put him in another prominent backup situation. Potential fits: Bears, Colts, Dolphins, Jets, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks, Texans
9. Gardner Minshew II*
He's under contract for one more year in Philadelphia, but isn't somebody with QB issues going to give up a – say, a fifth-rounder? – to give a guy making $2.5 million in 2022 another shot? Minshew isn't the biggest guy (6-1, 225), nor does he have a rifle arm. But he makes up for his physical shortcomings with moxie, confidence and leadership. In 22 NFL starts, he's managed a 93.9 passer rating and 41-12 TD-to-INT ratio despite playing in largely suboptimal conditions with Jacksonville. If a better team stashes the 'stache on its roster, could be a heist. Potential fits: Buccaneers, Colts, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks
8. Matt Corral
The Ole Miss product is still recovering from a right ankle injury suffered in the Sugar Bowl and didn't work out at the scouting combine. That doesn't mean some team won't target him in the first round of the 2022 draft. A renowned leader and fearless player – especially when he breaks the pocket – the 6-2, 212-pounder is a plus athlete who makes plays with his whip arm and legs and is well versed with RPOs. He might need extra time to adjust to the NFL – most young passers do – but could be worth the investment. Potential fits: Colts, Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Texans
7. Mitch Trubisky
If you want to remember him as Nickelodeon's Valuable Player from the Bears' playoff loss after the 2020 season, then fine. Trubisky didn't have any business being the second overall pick of the 2017 draft – infamously selected ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. But he was a core element of two playoff teams in Chicago – yes, you can easily argue those Bears editions would have gone further with better QB play – did get a Pro Bowl nod and, again, was respected by the locker room. The physical gifts of Trubisky, 27, remain, and many around the league seem to think a year spent in Buffalo holding a clipboard behind Josh Allen might have been a valuable apprenticeship. He could be a low-risk, high-reward gamble and certainly the kind of guy who could push for playing time. Potential fits: Buccaneers, Browns, Colts, Giants, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks
6. Jordan Love*
The fact remains that the Packers thought enough of him to move up and select Love with the 26th pick of the 2020 draft. It seemed like an ideal situation for Love at the time since it was widely suggested he needed seasoning after starring for Utah State but had the tools to be an NFL starter. Few could have imagined what would transpire over the next two seasons, including Love's unimpressive starting debut in 2021, when eventual league MVP Aaron Rodgers was out with COVID-19. And yet there might still be a diamond to mine here, and the opportunity to obtain Love and the final two or three years of his rookie contract surely won't cost more than a mid-round pick. Pretty good risk/reward ratio. Potential fits: Colts, Saints, Seahawks, Texans
5. Kenny Pickett
The 2021 Heisman Trophy finalist and ACC player of the year is generally regarded as the most NFL-ready passer available in the draft. An underrated athlete who's experienced, accurate (67.2% completion rate in 2021) and highly productive (4,319 yards, 42 TDs and 7 INTs through the air) during his breakout senior season, Pickett doesn't have an amazing arm, but he's got enough and – more importantly – seems to do a good job progressing though his reads. Might be Pro Bowl caliber. Potential fits: Colts, Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Saints, Seahawk, Steelers, Texans
4. Jameis Winston
The only player drafted before Mariota in 2015, Winston's up and downs – encapsulated by his 5,109-yard, 33 TD, 30 INT 2019 campaign in Tampa – are well documented. Yet he's only 28 and seemed to be on the upswing in 2021, when he probably would have guided the Saints into the playoffs had he not torn an ACL amid a 5-2 start. The tutelage from Sean Payton and Drew Brees clearly seemed to help Winston, who had the best touchdown pass rate (8.7%) and lowest interception frequency (1.9%) of his seven-year career. He could be a very enticing, cost-effective addition. Potential fits: Colts, Saints, Seahawks, Texans
3. Malik Willis
The Liberty star, an Auburn transfer, has more tantalizing upside than any QB in this draft. Willis is a tank while on the move, nearly topping 1,000 rushing yards in both of his seasons with the Flames. But it's the electric arm he showcased at the combine that really makes talent evaluators drool. He can strike to all parts of the field and makes amazing off-platform throws. He'll need to get more consistent and polished as a passer – especially when it comes to hanging in the pocket rather than exiting prematurely – but he'll be special if it all comes together. Potential fits: Buccaneers, Colts, Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Texans
2. Jimmy Garoppolo*
He's due $25.6 million in 2022, the final year he's under contract with the 49ers. They are almost definitely moving on to Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick of last year's draft (and at great cost in terms of capital), sooner than later. Garoppolo also underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder Tuesday, and his recovery timetable could be around four months – not ideal if he's trying to assimilate with a new team. His limitations were on display during San Francisco's latest playoff drive, but he also knows how to execute a game plan and – generally – won't kill you with mistakes ... even if he's also unlikely to be the guy who puts a Lombardi Trophy on ice. But teammates swear by him, and a 33-14 record as a starter is suggestive of his efficacy when armed with strong supporting casts. Potential fits: Buccaneers, Colts, Dolphins, Giants, Saints, Steelers
1. Deshaun Watson*
From a football perspective, acquiring a 26-year-old, multi-talented, three-time Pro Bowler is a unique opportunity. Of course, reality is far more complicated. Friday, a grand jury declined to indict Watson on nine criminal complaints, meaning he will not face charges on sexual misconduct allegations. Still, he faces 22 civil lawsuits as well as an ongoing NFL investigation, which could result in a suspension. What's obvious is that he's not a part of the Texans' future – and it's equally clear Houston can't pay him not to work in 2022, when Watson's base salary more than triples to $35 million. And let's not forget his no-trade clause, which will force the Texans to work with Watson as potential future employers are considered. As complicated a calculus as one could imagine, to say nothing of satisfying the Texans' massive trade demands on the football side. But if everything gets resolved, then some franchise is going to get quite a jumpstart. Potential fits: Falcons, Eagles, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks
TB12. Tom Brady*
May as well just throw out a bonus 12th name since apparently retired Brady just can't bring himself to say he's never playing again. Still, if the door is unlocked for the GOAT to return in pursuit of an eighth Super Bowl ring, there are very few people he's opening it for – and one would certainly be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since they still own his rights, and given GM Jason Licht and coach Bruce Arians telegraphed at the combine that they'd love to have Brady back in 2022. Aside from that? Well, you just wonder if there is some scenario where the Bay Area native could orchestrate a career finale with the franchise he rooted for as a young boy in the 1980s. Potential fits: Bucs ... 49ers
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.