Ranking the top-10 NFL quarterbacks who could change teams during NFL free agency

By Vincent Frank
Nov 12, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) greets Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) after their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

We’re expecting a ton of NFL quarterbacks to change teams once NFL free agency starts around the league in March. As many as 10 who started regularly for teams this past season could be on the move.

When looking at NFL quarterbacks and those who could change host cities, the likes of Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz come to mind first. However, there’s another 10 or so who will make headlines during NFL free agency.

Let’s look at the 10 NFL quarterbacks who could change teams via a trade or free agency and rank them in each category.

Related: Top 40 remaining NFL free agents of 2021

NFL trades: Quarterbacks who could be dealt

1. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan has been among the most consistent NFL quarterbacks of the past decade.
Jan 3, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA;Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) calls a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a chance that this former MVP could leave the Falcons once NFL free agency starts. It’s going to be all about the next head coach and general manager tandem in Atlanta after the organization fired its previous decision makers. If the Falcons are slated to head into full-scale rebuild mode, it makes sense for them to trade the 35-year-old Matt Ryan.

Related: Ideal Matt Ryan trade scenarios

Among the most accomplished NFL quarterbacks of the past decade, Ryan is averaging 4,750 yards to go with 28 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions since the start of the 2011 season. If the Falcons do decide to trade the four-time Pro Bowler, teams likes the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers would certainly come calling.

2. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

Could Matthew Stafford move on from the Lions in NFL free agency?
Dec 13, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) reacts after an injury during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

NFL rumors suggest that the Lions are prepared to move off Matthew Stafford. Much like the Ryan situation in Atlanta, that depends heavily on whether Detroit opts to go into full-scale rebuild mode. Given just how much the team struggled under recently-fired head coach Matt Patricia and former general manager Bob Quinn, it makes sense for the Lions to just blow it up and start anew.

Related: Lions, please, move on from Matthew Stafford

If so, Stafford would be among the top NFL quarterbacks on the trade market come spring time. Despite his team’s lack of success, the former No. 1 pick is still averaging 4,231 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions per season over the past decade. That’s sure to draw interest from quarterback-needy team.

3. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

NFL rumors: Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Oct 25, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws a pass against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There’s certainly a chance that no team will show interest in a Garoppolo trade and he’ll hit NFL free agency. The injury-plagued Super Bowl quarterback is set to count $26.21 million against the cap in 2021. It’s also not a secret that the 49ers are looking to move on from him after the veteran suited up for just six games during the 2020 season.

Related: Ideal Jimmy Garoppolo trade scenarios

Even then, Garoppolo’s track record as a winning quarterback in the NFL (24-8 career record) is hard to ignore. He also put up an all-time great statistical season in 49ers franchise history back in 2019. Are memories around the league short enough to ignore that? Time will tell on this front.

4. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

Denver Broncos quarterback Carson Wentz
Nov 30, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) passes the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

From one of the top young NFL quarterbacks to finding himself relegated to being a healthy inactive. Whatever happened with Wentz during a disastrous 2020 season with the Eagles, it’s readily apparent that he’ll move on to another NFL city in 2021. Wentz will reportedly request a trade after being benched in favor of Jalen Hurts.

Related: Top landing spots for Carson Wentz

There’s little doubt that Wentz will be traded come March. The question becomes how much interest there will be in his services given the quarterback’s bloated four-year, $128 million contract. A lot of that will depend on whether a team views him more like the quarterback we saw from 2017-19 or this past season. What we do know is that NFL free agency will not come and go without Wentz on another team. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are among those who could make sense.

5. Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Some NFL team could still view same Darnold as one of the top young NFL quarterbacks.
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) walks alone on the sidelines during the second half of their loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Jets lost out on consensus No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, it’s an open question whether Darnold will return to the team for a fourth season. That will be up to general manager Joe Douglas and whatever coach he brings in to replace the recently-fired Adam Gase.

Related: 2021 NFL Mock Draft – Big trades, 5 QBs in all-offense top 10

The former No. 3 pick and USC standout struggled without much help from a skill-position and coaching perspective in New Jersey. That included Darnold throwing just 45 touchdowns against 39 interceptions in 38 starts. A change of scenery could do the still-talented righty a world of good.

6. Drew Lock, Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock in midst of sophomore slump
Nov 8, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) leaves the field after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

John Elway’s decision to step down as the Broncos’ general manager could change the narratives in Denver. Elway has been very bullish on Lock since selecting him No. 2 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. It looked good during the Missouri product’s rookie season, but he regressed something terrible in 2020. In fact, Lock tied for the league lead in interceptions with 15.

Related: Top Denver Broncos QB options for 2021

Whoever the Broncos bring on as general manager will be looking for an upgrade in free agency. Perhaps, a trade for one of the starter-caliber NFL quarterbacks could be in the cards here. Heck, one possibility I am willing to float is that Lock is dealt from Denver to San Francisco for Garoppolo. Either way, the young signal caller could be done in Denver after two seasons.

NFL free agency: Quarterbacks in line for starting job

1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Indianapolis Colts quarterback 2021: Dak Prescott
Dec 22, 2019; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) runs off the field after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

It seems more likely than not that, if the Cowboys opt to move on from Prescott, it will be via a trade. Despite the devastating ankle injury this Pro Bowl quarterback suffered back in Week 5, he’d draw a ton of interest on the trade block during NFL free agency. This scenario includes Dallas placing the franchise tag on Prescott for a second consecutive year, only to trade him for at least a first-round pick.

However, there’s another scenario in play that suggests the Cowboys could move off the 27-year-old Pro Bowler completely. If so, Prescott could become one of the most-coveted NFL quarterbacks on the market since Peyton Manning what seems to be eons ago. The signal caller has put up nearly 11,000 passing yards with 73 total touchdowns and 23 interceptions since the start of the 2018 season.

2. Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts quarterback: 5 best options to replace Philip Rivers in 2021
Dec 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; ndianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) reacts on the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, the 39-year-old Rivers will either retire or remain in Indianapolis. It’s hard to imagine the family man moving on from the city in NFL free agency after just one season. That’s not the type of individual this pro has been since he entered the league all the way back in 2004.

Related: NFL Playoff predictions

Even then, there’s a scenario in play that could lead to Rivers opting to move on to another contending team. Perhaps, the Los Angeles Rams are not sold on Jared Goff as the solution. We’re talking about a Super Bowl contender who has been held by his his poor quarterback play. A return to Los Angeles makes some sense.

3. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

Could Mitchell Trubisky leave the Bears during NFL free agency?
Nov 29, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) walks off the field after fumbling the ball resulting in a Green Bay Packers touchdown in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

If we were to look at the Mitchell Trubisky situation a few months ago, it would have seemed unfathomable to believe he’d potentially land a starting job during NFL free agency. Now that the former No. 2 pick has shockingly led his Bears to a playoff appearance, it’s not even a foregone conclusion he’ll leave Chicago.

Since retaking the Bears’ starting job from Nick Foles, Trubisky has put up 11 total touchdowns against five interceptions while leading the Bears to an average of 30 points. At just 26 years old, the North Carolina product still has the talent to be among the best young NFL quarterbacks moving forward. Whether that’s with the Bears or another team remains to be seen.

4. Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys rumors: Andy Dalton
Dec 20, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws the ball against San Francisco 49ers defensive end Kerry Hyder (92) in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

A three-time Pro Bowler, Andy Dalton did an admirable job filling in for an injury Dak Prescott in Dallas this past regular season. It has led to speculation that the Cowboys might look to retain Dalton.

Whether that happens, depends heavily on his market during NFL free agency. Dalton, 33, completed 65% of his passes for 2,169 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine starts.