NFL free agency: Ranking fits for quarterbacks who changed teams

Legendary QB Joe Theismann joins Follow The Money to weigh in on why Tom Brady left the Patriots for the Bucs, says he looked at what was around him, vs. the weapons he'd have, also it's no coincidence that Super Bowl is set for Tampa in 2020-21.

The NFL’s quarterback carousel continues to spin, but not in a way anyone could have predicted.

A week into free agency, two Hall of Fame quarterbacks have changed teams, yet two QBs who were recent first-overall picks are still without work.

During the 2019 season, 57 different quarterbacks started games so depth at the position is imperative. But if we’ve learned anything by the moves thus far, the fit and franchise relationship with a quarterback is just as important as the talent level.

Here are the top-five best fits of the free agent quarterbacks who have changed locations in 2020.

1) Tom Brady

Old Team: New England Patriots
New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The best fit of all the quarterbacks in new locations is Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, and that has more to do with the type of weapons at his disposal with the Buccaneers than anything else.

Brady has 120 passing touchdowns to tight ends since 2010, most by any quarterback. That’s more than Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers combined. Last season, however, Brady threw just two touchdowns to tight ends, a career-low as a starter.

In Tampa Bay, Brady inherits a tight end group that has 29 receiving scores since O.J. Howard was drafted in 2017. That’s the fourth-most in the NFL. Expect that ranking to go up.

Howard and Cameron Brate are one of the best tight end duos in the NFL, and no quarterback is better positioned to take advantage of that than Brady. And that’s not even taking into consideration the receiving duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans – the best wideout tandem Brady has ever had and among the best in the league.

A 4,000-yard, 35-touchdown season for Brady is in play in 2020.

2) Philip Rivers

Old Team: Los Angeles Chargers
New Team: Indianapolis Colts

Rivers signed a one-year, $25-million deal in Indy after a down season with the Chargers, throwing 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019. Rivers turned 38 in December and his best football is behind him. He’s always thrown off his back foot and his ability to deal with pressure has gotten worse as his arm strength has decreased.

And that’s why it makes sense that he’s made the move from playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league to one of the best with the Colts.

Eric Ebron is gone so that’s one less weapon in Indianapolis, but Rivers will be upright more and that’s a big improvement. He’ll also have Colts head coach Frank Reich mentoring him again. When Reich was in San Diego from 2013-15, Rivers played some of his best football.

3) Teddy Bridgewater

Old Team: New Orleans Saints
New Team: Carolina Panthers

Bridgewater deserves his three-year, $63-million deal. After all, he was 5-0 last season and has won 16 of his last 22 starts. He’s a bona fide NFL starter who bid his time as a backup. He’s just not an elite starter, so expectations should be tempered.

His division is loaded with good quarterbacks who have been MVP candidates and taken their teams to the Super Bowl. Bridgewater has done neither. In fact, Bridgewater has never thrown more than 14 touchdown passes in a season. That’s a good month for NFC South rivals Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

The Panthers haven’t reached the playoffs since 2017, and you shouldn’t expect that to change just because they’ll start a new quarterback.

The fit with Joe Brady as the offensive coordinator, who coached Bridgewater in New Orleans two years ago, is a good one. Bridgewater is in a position to play his best football, but his ceiling is lower than some of the other quarterbacks who moved.

4) P.J. Walker

Old Team: Houston Roughnecks (XFL)
New Team: Carolina Panthers

Walker is best known by football fans as the only good quarterback in the XFL.

He was so good he’s now in the NFL as the first XFL player to sign in the league. It’s his work before his stint with the Roughnecks, however, that could be the precursor to future success.

Walker played for Panthers new head coach Matt Rhule at Temple, starting all 28 of Rhule’s wins there. Walker’s No. 1 target at Temple was Robby Anderson, who just signed with Carolina as free agent to bring even more familiarity.

In the XFL, Walker threw 15 touchdowns in five Roughnecks games and is an explosive athlete, so if he can pass as well as Bridgewater, don’t be surprised if Walker pushes for the starting job in Carolina.

houston-roughnecks-quarterback-pj-walker-looks-to-pass
In this Feb. 8, 2020 photo, Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker (11) looks to pass as he scrambles during an XFL game in Houston. (Matt Patterson/AP)

5) Marcus Mariota

Old Team: Tennessee Titans
New Team: Las Vegas Raiders

Mariota is saying all the right things and publicly claiming he’s primarily a backup.

But follow the money. Raiders coach Jon Gruden has never seemed sold on Derek Carr but loved Mariota when he was coming out of college, as did Raiders general manager Mike Mayock.

Don’t believe me? Look at Mariota’s contract. It is similar to the contract the New Orleans Saints gave Bridgewater last year. At two years worth $17.6 million, Mariota signed a high-end back-up contract. It could be worth $37.5 million with incentives on games played and wins.

You don’t allocate that amount of money to a depth quarterback unless you anticipate he could become starter.

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