Although the number could end up higher, there are nine teams essentially guaranteed to have new starting quarterbacks in 2023. With this exercise, I will attempt to suss out where the expected changes will have the biggest impact for the upcoming season. To put a fine point on it … although no one needs a new starting quarterback more than Houston, there are many, many clubs in position to receive a greater immediate bang for their 2023 upgrade buck.
More than any team, the Jets were “only a quarterback away” in 2022. At one point 7-4 and on the cusp of their first postseason appearance since 2010, Gang Green endured an 0-6 flameout because Plan A right on down to Plan D (Chris Streveler) did not work out at quarterback. Mike LaFleur's offense didn't score a touchdown in any of its final three games, wasting an ascendant defense and young skill corps highlighted by OROY Garrett Wilson. Even with offensive line questions in an increasingly-competitive division, the Jets are ready to compete right now … if only they can find someone even vaguely competent at football's most important position.
Like the Jets, the Commanders had the answer in almost every position group but the most important in 2022. Alive as late as Week 17, the “Commies” finished the season in a 1-3-1 slide where both Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz lost starts. The only winner was fifth-rounder Sam Howell, who got the better of a Cowboys team that couldn't decide if it was trying or resting in Week 18. Howell found the end zone via both land and air, further fueling a hype train that had been chugging in the dynasty community since the spring. The Commanders took notice, too, with coach Ron Rivera saying Howell would at least begin the offseason as Washington's starter. There, of course, is plenty of wiggle room in that statement, and the Commanders should use it to find an upgrade. Readymade on defense and in the skill corps with Chase Young returning to full health and Eric Bieniemy arriving, Washington would be playing a dangerous game of chance entrusting this rising roster to sophomore Howell.
The Falcons were the NFC South's highest-scoring team by 18 points in 2022 even as Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder combined to finish 20th in quarterback EPA. That they were even that high speaks to the strength of coach Arthur Smith's scheme on the ground. Smith has the run game figured out, and it could work in devastating tandem with the Falcons' passing attack if they find someone to deliver the ball to young stars Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Although the Falcons' defense isn't anywhere close to ready for prime time, a quarterback upgrade could be all the Dirty Birds need to emerge triumphant in a division where no group bettered .500 last season.
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For the Raiders, it's not so much that they're a quarterback away from being a playoff team. They're a quarterback away from even being relevant in a Patrick Mahomes-led division that still has Justin Herbert and just added Sean Payton. They need an Aaron Rodgers-type talent to simply give them a chance at avoiding last place. If Rodgers does arrive to complement Davante Adams and coach Josh McDaniels, the Silver and Black could think bigger, even if the cellar remains a distinct possibility.
Although they're getting old in a hurry, you could still argue the Bucs are a better “just add quarterback” situation than either the Raiders or Falcons. It's just that, when the cliff comes for older teams, it comes fast, and it arguably already arrived for Tampa in 2022. It wouldn't be surprising if Tom Brady was the only thing keeping the operation afloat, especially since painfully-conservative coach Todd Bowles is all but guaranteed to keep a lid on his offense in 2023. New play-caller Dave Canales comes from the famously-balanced Seahawks, and balance isn't going to be close to enough to get this offense back on the right track. It's going to take a true franchise signal caller, and they are in even shorter supply than usual this offseason.
I thought the Panthers would rank higher when I began this exercise, but the fact is, their surprising post-Matt Rhule performance wasn't because of a loaded roster. The Falcons feel closer to being “a problem” even if we know Panthers owner David Tepper is probably more likely to pay the cost of acquiring a true franchise quarterback. If he does, he will be paired with Frank Reich, a QB whisperer who has had success with just about every archetype of quarterback until he finally bit off more than he could chew with Carson Wentz and the remains of Matt Ryan. Like the Falcons, this division is wide open enough that a quarterback could be the one thing standing between Carolina and an NFC South crown. I just think the Falcons are ultimately better positioned.
Completing the NFC South quartet is the Saints, who incredibly make it 4-for-4 on NFCS squads who are in the hunt for a new triggerman. Like the Falcons and Panthers, the Saints can credibly claim better quarterback play might have put them over the top in 2022. Also like the Falcons and Panthers, they have major questions elsewhere, beginning with a toxic salary cap situation that will make finding a true game-changer difficult. The Saints never fail to think big. It will take another major gamble to find a quarterback truly ready to change this franchise's post-Drew Brees downward trajectory.
There's just enough talent here on both offense and defense that the Colts can justifiably claim they are a mere quarterback away from getting back in the mix in this rebuilding division. It helps that they have Nick Sirianni disciple Shane Steichen as their new head coach. As we have learned all too often, “systems” aren't always as transferable as we might hope, but Steichen actually called the Sunday plays for Sirianni's versatile, explosive offense the past two years. He can be trusted to at least set the pins up correctly. If he finds the right quarterback to knock them down, Jeff Saturday will feel like a long time ago in a hurry.
In terms of just sheer 2022 ineptitude, no one is in greater need of a quarterback upgrade than Houston. We just know no one player is going to make this team a 2023 contender, and that even 2024 could be a stretch. The cupboard is completely bare in essentially every position group, both offense and defense. Whomever the Texans select at No. 2 overall — or perhaps No. 1 — will have the potential to make the greatest long-term impact of any upgrade on this list. Just don't expect any short-term miracles even if this division finds itself at a low ebb.