Rodgers, Kyler, Watson, Wilson QBs to watch as combine starts

As NFL coaches and executives touch down in Indianapolis this week for the league’s annual scouting combine, a multitude of quarterback conversations await. And the vast majority of them — for the next week or so — will have little to do with the 2022 draft prospects.

As one league executive framed it Monday: “There’s three of the top five, six, seven quarterbacks in the league who are on the minds of a dozen [general managers].”

That trio?

Aaron Rodgers, whose future with the Green Bay Packers is still oddly unresolved. Kyler Murray, whose relationship with the Arizona Cardinals is quickly going sideways. And Deshaun Watson, who remains in limbo due to 22 sexual misconduct lawsuits brought against him.

That trio could become a quartet, given that a handful of teams will be inquiring about the availability of the Seattle SeahawksRussell Wilson this week, too.

No scouting combine has ever had this much intrigue surrounding the veteran trade market, most especially where it concerns the quarterback position. Even last year’s QB migration — which netted the Los Angeles Rams Matthew Stafford (and a Super Bowl win) — wasn’t this loaded.

There’s no guarantee any of these quarterbacks change teams this offseason, of course. There’s a path to a trade for all of them, but there’s also a path for each one to remain. Even Watson, in spite of how opaque his legal issues are right now.

With that in mind, here is a thumbnail of each quarterback and what will be on the agenda this week for talks.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers

The longer this drags on with Rodgers, the more it opens the possibility of a trade or retirement. That’s left a lot of signal-reading, whether it’s coming from Rodgers or hints the Packers may be dropping. But three moves are suggestive that Green Bay is preparing for its MVP quarterback to be back in the fold, including a contract restructure for offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, the expected franchise tagging of wideout Davante Adams and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements returning to the franchise. All of these things should be seen through the prism of a front office that is leaning into what Rodgers wants while hammering out a contract that makes him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

That said, the Packers tweeted an “Abbey Road” spoof Monday to promote their trip to London next season — and none of the four players included in the promotion was Rodgers. That could be viewed as the franchise truly not knowing if he’s coming back. It could also be viewed as the Packers knowing Rodgers wants to be the one to reveal his return, and being careful about not letting the cat out of the bag.

As for potential suitors at the combine, the questions are simple: What’s the total cost to leverage a trade, and who is willing to surrender multiple first-round draft picks and $100 million guaranteed to have Rodgers for at least the next two seasons?

The tension between Kyler Murray and the Cardinals has roiled over the past couple of weeks. Will he be on the move? (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals

The strife that we’re seeing — including Murray and the team playing passive-aggressive games with their social media accounts — is all rooted in a contract extension. Murray and his camp believe he has proven his worth as a top-echelon quarterback, and they want the deal that accompanies such players. The fact that the impasse is getting openly combative from Murray’s camp likely speaks to what we saw occur with the Cleveland BrownsBaker Mayfield in 2021: If there’s any shot to get a deal done after Year 3, it’s vital to make that happen. The risk of not doing a deal is running into an injury-marred season like Mayfield in Year 4, then facing the prospect of having to hope that Year 5 gets a payday back on track.

Do teams think Murray is available? No. That won’t stop them from reaching out to his agent or poking around general manager Steve Keim to make certain of it.

The real question now is what number Murray is seeking. Given that agents don’t start their conversations with the second- or third-best deals in mind, it’s a safe bet that Murray’s contract proposal that was sent to the team would make him the highest-paid player in the NFL. Especially given that it’s being signed as the league heads into an expected salary-cap explosion the next few seasons.

Deshaun Watson and the Texans

The criminal investigation and grand jury findings are expected to be resolved by April 1. That’s what Watson’s legal camp believes. If that gets resolved in Watson’s favor, the Texans are going to have an easier time dealing him prior to the draft — even if some or all of the civil cases proceed into court.

However, if a grand jury indicts Watson and he’s forced to plead to a felony charge, that could significantly change the landscape. Most likely, the Texans would not have any suitor willing to trade for a player under a felony indictment, which could in turn lead the team to suspend Watson without pay for conduct detrimental to the franchise and then sit and wait for the legal process to run its course. That or release him, which seems unlikely at this stage.

What’s clear is teams are approaching Watson with stages in mind. First, a resolution into the criminal investigation; second, what action the league intends to take once the criminal resolution lands; and third, how a pursuing franchise feels about the pending civil lawsuits.

After all that, a franchise then must ask whether Watson will waive his no-trade clause and hammer out compensation in the wake of that answer. No team believes there will be anything simple about a Watson pursuit.

Russell Wilson and the Seahawks

The Seahawks weren’t interested in dealing Wilson last offseason, when multiple teams would have engaged in a bidding war to acquire him. From the vantage of other teams that were going to have interest in him this offseason, Seattle doesn’t appear to have altered its stance on keeping him.

The question for teams at the combine is going to be straightforward: Does Wilson want a change of scenery? And if he does, how hard is he going to push to make that happen?

As it stands, Seattle isn’t trading him. It will take a dramatic and likely public move by Wilson to change that. And thus far, he hasn’t been inclined to make that a priority.

The rest of the bunch

The elite party of four won’t be the only quarterbacks drawing eyeballs. Jimmy Garoppolo will be an attractive alternative for some teams if the price is right. Particularly for teams that are looking for a bridge starter or someone capable of competing with an incumbent. Carson Wentz could be a desperation option as well, especially if the Colts find an interested party.


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