The stage was set. After over two decades of excellence, including two years in Tampa Bay, Tom Brady called it a career. Having led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in his first year with the team, it seemed there was little left to prove for the greatest quarterback ever. Tampa’s rivals now saw a much clearer path towards a division title.
Then Brady unretired.
While it took less than a month for the Bucs to regain their star signal caller, the long-term future of the quarterback position for the Saints, Falcons and Panthers is murky at best. Even for Tampa, relying on an android like Brady can only take them so far; he’ll be 45 by the time the regular season kicks off. With familiar faces such as Cam Newton, Drew Brees and now Matt Ryan all departing in recent years, this is a division filled with QB-needy teams. Whether they decide to make their move for a young starter in this year’s draft or hold off, this has already become a pivotal offseason for the NFC South at the game’s most important position.
Tom Brady’s fake retirement was a blessing for Tampa Bay, but also a wakeup call. The team can ill afford to assume Tom will pull the ol’ Brett Favre and come out of retirement twice (although he is obsessed with breaking every record…). The prudent move would be to prepare for the next decade and draft a quarterback. Even with limited talent amongst this year’s QB’s and more immediate needs, general manager Jason Licht should consider drafting a young gunslinger such as Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, or Matt Corral on draft night. Having your future franchise gunslinger learn from the best to ever do it seems like a great way to seamlessly transition into the next era of Bucs football.
“If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.”
It’s a saying as old as time. For the Saints, it’s a bit different. Jameis Winston returned on a two-year deal after an injury-shortened 2021 season with New Orleans. Do-it-all offensive weapon Taysom Hill is still around, but he was inconsistent when given the chance to start last year, and his bromance with Sean Payton is over after the latter retired. As if that wasn’t enough, the team drafted Ian Book in the fourth round of last year’s draft, and Notre Dame’s winningest quarterback struggled mightily in his only start. With holes elsewhere on an aging roster, as well as three different quarterback options under team control, drafting another would make things a bit crowded. Better to play it out this season and target an arm amongst the much more promising 2023 group.
The Falcons made headlines when they traded away Matt Ryan, the face of their franchise for over a decade. Starting in his place will likely be Marcus Mariota, who head coach Arthur Smith is familiar with from his days as offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. While Mariota is a fine stopgap, Atlanta needs to think big. With the eighth pick in the upcoming draft, the opportunity to snag the first quarterback of the night is possible. It might mean making a trade to move ahead of the Panthers (more on them later), who sit at sixth, but it’s worth seeing what the cost will be. The team might try to tank their way to the top next season instead, but getting a high draft pick is never a guarantee.
Similarly to the Falcons, the Panthers are in need of a quarterback. Unlike Atlanta, they’ve already spent a premium asset on the position, trading away a 2022 second and fourth round pick to the New York Jets for Sam Darnold last offseason. Darnold played well enough to lead the team to a 3-0 start, but the offense quickly fell apart once Christian McCaffrey got injured in Week 3. Without a star running back demanding most of the defense’s attention, Darnold quickly became the turnover-prone mess he often was in New York. With Matt Rhule entering his third season as Carolina’s head coach on thin ice, he can ill-afford to leave his fate in the hands of the inconsistent Darnold again. Nabbing a top QB like Willis or Pickett could give the offense a boost, but it’s doubtful the front office would trade much of their already-limited draft capital to move into the top five. That means if the rival Falcons move ahead of them, the Panthers may be stuck with Darnold for one more season, whether they like it or not.