The NFL offseason is a fluid process. While many team needs appear obvious right now, they can quickly change. Andrew Luck's sudden retirement at the end of the 2019 offseason is a prime example.
Members of the media and fans can guess what teams' biggest needs will be heading into the draft, but no one knows for certain which areas will be addressed in just over a month. Free agency officially kicks off on March 18, and clubs can begin contacting players two days earlier.
It's entirely possible that some moves made during free agency completely change how things unfold on the draft's opening night. Here, we'll examine some hypothetical deals that could do exactly that—some specific, some less so, but all potentially impactful.
The Quarterback Free-Agent Carousel
It's probably best to lump a number of potential free-agent quarterback moves into one slide; otherwise, they would dominate this list entirely. With signal-callers like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, Philip Rivers, Case Keenum and Dak Prescott scheduled to hit the open market, the draft picture could change in a big way.
Depending on where the top quarterbacks land, we could see the first round of the draft shift entirely. If, for example, the Los Angeles Chargers sign Brady, then they may be out on a quarterback with the sixth overall selection. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be in the market at 14 if they don't retain Winston or add a veteran in free agency.
This is one of the deepest free-agent quarterback classes in recent memory, and it could heavily influence a questionable group of quarterback prospects.
"This is not a good overall quarterback class, that's for sure," one scout told ESPN.
Expect the veteran QB carousel to be one of the main attractions of free agency. Several franchise-quarterback pairings could emerge, and none of them are entirely unrealistic. Potential partnerships that make headlines will forge a starting point for the draft and its quarterback picture.
The New Orleans Saints Part with Drew Brees
While Brees is technically poised to be a free agent, it feels far more likely that he'll either return to the New Orleans Saints or call it a career. With Brees reportedly exploring a future broadcasting career, per The Athletic's Jeff Duncan, the latter option may be on the near horizon.
This could cause the Saints to call off extension talks with Brees altogether.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Saints' plan is to transition to Taysom Hill under center—ideally in 2021. If Brees isn't fully committed to one last run at a title, or if he isn't keen on next year's transition, New Orleans could bump that timetable up a year.
If so, it would almost certainly alter the Saints' offseason plans. Moving on from Brees could put them in the draft market for a quarterback or make re-signing Bridgewater more of a priority. Either move would have a domino effect on the quarterback market and the draft.
The Carolina Panthers Trade Cam Newton to the Chargers
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is not slated to become a free agent—he has one year remaining on his current deal. However, he could still be on the move this offseason via a trade.
According to Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller, the Chargers are a potential landing spot for the 2015 MVP.
"All signs from league sources indicate the team will draft a signal-caller—either Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa—in the first round, but within the last three days there have been a number of unsolicited calls and texts about a trade for Cam Newton," Miller wrote.
If Newton is traded to the Chargers—or any other team, for that matter—it could place Carolina firmly in the quarterback market at seventh overall. If Newton lands with the Chargers, it could take them out of the QB market at sixth.
This wouldn't take L.A. out of the draft's quarterback market entirely—Newton's health remains a question—but the Chargers would likely go in a different direction with their first pick.
The Detroit Lions Trade Matthew Stafford
The Detroit Lions could further complicate the quarterback market and cloud the draft picture by trading longtime starter Matthew Stafford.
While a trade involving Stafford would be surprising, it reportedly has been discussed.
"I have heard from people who would legitimately know that that's something that's been talked about in the last, at minimum, in the last week," NFL Network's Dave Dameshek said on the Locked on Lions podcast.
Stafford missed eight games in 2019 because of a back injury, but he likely would have plenty of suitors if the Lions make him available. The 32-year-old has passed for more than 41,000 yards in his career, and he should have plenty left in his proverbial tank.
If the Lions were to deal Stafford, that could take a team like the Chargers or Panthers out of the quarterback market early in Round 1. It would also place Detroit firmly in that market. That would also increase the value of the Washington Redskins' No. 2 pick, as someone would likely scramble to get ahead of the Lions at No. 3.
Washington Signs Jadeveon Clowney or Chris Jones
The Redskins hold the No. 2 pick in the draft, and unless new head coach Ron Rivera decides he doesn't want Dwayne Haskins, the team isn't likely to take a quarterback there. Moving on from Haskins doesn't feel like a realistic option, based on recent comments from Redskins senior vice president of player development Doug Williams.
"The new staff knows that Dwayne Haskins is the starting quarterback here," Williams said, per ESPN's John Keim.
Washington presumably will take Ohio State pass-rushing phenom Chase Young with the No. 2 pick if it stays put. However, that plan could change if the team signs one of the top two pass-rushers in free agency—Jadeveon Clowney or Chris Jones.
"I will tell you right now, I have somebody who is at the Senior Bowl who told me, flat out: the Washington Redskins could remake their franchise, this year, by dealing the second pick in the draft," NBC Sports' Peter King said on the Redskins Talk podcast.
Adding a player like Jones or Clowney to an already formidable defensive front would make the decision to trade the No. 2 pick much easier.
Someone Trades for the No. 1 Pick
The Cincinnati Bengals currently hold the No. 1 pick in the draft. Their selection is likely to be LSU quarterback Joe Burrow—if Cincinnati keeps the pick. There's no guarantee that happens.
"Do I want to draft him if I'm the Bengals? Yeah," former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said, via the team's official website. "But if the Dolphins are going to offer me three first-rounders, or if some team is going to offer me two first-rounders this year and a first-rounder next year, I have to strongly consider it for the good of the team."
Houshmandzadeh has been working out with Burrow in preparation for the draft.
The Miami Dolphins own three first-round picks this year. The Las Vegas Raiders own two. A team could offer a package of players and draft picks that pries the top selection away from Cincinnati.
While most draft trades are executed in real time, such deals aren't foreign to free agency. The Philadelphia Eagles traded up for the selection that eventually became Carson Wentz ahead of the draft. The New York Jets did the same two years ago for the pick that became Sam Darnold.
*All contract and cap information via Spotrac.