16 questions for NFC QBs: Is this final season for Kyler Murray and Kirk Cousins on their current teams?

Also: Can Dak Prescott and Jared Goff parlay good seasons into big extensions?

Since the NFL is all about the quarterback now, we had Charles Robinson take a look at the top pressing questions for each franchise at the most important position in the sport. There are also some key answers, ones that can be validated or proven wrong this season by the men who lead these teams.

Here's a look at what Robinson found among the NFC group:

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

When is the Dak Prescott extension coming?

There are a multitude of Dak questions that have to be answered heading into this season, including whether the deep speed of wideout Brandin Cooks and the play-calling of head coach Mike McCarthy can help unlock Prescott in the playoffs and eliminate last season’s interception issues. But the thundercloud overhead remains his contract and whether Dallas can get an extension in place to smooth out next season’s massive $59.5 million salary-cap number.

I’ve heard that neither side is sweating the extension right now, but that they’re also not wrenching on it at the negotiating table, either. That leads me to believe there is an either/or scenario in play here for Cowboys ownership. Either Cowboys ownership already has a good idea of what the financial numbers will be in the extension and believe it can get done quickly — or it's inclined to wait and see how the season starts for Prescott with McCarthy calling plays and Cooks stretching defenses. I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter.

Whatever the rationale is, the clock is ticking as we roll toward next offseason.

New York Giants

Daniel Jones has a top-end paycheck, but does he have the surrounding help to earn it?

One of the jaw-dropping moments of this past offseason was Jones landing his four-year, $160 million extension (which is really more of a two-year $84.7 million deal) with two additional cuttable years attached. Do the Giants have the right mix of talent around Jones to help make that two-year window through 2025 worth it?

Retaining Saquon Barkley for the next season was a big help, as will be a full season of possession wideout Isaiah Hodgins. But Jones’ big step will likely come down to two individuals and a dark-horse candidate.

Head coach Brian Daboll is the primary, with the notable history of helping Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen take big steps each season (note the Bills' offense also seemed to lack elite functionality after Daboll left). Veteran tight end Darren Waller will be the secondary, and there are some believers outside of the Giants when it comes to Waller. Two general managers who had some passing interest in him told me this summer they believe his skills are a great fit for Jones and Daboll.

The dark-horse candidate: Rookie wideout Jalin Hyatt, who has elite speed and plenty to prove coming out of a wonky Tennessee offense that rarely put him on the line of scrimmage. If all three of those individuals play a solid part in Jones’ development this season, it might unlock a higher ceiling in the quarterback than most believe exists.

Philadelphia Eagles

When does Jalen Hurts’ running become an asset that’s too risky?

For every versatile and mobile quarterback, running with the football eventually starts to feel like a depreciating asset. Hurts isn’t there yet, but the hit that he took against the Chicago Bears last season — when a Trevis Gipson blow sprained Hurts’ throwing shoulder — felt like a lesson. That banged-up shoulder lingered for Hurts through the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs.

Given his status as an elite quarterback and MVP candidate, it’s fair to question whether the Eagles and head coach Nick Sirianni might try to pull back on Hurts from last season’s 165 rushing attempts in 15 regular-season games. That number included an astonishing six games with 15 or more rushing attempts.

Given the makeup of the backfield, I think the Eagles will try to limit those kinds of games as much as possible. The running back spot should run four deep with a platoon approach that leans into the matchup opportunities of each back. That’s an intentioned approach to continue peeling off some of the hits Hurts accrues through the season. It won’t be an aspect of his game that significantly changes, but if Hurts can trim even three rushes per game off his total, that’s as many as 51 fewer hits (and chances) for another injury to occur.

Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs during Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jalen Hurts' legs helped carry the Eagles to the Super Bowl last season. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

Washington Commanders

Sam Howell?

That’s it. That’s the question.

The guy has 19 pass attempts in the NFL, so anyone predicting anything from him smacks of guessing.

There isn’t a large enough body of work in meaningful games that count to make a real assessment. With that in mind, I called a general manager who took a hard look at Howell heading into the 2022 NFL Draft but ultimately passed. My inquiry to the talent evaluator: Tell me the one thing Howell needs to get better at from your evaluation of him coming out of college that can make him a starter in the league. His answer centered largely on Howell being decisive — faster release time, faster processing and working through his reads in a timely enough manner to curb sacks or panicked decisions.

This general manager said what slid Howell down their draft boards was the creeping belief that he’d struggle too much with the NFL's significant speed change. New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s success or failure with Howell might come down to that challenge. And it will likely be a multiyear process that’s just starting.

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Forget the skill positions — can the offense solidify and help Justin Fields?

When you hear people talk about the development of Justin Fields in Year 3, two of the players who get brought up a lot are the Bills' Josh Allen and the Eagles' Jalen Hurts. Allen is probably a better reflection of what the Bears are doing with Fields than Hurts.

Why? When you look at the trajectory of the other two players, not only were expectations different when they were inserted as starters, but the rosters around them were vastly different. Hurts had an extremely complete Eagles team and offensive line that had the talent to be very good when healthy. Allen, on the other hand, was a player whose offensive line changed out four of five primary starters between Year 1 and 2. The hard work poured into that offensive line between Year 1 and 3 of Allen’s development was considerable. Yet, this entire offseason, we have looked at Fields and obsessed over his skill-position talent. That’s important, of course. But an equally significant issue at hand is how the line sorts itself out this season.

Right now, the starting group still hasn’t been sorted. Guard Teven Jenkins is on injured reserve, right tackle Darnell Wright is a rookie, and there is shifting uncertainty at left guard and center. That’s messy, and well worth sidelining whether people should be worried about the Bears’ skill positions.

Detroit Lions

If Jared Goff can replicate his 2022 performance, what will his extension look like next offseason?

The final year of Goff’s deal is 2024 and at $31.6 million, it will be an underpaid one if he can put together another season like 2022 and lead Detroit to the playoffs.

The bottom line: With a successful 2023, it’s going to be extension time next offseason and he’s going to have leverage (unless rookie Hendon Hooker somehow gets starting reps this season and blows the Lions' brass away). Assuming Goff’s rebirth in Detroit wasn’t a mirage, I asked a few agents and front-office executives to ballpark his extension next offseason if Goff replicates his 2022 numbers and adds a playoff berth into the mix. There was some variance, but a bracket was there: Something on the edge of the top 10 active quarterback contracts, slotting somewhere north of Daniel Jones’ $40 million per season, but less than Deshaun Watson’s $46 million. That puts the shelf in the $41 million to $45 million per-season range. That sounds rich, but think of it this way: If Goff secures a $45 million average, that salary would likely rank 12th in the NFL once Prescott, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence all sign forthcoming extensions.

Jared Goff and the Lions finished the season 8-2 last season and are favorites to win this NFC North this season. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)
Jared Goff and the Lions finished the season 8-2 last season and are favorites to win this NFC North this season. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

Goff won’t need to get near elite quarterback territory to secure a massive bag.

Then there’s this one eyebrow-raising thought from an agent who has done elite quarterback deals: “If he wins games in the playoffs, why should Goff be paid less than guys higher up the scale who haven’t? I’d start out asking [the Lions], what’s this guy worth to your future?”

Green Bay Packers

Will the youth and inexperience of Jordan Love’s pass-catchers slow his progression?

For the better part of the post-Aaron Rodgers era, the world outside of Green Bay has been focusing the vast majority of Jordan Love’s 2023 season through one question: How much has he improved behind Rodgers?

But I think people outside Green Bay are now starting to catch on to an equally important component in the upcoming season — the remarkably young pass-catchers who Love will be counting on to help him showcase any improvement.

Consider the ages of the presumed top three wideouts. Only one (Christian Watson, age 24) is older than 23. The other two are Romeo Doubs (23) and rookie Jayden Reed (23). And his presumed starting tight end? That’s rookie Luke Musgrave, who is also 23.

The relatively short résumés of all those players factored into Green Bay’s interest in acquiring Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. His presence as an elite three-down threat and overall dominance carrying the ball would have given Love a steady force in the backfield (not to mention drawing some loaded boxes). Unfortunately for Love, that trade didn’t happen, and he’s left with a good veteran platoon at the running back spot, but still staring at a handful of pass-catchers who are going to have to grow up on a parallel track with their quarterback.

Minnesota Vikings

Is this definitely the swan song for Kirk Cousins in Minnesota?

I have to believe this will be the last season for Cousins in Minnesota. He turns 36 next offseason and the writing has been on the wall in terms of the front office keeping an eye out for the next guy up. Low key, the Vikings are an attractive team in the NFC for a potential acquisition of a veteran quarterback. Rookie wideout Jordan Addison seems to be tailor-made for head coach Kevin O’Connell’s offense. If he can showcase himself as a high-level second wideout next to Justin Jefferson, tight end T.J. Hockenson rounds out an intriguing trio. I also think Alexander Mattison is going to be an effective starting running back.

Could the Vikings move on from Kirk Cousins (left) after this season and make a play to acquire Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (right)? (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Could the Vikings move on from Kirk Cousins (left) after this season and make a play to acquire Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (right)? (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

That puts the Vikings into interesting waters when it comes to veteran QBs considering a change of scenery next offseason. I wouldn’t rule out the Vikings dipping into what should be a rich quarterback draft next offseason, but this is an offense built for a Super Bowl window sooner than some might think.

The offensive line needs work and consistency, but I wouldn’t rule out this as a destination if a Kyler Murray trade happens. Given how Rams head coach Sean McVay often talks about the value of having a quarterback who can grow with the league’s changes, it’s hard for me to believe O’Connell — the former Los Angeles Rams assistant who McVay raves about — doesn’t feel the same way. A Cousins-to-Murray transition, with the receiving threats the Vikings have in the fold, would have the potential to be quite a gear shift in Minnesota.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Will the new regime give Kyler Murray a serious shot to remain the franchise quarterback?

Murray’s demise in Arizona seems to be one of the most accepted storylines of this season, despite the fact that it would take several moving parts to actually happen. First, the Cardinals would have to essentially tank themselves into the 2024 No. 1 overall draft pick. There’s a presumption this is happening following the release of quarterback Colt McCoy and the fire sale of former first-round pick Isaiah Simmons. But after having been through Cardinals camp, I think McCoy’s release had as much to do with the team liking the potential of rookie quarterback Clayton Tune to develop into at least a backup with some snaps in Murray’s absence (or maybe something more). As for Simmons, the writing was on the wall all offseason. He was available. And there were no takers before a deal got done with the Giants. So don’t presume either move is an automatic tank.

Even if it is, the Cardinals would still need to secure the No. 1 overall pick through either their own pick in the 2024 draft or the one they acquired from the Houston Texans, then they’d have to hope USC’s Caleb Williams stays healthy and isn’t lured back to school by record-level NIL earnings. Don’t sleep on that possibility. Williams’ NIL marketability gives him the flexibility of deciding he doesn’t like the team holding the first overall pick in the draft and that he’d rather stay at USC another season.

And even if both of those things happen — the Cardinals landing the top pick and Williams entering the draft — there’s still the matter of finding a trade suitor for Murray, convincing team owner Michael Bidwill to eat the guaranteed money on Murray’s extension and then taking the $46.2 million salary-cap hit that would be spread over 2024 and 2025. All of this could be in play for the Cardinals, but the idea that it’s a foregone conclusion at this point is a reach.

There are too many things that need to fall into place. The reality of Murray’s injury timeline suggests he will be healthy enough to play this season and that the Cardinals will take a look at him when the time comes. His being named a team captain and public statements by head coach Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing lean into that.

Of course, there will be conspiracy theorists who suggest the Cardinals named Murray a captain and will continue to give him glowing reviews to keep his trade value high. If that’s the case, these Cardinals are better at playing poker than in past years, when the front office telegraphed its interest in drafting Murray and simultaneously beat down the trade value of Josh Rosen before the 2019 NFL Draft.

Los Angeles Rams

If the rebuild around Matthew Stafford fails to make big progress, does he stick around?

THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 13: Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams participates in drills during mini-camp at California Lutheran University on June 13, 2023 in Thousand Oaks, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Matthew Stafford will have a challenging season in Los Angeles, especially if Cooper Kupp is sidelined. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

This is a hard one to answer because I believe Stafford’s wife when she says he’s having a hard time connecting with younger teammates. And I think that statement was more factual than Sean McVay downplaying it and suggesting Kelly Stafford's statement was just a joke.

Stafford’s wife described younger players being buried in their phones and not interacting. It's something that teams are dealing with more than ever in the league. I hear more and more of these stories now, about players being addicted to their phones and social media — not to mention the gambling issues that seem more prevalent with younger players who have grown up in recent years with wagering widely available on mobile platforms. This factors when a player of Stafford’s stature looks around at a Rams team that is in the midst of a massive overhaul with players who are all more than a decade younger than Stafford. Combine that with the soft tissue issues of Cooper Kupp and a thin receiver group (not to mention the year-to-year nature of whether Aaron Donald is going to stick around) and I think another rough season for the Rams would push Stafford toward retirement next offseason.

And I say retirement rather than trade because Stafford has a remarkably cumbersome $55.5 million salary-cap hit to trade him next offseason. He’s even more expensive to move than Kyler Murray. Then add in that he’ll be 36 next offseason and is coming off lingering arm and elbow fatigue in 2022.

He’s more of a retirement option than a trade option, and the only thing that could keep him around in 2024 is some signs of hope on the field for the Rams that begins this season.

San Francisco 49ers

Does Brock Purdy’s return solidify the 49ers as Super Bowl favorites?

If Purdy and the surrounding offense is healthy — and if the quarterback can at least play to his late-season standard of 2022 — the answer is yes.

The 49ers' skill position pieces all look like they’re at the peak of their prime. But the top lingering issue beyond Purdy’s recovery from elbow surgery and his continued development is whether tight end George Kittle can stay on the field. Kittle is already dealing with a groin issue going into the season, and that’s a significant soft tissue concern for a player who was instrumental in many of Purdy’s biggest breakout moments last season. The most troubling part of the injury is that Kittle has been dealing with it off and on for the past month. That leads into a question of whether this is going to be a constant management situation all season long, or whether there’s a bite-the-bullet moment of shutting down Kittle for an extended period of time to try and get him healed and available more consistently down the line. Whichever the scenario, it’s a tough spot, because Kittle is a major mismatch player who also contributes massively to the run game.

This is a problem people should be closely watching. The team finally resolved its contract issue with star pass rusher Nick Bosa, but the Kittle problem requires time. And that’s something Purdy needs with his tight end as he gets back into a groove again.

Seattle Seahawks

If Geno Smith can replicate 2022, can a rejuvenated Seahawks win this division?

Given some of the hiccups inside San Francisco with Kittle’s health and Bosa’s long holdout, Seattle is probably being overly slept on as a potential division winner in the NFC West. Seattle's offense is quietly loaded with the additions of rookie wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba and running back Zach Charbonnet putting more juice into an already-good cast of skill position players. The offensive line has the kind of continuity you want, with the added bonus of second-year left tackle Charles Cross likely taking another step toward anchoring the unit this season. All the group really needs is to stay healthy and for Smith to at least replicate his 2022 performance.

The talent additions and cohesiveness of a group that has plenty of snaps together should make the offense a very good unit in 2023. Realistically, Smith and the offense shouldn’t have any excuses when it comes to taking another step forward this season. Whether it would be enough to win the division might depend on some of the questions on defense. What does inside linebacker Bobby Wagner have left? Can first-round cornerback pick Devon Witherspoon stay healthy enough to catch up on lost time in the preseason? When will the oft-injured Jamal Adams get on the field and can he stay there for a meaningful stretch? The answers to those three questions will go a long way to making a difference between a solid defense and a potentially top-tier one.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Is Desmond Ridder another in a long line of third-round “let’s see what we have” starters?

Ridder is another one of the non-rookie NFL starters this season where it’s hard to know what you’ve got until you see him over the length of a full season. His four games at the end of 2022 were vanilla. It was the stuff of maybe-but-let’s-keep-our-options-open. That’s not to suggest he can’t be better in 2023. But this feels like when a litany of other third-round draft picks got their look as starters and ultimately staked a flag in the lower middle (at best) of the talent rung of quarterbacks.

If you’ve watched the NFL over the past decade, you know the names. We’re talking about Mike Glennon, Cody Kessler, Jacoby Brissett, Mason Rudolph, Davis Mills, etc. The last guys to come out of the third round and make something of their careers were the 2012 tandem of Russell Wilson and Nick Foles.

Right now, Ridder’s tape would be a solar system away from either player’s best days. Yet there’s an argument to be made that progress from Drake London and the addition of Bijan Robinson can make a significant difference in what Ridder could be. Not to mention a healthy and fully used season for Kyle Pitts. Maybe there’s an Alex Smith-ish shot in there for Ridder. We’ll see.

Carolina Panthers

Can the offensive line get it together and keep Bryce Young from getting hammered?

Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) is sacked by Detroit Lions linebacker James Houston (41) and Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara (95) during a preseason NFL football game Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
The Panthers' Bryce Young is sacked by Lions linebacker James Houston (41) and defensive end Romeo Okwara (95) during a preseason game on Aug. 25. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Given the resources devoted to the line and the need to protect the smallish Young, it’s not a comforting question to be asking heading into the 2023 season. Yet, here we are.

What has been an ongoing concern for much of training camp was exposed on an extreme level against the New York Jets’ vicious defensive line. Ikem Ekwonu, a 2022 first-round draft pick, was beaten badly on two plays, and he was hardly alone. The unit’s overall performance was concerning enough against the Jets that it led to a unit meeting being called by offensive line coach James Campen, who stressed that the performance wasn’t something that could be repeated. Ekwonu struggling is particularly concerning, given that Panthers drafted him sixth overall thinking he would be an anchor for the unit. He doesn’t necessarily have to be that in his second season, but he also can’t be a weak link that leads to Young taking big hits.

This is the white-knuckling issue when you draft a 5-foot-10 quarterback who hovers around 200 pounds. If you don’t have the line to protect him from the start, the exposure to a possible injury is reason for alarm.

Time will tell if Carolina is just one in a long line of teams that need more offensive line snaps to click into place, but the preseason certainly offered red flags.

New Orleans Saints

Is Derek Carr a long-term answer … or just a highly paid bridge quarterback?

How Carr answers that question is going to have significant ramifications on the remainder of his NFL career. At 32 years old, he’s one more team change from becoming a full-fledged bridge option whose primary job is to man the position until a younger player is ready to take over.

That’s not quite the case in New Orleans, as the division has softness to it and the Saints are still fairly well constructed along their offensive and defensive starting units. If everyone around Carr is healthy and Michael Thomas can capture even 80 percent of the player he once was, the Saints look like they have a potential playoff team on paper. Again, some of that has to do with the litany of unanswered questions across the rest of the NFC South. If Carr is going to have a flourish on the back nine of his career, it has to start in New Orleans and the time to kick it into gear is this season, before other teams in the division crawl out of the soup of development.

I think the Las Vegas Raiders cut Carr loose because they didn’t believe he had a cutthroat mentality to be a great QB. They might be right. If he doesn’t showcase it with the fresh slate and a good roster around him, it’s hard to see him as anything more than a stat-packing Kirk Cousins type.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Is this Baker Mayfield’s last shot as a starter?

In a word, yes.

Even now, it feels like he would be a highly contested starter if Kyle Trask could string together anything but mediocre performances.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Great (and sometimes even good) quarterbacks don’t bounce around the way Mayfield has. At some point, the better quarterbacks in the NFL get a long-term lease from a team. Mayfield has not had that kind of luxury of security and belief, with the desperate Buccaneers being his fourth team since 2021. But it’s not just that. His previous two stops in Carolina and with the Rams were situations where he was needed. The Panthers badly wanted him to lock down the job as their starter. Instead, they jettisoned him during the season. Even the Rams needed to have a strong No. 2 QB behind Stafford who could eventually take over as a successor. But they hardly worked to keep Mayfield from seeking a starting job wherever he could find one. That’s a bad sign.

Regardless, Mayfield is going to get a good, solid look in Tampa. If he can’t lock up the job with the Buccaneers, the next iteration of his career is going to be an experienced No. 2 who makes his living being a good supporting actor in the quarterbacks room with the ability to step in and man the ship for a few games in the event of an injury. It’s not the worst work in the world, but a long fall from being the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.