Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers to Commanders? Team exploring all QB options

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Commanders have let teams, and the world, know what they want most this offseason: A quarterback. There is no secret, not when coach Ron Rivera has hammered this quest home since the season ended.

Washington's search to find a long-term solution has been decades in the making. The franchise has started 32 quarterbacks since it won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season and eight over the past three years. Rivera, entering the third year of his tenure, sees this as a time to be aggressive.

"They have a really good foundation," said ESPN analyst and former general manager Mike Tannenbaum. "This is the time and the window to be slightly aggressive."

Over the past four seasons Washington ranks last in total QBR. Not coincidentally, during that time Washington is 24-41 (26th in the NFL). Last season, with Taylor Heinicke starting, Washington (7-10) ranked 23rd in total QBR. Washington considers him a high-end backup or low-end starter.

All of this is why, according to a source, Washington has reached out to every team to inquire about a quarterback's availability and the cost. The team started its search with a list of 42 quarterbacks. Here are some of the options:

Swing big

Rivera has laid out a sales pitch to entice quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and possibly Deshaun Watson, to consider Washington. Watson, who is facing 22 lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct, and Wilson have no-trade clauses. The Commanders will definitely pursue Rodgers and Wilson.

Rivera will point to an offensive line that has good depth and should continue to be solid even if right guard Brandon Scherff leaves via free agency. There is also a 1,000-yard running back (Antonio Gibson) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Terry McLaurin), plus a talented and relatively young defense.

Rivera has said in multiple interviews that their roster is in a good spot to give up assets for a top quarterback.

"We set ourselves up to protect the quarterback; now you've got playmakers around him, so let's see if we can find that [quarterback] and plug that guy in and see what happens," he said.

Of this quarterback group, Wilson might be their best option. It's hard to imagine the Packers trading Rodgers in the NFC, even if he would agree to the deal. Watson's off-field situation remains unresolved, and the optics of acquiring him would be exacerbated by Washington owner Dan Snyder's situation with former employees alleging sexual misconduct.

Seattle doesn't have to trade Wilson and there might not be much desire from coach Pete Carroll, 70, to start over with another quarterback. But, for Washington, it's a chance to be aggressive and dream.

"Their front seven is really good. McLaurin is a bit underrated," Tannenbaum said of the Commanders. "They could use another piece or two -- as could most teams -- but with Russell they're in that conversation for best team in the conference."

The mid-tier trade

San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo might be the most accomplished quarterback traded this offseason, with Trey Lance ready as his 49ers successor. Garoppolo has started on two teams that reached the NFC Championship Game and led the 49ers to a Super Bowl (2019 season). But in his four full seasons in San Francisco, he's played in 40 of a possible 65 games. That injury history will give Washington and other teams pause, considering they would have to give up a pick -- or picks -- to acquire him, plus sign him to an extension. Tannenbaum said he would give up a second-round pick for Garoppolo.

There is speculation about other quarterbacks being available, led by Derek Carr (Raiders), Kirk Cousins (Vikings) and Carson Wentz (Colts), but the question for the teams who would be trading those quarterbacks is this: What's next? That's why many sources don't expect these quarterbacks to be traded unless their teams can acquire a clear upgrade.

That leaves Garoppolo. Washington and other interested teams must decide if it's better to give up picks and money for him or just sign a lower-cost free agent. The team that acquires him probably wouldn't draft a quarterback, and would evaluate its QB situation every couple years.

Free agency

There are expected be a few experienced quarterbacks available, notably Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky. They likely wouldn't cost more than $10 million, saving cap space and draft capital to keep building.

If Washington does sign a free agent, it most likely would pair him with a rookie, possibly a second- or third-round pick.

Of this group, Bridgewater and Trubisky would make the most sense for Washington, in part because of the staff's familiarity with them.

Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner served as Bridgewater's position coach for three years in Minnesota, and executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney was with Carolina in the 2020 offseason when it signed Bridgewater.

Washington's new tight ends coach Juan Castillo was with Trubisky for one season in Chicago, and Rivera remains tight with Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bills' general manager Brandon Beane. They can provide good insight on Trubisky's development after his one season in Buffalo. Washington left tackle Charles Leno played with Trubisky in Chicago.

ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said he would pursue Trubisky because of his skill set "and his work ethic. And what he did in preseason under good coaching [in Buffalo] compared to Chicago."

Opinions vary on Trubisky, but Orlovsky is not the only one pointing to how he was used in Chicago. He started 50 games and finished with 64 touchdowns to 37 interceptions with the Bears.

"Mariota and Trubisky are as good as Garoppolo, they just don't have the body of work," said former NFL general manager Randy Mueller. "I'd rather have my picks and build out the rest of my team. This team is not a quarterback [like Garoppolo] away from being a deep playoff team.

"Trubisky wasted his time in Chicago; they didn't do him any service at all. He's better than what we've seen, and I'd say that about Mariota as well. Both those guys are better than multiple starters playing right now."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said signing Trubisky should not stop the Commanders from considering a quarterback with the 11th overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

"Trubisky is an interesting guy," he said. "I'm sure he learned a lot [in Buffalo]. He had some success with the Bears. Do you still take a QB at 11 when you bring [Trubisky] in, because he's no guarantee ... You're really speculative there. To think all of a sudden you can recreate the few glimpses of real good quarterback play we saw, I don't know if you can go that route.

"You don't need a backup plan for Jimmy G. ... You're getting a middle-of-the-road QB you can win with if the talent around him is good. The other guy you don't know. You pair him with a rookie."

The draft

While this class lacks the obvious top-end quarterback, there are intriguing options, including Pitt's Kenny Pickett and Liberty's Malik Willis. Among other on-field attributes, Pickett's age (he turns 24 in June) and experience (52 games played) are appealing to Washington. Willis might offer a higher ceiling, but will it take him longer to develop after playing at a smaller school? Will Washington want to wait that long? If it has a strong option for a bridge quarterback then perhaps it might. In an ideal situation, Washington would pair quarterbacks of similar styles.

"There's no real consensus on the quarterbacks in this draft," Kiper said. "Is a quarterback worthy of being the 11th overall pick?"

Mueller believes Pickett will be gone before Washington picks: "My opinion of the quarterbacks is that he's the only guy," he said.

If Washington takes a quarterback after the first round, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder would be one option. Kiper said he would have elevated him to the first- or second-best quarterback in this group had he played better against Alabama in the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal, instead saying Ridder looked "overwhelmed" in Cincinnati's 27-6 loss.

However, Kiper said, "The talent is there. He gives you a dual-threat quarterback. He has as much talent as any quarterback in this draft. If you get him in the second or third round, he's worthy of being a selection at that point. He's a mature kid -- first in, last out and works hard. There's a lot to work with. He's not a finished product."

Regardless of which quarterback Washington ends up with, it will come after an exhaustive search. The Commanders' hope? They don't have to repeat it in 2023.