Tank for Trevor, lose for Lawrence -- whatever you want to call it, the NFL's cellar dwellers in 2020 could be vying for the opportunity to draft one of the best quarterback prospects in recent memory in 2021.
The Clemson quarterback has taken the college football world by storm since his midseason takeover as the starter as a true freshman two years ago, when he led his team to the national title. With only one more year before he's eligible for the NFL Draft, teams and fans are already dreaming up scenarios about where he'll end up.
Obviously it's hard to predict who will have the top pick a year in advance -- let alone who that pick will be -- and harder still to predict who will "tank." Last year's surefire bet to go first overall was Tua Tagovailoa, while the eventual No. 1 pick, Joe Burrow, was off the radar for Days 1 and 2. But for others, like Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the years of speculation did in fact translate on draft day.
Luck, in fact, might be the best comparison, as the most recent example of a quarterback who was selected No. 1 overall after he was projected to do so as far out as a year in advance, Stewart Mandel of The Athletic recently wrote.
However, there are at least a few teams who come to mind as potential candidates for next year's No. 1 pick when you look at a combination of depth charts, the standings, and what certain teams have (or haven't) done to address roster needs.
Of course, you can acquire the top pick by means other than just having the league's worst record. If the team that ends up with the first overall selection already has a quarterback, it may want to trade back and recoup a king's bounty in return. It's happened more than once in recent NFL history. More on those scenarios and others in our first, way-too-early Tank for Trevor analysis:
New England Patriots
Are the Patriots already tanking? It's not a ridiculous question, and at least one unnamed rival evaluator suspects it could be in the works.
The Pats went 12-4 last season despite a middling offense, but they slumped a bit in the second half, then allowed a slew of veterans to walk in free agency -- most notably, of course, Tom Brady. Next they declined to draft his potential replacement, though not for lack of interest, according to Bill Belichick.
It's hard to imagine a Belichick-coached team winning something like only three games, or however few it will "take" to land the top pick in 2021. But Jarrett Stidham is a major unknown right now, and if Belichick punts on the upcoming season and uses it to develop his massive haul of draft picks, this team could be headed for a top-10 pick in 2021.
The Bears appear to have two low-end starters, which in football wisdom means they have none at all. Mitchell Trubisky showed promise two years ago but slumped majorly in his third year, and the Bears have already declined his fifth-year option, meaning he's probably auditioning for his next job. Nick Foles isn't the long-term answer, either. The two will duke it out in a QB competition in camp.
Even still, the Bears went 8-8 last year and 12-4 two years ago with Trubisky as the starter, so they appear unlikely to be in the running for the top pick. Even if the Bears take a step back to 6-10 or 5-11, it would still likely require a trade up of at least a few spots.
The Jaguars were one of at least several teams that would seem to make sense for Cam Newton, but there didn't appear to be much traction. Instead they spent the offseason clearing out high-paid defensive veterans to get under the cap, while owner Shad Khan feuded with star sack artist Yannick Ngakoue on Twitter. To be fair, they also earned high marks for their impressive-looking haul in Rounds 1 and 2 of the draft.
After cutting bait on Foles at quarterback, the Jags are moving forward for now with the unheralded Gardner Minshew, who played well in 12 games last season. The performance appears to have earned him the confidence of the front office and head coach Doug Marrone, who was reported to be on the hot seat leading up to Black Monday following a second consecutive losing season after surprisingly winning a division title in 2017.
Marrone is in a tricky position. He can't tank on the heels of two straight sub-500 seasons. If he succeeds enough with Minshew to keep his job, he probably won't be in the position to acquire Lawrence, and might not want to. But if things go sideways again for the Jags in 2020, they could be looking for a new regime and new quarterback in 2021.
New head coach Ron Rivera inherited a relatively blank slate and presumably a cushion of at least a couple years before results are expected. He appears ready to roll with Ohio State product Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, a 2019 first-rounder who underwhelmed in limited action as a rookie. Rivera apparently wasn't put off by the small sample, and the Redskins declined to acquire a franchise quarterback by other means, including passing on former Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa second overall to take stud edge rusher Chase Young. Interestingly, though, they did acquire Newton's former backup, Kyle Allen, in a swap with the Panthers.
It looks like Haskins will get a fair shot at the job, and Allen might too if Haskins falters. One or both could make the Redskins forget all about Lawrence with a strong 2020, but the team could be looking for a quarterback at this time next year if neither one emerges.
Las Vegas Raiders
Like the Bears, the Raiders have a pair of bottom-tier starting quarterbacks in Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota. They also probably overachieved by a win or two last season, as evidenced by their -107 net points. Meanwhile, Jon Gruden shipped out almost the entire receiving corps and replenished it with newcomers in the draft, including speedy Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.
It's Year 3 of the second Gruden era for the Raiders, and Year 1 in their new home in Las Vegas. The team went just 11-21 in his first two seasons back at the helm, but his 10-year contract suggests he has all the job security in the world and was hired to lead the team through its move and transition. Surely Gruden wants to put a respectable product on the field and has no interest in tanking in the team's first year in Vegas. But a five- or six-win season feels possible, and that could be enough to get them in the hunt.
There's nothing to suggest a decline in Ben Roethlisberger's play, but his age and recent injury history naturally fuel speculation about his future -- and the Steelers'. He can't play forever, after all, though people have been saying that about Tom Brady for about a decade now. Big Ben says he'll be ready to go for the season after playing in just two games in 2019, the first time in his decorated career that he played in fewer than 11 games.
The Steelers don't have bad seasons very often, and accordingly you'll find scant evidence of them "tanking." Even if Roethlisberger has lost his magic or gets injured again, the Steelers proved last season they can be a .500-ish team with Mason Rudolph under center. So, it's hard to project them to be in the running for Lawrence, barring a catastrophic collapse. More likely would be some kind blockbuster trade up the draft board, on the off chance they should end up within striking distance.