DENVER – Among the nine NFL teams changing quarterbacks in 2022 are three franchises that had been the models of stability at the position for a decade or more: the Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Seahawks and Falcons traded away their longtime starters and the Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger to retirement.
Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to the playoffs eight times in his decade in Seattle before his relationship with coach Pete Carroll soured and he was dealt to Denver in a blockbuster trade this spring.
Wilson becomes the sixth different starting quarterback in six years for the Broncos, who have churned through a dozen so-so QBs since Peyton Manning retired.
The Broncos gave up four high draft picks and three veterans for Wilson, including QB Drew Lock, who seesawed with Geno Smith in an underwhelming camp competition that had Seahawks fans dreaming of next year's deep class of QBs featuring Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Kentucky’s Will Levis.
The Falcons are heading into the season without Matt Ryan under center for the first time since 2007. What spelled the end of Ryan's long stay in Atlanta was the Falcons' dalliance with Deshaun Watson, who eventually agreed to a trade to Cleveland after the Browns guaranteed every penny of his new $230 million contract.
The Falcons traded Ryan, who started 232 of 235 games for Atlanta, including Super Bowl 51, to the Indianapolis Colts — who parted with Carson Wentz after just one year — for a third-round pick.
Atlanta replaced Ryan with Marcus Mariota, who will be a starter for the first time in four years. Wentz ended up in Washington, the third NFL stop in three seasons for the second overall pick the Eagles in 2016.
Another ripple of the Watson trade, which netted the Texans five draft picks, including three first-rounders, was the departure of Baker Mayfield after a divisive four-year run in Cleveland that included the Browns' first playoff win since 2002. Mayfield was traded to Carolina, where he beat out Sam Darnold.
Watson won’t be eligible to suit up for the Browns until Week 13 following an 11-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after he was accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women while with the Texans.
“My whole life I just have been able to move forward and that’s the plan,” said Watson, who can return for the Browns’ game in Houston on Dec. 4.
Wilson and Mayfield won't have to wait that long for their reunions.
Wilson returns to Seattle on Sept. 12 to cap an opening weekend that also features a revenge game with the Browns, behind stand-in Jacoby Brissett, at Carolina.
The last time the Steelers entered a season without “Big Ben” at quarterback was 2003, although Roethlisberger's 2019 season ended after two weeks because of an elbow injury that required surgery.
Pittsburgh, loaded with premier pass-catchers, signed free agent Mitch Trubisky, who spent four turbulent years in Chicago before serving as Josh Allen's backup in Buffalo last year, and drafted Kenny Pickett out of the University of Pittsburgh.
Finally, the 49ers turned things over to Trey Lance this summer after he spent his rookie year on the bench behind Jimmy Garoppolo, who led San Francisco to the Super Bowl following the 2019 season.
Wilson insists he's not anticipating an emotional homecoming at Lumen Field.
“It has to be non-emotional,” Wilson said, just like every other game he played while compiling a 113-60-1 record for the Seahawks, including a 43-8 demolition of Denver in Super Bowl 48.
Wilson will be the first quarterback to start for a team he beat in the Super Bowl, but he said he's not concerned in the least whether he'll be greeted with cheers or jeers.
Mayfield, on the other hand, acknowledges there will be some extra incentive in going against the Browns in the Panthers' opener.
“Obviously there is a lot of attachment there and I’m not going to sit here and be a robot and say that it doesn’t mean anything," Mayfield said. “It will.”