getty images

Never have we seen as wild of a quarterback offseason as this. We are barely beyond the draft, and the multitude of quarterback-related transactions has been staggering, both in trades and contracts.

It remains unclear where Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield will be playing next season, or how soon any of the rookie draft picks will be under center in a regular-season game. There is still much we don't know about the future of Lamar Jackson – entering the final year of his deal – or what Russell Wilson might end up earning on his inevitable contract extension. The AFC looks loaded. The NFC seems much more wide open. The changing landscape at quarterback has much to do with that.

If your team doesn't have a top-flight quarterback, it probably has no real chance to compete in 2022. They are the ultimate equalizers. They are essential in the modern game. Look merely at the recent upgrades that the Buccaneers and Rams made at this position which resulted in a Lombardi Trophy the following year. It tells you all you need to know.

Which brings us to what has become an annual May rite of passage for me. My look at the projected starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and my attempt to stack them and tier them. It's inexact for sure. But I believe it serves a purpose. I am using the same categories that I have every year (only, this year, I've found that some of the old standbys do not apply). The field has been thinned out, in my estimation. The middle class seems to be evaporating, and the extremes between the very best in this profession, and the legion of teams fooling themselves by running out starters who aren't up to the task appears to be greater than in recent years.

So with that out of the way – here goes. My 2022 QB Tiers.

Tier 1: Bona Fide Franchise QBs

2021: Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, Deshaun Watson
2022: Mahomes, Brady, Rodgers, Jackson, Allen, Wilson, Herbert, Joe Burrow, Matt Stafford

So Brady was nearly out of this tier … but then he ended his ever-so-brief retirement. At some point he and Rodgers will hit a wall and fall apart I suppose, but who knows when that's coming. Both were MVP candidates, again. Allen is coming off a masterful season, Mahomes is Mahomes and Wilson got the change of scenery he was seeking and will transform the Broncos into contenders. Herbert has all the tools to win big and will start stringing more Ws together this season.

The only reason Burrow was not on this list this time a year ago was because he was rehabbing from major knee surgery. It was fair to wonder when he would be fully back and when he would overcome the mental and physical aspect of the process, to say nothing of him having to play behind a shoddy offensive line. Well, we all know how that went. Amazing. And for years people would look at this column and rip me for having Stafford too high in their estimation. People thought I'd over-valued him. Ask Sean McVay about that.

As for Deshaun Watson's slip out of this tier, I have some thoughts. More on that here.

Tier 2: Top Pros, Proven Winners

2021: Matt Ryan, Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, Dak Prescott, Baker Mayfield
2022: Ryan, Watson

Yeah, so as for things thinning out some. It's reflected here. Who in this group from a year ago took anything close to a step forward last year outside of Stafford? Watson's legal and civil struggles are well documented, and while he finally has a new team, he's going to end up suspended for at least a part of the season. That's not franchise QB stuff. At least in the short term. I have serious reservations about him returning immediately in top form, I wonder if he will ever be the same mentally after what we know about him now, and his overall decision-making gives me great pause.

I don't think he just flicks a switch and is back to being who he once was. Maybe he gets back there. Maybe he doesn't.

Ryan is in better position to win this season with the Colts than he's been in years in Atlanta. So he stays. But as for the rest from a year ago, well, I have concerns. Dak had as good a cast around him a year ago as he probably ever will, and it was far from transformational for that offense. Tannehill's best shot to win big in Nashville is behind him, a successor is now on the roster and there is some quasi-controversy post-draft.  Not great. And whenever Mayfield is out of Cleveland, it will be because the Browns owner paid more than half of his salary to facilitate a trade/salary dump. I whiffed on this a year ago. Being far more judicious about it now.

Tier 3: Rising Stars

2021: Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray
2022: zilch

I have been far too lenient with this category as well. Figured Lawrence was a generational talent and that even bumbling and disinterested Urban Meyer couldn't screw him up. Boy, was I wrong. What a wasted year and what a ways to go before he gets to where many of us anointed him. Having a real coach in Doug Pederson will help, but I gotta see a lot more than a year ago.

And Murray has had quite an offseason so far. Horrible performance in the postseason after a bad slide for that offense down the stretch. Terrible numbers without DeAndre Hopkins, who happens to be suspended for the first six games. And be careful what you wish for thinking Hollywood Brown is gonna fill that void. So, yeah, I have some concerns. And there is no other young quarterback from the past few drafts who I anticipate being on the cusp of greatness, with Herbert and Burrow already breaking through.

Tier 4: You Can Win With Them

2021: Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Fitzptrick, Carson Wentz
2022: Carr, Cousins, Tannehill, Prescott, Murray, Jameis Winston, Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones, Tua Tagovailoa

You can reach the playoffs with these guys and a decent supporting cast. But they are not putting a team on their back and keeping it there. They are not going to have historically significant seasons. They will do enough to keep teams paying them quite well, but they will leave you lacking when the stakes get highest.

Of the group, I think Carr, now in the hands of Josh McDaniels and with college teammate Davante Adams in the fold, could take another big step up. I think the Dolphins have put great speed and talent around Tua. Jones reaching the playoffs as a rookie deserves his placement here, though I do wonder about the true high-end potential. Oh, and Winston was well on his way to a strong season when he got hurt a year ago and his recovery seems to be going well, with a contending team around him. Cousins got another guaranteed bag, but that is what it is at this point.

Tier 5: Guys, Veterans And Placeholders

2021: Garoppolo, Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater, Winston
2022: zilch

I just don't see this class existing anymore. Not this year. Garoppolo and Mayfield would find themselves here, but neither is currently in position to start. Maybe I need to drop it from here on out. Maybe we don't need it. I see plenty of other spots to place these QBs this time around.

Tier 6: Good Luck

2021: Ben Roethlisberger, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Andy Dalton
2022: Goff, Wentz, Drew Lock, Jones, Justin Fields, Marcus Mariota, Darnold, Mitch Trubisky

This is no-man's land. Many a former top pick represented here. It's where over-drafted QBs go to head to expiration. Some much sooner than ever. False hopes and dreams galore here, folks.

Most of these guys won't be starting by this time next year. Many will be out of the starting gig by midseason. But for now they sit atop the depth chart and likely will when Week 1 rolls around, too. I feel horribly for Fields, who has such a bereft supporting cast around him that one might wonder if the front office wants him to fail. The Giants had no choice but not to pick up the fifth-year option on Jones, but that may also just serve to bring out the worst in him.

I don't see Wentz turning anything around in Washington. Goff is just biding his time due to his bloated contract. Darnold looked downright broken a year ago. Mariota is never healthy for long.

Tier 7: The Jury Is Out

2021: Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Hurts
2022: Wilson, Lawrence, Trey Lance, Davis Mills

Lawrence may well get to where everyone thought. But things have a way of not working out in Jacksonville, so let's see it first. Lance will have a heck of an indoctrination in San Francisco replacing Jimmy G if he has to do it without Deebo Samuel. They have to work that out. Even so, he has played such little football the last two years, we are really projecting here.

Wilson had plenty of downs, and some ups, after playing right away as a rookie. I'm old enough to remember fans clamoring for Mike White over him. Things have a way of not working out with the Jets, much like the Jags. They have added plenty of talent in N.Y., so excuses will be waning. Of all these guys, Mills looked the best last year. Not sure if his ceiling if super high, but he certainly showed enough a year ago to merit a longer look in Houston this year.