The NFL playoffs are just getting started, but for the 20 NFL teams that are biding their time until the draft comes in May, the off-season is already officially here. That means that free agency is technically open for conversation, and while it doesn’t officially start for a while, now is the perfect time to take a sneak peek at who will top the ranks.
Plenty of teams will be looking to fill holes both in free agency in the draft, but it’s always interesting to see which way they end up going for the more important positions. For instance, what team will decide to bring in a veteran passer instead of drafting a franchise passer in the first round?
It’s too early to tell who will do what, but with Jay Cutler staying on with the Chicago Bears, now is as good a time as any to rank the top available options and see where they might wind up:
1. Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles)
Vick will be 34 when he enters free agency and he has a staggering history of injuries, but he was actually solid as a starter in 2013. If it hadn’t been for his usual health woes, he may have enjoyed a solid season. That didn’t happen, though, so his injury history and age may find it difficult for him to lock down anything more than a one-year deal. However, considering he’s far and away the best stop-gap passer in free agency, he should garner some serious interest. Teams like the Jets, Titans and Vikings shouldn’t be ruled out.
2. Josh Freeman (Minnesota Vikings)
Freeman got pushed out of Tampa Bay due to reportedly being lazy (late for team meetings) and poor play. He made one start for the Vikings and was horrendous, and will have to survive further accusations about his laziness in Minnesota, as well. With that said, he’s still just 25 and has put up solid numbers in the past. Anyone needing help under center should at least consider him for 2014, as the upside is still there.
3. Josh McCown (Chicago Bears)
McCown is 34 and probably isn’t going to be atop anyone’s list for a starting quarterback out of free agency, although his solid production and record (3-2 as a starter in 2013) may have some arguing that he should be. It’s possible he could serve as a solid 1-2 year stop-gap option for a team drafting a new signal caller. However, it’s more likely he’ll return as Jay Cutler’s backup or just retire.
4. Chad Henne (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Henne operated as Jacksonville’s starting quarterback for most of 2013 after Blaine Gabbert once again proved to be inept. Believe it or not, the 28-year old passer was actually competent, as he topped 3,000 yards passing and put up 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in a still run-heavy offense. It wasn’t enough to have teams racing after him, though, so his best bet is returning to the Jaguars to be the main backup to whoever they bring in next.
5. Matt Flynn (Green Bay Packers)
Flynn overcame atrocious efforts in Oakland and Buffalo to salvage his stock a bit with a decent stretch with the Packers. He was awful against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, but otherwise was actually decent overall. The weak-armed passer still isn’t about to get handed a starter’s contract again, though. He could return to Green Bay to continue to backup Aaron Rodgers. That’s probably where he should have been, all along.
6. *Matt Cassel (Minnesota Vikings)
Cassel isn’t a true free agent yet, but there’s a chance he opts out of his deal in February. If he does, he could chase a little more cash as a top backup elsewhere. He flashed brilliance at times in 2013, but was overall still the inconsistent passer he’s always been.
7. Kellen Clemens (St. Louis Rams)
It’s a mystery why or how the Rams couldn’t/didn’t upgrade over Clemens when starting quarterback Sam Bradford went down with a knee injury earlier in the year. Clemens was their guy, though, and was mostly bad under center. He knows the system, though, so there’s a decent chance he’ll return as Bradford’s main backup.
8. Tarvaris Jackson (Seattle Seahawks)
Jackson, now 30, is likely done as a starter. He’s a great fit in Seattle behind Russell Wilson thanks to his athleticism, so look for him to stay on with the Seahawks.
9. Rex Grossman (Washington Redskins)
Never more than an average starter, it’s safe to say Grossman is penned in as a career backup going forward. At 33, he could consider retirement, but if he wants to keep playing he can return to Washington as the third string quarterback. He’s an underrated backup, however, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him go elsewhere and lock down a top backup job.
10. Colt McCoy (San Francisco 49ers)
Thanks to trade rumors and a pay cut before the season started, it doesn’t look like McCoy will be expected back as Colin Kaepernick’s backup in San Francisco. He’s an underrated backup who still could carry some upside, though, so he should find a backup job elsewhere with little trouble.