The 2018 NFL combine is just around the corner, then shortly after that the free agency period opens and it is expected to be wild. While several of the big name free agents like Le’Veon Bell, Allen Robinson and Demarcus Lawrence stealing the headlines, many of them are expected to be slapped with the franchise tag. However, this year is special thanks to the number of quarterbacks available on the free agent market.
Obviously the quarterback free agent class is led by Kirk Cousins, who is expected to become the highest paid quarterback in the league come March 14th, but there are several other starting caliber quarterbacks on the market. With several quarterback needy teams, expect a lot of movement both in free agency and the draft by teams in order to fill their need at the position. Below I will rank the best quarterbacks on the market while predicting where they will sign and what their contract will look like.
The Top Five
1) Kirk Cousins signs with the Jets for five years/$152.5 million dollars.
All the recent reports have tilted my belief that the Jets will win the Cousins sweepstakes. Reportedly they are willing to “do whatever it takes to sign Cousins.” This might reportedly include either fully guaranteeing his contract or giving him $60 million dollars in cash during the first year of his deal. Recently Cousins raved about Jets new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates in an interview. Bates worked under Mike Shanahan and runs a similar variation of the West Coast system that Cousins ran in Washington.
While there are other teams that are seriously interested in Cousins, they either lack the cap space to pay him an average of over $30 million dollars per year like the Vikings and Broncos or lack any recent success like the Browns. Meanwhile the Jets might be the most desperate team looking for a quarterback in free agency and will likely do whatever they can to sign Cousins. They have bounced from bad quarterback to bad quarterback for over a decade and feel Cousins can end that nightmare.
2) Drew Brees signs with the Saints for three years/$84 million dollars.
Brees returning the Saints was never in doubt. He has publicly stated that he will only play for the Saints next year and the Saints don’t have a better option on the table. The Saints are determined to compete for another super bowl while Brees is still playing. Getting a deal done is only a matter of when, not if.
A three year/$84 million dollar deal is ideal for both sides. Brees could easily demand 30 plus million on the open market but taking a yearly average of $28 million dollars allows the Saints some cap space to improve the team around him. The deal will include a high amount of guaranteed money and most of it will probably be included in the first two years of it. Both sides want to make Brees a Saint for the rest of his career and if he finishes out all three years of the deal he will almost be 42 years old when the contract is over.
3) Case Keenum signs the franchise tag for one year/$23.6 million dollars with the Vikings.
After having a career year the Vikings shouldn’t rush to throw a long term deal at Keenum. Instead they should use the franchise tag and see what he does for a second season; this time without offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. If Keenum plays well again in 2018 as the starter then the Vikings can give him a long term deal next offseason. Also, Keenum is also just turned 30 years old and it begs the question: is he a late bloomer or an one year wonder?
But the last thing the Vikings need is to have an overpaid contract on their books for next offseason and still need a quarterback. With Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter all up for contract extensions, the Vikings must be very careful with their salary cap situation if they want to keep all three. The Vikings need to protect their long term cap situation even if it means paying more for a quarterback next offseason.
4) Tyrod Taylor is traded to the Broncos with one year/$15 million dollars left on his contract.
Technically Taylor isn’t on the free agent market yet but he will be soon. The Bills have till March 15th to trade or release Taylor before his $6 million dollar roster bonus kicks in. Reportedly the Bills have no plans of keeping Taylor past that date but would like to trade him instead of releasing him. For any team that is looking for a “bridge gap” quarterback, Taylor is an ideal candidate.
While the Broncos have their eyes set on Cousins the reality is they may not be able to afford him. If he does sign with elsewhere they should turn their attention to Taylor. Trading for Taylor shouldn’t be difficult at all since the Bills have a short window to trade him in and want nothing to do with him. Flipping one of their two early fourth round picks for Taylor should be enough to get a deal done. Now the Broncos have a proven starter at quarterback and don’t have to take one at pick five. Rather instead now they can take Quenton Nelson with the fifth pick then trade back into the late first round to grab Lamar Jackson; giving him a year to sit behind Taylor before taking over in 2019.
5) A.J. McCarron signs with the Browns for three years/$42 million dollars.
Recently McCarron won his grievance against the Bengals and will now be an unrestricted free agent. Everyone remembers the trade deadline deal between the Bengals and Browns that got botched. The two teams failed to get the deal done in time and McCarron wasn’t traded. However, the Browns interest in McCarron remains the same. Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati during the first two years of McCarron’s career and was the one pushing to acquire him at the trade deadline.
Unless the Browns can convince Cousins to sign with them, expect them to turn their attention to McCarron. This might be the best option for the Browns who can sign McCarron to a three year deal but have an easy out in year two similarly how the Bears did with Mike Glennon last offseason. This way the Browns can allow whatever quarterback they select first overall in the draft to sit for a year instead of throwing them into the fire. If McCarron plays well in 2018 the Browns can trade him next offseason and if he struggles they can release him with little dead money.
The Best of the Rest
Josh McCown signs with the Cardinals for one year/$9 million dollars.
After signing Cousins, the Jets will no longer have a need for McCown. Assuming he still wants to play, McCown had a good 2017 season and should get a shot to start somewhere in 2018. After striking out on Cousins, I expect the Cardinals to sign a “bridge gap” quarterback like McCown and then use some combination of their four top 100 picks to move up in the draft for a quarterback.
Sam Bradford signs with the Bills for two years/$24 million dollars.
Much like the Browns/McCarron deal, the Bills will protect themselves with an easy out in Bradford’s contract in year two. Given his injury history, Bradford will have to accept a team friendly deal in order to have a shot at starting this season. The Bills reportedly are calling teams in the top ten, looking to make a trade up in order to grab a quarterback. With their five picks in the top 100 they have the fire power to do some. Bradford would allow the rookie a chance to develop for a season, and if the Bills can’t make a deal, they don’t walk into the 2018 season with Nathan Peterman as their starting quarterback.
Teddy Bridgewater signs with the Vikings for one year/$10 million dollars.
Reportedly Mike Zimmer loves Bridgewater and still thinks he is the team’s long term starter. However, we haven’t seen much of Bridgewater since suffering that horrific knee injury during training camp in 2016. Giving Bridgewater an one year contract worth $10 million dollars means the Vikings will have a year to see if either Keenum or Bridgewater is their long term quarterback for less money than paying Cousins. I believe that Bridgewater wants to stay in Minnesota and prove his is their franchise guy. The Vikings can have a training camp battle between the two and whoever loses the starting job will have prime trade value.