A year ago, Kirk Cousins was considered a franchise quarterback, and the Vikings, fresh off Case Keenum leading them to a 13-3 regular season and a trip to the NFC Championship Game, let the journeyman walk so they could give Cousins a three-year, $84 million deal, all guaranteed. Minnesota went 8-7-1 in 2018 and missed the playoffs.
There is no Kirk Cousins in this free-agency class. There are bridge quarterbacks, fill-in starters, competent backups and guys a team could take a flier on and get lucky. The position remains at a premium, which is why some of these names have lasted in the league as long as they have. But the reality is that there aren’t 32 NFL-quality starting quarterbacks, and there might only be 2-3 legit starters in the 2019 draft class. The 2020 class is expected to be stacked so teams on the search for a face of franchise could be looking for one-year solutions as they position themselves for next year’s drat.
Nick Foles is the biggest name — which tells you a lot. Yes, he is a Super Bowl MVP, but he also was 25th in value per play among all quarterbacks in 2018, just ahead of Marcus Mariota (Cousins ranked 19th, just ahead of Carson Wentz). The Eagles told the quarterback this week that they would pick up his 2019 option for $20 million that would keep him in Philly next season. But Foles, in turn, declined that option, instead choosing to pay back $2 million and hit free agency.
There’s still a chance the Eagles could franchise Foles though CBSSports.com’s Joel Corry, a former agent, explained that’s unlikely “because of the potential pitfalls of a franchise tag.”
Now the question becomes: Where does Foles end up. The Giants appear set on bringing back Eli Manning but they could still choose to draft a quarterback with the No. 6 pick. The Jaguars, who select seventh, also need a quarterback in a post-Blake Bortles world but they could be less inclined to draft one, especially if Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is off the board.
Which means Jacksonville could be the most likely landing spot for Foles, 30, who hasn’t started more than five regular-season games since 2015. Corry predicts Foles could earn between $18 million and $23.5 million a season (somewhere between what the Broncos gave Keenum and the Redskins gave Alex Smith) on his next contract. Also reportedly in the mix: .
Teddy Bridgewater was the Vikings first-round pick in 2014 and started 28 games in his first two seasons. He suffered a horrific knee injury in August 2016, missed the ’16 season entirely and has started just one game since, a meaningless 2018 Week 17 contest against the Panthers.
At 26, Bridgewater has yet to hit his prime, and in 2015, his last full season, he was 22nd in value per play, just behind Matt Ryan and Brian Hoyer. The question, of course, is whether he’s healthy enough to play an entire season, and if he’ll ever return to his pre-injury form. The Jaguars reportedly passed on an opportunity to acquire Bridgewater last offseason and instead gave Bortles a long-term deal.
The Giants, Broncos, Dolphins and Redskins are all in the market for young quarterbacks though these teams could choose to find them via the draft.
If we had to guess, the Redskins might make the most sense, in theory, but they’re just one year into a four-year, $94 million deal with Smith that includes $71 million in guarantees.
Guys who could start in a pinch but aren’t long-term solutions
Fitzpatrick is 36 but he’s started at least seven games in all but one season since 2008. And in 2018, he completed 67 percent of his throws with a career-best 9.6 yards per attempt to go along with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But don’t be fooled; he’s a spot starter at this point in the proceedings, someone who can fill in for an injured starter for 2-3 weeks. Same holds for Osweiler, who started five games for Ryan Tannehill and was serviceable, going 2-3, completing 63.5 percent of his throws with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
Taylor got off to a horrific start in Cleveland and was benched for rookie Baker Mayfield. He was a three-year starter for the Bills from 2015-17, helping them to the playoffs in his last season there. But Taylor was never better than replacement-level during those years, and there’s no reason to think that will change after spending most of ’18 on the bench.
McCown will be 40 this summer. He started three games for the Jets last season in relief of rookie Sam Darnold, and should he continue to play, that will be his role going forward. That said, he started 13 games in ’17 for the Jets and completed 67 percent of his throws with 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Finding Johnson’s name here should tell you all you need to know about the dearth of talent in this free-agency class. Johnson was the first overall pick in the AAF Draft before the Redskins signed him after losing Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to injury, and realizing that Mark Sanchez wasn’t a realistic fallback plan. Johnson played well in three starts and there were reports that the Redskins were interested in re-signing the 32-year-old.
Hundley was forced into duty with the Packers in 2017 and, well, he looked very much like a second-year player who rarely took first-team reps. In nine games he completed 60.8 percent of his throws with 9 touchdowns and 12 picks. Green Bay traded him to the Seahawks before the 2018 season.
No. 3 QBs with starting experience
Look, every player isn’t going to be a Hall of Famer. Sometimes, you need warm bodies to fill out the 53-man roster. That’s what we have here. Sanchez, Griffin and Weeden are former first-rounders. Smith, Cassel, Schaub and Siemian all have several years of starting experience. Heinicke and Mannion are in their 20s with one NFL start each.
QBs looking for their first start
If you’re looking for quarterbacks with NFL experience — OTAs, minicamps, training camp, scout team — that doesn’t include seeing much game action, Gilbert, Griffin and Fales are affordable options.
Restricted and exclusive rights free agents
While these players are considered free agents, they not able to sign with whomever they wish. Definitions via OverTheCap.com:
Restricted free agents: These are players that have at least three years of accrued service in the NFL. Due to changes in the draft process, which now mandates four year contracts, these players are almost exclusively Undrafted Free Agents. … The team with which they finished the season holds the right through (the start of the league year) to extend a tender offer to the player. A tender allows the former team to exhibit a level of control over the player in free agency, similar to the franchise tag. At a minimum every tender allows them to match the offer sheet made by another team. RFAs are allowed to negotiate with other teams, even if a tender is applied.
Exclusive rights free agent: These are the players with two or fewer seasons in the league, a status reserved almost solely for undrafted rookie type players. Once tendered they can only negotiate with their former team. The tender offer is only a one year non-guaranteed contract at the minimum salary level so most teams would use the ERFA designation on players who were on the roster late in the prior year and signed to a 1 year deal. Usually these offers are signed as soon as they are made since nothing is gained by waiting.