For better or worse, the salary cap has changed the NFL landscape. No longer do teams want to give players huge multi-year contracts, hoping instead to sign them to one-year "prove it" type deals. It's almost impossible for a running back to get paid long-term. Even Derrick Henry from the Tennessee Titans is playing 2020 on the franchise tag because the Titans want to push back having to pay him big bucks. This is becoming the norm with other positions as well, including quarterback.
In years past, general managers would be eager to lock up their starting quarterback to a long-term deal. Two deals that come to mind are when the Detroit Lions signed Matthew Stafford to a 5-year, $135 million contract in 2017 and when the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a 3-year, $84 million deal back in 2018. However, teams realize that they no longer want to spend this type of money on one position.
The Dallas Cowboys signed QB Dak Prescott to the franchise tag this offseason to try to work out a team-friendly deal. Another way that teams are trying to rectify this issue is to try to draft quarterbacks who have team-friendly rookie contracts. For that very reason, the Jaguars jettisoned Nick Foles and his contract to the Bears for a fourth-round pick one year after signing him. Now they can save salary cap space and go with Gardner Minshew III. Other teams have followed suit, and this trend will continue.
Because of this mindset, it leaves veteran quarterbacks in the unenviable position of being worth a larger contract, but not being able to get one. Two quarterbacks who are directly affected by this are Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. Neither player has signed a contract for 2020, and neither player has had any productive conversations with any teams either.
Let’s take a closer look at some teams who could benefit the most from each player:
The best fit for Newton is in Washington. His old Panthers head coach, Ron Rivera, is the new head coach in Washington, and Cam is very familiar with him and his offensive scheme. Additionally, second-year QB Dwayne Haskins was very underwhelming in his rookie season and looked more like a league backup than a potential franchise starter. Washington signed Panthers cast-off Kyle Allen in the offseason to give Haskins some competition, but a healthy Newton would be a monumental upgrade.
The other team that might benefit from the addition of Newton is the Miami Dolphins. However, this would be predicated on the fact that both Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa would be taken before they pick in this year's NFL Draft. If the Dolphins are not fans of Justin Herbert or Jordan Love, they may decide that it would be better to sign Newton to a short-term deal rather than groom a quarterback that they don't like. It is for this reason that I expect Miami to trade up in this year's draft to make sure they get their quarterback of the future.
Sadly, Newton's most significant hindrance to his signing is the COVID-19 crisis. Teams who might wish to bring him in for medical testing cannot do so until the crisis is over. For that very reason alone, Newton might need to wait until things settle down before he gets a contract offer.
It seems crazy that last year’s passing yards leader, Winston, would be without a job heading into 2020. Instead of signing him to a long-term deal this offseason, the Bucs went out and brought in Tom Brady. The problem with Winston is that he is error-prone. He throws into traffic too often, and his 30 INTs last season drove head coach Bruce Arians crazy. For that reason, Winston might serve better as a team's backup than the starter.
One place that seems like a perfect fit is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is getting up in age and is recovering from major surgery. Both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges looked underwhelming last season as backups, so Winston might slide right into that spot nicely. Additionally, Roethlisberger seems to have lost his passion for the game over the years, so signing Winston would give the Steelers a starting level QB just in case Big Ben decides to hang it up soon. Lastly, head coach Mike Tomlin has the respect of his players and could be an excellent mentor for Winston, who never seemed to connect with the Bucs coaching staff.
A potential dark horse might be the Las Vegas Raiders. Winston is a perfect fit for Gruden’s downfield offense, unlike current starter Derek Carr. The team signed Marcus Mariota from the Titans this past offseason, but the allure of Winston might be too good. Naysayers to this landing spot will point to recent comments by Raiders GM Mike Mayock that the team “really feels good about the quarterback position.” It seems like we have heard that many times before, and then that same team goes out and signs a player. That could be the case here, but it certainly won’t happen anytime soon.
It looks like both Newton and Winston are going to need to be patient this offseason and potentially sign for much less than they are worth if they wish to play in 2020.
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