When it comes to NFL teams looking to upgrade their quarterback depth, this offseason stands out in a few unique ways.
First, as has been said plenty of times already, this draft is hardly loaded with talent at the sport’s most important position. You could argue that Dwayne Harris, Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones and Drew Lock wouldn’t rank in the top three at the position in last year’s draft class.
Secondly, no team with a top-five draft pick has an immediate need at the position. But we’d be foolish to think that some needy team won’t get desperate and trade up to get the guy, which has been the case recently.
Finally, all but three teams have a starter in place who should be healthy by Week 1. Denver and Jacksonville are clearly ready to upgrade at the starter position and Alex Smith likely won’t suit up for Washington in 2019 after breaking his leg and suffering subsequent complications.
There will be no quarterback chasing a $30 million-guaranteed contract like Kirk Cousins last year in this free-agent cycle. Teddy Bridgewater is the top free-agent quarterback ready to hit the market, and Nick Foles will join him on that tier should the Eagles decide not to franchise tag (and later trade) him. Rounding out that group will be Joe Flacco once the Ravens officially part ways with him.
Going through the quarterback position for all 32 teams, I found that nearly half the teams should be looking for a quarterback in either free agency and/or the draft—and I don’t mean picking up a camp arm in the seventh round or signing a 38-year-old to the veteran minimum. Matt Ryan, for example, is 33 years old, the second-highest paid player in the NFL and coming off a season comparable to his MVP year. Getting into the weeds on whether Atlanta should re-sign backup Matt Schaub isn’t the point here... We’re looking at what each team should do this offseason to maximize their quarterback position.
And since we’re already in the NFC South, let’s start there.
Tampa Bay: Re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick or comparable veteran, possibly find a third-day QB in the draft.
This is a make-or-break year for former No. 1 pick Jameis Winston. If he can’t get the kinks worked out with new head coach Bruce Arians, it’s tough to see Winston remaining in Tampa in 2020 and beyond. But the potential of Arians unlocking the best version of Winston (both on and off the field) means the Bucs can’t invest too much in the position this offseason. That’s why it’d make sense to re-sign Fitzpatrick to another one-year extension coming off a season where he had his highest completion percentage and most yards per attempt before coming back down to earth midway through the year.
If Arians eyes someone in Day 3 of the draft, bring him in. The Bucs will give Winston $20.9 million this year plus $3 million-plus to the backup, and that’s all they should devote to that position in 2019.
Carolina: Sign a mid-tier free-agent QB.
The belief is Cam Newton will be 100% ready to go for training camp after having arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder. That’s well and good, but Newton is about to turn 30 and this is his second surgery in three seasons on his throwing shoulder, and coach Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney need to make sure they’re reinforced at the position. Kyle Allen played well in Week 17 against (mostly) the Saints’ second-team defense, but was that enough to put the Panthers at ease? It wouldn’t be for me. If the Panthers can get him for less than $10 million on an incentive-laced deal, Tyrod Taylor to Carolina makes a lot of sense.
New Orleans: Stand pat during the offseason and sign a legitimate No. 2 in the preseason like last year.
The Saints have prepared multiple times in the past few years for Drew Brees’s retirement or injury, so why would 2019 be any different? Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis were ready to take Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft before the Chiefs traded ahead of them. Last season New Orleans traded for Teddy Bridgewater in what was a clear championship window move. Should anything have happened to Brees, they had a viable backup at a great price to get the team into the playoffs. But the Saints have just one pick in the first four rounds of this draft and, surprise!, they’re probably going to face another salary cap nightmare this offseason. With decisions to make on Mark Ingram, a No. 2 receiver and a tight end, the Saints probably can’t afford to devote $10 million to the backup quarterback position. Yes, the Taysom Hill Experiment has been fun, but this past season didn’t convince anyone he can take the reins if need be. The Saints should get their other affairs in order and make a move for a legitimate No. 2 quarterback during training camp.
Atlanta: Mostly all set as discussed above.
Tennessee: Hold their nose and extend Mariota to a long-term deal OR sign a mid-tier free-agent QB.
The Titans are in a very similar situation to the Buccaneers as I wrote last month. Without arguing who’s better between Mariota and Winston, the fact is that you can’t feel great about giving either one of them a $100 million-plus contract. Mariota is now on his fifth play caller in five years and has struggled to finish seasons healthy. But his backup, Blaine Gabbert, proved incapable of handling the load when he averaged 5.7 yards per attempt and two interceptions in the lose-and-go-home Week 17 match against the Colts. Again, like Winston and Bucs, you can’t spend a high draft pick on a QB, and his $20.9 million fifth-year option makes it so that you can’t get a high-level free agent quarterback. But maybe upgrade from Gabbert to someone like Trevor Siemian and wait to see what happens with Mariota in 2019 before making any long-term moves.
Jacksonville: Sign a top-tier free-agent QB OR draft a first-round quarterback.
The terrible quarterback play in Jacksonville has to come to an end. The Jags have committed malpractice at the position for nearly two years, and that’s being generous. Tom Coughlin desperately needs to get this right, and the fastest way to do that would be signing, or trading for, Nick Foles. Foles, Bridgewater and Flacco make up the three top-tier free-agentish quarterbacks this spring and any of the three would work in Jacksonville, but I’ll focus on Foles. The Jags hired John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator this offseason after he was fired in Minnesota. But that came after two years as the Eagles quarterback coach where he helped unlock Foles on the way to Super Bowl LII. That marriage makes sense for a needy Jags team that really shouldn’t wait for the draft. Jacksonville picks seventh this year with the Giants one spot ahead and at least one other team sure to leap ahead and get into the top-five.
Indianapolis: All set with the Comeback Player of the Year.
Houston: Equally good with one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the league in Deshaun Watson.
Washington: Sign a low-to-mid tier free-agent QB and pray Alex Smith’s recovery goes well.
Washington is in an incredibly difficult position. Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury in the first year of his $96 million contract with the team and then suffered complications from surgery. It’s possible he doesn’t see the field until 2020. And in this thorough OverTheCap article, it’s difficult to find an out for Washington. Jay Gruden really, really likes Colt McCoy, and I envision he’ll get a chance to win the starting job in camp. And because Smith’s future is unclear, you probably don’t want to spend a high draft pick on a quarterback this year. If Washington can afford him, Ryan Tannehill wouldn’t be a bad option here to truly compete for the starting gig once he and Miami part ways. If Gruden and Co. is convinced McCoy is the man to start 2019, perhaps Siemian or Fitzpatrick could be backup options.
New York Giants: Draft a first-round quarterback.
The Giants pick sixth in the draft and no team currently ahead of them is in need of a first-round quarterback. New York, it’s time.
The franchise got away with not picking one of the top passers last year and instead drafting Offensive Player of the Year. Eli Manning is in the final year of his contract that will have him count $23.2 million against the cap. Out of respect for Manning and considering the cap, it’s tough to see them signing a starter-level free agent. The far more likely and reasonable scenario is that the Giants spend the No. 6 pick on someone like Dwayne Haskins who will get some spot time in 2019 but primarily learn under Manning’s wing. Everyone will understand 2019 is Manning’s New York farewell tour and the future of the franchise will be handed over to this year’s pick in 2020.
Philadelphia: A healthy Carson Wentz is a happy Philadelphia.
Dallas: Dak Prescott will be a very rich man soon when Jerry Jones has his way.
Miami: Sign a low-to-mid tier QB and wait on drafting the quarterback of the future.
If the Dolphins could play this season without signing a quarterback, they might just do it. But they can’t, and so they will probably do their best to not win very many games in 2019. Per the Miami Herald and common sense, the tank is on in Miami. They’re obviously ridding themselves of Tannehill, and bringing a first-round quarterback into a tanking situation is unfair and may take a while to reverse. The best option, given the circumstances, is to sign someone like Blake Bortles. Bortles, who is sure to be released by the Jaguars, shouldn’t get more than a two-year deal anywhere, and he’d be decent enough for you to get a good look at your offensive players but bad enough to make sure you don’t win much with him.
New York Jets: Sign a low-to-mid tier QB.
Surely the Jets will be players during this year’s free agency, and they will use the fact that their starting quarterback is in the second year of his rookie contract to their advantage. New York shouldn’t wish to devote much more cap money at that position, so cheap is the best option here. Ideally you’d want a veteran here to continue to help Sam Darnold, so re-signing Josh McCown isn’t out of the question. If it’s not McCown, perhaps Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden could land in New York.
Buffalo: The Bills are all-in on Josh Allen, and Matt Barkley is a sufficient backup there.
New England: One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
Detroit: Draft a QB on the second day OR trade Matthew Stafford and use trade compensation this year or next for the quarterback of the future.
The more likely scenario is the first, so I’ll spend some time there. Stafford had a bad 2018 season in his age-30 season, and after missing the playoff in consecutive seasons, the Lions should legitimately wonder if they’ve gotten all they can out of Stafford. He’s most certainly still starter-caliber, so there’s not an urgency to replace him with the top quarterback in this year’s draft. But if you believe in a second- or third-round guy, pull the trigger and develop him. As for the trade scenario, it makes a lot of sense. A team in need of a long-term solution could deal for him, and his contract would keep him there through at least the next two seasons and possibly three. The Lions would get a first-round pick (and more) in return for Stafford. If the pick is high enough in 2019, draft the future now. If the pick isn’t coming until 2020, find a stopgap and devote all your resources to getting it right next offseason.
Minnesota: The Vikings are entering Year 2 of this three-year marriage with Cousins and couldn’t afford divorce even if they wanted to.
Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers has the richest contract in the sport and if he goes down, nothing matters anymore.
Chicago: The Bears are loving Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie contract.
Baltimore: Sign a veteran low-to-mid-tier free-agent QB.
The Ravens aren’t in a position all that dissimilar to the Jets. Lamar Jackson is the clear starter there and the Flacco days are gone, but Jackson clearly has stuff to work on and he has to grow as a passer in the league. Getting a McCown or Fitzpatrick in the room could help his growth tremendously. But the worry here is how Jackson plays the game, and he’s putting himself at great risk after rushing 147 times last season. With good quarterback play, these Ravens can make the playoffs again. Making a play for Tyrod Taylor—someone who Jackson can learn under while Baltimore wouldn’t have to do a wholesale offensive change should something happen—would be smart business by new GM Eric DeCosta.
Cincinnati: Sign a low-tier free agent or draft a second or third day QB.
The Bengals have finally shaken things up this offseason by hiring Zac Taylor as their new head coach, and maybe that needs to happen at the quarterback position too. With two years left on Andy Dalton’s deal, this is the offseason when you’d normally extend your veteran quarterback. But the Bengals should be in no rush to do that since they’ll want to see how the partnership with Taylor will go first. It’s been a while since Dalton had any real competition at quarterback, and his play has dropped the last two years as the Bengals have gone 11–15 when he’s the starter. His contract is as team friendly as any veteran quarterback’s, so there’s no reason to add to the position by bringing in a high-priced free agent. But if you can find someone to push him just enough—someone like a Brock Osweiler—on top of working with Taylor, you’ll get more out of Dalton than you have in years.
Pittsburgh: For all the turmoil past, present and future in the Steel City, the QB room isn’t one of them with Big Ben, Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph.
Cleveland: All hail Baker Mayfield, the Browns savior now and forever.
Arizona: Sign a low-tier veteran free-agent quarterback
The Cardinals were right last year to sign Sam Bradford knowing they would draft a quarterback in the first round. They just paid Bradford too much. This one is nit-picky so I’ll be quick. The hope is Josh Rosen and Kliff Kingsbury will be the pair for the next decade, but it’d help both sides if they got someone in the quarterback room who had a decade of experience under his belt. Matt Cassel would be a smart pickup.
Seattle: Much like Rodgers in Green Bay, remove Russell Wilson from Seattle and everything falls.
San Francisco: Jimmy Garoppolo will be healthy for the start of camp and Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard played well enough in 2018, all things considered.
Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, with Sean McVay in his ear until the play clock strikes 15, is enough for the NFC champs.
Denver:Sign a top-tier free-agent QB OR draft a first-round quarterback.
The Broncos’ mission is the same as Jacksonville’s, though with John Elway’s history of drafting quarterbacks, I’d say they lean heavily on the first option. Elway called Case Keenum a “short-term fix” this offseason, and cutting him would leave a dead cap hit of $10 million—but the Broncos would absorb that if it means getting this position right. Foles, Flacco or Bridgewater could end up here, and they should jump at the chance to work with Elway while Vic Fangio gets his hands on a dominant defense. Flacco just turned 34, so he has at least another five years in him. An older quarterback getting carried to a Super Bowl victory by a top-ranked defense has been done in Denver before.
Oakland: Who knows?
The Raiders are a wild card. They were a wild card before Oakland hired Mike Mayock and they are more so now. It’s unclear how much Jon Gruden loves Derek Carr, so it’s difficult to project the poistiion there. Gruden has also brought in A.J. McCarron (who was last in the quarterback musical chairs last year) and Nathan Peterman (whose reputation precedes him). The Raiders could use one of their three first-round picks on a quarterback in the draft or none at all. Gruden could trade Carr away like he did Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, and he could also trade for one of the quarterbacks he gushed about for years on ESPN. I ended with the AFC West because I wanted my last explainer to be Oakland so I could point out how completely unpredictable this team is.
Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers, 37, has one year left on his deal. He doesn’t want to play into his mid-40s, but tack a couple years on to this contract and let’s talk in a year or two.
Kansas City: The Chiefs have the youngest MVP in the league since Dan Marino.
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