We’ve seen a lot of quarterback movement during this most unusual of off-seasons. I can’t remember when so many of the most sought-after free agents were quarterbacks. It has probably never happened before. General Managers are well aware of the value and rarity of a true franchise quarterback and many teams now operate well under the salary cap, which makes this all the more unusual.
My theory is that today’s quarterbacks are asked to be one of two things: deadly accurate, experienced and able to make a good decision within one second or able to excel with a package that includes some run/pass option. Anyone who sits in the pocket and can’t make good decisions quickly isn’t going to win. Anyone who runs first and can’t pick apart a defense if it frees a linebacker solely to track the quarterback isn’t going to win.
That has produced a shake-out. That, combined with the “old guard” of excellent pocket passers now past their prime, has made 2020 an unusually volatile quarterback market.
One thing remains consistent: quarterbacks are measured primarily by wins. You can produce huge passing numbers, but if they come primarily when you’re playing catch-up and forced to throw, it’s meaningless.
Prime free agency is now over. There are two big names still on the board: Cam Newton (71-59-1 as a starter) and Jameis Winston (28-42). They will land somewhere. The question with Newton, heading into his 10th season, is durability. With Winston, it’s the turnovers that have been written about so frequently that each one has its own entry on Goodreads, along with a star rating, reviews and a link to purchase the video on Amazon. Newton is likely to be signed to start. Winston might have to serve as a backup until he shows he can win.
Other names on the list include Joe Flacco (108-78, serious injury concerns), Blake Bortles (26-50, not in The Good Place due to persistent losing) and Trevor Siemian (13-12, a record that commands some attention, but he’s likely best suited for the Ryan Fitzpatrick honorary Dude You’d Like at Backup, but Please Don’t Start the Season as My Starter role).
Breaking down each team’s quarterback situation:
I Have My Young Franchise Quarterback, and Odds are Good I’m Locking him Up for Years
Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo, Houston, Kansas City, New York Giants, New York Jets
Not all of these guys are as dead certain as Patrick Mahomes (28-8), but the investment is clear. Mahomes and Deshaun Watson (25-15) will receive huge contracts going into 2021. Rumors abound that the Texans will look to deal Watson. This seems like the type of insanity that, um, produced the DeAndre Hopkins trade. So maybe the Texans will do it. Buffalo’s Josh Allen (15-13) is as much in the next category as this one.
Rumors at press time indicate the Jets might sign Colin Kaepernick (32-32) to back up Sam Darnold (11-15). No idea what to make of this, other than that earlier rumors that the Jets have never much embraced the idea of Darnold would likely be true if this were to happen.
I Have a Young Maybe-Franchise Quarterback, Let’s Give Him 2020 to Make His Case
Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, Washington
Each of these cases is a bit different. Baker Mayfield (12-17) has been up and down, and the Browns signed Case Keenum (28-36) to a prime backup/maybe starter contract as insurance. Drew Lock (4-1) and Dwayne Haskins (2-5) were high picks last year and deserve a look. Gardner Minshew (6-6) is in the right place at the right time. Makes you wonder if there are a lot of sixth-round picks out there who could be great if they only had the opportunity. It has happened before (Matt Hasselbeck and another example that might come to me later).
Dallas is the most interesting case. Dak Prescott (41-26) was drafted in the fourth round, which means far more failure than success. But he has performed very well. Ordinarily, that means he would have received the big money this off-season. But the Cowboys seem uncertain here. So they franchised him, which means they’re paying him more than $30 million and probably making him quite angry for one more season to make that case. That’s very unusual at the quarterback position and I suspect he will play elsewhere in 2021.
I’ve Recently Signed or Re-Signed a Guy to a Big Franchise Contract
Atlanta, Carolina, Detroit, Green Bay, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Tennessee
Varying degrees of certainty here, but they’re all locked up for three or more years and it’s unlikely any of these teams is interested in more than making sure there’s a backup around who knows the system. Aaron Rodgers (123-68-1) is the oldest in this group (36). The Packers might well be interested in drafting a potential replacement if they see a second-tier guy they believe in. Carolina has invested $20-million plus per season in Teddy Bridgewater (22-13). If anyone deserves well wishes for perseverance coming off a serious injury, it’s Bridgewater. He looked poised to become a star in Minnesota after two seasons. Believe it or not, that was four years ago.
I’ve Got a Franchise Quarterback, but He’s Old
Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
Three of these guys are certain Hall of Famers and the fourth, Philip Rivers (127-108), would be if he only had some playoff success. All four teams want to develop a young quarterback, but probably don’t want to invest in one of the big names in the upcoming draft because you have a guy who can win now and that pick could bring in the last piece they need. Pittsburgh has collected several interesting young backups, not sure any of them will ever emerge. Rivers’ signing in Indianapolis is an indication that Jacoby Brissett (12-20) is considered more a career backup heading into his contract year.
I Had Someone, Invested a Lot, Now I’m Not Sure and I Brought in a Top-Tier Backup to Compete
Chicago, Las Vegas
In Chicago, former number-two pick Mitch Trubisky (23-19) will compete with Nick Foles (30-24). Both have starter credentials and both have impressed considerably at times. Chicago’s just a bad place to be a quarterback, and I’m not sure why. Great fan base, but they seem to hate their quarterback no matter what. Trubisky is in the last year of his contract. Foles was signed for three years and $24 million. If one steps forward, he’ll get the big contract for 2021. If neither does, Foles keeps the job, but the Bears are looking to the 2021 draft for help.
In Las Vegas, Derek Carr (39-55) received that big-money contract, but underperformed. The move means the team wants very badly to build up the fan base. If Carr continues to struggle, that would cause a lot of damage. So the Raiders signed Marcus Mariota (30-33) for two years and fringe starter money. Mariota has looked great at times and 30 wins is usually enough to cement your rep as a solid starter, but that hasn’t happened. Maybe he just hasn’t had the right opportunity.
I Have Someone, but We Need to Make it All Nice and Legal
That would be Joe Burrow, who will be the first pick in the upcoming draft. Andy Dalton (70-65-2) is likely headed elsewhere, though if there isn’t a good opportunity (apparently New England isn’t interested) he might become an expensive trainer for Burrow. Though it’s not what Dalton or the Bengals want and these situations rarely work well.
I’m Thinking Very Hard about the Draft
Miami, Los Angeles Chargers
For Miami, drafting fifth, Ryan Fitzpatrick (55-83-1) and Josh Rosen (3-13) already fill the quarterback room. I think the Dolphins would be happy choosing between them for a backup. Neither is going to take a team to the next level.
Tyrod Taylor (24-22-1) is the only quarterback with experience on the Charger roster. Taylor was a sixth-round pick in 2011, and has done well in some stints as a starter. He’s got one more year on a fringe starter deal. The Chargers might be OK with him, and didn’t feel the need to pay Rivers a lot of money for another year or two. But they are likely quite interested in drafting a quarterback. They have the sixth pick. They’ve also been mentioned as the landing spot for Newton, though coach Anthony Lynn has already said he’s happy to go into the season behind Taylor.
The two names associated with the first round, after Burrow, are Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. Tagovailoa comes with the requisite injury warnings, and the weird off-season means teams will have to rely on the physicals from the Combine, which were extensive. He’ll still be drafted early in the first round. I don’t see another team trying to trade into this competition, but if the Chargers and Dolphins both prefer one over the other and are willing to invest in that pick, they could end up trading up just to outdo the other team. Hollywood makes bad movies about stuff like this, but it’s a decision that will affect these franchises for years.
The Chargers were heavily involved in the Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf saga, though they were more unlucky than anything else with how that played out. Then Eli Manning and his big refusal. So I’m sure the fan base is gearing up for the draft with more than a little bit of anxiety.
I’m Bill Belichick, and You Don’t Know What I’m Thinking
Owner Robert Kraft wanted Tom Brady (249-75) to play his entire career in New England. Belichick and Brady had other ideas. Thus an amicable divorce. I believe them when they say they still have enormous respect and affection for each other.
New England signed Brian Hoyer (16-23) for his third different stint with the Patriots. He hasn’t started a game there and has attempted only 51 passes in five years as a backup. More importantly in this league, he was signed to a veteran minimum contract, which means they don’t think of him as the starter.
Last year’s fourth-round pick, Jarrett Stidham (2-for-4 with a pick-six in his career) is first on the depth chart. Will that remain the case? Your guess is as good as mine.
Would it be a lot of fun to see what Belichick could do with Newton? Absolutely. And I’m sure Newton would be game. It’s all up to Belichick – can he clear the cap space? Does he believe in Newton? No idea. Belichick isn’t going to share his thoughts outside of the organization.
Some analysts like Jake Fromm, who carries a second-round or third-round grade, as a good fit for New England. Other quarterbacks you might be hearing about in the early draft rounds include Jordan Love, Jacob Eason and Jalen Hurts.