The combine is over, which means that we have roughly seven weeks until the NFL draft. But first: Free agency! Legal tampering starts on March 12, and then all bets are off starting at 4:00pm ET on March 14. Let’s take a look at how each team is set up at the most important position in football and attempt to map out where some of the best prospects from free agency and the draft could land.
Which Teams Have a Quarterback Plan Already in Place?
In a league annually starved for competent play under center, the majority of teams at least have a short-term solution at quarterback entering 2018. Specifically, the Patriots, Seahawks, Chargers, Chiefs, Bears, Lions, Falcons, Titans, 49ers, Rams, Buccaneers, Texans, Cowboys, Eagles, Panthers, Steelers, Colts, Redskins, and Packers each have a quarterback who is fully expected to lead the team through the entirety of this upcoming season. Some of the quarterbacks are obviously more proven than others, but there won’t be a quarterback competition from the aforementioned teams barring some repulsive performances.
Which Teams Have Potential Quarterback Issues?
We have a few more teams entering 2018 with clear starters under center — the Ravens, Giants, Raiders, Saints, Jaguars, and Bengals — but each of the following players have some potential issues that might cause their teams to add promising backups via agency or the draft.
- Joe Flacco: The worst of Flacco’s contract will be over after this season, which means that John Harbaugh and new general manager Eric DeCosta could finally address the position if the Ravens miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. Since posting a career-best 27:12 TD:INT ratio in 2014, Flacco ranks dead last in yards per attempt among 37 quarterbacks to start at least 16 games.
- Eli Manning: The new-look Giants have continued to support Manning as their quarterback of the present and future, but it’s fair to question how patient general manager Dave Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur, and fans will be if Manning continues to perform as he has, especially if the team selects a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Manning ranks just three spots ahead of Flacco on the aforementioned list, and he’s failed to lead the Giants to 30-plus points in 33 consecutive games.
- Derek Carr: Carr has the look of a franchise quarterback, and he was a legit MVP candidate in 2016 prior to breaking his leg. Still, he ranks 37th in yards per attempt among 39 quarterbacks to be drafted and start at least 50 games since 2000. Jon Gruden brings plenty of expectations, and more subpar play from Carr behind the league’s third-most expensive offensive line won’t be accepted into perpetuity.
- Drew Brees: Brees is technically a free agent, but both he and the Saints have indicated that they’re planning on continuing their fruitful relationship. The question is for how much longer. Only four quarterbacks have started 16 games at age 39 or older, and the Saints could look to address the future of the position in the draft regardless of how they feel about Brees’ immediate future.
- Blake Bortles: The Jaguars locked down their ‘franchise’ quarterback for three years, but nearly half of his contract will be paid out in 2018. A regression to 2014-16 Bortles could lead to a trade or release thanks to a non-crippling cap hit in 2019 and beyond. The question is whether the Jaguars will attempt to infuse some competition at the position with a top-100 pick.
- Andy Dalton: The Bengals can release Dalton after this season with no cap penalty. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that last season’s debacle came after the Bengals stripped their once-great offensive line, which came a year after Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left town. Dalton’s supporting cast has gone from an ‘A’ to a ‘C+’ fairly quickly, and he accordingly averaged his fewest yards per attempt last season since his second year in the league.
Who Needs a Quarterback?
A lot of teams need quarterbacks. The following teams are fully aware that they need a quarterback and in most cases have admitted as much. Let’s breakdown each team’s options in both free agency and the draft.
An astounding 28 quarterbacks have started under center since the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999, and 28 signal callers have failed in the eyes of nine different head coaches. Everyone knew Deshone Kizer was more of a project than finished product, but his average of 4.5 adjusted yards per attempt marked the third-worst performance ever from a rookie quarterbacks with at least 15 starts. It seems likely that the Browns will add a quarterback in the draft and maybe even free agency. They could potentially choose to pair a mid-cost veteran with a top-five pick, just as the Bears did last year with Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky.
The Browns have stated their top priority this offseason is finding a quarterback, and the team hopefully realizes that tossing another rookie out to the wolves in Week 1 isn’t an ideal scenario. Hue Jackson‘s affection for A.J. McCarron couldn’t be clearer, but John Dorsey appears poised to take a signal caller with the No. 1 pick. Even if Saquon Barkley is currently the odds-on favorite to be selected first, there are a few quarterbacks capable of earning the No. 1 pick. In a quarterback class loaded with underclassmen who have declared early, Sam Darnold is the best. Then again, Josh Allen looks the part of a franchise quarterback and had the best combine of the group.
Prediction: McCarron is arguably the No. 5 quarterback in free agency behind Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ trio. Pairing him with whichever passer the Browns draft wouldn’t be the team’s worst plan ever.
John Elway said himself, “There is no doubt we’ve got to get better at that position,” when discussing the Broncos’ quarterback situation. Of 52 players to throw at least 125 passes since 2016, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler all rank outside of the 32 top quarterbacks in adjusted yards per attempt. Last season’s 42-17 beatdown against the Cowboys marked the offense’s only performance of 30-plus points since the Peyton Manning era. Chad Kelly is perhaps the most talented quarterback on the roster, but his status is mostly unknown after he missed his entire rookie season recovering from wrist surgery.
Cousins is the Broncos’ prized jewel, but Plan B is reportedly Case Keenum. Both quarterbacks are an upgrade over the aforementioned incumbent trio. Even if the team chooses a veteran such as Keenum or Josh McCown, it wouldn’t be surprising to see their No. 5 pick used on the position. If Allen and Darnold are the first two quarterbacks off the board, that would leave the likes of Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen available.
Prediction: Cousins seems poised to join the Vikings, while Keenum’s intentions are unknown. The Broncos offer solid wide receivers and a great defense, but attempting to build a multi-year solution with Mayfield instead of a short-term fix via free agency might be the best way to go.
The Cardinals have the most peculiar situation of the group, as their new defensive-minded head coach Steve Wilks and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have a completely empty quarterback depth chart. The problem is the Cardinals have the 12th-smallest cap space in the league. They’re in a wide-open rebuild after the departure of head coach Bruce Arians and retirement of quarterback Carson Palmer.
The Cardinals have been a popular candidate to trade up in mock drafts. They have sufficient draft capital with the No. 15 overall selection and four top-100 picks, but there are several quarterback-needy teams ahead of them in the draft order. While they join the Broncos as hopeful Cousins suitors, the Cardinals could be looking at the likes of Lamar Jackson as the best quarterback available if they choose not to trade up inside the top 10.
Prediction: David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are good enough to give the Cardinals an average offense with plenty of guys under center, but this looks like another situation in which the team is probably best served taking the long view. A new regime means a new quarterback, and the Cardinals shouldn’t be afraid to trade up for their guy if the price is right.
For more, see Jackson’s player profile.
New York Jets
How good was Josh McCown in 2017? His average of 7.26 adjusted yards per attempt was the fourth-best single-season mark in Jets franchise history. Unfortunately for Todd Bowles and the Jets, McCown’s mark ranked just 15th in 2017 among 34 quarterbacks with six-plus starts. The team’s standard of mediocrity under center isn’t helped by the presence of backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. The former has compiled a 4:10 TD:INT ratio with a 1-6 record in his seven regular season starts, and the latter is yet to throw a regular-season pass and has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in the preseason.
Many expected the Jets to find themselves among the league’s worst teams last season, but they were a respectable 5-8 with McCown under center. The team is obviously striving for more than a below-average record, but a lack of talent at tight end and wide receiver won’t help them recruit free agency’s best quarterbacks despite the opportunity to play in the New York market. The good news: Only the Browns have more available cap space to work with.
Prediction: The Jets haven’t ruled out a reunion with McCown, but they need a long-term plan either way. If Cousins doesn’t chase the money and sign with New York, the draft’s No. 6 pick would be a fine place to find their future quarterback, and one of the draft’s four best prospects at the position has a decent chance to be available.
Keenum just led the Vikings to their best season since 1998, but they seem to be aware of what got them to that point: The league’s second-best defense in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, arguably the best 1-2-3 punch at receiver and tight end in Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph, and an effective rushing attack. Throw in at least nine dome games per year, and it’s easy to see why Minnesota is reportedly the destination of choice for Cousins.
But should the Vikings throw the bank at a quarterback with a career 26-30-1 record? In short, yes. Cousins was a top-12 quarterback last season in almost any statistical category, and that was without DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jordan Reed for all but six games. His body of work over the past three years is even more impressive, as Cousins has averaged the eighth-most yards per attempt among the 93 quarterbacks to make at least 50 starts over the past 25 years.
Prediction: Don’t over think this one. Minnesota will use the ninth-most cap space in the league to give Cousins whatever he wants.
- Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor is perpetually underrated in fantasy football, but the Bills have made it abundantly clear that he’s not viewed as their franchise signal caller. After all, this is a team that willingly started Nathan Peterman when Taylor was 100 percent healthy. The Bills join the Cardinals as a team seemingly poised to trade up for their future quarterback with four of the draft’s first 60 picks, and they have another year with Taylor before he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2019. It’d be surprising if one of those aforementioned picks isn’t used on a quarterback.
- Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler is a free agent, and HC Adam Gase has insisted that Ryan Tannehill remains the team’s starting quarterback. The Dolphins can easily move on from Tannehill at this point in his contract, so adding competition to the position and parting ways with backup Matt Moore is probably a good idea. The Dolphins have been linked to some of the draft’s best prospects with the No. 11 pick.
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