With NFL free agency largely settled and the incoming rookies the next significant moving piece of the 2018 offseason, here is a preview of the optimal landing spots at the skill positions. Featured in this installment: quarterbacks.
*Criteria includes initial opportunity and long-term growth potential*
Elite Landing Spots
Buffalo offers the best chance to start early in Year 1 outside of injury. The Bills have a serviceable surrounding cast with LeSean McCoy, Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, and Charles Clay notably. The Bills also have the draft capital to move up for one of the 'Big 4' quarterbacks or stay put and potentially have Lamar Jackson in play. A.J. McCarron may be the Week 1 starter, but his contract points to a backup caliber investment and a weak stopgap more than long-term investment.
The Browns control the top of the draft and presume to take their favorite signal-caller at No.1. Tyrod Taylor is a quality NFL starter, avoiding turnovers and adding mobility. The big picture plan is likely for Taylor to start all or most of 2018 as the rookie settles in and/or the Browns are competitive deeper into the season than recent years. Cleveland has put together a strong supporting cast with their glut of salary cap space and trading this offseason with a core of Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson Jr, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, and David Njoku surrounding their quarterback. While initial opportunity may be delayed, the situation is arguably the best in the NFL.
While the initial opportunity is minimal with all-timer Tom Brady still playing at a high level, No.2 options have performed above talent expectations consistently throughout the Bill Belichek tenure. The weapons are more questionable than recent years with Rob Gronkowski flirting with retirement, Brandin Cooks gone after one season, and Julian Edelman into his twilight projection period for slot impact. With draft capital to acquire one of the top quarterbacks and Brady a year-to-year proposition, this is the most likely year to-date New England grabs their next franchise quarterback early in the draft.
Arizona deserves to be in the elite category for opportunity early on as Sam Bradford's health (lack thereof) has been as reliable as death and taxes in his career. Looking around the offense, however, has David Johnson returning from injury but still in his prime, a mid-30s Larry Fitzgerald, and little else. Between wide receiver and tight end Arizona is arguably one of the neediest depth charts in the NFL.
The Chargers are the reverse of Arizona. Philip Rivers has been one of the most durable quarterbacks over the past decade. While in his later 30s, Rivers projects with multiple years remaining, outside of moving on to a new franchise. From a weapons perspective, the Chargers are among the best in the NFL. Despite not getting anything from Mike Williams, their 2017 top-10 pick, as a rookie, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Melvin Gordon III form one of the more stable trios in the NFL. Williams contributing would be a nice bonus over the next couple seasons.
There is a growing sentiment the Giants will not be in the quarterback market at the top of the draft. The offensive situation is similar to the Chargers with a strong set of weapons to support production, the missing link being an improved offensive line. Eli Manning, like Philip Rivers, has multiple years remaining of viability which would make starting in 2018 unlikely for an incoming quarterback if the team is competitive.
Like Ryan Tannehill and Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton has settled into the uninspiring starting quarterback category mid-career. A.J. Green is on the second half of his career. Tyler Eifert has been the durability equivalent to Sam Bradford in recent years, and John Ross contributed nothing as a rookie. Matt Barkley was a low-level addition behind Dalton on the veteran quarterback front with A.J. McCarron off to Buffalo this offseason. Dalton's contract is of one-year construction in terms of dead money with no commitment beyond 2018 if Cincinnati finds their quarterback of the future or decides to move on after this season.
Denver is a notch below the Cardinals and Chargers on both the opportunity and weapons front. Case Keenum offers a strong one or two-year bridge option under center. Their two notable weapons are Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, both on the wrong side of the peak production window to expect elite impact. With questions at tight end and running back, with little upside depth beyond Thomas and Sanders at receiver, Denver is more of a tempered landing spot.
Josh McCown is one of the underrated stopgap quarterbacks in the NFL, back for another season as he nears 40 years old. The weapons for the Jets are minimal, however, without a projectable No.1 receiver and a jumbled top-4 of the depth chart. They also lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins and have a bleak outlook at tight end. While starting in 2019 at the latest is a reasonable projection for a rookie quarterback landing in New York, their weapons are less than ideal.
Blake Bortles is one of the more uninspired starters in the NFL. Jacksonville resigned Bortles to a three-year deal which looks like a two-year construction based on the dead money drying out before the 2020 season. Losing Allen Robinson in free agency was significant from a long-term outlook and the remaining wide receivers are a collection of lower pedigree (Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole), secondary options (Marqise Lee), and reclamation projects (Donte Moncrief).
Ryan Tannehill returns from injury in 2018 with one-to-three years remaining on his existing contract depending on how much cap space Miami wants to save in future years. Miami dealt Jarvis Landry, bringing in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson this offseason and also approaching a pivotal year for DeVante Parker to produce to his potential in Year 4. Miami sits at No.11 overall, which could be inside the line to get the QB4 off the board or potentially trade up if the quarterback value (and need) presents itself.