Beginning the 2018 NFL free agency preview of available players, cut candidates, and landing spots, here is a look at the quarterback position around the NFL landscape:
2018 Free Agent Quarterbacks
Cousins is the prized possession of the likely free agent group at quarterback. The long-standing back-and-forth between Washington and Cousins has resulted in no long-term contract to-date and a near-$24 million franchise tag in 2017, a figure which would rise to $34 million if tagged again in 2018. While Washington has more than $50 million in available salary cap room, they would be up against the cap considering they only have 34 players under contract for 2018 at present. Considering Washington has not been willing to pay the bulging market conditions for Cousins yet, the likely outcome is first entering free agency and second, another franchise tag designation.
Cutler returned to the NFL when Miami lost Ryan Tannehill on a potential contender in 2017. Cutler is on a one-year deal and has taken better care of the ball (completion rate, touchdown rate, interception rate, sack rate) than all but one or two years of his NFL career. If returning to the field in 2018, expect a similar route to 2017 where he is added later in the offseason by a team absorbing an injury. Cutler is an easy cut in start-1QB formats, but a hold in superflex leagues of reasonable depth or greater.
Bradford's 2017 season, much like his career, was a 'what if' proposition. Bradford was outstanding in Week 1 (84% completion rate, 346 yards, 3 touchdowns) in a win over now heralded New Orleans, only to throw 11 passes total since before hitting the injured reserve. Bradford has played more than 14 games in only 3-of-7 NFL seasons and his advanced metrics have been slightly below-average for all but his partial 2013 season. Spotrac.com points to similar players like Alex Smith, Tyrod Taylor, and Joe Flacco for a $15-20 million annual payday of a future contract for Bradford.
One of three Minnesota free agent quarterbacks in 2018, Bridgewater is the most likely to be retained considering his age and profile pre-injury. Bridgewater has been rumored to see the field before 2017 ends as he has been recently activated for game days as the No.2 option to placeholder Case Keenum. Bridgewater is a career 65% passer, taking Minnesota to the playoffs in 2015. For fantasy, Bridgwater is my favorite stash for 2018 of this list beyond Kirk Cousins. Bridgewater offers rushing upside (career 14 yards-per-game on the ground) plus being in the early part of his NFL career to project growth. Also, the weapons in Minnesota (Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook) are stronger than when Bridgewater was last under center.
Yet another Minnesota quarterback on the list. With Teddy Bridgewater back to the active roster, Keenum is doing his best to keep the starting job for the playoff-projected Vikings. Keenum has career highs in completion rate (64.9%) and most advanced passing metrics across the board in 2017, including an elite sack rate. Even if Minnesota moves on from Keenum in the offseason, at worst he will find strong No.2 work, if not a No.1 'stopgap' role on another NFL depth chart.
Despite being mid-career, Savage has thrown his first two NFL touchdown passes in 2017 in relief of the injured Deshaun Watson. Savage was the Week 1 starter, which lasted all of 13 passes before Watson's historic career start surged to the top of the depth chart. Savage has limited pocket mobility and scattershot accuracy for stretches of games, limiting his appeal as anything more than an NFL backup once league depth charts reset in the offseason. Spotrac.com grades Savage in the zone of Brian Hoyer for his next contract.
The former No.10 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft sports an abysmal 9-32 career record and 56% completion rate. However, the half-full view points to an optimistic 65% completion rate in his lone 2017 start (Week 11) with quarterback guru Bruce Arians and three touchdowns in a game for the first time in his 44-game career. Gabbert offers mobility (13 yards-per-game for his career) and could be an in-house option if Carson Palmer retires after this season.
McCarron has been on the 'promising but blocked' trajectory through three plus seasons in Cincinnati, not throw a pass since his quality three-start stint under center in 2015. McCarron in that span sported a 66% completion rate and six touchdowns to two interceptions. McCarron is a restricted free agent in 2018 and would be one of the more attractice trade pieces of the position for teams to add to a potential rookie in the mold of Mike Glennon or Jimmy Garoppolo with starter upside on their own.
Like Blaine Gabbert, Manuel is another reclamation project after a flame-out stint as an initial starter in the NFL. Manuel settled for a backup 'prove it' role behind Derek Carr in Oakland this season. For his career, Manuel has a marginal 20-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 58% completion rate. On the plus side for fantasy, Manuel is mobile with quality movement for his size and logging 11 yards-per-game on the ground in his 30 career games. Manuel's best shot at starting for a stretch of games is finding a No.2 job again in 2018 and filling in due to injury.
McCown has been one of the surprise performers of the quarterback position in 2017 compared to expectations. McCown has a career-best 69% completion rate and an already-career-best 14 touchdowns through the air. His four wins in a season are already second-highest of his career as well. McCown is on his eighth NFL team in 16 seasons and the journeyman is performing his best despite one of the weakest supporting casts, especially at wide receiver, in the NFL. McCown is the ideal veteran bridge for an NFL team in 2018 planning to take a rookie to be groomed for later in 2018 or 2019 as the future of the franchise.
Despite landing behind a franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston in 2017, Fitzpatrick has found his way onto the field for meaningful snaps yet again in his long NFL career. Fitzpatrick has been a late bloomer with his best efficiency seasons coming over the past four seasons. Outside of a downturn in his coming starts, Fitzpatrick is in line for a bigger payday than the 1-year, $3 million deal given by Tampa Bay for 2017 in the offseason. Like McCown and Keenum notably on this list, Fitzpatrick is the ideal bridge quarterback to pair with a younger quarterback of the future for an NFL depth chart.
Mike Glennon (Cut?)
Glennon was the starter in Tampa Bay before Jameis Winston was drafted and shortly after Chicago signed Glennon this past offseason, the franchise drafted Mitch Trubisky at No.3 overall. Glennon's contract is cut-friendly following 2017, saving the franchise nearly $12 million by moving on. Glennon's career ratio of 34 touchdowns to 20 interceptions and a 61% completion rate point to future opportunities as an NFL starter.
Blake Bortles (Cut?)
Bortles is the most intriguing situation on this list as Jacksonville sports a 7-3 record and a current playoff projection in a weak division. However, Bortles is a limiting element of the team as their success is based largely around the uptick from the run game and an elite defense in 2017. Bortles has been a sub-60% completion rate quarterback in each of his four seasons and the best aspect of Bortles' game in 2017 has been improving his sack rate and cutting down on the interceptions. If forced to carry the offense, Bortles is at best a question mark in a big game if not a complete liability. Jacksonville has not guaranteed monetary commitment to Bortles beyond this season with a $19 million cap hit scheduled if they choose to continue with the former No.3 overall draft pick.Jacksonville has no in-house slated replacement making them a candidate to draft or sign a new quarterback if moving on from Bortles.
2018 Quarterback Landing Spots
With a strong quarterback class projected from the incoming 2018 rookies, the dominoes falling in free agency could be similar with a few veterans to the Mike Glennon storyline of 2017 where a veteran secures the starting role in free agency while a highly-drafted rookie is added to shorten the leash of the veteran to a season or less.
Redskins: Pending a Kirk Cousins exit, Washington has Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, and Vernon Davis as passing game weapons, plus Chris Thompson out of the backfield. For QB1 upside in 2018, Washington marks the best landing spot next offseason.
Giants: Eli Manning has been a hot stove discussion point this season, but outside of a trade, Manning's contract is not likely to be cut in advance of 2018 with more than $12 million of a dead cap penalty. 2019 is a different story and if the Giants nab one of their free agent or (more likely) rookie targets, 2018 could be a transition year under center with 2019 the full turnover season. With Odell Beckham Jr Jr, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard, the Giants are the top long-term landing spot considering their weapons and (hopefully) some offensive line improvement before a new signal-caller is running the show.
Chargers: Philip Rivers is on pace for his third straight losing season and his lowest completion rate since 2005, before he was the regular starter for the Chargers. Rivers' contract situation is similar to Eli Manning, where a 2018 exit is unlikely (outside of a trade) and projecting a 2019 transition point to another quarterback is the most likely short-term changing of the guard. The Chargers are projected in a decent draft position to get a top quarterback, but at least two other teams needing the position are likely to be ahead of the Chargers if exploring a top option via the draft without a trade (or earmarking a Day 2 pick).
Cardinals: Arizona missed on Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback-to-be-groomed under Bruce Arians in 2017. With Carson Palmer the only quarterback under contract for 2018 at present, at a minimum Arizona needs depth at the position. Arizona is in the bottom-half of available cap space for 2018, so a rookie is more likely than one of the top free agent options at the position. A retirement announcement from Palmer is more likely than Arizona cutting the veteran, but the team would save $14 million if cutting Palmer, who is not under contract beyond 2018. In terms of weapons, David Johnson is still under contract and Larry Fitzgerald has been reported as likely to return for 2018, which was a previous uncertainty. Other than J.J. Nelson and Chad Williams, however, the rest of the wide receiver group is set to enter free agency.
Jaguars: Assuming the Jaguars move on from Blake Bortles, an incoming quarterback would have Leonard Fournette, a solid offensive line, and one of the top defenses in the NFL. The key variables on offense include Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee as free agents and a relative black hole at tight end. The Jaguars are also projected with one of the lowest amounts of available cap space for 2018 to fill those voids beyond the draft beyond the freed $19 million if not bringing back Bortles.
Bills: Nathan Peterman had one of the worst debuts in NFL history in Week 11 with five interceptions in the first half as Buffalo turned back to Tyrod Taylor. Jordan Matthews is the lone free agent for 2018 of note of the offensive skill positions with Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Charles Clay, and LeSean McCoy has 'build around' pieces for a potential new quarterback. The Bills have an out with Tyrod Taylor after 2017 with $8 million of dead cap compared to saving more than $10 million.
Browns: While Deshone Kizer has some developmental qualities, there is no franchise quarterback currently on the roster. Plus the Browns will likely have two top-half Round 1 NFL Draft picks for 2018. Isaiah Crowell is a free agent, but Corey Coleman is under contract, so is Kenny Britt, and David Njoku will be entering Year 2. Josh Gordon is a variable as a restricted free agent. The Browns have plenty of cap space if they want to explore the free agent market at quarterback or offensive pieces to aid an incoming rookie.
Jets: With Josh McCown a free agent, I have the Jets as the neediest team in the entire NFL looking at the aggregate skill positions in 2018. They could use a front-line upgrade at every position. Fortunately, the Jets are projected to have a top draft position plus the second-most available cap space (to the Colts) in the NFL for next year. In addition to McCown, Jeremy Kerley, Quincy Enunwa, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are free agents plus Matt Forte is a cut candidate. While the opportunity to start right away for an incoming rookie or signed free quarterback is high, the weapons are lackluster compared to other available depth charts.
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