It's no wonder starting-caliber quarterbacks rarely hit the free-agent market. When they do, they're usually either veterans well past their prime, or unproven young backups who impressed in a short relief stint.
Either way, they always go for big money.
The free-agent quarterback class of 2014 is no exception; there aren't any Pro Bowlers on the right side of 30 years old there for the signing. Worse yet, there aren't any Andrew Luck-caliber blue-chip rookies atop teams' 2014 draft boards.
If your favorite team needs a starting quarterback that can help it win now, Michael Vick is the best available option.
The Legend of Matt Flynn
From the perspective of an NFL front office, it must be tempting to favor backups looking for their first starting gig. Players who've clawed their way up into a trusted backup role, and impressed when pressed into duty, just might be the answer to a general manager's prayers.
While coveted backups ready for their first multi-year deal might be cheaper than a proven starter, they're still going to be expensive—and a painful miss if they don't pan out.
So goes the legend of Matt Flynn, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. Not only was Flynn stuck behind star-in-the-making Aaron Rodgers, the Packers also drafted a quarterback in the second round: Brian Brohm.
Almost immediately, Flynn outplayed Brohm in practice. Flynn won the backup job, and played OK in a game-and-a-half of relief during the Packers' Super Bowl-winning 2010 season. In 2011, though, Flynn set himself up for life with one crazy game.
In a nearly meaningless Week 17 shootout with the Detroit Lions—who, like the Packers, had already clinched a playoff berth—Flynn exploded. He went 31-of-44 passing for 480 yards, an incredible six touchdowns and an interception.
The Seattle Seahawks signed Flynn to a $20 million free agent contract, only to immediately relegate him to the bench when rookie Russell Wilson outplayed Flynn in camp. Flynn bounced around this season, until finally landing back where he started: Filling in for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Now, Flynn's a free agent again.
If there's a Matt Flynn in this class, it's likely Josh McCown. He not only impressed in relief of Chicago Bears starter Jay Cutler, he arguably outplayed Cutler. McCown might be exactly that kind of promising young backup ready to step into the spotlight, but there's a problem: McCown is 34 years old.
He's been on the roster of six different teams, started 38 games over 11 seasons, and until 2013, never looked like a starting-caliber quarterback. McCown threw about one-eighth of his career pass attempts in 2013, per Pro Football Reference, but his NFL passer efficiency rating of 109.0 only raised his career mark to 77.5.
It's hard to believe that after a decade in the NFL, McCown suddenly became an elite, difference-making quarterback who'll bring that level of production wherever he signs. He's much more likely a product of his outstanding supporting cast in Chicago, or an exceptionally good fit for Bears head coach Marc Trestman's offense.
Tarvaris Jackson, like McCown, has bounced up and down the depth charts of multiple teams, and has never looked like a trustworthy starter.
Josh Freeman entered 2013 ready to rewrite the career passing sections of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers record book; when the situation between himself and head coach Greg Schiano got ugly, Freeman was released—and went from a Buccaneers frying pan into a Minnesota Vikings fire.
Taking over for Freeman in Minnesota was Matt Cassell, whose career trajectory is much like Flynn's. Chad Henne? Kellen Clemens? Colt McCoy? None of Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Ryan Riddle's top available free-agent quarterbacks can hold a candle to Vick's ability.
The Reality of Mike Vick
Let's forget about the Legend of Mike Vick. The No. 1 overall pick who was going to single-handedly change the game forever? That guy's gone. The mercurial young superstar who led the NFL in rushing yards per attempt in four of his first six seasons, per Pro Football Reference? Not the same cat.
The Michael Vick who is accurate in stretches, sometimes struggles with decision-making and can't stay healthy? He's still around.
Many assumed Vick was a perfect fit for Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's offense, but when Vick went down with a hamstring injury, the Eagles offense took flight.
Given the wheel of what would end the season as the No. 2 offense in the league, Vick put up some of the best passing numbers of his career:
During Vick's first stint in the NFL, from 2001-06, his adjusted net yards per attempt hovered between four and five (with the exception of 2002, his first season as a starter). He threw touchdowns much more frequently throughout this first stint, but his interception rate rose as well.
After his legally enforced break from football (and free society), Vick's first season as a starter was the best of his career. 2010 saw him hit career bests in touchdown rate, interception rate and (at the time) yards per attempt. Since then, his touchdown rate has steadily declined, and his interception rate has fluctuated.
In 2013, at the helm of Kelly's offense, Vick posted career bests in raw yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt. His touchdown rate of 3.5 percent was just above 2012's career low, but his interception rate of 3.1 percent was his third-best ever.
Because he was throwing the ball deep more, and completing deep passes more often, his adjusted net yards per attempt (6.93) approached his outstanding 2010 mark (7.29). If Vick had enough pass attempts to qualify for Pro-Football Reference's rate stat leaders, he'd have finished eighth in ANY/A, beneath Russell Wilson but ahead of Colin Kaepernick.
Even at age 33, Vick's long track record of passing production makes him the most proven starter available, and his dangerous big-play ability adds a dimension none of the others can claim.
A Seller's Market
Even if he's strictly evaluated as a pocket passer, though, Vick stands head and shoulders above almost all of the potential free agents this offseason:
Vick leads the available field in raw yards per attempt, and stands behind only Shaun Hill in net adjusted yards per attempt, touchdown rate and interception rate.
Hill is arguably the best overall pocket passer in this group, but his edge over Vick is slim. Given Hill has zero starts and only 13 pass attempts in the last three seasons, versus Vick's 29 and 915, it's hard to say Hill's career stats prove he's a better passer.
Even if they did, Hill can't hope to match Vick's career rushing average of 45.8 yards per game. Further, Vick's career yards-per-completion average is 12.6, nearly two full yards more than Hill's average of 10.8. Vick's about as efficient as Hill, but much more dangerous downfield.
Vick is a flawed player. He's inconsistent, injury-prone and in the twilight of his career.
For a team looking for a long-term solution to the quarterback problem, they'll need to roll the dice on one of the unproven guys, or sign Vick and draft a well-fitting rookie.
However, a team that needs a quick fix can't do any better.