There is a scarcity of viable starters at quarterback in the 2014 NFL free-agent pool, but a few standouts can at least serve as borderline short-term options.
With some uncertainty surrounding the top signal-callers in the upcoming draft, perhaps those teams in need at the position will decide to take a flier on one of the three better, more seasoned veterans available. But whether it's because of a small recent sample size, a lack of sustained success or general inconsistency, none of the best QBs seeking a new destination are all that reliable.
The good news is that they can likely be had at a decent value, perhaps succeed in the short term and prevent franchises from taking a first-round risk on one of the incoming rookies. There are 32 NFL teams, and future draftees and those quarterbacks temporarily unemployed need just one team to give them a shot, as Andrew Brandt of ESPN alludes to:
The mantra to all players in the Draft and Free Agency: you don't need all teams to like you, you only need one.— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) February 26, 2014
While it's still too early to speculate all that much about where these players will land—free agency doesn't begin until March 11—it's still worth looking into some of the early buzz and what each QB would bring to a new team.
Here is a look at the three quarterbacks who should garner the most interest on the open market this offseason.
Evaluating Vick is hard because he had all the tools to thrive in Philadelphia's offense this past season but was unseated by the less athletic Nick Foles. No one could argue with Foles' savvy leadership and ball security—something the talented Vick has always struggled with.
The New York Jets seem to be interested buyers for a competitor who will push last year's second-round QB selection, former West Virginia star Geno Smith. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that they are indeed interested in Vick:
That pairing makes a lot of sense, as Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg held the same title with the Eagles when Vick thrived in his resurgent 2010 campaign.
With #Jets is Vick’s former offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg. From what I understand, there is mutual respect. Vick could help Geno— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 24, 2014
A familiarity with the system is there, and head coach Rex Ryan loves himself a strong rushing attack. After refusing to deploy Tim Tebow more often in the shotgun for read-option situations in 2012, perhaps the Jets will use a more polished passer in Vick for that role. The hope is that he can beat opponents with his arm, though.
Since Ryan arrived in New York, he has not had the benefit of consistent quarterback play. Vick can be maddening, but he is electrifying at times and may be the shot in the arm the Jets need on offense—at least for now.
However, CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora believes the Oakland Raiders may be the best spot for Vick to start immediately:
A recent report linked [Vick] to the Jets, but league sources believe Jets GM John Idzik would not be inclined to spend in the range it would likely take to land Vick, and regardless, other teams are interested. The Raiders are mulling several veteran quarterbacks, Vick included, and that looks like the best opportunity for Vick to start quickly.
Since the Raiders have two unproven youngsters in Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin but have a regime in place that may not have time to wait on a rookie to develop, bringing Vick in isn't the worst idea. He could also help bring along an inexperienced but promising receiving corps.
Time will tell if these rumors result in an actual contract offer from either party, but Vick has to be feeling good about his chances to get at least one more shot at a starting gig under center.
First-year Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman deployed a West Coast offense that fit McCown's skill set well. With his accuracy to all areas of the field and a strong running game to support him, McCown played the best football of his career, completing 66.1 percent of his passes and chucking 13 touchdowns to just one interception.
It helped having two big-bodied receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, sure, but the 34-year-old made great decisions and kept the Bears afloat in Jay Cutler's absence despite a lackluster defense. All of that helps his marketability to other teams and should net him a nice payday.
Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports that the Jets are also interested in McCown—but as a backup, presuming the release of former first-round pick Mark Sanchez:
The Daily News has learned that the Jets are eying Bears quarterback Josh McCown in free agency to provide a viable alternative in case Smith regresses. McCown, coming off an impressive season that included five starts in relief of an injured Jay Cutler, is expected to draw a fair amount of interest when free agency begins on March 11. The Jets, who are expected to release Mark Sanchez next month, believe McCown would be a quality backup.
Rapoport reports that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at least considering pursuing McCown, with a new power structure in place in head coach Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht:
Sure, the Bears would love to have McCown around as insurance. Tresman himself acknowledged this, per the team's official Twitter account:
LM: Trestman on Josh McCown: "We want him to be a part of our football team. We recognize how important he is ..."— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) February 20, 2014
But if McCown's play last season wasn't good enough to earn his spot over Cutler, he's destined to be a backup for the remainder of his career. Absent a legitimate chance to be a starter for much of his playing days, McCown should test the free-agent waters.
Despite his sustained stretch of brilliance in 2013, the perception seems to be that McCown isn't a viable starter. Perhaps he will get a shot at proving his doubters wrong—and deservedly so.
The Minnesota Vikings' quarterback carousel this past season was as comical as any in recent memory.
Oh wait. Nevermind. Take a look at the Cleveland Browns at any given moment. But that's neither here nor there.
Cassel played well at times for the Vikings and aided the development of first-round rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, who could become one of the most explosive all-around playmakers in the league over the next year or two.
Which free agent has the best chance of starting in 2014?
"The Vikings, 49ers, Bucs and Texans are also exploring free agent options," says La Canfora. "If Matt Cassel does not return to Minnesota, Houston is seen as a likely landing spot for him."
Wow. That would seem to corroborate what Bleacher Report's own Mike Freeman reported recently—that the Texans are leaning toward taking freakish defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall draft pick instead of a quarterback. Yours truly believes that's a sound strategy too.
Cassel has a history of strong play. Notably, he took over for an injured Tom Brady in 2008 and led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record, though they missed the playoffs. His stint as a franchise QB in Kansas City didn't go so well, but Cassel showed signs of life last season.
If Houston is indeed seeking Cassel to either push, mentor or start over promising youngster Case Keenum, he should benefit from a strong defense and a great receiving corps headlined by Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Oh, and Texans coach Bill O'Brien was in New England at least aiding game-planning efforts as a receivers coach when Cassel flourished in his only full-time stint as a starter. There's a familiarity factor there.
But that's just one rumored place Cassel could land. That is all he, McCown and Vick need, and it seems teams are lining up for their services already.