Matching Top Free-Agent Quarterbacks on the Market to Best Team Fits
There are two types of teams in the National Football League.
There are those who have franchise quarterbacks and will do anything to keep them. And then there are those who do not and will do anything to get one.
That latter group is generally out of luck in free agency, largely because of the former. Of the quarterbacks set to hit the open market, few have any real potential to be an NFL starter. Teams just don't let players like that slip away.
That's why the player atop that list (Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins) all but certainly won't hit the market at all.
However, that doesn't mean the cupboard is completely bare. Brian Hoyer of the Chicago Bears has made 31 career starts in the regular season. Ryan Fitzpatrick of the New York Jets has started well over 100.
And while Mike Glennon of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has only started 18, there will be no shortage of teams willing to let him take a stab at starting more.
Each of these signal-callers will have suitors. There isn't a position in the NFL where demand is greater than under center.
Still, all suitors are not created equal—some fits are better than others.
And with that in mind, here's the best potential match for each of this year's current free agents at the quarterback position.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Best Fit: Washington Redskins
There's been a good deal of speculation linking Cousins to the San Francisco 49ers, from the possibility of his signing there in free agency to the Niners being willing to give up the compensation necessary to pry Cousins away from Washington if the Redskins use the non-exclusive franchise tag on the five-year veteran.
That would be a pair of first-round picks, for those keeping score at home.
As the NFL Network's Charley Casserly noted (h/t JP Finlay of CSN Mid-Atlantic), there are those who believe that Cousins a good, but not great, NFL quarterback:
"Here's the tough thing, you got two years on him now, is this the guy? Guy put up great stats, a lot of good players around him, great stats though. The defense kept them out of the playoffs [in 2016], I'd say, not him," Casserly said. "But he ended both seasons in big games not on a good note. So is this kind of what we got? The league thinks, a lot of people in the league think, that's what he is."
That may well be true. But it doesn't change the fact that this is a situation that's not broken, and there's no need to fix it.
Cousins has set franchise records in each of the past two seasons, including passing for a career-best 4,917 yards in 2016. The 28-year-old was ProFootballFocus' eighth-ranked quarterback in 2016.
Cousins might not be Drew Brees, but he was among the top quarterbacks last year and led the Redskins to a postseason berth in 2015. And he knows the system, receivers and linemen.
Tagging him for a second straight season isn't an inexpensive proposition at just under $24 million.
But it's the best course of action—both for the quarterback and the club.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
Best Fit: Oakland Raiders
Throwing things is also uncalled for.
I will freely admit that Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't play well in 2016. As Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday wrote, Ryan Fitzpatrick will freely admit Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't play well in 2016.
"It was a season I came in with high expectations," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't meet my own expectations or anyone else's, probably. But mine are probably higher than everybody else's. So there's some disappointment there. But that's just the way it went."
However, it's not like the Oakland Raiders are looking for a starting quarterback. After a 12-win season in 2016 that saw the Raiders return to the playoffs for the first time in well over a decade, it's safe to say Oakland has found that man in Derek Carr.
But given the nightmarish ending to Oakland's dream season, there's one thing the team does need: a capable veteran backup who can step in to make a start or two if need be.
If his performance in the regular season finale is any indication, Matt McGloin is not that backup. Maybe Connor Cook will be someday, but that day wasn't in the Raiders' playoff loss to the Texans.
Fitzpatrick isn't a great quarterback. He might not even be an especially good one. But he's started well over 100 games and has four 3,000-yard passing seasons on his NFL resume.
He can offer the Raiders an experienced fallback plan if Carr suffers a minor injury and misses a game or two. A couple starts could loom large for a team with aspirations of playing in Super Bowl LII.
The Raiders could offer Fitzpatrick the chance to win, which has eluded him throughout most of his 12 years in the NFL.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers
Assuming that the San Francisco 49ers aren't able to land Kirk Cousins, the list of free-agent quarterbacks with the potential to be anything more than the most temporary of stopgaps is a short one. In fact, it's a list with all of one player on it.
That player is Mike Glennon.
Glennon's not a sure bet by any stretch. The 27-year old has attempted all of 11 passes over the last two seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, over 18 starts in 2013 and 2014, Glennon posted a plus-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and at 6'7", he has the size many NFL teams covet at the position.
Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter told ESPN's Andrew Astleford last year that he has no doubt Glennon has what it takes to start in the NFL. "As I’ve said multiple times," Koetter said, "I believe Mike Glennon is an NFL starting quarterback."
Is Glennon going to magically fix the Niners' desperate situation under center? No. But San Francisco doesn't just need a starter at the NFL's most important position.
With Colin Kaepernick all but certain to opt out of his contract and Blaine Gabbert a free agent, the Niners need a complete overhaul at quarterback.
Glennon would take some of the pressure off the 49ers to reach for a quarterback at No. 2 overall if new general manager John Lynch isn't sold on any of this year's class being can't-miss options.
Make no mistake, with holes all over the roster, the 49ers can't miss with that pick. They can't afford to.
Even if there is a quarterback Lynch likes enough to take with the second pick, bringing in Glennon helps relieve the pressure to start that youngster out of the gate—whether he's ready or not.
In short, Glennon would give the 49ers options.
And with nearly $82 million in cap space, per Spotrac, the 49ers can afford to buy them.
Brian Hoyer, Chicago Bears
Best Fit: Chicago Bears
This is the point in this little exercise where the talent pool at quarterback starts looking like a puddle...in Phoenix...in July.
There's an excellent chance it will get quite a bit deeper. There are a number of veteran options, from Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills) to Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys) and Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears) who will more likely than not be looking for work soon.
However, those players are all under contract at present, so we can't start counting those unhatched chickens just yet.
Cutler isn't the only Bears quarterback about to hit the open market. As a matter of fact, if Cutler does indeed become a cap casualty, the Bears' top three quarterbacks will all be free agents.
If Chicago is going to bring one of those quarterbacks back, it should be Brian Hoyer.
In 2016, the 31-year-old Hoyer made five starts for the Bears. Over that span, he threw six touchdown passes without an interception and posted a passer rating of nearly 100.
Also, not only is Hoyer familiar with the offense, but as Zack Pearson of Scout.com wrote, Hoyer is a realist when it comes to his potential status as the "bridge" to a young quarterback in the Windy City.
"I kind of did that with Johnny [Manziel]," Hoyer said. "Look, I’m a good teammate. I’ve been around. I have a lot to offer in that regard. But I also think, and this is what I said in Cleveland, the best way to show a young guy how to do it is to do it well and just do your job. But I really have a lot of confidence that playing in these four games here really re-emphasized that for me. Just proving to myself I can play at this level."
We have a team that badly needs at least a stopgap at quarterback, as well as a capable stopgap who knows the system and is willing to accept a role that comes with an expiration date.
It makes so much sense that it probably won't happen.
Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns
Best Fit: New York Jets
The 2016 season was a massive disappointment for the New York Jets, largely because veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick imploded.
Now the Jets are at a crossroads—a veteran team trying to figure out whether to begin a full-on rebuild.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was vocal about the team bringing Fitz back in 2016. That obviously didn't work out, so Marshall's out of the recommendation business—sort of.
As Connor Hughes of NJ.com reported, Marshall isn't saying the team should sign former teammate Josh McCown.
He also isn't saying they shouldn't.
"Wherever he goes, he's going to be a great pickup," Marshall said. "He has a lot left in the tank. I actually was just with him in Houston. We spoke on a panel there and I had a chance to catch up with him for a little bit. He seems like he's ready to go."
At 37, McCown is hardly a long-term solution for the Jets. Given his recent injury issues, the 14-year veteran might not even be a short-term one. And his numbers for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 weren't especially impressive.
But as recently as 2015, McCown had a passer rating of over 90 in eight starts for the Browns, and over the past four seasons, McCown has started 27 games for the Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.
If the Jets want to take one more run at the postseason with their aging roster, McCown may well be about as big an upgrade under center as they are likely to find in free agency.
And if the Jets are more inclined to begin the rebuild now, then Gang Green could do a lot worse than McCown as a mentor for youngsters Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.
Best of the Rest
Matt Barkley, Chicago Bears
Best Fit: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have over $60 million in cap space, and with a new regime in town and Blake Bortles coming off an awful season, it could be a good idea for Doug Marrone and Jacksonville to invest in a backup that has at least some upside, if Bortles can't get back on track.
Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
Best Fit: New York Giants
If we're being brutally honest, Gabbert's best fit is probably as a clerk at Foot Locker. Of course, since we're being brutally honest, it's also true that just about any NFL quarterback under the age of 70 would be an upgrade over Ryan Nassib as Eli Manning's clipboard valet.
Case Keenum, Los Angeles Rams
Best Fit: Los Angeles Rams
Keenum's no worldbeater, and it's entirely possible Sean McVay will want to plant his flag and shake things up behind Jared Goff. But Keenum was respected enough by his teammates to be named a captain last year, and bringing him back would effectively be a vote of confidence in Goff's status as the starter in 2017.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Best Fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are flush with cap space and have a need under center with Mike Glennon likely to depart. In some respects, Manuel is a very poor man's Jameis Winston. But maybe Dirk Koetter's offensive acumen can help Manuel resurrect his career.
Mark Sanchez, Dallas Cowboys
Best Fit: Minnesota Vikings
Given the uncertainty surrounding Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings need to explore backups for Sam Bradford in 2017. Sanchez could likely be had on the cheap (he made $2 million in 2016), and the 30-year-old had some success running Pat Shurmur's offense in Philadelphia.
Matt Schaub, Atlanta Falcons
Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers
With Kyle Shanahan taking over as head coach for the 49ers, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Schaub is likely to follow. The only real question now appears to be what role the 35-year-old will fill in the Bay Area.