2011 NFL Free Agency Speculation: The 10 Best Backup QBs on the Market

Aaron Dodge@Aaron_DodgeAnalyst IJune 15, 2011

2011 NFL Free Agency Speculation: The 10 Best Backup QBs on the Market

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    Labor negotiations between NFL owners and players have progressed rapidly and rather smoothly as of late, producing much optimism about the fate of the 2011 season.

    A new collective bargaining agreement would likely allow for free agency to begin. Despite already drafting, many teams are still desperate for a chance to place their bids on proven talent.

    With nearly a third of the league still in need of a signal caller, this year's free agency period is in line to be one of the most active and exciting signing periods we've seen in a long time. However, free agency isn’t the only possible route to hitting the quarterback jackpot after the draft.

    There are multiple quarterbacks who are essentially being held hostage in their current cities and would love the opportunity to start elsewhere in 2011. But they need a trade in order to do it.

    I’ve compiled a ranking of the best available backup quarterbacks. In reading this list, you're going to have to allow me some room in the definitions of available and backup.

    The availability of these players varies greatly.

    Some of these guys are unrestricted free agents, free to sign with whom they please, while others are still playing out the last years on their contracts but are likely trade targets for other franchises.

    For the purposes of this ranking, the definition of backup will include any quarterback who may be traded or released this offseason in favor of another quarterback.

    The logic behind this madness is rather simple. The replacement would essentially force these quarterbacks into a backup role if they weren't released or traded, thus allowing me to label them backups before they actually inherited the role.

    There are players on this list with extremely limited experience, with much of their action coming in the preseason or in garbage time. There are others who have been around for more than a decade and have even started Super Bowls.

    One thing these quarterbacks have in common, though, is the fact they will all likely be in high demand very soon.

10. Kerry Collins: Free Agent

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    Kerry Collins proved to be quite valuable as a backup in 2010, playing in 10 games for the Tennessee Titans and making seven starts. He threw for nearly 2,000 yards and posted a 14:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

    At 38, Collins clearly isn't a long-term solution at quarterback—but he's no slouch either. It was just two years ago when he led the Titans to a 13-3 record and a playoff berth.

    He's been working out, staying in shape and apparently isn't thinking about retirement.

    “Physically, I definitely have a couple of years left in me.” Collins said.

    He has expressed interest in spending those remaining years in Tennessee.

    "If it makes sense on both sides, I’d be good to come back."

    But if the Titans opt to go in another direction, Collins could be a perfect fit for another team looking for a veteran stopgap who would be willing to help groom their quarterback of the future.

    "I went through it with Vince (Young)," Collins said. "I would be open to it, but it would have to be the right thing."

9. Jake Delhomme: Free Agent

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    Jake Delhomme's tenure in Cleveland probably didn't go according to plan.

    He signed a two-year deal prior to the 2010 season and won the starting job out of training camp.

    But then Delhomme injured his ankle on two separate occasions and only made four starts for the Browns last season, making his departure very likely this offseason.

    Not unlike Collins, the 36-year-old Delhomme will likely draw attention from teams looking for a veteran willing to eventually take the backseat to their rookie in the wings.

    Injuries and ineffectiveness has largely diminished his value over the last few years, but Delhomme can still get it done given the right circumstances. He's been linked with the Carolina Panthers as a possible mentor to Cam Newton. Some have even suggested a reunion with John Fox in Denver, if the Broncos traded Kyle Orton.

    Like Collins, Delhomme is far from the best available option at quarterback this offseason—but he's also far from the worst.

    Just ask the Panthers how Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen worked out.

8. Brian Hoyer: Trade

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    Some may be surprised by Brian Hoyer's inclusion on this list, but I can guarantee they'll be more surprised by his production once he secures a starting job.

    An undrafted free agent out of Michigan State in 2009 who was picked up by the New England Patriots, Hoyer was immediately named Tom Brady's backup—this just one year after Brady spent all but eight minutes of the 2008 season on the injured reserve.

    Bill Belichick and his staff trusted Hoyer that much right from the get-go. 

    The selection of Ryan Mallett does nothing to lessen Hoyer's value, and it's not a condemnation of his ability. New England selected Mallett because it likes his prospects and value at that pick, The Patriots may envision him as a possible trade chip down the line if all pans out with Brady.

    Hoyer's rookie contract expires after the season. Now that the Patriots have a possible replacement, the team may be more likely to deal him.

    In the minimal amount of time Hoyer has seen the field he's posted an impressive stat line.

    His preseason and regular season stats combined show that Hoyer has completed 58 percent of his passes (143 total) to the tune of 1,089 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception.

    It's unfair to compare Hoyer to Brady—or to Matt Cassel, for that matter—but it's worth noting how they rose to prominence.

    Hoyer may be next.

7. Marc Bulger: Free Agent

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    Marc Bulger is ready to emerge from the obscurity that is backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore. 

    The 34-year-old has reportedly handled the Raven's offense flawlessly in practice. Despite the fact he didn't see the field in 2010, Baltimore's coaching staff speaks glowingly of Bulger and his abilities.

    "They would love to keep him in Baltimore as the backup," said Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network. "They think someone will sign him to a two-year contract and let him compete to start or be a bridge quarterback, and a pretty good one at that."

    La Canfora added, "They told me when he's on the field and running the offense, the ball often doesn't hit the ground."

    It would be a strange route back to the starting role, but it's certainly not impossible.

    Bulger's career in St. Louis was derailed by injury. It probably didn't help to be on the woeful Rams either.

    Now that he has the support of an entire coaching staff—and his failures in St. Louis aren't such a recent memory—it won't be a shock if he's given a starting gig elsewhere this season.

6. Matt Hasselbeck: Free Agent

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    The Seahawks are thought to be moving on from Matt Hasselbeck this offseason after the quarterback reportedly rejected a one-year deal from the team.

    Peter King of Sports Illustrated believes Hasselbeck will be back in Seattle—if it's his only option.

    "Is it 100 percent? No," King said. "But if you ask me I don't think he's coming back."

    If the question is whether or not other teams are going to be interested, Hasselbeck most likely won't be back. There are enough teams in need of a guy behind center for Hasselbeck to find a new home.

    When healthy, there's no question he can lead a team and do it effectively.

    Since 2002 Hasselbeck has thrown for less than 3,000 yards only twice and both occurrences were due to injury.

    Seattle certainly hasn't been known as an offensive powerhouse, and yet Hasselbeck put up impressive numbers with the cast he had around him. He should get a few looks. 

5. Kevin Kolb: Trade

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    Kevin Kolb has been the topic of a lot of discussion and speculation as the backup quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

    A second-round pick in 2007, Kolb has made a total of seven starts in four seasons and has been connected via rumor to just about every quarterback-needy team.

    There were talks of Kolb being moved back when Donovan McNabb was still the starter, and that talk has persisted now that Michael Vick has acquired the reigns.

    He's hoping for his story to eventually develop as Aaron Rodgers' did, by sitting and then finally getting a starting opportunity which sticks.

    "It's a big deal to me," Kolb said. "That's the next step for me. That's what I look forward to doing."

    Kolb is best suited for a West Coast-style system, in which he could rely on timing routes to get the ball off quickly and accurately to one of his many options.

    Surprisingly, it has been the Arizona Cardinals showing the most interest in Kolb—despite their offense philosophy being much more reliant on downfield throws.

    The Eagles have no reason not to get value back from their investment in Kolb. The rest of the league seems willing to pay in order to find out this guy's actual potential as a starter. It should get interesting once the transaction freeze is lifted because there may be a bidding war for Kolb.

4. Donovan McNabb: Trade/Release

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    Donovan McNabb has a couple of exit options from Washington after a dismal first year in which he was benched in favor of Rex Grossman. 

    The problem is the Redskins call the shots on both of those options. Washington will either seek to trade McNabb this offseason, or it may just flat out release him once it gets the ability.

    McNabb's short stint with the Redskins certainly didn't go very well, but it no way negates all that he has accomplished to this point.

    One of the biggest knocks on McNabb's game during his 12 years in Philly was that he couldn't close out the big games out when it counted. There's no ignoring his inability to win in the clutch—but there's also no ignoring his raw talent.

    While his mobility may be close to gone at age 34, his arm is still there.

    If he doesn't try to break the bank with his next contract, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a new city to play football in.

3. Vince Young: Trade/Release

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    Vince Young is another quarterback in an intriguing scenario.

    After losing the starting gig in Tennessee with the help of a few injuries and his flapping jaw, Young will be on the move this offseason.

    The Titans will decide whether that move comes via the trade or whether they'll just release the former third-overall pick.

    Young is the owner of a 30-17 record over the last five years as the starting quarterback for the Titans, and he possess all the tools necessary to succeed.

    His 6'5'', 230-pound frame, combined with his natural athleticism and strong arm, make him one of the most dynamic threats at this position. 

    But he clearly needs a new start after ranting himself out of favor in Tennessee.

2. Carson Palmer: Trade/Release

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    Speaking of ranting yourself out of your city, lets talk about Carson Palmer. 

    Palmer is the only player on this list to have started all 16 games last season, which makes it difficult to fit him into my broad definition of a backup. At least that was the case until the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton in April's draft.

    Palmer's replacement has officially arrived after Carson gave the team an ultimatum to trade him or deal with the aftershock of his retirement. There should be no reason for Cincinnati to let it get that far, especially when they could get serious value for Palmer in a trade.

    He's one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL who is a legitimate threat for 30 touchdowns when healthy and age shouldn't be a real issue at 31.

    Palmer is in major need of new scenery, and the team that gets him is going to be oh-so glad it granted his wish.

1. Kyle Orton: Trade

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    In my humble opinion, there is only one better option available than the nine I've presented thus far: That guy is Kyle Orton.

    In Orton, you get an athlete still in the prime of his career who has proven to be a more-than capable winner and competitor. It's still no lock the Denver Broncos will even make him available, but this would be the prime time to move him.

    His contract was extended through 2011 by the Josh McDaniels regime after he set career highs in nearly every passing category in 2009 following the Jay Cutler trade.

    The emergence of Tim Tebow and the new coaching staff in Denver have caused a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position heading into 2011.

    Orton's ability to play at a high level in the right environment and with the right supporting cast is certain, however. He'll be the prized possession of this group of quarterbacks this offseason.