Matching Top Free-Agent Quarterbacks on the Market to Best Team Fits
Earlier, we took a look at the top running backs who could or have already hit the open market and where they could wind up in 2016. We had our share of performers trading in their familiar surroundings for new homes around the league.
Now, we will look at the top eight quarterbacks (listed in alphabetical order) who can become free agents on March 9. If you’re looking for a lot of movement, you’ve come to the wrong place.
It could be a fascinating few weeks at this position for teams that are looking for the right man for the job.
Sam Bradford (Potential UFA, Philadelphia Eagles)
Back in 2010, the then-St. Louis Rams used the first overall pick in the draft to select University of Oklahoma signal-caller Sam Bradford. The Rams were in dire need of a franchise quarterback, and there were hints of promise when the young performer started all 16 games and earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Of course, this is a league full of constant change. The Rams are back in Los Angeles and traded Bradford (after missing the final 25 games with his team due to injury) to the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason. He would start 14 games, throwing for 3,725 yards and 19 scores while being picked off 14 times and losing three of his 10 fumbles.
Now he’s free to sign elsewhere if he chooses on March 9, but according to Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, the Birds would prefer Bradford not to fly the coop. Roseman recently spoke to Dave Spadaro of the team's website (h/t Tim McManus of PhillyMag.com):
We’ve all been clear that we like Sam and we’d like to have him back. It goes then between all of us and whether we can figure something out that makes sense on both sides. Sometimes we get into a situation where we sit here and it will make sense from the team’s perspective but when you’re talking about a negotiation, it’s also got to work for the other side and the player, and we understand that. But hopefully this will all work out and we’ll look at that depth chart when we line up here in July and be really excited about the position.
Of course, Bradford and his representatives will have a say in the matter. Don’t be surprised if he makes a return to the NFC West, which became even more west this offseason. We could certainly see a chain of events where current San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, who traded for Bradford last offseason, could campaign for his 2015 quarterback (although general manager Trent Baalke is in control in San Fran).
Of course, that means the Niners would likely part ways with Colin Kaepernick and/or Blaine Gabbert (who are both currently under contract).
It’s an interesting theory, to say the least.
Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers
Prediction: Signs with 49ers
Kirk Cousins (Potential UFA, Washington Redskins)
Back in 2012, Washington Redskins current starting quarterback Kirk Cousins was selected exactly 100 picks after teammate Robert Griffin III, the second overall pick in that draft.
During their debut season in the league, Cousins obviously took a back seat to the one-time Heisman Trophy winner, who would walk away with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and lead the team to its first division title since 1999. The former Michigan State standout did take the field when Griffin went down that season, most notably in an overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens and later in the team’s 24-14 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, Cousins is at the helm of a team that won the NFC East this past season. By the conclusion of 2015, he was one of the hotter quarterbacks in the league. If you include the team’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, the fourth-year quarterback (who led the NFL in completion percentage this past season) threw 13 touchdown passes and just one interception in his final five contests—totaling 300-plus yards through the air in four of those contests.
Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports has an interesting take on the negotiations, which could include slapping the franchise tag on the young performer.
All told, not a lot but just a little patience needs to be exercised here. And considering he waited his turn and finally wound up starting for the team, it’s a game Cousins may be used to playing.
Best Fit: Washington Redskins
Prediction: Re-signs with Redskins
Chase Daniel (Potential UFA, Kansas City Chiefs)
We’re going to take a bit of a leap here, so bear with us.
The new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles is Doug Pederson, who was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs. Backup QB Chase Daniel is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Could Peterson lure Daniel to the City of Brotherly Love?
That’s our call, with the former University of Missouri standout (who has made two career starts in six seasons) and Mark Sanchez dueling for the Birds’ starting job in 2016. And what of Bradford, the Eagles starter for 14 games in 2015? We already projected him to join the 49ers.
Best Fit: Philadelphia Eagles
Prediction: Signs with Eagles
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Potential UFA, New York Jets)
While the New York Jets may not have found their long-term solution at quarterback, they have found some answers in the form of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
And if they don’t want the 11-year pro to make it a seventh NFL team in 12 seasons, they had best get a deal done with a performer who was far from perfect but is perfectly suited for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s system.
In 2015, FitzMagic led New York to a 10-6 record, and the Jets barely missed the playoffs (thanks in part to a pair of 22-17 losses to the Buffalo Bills during the season). He completed 59.6 percent of his throws and set career highs for passing yards (3,905) and touchdown passes (31) but did commit a total of 17 turnovers—including 15 interceptions.
Rich Cimini of ESPN.com gives us the pros and cons of re-signing Fitzpatrick. In all honesty, based on last season’s performance and considering the overall chemistry of the team, re-signing him appears to be a no-brainer.
Best Fit: New York Jets
Prediction: Re-signs with Jets
Matt Hasselbeck (Potential UFA, Indianapolis Colts)
Isn’t a horseshoe supposed to be a symbol of good luck?
Unfortunately for the Indianapolis Colts, they used more quarterbacks this past season (five) than a pony has legs.
While Andrew Luck, veteran Matt Hasselbeck and Josh Freeman combined for an 8-8 record as starters, the team also employed signal-callers Charlie Whitehurst and Ryan Lindley. The results were a combined 26 touchdown passes and 22 turnovers.
Obviously, Luck is still with the team (and entering the final year of his rookie contract), as is Freeman and 2015 December signee Stephen Morris. Meanwhile, the Colts released Lindley, and both Hasselbeck and Whitehurst can become unrestricted free agents in less than three weeks.
“I haven’t really I guess made up my mind completely on it,” said Hasselbeck. “You’ve kind of got to count the cost of what it would mean, what you’re saying ‘yes’ to and what you’re saying ‘no’ to. My kids are getting older. But all in all I would say I’m strongly leaning toward playing again, and we’ll see.”
If Hasselbeck is coming back, he won’t be going far.
Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts
Prediction: Re-signs with Colts
Brock Osweiler (Potential UFA, Denver Broncos)
The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos have the league’s top-ranked defense to thank for their 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.
They also own a small debt of gratitude to backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, who took over for an ailing and subpar Peyton Manning in November and led the club to a 5-2 record in the second half of the season. Yes, his three turnovers in Week 17 against the San Diego Chargers were a big reason he was pulled by head coach Gary Kubiak and replaced by Manning. But there’s little doubt he showed enough for the team to invest in him for the future.
Kubiak said, per Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post:
You have to be mentally tough because there are a lot of things going on within the team. Everybody is like, "Well we’re missing this guy or that guy." You have to let all of that go, go in there and focus and do your job. Boy, did he do that. He was just week to week and he worked his tail off.
His toughness, battling, and he played some really good teams. I think of all of those things, what he went through this year is really going to help him with his future.
That future is likely to be in the Mile High City. As for Manning, who knows what the future holds at the moment for the legendary signal-caller?
Best Fit: Denver Broncos
Prediction: Re-signs with Broncos
Drew Stanton (Potential UFA, Arizona Cardinals)
There’s no doubt that quarterback Drew Stanton has made the rounds in eight NFL seasons. In 2014, he started eight games for the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals, throwing seven touchdowns compared to only five interceptions while leading the club to a 5-3 record.
This past season, Stanton attempted 25 passes in seven appearances (and was picked off twice). That’s because veteran Carson Palmer remained upright and healthy and turned in a MVP-like performance for the NFC West champions, leading the club to a franchise-record 13 regular-season wins.
Stanton has a solid history with Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, and while he may have some offers to go elsewhere, he makes an ideal insurance policy should Palmer go down again. And with Matt Barkley the only other quarterback on the roster at the moment, this trifecta figures to remain intact—until the NFL draft rolls around in a few months.
Best Fit: Arizona Cardinals
Prediction: Re-signs with Cardinals
Brandon Weeden (Potential UFA, Houston Texans)
In just two seasons with the Houston Texans, head coach Bill O’Brien has gone through his share of starting quarterbacks. He used three in 2014 and four this past season, and both campaigns resulted in 9-7 finishes.
In 2015, it was the law firm of Hoyer, Mallett, Yates and Weeden (Brian, Ryan, T.J. and Brandon, respectively) that “guided” the team to the AFC South title.
So what about this upcoming season. Would the franchise be wise to invest a high pick on developing a quarterback? Back in 2014, the Texans used a fourth-round pick on Tom Savage, who didn’t see the field this past season, while teammates such as quarterback B.J. Daniels, running back Jonathan Grimes and wide receiver Cecil Shorts all attempted passes in 2015.
T.J. Yates returned to the team and made a start in Week 15 but would tear his ACL in the process and was replaced by Brandon Weeden, who closed out the game and then threw for 200 yards and a pair of scores the following week in a win at Tennessee.
With Yates’ future for 2016 being shaky, Weeden will likely return to Houston. We also don’t think he’ll be around in the fall as the Texans look for quarterback help in the draft.
Best Fit: Houston Texans
Prediction: Re-signs with Texans