NFL Free Agency 2016: Ranking Top Available QBs
The NFL Scouting Combine is over. Franchise tags are in. Free agency is next, and we have some positional rankings to do.
Let's start with the most important position in all of sports—quarterback.
For once we might have an interesting free-agency period at the position. The cupboard is typically bare at quarterback given the majority of teams like to keep their most important players if they are competent enough to start.
This offseason several starting-caliber quarterbacks—though likely not of the franchise variety—should hit the market along with the typical fare of backups.
Based on past performance, age and potential, let's take a look at the top 10 quarterbacks set to hit free agency.
We will not be looking at anyone who was tendered with a franchise tag. There is no reasonable chance Kirk Cousins is going to sign elsewhere after Washington decided to tender him, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
There is more sadness than honor in free agency outside the top 10 at quarterback.
Despite the relative depth of this year's class compared to most, there is a steep drop-off in talent at a certain point.
Michael Vick, 35, is the best of the rest here. Far more name than substance at this stage of his career, the 35-year-old doesn't have much left in the tank. He turned Antonio Brown into Nate Washington last season in relief of Ben Roethlisberger.
We are obliged to mention Robert Griffin III here because he is not a free agent—yet.
Had he been released by Washington, he would most certainly have made the top 10 of this list. Griffin might be broken, but he is still young and talented enough to recover and regain form in a good situation.
10. Brandon Weeden, Houston Texans
It's never good when you are benched for Matt Cassel and subsequently cut for Kellen Moore.
Brandon Weeden did have some nice statistics in the time he was on the field. Completing 69 percent of his passes was nice, and the fact he had a quarterback rating in the 90s likely comes as a surprise to many.
Where can Weeden reasonably go from here? He was a first-round draft pick just four years ago, but there isn't much of a market for him as a starter.
Already 32 years old, Weeden isn't likely going to transform into an All-Pro quarterback. He will likely land somewhere in a backup role in 2016 and beyond.
"Suitor" might be a strong word here. However, teams need backup quarterbacks, and Weeden can fill that role.
The Houston Texans might be his best bet. He did a decent job in his short tenure there, winning his only start with the team. Beyond that, Cleveland would be a good bet if he hadn't already left his mark there.
Teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills could all use a suitable backup at this point as well.
9. Kellen Moore, Dallas Cowboys
The winningest quarterback in college football history finally got a chance at NFL victory in 2015. Unfortunately, he lost all three games he played in.
Of course, he is hardly the one to blame in those losses, as the Dallas Cowboys were just plain awful last season, and he only had a diminished Dez Bryant for one of those three games to boot.
A football thrown by Moore takes longer to get to its intended destination than it would for most other quarterbacks, so nobody is going to be banging down the door to sign him.
That said, Moore is one of the better options as a backup. He won't completely destroy his team's chances of winning like some other potential disasters out there.
Anyone in need of a backup quarterback could use Kellen Moore's services, widening the possibilities beyond quarterback-starved teams like the Cleveland Browns or Houston Texans.
8. Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts
Doesn't it seem like Matt Hasselbeck retired years ago? At least until last season it was an annual surprise to hear his name come up as an active player.
The 40-year-old was all but invisible in Indianapolis until an injury to Andrew Luck propelled him into the starting role for the Colts.
He performed remarkably well in the face of low expectations, too, including gutsy wins against Jacksonville and Houston after dealing with severe food poisoning.
The Colts have moved on from their longtime backup, as tweeted by NFL.com's Mike Silver, preferring former NFL castoff Josh Freeman instead of their old-but-reliable veteran.
For his part, Hasselbeck said in a radio interview with Brock and Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle he was "strongly leaning" toward coming back next season. That would make him one of the best backups in the league in spite of his age, as he proved last season.
If it weren't for his age, Hasselbeck might have even cracked the top five here.
Not only is Hasselbeck a quality backup, but he would be a great mentor for a young quarterback. Teams like the Tennessee Titans or Tampa Bay Buccaneers make a ton of sense, where Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, respectively, could benefit from Hasselbeck's wisdom.
7. Case Keenum, Los Angeles Rams
Who would've guessed that Case Keenum would be the best quarterback in St. Louis last season? Actually, that makes a lot of sense.
Keenum took over for Nick Foles, whom head coach Jeff Fisher traded for before the season. He proceeded to take his team to a 3-2 record, one that could have been 4-1 had the Rams realized he was concussed and properly taken him out of the game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Instead, he fumbled the game away under injured duress.
If Keenum can stay healthy, he should compete for a starting gig if he doesn't sign on to be a backup to a clear starter. The question is whether he can reasonably perform better than he did in 2015.
After all, he produced at career-average levels. Keenum's best trait is not being an utter disaster at quarterback.
Truthfully, it's a bit of cheating to put Keenum here considering he is a restricted free agent. Fisher has already said that he plans on Keenum being the starter in Los Angeles, as tweeted by ESPN.com beat reporter Nick Wagoner.
A restricted tender is nothing like a franchise tag, though; there exists a real possibility Keenum would sign elsewhere, not to mention the Rams could wind up going in a different direction.
The question is what the market would think of Keenum, who screams backup quarterback.
6. Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins
There isn't much to say about Matt Moore's 2015 season. He threw one pass all year as starter Ryan Tannehill managed to stay healthy in the face of yet another vicious beating behind a porous offensive line.
Moore hasn't seen serious action in quite some time, but he has performed well in the limited snaps he has gotten. There was a spark of ability to start when he took over for an injured Tannehill back in 2014.
The question is whether Moore wants to start—he wound up sticking with the Dolphins on a backup contract despite an opportunity to cash in during free agency last season.
He will more than likely be holding a clipboard in 2016 wherever he goes.
Who knows whether the new regime in Miami will want to keep Moore around, but he is a cheap backup option who has a rapport with his teammates.
Like with others on this list, Moore is the type of backup who could benefit any team in need of shoring up the roster in that area.
5. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks
There wasn't much to see from Tarvaris Jackson last season, as Russell Wilson stayed healthy and the Seattle Seahawks weren't running roughshod through the league—and getting Jackson playing time in blowouts—like in recent years.
Was Jackson ahead of his time in the NFL? He entered the league a few years before the likes of Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Wilson, when the read-option wasn't openly embraced in the NFL.
Jackson was never a particularly good passer, but he has had some success in the Seattle offense. Most of that has come in the preseason, but he has made some impressive plays with the Seahawks.
That said, Jackson is no spring chicken. Soon to be 33, would he be able to parlay his athleticism into success in an offense tailored to maximize his skills as a runner?
Why mess with a good thing? Jackson signed a modest one-year, $1.5 million deal last offseason despite interest from other teams. However, he plans to test free agency this year, per Jessamyn McIntyre of 710 ESPN Seattle.
Jackson likely won't be recruited as a starter, but he could get good money as a backup in a lot of places. We saw several backups utterly fail in relief of injured starters last season, and Jackson has proved himself to be a competent starter in the past.
There are a litany of teams that could target him, but his best bet is to stay in Seattle.
4. Chase Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs
Chase Daniel led the league in 2015 by completing 100 percent of his passes. What an amazing accomplishment!
If there was ever an opportunity for Daniel to cash in and become a starter, this is the year. The draft class at quarterback isn't particularly strong, and there are plenty of vacancies around the league.
Daniel is 29 years old, so he is just hitting his prime. While he has little in-game experience, he has flashed his potential when given opportunities. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey thinks he could be a starter, per Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt:
We’ve had Chase here for three years. I think Chase is a very competitive player. I think we were very lucky to have him as our number two quarterback. Just a couple hours ago, I had discussions with his agent with regard to see where they were with the process.
At the right price, I would try to retain him, at the right price. I understand the business of the game of football, and he’s going to want to be able to see if he can start. I do believe he’s capable of doing that, so that process will be ongoing.
Given the opportunity to shine, Daniel could be a pleasant surprise in 2016.
Is there a more obvious choice than the Philadelphia Eagles? Daniel's old offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson, is now the head coach in the City of Brotherly Love, and he could use a starting quarterback.
Of course, Daniel would have to be viewed as a starter, something Pederson didn't stress when asked about his former backup.
"What did Chase show me? He’s a solid backup," Pederson told Dave Zangaro of CSN Philly. "He kind of reminded me of me when I was a backup in Green Bay. He’s a guy that really helped Alex [Smith] on and off the football field. He’s a leader in his own way, he’s talented and hopefully he gets an opportunity."
The Eagles have plenty of supporting talent already, so Daniel would be stepping into a favorable situation to boot. But the fact they are trying to woo Sam Bradford back so hard, per Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo, doesn't bode well for Daniel's potential move, unless he wants to be a backup for his old boss.
If he doesn't move back east, sticking with the Chiefs seems like the safest bet. There may not be a team willing to give him starter money—even if it's on the modest side of the scale—given he hasn't shown much outside of preseason action.
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
Last season was by far the best of Ryan Fitzpatrick's career. It's no coincidence that it came while playing with the best roster he has ever had. Having a familiar offensive coordinator in Chan Gailey didn't hurt, either.
Receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were outstanding for Fitzpatrick, helping him to career bests in yardage and touchdowns. He nearly led the New York Jets to an unexpected playoff berth before melting down in the final game of the year against the Buffalo Bills.
He also completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes, threw 15 interceptions and saw his passing average dip to 6.9 yards per attempt.
Unfortunately, last season was likely the pinnacle of Fitzpatrick's career. He is going to be 34 next season, and he won't magically improve his skill set at this stage.
In fact, a notable portion of Fitzpatrick's game relies on his athleticism, something that will decline with age. Why mess with the best thing he's ever found?
New York has some leverage in Geno Smith, from whom Fitzpatrick stole the starting gig last season. But the Jets can't reasonably be confident in Smith as a solution going forward, and they would be taking a huge risk if they attempt to find a starter in the draft.
Fitzpatrick makes a ton of sense for the Jets as a bridge if they do manage to snag a quarterback in the draft. However, if that doesn't happen, the journeyman quarterback could wind up anywhere, perhaps even with his old team in Houston.
Maybe he will add the Cleveland Browns or San Francisco 49ers to his string of failed launches.
2. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
Brock Osweiler is lucky that Father Time is undefeated.
Not too long ago the tall signal-caller could scarcely get on the field in blowouts. Then quarterback Peyton Manning succumbed to the inevitable.
The future Hall of Famer battled injuries and declining physical ability last season, and a foot injury paved the way for Osweiler to get his first serious NFL action and prove he could pilot an offense. He wasn't exactly Aaron Rodgers taking over for Brett Favre, but Osweiler proved he deserves to start somewhere in 2016.
Woody Paige of the Denver Post has reported Manning is set to retire, though there are conflicting reports. Whatever he decides, it looks like the Broncos are ready to part ways—and free up roughly $17 million in cap space.
That said, Osweiler has some serious leverage in Denver. The Broncos cannot let him get away, and the franchise tag will be used on Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, according to Troy E. Renck of the Post.
While he has four years of pro football under his belt, Osweiler is still a work in progress. His immediate success is tied to the talent surrounding him going forward—he is not going to buoy his teammates like the elite quarterbacks out there.
In Denver, Osweiler will have great receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to go along with a solid offensive line and ground game. He should parlay his moderate 2015 success into a nice 2016 season.
Having said all that, the Broncos are going to do everything they can to keep the former second-round quarterback they drafted four years ago. He will likely stick in Denver.
Other teams that should be interested if contract negotiations fail include the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, all of which could use a solid starter.
1. Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
A chance at redemption under offensive wizard Chip Kelly proved to be little more than a mirage for Sam Bradford.
Beleaguered by team dysfunction and injury yet again, Bradford was unable to cash in on the promise of a great year. The offense sputtered, and Bradford threw 14 interceptions to just 19 touchdowns on the year.
He did, however, quietly close out the year on a nice run. The former No. 1 overall pick threw for 1,308 yards and completed over 68 percent of his passes over the last four games of the season to end on a high note.
Health is an impossible thing to predict. Injury-prone players can suddenly become durable, while normally healthy players can suffer unexpected damage.
In Bradford's case, his injury woes will be a drag on his free-agency stock, far more so than his mediocre career statistics. Despite all that, his potential will be tantalizing enough to net him a big contract in free agency.
His success next season will depend on where he lands. You can't sign with Cleveland and expect to have a big year, but a team with a strong offensive line and a good pass-catcher or two could finally help Bradford reach his potential.
The San Francisco 49ers are the obvious choice here. Almost too obvious.
After all, new head coach Chip Kelly traded for Bradford last offseason in Philadelphia. Just because it didn't work out doesn't mean they won't try again. But what if there was a better situation available?
The Houston Texans have a solid roster on both sides of the ball, and they need a quarterback just as badly. Of course, none of this will come to pass if the Eagles retain him, as they are desperately trying to do by bidding against themselves.
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.