Chris Simms' Picks for NFL Offseason QB Carousel
One thing the 2017 NFL season has shown us is that teams can win without a prototypical franchise quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings made it to the conference championship games without top-tier signal-callers, while the Philadelphia Eagles are about to play in Super Bowl LII with Carson Wentz on the sideline.
Teams that have a franchise quarterback, however, have a big advantage over those that do not. One thing I learned during my time playing in the NFL and on the New England Patriots coaching staff is that a franchise quarterback can cover up a lot of holes.
Just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of weeks ago. Their defense got shredded by the Jaguars, but they stayed in the game because of Ben Roethlisberger. If he didn't make some of the best throws we've seen all postseason, the Steelers probably would've gotten their asses blown out of the water. Instead, we got a game that went down to the wire.
A franchise quarterback also gives a team someone to rally around and believe in. Did the Patriots panic when they were down 10 points late in the AFC title game? No, because they had a guy named Tom Brady. The Green Bay Packers are a mediocre team that takes the field believing it can beat any opponent because Aaron Rodgers is under center.
But the NFL doesn't have enough franchise quarterbacks to go around, and there are multiple teams each offseason that are looking to find theirs.
With the start to the offseason right around the corner, now is the perfect time to examine potentially quarterback-needy teams. I'll do exactly that here and predicting how these teams will go about solving their problems.
While incoming rookies could factor into the quarterback carousel, it's early in the draft process, and I focused on pending free agents and potential trade targets.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Drew Brees is set to become a free agent, but I'm confident he'll remain with the New Orleans Saints. It's a championship-caliber team, Brees is still playing at a championship level, and Sean Payton's offense fits him better than any other system would.
Now, I won't be surprised if the Saints scoop up a quarterback should one of the top guys fall to them in the draft. However, the window for another title in New Orleans is open, and there's no sense in shortening it by starting and developing a rookie next season.
Brees will be the starting quarterback for the Saints in 2018. New Orleans needs him, he needs the Saints, and Brees knows the team is ready to win now.
Barring a surprise retirement or fluky injury, Brees and the Saints will figure out a deal that benefits both sides.
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is also set to become a free agent. I'm even more confident he'll remain with his current team, though, than I am with Brees. Hell, I'll pay back some of my salary if the 49ers let him go to another team.
San Francisco traded a second-round pick for Garoppolo. It didn't make that deal just so he could set the town on fire for a few weeks and then go play somewhere else. Garoppolo might already be the biggest star in the Bay Area behind perhaps Steph Curry. In Garoppolo, the 49ers have their face of the franchise.
It makes a lot of sense for Garoppolo to want to return as well. San Francisco has a ton of cap space it can use to put talent around him. He's also gotten a taste of Kyle Shanahan's offense, which perfectly amplifies his abilities.
Garoppolo fits better in Shanahan's system than he did in New England's. He's better built to extend plays and take shots downfield than he is for a precise timing-pattern offense. He also knows he can have tremendous success in the near future.
He is going to be a 49er for a long, long time.
Minnesota Vikings: Case Keenum + Teddy Bridgewater
To me, the ideal play for the Vikings is to re-sign pending free agent Case Keenum to a short-term deal while re-signing Teddy Bridgewater as his backup with an incentive-laden deal. For Keenum, something like last year's Mike Glennon contract—$45 million over three years—makes sense.
Sam Bradford is the guy who should hit free agency.
I understand Keenum isn't the superstar quarterback fans want, but he played great for the Vikings in 2017. He showed he can get Minnesota to a Super Bowl—I'm not putting the loss in the NFC title game on him in any way—and he had a better year than Bridgewater has ever had for the Vikings.
Now, I know people are going to point to Keenum's three turnovers in the championship game, but two of them weren't his fault—blame terrible protection—and the last came when Minnesota was down big late and Keenum was just trying to make something happen.
I also know the Vikings are still high on Bridgewater, too. He isn't the kind of quarterback you'll ask to win a game, but the Vikings know him, and they like him. They'll give him a chance to get healthy—I've seen him in person, and he's still walking with a limp—and a chance to regain the starting job if Keenum starts falling on his face on a weekly basis.
Cincinnati Bengals: AJ McCarron
We don't know if AJ McCarron is going to be an unrestricted free agent or a restricted free agent this offseason. He filed a grievance to obtain unrestricted status—he started his rookie year on the non-football injury list and was only on the active roster for three games—but I believe he'll be back in Cincinnati next season.
I also believe McCarron will have an opportunity to start in 2018.
It's time for the Bengals to open up the quarterback competition. Andy Dalton has done some good things, but at this point, we know what he is. McCarron has shown promise and that he is capable of leading Cincinnati on a postseason run. If Jeremy Hill didn't fumble a couple of years ago against the Steelers, McCarron would have a playoff victory on his resume.
Dalton has never led Cincinnati past the opening round of the postseason in four tries.
Again, I don't think the NFL will allow McCarron to become an unrestricted free agent because that would open a can of worms. However, he could still end up as a new starter.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Kirk Cousins
Two or three weeks ago, I would have told you Kirk Cousins was going to return to the Washington Redskins. I've done some thinking on the matter, though, and now I'm not so sure. Cousins has already turned down one long-term offer, and he seems to feel disrespected by the organization.
It probably hasn't helped that owner Daniel Snyder was firmly in Robert Griffin III's corner and that team president Bruce Allen called him Kurt.
I think Cousins is going to leave town, and I see him as the next quarterback of the Jaguars.
Jacksonville was the best overall team in the NFL this year, but it was held back by the play of Blake Bortles and by the coaching staff's faith in him. Doug Marrone didn't trust Bortles to close out the AFC title game with his arm, and conservative play cost Jacksonville the game.
Cousins is the kind of dropback quarterback the Jaguars can trust in big situations. He's a detail-oriented professional who will fit with Marrone and Tom Coughlin. He's also a perfect fit for the offense of coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. I was with Hackett when I was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I know he can get the most out of Cousins.
For Cousins, there are obvious reasons to like the Jaguars. Jacksonville is a championship-caliber team, and it will have the cap space to give him a long-term deal he's happy with.
Buffalo Bills: Sam Bradford
I like Tyrod Taylor, but the Buffalo Bills don't seem quite so enamored with him or his style of play. Otherwise, they wouldn't have tried to force Nathan Peterman onto the field in the middle of a playoff campaign.
Bradford is a better fit for Buffalo and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Buffalo doesn't have a high first-round pick, so if it grabs a signal-caller, he probably isn't going to be ready to start right away—unless, of course, the Bills package picks and move up. Daboll is a product of the Patriots system, and Bradford is the kind of pocket passer who fits that scheme.
Bradford, who was coached by Josh McDaniels in 2011, will have at least some familiarity with Daboll's system.
The Bills won't view Bradford as their quarterback of the future, but he has the size (6'4", 224 lbs), quick release and veteran experience to lead the new-look offense on another postseason run.
Meanwhile, I think Taylor will become a backup on a different team. He might end up back with the Baltimore Ravens, or he might end up with a playoff team that's hoping to avoid—but still preparing for—a possible Wentz-Nick Foles situation. The Houston Texans would fit as Deshaun Watson continues to recover from a torn ACL. The Kansas City Chiefs also make sense if Alex Smith leaves and the Chiefs want insurance behind Patrick Mahomes.
Arizona Cardinals: Alex Smith
I believe the Chiefs will move Smith in order to make way for Mahomes. A good fit for Smith would be the Arizona Cardinals.
Now, it's hard to predict exactly what Arizona will do this offseason because we don't know who the next offensive coordinator is going to be. Smith is athletic, he can run, he can operate virtually any offense, and he's the right guy to help the Cardinals transition to a new era.
New head coach Steve Wilks has to retool the team. There is talent on the roster—and with Smith at the helm, the Cardinals could get right back in the playoff picture—but the squad needs to get younger at some key positions sooner than later. Guys like Larry Fitzgerald, 34, and Karlos Dansby, 36, who will also be a free agent, are still playing at a high level but are getting up there in age.
Even if the Cardinals draft a quarterback high, they can allow Smith to run the show while the youngster develops—just like the Chiefs did with Smith and Mahomes.
New York Jets: Josh McCown + Rookie Quarterback
I think the New York Jets are in the conversation for a quarterback with the sixth overall pick. They might even trade up in order to secure the long-term answer they need.
New York, however, should bring back veteran Josh McCown and make him the starter going into training camp. The last thing the Jets need is to rush a rookie onto the field before he is ready. They can still win games with McCown while allowing the signal-caller of the future to develop.
A lot of people were impressed with McCown last year. He still has a strong arm, he's a better athlete than people give him credit for being, and he has years of experience under his belt. He helped keep New York in the playoff picture far longer than anyone expected.
New York can continue building its roster while McCown leads the offense. That will allow the Jets to throw their new franchise quarterback into the mix when—and only when—he's ready.
Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch + Rookie Quarterback
I gave some thought to Taylor ending up with the Denver Broncos since their quarterback situation is the one thing keeping Denver from making another deep playoff run. Taylor, however, is a smaller quarterback (6'1", 215 lbs) who isn't an ideal fit for coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense.
It's more likely the Broncos will draft a quarterback high in order to address the position. I won't be surprised if the New York Giants get cold feet about replacing Eli Manning right away and trade out of the No. 2 spot. One thing we know about John Elway is he isn't afraid to make bold moves, so the Broncos could be the team that moves up to get their man.
I don't think Denver is quite ready to give up on 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch, though. While it would make for an awkward situation, Denver will probably let him compete with this year's first-rounder and go with the winner as the starter.
Trevor Siemian could also fit into the equation because he has experience and doesn't have a hefty contract. Siemian, however, shouldn't be in Denver's long-term plans anymore. He could just as easily be moved or released before the start of the 2018 season.
Other Quarterback-Needy Teams + Incoming Rookies
The Giants may still draft Manning's successor if they move down, and it's almost a certainty the perennially quarterback-needy Cleveland Browns will take a guy with one of their two top-four picks. I could see as many as six teams—the Browns, Giants, Broncos, Jets, Redskins and Cardinals—grabbing a quarterback in the first round if Cousins leaves Washington.
I haven't started heavily digging into film yet, so this is an early analysis, but here's what I think of the top six incoming rookie quarterbacks.
Wyoming's Josh Allen is the most talented quarterback in this class based on what I've seen and heard—I don't care about stats. Allen is the most physically gifted of the group, he has a big-time arm, and he's a tremendous athlete. Think of Troy Aikman but faster. He's also spent a lot of time playing under center.
I was told Allen went to the Manning Passing Academy and was in a class of his own while performing alongside college football's other top quarterbacks. I've also heard from my NFL coaching friends that some of Wentz's old coaches—from North Dakota State and now at Wyoming—believe Allen is a more gifted player.
As I said, it's early in my evaluation, but my eyes and ears are telling me Allen is the top quarterback in this class, and I expect the Browns to take him.
Behind Allen, I'll put UCLA's Josh Rosen. He's a pure pocket passer and can make all the throws. Rosen might not blow you away with his arm strength, but he has tremendous touch, he can adjust arm angles, and he's a natural thrower of the football.
USC's Sam Darnold is my No. 3. I like his game because he's athletic and fearless. My concerns with him are his body and his throwing motion. He's a little pudgy, and he has an awkward, elongated delivery. There isn't a long list of quarterbacks who have been successful in the NFL with a throwing motion like his.
Darnold throws some balls that make me say "wow" but also throws some that scare me.
Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma comes in at No. 4. He reminds me a lot of Russell Wilson because he knows how to extend plays, he can throw on the run, and he has a big-time arm.
My main concern with Mayfield isn't his attitude; I like his attitude. It's his size (6'1", 220 lbs). In the playoff game against Georgia's pass rush, Mayfield looked small to me for the first time. He had a clean pocket for much of his career, but when the pocket collapsed against Georgia, he had trouble finding open throwing lanes and getting the ball to open receivers.
No. 5 is Lamar Jackson. People are ignorant if they don't think he's going in the first round. When you can run—and Jackson can—you're going in the first round. Yes, he isn't ready to play right away, but a team like the Los Angeles Chargers would be smart to grab him in order to start him a year or two down the road.
I don't view Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph as a first-round guy, but I won't be shocked if a team falls in love with him and pulls the trigger in Round 1. He isn't incredibly polished, and he's coming from a spread offense, but he has the physical tools NFL teams look for.