Finding Solutions for Every NFL Team Desperately in Need of a QB
Nearly a quarter of the NFL is in the midst of quarterback desperation heading into the 2018 offseason.
That includes the Arizona Cardinals, a team suddenly in transition after the retirement of Carson Palmer. Same goes for the Denver Broncos, a franchise only a few years removed from a championship.
The Cleveland Browns also need to find competence at the position for the first time since, um, Bernie Kosar? They have the first and fourth overall picks, which should help them take a step toward ending years of misery.
This offseason should feature plenty of opportunities to improve at quarterback, whether it's in free agency, during the draft or on the trade market. Desperation will take hold once the musical chairs begin, which should result in 29-year-old free agent Kirk Cousins hitting the jackpot.
Let's get ahead of the music to find solutions for the NFL's most quarterback-desperate teams.
The following teams could take a long, serious look at improving their quarterback depth chart, even though they'll likely stay with their current starters in 2018.
New York Giants: The Giants could bounce back quickly from a disappointing 2017 season just by staying healthy. They have a rare opportunity to draft a future franchise quarterback and a successor to Eli Manning with the second overall pick in April, but it's difficult to gauge whether they'll do that.
New head coach Pat Shurmur recently told Dan Duggan of NJ Advance Media he thinks Manning has "years left," which seems to imply the Giants may be leaning in a different direction. If Shurmur believes that, the Giants should instead target Penn State running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2 and improve on their 3.9 yards-per-carry average in 2017.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles is a limited quarterback at best. However, the Jaguars not only went to the AFC Championship Game with him, but they held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots before collapsing down the stretch.
The Jaguars invested heavily in their defense prior to the 2017 season, which enabled them to win without a top-tier quarterback. They would still love to have a golden arm on their roster, and they may still poke around the Cousins feeding frenzy. That seems unlikely, however, as they made a commitment to Bortles by picking up his fifth-year option.
The $19.1 million in his contract for 2018 is guaranteed for injury only. The mere chance that Bortles could fail a physical when his option kicks in on the third day of the new league year—he needed wrist surgery after the season—should take the Jaguars out of any serious Cousins consideration.
Back in 2015, the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 with a struggling Peyton Manning as their quarterback. The future Hall of Famer posted the highest interception percentage of his career (5.1) and threw 17 picks compared to only nine touchdowns in 10 regular-season games.
Despite Manning's struggles, the Broncos went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl on the strength of a dominant defense. But when that defense regressed over the following two seasons, it highlighted Denver's glaring deficiencies on offense, particularly at quarterback.
The Broncos went from allowing an average of 18.5 points in 2015 (fourth leaguewide) to 23.9 in 2017 (22nd). That meant leaning more heavily on Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler, which was predictably disastrous. Those three combined to throw 22 interceptions in 2017 (the league's second-highest total) and averaged just 6.5 yards per throw (tied for 25th).
Denver should be among the teams in hot pursuit of Cousins this offseason. But as appealing as it would be to add a 29-year-old quarterback in his prime, general manager John Elway may have his limits.
The Broncos are projected to be working with $25.9 million in cap space for 2018, per Spotrac. They already have defensive end Von Miller locked up as the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback on a six-year, $114.1 million pact. Tying up a large chunk of cap space in two players is dangerous, even if they're Miller and Cousins.
The Broncos should be willing to take that risk, as they need to capitalize on their stout defense while it's still in place. However, Case Keenum would be a fine consolation prize after he proved himself with the Minnesota Vikings this past season, throwing 22 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. He could cost around $10 million less annually than Cousins, as Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post projected.
Elway often goes big during the offseason, which is why marquee free agents like Cousins and Keenum likely will top his list. Failing that, he could target the best available quarterback with the Broncos' fifth overall pick, such as Josh Rosen or Josh Allen.
With Carson Palmer having retired and Blane Gabbert and Drew Stanton set to become free agents, the Arizona Cardinals are overflowing with quarterback desperation. However, their draft position (15th overall) is an immediate roadblock, as the top prospects aren't likely to be available once they're on the clock.
Trading up and sacrificing picks isn't ideal for a team with multiple holes elsewhere after fielding a 21st-ranked offense in 2017. Although they'll surely be contenders for Cousins, financial restraints could make that a challenge. The Cardinals only have a projected $23 million with which to work, though that could increase by $11 million if wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald retires.
Cousins would solve a lot of problems for the Cardinals, but his salary would create problems, too. Instead, they should chase after Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater.
Keenum would still be expensive, but the Cardinals could backload his deal so they don't feel the true salary-cap weight until 2019. Bridgewater, on the other hand, may be the better option for the cap-crunched Cardinals, though signing him requires a leap of faith.
The 25-year-old hasn't started a game since 2015, as he suffered a severe knee injury during the 2016 preseason. However, he's just hitting his prime years, and he flashed plenty of potential in 2014 as a first-round rookie. He started 12 games and completed 70-plus percent of his passes in four of them.
Bridgewater shouldn't cost much on the open market after he attempted just two regular-season passes over the past two years. Signing him would be a low-risk move for a cap-strapped team like the Cardinals, and the reward is high if Bridgewater can regain his rookie form.
New York Jets
The New York Jets can easily afford to sign Cousins, as they're set to have the NFL's third-most cap space at an estimated $79.2 million. But should they dedicate a massive slice of that space to one position?
Last offseason, the Jets jettisoned nearly every aging veteran of value and cobbled together a roster that looked like it might finish 2-14. Instead, veteran quarterback Josh McCown somehow led the team to five wins, throwing 18 touchdown passes with a modest nine interceptions.
Although the Jets can and should pursue Cousins, they need to set a reasonable limit on their bidding. They can follow a different path and have both short- and long-term solutions at quarterback on the roster.
The short-term solution is re-signing McCown. Yes, he'll be 39 years old when the 2018 season starts and has been injury-prone in the past. But any conversation about the best bridge quarterback available this offseason should start and end with McCown, who set single-year career highs in passing yards, touchdowns and completions during his age-38 season.
McCown still would be a bargain because of his age. The Jets could then select one of Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield with their sixth overall pick, all of whom would come cheaply on a rookie contract.
If the Jets follow that blueprint, they could then spend their remaining mountain of cash on more receiving weapons, reinforcing their 22nd-ranked scoring defense and injecting life into their 19th-ranked backfield.
In 2017, the Minnesota Vikings won 13 games, won their division and won a playoff game. While it feels bizarre to mention them as a team grasping for stability at quarterback, their top three options at the position are all set to become free agents.
Sam Bradford and Case Keenum, the two quarterbacks who started games for the 2017 Vikings, each might leave come March. So too could Teddy Bridgewater, the once promising first-round pick whose career was derailed by a severe knee injury.
It's tempting to list the Vikings as a potential Cousins suitor, but that isn't the best way forward for a team that just went to the NFC Championship Game while winning with defense and a strong rushing offense. Minnesota also must retain core players on expiring contracts in the coming years.
The Vikings will have a projected $53.4 million to spend in 2018, giving them the NFL's seventh-most cap space. But spending wildly on Cousins would come back to haunt them when wide receiver Stefon Diggs, linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Danielle Hunter highlight their list of pending free agents a year later. That list is just as concerning in 2020, with tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Andrew Sendejo potentially set to walk.
That's why the Vikings need stick with Keenum.
Doing that will still come at a cost, as Keenum has earned himself a sizable raise from the $950,000 in base salary he made in 2017. But the Vikings can stomach that cost with their available 2018 cap space, and Keenum's deal wouldn't sink them nearly as much as paying Cousins in the long term.
The best route for the Bills would be to target Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in a trade.
With four picks over the first two rounds, the Bills have plenty of draft ammunition to pull off a trade without crippling their ability to add elsewhere. The 29-year-old Foles not only dazzled during his Super Bowl run with the Eagles, but he also threw 27 touchdowns to only two interceptions in 2013 with Philadelphia.
Foles threw for 971 yards over the Eagles' three playoff wins, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt with six touchdown passes and just one pick. He's owed only $4 million in base salary in 2018, which is nothing for a starting quarterback.
Getting the Eagles to part with Foles might be difficult given the uncertainty surrounding Carson Wentz's recovery from an ACL tear. But the Bills have the picks to put together an appealing package, and the Tyrod Taylor era is about to end.
Given how his two-year contract is structured, Taylor never had much chance of sticking around after 2017. When first-year Bills head coach Sean McDermott temporarily benched him for raw rookie Nathan Peterman (to disastrous results), it likely sealed the deal.
Taylor told Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News that he wants to stay in Buffalo, but he won't accept another pay cut to do so.
Unlike the Vikings, the Bills need a significant upgrade at quarterback to go deeper into the playoffs. They gave the Jacksonville Jaguars a scare during Wild Card Weekend, but Taylor wilted against Jacksonville's ferocious defense, averaging just 3.6 yards per pass attempt.
Under different management, the Cleveland Browns passed on opportunities to draft Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. Wentz was on his way to serious MVP consideration in 2017 before tearing his ACL, and Watson threw 19 touchdown passes over his first seven NFL games before likewise tearing his ACL.
The Browns can't and won't walk away from such an opportunity again. That's why new general manager John Dorsey has to select a quarterback with his first overall pick.
That quarterback likely will be Sam Darnold from USC, who's widely viewed as the safest prospect at the position. All five mock drafts by analysts at NFL.com have Darnold slotted in to the Browns, as does the latest from Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller.
"The USC junior doesn't have Josh Allen's arm strength, Baker Mayfield's playmaking or Josh Rosen's smooth stroke, but he is the best of all the traits put together," Miller wrote on Feb. 5. "You don't have to worry about Darnold grabbing his crotch on the sidelines or wearing a 'F--k Trump' hat to one of the president's golf courses, and there aren't the questions about his accuracy like there are with Allen."
The two-year starter for the Trojans threw for 7,229 yards, 57 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions and a passer rating of 153.7. The main concern with Darnold is his age. He'll be just 21 heading into his rookie NFL season, and handling both the pressure of being a top pick and a starter at that age is a lot to ask.
The maturity he gained from starting for two years at the highest level of college football should balance that out, however. And Darnold has the physical build (6'4" and 220 pounds) to take punishment and power the ball downfield.