NFL Teams Better Look to Free Agency In 2019 For Quarterback Help

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystNovember 23, 2018

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 18:  Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the New Orleans Saints reacts during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 18, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

More than ever, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Everything is geared toward the position's success. Ergo, a team without outstanding quarterback play is consistently operating at a distinct disadvantage. 

Look around the NFL. What do you see? Quarterbacks throwing touchdowns by the bushel. 

Monday's 54-51 barnburner between the Rams and Chiefs made this abundantly clear. Teams are scoring at an unprecedented rate. In fact, both teams scoring 40 or more points in a game has already happened four times this season after occurring just twice since 2002, according to Football Outsiders' Scott Kacsmar

Defenses are mostly helpless, with four squads surrendering more than 400 yards per game—which equals the previous three campaigns. 

The game's most important position isn't easy to fill, though. Every organization desperately searches for a franchise quarterback and becomes even more frantic to hold on to him when it finds one. Not every team around the league is fortunate enough to benefit from outstanding quarterback play. 

Those organizations will enter the offseason feeding frenzy to find their new signal-caller. Of course, the draft is the most likely course to select and groom a quarterback. However, the class' top prospect, Oregon's Justin Herbert, remains undecided about his NFL future and said last month he hasn't "thought three seconds about it." 

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert
Oregon quarterback Justin HerbertSteve Dykes/Getty Images

The rest of next year's class is suspect compared to this season's crop of rookie signal-callers. Missouri's Drew Lock and West Virginia's Will Grier are the top senior prospects. The class could receive a boost if Duke's Daniel Jones and/or Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins declare. Even so, none appear to be on par with the depth of quality that resulted in five first-round picks back in April's draft. 

Other avenues could and should be explored.

Free agency comes before the draft. Even if a team has its eye on a particular quarterback prospect, the plan to double down on the position protects its interests from all angles. A veteran acquisition can provide a short-term boost while simultaneously serving as a bridge to the long-term investment. 

However, this year's free-agent quarterback class is somewhat different than most.

More often than not, starting-caliber quarterbacks—let alone high-end possibilities—are not available. Kirk Cousins' free-agency tour should be considered an aberration based on a bizarre set of circumstances that burned the bridge between a quarterback in his prime and his previous team. 

While none of this year's free-agent class is on Cousins' level, a couple quality starters should be available. 

Teddy Bridgewater is the crown jewel.

Some may scoff at the description since Bridgewater hasn't played a meaningful snap in nearly three years after suffering a significant knee injury that cost him all of the 2016 campaign and the majority of 2017 as well. 

How many other 26-year-old potential franchise quarterbacks will hit the market? Spoiler alert: None. 

Since being cleared to play again, the small samples seen from Bridgewater indicate he's back on his original path to becoming a long-term quality starter. The 2014 first-round pick completed 73.7 percent of his preseason passes and played better than any other quarterback on the New York Jets roster. More importantly, the unflappable pocket passer didn't seem to favor his once-injured knee. He stood tall in the pocket and consistently delivered the football, which should ease any concerns about lingering mental hurdles. 

He looked like the person destined to lead the Minnesota Vikings franchise for a long time. Unfortunately, fate got in the way. After being medically cleared, the only concern at this point is if there's enough of a sample size to assume Bridgewater is the same tough-as-nails signal-caller who will stare down a blitz yet still throw with great anticipation and ball placement. 

The New Orleans Saints saw his preseason performance and decided to trade a 2019 third-round pick for a one-year rental. 

"You get a young, talented player who is accurate," Saints head coach Sean Payton said after the trade, per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. "He's an outstanding kidhe's not a kid anymore, but he's got great makeup, great football IQ. We liked how he played in the preseason. We think a player like that's valuable. So we're excited to have him.

"[He makes] good decisions. [He's] accurate, smart, can move, can make the first guy miss. He's a winner. He won in college, he's won in the NFL. I'll stop there."

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (left) and Teddy Bridgewater (right)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (left) and Teddy Bridgewater (right)Bill Feig/Associated Press

Bridgewater is a free agent after the season, though, and has a decision to make. Drew Brees is the current front-runner for MVP. Yes, the veteran quarterback is 39 years old, but it appears he has a few good years left. 

"I don't mind waiting," Bridgewater said. "I get to learn from one of the best players to ever play this game, get to be in the room with a great group of guys, get to learn from Coach Payton. So I look forward to that."

How long is too long? 

Bridgewater must know—and if he doesn't, his agent will tell him—he'll be a valuable commodity on the open market due to his previous experience, age and upside. Multiple teams should do everything in their power to lure him away from the Big Easy. 

Otherwise, those same organizations can turn their attention to the reigning Super Bowl MVP. It's easy to forget about Nick Foles' potential availability since he's now on the bench, didn't play particularly well to start the season and owns a mutual contract option.  

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick FolesMichael Reaves/Getty Images

The first can't be entirely overlooked since history shows Foles is a streaky performer. He's played well when the offense is specifically tailored with quick reads and decisions. He's not going to stand in the pocket and pick apart opposing defenses based purely on post-snap reads. A good offensive staff can cater their system to his strengths and hide his weaknesses. 

Carson Wentz's return to the lineup takes the second potential pitfall out of play. Foles has a $20 million option for next season if the Eagles choose to pick it up. The odds of that actually happening are slim to none. 

"There's something about being a free agent where you can choose where you want to go and the people you want to play for," Foles told NBC Sports' Peter King this summer. "The great thing about not being traded and being a free agent is you have a choice."

It's an easy sell for another franchise to say it's signing Foles after such a memorable postseason performance. 

Tyrod Taylor didn't lead the Buffalo Bills to a Super Bowl victory, but he helped take the team to its first playoff berth since 1999. What did he get for his troubles? A trade to the Cleveland Browns, where the organization spent the No. 1 overall pick on Baker Mayfield. 

The Browns were always going to be Mayfield's team even though the organization flipped a third-round pick to acquire Taylor and paid him $16 million so he could be a three-game bridge and backup. 

Cleveland Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambles away from New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambles away from New York Jets cornerback Buster Skrine.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Taylor is a consummate professional. He may not have played as well as he would have liked to start the season (48.8 completion percentage), but he's continued to help Mayfield learn and grow even though the 29-year-old veteran would rather be on the field. 

"Of course, I love to compete and I want to be out there playing," Taylor said, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, "but I have not thought about those opportunities. Like I said, more so just focusing on getting better and doing things that I can help this team in any way. ... I just continue to keep my head down and continue to keep working, like I said, helping the team."

Bridgewater and Foles present more upside as passers, but Taylor can create both through the air and on the ground. He's not going to carry an offense, but he's competent and reliable. 

Options beyond those three involve journeymen such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, Sam Bradford, Geno Smith and Trevor Siemian. A few other names could float out there. The New York Giants may finally cut ties with Eli Manning. The Indianapolis Colts could entertain the idea of trading Jacoby Brissett. The Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars may finally give up on Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill and Blake Bortles. 

If a team doesn't have an established quarterback, it should never stop looking for one. The draft is only one path toward addressing the position. Next year's free agency will have a dramatic effect on multiple teams with Bridgewater, Foles and Taylor likely switching teams. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.