NFL Free Agency 2020: An Early Look at Next Year's Quarterback Carousel
There are two truths regarding NFL quarterbacks. They are the most important players on the field, and teams either have a good one or they don't.
Another truth is that in most cases, teams without a legitimate franchise quarterback are in a hurry to find one. This can lead to teams jockeying for draft position, overspending for free agents and other franchise-altering decisions.
The need for a quarterback can place a lot of pressure on team decision-makers, but it's excellent for signal-callers looking to get paid on the open market.
With the 2019 season half over, now is a great time to examine what the market could look like next spring. Here, you'll find a look at the teams either in need of a new quarterback or with a tough decision to make in the offseason.
Top Quarterbacks Scheduled to Be Free Agents in 2020
- Drew Brees
- Tom Brady
- Eli Manning
- Philip Rivers
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Jameis Winston
- Marcus Mariota
- Chase Daniel
- Case Keenum
- Chad Henne
- Drew Stanton
- Colt McCoy
- Ryan Tannehill
- Matt Moore
There will essentially be three categories of quarterbacks available in free agency next year—aging veterans, young potential starters and high-end backups.
Players like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers are at the top of the first category. There's no certainty these guys will walk away from their current teams, but they could turn a team into a contender almost immediately.
Eli Manning is in the first group as well, though given his recent play, he's probably better suited for a bridge role on a one- or two-year deal.
Young quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston haven't reached their potential as former first-round picks, but there may be a team willing to take a chance on them. Teddy Bridgewater, meanwhile, showed that he can be a high-level starter—he went 5-0 in that role for the New Orleans Saints this season—and he could be the top target for teams seeking a long-term answer.
Guys like Chase Daniel, Colt McCoy and Matt Moore are serviceable spot starters who could fill a short-term bridge role. However, their value mainly lies in being veteran backups.
The Carolina Panthers don't need to add a quarterback in the offseason. Even if Cam Newton, who is on injured reserve, cannot get back to pre-injury form, the Panthers have options.
Carolina can roll with Kyle Allen, who has gone 5-1 as a starter this season, or turn to 2019 third-round pick Will Grier.
However, Carolina does have a decision to make with Newton, who has one more year on his contract. They could give him a chance to work his way back or go all-in with a youngster like Allen.
If the Panthers choose the latter option, they could throw a proverbial wrench into free agency by putting Newton on the trade block or releasing him. The 2011 first-overall pick hasn't been healthy the past two years, but he was the league MVP back in 2015. Some team would be interested.
The Chicago Bears also have a tough decision looming. They drafted former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick in the 2017 draft. Unfortunately, he has not developed into a consistent passer—he holds a career rating of just 86.0—which is holding back a team with tons of talent and a championship-caliber defense.
Chicago must decide if Trubisky deserves more chances or if turning to a veteran to maximize the current roster is the better option. This is a big decision because another lost season would put head coach Matt Nagy directly on the hot seat—if he isn't there already.
"If the Bears don't make a trade for a quarterback, Nagy will lose his job within a year, and the team will never reach its full potential," The Athletic's Michael Lombardi wrote earlier this season.
Landing an elite passer would almost certainly make Chicago a title contender in the short term, but chasing Bridgewater could be the ideal long-term play. He is just 27 years old and could potentially run Chicago's offense for the next decade.
Cincinnati benched Dalton before the Week 9 bye, giving the remainder of the 2019 season to rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley to audition for the job. The Bengals can cut Dalton in the offseason without owing any dead money on his contract.
A lot will depend on how Finley handles himself in the coming weeks. If he looks like he has starter potential, Cincinnati could keep Dalton or sign a high-end backup like Daniel, McCoy or Case Keenum.
If Finley falters, the Bengals could instead sign a player like Mariota, allowing him to compete with Finley and a high draft pick for the starting job. Right now, Cincinnati is the front-runner for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft.
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway just cannot seem to get the quarterback position right. Since losing Peyton Manning to retirement, the Broncos have stumbled through the likes of Keenum, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and, most recently, Joe Flacco.
Elway traded for Flacco in the offseason, likely to be a bridge for a young quarterback. He then took former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round of the draft. Though Flacco wasn't awful, he didn't perform like a long-term answer under center. He also landed on injured reserve with a neck injury.
Though Flacco is out of the equation for this year, Elway doesn't believe that Lock is ready to take over.
"He is not ready to go right now, I will tell you that," Elway said, per The Athletic's Nicki Jhabvala.
If Elway and the Broncos aren't convinced Lock can be ready soon, they may turn their attention to free agency. Bridgewater might be ideal, but bringing in another young passer to compete with Lock and Brandon Allen would also make some sense.
The Miami Dolphins have made no secret of the fact that they are tanking. However, this doesn't necessarily mean they are targeting a quarterback in the 2020 draft. Yes, they could go after a prospect like Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa or LSU's Joe Burrow. They could also grab a pass-rusher like Ohio State's Chase Young.
This is the approach the Cleveland Browns took a couple years ago, drafting Myles Garrett in 2017 and then Baker Mayfield in 2018.
If Miami is taking a two-year approach to the rebuilding process, it could either stick with Fitzpatrick and Rosen for another season or try its luck with another journeyman in free agency.
The Dolphins could also take another stab at Bridgewater, who spurned Miami to return to New Orleans this past offseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' need for a quarterback will come down to their decision on Winston. The first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, Winston has shown flashes of promise during his four-plus seasons, but he hasn't shown the desired growth in his decision-making.
In his fifth year, Winston has committed 16 turnovers in eight games.
The Buccaneers could use the franchise tag on Winston in order to get another year of evaluation. However, the fact that Winston hasn't developed into an upper-echelon quarterback and has never delivered a playoff berth could have the franchise examining other options.
A lot could hinge on where the Buccaneers end up in the draft order and how much faith coach Bruce Arians has in Winston. Arians inherited him and could desire to bring in his own guy. If so, Tampa will almost certainly be entering the free-agent market—either for a potential starter or for a bridge to a draft choice to be named later.
While the Buccaneers have yet to make a decision on Winston, the Tennessee Titans have likely already made their decision on Mariota. They gave him the fifth-year option for one last audition in 2018 but pulled the plug after only six games.
Tennessee is now in the process of giving Tannehill his chance at the job, potentially for beyond 2019.
The decision the Titans will have to make is whether to proceed with Tannehill or take a crack at the draft or free agency. With Tennessee sitting at 4-5 and Tannehill playing well, getting a quarterback high in the draft may already be out of the question.
"He's doing a great job of stepping in and leading our offense," wideout Tajae Sharpe said of Tannehill, per The Athletic's John Glennon.
If the Titans aren't sold on Tannehill, or if another team outbids in free agency, heading to market may be the best solution. With the Titans close to contention—they've gone 9-7 in each of the past two seasons—they may even be able to make a case for an elite passer.
*All contract information via Spotrac.