NFL Free Agency 2020: Predicting Where the Top QBs Will Land
The 2020 offseason is shaping up to be one of the most memorable in recent memory. A big reason is the fact that several starting-caliber quarterbacks could change teams. Many will at least test the open market.
Quarterbacks capable of playing at an above-average level don't reach the free-agent market often. Because of leaguewide scarcity at the position, along with an ever-growing salary cap, teams are usually quick to lock up their starting quarterbacks.
Things are a bit different this year, as multiple 2019 starters—and a couple of future Hall of Famers—are slated to hit the market. The big unknown, of course, is where they'll land.
Here, we'll take a crack at predicting exactly that. We'll be looking specifically at players who started at least half of their teams' games in 2019, with one notable exception—Teddy Bridgewater, who went undefeated during Drew Brees' five-game absence and is poised to parlay that into a permanent starting gig in 2020.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are also likely to make a run at Bridgewater. Head coach Bruce Arians has not thrown his support behind 2015 first-round pick Jameis Winston.
"If we can win with this [quarterback], we can definitely win with another one, too," Arians said, per Samantha Previte of the New York Post.
If Bridgewater does land in Carolina, expect the Buccaneers to explore other veteran options—they'll pick 14th in the draft and could miss out on one of the top quarterback prospects. Former Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is now a free agent and recently moved his family to Florida, could be that veteran.
Though the 38-year-old Rivers is no longer a top-tier signal-caller, he isn't as unpredictable as Winston, who had 30 interceptions in 2019. This may appeal to Arians, who could bank on that reliability while developing a young quarterback or looking to the 2020 draft.
According to ESPN's Jenna Laine, sources indicate that Tampa's interest in Rivers is "legitimate." Expect the Buccaneers to pull the trigger.
Prediction: Rivers signs with the Buccaneers.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Brees is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He brought a championship to New Orleans, he owns the records for most career passing yards and passing touchdowns, and he remains an elite starter.
Brees, who passed for 2.979 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games in 2019, was also named to his 13th Pro Bowl.
The big question is whether Brees will return for one more season with the Saints or retire. The chances of him playing for another franchise are pretty much nonexistent, but the 41-year-old may not want to come back for a transition year—which is how Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio described the 2020 season for Brees.
"As one source explained it to PFT, the Saints wants Brees back for what would essentially become a transition year, from Brees to Taysom Hill with Hill becoming the starter in 2021," Florio wrote.
New Orleans is set to eat a cap hit of $21.3 million even if Brees doesn't return, so the Saints are likely to do everything in their power to convince Brees to make one last run.
Prediction: Brees returns to New Orleans for one more year.
With the Saints reportedly looking to transition to Taysom Hill, backup Bridgewater is likely the odd man out in New Orleans. After watching him go 5-0 as a starter in 2019, quarterback-needy teams would be pleased that he's available.
However, Bridgewater isn't likely to jump on the first available opportunity.
"I don't try to make any decision of the impulse of my heart. I think things through and go from there," he said on SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t John Sigler of Saints Wire).
Expect Bridgewater to join a team that gives him a chance to succeed. At the top of his list should be the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers just hired offensive guru Matt Rhule as head coach. They have an elite running back in Christian McCaffrey and a budding star receiver in DJ Moore. They also have Cam Newton at quarterback, but he's coming off a significant surgery for the second consecutive season and has just a year remaining on his contract.
Don't be shocked if Carolina replaces Newton with Bridgewater this spring.
Prediction: Bridgewater signs with Carolina.
The unthinkable could happen in 2020. Tom Brady could suit up for a team that isn't the New England Patriots. At the very least, he is likely to weigh his options.
"He wants some appreciation, some acknowledgment and some recognition," Florio said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Without that, I think he's leaving."
After the Patriots' loss in the Wild Card Round, Brady said it's unlikely that he'll retire. Plenty of teams that are close to making a run will likely pursue him. Ultimately, though, there aren't many playoff-caliber teams lacking a quarterback. The Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans are two that stand out, but they aren't markedly stronger teams than New England.
Expect the Patriots to show Brady some appreciation in the form of a hefty paycheck—they're willing to pay him more than $30 million per year, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport—and to put the talent around him that was absent in 2019.
Prediction: Brady signs a two-year deal with New England.
If the Buccaneers do move on from Winston, it will leave the former Florida State star on the open market. Not every team will be willing to take a chance on the human turnover machine, but the Indianapolis Colts just might.
The Colts have Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, but it's clear that they aren't sold on him.
"The jury is still out," general manager Chris Ballard said after the regular season ended, per ESPN's Mike Wells.
Signing Winston to a short-term prove-it deal would give Indianapolis options. It would also give Winston a chance to revamp the trajectory of his career.
In Indianapolis, Winston wouldn't be asked to carry the offense as he did in Tampa. The Colts could use him to stretch the field—or at least threaten to do so—while still leaning on Marlon Mack and the ground game. This would allow the Colts to get back to playing the style of offense they utilized in 2018.
Winston might not be Andrew Luck, but his arm talent is close. If head coach Frank Reich can correct Winston's turnover issues, the 2013 Heisman winner might replace Luck as Indianapolis' next franchise quarterback.
Prediction: Winston signs with the Colts.
Just 26 years old and already a two-time Pro Bowler, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is arguably the most desirable pending free agent at any position in 2020. Dallas has tried to lock him up with a long-term deal but has failed to meet his contract demands.
According to Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Prescott turned down a deal worth roughly $33 million per year in September. After throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns, Prescott now has even more leverage—and the Cowboys know it.
"Things are fixing to heat up. We want to put every foot forward and try to grind this out and get a deal done," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said, per Hill.
Dallas will have a difficult time getting Prescott under contract before the start of free agency, but the quarterback isn't going to hit the open market. If a deal isn't reached, the Cowboys will use the franchise tag on Prescott. Whether he signs the tender and shows up for offseason workouts is another matter.
Prediction: Cowboys tag Prescott.
If this list was written a couple of months ago, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill wouldn't be on it. However, the former Miami Dolphin was superb in 2019, finishing with a 7-3 regular-season record and a 117.5 passer rating.
Now, Tannehill is set to be a premier free-agent target, while former Titans starter Marcus Mariota is a reclamation project.
However, Tennessee may not let Tannehill test the open market. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Titans want to lock him up ahead of time.
"I checked in with a source yesterday who said succinctly he is not leaving the Titans," Mortensen said on NFL Countdown (h/t Crissy Froyd of Titans Wire).
Tannehill still has to prove that he can be Tennessee's starter for the long haul, but the Titans will give him at least a little bit of security this offseason.
Prediction: Tannehill signs a three-year deal with the Titans.
The Washington Redskins started the Dwayne Haskins era near the end of the 2019 season. Whether new head coach Ron Rivera leans on the Ohio State product next season remains to be seen, and former starter Case Keenum would make a lot of sense as a possible plan B.
It wouldn't be a shock to see Rivera swing a deal to bring Newton to Washington, but if that doesn't happen, keeping Keenum would be smart. He has experience with the roster, was relatively consistent this past season—he finished with a passer rating of 91.3—and would likely be one of the cheaper options on the market.
Washington is projected to have just over $40 million in cap space, but it isn't likely to overspend on an insurance policy at quarterback.
And make no mistake, Washington does need an insurance policy. Haskins showed some flashes as a rookie, but he often appeared overwhelmed as an NFL starter.
"Who knows," Keenum told NBC Sports Washington about his future. "It might be the Redskins."
Keenum also stated his desire for another starting opportunity. If the new regime isn't sold on Haskins or the former Buckeye struggles, he could get it in Washington.
Prediction: Keenum signs a two-year deal with Washington.