Cam Newton, NFL's Top Free-Agent QBs After Dak Prescott's Cowboys Contract

Jenna CiccotelliAnalyst IIMarch 9, 2021

Cam Newton, NFL's Top Free-Agent QBs After Dak Prescott's Cowboys Contract

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Dak Prescott is off the table when it comes to free-agent quarterbacks for 2021 after the Dallas Cowboys star agreed to a four-year, $160 million deal to remain with the team Monday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    The top target at the position in free agency, the move will leave teams that are hoping to find a signal-caller on the open market with one less player to choose from. But some of the league's top talent is still available in free agency.

    Tyrod Taylor and Jacoby Brissett, who have largely been used as backups throughout their careers, are available, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who took a backseat to Tua Tagovailoa in Miami this season, is also a suitable option for teams looking for more depth in their quarterback room.

    All three have proved that they're ready to step in when needed, with Brissett and Fitzpatrick each appearing in 15 games in 2019. Taylor was knocked down by a lung injury in 2020, which forced the Los Angeles Chargers to turn to rookie Justin Herbert, perhaps before they were ready to do so.

    In addition to three solid backup options, there are plenty of others available to fill a hole, whether it's on the field or on the bench.

Cam Newton

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Cam Newton had big shoes to fill in New England when he stepped in for legendary quarterback Tom Brady last season.

    And while it doesn't exactly look the best on paper—the Patriots had their worst record since 2000 and missed the postseason for the first time since 2008—the former Carolina Panthers star wasn't necessarily the problem even though he had the worst passing campaign of his career.

    The Patriots struggled with a lack of offensive weapons.

    Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who posted a 1,100-yard season in 2019 as New England's top receiver, was limited to six games due to a knee injury and a stint on the league's reserve/COVID-19 list. But despite his limited appearances, he still managed to rank fourth in receiving yards on the team with 315.

    The options above him didn't do much to fill the void. Jakobi Meyers led receivers with 729 yards but never found the end zone, and Damiere Byrd's 604 yards came with one touchdown. Running back James White saw a big dip in production, posting 375 yards and a receiving touchdown.

    New England averaged 195.3 receiving yards per game in 2020, down from 259.6 in 2019.

    Despite the lack of options, Newton managed to throw for 2,657 yards and eight touchdowns, ranking 24th in passing yards in the league.

    And for what he lacked in passing, Newton made up on the run. His 592 rushing yards ranked second on the team, while his 12 rushing touchdowns were the most by any ball-carrier on the team.

    Newton has said he's open to a return to New England, and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported head coach Bill Belichick has done "nothing but rave" about the quarterback. But Volin also suggested part of the return could depend on Newton's willingness to sign a cheap deal, so it may be anyone's ballgame when it comes to landing the three-time Pro Bowler.

Jameis Winston

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Speaking of Brady, his arrival in Tampa Bay coincided with the departure of Jameis Winston, the pass-happy one-time Pro Bowler who was relegated to a backup quarterback when he signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

    Winston was the cornerstone of a Buccaneers franchise that struggled through his years with the team, to put it lightly.

    Through five seasons with the Bucs, the Florida State product won just 28 games, but there were bright spots—the same ones that earned him a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie in 2015. In his final year as a starter, Winston appeared in all 16 games, leading the league in pass attempts (626), passing yards (5,109) and interceptions (30).

    Winston and the Saints knew what they were getting into when they agreed to a deal ahead of 2020.

    The Saints are Drew Brees' team. But with Brees' status for 2021 looking murky, it could provide a chance for Winston to show what he's capable of.

    After all, the NFL didn't really get a glimpse of that last season, as Winston made four appearances, attempting 11 passes. When Brees was injured, utility man Taysom Hill got the start.

    Winston should be a serious option for any team in need of a quarterback, as the 27-year-old looks for another opportunity to start after spending last season as a backup.

Alex Smith

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    After a lost season following his gruesome leg injury and subsequent roadblocks in recovery, Smith returned to Washington like he hadn't left.

    The Utah product made six starts behind Kyle Allen in 2020 and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He ended the season with 1,582 passing yards and six touchdowns on a 66.7 percent completion rate, one of the best of his 14-year career.

    In 2018, when he appeared in 10 games prior to the injury, he threw for 2,180 yards and 10 touchdowns, though he was just a year removed from a 4,000-yard campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs. That 2017 season earned his second of two consecutive Pro Bowl nods with the Chiefs after he earned his first with the team in 2013.

    The 36-year-old returned from what could have been a life-ending injury, and now he's proved that he can still be a contributor on the field in a backup role.

Mitchell Trubisky

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Mitchell Trubisky is one player who deserves the chance to explore a change of scenery before the league writes him off.

    The 26-year-old was fine in Chicago, where he was installed as the starter four games into his rookie season after being drafted out of North Carolina with the No. 2 pick in 2017. Once he assumed full control of the team in 2018, he managed to earn a Pro Bowl selection with a career-high 3,223 passing yards and 24 touchdowns, posting a 66.6 completion percentage.

    His yardage hit the 3,000 mark again in 2019 before he found himself in a quarterback battle in 2020 with Super Bowl champion Nick Foles. Through 10 games and nine starts that season, Trubisky posted 2,055 yards and 16 touchdowns.

    He brings in legitimate experience as a starter, and if that's not in the cards where he ends up, Trubisky has at least earned the right to be a backup.

Andy Dalton

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Andy Dalton is a unique option on this list since it took him until his 10th season in the league to fall into a backup role—and even then, he was called upon. After nine years as the Cincinnati Bengals' signal-caller, the three-time Pro Bowler packed up and headed to Dallas, where he had to step in once Prescott went down with his injury in Week 5.

    Through nine starts and 11 appearances, Dalton posted 2,170 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

    In a starter role in Cincinnati the previous season, he posted 3,494 passing yards while going just 2-11.

    As the 33-year-old turns a corner in his career, he's a competent option at backup. Bringing veteran experience in addition to on-field ability, the 2011 second-round pick has proved that he can still fill the void when necessary.