2016 NFL Free Agency: Quarterbacks Overview

Over the last two weeks I have given my opinions on the upcoming class of free agent running backs and wide receivers, and this week I turn my attention to the quarterbacks. Since there are not many starting quarterbacks who will be available I have also included thoughts on the bigger name players who will likely be rumored to be moved in the offseason. As usual I will give my opinion on some salary ranges for the players and remember you can always keep up with NFL free agents on our free agent pages.

Sam Bradford, Eagles

Bradford may be the hardest player to value in quite some time. Rarely do former top draft picks at the position hit true free agency (plenty are released and available) but there is a real chance Bradford will make it there. Bradford has been in the NFL for six years and at best you can give him an incomplete as a pro. He had five injury riddled seasons in St Louis and at no time during his healthy periods did he look as if he was a special quarterback. He was traded to the Eagles this year and has continued to battle inconsistency.

What makes Bradford unique is that he has not crashed and burned the way other top picks have which is why he is so hard to put a number on. Last year I believed Mark Sanchez, a former number 5 pick, would be the top available free agent quarterback and possible earn between $7 and 8 million a year, but instead he settled for just over $4 million with the Eagles. The major reason behind that is the narrative on Sanchez was so bad from his time in New York that no market developed for him.

Statistically the two are nearly identical. Sanchez last year started 8 games for Philadelphia, going 4-4 and completing 64% of his passes for 2,400 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His high point was a big Thanksgiving win against Dallas. Bradford currently has a 4-4 record with a statline of 2060/10/10 on 62% passing. His high point just came in a national game against Dallas. But Bradford doesn’t have the Sanchez stigma that should hold him down.

The Eagles were rumored to have offered Bradford an $18 million a year contract that he turned down, but that number seems incredibly high to the point where it sounds like it had no merit. Once in their recent history did the Eagles over-extend on a small sampling (Mike Vick following his 2010 playoff run) so I cant discount them from doing it again but it would require the team making the playoffs and Bradford looking dynamic at some point. The franchise tag could always come into play otherwise. Both seem unlikely.

Because of his draft pedigree the earning potential for Bradford is high, but teams are going to need to see much more from him before handing over the kind of money top quarterbacks receive. Nick Foles recently signed a two year $12 million contract which is probably the floor for Bradford, provided he maintains his job as a starter and doesn’t get injured. His rookie contract paid $13 million a season and essentially extending him for a year or two between $13 and 14 million seems like a reasonable deal for both parties. While they would not allow him to reach free agency until he is 31, as a quarterback he could conceivably sign two contracts after that. He has to avoid being benched or injured to get the two year deal. If any of those two occurs I believe his value would drop significantly.

Predicted Value: 2 years, $26-$28 million.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets

Fitzpatrick is the ultimate NFL journeyman quarterback. In the last four years he has started at least 8 games for four different teams- the Bills, Titans, Texans, and Jets. He’s also been effectively cut from three of those teams (he was cut by Buffalo and Tennessee and then traded by Houston). Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his career since 2011 when he turned a fast start in Buffalo into a rather large extension, but even if Fitzpatrick were to make the playoffs it won’t change the fact that he is a 34 year old journeyman with no dominant physical trait who has played with seven teams in the NFL.

The current top market player for Fitzpatrick type of player is Brian Hoyer at $5.25 million a season. Hoyer is 30. On the older end the top market is Josh McCown at $4.7 million. Both players were signed with the idea they would probably start, but it was not a given that they would be the starter. That has been the situation with Fitzpatrick for the last three seasons and will likely continue for a fourth year.

Fitzpatrick should land a job with any team in the NFL that has questions at the position and no chance to draft or trade for another player. He could also be the highest paid backup for a team like Dallas, but he seems to want a spot where he can compete as a starter. The Jets would seem to be the team most likely to retain him, but one would expect them to explore the market before making a two year commitment to Fitzpatrick. If not the Jets expect Fitzpatrick to get a close look by some of the teams rumored to be trading their starter to be a one or two year stopgap starter.

Predicted Value: 2 Years, $10-11.5 million

Kirk Cousins, Redskins

A few years ago people got caught up in the preseason performances of Cousins until he crashed as a short term starter and his star quickly diminished. With all the issues surrounding Robert Griffin III, Cousins got another chance this season and thus far is making the most of it as he is on pace for around 3,900 yards and has likely proven that he can be considered a reasonable backup/fill-in starter for some team.

That role, however, should be his ceiling. In four years his record as a starter is 5-12 and his play against better defenses this year has been uninspiring, especially on the road. Unless Washington has a great second half to the season there will be nothing that should raise the view on him around the league.

Washington seems to like Cousins, but they have to be careful not to overpay him based on some belief that the head coach believes he can be a star. I’m sure the name Nick Foles will come up as a comparison, but Foles has a Pro Bowl quality season and 14-4 record over a two year span to help earn that contract. This is a nice test run for the Redskins front office because in the past I would be confident they would have done a nice size deal for him and they can change people’s opinions by being cautiously optimistic with him. Re-signing in Washington, once they sort out the RGIII mess would seem the best option.

Predicted Value: 2 Years, $7-$9 million

Brock Osweiler, Broncos

Osweiler has only thrown 30 passes in his four year career, a byproduct of playing behind Peyton Manning who simply never misses a snap if he has any say in it. So Osweiler is the great unknown but as a former 2nd round pick he should have some value, the question is how much?

Playing behind Peyton Manning has not really had the same financial impact that playing behind Tom Brady has had for former backups, though the Patriots usually spent more draft capital on the position than the Colts. I don’t know if that is because other teams view Bill Belichick as a genius at the position and think they are getting a possible starter (they haven’t) or because they think Brady is a master teacher while Peyton’s coaches have not been held in the same regard and Manning’s style probably is not something taught, but playing behind Brady has paid off for some.

Ryan Mallet signed for $3.5 million last season and Chase Daniel, who simply backed up Drew Brees for a few years, signed for $3.3 million so it would seem to make sense to slot Osweiler in that same range. Like those players he would probably land in a similar situation which is in a competition for a starting job on a bad team or backing up a veteran. If he can only land a backup job, sticking in Denver would probably be the best long term choice, provided they will allow him to start once Manning hangs it up.

Predicted Value: 2 Years, $6.5-$7.75 million

Chad Henne, Jaguars

I wouldn’t expect Henne to go anywhere as he seemed content to remain in Jacksonville when he last signed a contract and even though he would probably get more opportunity elsewhere, if he is content I doubt he would pursue it. Still if I were Henne I would at least throw my name out there to maximize my value. I feel that Matt Moore was pretty passive last year in selling his services and was unable to get the same top backup money he had the season before. He eventually signed for $2.6 million.

Predicted Value: 1 year, $3-4 million

Chase Daniel, Chiefs

In 6 years he has only thrown 77 passes, but there may be some people who think he might have a little more upside than just a backup QB. If that opportunity presents itself he might leave Kansas City. If not I would anticipate a slight raise on an incentive filled two year contract to remain Alex Smith’s backup.  Daniels could possibly find himself as a starter at some point in KC if either Smith’s contract and/or team performance lead to his exit in 2017.

Predicted Value: 2 Years, $6-$7 million

Best of the Rest

There will be no shortage of veteran backups: Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Cassel, Matt Schaub, Drew Stanton, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Moore, Kellen Clemens, Bruce Gradkowski, and Michael Vick will all be available. Signing ranges should be between $1.5 and $3 million for all but Vick, who may struggle to find work next season.

The Trade Market

Matt Stafford, Lions

With the recent Lions shakeup and the knowledge that Stafford may no longer be protected in Detroit, he would be the prized commodity of the trade market. Stafford is still young and has all the physical traits you want in a QB. The downside is that those traits don’t really manifest themselves on the field and he has struggled growing into the role of leader on a team. With yearly salaries of around $17 million he is no longer so expensive that teams would consider the contract prohibitive, especially following the salary explosion the last two years at the position.

Obviously this is a difficult decision for the Lions, who have been a failure with their approach to team building. Stafford is not the player and probably never will be the player that will automatically lead a team to 10 wins every year. But if you build a strong team around him with good coaching there is no reason to think he can’t go deep in the playoffs. Can the Lions build that type of team is the question?  Stafford will likely look for an extension following the 2016 season which will push him back into the overvalued range for the Lions. Do they want him to be the QB for the next 5 or 6 years if the upside of the roster is not a consistent playoff contender?

Stafford should be able to fetch a 1st round pick and a conditional 1st  rounder which is a massive haul. When you combine that with the eventual salary cap relief the Lions would be in a position to balance out the roster and completely revamp their team. The risk of course if the next quarterback for the team would be a stopgap or a reclamation project unless there was a top prospect in the draft this year. That can be difficult to stomach especially if the new front office doesn’t capitalize on the draft picks and cap space.

I don’t think there would be any shortage of suitors for Stafford. The Jets, Bills, Browns, and Texans should all show interest. Denver was apparently willing to trade a 1st round pick for a left tackle. Would they consider a Stafford as the heir to Manning?  I wouldn’t discount it and these are just AFC teams. There would be teams in the NFC looking too.

Trade Possibility: 50%; Release Possibility: 0%

Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

Kaepernick was supposed to be going back and forth with Russell Wilson over division titles, but now he has found himself benched for Blaine Gabbert, a former failed 1st round pick. Kaepernick certainly has not developed the way the 49ers had expected when they signed him to his large contract extension and I think there are questions about whether he will ever develop into that player.

I think there are large negatives that surround Kaepernick. He comes across as very aloof and I think there is a perception that he doesn’t put in the effort to improve and has just assumed his athletic ability is enough to succeed, which has not been the case the last two years. Of course that athleticism is a big positive and he can make throws that few others can.

The question is will there be a team out there that likes him so much that they would give up a mid round draft pick and pay him $14.3 million to ensure that they get him? It would seem San Francisco is done with him so odds are he will be released by April 1 which would probably result in his salary being cut in half, a far less risky proposition that absorbing his current contract. April is a late date if he is your plan at quarterback, though.

Rex Ryan reportedly liked Kaepernick coming out of college and depending on how Tyrod Taylor finishes the year, the Bills would make some sense unless there was concern about him playing in the cold. A team like the Bills with a good defense and a conservative coach on offense I about as close as he can find to his best years in San Francisco and those are the type of teams that would show interest. He’ll be looked at as a high reward player if he comes cheap in free agency.

Trade Possibility: 35%; Release Possibility: 35%

Robert Griffin III, Redskins

What has happened in Washington with RGIII is almost criminal. The team enabled him to the point where he became uncoachable and now they are holding him hostage as a scout team player because of their own decision to pick up an injury guaranteed option year they never were going to honor. Often you will hear about players being held hostage by their contract and rarely is it true but in this case it is true and their decision to not even let him try to play has really hurt him financially for next season.

Because RGIII has been shelved for so long nobody knows what is there. Is the player that took the league by storm as a rookie out there or is his future the post injury player that looked like he lacked confidence in both his body and his control of the offense.  Teams will also need to determine if the attitude is fixable or if he is truly a coach killer that nobody can control.

His best case scenario is to go to a strong team that has an established coach and player leadership group to keep him in check if he is as bad as some claim.  That might mean he needs to take a year as a backup rather than a job where he might jump in as a starter right away.  For example I would think landing with a team like Cleveland would just end in disaster, but going to back up a Ben Roethlisberger could have huge upside.

Because his contract becomes guaranteed on the day that teams can begin trading he is going to be released and free to sign anywhere. I cant imagine a base value of a contract to be any more than $4 million and its probably a 1 or 2 year deal. He has big upside at that cost but I don’t see any team signing him and handing the starting job to him. At that cost I would expect a big market and even teas with higher paid QBs like the Chiefs and Rams sending out feelers. He is definitely an intriguing candidate where a  team might catch a franchise QB for a few dollars or may end up with a big distraction on the sidelines.

Trade Possibility: 0%; Release Possibility: 99.9%

The Free Agent Class

Here is the current group of players we have listed as unrestricted free agents this upcoming season. Projections are based on how players performed so far and how many games are remaining for their team.

PlayerTeamAgeProj. GamesProj. CompProj. AttComp %Proj. YardsProj TdProj. Int
Sam BradfordEagles2916.0390.0620.062.9%4122.020.020.0
Kirk CousinsRedskins2816.0412.0616.066.9%3908.020.018.0
Ryan FitzpatrickJets3416.0308.0498.061.8%3580.026.014.0
Brandon WeedenCowboys338.0142.0196.072.4%1478.04.04.0
Matt CasselCowboys348.0110.0180.061.1%1246.08.08.0
Matt HasselbeckColts413.685.3135.163.2%880.05.30.0
Michael VickSteelers368.971.1117.360.6%659.63.61.8
Luke McCownSaints3514.256.969.382.1%595.60.01.8
Jimmy ClausenBears294.652.691.457.5%420.60.02.3
Dan OrlovskyLions336.
Kellen ClemensChargers332.
Matt MooreDolphins322.02.02.0100.0%
Drew StantonCardinals324.
Chase DanielChiefs302.04.04.0100.0%
Matt SchaubRavens350.
Charlie WhitehurstTitans342.
Bruce GradkowskiSteelers330.
Tarvaris JacksonSeahawks330.
Chad HenneJaguars310.
Colt McCoyRedskins300.
Joe WebbPanthers3016.
Josh JohnsonBills300.
Scott TolzienPackers292.
TJ YatesFalcons290.
Thaddeus LewisEagles280.
Brock OsweilerBroncos250.