2017 Free Agency Preview: Quarterbacks

Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing some small previews of the available players in free agency with some very rough guesstimates on salaries. I’ll be factoring in what I believe may be some large premiums that will be available due to the unprecedented amount of cap room that exists in 2017. We’ll start it off with the quarterbacks.

1. Kirk Cousins, Redskins

One of the more interesting possibilities for free agency in some time. Cousins has thrived in the Washington offense for the last two seasons despite the lack of a running game and his two prime targets being 30 years old. There are plenty of questions about Cousins which I wrote about last year, but if a player can prove he can do it for two seasons that questions should disappear.

The Redskins may franchise Cousins again but unless they are doing it to trade him or just extend a negotiating window there is little benefit to that move for a second season in a row. Cousins should have leverage at this point because he would be a hot commodity as a free agent and anytime that Washington waits could mean they will extend him after the Raiders extend Derek Carr which will likely just raise the price for Cousins.
Washington has to measure the cost benefit of having Cousins as one of the highest, if not the highest paid quarterbacks versus a top draft pick this year and likely one other high pick in the future. With the huge amount of cap room at the disposal of the Browns and 49ers they can manufacture a massive contract for Cousins that would make him the highest paid player in the NFL so its hard to see him settling for less. Because the draft supposedly does not have a big time draft prospect its likely that one of those two teams will have an opening the next year as well which means Cousins can take a $24M contract for the year and earn big in 2017. The age and injury concern are not as big for a quarterback as other positions so Cousins should be able to play this his way and not get backed into a contract the way a Dez Bryant was a few years ago.

Rarely do any QB’s of merit actually hit free agency. The last may have been Drew Brees and Dante Culpepper, both coming off injury, a generation ago. The last QBs of note to have contracts expire before re-signing were Sam Bradford last season and Jay Cutler a few years back with the Bears so this is a pretty rare situation. Brock Osweiler, who was a low level player, scored $18 million a year as a free agent. My guess is we are looking at a contract worth anywhere from $24 to $27 million a year with $42 million paid in the first year with the lesser number coming with Washington and the higher coming if he leaves. The tag is of course a possibility.
Range: 5 years, $24-$27M a year, $60-62M in guarantees, $41-45M guaranteed at signing

2. Mike Glennon, Buccaneers

Glennon hasn’t started a game since 2014 and is just 5-13 as a starter, but desperate teams do crazy things for quarterbacks as was evidenced by the Texans signing of Osweiler and Vikings trade for Bradford. Glennon should be looked at as a low upside, game manager type based on his time in the NFL and I am sure for the next month we will be hearing a lot about his 30:15 TD-INT ratio for his career.

It seems clear that his agents have already done a good job of getting the media to buy into Glennon as a $13-$15M QB, a number likely built on the Rams contract with Nick Foles a few years ago. I can’t discount that given the money spent at the position and dollars that should be available with the 49ers, Browns, and potentially the Jets, but in light of the Osweiler flop its hard to see his contract being that big unless its all tied to incentives, which is possible.
Range: 3 years, $5-$9M a year, $5-8M in guarantees, $5-8M guaranteed at signing, final year voidable, incentives that could push the contract to $13M a year.

3. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers

It wasn’t that long ago that Kaepernick was regarded as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, but the last two years have been nothing short of a disaster. Kaepernick at times can be dazzling and others head scratching. He’ll be 30 years old next year so I think the odds of him getting better are unlikely but in the right situation he can be a viable player.

While some of the off the field could be a concern for some teams since he is a bit of a controversial figure I don’t think that should keep him from finding a job for a team in need of a QB. That list should include the Broncos, Texans, and Browns. My guess is he will be looking at a contract similar to Robert Griffin’s unless he is willing to backup for a year on a team like the Rams in which case Nick Foles might be the benchmark.Range: 2 years, $5-$7.5M a year, $5-6M in guarantees, $5-6M guaranteed at signing, $6-7M in incentives

4. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets

Fitzpatrick was able to convince the Jets he was worth $12 million last season and by just a few games in the team regretted that decision. Fitzpatrick is a tough QB to value because his track record is what you would consider a “backup plus” meaning everyone in the NFL knows how limited he is but somehow he has started at least 8 games in each of the last 9 years. Seeing his reaction to being benched in New York I am not sure that Fitzpatrick would be comfortable going to a team that will not give him any opportunity to start so its possible he could just decide to retire unless a call comes to fill in for injury. He’s already been on the roster of about 1/5 of the NFL so Id think his choices will be pretty limited especially if he is hoping for a chance to start.
Range: 1 year, $2-3M, $1M guaranteed

5. Case Keenum, Rams

I was a bit surprised that the Rams used the highest tender on Keenum, but I won’t be surprised if he is one of the better available backups this year. Keenum didn’t light the world on fire in his starting stint with the Rams, but he probably proved that he can be a viable player if called into duty. I would think one of the selling points for Keenum is the lack of offensive talent in LA didn’t really give him the greatest chance to succeed so he could do better in a different spot. A team like the Titans or Colts could probably do worse with a backup.
Range: 2 years, $1.5-2.5M a year, $500K-1M guaranteed

6. Brian Hoyer, Bears

If Hoyer could ever stay healthy I think he would find more interest and move back into the $3 million tier, but I’m not sure he is considered reliable even as a backup player. Still if you want a veteran player with a little upside on the cheap Hoyer is a good option, especially if you think he can stay healthy is pressed into duty.
Range: 1 year, $1.5-2.0M, $500K-750K guaranteed

7. Matt Cassel, Titans

Cassel is one of those players who is probably on the fringe of either being a $2M backup or replaced by younger free agents. Looking at this years group of free agents he probably has one more year in which he can command a decent salary to be the veteran backup on a team as a safer option than some of the younger names.
Range: 1 year, $1.5-2.0M, $500K-750K guaranteed

8. EJ Manuel, Bills

I’m not sure if Manuel ever got a real opportunity in Buffalo as his four year tenure was nothing short of a disaster, but I have to think his former status as a top 20 pick will help him land a job as a backup unless most around the league thought he was a terrible reach in which case he’s looking at a contract for the minimum.
Range: 1/2 years, $1.25-1.75M per year, $750K-$1.3M guaranteed

9. Blaine Gabbert, 49ers

Gabbert had an opportunity to turn his career around when he was named starter in San Francisco, but there wasn’t much that he did to change his fortunes. Gabbert probably has some higher upside than a few players above him, but I think his name has been a bit damaged at this point which limits his market.
Range: 1 year, $1-1.5M, $500K-750K guaranteed

10. Geno Smith, Jets

Smith’s career is not much different than Manuel’s except Smith got a second opportunity to prove something. Smith did cut down significantly on his mistakes in his second season as a starter, but also showed such little upside that the Jets signed Fitzpatrick and later drafted Christian Hackenberg. Questions about his leadership on the field won’t help him.
Range: 1/2 years, $1-1.5M per year, $500K-750K guaranteed

11. Mark Sanchez, Cowboys

Sanchez couldn’t win a job in Denver and looked terrible in his one game for Dallas this year. He’ll be looking for his 5th team since 2009 and I don’t think his draft status carries much upside anymore and he could soon be moving into minimum salary or our of the NFL territory.
Range: 1 year, $885K-$1.5M, $80K-300K guaranteed

Best of the Rest: Matt Barkley (Bears), Shaun Hill (Vikings), Matt Schaub (Falcons), Matt McGloin (Raiders)