Remember how exciting the NBA free agency period was? We were treated to multiple All-Stars being traded, and a handful of others exercising their rights to sign with new teams. It was arguably more exciting than the entire NBA Playoffs, and I don’t know many who would take the other side of that debate. Unfortunately, the NFL free-agency period rarely provides the same level of excitement.
Sure, we saw the AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell bolt for the Jaguars and Stephon Gilmore head to the Patriots. But the “big-name” quarterbacks on the move were Mike Glennon (Chicago) and Brian Hoyer (San Francisco). It’s safe to assume no red carpets were rolled out for their arrivals.
Will the 2018 offseason be different?
With a handful of premier quarterbacks set to become free agents next summer, the league could receive quite the shakeup. I’m not being naive; I realize some “impending” free agents, like Matthew Stafford (Detroit), are not going to hit the open market. (The Lions letting Stafford go is about as likely as them asking me to play QB for them.) But there are actual, quality QBs who could actually show up to the free-agent festivities.
Among the active party-goers, Kirk Cousins is the Cinderella of the ball. Cousins has enjoyed a few dances with Washington, but the team isn’t sure it’s found true love. And after having his toes repeatedly stepped on by his current dance partner, the pivot may be looking forward to finding a new one.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait nearly an entire year to hear the end of this song. But Cousins’ play during the 2017 season will go a long way to determining his future. Same goes for the other potential dancers.
Here are the noteworthy 2018 free-agent quarterbacks, along with predictions on how they’ll perform in their contract season and the odds of which partner will woo them over next year.
2018 FREE AGENT QBs
In nine starts over his first three seasons as a pro, Cousins flashed bits of brilliance, but lacked confidence and consistency. Then, in the final year of his rookie contract (2015), he broke out, throwing for 4,166 yards, 29 TDs, and 11 INTs en route to leading Washington to a division title.
Uncertain whether Cousins was a flash in the pan or a legitimate franchise quarterback, Washington placed the franchise tag on their QB in 2016. He responded with another great season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl; but the team took a step back, posting an 8-7-1 record. Apparently the uncertainty continues to loom, as the five-year veteran will play for a second consecutive season under the franchise tag.
I can appreciate the concerns over whether Cousins can carry a team to a Super Bowl, but Washington also has to wake up and realize its situation can get a whole lot worse. Take a look at the Jaguars, Browns, Jets, Rams, and Bears. These teams have long suffered due to inadequate QB play. In two full seasons with Cousins at the helm, Washington’s offense has ranked tenth and 12th in points, as well as 17th and third in total offense. Those results don’t sound so bad to me. Just because Cousins isn’t a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers doesn’t mean he isn’t worth keeping.
The mishandling of the situation is believed to have played a role in GM Scot McCloughan being fired earlier this offseason. Still without a GM, Washington will need to bring in someone who can help repair the relationship with Cousins. Placing the franchise tag on Cousins for a third consecutive season isn’t a viable option, as it would cost them $34.5 million against the cap. The team can’t punt the decision any longer. If Washington can’t fix this, the franchise will take a giant leap backwards.
Personally, Cousins enters his third straight contract season without the services of his top-two receivers from 2016: Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Washington brought in Terrelle Pryor to help fill the void, and will also be counting on 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson to contribute. But Cousins’ most dangerous targets will be Jamison Crowder, who was lethal out of the slot last season, and tight end Jordan Reed. Crowder’s role will greatly expand this season, and he and Cousins should carve up defenses all year.
Unfortunately, Cousins and Washington are in tough in a brutal NFC East. The Cowboys are arguably the best team in the conference; the Giants possess one of the best defenses in the league, plus a plethora of talented skill-position players; and the Eagles did the smart thing by surrounding second-year QB Carson Wentz with weapons.
If Washington is to stumble again, it will be the defense letting them down. Under Cousins, the offense will be a well-oiled machine. If the former Spartan is tired of the organization who has continued to doubt him, look for Kyle Shanahan and his 49ers to pounce. Cousins would fit well into Shanahan’s scheme, and San Francisco put off finding its franchise QB this offseason. The LA Rams are another possibility. If Jared Goff doesn’t impress new head coach Sean McVay, the former Washington OC could be able to lure his old pivot.
Cousins’ projected 2017 stats
- O/u total passing yards: 4,900.5
- O/u total passing touchdowns: 32.5
- O/u total interceptions thrown: 11.5
- O/u completion percentage: 67.5
Odds Cousins signs with _____ in 2018
- Washington: 2/3
- San Francisco 49ers: 6/1
- Los Angeles Rams: 13/2
- FIELD: 7/1
This may sound crazy, but it’s very possible this could be the last season the New Orleans Saints are quarterbacked by Drew Brees. Last season, the ten-time Pro Bowler signed a one-year extension with the Saints, and he’s made it clear he wishes to play out this contract before engaging in any further negotiations. Under the terms of that contract, New Orleans can’t apply the franchise tag to Brees in 2018.
These are symptoms of a 38-year-old QB realizing he may not have a legitimate chance to compete for another championship with his current team. In each of the last three seasons, the Saints have ranked in the bottom-five in points allowed, and have always struggled to provide Brees with a respectable defense.
All the while, the Super Bowl XLIV champion has consistently had his offense producing at a supreme level. In 11 seasons with Brees, the Saints have ranked in the top-ten in points scored nine times. They have also led the NFL in total offense in six of those seasons, only falling out of the top-five once (declining to a lowly sixth in 2010).
Brees is fresh off his fifth 5,000-yard season. To put that in perspective, there have only been four other instances of a QB passing for 5,000 yards since the inception of the NFL. What Brees has accomplished as a Saint is nothing short of incredible. And it sure doesn’t look like he’s slowing down yet.
There have been rumors swirling of the organization growing tired of head coach Sean Payton, and it may want to hit the restart button. If that’s the case, a Brees-Saints divorce becomes more likely. Even if Payton does stay, there’s no guarantee Brees does, too.
The acquisition of free agent RB Adrian Peterson, the first-round selections of OT Ryan Ramczyk and CB Marshon Lattimore, and the trade of WR Brandin Cooks for CB Malcolm Butler all suggest the Saints want to develop a steady ground game and better defense, alleviating the pressure on their QB. If the Saints can find their way back into the playoffs for the first time since 2013, expect them to work out a deal to give it one more go with Brees at the helm. If not, the 2018 offseason could get very interesting.
Should Brees hit the open market, the first suitor that comes to mind is the Houston Texans. There would be no harm in Deshaun Watson learning from one of the greatest of all-time at the position, and the Texans could finally make use of their myriad of talented pass-catchers, potentially pairing their dominant defense with an equally impressive offense. The Arizona Cardinals could be a nice fit, too, should Carson Palmer struggle again or choose to hang them up following 2017.
Brees’ projected 2017 stats
- O/u total passing yards: 4,850.5
- O/u total passing touchdowns: 33.5
- O/u total interceptions thrown: 13.5
- O/u completion percentage: 69.0
Odds Brees signs with ____ in 2018
- New Orleans Saints: 13/7
- Houston Texans: 9/2
- Arizona Cardinals: 7/1
- None (Retires): 24/1
- FIELD: 7/3
JIMMY GAROPPOLORegarding Jimmy Garoppolo’s future, I don’t believe the question is whether New England believes he can be the heir to Tom Brady, rather how much longer can Brady actually play.
With Garoppolo’s rookie contract expiring at the conclusion of the 2017 season, it’s reasonable to assume Brady’s backup will want two things: (1) to play, and (2) to get paid. But with the greatest QB of all-time playing like he’s still in his prime, neither of those may be obtainable in New England.
If the 25-year-old decides he no longer wants to wait for his turn in New England, there would be a lineup of potential suitors. Starting inside the division, the Jets’ entire roster is a mess, and that includes the quarterback position. Plus, there is talk of projected 2018 first-overall pick Sam Darnold staying in school, so New York may have to find its future pivot elsewhere. The Bills also remain skeptical about Tyrod Taylor, and would likely look into Garoppolo at the very least.
Garoppolo, a former second-round pick, has been linked to the Browns all offseason, and they still remain a candidate after drafting DeShone Kizer. The rookie is going to be a project, so Hue Jackson may opt for a more polished QB. The Cardinals are another team who may make a push for Garoppolo’s services. Head coach Bruce Arians got a first-hand look at what Garoppolo is capable of last year, and Carson Palmer is nearing the end of his career.
Then again, Garoppolo may see New England as his best opportunity to win and decide to wait it out. The Patriots have enough cap space to offer Garoppolo good backup money, for now.
As for this season, Garoppolo won’t see the field outside of garbage time, unless disaster strikes.
Garoppolo’s projected 2017 stats
- O/u total games played: 1.5
- O/u total games started: 0.5
Odds Garoppolo signs with ____ in 2018
- Cleveland Browns: 5/1
- New York Jets: 5/1
- Arizona Cardinals: 7/1
- New England Patriots: 7/1
- Buffalo Bills: 9/1
- FIELD: 2/1
In Sam Bradford’s seven-year pro career, there has always been an excuse for why he hasn’t lived up to the hype that comes with being the first-overall pick. In 2010, when he threw 18 TDs to 15 INTs, he was a rookie; in 2011, when he threw six TDs and six INTs in ten starts, his best receiver was Brandon Lloyd; the following season, he started showing signs of becoming a franchise QB, but still lacked weapons to throw to; injuries took the majority of his 2013, and all of his 2014; Chip Kelly was to blame for Bradford’s below-average 2015; and last season he served as the league’s punching bag, not getting any help from an offensive line ravaged by injuries.It wasn’t all bad for Bradford in his first season as a Viking. The Oklahoma product broke the single-season record for completion percentage (71.6-percent) and got the Vikings off to a 5-0 start, before the whole team started dropping like flies.
The upcoming season is going to be make-or-break for Bradford, who at 29 years old is running out of time to prove he can be a franchise QB. Fortunately for Sam, the Vikings signed Riley Reiff to protect his backside, and also added a big-time playmaker in running back Dalvin Cook. Minnesota’s 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell has been getting a lot of offseason attention, too, after impressing in OTAs.
If Bradford doesn’t impress, or gets injured again, Minnesota may turn the offense over to someone else (see below). In this case, Bradford would have a difficult time persuading a team he’s worthy of a long-term contract; look for a team like the Texans or Jets to take a flier on him as a temporary band-aid if the Vikings don’t want him back.
Bradford’s projected 2017 stats
- O/u total passing yards: 4,000.5
- O/u total passing touchdowns: 21.5
- O/u total interceptions thrown: 8.5
- O/u completion percentage: 66.5
Odds Bradford signs with ____ in 2018
- Minnesota Vikings: 2/1
- Houston Texans: 4/1
- New York Jets: 6/1
- FIELD: 13/7
TEDDY BRIDGEWATERHad Teddy Bridgewater not suffered a gruesome knee injury in practice shortly before the 2016 season, Sam Bradford would not be a Minnesota Viking. In 2015, Bridgewater put together a Pro Bowl season while leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record and the NFC North title. And who knows how far Minnesota could have gone if this had not happened.
Bridgewater is garnering attention after posting pictures and video on his Instagram account which show him working through some drills without a knee brace. Though this is a great sign in his rehab, it’s still likely that the Louisville product will start the season on the PUP list, and may not be game-ready at all this season.
The Vikings declined Bridgewater’s fifth-year option, so, just like Bradford, he too will become a free agent after this year. This decision made it clear Minnesota is unsure if Bridgewater is capable of leading the team to a Super Bowl. If Bradford thrives in his second season with the team, GM Rick Spielman will have a much easier time letting Bridgewater walk in free agency.
As a 24-year-old free agent QB, Bridgewater would generate interest, injuries notwithstanding. His deep-ball accuracy definitely needs some work, but he’s dangerous with his legs (assuming he makes a full recovery from the knee injury). His skillset doesn’t result in the best fit for a Kyle Shanahan (49ers) or Sean McVay (Rams) offense, so don’t expect those two to be in heavy pursuit. An interesting option for Bridgewater would be the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Blake Bortles continues to turn the ball over, Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin will move on, and a QB like Bridgewater would add to the ground game they are trying to establish in Jacksonville.
Bridgewater’s projected 2017 stats
- O/u total games played: 0.5
Odds Bridgewater signs with ____ in 2018
- Minnesota Vikings: 5/2
- New York Jets: 4/1
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 6/1
- Cleveland Browns: 9/1
- FIELD: 8/3