In this day and age, it’s become paramount in importance that every team has a capable backup quarterback to go along with their starter. With the amount of injuries in today’s game, a backup can feasibly be called upon in a moment’s notice, and will be expected to execute any given team’s offense at the same general level as the starter would. Needless to say, there are a lot of teams with sub-par backups at the moment, and they’ll be looking for an upgrade in the near future.
It’s not often that the free agent market contains a lot of starting-caliber quarterbacks, but in 2018, there will actually be a mixed bag. Of course, it will be slanted towards the backup tier, but for once there will be a few starters potentially hitting the market. Let’s take a look at exactly which quarterbacks will be in the conversation, where they may go, and what they project to be doing during the 2018 season. It’s never too early to look ahead at the most important position on the NFL field.
Ranked below are 15 NFL free agent quarterbacks in 2018 and where they may sign.
15. Teddy Bridgewater
It’s increasingly looking like the Vikings are going to roll with Sam Bradford as their quarterback of the future. If this does end up happening, the team will likely decline the 5th-year option on Bridgewater’s rookie contract, allowing him to be a free agent. The former 1st-round pick suffered a horrific injury that kept him out all of last season, and will likely keep him out for the entirety of this one as well.
Assuming he recovers in full from the injury like he’s projected to, it’s interesting to consider who may take a chance on him. The Redskins have a reasonable chance of losing Kirk Cousins after this season, and with Jay Gruden in his fourth season as head coach, they may want a replacement that has NFL experience, and the ability to play right away. Bridgewater, despite the injury risk, is an intriguing option here.
14. Kirk Cousins
The offseason contract dispute between Cousins and the Redskins came to a stalemate yet again. It’s clear that Washington doesn’t want to give him a long-term deal, and you can only keep franchise tagging a player for so long until they’re fed up with it. If this truly ends up being Cousins’ final season with the team, there’s a clear destination for him waiting out West. With Kyle Shanahan now at the helm for the 49ers, his experience coaching Cousins in Washington as an offensive coordinator should prompt him to offer him a big contract.
This would likely be the biggest quarterback acquisition of next offseason, and one that could immediately pay dividends for San Francisco. Cousins is clearly disillusioned in Washington, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s packs up and moves elsewhere. There’s a good chance that he doesn’t play in a Redskins uniform for the 2018 season.
13. Drew Brees
Brees is the second-oldest starting quarterback in the league right now (age 38), and although he’s undoubtedly had a Hall Of Fame-caliber career, it’s fair to question how long he wants to keep playing. The Saints will likely try to give him another contract for a year or two, but how much is that going to interest the aging Brees? The prospect of coming back to a mediocre team may not be the most appealing.
Having to guess right now, retirement would be the most likely option for Brees. He stands little to gain by playing another season in New Orleans, and a lot more by cutting ties with his career. If a team sees their starter go down with an injury in training camp, Brees could entertain a starting job for one more year if it’s on a competitive team, but that remains to be seen.
12. Chase Daniel
A longtime backup in Kansas City as well as New Orleans, followed by a season with the Eagles in 2016, Daniel’s 78 pass attempts during his career won’t entice anybody to give him a starting job. He signed with the Saints for this season, but his future is completely up in the air as to where he will be playing when the 2017 campaign concludes.
The Saints need a long-term option after Drew Brees for sure, but keeping Daniel as a backup wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world. He’s familiar with the offense, with head coach Sean Payton and the city as a whole. Daniel will never be a capable starter but as a Saints backup he fits the bill, and won’t cost much to re-sign.
11. Chad Henne
After being a bust in Miami as a former 2nd-round pick, Henne latched on to the Jaguars where he’s been the backup and occasional starter for the past five years. With a new coaching staff in Jacksonville, and one that is unlikely to be enthralled with the prospect of keeping him, Henne figures to move on after the season is over.
His chances of becoming a full-time starter died several years ago, but as a backup he’ll have several options at his disposal. One team that needs a more consistent understudy at quarterback is the Raiders, who already saw Derek Carr go down at a pivotal time in the season last year. Henne may not be great, but he’s better than other options Oakland had seen like E.J. Manuel or Matt McGloin.
10. Case Keenum
Keenum is currently a backup with the Vikings after getting some starting opportunity with the Rams and Texans over the past five years. Even for a backup-level player, he figures to only be a stopgap in Minnesota, who will probably draft a quarterback next year to get some legitimate youth at the position, with Sam Bradford as the starter. Thankfully for Keenum, there should be interest in him as a backup.
The Buccaneers need a more stable understudy to Jameis Winston than Ryan Fitzpatrick. At his age, he doesn’t figure to be in the league for much longer, and then Tampa Bay will be looking for another backup anyway. Keenum is arguably just as good anyway, and should be open to signing with the Bucs, who project to be very good in the proceeding seasons.
9. Jay Cutler
To everyone’s surprise, Cutler nixed his retirement this offseason to reunite with his former offensive coordinator Adam Gase in Miami, due to starter Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending injury. While the prospect of Cutler revitalizing his career in Miami is intriguing, it ultimately won’t happen. There’s a reason why he retired in the first place, and this lone comeback season will end up being just a cash grab.
Technically, Cutler will be a free agent after the season, so he could theoretically be coerced into playing another year, but it’s hard to see that being the case. He’s an aging, apathetic quarterback who saw fit to walk away from the game entirely just a few months ago. In all likelihood, Cutler will hang up the cleats for good after the 2017 season is over.
8. Mark Sanchez
The Cowboys have had a backup quarterback problem for the past several years now, and if Dak Prescott were to go down tomorrow, it’s not a stretch to say that their season would be cooked. Sanchez was on the Dallas roster last season in that role, but it’s difficult to see how Kellen Moore is any kind of an upgrade. They need to reevaluate after the season is over and get a better player as insurance for a Prescott injury.
Sanchez may be the butt of many jokes (pun intended), but he’s proven that he can be competent in a backup role, and win games for the team in question. His days as a viable NFL starter may be long gone, but as a veteran player to add depth to the most important position on the field, it would hardly be the worst acquisition. The Bears aren’t likely to resign him after the season, due to the presence of both Mike Glennon and rookie Mitch Trubisky.
7. Jimmy Garoppolo
One of the more interesting situations a backup quarterback is currently involved in, there’s no telling what the Patriots’ long-term plans are for him. There’s been speculation that New England wants to trade Garoppolo at a premium, as well as the idea that they want him to succeed Tom Brady as the team’s full-time starter. Who knows what the clear motive is, but for now all we can do is make estimations.
It’s hard to see New England being willing to pay both Garoppolo and Brady premium contracts. Forced to choose, Garoppolo likely goes to a team in need of a starting quarterback long-term, and has no solution in sight. We brought up the Saints earlier, and that’s actually an ideal fit for Garoppolo, if Brees ends up being out of the picture. Wherever he goes, Garoppolo figures to see starting time, and could parlay that opportunity into a franchise quarterback position.
Destination: New Orleans Saints
6. Josh McCown
McCown may be the interim starter for the Jets right now, but it’s clear that they’re just tanking for the top overall pick in the 2018 draft at this point. It’s true that McCown is definitely over the hill as a quarterback, but the Jets can’t afford to have the position group be comprised exclusively of young players. Between Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and anyone they draft, there isn’t a veteran in the bunch.
It may not be a bad idea to keep McCown around for another year to have such a veteran presence. He wouldn’t start obviously, but as an asset in the quarterback room, it could pay dividends. It wouldn’t cost much to keep him, so it seems like a no-brainer for a team intent on bringing in a rookie quarterback to be the long-term starter.
5. Scott Tolzien
It’s safe to say that there won’t be many teams clamoring for the services of Tolzien after his showing as Colts backup filling in for the injured Andrew Luck. Since coming into the league five years ago, Tolzien has been terrible in every possible situation. There is no upside to his game whatsoever, and he’s proven that he’s a detriment if he ever has to come into the game for any reason.
So it’s safe to say that Tolzien will be without a job in the NFL next year. Most teams would rather draft a quarterback and attempt to develop them than pay a veteran backup who has proven they cannot be relied upon. This year will likely be the last we’ll see Tolzien don an NFL uniform.
4. Sam Bradford
Minnesota took a chance on trading for Bradford just before the start of the 2016 season, when Teddy Bridgewater suffered his major injury that is still keeping him out of action. Bradford may not be an elite quarterback, but he at least has the potential to win games when placed in the right situation. The Vikings’ defense is going to be very good for the foreseeable future, and if Dalvin Cook can become a stud running back, all of a sudden the Vikings could be a contender, even with Bradford under center.
They’ll likely pony up the money to resign him. At this point, he knows the system and has shown flashes of brilliance. Minnesota will be fine with making him the starting option for at least the next few years, now that Bridgewater has fallen out of favor.
3. Geno Smith
The Ravens really dodged a bullet this offseason when it turned out that Joe Flacco wouldn’t have to miss significant time because of a back issue. Had that actually been the case, they wouldn’t have had a formidable backup that could win them games in the interim. Obviously, this is a huge problem. Geno Smith isn’t a very good starting quarterback, but he has league experience and can at least potentially fill in adequately.
Smith is currently on the Giants’ roster as a backup, but with 2017 draft pick Davis Webb in the fold, they’re unlikely to keep Smith past this year. The Ravens need a steady backup, and Smith would be a reasonable option that won’t break the bank.
2. Blaine Gabbert
Nick Foles is currently the Eagles’ backup, but a nagging elbow issue dating back to last season has made his situation uneasy. Having already suffered an injury last preseason, Carson Wentz needs a backup that can at least weather the storm in his absence. While Foles has significant history with the team, he can’t play if he’s hurt, so Philly should be keeping their options open during the next offseason.
If Gabbert sees himself getting cut from the Cardinals due to a likely roster shakeup during the offseason, he’d be a potential target if the Eagles are in the market for a backup quarterback. He’s been a 1st-round bust as a starter in the league with the Jaguars, but would be a steady second option behind Wentz, and could eek out a victory or two in a pinch.
1. Matt Moore
When the Dolphins were in the playoffs last season, they had to play their lone game without the services of Ryan Tannehill. Moore filled in admirably for several weeks, but ultimately never was able to seal the starting job when Tannehill went down with an injury during this offseason. Still, Moore has remained on the Dolphins’ roster since 2011, so the team is clearly comfortable with him as a backup.
That should continue for the foreseeable future, making Moore one of the easiest re-signs the team will have on their plate during next offseason. Whether it’s Tannehill or Jay Cutler playing in front of him, he’s a suitable backup that can get the job done for a few games.
Destination: Miami Dolphins
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