Successfully navigating the NFL quarterback market is the most crucial part of pro football. The winning Super Bowl QBs over the last decade were Hall-of-Fame leaders, transcendent arm talents, or reached their peak ability at the perfect time — Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Nick Foles, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
The modern game demands elite quarterback play from college football up to the National Football League, and for some teams, that means finding “the guy” when it’s time to strike in free agency.
The open market value for an above-average NFL quarterback, according to numbers calculated by Spotrac, is right around $33 million in average annual salary. That’s a massive financial commitment for franchises working hard to fill 53-man rosters and stay under the league’s projected $200 million salary cap for the 2020 NFL season.
Finding value where possible is key, but winning is most important. There are 10 names who need homes that are worth watching, all of whom boast solid experience and could change a team’s fortunes, even for a short stretch.
NFL Free Agent Quarterbacks in 2020
10. Kyle Allen
The Panthers are reportedly committed to getting Cam Newton healthy and re-inserting him as starting quarterback for the upcoming season. Seeing as Allen played decent last year — a 17:16 TD-to-INT ratio with over 3,300 passing yards — there’s no reason for Carolina to let him walk. As an exclusive rights free agent (any NFL player with less than three years accrued experience), the Panthers can offer him the minimum salary tender up until the start of the new league year in mid-March.
Hang on to your safety net with Newton’s recent injuries, even if drafting a young quarterback for the future is still on the table during April’s 2020 NFL Draft.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers
9. Marcus Mariota
Ryan Tannehill’s ascension in Tennessee meant the door was opened for Mariota’s exit. The former Heisman Trophy winner and second overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft hasn’t blown the doors off the NFL — His completion percentage (62.9) and passer rating (89.6) rank 27th and 25th, respectively, among 34 quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts since 2015.
Mariota needs a fresh start, and heading west sounds like a smart move. Jon Gruden once called him a “front-line Pro Bowl quarterback in the league,” and the Raiders need a fail-safe in case Derek Carr doesn’t improve with his $25 million average salary on the books through the 2022 season.
Prediction: Las Vegas Raiders
8. Case Keenum
The journeyman quarterback is the ultimate filler. The Bears have a decision to make on Mitchell Trubisky after next season, and bringing in an eight-year veteran to light Trubisky’s fire could certainly help him grow. Chicago’s offense ranked near the bottom of the league in total offense and scoring in 2019, and Keenum would be a bargain after a backup season with the Washington Redskins.
Keenum wouldn’t carry the Bears like he did back in 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings, but his experience would be a nice addition to this offensive unit and Trubisky’s growth.
Prediction: Chicago Bears
7. Jameis Winston
The NFL’s only 30 touchdown-30 interception quarterback in history showed what Bruce Arians’ offense can be at its best, while simultaneously burying it by himself. It’s a critical stretch for Jameis Winston entering his age-26 season to prove he can consistently lead an NFL team to the playoffs. The Buccaneers sound like they’re intrigued about keeping Winston as their starter for a short time, and rumors of a two-year contract have floated around.
He’s not flashy, but Winston is fine for a team with the fourth-worst scoring defense (28.1 points allowed per game) in football last season. Other positions need to take priority, and quarterback isn’t one in dire need of a serious upgrade. Yet.
Prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Taysom Hill
The ageless Drew Brees announced his return for what is likely his farewell tour in 2020. After that, the Saints and Sean Payton will recalibrate the franchise’s offense for the first time since Brees’ arrival back in 2006. Teddy Bridgewater is ready to play right now, but New Orleans seems attached to the walking Swiss Army knife, Taysom Hill, who is a restricted free agent this offseason.
While Hill can do it all, his ability to re-invent this offense under Payton’s guidance is likely the enticing factor to keep him over Bridgewater, especially if he’s able to blossom as a passer.
Prediction: New Orleans Saints
5. Ryan Tannehill
The Tennessee Titans won road playoff games against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens last season, paving the way for the Kansas City Chiefs to reach the Super Bowl. In truth, neither of those wins included brilliant Ryan Tannehill performances, but the former first-round pick was pretty efficient during the regular season. Interestingly, the Titans sound non-committal on bringing him back on a hefty veteran’s salary, which means he could be on his way out in favor of another free agent.
Tannehill isn’t a show-stopper, but he is serviceable. An AFC South division rival like the Colts, a team deciding its own future with Jacoby Brissett, could fire up their competition by bringing Tannehill into the fold. Meanwhile, the Titans may have bigger plans…
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts
4. Teddy Bridgewater
Since his recovery from a devastating knee injury, Bridgewater is heralded as the next big quarterback on the free agent market. If the Saints are serious about picking Hill over Bridgewater, that means one team will likely be offering a long-term contract to a guy who tutored under Drew Brees and Sean Payton.
The Chargers parted ways with Philip Rivers, and likely won’t re-sign Melvin Gordon, meaning it’s a new era in Los Angeles. Bridgewater is “consistently attached” to Anthony Lynn’s team, which is also the favorite to draft Oregon’s Justin Herbert early in the first round. If Bridgewater signs, that NFL Draft plan could change everything.
Prediction: Los Angeles Chargers
3. Dak Prescott
People doubting that Dak Prescott is valuable as an NFL quarterback don’t know what value is. Prescott threw for almost 5,000 yards last season and ranked 74th among all QB salaries on his rookie deal, according to Spotrac. Prescott had more wins than Carson Wentz, more touchdown passes than Jared Goff, and more passing yards than Russell Wilson did through their first four seasons in the league. All of them had question marks after four years, but all of them got paid big-time money.
Prescott and the Cowboys may not reach a deal this offseason, but the franchise tag could be a fine buffer while a long-term deal gets done, whether it be team-friendly or not.
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys
2. Philip Rivers
Rivers was an iron man for the Chargers. Since 2006, he started 224 consecutive games, made eight Pro Bowls, threw for over 59,000 passing yards, was three touchdown passes shy of 400 for his career, and orchestrated 32 game-winning drives during the regular season. Rivers “permanently” moved his family to Florida in the offseason, which sounds exactly like what old heads do when they’re retired.
Rivers could pull a Jay Cutler and fill-in for a team under emergency circumstances, and maybe his competitive nature would fuel one last run, but things sound very vanilla on him. I think he’s retired with one hell of an NFL career to show for it.
Prediction: Comfy Recliner in the Living Room
1. Tom Brady
Ah, the G.O.A.T.
For years, the New England Patriots quarterback terrorized the NFL. And for years, he’s taken team-friendly deals in respect for “The Patriot Way.” It’s hard to imagine Brady playing for anyone else, but according to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter, the front-runner to sign the 42-year-old free agent isn’t his old team.
Schefter recently told Rich Eisen that Darlington, who is “a lot more connected to [the Brady] situation than a lot of people realize,” believes the Tennessee Titans are the favorite to sign Brady for the final chapter of his career.
Former New England teammate and Super Bowl champion Mike Vrabel is head coach. Derrick Henry is arguably the best pure running back in pro football right now, and Tennessee’s run game is dialed in. The defense is improving, and the division changes hands almost every year.
I love this move. Not only does it put the Patriots in a position to, finally, change direction, but it gives Brady a career-defining moment. Brett Favre changed teams and reached an NFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning went to the Denver Broncos and won another Super Bowl. Brady is a gamer, and winning in another jersey would solidify the future Hall of Famer as the greatest athlete in American sports history.
Prediction: Tennessee Titans