Throughout the NFL, a number of teams are trying to sort out their quarterback situations and, even though we’re just entering the sixth week of the season, some teams are likely to make changes.
Some of those teams have QBs they signed to deals a couple of seasons ago but may want to get out of those deals, while others have QBs that are set to become free agents after the season and have to decide what to do next.
To think the Broncos were one of those teams who some pundits said were going to have problems, only for Trevor Siemian to show he can do well enough for the time being and that, even if he proves not to be the long-term guy, Paxton Lynch has shown potential. Other teams, though, have not been as fortunate.
Let’s examine the teams who may get talked about as needing to change their QB situations or move on from a player on the roster when the 2017 offseason starts. Keep in mind that none of these teams will make a move this season, because most of the QBs have guaranteed money or parting ways with the QB would affect the cap too much. When applicable, I will look at how moving on from a QB will impact a team’s 2017 cap situation.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill has not shown improvement since Adam Gase took over as head coach, but there are those who think the team being built poorly around Tannehill has as much to do with his lack of success as Tannehill’s own play. The question is whether or not Gase or the Dolphins front office is willing to be patient for Tannehill to turn things around while the team tries to find better talent to surround him with. Some, though, might think the best thing for Tannehill is to join another team and get a fresh start.
Tannehill already has $3.5M in fully guaranteed salary due in 2017, though I suspect there would be offset clauses if the Dolphins cut him. Cutting Tannehill frees up $9.9M in cap space but leaves a $10.4M dead money hit. Trading him might be a better move, which would mean just a $6.9M dead money hit with $13.4M in cap space freed. However, Tannehill’s fully guaranteed salary would rise to nearly $18M if he is traded and that might be too much money for other teams to want to pay him.
It’s possible, though, that a trading partner could ask Tannehill to convert a small portion of that fully guaranteed money into a signing bonus, which would reduce the cap hit for 2017 without creating too much dead money if the trading partner doesn’t keep him after 2017. He does have $5.5M in his 2018 salary guaranteed only for injury (again, there might be offset clauses) but the remainder of the $17.5M salary isn’t guaranteed unless he’s on the roster in 2018. I think it may be for the best for the Dolphins to put Tannehill on the trading block but, if they do, to not drag things out too long. If he’s traded, the Dolphins might be better off drafting a passer and don’t overspend on a veteran free agent.
If the Dolphins choose to keep Tannehill, there is one rule they must follow: DO NOT RESTRUCTURE THE CONTRACT. Leave it as it is, because they’ll have $38M in cap space available and that’s more than enough space to extend players they want to keep or bring in other free agents.
New York Jets: I think it’s clear that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t going to be back with the Jets next season, but he’s going to carry a $5M dead money charge because of how the Jets had to restructure his one-year deal. The Jets will have little cap space to work with in 2017, projected to be just $1.3M under the cap given how they’ve managed the rest of the roster.
Jason Fitzgerald wrote about the Jets’ situation, that they are really entering a rebuilding phase rather than a “few players away from the playoffs” phase. Chances are that some veterans will be cut in 2017 to free cap space, though a few might get extensions. Either way, the Jets will have to be careful what they do with the quarterback position.
Fitzgerald suggested that it’s for the best that the Jets not start Geno Smith this season, because if he did start and the Jets won more games than they lost, that drives his price up. If he rides the bench all season, he’s going to have to settle for backup money. The Jets could do worse than give Smith a one-year deal in line with what most backup QBs get. They can enter with a competition with Smith, or another QB paid backup money, against Christian Hackenburg and maybe Bryce Petty. The Jets could always draft another QB in 2017 if they prefer.
The one thing the Jets need to avoid is the temptation to find a quarterback who they think would give them a free ticket to the playoffs, because I think Fitzgerald is correct to point out that the Jets need to rebuild rather than reload.
Cleveland Browns: I haven’t watched any Browns games this year but have read from several analysts that Cody Kessler has shown some promise. If so, the Browns might be in a good position for the long term, even if the short-term picture looks bleak. But regardless of what happens with Kessler, there are other matters the Browns must address.
The obvious one is what veteran they wish to have on the roster. It’s clear that they will cut Robert Griffin II after this season, even though he gets just a $750,000 roster bonus in 2017 and his cap hit, if kept, would be less than $10M. The Browns are probably better off if they keep Josh McCown for one more season, but if they find a veteran QB who will take backup money and be an upgrade over McCown, they could go that route, then cut McCown to free up $4.3M in cap space. From there, the Browns can determine whether they need to take a QB in the first round or if they can wait until the second or third round to find a passer who can compete with Kessler.
All this depends on what Kessler does for the remainder of the season. If the Browns see enough from him that they think he might be the long-term guy, they could wait on drafting a passer. If not, the good news is they are likely to get the No. 1 overall pick and would be able to choose their pick of the QB prospects. With that comes a caveat: The Browns need to show they can draft well. Failing to do that will mean whichever QB they go with for the long term could be set up to fail.
San Diego: Let’s make this one quick – Phillip Rivers isn’t going to be traded or cut in 2017, because either move frees up just $2M in cap space with $18M in dead money and the Chargers can’t afford to do that. They have no choice but to go with Rivers for another season. If the Chargers continue to regress, they might be prepared to trade Rivers after the 2017 season, even though the dead money hit of $12M would be higher than the $9M of space freed. The other thing to remember, though, is that Rivers has a no-trade clause, so he would have to agree to waive it if the Chargers wanted to trade him, meaning he’ll only want to go to a playoff contender and likely one that isn’t too far from his home in California.
Dallas: Here’s another one that I don’t need to discuss in great length – chances are this will be Tony Romo’s last season with Dallas. Regardless of what the team is saying about Dak Prescott, it’s clear he’s the guy the Cowboys should go with in the long term. Trading Romo isn’t possible, given that would only free $5.1M in cap space with $19.6M in dead money. The most likely scenario is the Cowboys will designate Romo a post-June 1 cut, which frees $14M in cap space in 2017 with $10.7M in dead money. I could see the Cowboys talk to Romo about retirement and, if he decides to do that, to hold off until after the draft. The Cowboys would still have to eat $8.9M in dead money in 2018 but, by that point, their overall cap situation should be better.
Chicago: Again, we can be to the point here – Jay Cutler will not be with the Bears in 2017. His guaranteed money is gone after this season and cutting Cutler will free $14M in cap space with just $2M in dead money. The most likely scenario will be that the Bears re-sign Brian Hoyer to a short-term deal and draft a quarterback in 2017. I’m sure Cutler will find another team willing to take a chance on him, though.
Minnesota: The Vikings are an interesting case. Sam Bradford is playing well enough to stick around for another year, particularly if the Vikings are concerned about whether or not Teddy Bridgewater will be at full strength for the 2017 season opener. Bradford has $4M in guaranteed money due in 2017 but there are offset clauses. On the other hand, the cap hit for the Vikings won’t be as bad as it would have been for the Eagles. It will be $17M if they keep Bradford, which is reasonable as long as Bradford keeps playing well
As for Bridgewater, he’s still on his rookie deal and his cap hit in 2017 is just a little more than $2M. That’s what you’d expect to pay for a veteran backup. And because the Vikings have $26.6M in projected cap space regardless of what they do with Bradford, they don’t have to let Bradford go if they don’t want to. Minnesota could go with Bradford for another year while they pick up the fifth-year option for Bridgewater and monitor his progress. There would be the slight risk with Bridgewater’s money for 2018 being an injury-only guarantee, but if Bradford does start in 2017 and struggles, the Vikings would know they would have to keep Bridgewater around in 2018 so they have somebody who is familiar with their system.
Arizona: Carson Palmer is in decline and the Cardinals might be thinking about moving on from him. The issue is that the Cardinals can’t cut him without designating it a post-June 1 cut. They would lose $4.6M in cap space with $28.7M in dead money by cutting him outright. A post-June 1 cut would free $17.5M in cap space with $6.6M in dead money (though they’d take another $6.6M in dead money in 2018). Trading Palmer would free $10.8M of space with $13.2M in dead money but I doubt any team will trade for Palmer.
There is, however, some good news for the Cardinals because they are projected to have $42.2M in cap space. They will have to address some pending free agents, but if they want, they could look for a veteran QB to replace Palmer and make him a post-June 1 cut. Trading for Tannehill might make sense, but the Cardinals would have to be careful how much they offer for him, then be smart about other free agents they sign and how well they draft. Otherwise, they could make their situation worse.
San Francisco: Colin Kaepernick restructured his contract so he could become a free agent after this season. It’s also clear that Blaine Gabbert isn’t the long-term guy. I suspect, though, that the Niners are going to move on from Kaepernick regardless of what he does this season, unless he plays at such a high level that he demands an extension. (No, I don’t think the anthem protest is weighing that much into the Niners’ decision; the bridge was iginted long before that.)
I could see the Niners consider any veteran free agents and they might be in the running to sign Cutler once he’s cut. The Niners will be flush with cap space (an estimated $67M) and will be in good position to acquire a veteran, but structure a contract so they could get out of it early, and draft a quarterback if they think there’s a good long-term option available. But as with the Browns, it remains to be seen how well the Niners will draft and ensure they don’t jeopardize any QB’s long-term prospects.
LATE ADDITION! Washington: I forgot to include the Crimson Potatoes in my original post. Kirk Cousins is playing under the franchise tag this year and, if hit with the tag again, would collect $24M in salary. On one hand, Washington could keep playing the “wait and see” game with Cousins, but do they really want to drop a $24M salary into his lap if it looks like he’s never going to be anything more than an average-to-good QB? If Cousins doesn’t show enough improvement this season, I can’t see Washington tagging him again.
It’s possible the Crimson Potatoes could extend him but they’d have to be careful with structuring a contract. They will have an estimated $54M in cap space, so they could frontload a new contract for Cousins, making it a true “two years then we’ll see” deal. Of course, that depends on what else the Crimson Potatoes would like to do in free agency. If they decide not to keep Cousins, they could make a play for Jay Cutler or they might inquire about trading for Ryan Tannehill. Whether they take a QB depends on how they finish the season. If they get a top 10 pick, they may prefer to look for a low-cost veteran and draft a QB. If they aren’t drafting in the top 10, they might prefer signing a veteran who would start for at least a couple of seasons (whether that’s Cousins or another player) and draft a QB in the later rounds.