There’s an undercurrent in the NFL I’ve been noticing that’s silent now but could swell considerably at any moment. What that is that I can’t remember another time in which so many quarterback situations are in flux for the following season.
I can only count 12 teams that unquestionably won’t significantly be in the market for a quarterback in 2018. Those teams are the Colts, Titans, Raiders, Cowboys, Eagles, Lions, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Bucs, Rams, and Seahawks. That means that as many as 20 teams could see some sort of notable quarterback change next year. Let’s take a look at those 20 teams, and the challenges that could face them at the position.
Tyrod Taylor is playing well now, but the Bills weren’t fully committed to him in the offseason when they negotiated a more team friendly deal with him. Should he play poorly in the second half of the season, that lack of commitment could flare up again, especially with a new GM in the building. It is not not impossible that the Bills could cut Taylor in 2018–they’d incur over $8 million in dead money, but they would also save $9.4 million in cap space, as well as $16 million in 2018 cash commitments. Even if they do retain Taylor for 2018, it’s not out of the pale for the Bills to draft his replacement. Remember, Buffalo will have two picks in each of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rounds through the trades involving Patrick Mahomes, Sammy Watkins, and Ronald Darby.
Even upon the instant he signed, Jay Cutler was seen as nothing but a very short term solution. The bigger question is whether the Dolphins see Ryan Tannehill as the long term solution. Tannehill signed a very team friendly extension that allows the Dolphins to pull the plug on his deal at any time with minimal dead money consequences. If Adam Gase identifies another quarterback that, like Cutler, he feels is a better fit for his system, then do not be surprised if Tannehill finds himself on the street in 2018.
Father Time is going to catch up to Tom Brady at some point. But even if he returns for 2018, the Patriots will still be filled with quarterback intrigue come 2018 because Jimmy Garoppolo is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Would the Patriots really consider sinking all their cap space into franchise tagging him as insurance for the inevitable Brady decline? Or will they just let him walk for a likely 3rd round comp pick? (I see the transition tag as unlikely due to no ability to get any compensation for losing him.) The quarterback situation in Foxboro is one that could dramatically change quicker than one may think.
New York Jets
The injustice unleashed from Rahim Moore’s failure to play deep marches on unabated. The Ravens will still be locked into Joe Flacco for 2018 due to Ozzie Newsome’s practice of containing almost all guaranteed money into prorated signing bonuses. 2019 is the first season in which they could feasibly move on from Flacco without destroying their salary cap. Could Newsome prepare for that by drafting a quarterback in 2018 to groom for 2019? I would keep an eye on the Ravens in that regard.
With the Bengals sitting at 2-4 right now, and Marvin Lewis in a lame duck coaching situation with his contract expiring after this season, major changes could be coming in Cincinnati for 2018. Like Tannehill, Andy Dalton signed a very team friendly contract that can allow the Bengals to move on at any point. If Lewis departs and a new head coach does not have faith in Dalton, he could very well cut or attempt to trade Dalton with little restraint.
Even if Dalton stays, there’s also the AJ McCarron situation to watch. Due to being NFIed his rookie season (a situation that may also affect Chad Kelly with the Broncos this year), McCarron will only be a restricted free agent in 2018. McCarron will likely receive a first round tender that will come at a price in the neighborhood of $4 million–very cheap for even a veteran backup quarterback. Is a first round pick enough to dissuade teams from signing him to an offer sheet? Even if it is, the Bengals may also try to negotiate lesser compensation in a tag and trade deal.
Like the Jets, I don’t think I need to explain how much of a dumpster fire the Browns’ quarterback situation is. They’ll likely make some sort of acquisition at the position in 2018.
The Steelers and their fans should hold a bit of nervousness on how much longer Ben Roethlisberger will be in their future. He has hinted at retirement a couple times already, and while the media may overinterpret those hints, with Roethlisberger turning 36 next season his end in the NFL may come sooner than some think.
One thing working against a Roethlisberger retirement is that, like their archrival Ravens, the Steelers insist on containing almost all guaranteed money in prorated signing bonuses. Thus, if Roethlisberger were to retire in 2018, he’d have to write a $13.2 million check to the Steelers. All said, it’s more likely than not that Roethlisberger will be the Steelers’ QB in 2018, but don’t be surprised if at the least they draft someone that has more potential than Landry Jones or Josh Dobbs.
Deshaun Watson is the present and future for the Texans now. That means that Tom Savage, an unrestricted free agent for 2017, will likely have to find another team to continue his quest of becoming an NFL starter. Could Savage parlay a small sample size into a Brock Osweiler/Mike Glennon style contract? Only time will tell. If Savage departs, the Texans will need a new backup quarterback.
I’m only mentioning the Colts here because there is some thinking, perhaps wishful, that they will somehow part ways with Andrew Luck. Don’t count me among that crowd. While it’s not impossible to move on, the Colts will incur anywhere from $19-$22 million in dead money if they do, and then they have to start over at the quarterback position again. Occam’s Razor should lead us to guess that Luck will be a Colt in 2018.
The Jaguars raised some eyebrows when they picked up the fifth year option on Blake Bortles. While he’s been passable as a starter so far in 2017, the Jaguars are clearly being carried by their defense. Bortles’s $19 million 2018 salary is not guaranteed until the start of the league year, so the Jaguars do have a chance to cut him without consequence. Even if Bortles stays, don’t rule out the Jaguars being a target for a quarterback in the draft.
There may not be any other team that will be more of a mystery at the quarterback position come 2018 than the Broncos. They could sign a veteran quarterback, they could draft a rookie quarterback, or they could hold their cards with the belief that one of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, or Chad Kelly emerges as unquestionable starter material. John Elway won’t rest until he has that position answered, so expect any of the above to take place for 2018.
Alex Smith is currently playing like a quarterback desperate to save his job from a highly drafted rookie. Can he keep up his play through the playoffs? If the Chiefs once again lay an egg in January (if they even make it there, it’s still early), it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Andy Reid could pull a Mike Shanahan and go with Patrick Mahomes in 2018. Even if Smith maintains a high level of play in 2017, with it being highly likely that he won’t be on the Chiefs after 2018 anyway, Kansas City could decide to sell high and attempt to trade him. Don’t take your eye off this situation, no matter the final 2017 record that the Chiefs put together.
San Diego Los Angeles Chargers
As with Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers will turn 36 in 2018, and the Chargers will need to turn their attention to a possible successor. They could very much be in the market for drafting a quarterback in 2018.
New York Giants
Notice a theme with the quarterbacks in the class of 2004? Eli Manning will be 37 in 2018, and there’s also a chance that they could be picking very high in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Giants should be very much in the discussion of quarterback acquisitions come next offseason.
The Kirk Cousins saga marches on, and one has to think that it will end in some manner in 2018. A third franchise tag would cost $34.4 million, and a transition tag would cost $28.7 million. If the Redskins don’t extend Cousins and don’t resort to those extremely high-valued tactics, there could be a rarely seen feeding frenzy for his services on the open market. And if Cousins does depart, the Redskins will need to resort to all methods available to find his replacement.
Mitch Trubisky was already the future, and now he’s the present. For this reason, Mike Glennon will likely be sent packing in 2018 from his deal that, while 3 years in writing was always set up to be 1 year in practice. The question now is whether or not Glennon will be able to be seriously considered as a starter again in the NFL. If/when Glennon leaves, the Bears will need a backup quarterback on a true backup salary just in case Trubisky does not work out.
Sam Bradford will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017, and due to holding the highest valued rookie contract in NFL history he always seems to find a way to get overpaid. Whether rightly or wrongly, he’ll likely be relevant to the 2018 quarterback calculus somewhere. Case Keenum, also a UFA for 2018, also shouldn’t be completely ruled out to affect things given that he is playing serviceable behind a defense oriented Vikings squad. Things could change rapidly for quarterbacking in Minnesota come 2018, especially if Teddy Bridgewater still hasn’t recovered sufficiently from his knee injury.
Drew Brees set up his contract in a way where there’s no way the Saints can stop him from hitting the open market, fully unrestricted, in 2018. Brees will have full power to choose whatever team he wants that’s interested in him. Beware his age at 39 next year, but also beware that there will be teams likely willing to take a chance on him for at least 2018. If Brees does leave the Saints, they will be back to square one at the position.
It sure looks like the very good career of Carson Palmer is going to come to a close very soon. Even if Palmer finishes out his contract for 2018, the Cardinals need to be planning for the future from either the draft or in veteran free agency. Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert aren’t going to cut it.
The 49ers have benched Brian Hoyer, and will see if they can get anything more out of CJ Beathard than backup material. Unless Beathard really impresses, the 49ers will likely make their serious move for a quarterback in 2018, either in the draft or in veteran free agency, and due to the Kyle Shanahan connection they’ll be heavily rumored as in play for Kirk Cousins.
Let’s review each of those breakdowns with a list and a table. The list on the left consists of all the current quarterbacks that could be changing teams in 2018. The table on the right consists of teams that could be in the market for a quarterback, and in what method they could be searching for one.
This should demonstrate why I believe 2018 could be a key year in determining the success or failure of many NFL teams for years to come.
- Tyrod Taylor
- Jay Cutler
- Ryan Tannehill
- Jimmy Garoppolo
- Andy Dalton
- AJ McCarron
- Tom Savage
- Blake Bortles
- Alex Smith
- Kirk Cousins
- Mike Glennon
- Sam Bradford
- Case Keenum
- Drew Brees