We're putting a different spin on mock drafting here at Pro Football Weekly.
Because what's the point in predicting how the top QB prospects will go off the board in April before we know which clubs in March could attempt to fill their franchise QB voids in a rare offseason with viable veteran alternatives?
PFW editors Arthur Arkush, Eric Edholm and Hub Arkush this week are predicting how the vet QB market shakes out, beginning with Arthur's mock of where everyone lands and for how much.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: 5 years, $140 million ($95 million fully guaranteed)
Minnesota had one of the better QB depth charts in the NFL last season, but with Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater all hitting free agency with questions, Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer secure the rarest of rare in Cousins: a quarterback entering free agency at the peak of his powers.
Cousins, like Zimmer, is a blue-collar Midwesterner who's scratched and clawed for everything he's earned. Cousins is one of the few quarterbacks with a successful track record vs. Zimmer-led defenses. He's also perhaps the only quarterback not named Drew Brees who'll step in on Day One alongside a Super Bowl-caliber 'D' and markedly upgrade the Vikings' offense.
Spielman has a ton of cap flexibility — $49 million and climbing upon Sharrif Floyd's release — few needs outside of quarterback and a tailor-made supporting cast for Cousins with playmakers everywhere.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 4 years, $120 million ($60 million fully guaranteed)
It's the more than nine-year age gap, obviously, between Cousins and Brees that means Brees "settles" for $60 million guaranteed. But it's the Saints' understanding of what he means to the franchise, not docking Brees for the success the offense had while lightening his load with the arrivals of Alvin Kamara and an improved O-line, that keeps this negotiation amicable.
Could Brees command more from, say, the Browns or Jaguars? Of course. Can anyone realistically see Brees leaving that dynamic Saints offense and community in which he and his family have become ingrained, at this juncture?
A.J. McCarron, Cleveland Browns, 3 years, $45 million ($21 million fully guaranteed)
It's essentially the Mike Glennon contract for a player without even Glennon's resume. It's also new GM John Dorsey throwing inherited head coach Hue Jackson a bone in a move likely to be perceived as Jackson getting his guy (unlike last season thanks to a bungled trade) but more likely moving Dorsey closer to getting his coach if (when) McCarron isn't the answer.
McCarron reunites with Jackson. Dorsey takes his pick of the top QB prospects, likely at No. 1 because he shopped at the free-agent bargain bin. And some of the free-agent savings on McCarron can be delegated by Dorsey to other areas, likely the kind of resources a young quarterback and 'D' still needs (Joe Thomas replacement. Reliable receiver or two. More secondary reinforcements).
Case Keenum, Arizona Cardinals, 4 years, $73 million ($43 million fully guaranteed)
This was the trickiest contract to imagine, but Arizona's need — no quarterbacks currently under contract — and shifting offensive identity helped drive the price up. Keenum might never recreate his miraculous stint with Pat Shurmur in Minnesota, but with Mike McCoy, Byron Leftwich, David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and a strong defense, he'll find a relatively soft landing.
Cardinals GM Steve Keim also avoids handing out a contract that should preclude him from investing heavily at the position in the draft. Keenum might be a limited starter, but he's undoubtedly shown he's a starter, and his presence opens the door for Arizona to draft a rookie in need of some behind-the-scenes grooming.
Tyrod Taylor, Denver Broncos, 4 years, $72 million ($32 million fully guaranteed)
It's almost the Brock Osweiler contract — with the guaranteed portion John Elway was reportedly drawing a line in the sand at — for a quarterback with a lot more experience. Taylor, whom Buffalo is fully expected to release, also was in Elway's trading sights two offseasons ago and would arrive in Denver with some comfortable connections, like Gary Kubiak and a boot- and play-action offense under Bill Musgrave that could suit Taylor's dual-threat abilities well.
Josh McCown, New York Jets, 2 years, $25 million ($13 million fully guaranteed)
McCown was excellent in his age-38 campaign, and to a man, he's exactly the steadying locker-room presence a front office readying to tie its NFL future to a top QB pick can benefit from. He might seem like a crappy consolation prize in losing out on Cousins despite having a mountain of cap space. But we don't see it that way.
McCown totaled 23 touchdowns and a 94.5 rating last season. That was without much of a supporting cast. He gets a nice chunk of change with the understanding he'll be standing down as soon as the rookie is ready to step up.
Sam Bradford, Buffalo Bills, 1 year, max value of $22 million ($5 million guaranteed)
His Week 1 evisceration of the New Orleans Saints was one of the very best QB performances of 2017, a tantalizing preview of what Bradford, 30, can still do when he's healthy and set up for success. That he seemingly emerged unscathed, only to play 26 more snaps the rest of the season and tally the same number of starts as knee surgeries speaks to the huge volatility that accompanies the former No. 1 overall pick.
That's why a defensive-minded, ideally run-heavy club like Buffalo makes sense for Bradford. The Bills have two first-rounders and seem likely to make their move in April to ensure Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane land their hand-picked youngster. But few quarterbacks deemed to be bridge builders bring with them the the potential upside and ability to keep the rookie on the sidelines if he's hot and leading a playoff contender. Bradford's agent, Tom Condon, has to know a multi-year pact from any club is currently off the table.
Staying put (for now): Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars' Blake Bortles and Minnesota Vikings' Teddy Bridgewater
It's hard to argue that any of these three teams would be better off by moving (or moving on) from these quarterbacks.
Foles just redefined the meaning of a valuable insurance plan, and there's no assurances Carson Wentz will immediately return to MVP candidate less than nine months from ACL reconstruction.
Bortles showed more than enough meddle in the playoffs to think he could still wind up being Jacksonville's long-term solution, and even if he isn't, the $19 million on his fifth-year rookie option is hardly untenable for a club that figures to again be challenging for a Super Bowl this year.
Bridgewater's value right now is shot, but what if Cousins went down next year? Would Minnesota rather have unproven Kyle Sloter or (likely) inexpensive Bridgewater waiting in the wings?