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, continuing with Eric's mock of where everyone lands and for how much.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: 5 years, $130 million ($84 million fully guaranteed)
I’ll admit to not fully buying into this marriage at first for a few reasons. One, it felt like a pretty drastic evacuation from the formula that won this team a lot of games last season. I also couldn’t escape the loyalty the Vikings appeared to have for Teddy Bridgewater, nor could I fathom how the team could juggle the salary cap in order to keep its core of talent in place.
Oh sure, they’re in good shape now with just under $50 million in cap space and they can create more by releasing a few players (Sharrif Floyd, Latavius Murray, Jarius Wright) if they want to. But there’s the matter of the hoard of 2019 free agents: Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter and Trae Waynes, among others.
But GM Rick Spielman has overseen good cap management the past few years, and I suspect the Vikings coaches feel they reached a glass ceiling with Case Keenum. Can Cousins get them there? After a devastating playoff exit, the Vikings just might be motivated enough to find out.
One other factor: Cousins might get offered more money elsewhere, from the New York Jets or whomever. But after earning $44 million the past two seasons, he might not be as financially motivated as some have speculated. We just think he wants to be wanted and wants to win.
This deal is more than Derek Carr, slightly less than Matthew Stafford. And it lands Cousins in the best place to win.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints, 5 years, $140 million ($75 million fully guaranteed)
The Saints are handcuffed a bit because they can’t franchise Brees (his contract prevents it) and they must get a new contract finished prior to March 14. That’s the date when his current deal voids, and if that passes an $18 million cap hit will incur. Brees’ last season was in essence a one-year contract that was masked as a four-year extension with dummy years tacked on the end.
Expect a similar tact this time around. So the numbers you see above might look like the kind of thing you’d see for a quarterback a decade younger. It has less to do with Brees playing until he’s 44 (we think) and more to do with cap wizardry. The cap hit might hurt down the road, but the Saints might not have much choice here.
But there are a few other factors at play here. Brees’ agent, Tom Condon, also reps Matt Ryan, who is due an extension this offseason. Expect Brees’ deal to play into whatever Ryan ends up getting. If Jimmy Garoppolo got a deal at $27.5 million, then we figure Brees gets $28 mil per and Ryan gets a bit north of that this summer.
If the Saints cut Coby Fleener (designated post-June 1) and a few others, the cap space will be there now. But it could mean a quiet offseason otherwise for the team. Besides, you know, re-signing the best player in franchise history.
Case Keenum, New York Jets, 4 years, $85 million ($45 million guaranteed)
The Jets’ seemingly Sisyphean task of finding their franchise quarterback takes a hit in this scenario with Cousins choosing the Vikings. Is Keenum that great a consolation prize? It’s hard to say. But if he plays close to the level he did for most of 2017, it would not be a bad alternative.
Drafting quarterbacks hasn’t produced the results the Jets had hoped in recent years, so it’s almost certain that they must sign a veteran to patch the position. And they likely have to overpay, too. One byproduct of drafting and signing cheap QBs is that they have sunk relatively little into the position financially (less than $33 million since 2014) and they’re flush with cap space now (more than $80 million).
Keenum might feel like a let down with Cousins dreams dancing in their heads, but the Jets can find a way to make this a positive situation for a player who likely will be fully committed to proving himself once again.
Sam Bradford, Denver Broncos, 3 years, $62 million ($36 million guaranteed)
Another team that has swung and missed on its QB draft picks, the Broncos are in fertile territory to take that route again with the fifth overall pick. But can GM John Elway feel great about his chances to make it work, especially with a few QB-needy teams picking above him? We say no.
The Broncos were close to landing Bradford via trade after the 2016 draft, but the Eagles’ high asking price made them balk. It’s not a great alternative, and it might be the team’s third choice — behind Cousins and Keenum — to fix their problem.
But cap space is an issue, and the Broncos might not have a ton of proven offensive pieces in place to attract either of them, even as compelling a salesman as Elway can be. Bradford is still relatively young, even with a long injury history. Signing him to this kind of deal could be a good short-term fallback for a player (who has earned more than $100 million in his career) and team both seeking respect and redemption.
Teddy Bridgewater, Miami Dolphins, two years, $20 million (highly incentivized)
With the Vikings moving on from Bridgewater, he gets to move home. There’s a serious risk in signing a quarterback with a career-altering knee injury on his records, especially given that Ryan Tannehill is coming off a torn ACL suffered last year. That might be the biggest thing that prevents Bridgewater returning to the south Florida area where he grew up.
But Bridgewater is driven to prove himself, two years removed from his last NFL start, and we think an incentive-laden short-term deal in a friendly location might be enough to get it done with few other great options. The Dolphins can see where Tannehill (who is on the books for a manageable $17.5 million in 2018) is this season and make a call thereafter.
A.J. McCarron, Cleveland Browns, 3 years, $48 million ($24 million guaranteed)
This might be a nice way for the Browns’ new brass to throw head coach Hue Jackson a bone without actually committing that much to the position beyond this year. Jackson, of course, wanted McCarron badly last year, and it turned out to be a blessing that the trade fell through (or was botched, or whatever) given the draft picks it would have netted the Bengals.
Now that McCarron has been deemed a free agent, he lands in a place where he can be the Week 1 starter, and the Browns’ front office will draft his eventual successor with one of their two top-four picks. The pressure then will be on Jackson and McCarron to win games, lest they suffer similar fates to Mike Glennon and John Fox last year with the Chicago Bears.
This contract and that setup, with a rookie in waiting, is almost exactly what the Bears did a year ago. The difference with the Browns is that they have the cap space to blow now without as much of a hit.
Tyrod Taylor, Arizona Cardinals, 4 years, $75 million ($35 million fully guaranteed)
The Cardinals must add a quarterback because, well, they have none under contract. This isn’t a great-looking deal on the surface, even though we like Taylor and appreciate what offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has done with a wide variety of talents at the position over the years.
McCoy can adjust his offense appropriately with Taylor at the helm, and the Cardinals can draft a potential successor in Rounds 1 or 2. (Could you imagine if Lamar Jackson, a similar type of talent, fell to them at pick No. 47? What a deal that would be.)
And for the Cardinals, they wouldn’t feel as if they were light years away in the QB arms race forming out west. Sure, they’d be behind the Seahawks, Rams and 49ers, all of whom have their franchise throwers in place for the many years to come. But the plucky Taylor would be a good placeholder and allow them to be competitive in what could be Larry Fitzgerald’s final season.
Josh McCown, Buffalo Bills, 2 years, $24 million ($14 million fully guaranteed)
Not even going to lie: For about half a second, I thought McCown had played a season or two for the Bills. But lo, that’s one of the few teams for which he has not suited up yet, and yet this would be a nice situation for him to fall into with the Bills potentially gearing up for drafting a QB high.
New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will want a high-IQ leader at the position, and head coach Sean McDermott could do far worse than to have McCown take over now and be ready to help groom whomever the Bills draft.
Staying put: Nick Foles
We believe the Philadelphia Eagles will set a high price for Foles via trade and that no one will be willing to pay it. And that’s perfectly fine. Why not keep your Super Bowl MVP as an insurance plan until you know how healthy Carson Wentz is? Have Foles take all the offseason snaps until Wentz is cleared, keep that terrific offensive continuity and let Foles sit there until they need to move him. He’s cheap and, as we know, valuable.
Then if one of the seemingly inevitable August QB injuries happen (Bridgewater in 2016, Tannehill in 2017) elsewhere around the league and you’re happy with Wentz’s health at that time, sure, trade the guy. That might be the smart play. Even with a top-heavy QB draft class, some team will be looking for one eventually.