It’s not a good year to be a middling veteran quarterback entering free agency. Signing a fading or average veteran quarterback is proving to be a foolhardy exercise.
Unless that player can outplay his contract (like Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers), he’s going to weigh down his team with a burdensome deal. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum are two strong examples of quarterbacks whose big deals did not improve their team. Meanwhile, quarterbacks on their rookie contracts are making the playoffs (like Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson), largely because they’re surrounded by stellar casts on offense and defense.
The collective bargaining agreement (with a rookie wage scale) and the current cost for veteran quarterbacks (bumped higher last offseason by Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo) should encourage teams to avoid a veteran castoff. If a player like Peyton Manning is available, get after him. But we’re not looking at a free agency class of Peyton Mannings. Instead, some array of Case Keenum, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Blake Bortles, Nick Foles and Joe Flacco will hit the market. They all have complicated contract situations, which will discourage their teams from outright releasing them. If they do get to free agency, they’ll want a boatload of cash, and it’s hard to find a team that’ll be willing to shell out.
In part, that’s because few teams need quarterbacks in 2019. For now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are committed to Jameis Winston, according to ESPN. So the teams that need a quarterback will largely be the ones that are likely casting off the aforementioned veterans: the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins.
Why would the Giants want to trade or release Manning only to sign Bortles? Why would the Dolphins want to cut Tannehill only to sign or trade for Foles?
The Washington Redskins might be in the market for a quarterback, but with Alex Smith’s contract on the books (and potentially not playing in 2019), they probably can’t afford another established veteran. They might have to give a rookie or a player like Teddy Bridgewater or Ryan Fitzpatrick a spin.
For players like Manning or Flacco, perhaps the most desirable of the quarterbacks, the Dolphins or Jaguars could come calling with around $15 to $20 million per year (which those veterans likely can’t outplay). Those teams could also draft and begin to develop a rookie quarterback. But that adds up quickly on the salary cap. The rookie has a high probability of starting in his rookie season, especially if he is a first-rounder. Just two of the last 21 quarterbacks taken in the first round failed to start in their rookie season. So what’s the point of signing a veteran, if you’re going to draft a quarterback in the first round? (Hint: There isn’t one.)
Drafting and developing makes the most sense. And it’s best to also avoid dumping money into a 30-something-year-old, ball-slinging dumpster fire (*cough* Flacco *cough*). The good news for the veterans on the verge of free agency is that the incoming draft class lacks elite quarterback talent. The class has a few good prospects, but it seems unlikely that teams will trade into the top five picks to get their quarterback like they did last year.
This isn’t to say it is impossible for Flacco or Manning to have a good 2019 season. What’s far more likely, however, is that they will not work out, much like this year’s quarterback carousel failed for practically every party involved. Thus, it’s easy to imagine teams shying away from the veteran quarterbacks on the market, because this group doesn’t have enough talent to reverse that trend. They will get paid. It’s just that they may not get the same courtship they might have gotten in year’s past — and they may not get the enormous contracts that veteran quarterbacks once demanded. When they join their team, their standing will be tenuous, even though the expectations will be that they must get their team to the playoffs.
It won’t be easy for veteran quarterbacks hitting free agency when compared to past seasons.