The NFL’s unrestricted free agency begins Thursday at 4 p.m., giving teams a chance to add firepower to their rosters by throwing plenty of cash at their preferred players. And while there are several worthy candidates available on the open market, it’s the impending quarterback movement that will be the more compelling off-season storyline.
By the time training camps open around the league in July, there could be as many as seven teams — including the Jets — that will have different starting quarterbacks than at the end of last season. Add in a draft class that may have four first-round passers — Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and DeShone Kizer — and the changing of the guard at the sport’s most important position will continue at a frantic pace.
Only two divisions — the NFC East and NFC South — are virtually assured of heading into the 2017 season with the same starters as last year. And there’s no telling when that might change, since the Giants are sending clear signals that they’re looking for Eli Manning’s eventual successor and 38-year-old Drew Brees’ tenure with the Saints is getting closer to the end.
Here’s a look at the teams in the market for a new quarterback:
The Ryan Fitzpatrick era inauspiciously ended after two seasons, leaving Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as the only two quarterbacks under contract.
Geno Smith is a free agent and hasn’t closed the door on returning, and the Jets are strongly considering Bucs free agent Mike Glennon as a potential starter. They’ll have some competition for him, though, because the Bears are interested. Tyrod Taylor, who is expected to be released by the Bills, is another consideration. And don’t rule out Jay Cutler, who may be traded or released by the Bears. The Jets’ newly-hired quarterbacks coach, Jeremy Bates, held the same position when Cutler played for the Broncos and Bears. Other veterans available: Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer.
The Jets have the sixth overall pick, meaning they’ll almost certainly have a shot at one of the highly valued prospects. But with a major discrepancy in the values placed on the four high-round quarterbacks, and with GM Mike Maccagnan publicly expressing an interest in trading back, the Jets may address another position in the first round, or gamble that one of the quarterbacks will be there if they trade down.
Second-year coach Hue Jackson is in the market for a new quarterback after the ill-fated and short-lived Robert Griffin III era. The former Washington quarterback was injured in Cleveland’s first game last season and didn’t come back until the final month.
The Browns have the first and 12th picks in the draft and are looking to come away with a franchise quarterback and pass rusher. There’s a growing consensus they’ll take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the first pick, and they may have interest in Watson, who won the national championship for Clemson last season.
The Browns also may try and work a trade for Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who is going into the final year of his rookie deal. The Patriots have indicated they don’t intend to trade Garoppolo, but for the right price — a first-round pick and more — Bill Belichick will make a deal.
With coach Sean McDermott hired to replace Rex Ryan, the Bills are widely anticipated to release Taylor, a favorite of Ryan who had some encouraging moments in his two years as a starter but wasn’t vibrant in the passing game and was dependent on the Bills’ mostly reliable rushing attack. The Bills are ready to move on from former first-round pick E.J. Manuel, and former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones has a chance to compete for the starting job.
The Bills may draft another quarterback, but will also consider a number of alternatives on the open market or via trade. Among the quarterbacks connected to the Bills: Glennon, Trevor Siemian of the Broncos (but only if Denver acquires Tony Romo), Colin Kaepernick, Hoyer and Cutler.
GM John Elway has been cryptic about his plans at quarterback, but there is increasing speculation that he’s ready to bring in Tony Romo. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will consider trading or releasing Romo, who lost his job to Dak Prescott after suffering a preseason back injury. But Jones wants to do right by Romo, and if Denver is his preferred spot, Jones will likely accommodate him, probably via Romo’s release.
If the Broncos stand pat, they’ll choose between Siemian, who became the starter last year, and 2016 first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch.
The Jay Cutler era in Chicago almost certainly is at an end, and the Bears actively are trying to trade him. But with the expectation that they would release him if they can’t find a suitor, the more likely scenario is that the Bears simply say goodbye to Cutler without any compensation.
There’s increasing buzz that they like Glennon, but Garoppolo also is under consideration if the Bears can convince the Patriots to at least consider a deal. The Bears have the third overall pick, so taking one of the draft’s top passers is also a possibility. Trubisky and/or Watson could be there.
Colin Kaepernick has opted out of the final year of his contract, which was a mere formality, since the 49ers are ready to move on after bringing in general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan.
San Francisco has the second pick, and it would come as little surprise if the 49ers begin the Lynch-Shanahan era with a blue chip rookie. Trubisky and Watson are considered the frontrunners in this draft, but it remains to be seen whether any or all of the teams at the top of the draft are willing to take a quarterback that high.
In the meantime, there is increased chatter that the 49ers are interested in trading for Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins to reunite him with Shanahan, the former Washington offensive coordinator. The Redskins have designated Cousins as their franchise player, but can still trade him.
Brock Osweiler signed a whopping four-year, $72 million deal last year in hopes of becoming the Texans’ answer at quarterback. Not even close. Osweiler struggled throughout the season, and coach Bill O’Brien — who was left out of deliberations when the team pursued Osweiler as a Broncos’ free agent — eventually benched him.
O’Brien said there will be an open competition in training camp between Osweiler and Tom Savage, but O’Brien also is believed to be interested in Romo. It’s an attractive position for a veteran quarterback, because Houston has one of the league’s top defenses, but Romo may prefer joining Elway in Denver.