Several teams around the league are close to experiencing life without a proven, viable starting quarterback again. The draft classes that came into the league in the few years after the millennium are beginning to retire, and even the spectacular first round of 2004 is reaching the age where they are either thinking about hanging up the cleats (Ben Roethlisberger) or should be (Eli Manning).
Needing a QB is a bad place to be for an NFL franchise. Nothing can improve your fortunes more than coming across an elite signal caller, and no single hole on the roster is a bigger impediment to winning a Super Bowl than not having one. Proven, quality quarterbacks don’t tend to hit the open market, so the options for teams looking for one this offseason are not fantastic.
Redskins QB Kirk Cousins (currently set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason) would make an excellent acquisition, but I don’t see Washington letting him get away—ultimately biting the bullet on the big contract it will take to keep him in town—so what is out there for teams with an eye on QBs this offseason?
1. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
While I don’t think there’s a good chance Cousins hits the market, the same can’t be said for Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor. The Bills structured Taylor's contract in such a way that there is a significant financial incentive not to keep him, because they have to hand him over $25 million in cash if he remains with Buffalo for the 2017 season. The deal itself still only averages out at around $16 million per year over the first three seasons of his extension—which Taylor is clearly worth in the current market—but the fact that it’s so heavily weighted in cash terms for this coming season means there’s a decent chance they balk and cut him loose.
If that happens, Taylor is the class of the available QBs. He may not hit the heights of Tony Romo, but neither is he an old, broken-down player. Taylor is one of the league’s premier rushing threats at the quarterback position, but he makes big plays with his arm and does not turn the ball over often. He was fifth this season in turnover-worthy play percentage, better than Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan, and is a QB you can definitely win with, even if he may never become the 4,500-yard passer everybody wants.
2. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo is the most proven QB a team could acquire this offseason. The Cowboys will try and trade him, but that is no small matter given his current contract. It will come down to whether or not Dallas is happy to cut him loose and get nothing in return other than salary cap relief.
If Romo does hit the open market, though, he is a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback that has a track record of excellent play, but a significant and lengthy injury history at this point. Romo has now started just four games over the past two seasons, and is about to turn 37 years old. At that age, he may be a bridge quarterback at best to a draft pick groomed to be the future of the franchise, but if he holds up physically, he could be an excellent one.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
It seems like every year there’s a backup QB to come out of New England that is hot property simply by coming from the tutelage of Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and the mere proximity to Tom Brady—as if some of that Hall of Fame magic would transfer via osmosis if he sits close enough in position meetings. Jimmy Garoppolo is the latest such name, but he at least has shown something in live games to get excited about, albeit over an extremely small sample size.
Garoppolo was supposed to start the four games at the beginning of 2016 for the Patriots while Brady served his suspension, but he was injured halfway into the second, right at the time he was playing some excellent football. Against the Dolphins in that game he was nearly perfect, completing 69.2 percent of his passes and recording a QB rating of 125.4 even when pressured. Against the blitz that day, he completed 77.8 percent of his passes at 11.2 yards per attempt. Garoppolo has shown legitimate starting ability, but not for more than a couple of games, and that becomes a big risk given the steep asking price in trade collateral the Patriots will demand to let him go.
4. Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Perpetually brought up in these conversations, Mike Glennon’s reputation was built on 13 games of average play in 2013—a performance that was good enough for the Bucs to hand the job the next year to Josh McCown, a journeyman fresh off the back of the only quality stretch of play in his career for the Bears. Glennon played another six games in 2014 and was the same inconsistent player—capable of big games and terrible ones—before taking a seat to watch the Jameis Winston era from the bench. Glennon has flashed talent, and from a clean pocket, his passer rating in 2013 and 2014 was over 100.0 each year, but he wilts under pressure, completing just 42.9 percent of his passes over those two seasons when hurried, and throwing one more touchdown (10) than interceptions (nine) on those passes.
5. Brian Hoyer, Chicago Bears
Most inconsistent QBs tend to lurch from good game to bad games with no real trend in their play other than unpredictability, but Brian Hoyer is different. For his career, he has tended to be very good over the first two months of the season, and then the wheels fall off the wagon around Week 10 every year.
Over Hoyer’s career, he has a passer rating of 93.1 in the months of September and October, and just 70.2 from November onwards. His yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, interception percentage and completion percentage are all higher in September and October, some dramatically so (his touchdown percentage is 4.3 percent versus 2.6, and his interception rate is more than three times higher after that watershed moment).
There’s a good quarterback somewhere within Brian Hoyer, and in the snaps he played this season, he was the only player to have a lower turnover-worthy throw percentage than Tom Brady (1.05 percent of his pass attempts, Brady was at 1.08). That said, any team looking to bring him on needs to try and work out why he turns into a pumpkin around Halloween each season.
6. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
The ultimate QB fool’s gold. Cutler seems to have an endless string of NFL lives based on his physical tools and ability to make all of the throws anybody could ask of him. His “can do” tape is off the charts, and it often leads to people ignoring a lot of the bad at the other end of the spectrum. With the availability of quality quarterbacks so sparse, Cutler’s potential becomes ever more attractive, even if the probability that he ever realizes that potential consistently becomes ever less likely.
Nothing better highlights the scarcity of quality NFL quarterbacks than teams without one still being willing to roll the dice on Jay Cutler, who would have been run out of the league years ago if he had merely average arm talent.
7. A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals
A.J. McCarron’s career is 341 snaps old as backup to Bengals starter Andy Dalton. Over that span, he has graded out below average for Pro Football Focus (72.6), and he took just two snaps in the 2016 season, but he did have a two-game stretch a year ago where he looked good, beating up on the 49ers and (more impressively) holding his own against one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, the Denver Broncos, a week later. His problem is that—unlike Garoppolo—he had the opportunity to put bad play on tape as well, so even though he has more NFL experience than the Patriots' backup, and has shown at least as much positive play, he has tarnished that upside with the threat of the bad that he could produce.
2017 NFL Draft
Everybody likes to build through the draft, and Dallas' Dak Prescott has shown that rookie QBs can come in and compete right away. The No. 1 overall pick from a year ago—Rams QB Jared Goff—has also shown that such a selection remains a big gamble.
This quarterback class is defined by its underclassmen, headlined by national champion QB Deshaun Watson. You can find PFF’s list of the top available QBs in this year's draft here.