Yesterday I published a mock draft. Of course, the first paragraph of my article clarified that all my predictions were subject to change as the result of free agency signings. In particular, Free Agency QB signings. So it’s only right that I make some free agency predictions, and here they are. By the way, not all the guys listed below are free agents; I included key QBs that experts believe are on the block in some form or fashion.
Alex Smith- The Chiefs were smart to draft Pat Mahomes last year, but doing so opened the door for fans and critics to question the team’s starting QB, and being that Smith was the starter, there were sure to be questions asked. For some reason, people are always really down on Smith. I know he hasn’t exhibited the ability to win in the post-season, but I also think people forget how bad the Chiefs were before he got there. At least they are relevant now. (Same can be said for Andy Reid, another one that fans question constantly). Smith looked like an MVP when he was confident and aggressive early in the season, but he looked more like Sam Bradford or Brock Osweiler at times, taking the safe check-down over and over. The fact is, he is still a better QB than many others in the league and he’s not a free agent, so I can see a world in which Andy Reid returns as HC and keeps Smith for one more year. I can also see a (more fun) world in which Smith gets traded. There are several teams that are in dire need of a QB. I think the best fits for Smith are Denver, Arizona, and Buffalo. All three are potentially play-off teams with a QB of Smith’s abilities. But I don’t know if any would give much of anything up for the one year Smith has remaining on his contract. Cleveland, who I believe will draft Darnold, could use Smith as a bridge QB, but I don’t know if he wants that job yet again. Perhaps Arizona or Denver believe he has three good years left and believe he would re-sign with them. My guess is that Smith plays out his contract in KC. Next year’s draft class looks particularly weak, giving him good negotiating power in free agency along with the other QBs that will be up for grabs. Final verdict: One more year in Kansas City.
Jay Cutler- Sorry Jay, but Miami isn’t going to guarantee you a starting role. I think you’re headed to the booth. Frankly, I think we all are more intrigued by how Cutler will handle the booth versus the field. We know what happens when he’s the QB; the mystery is if the guy has a personality in the booth. I think we’d all rather see that. Final verdict: Retires and becomes a broadcaster.
Blake Bortles- Jacksonville has to be livid with Bortles. The team drafted him and gave him every opportunity to prove himself. And what did he do? Waited until the last month of his multi-year contract to give the organization a taste of the level of play thy expected when they drafted him. Now, after years of underperformance, he’s left the organization in a tough spot. Do they sign him to a lucrative contract or let him go in free agency and try to pick up someone else? If it was me, I would let him go and pursue Kirk Cousins. I would pass on pursuing Eli Manning, even though I would consider it. He is a veteran Super Bowl champion QB with an existing relationship with Coughlin and the ability to play for another 1–3 years at a level that could get Jacksonville to the next level. But I would prefer Cousins. Something tells me that the organization is very happy this year, however, and will play it conservative and sign Bortles. The question will really be how much they have to pay (depending if there is a lot of interest from other teams, which I don’t anticipate) and if they sign a better-than-average back-up for insurance. In an ideal world, AJ McCarron is a great fit at back-up here, but I think AJ wants to be a starter and will have the opportunity to be one. Maybe Jacksonville picks up Sam Bradford. That just seems very plausible to me. Final verdict: Signs contract to stay with Jacksonville.
Tyrod Taylor- Taylor is not a free agent, but there is a great deal of speculation that the Bills are ready to move on from him. Everyone assumes they will release him or sign him and trade him. Taylor is better than the Bills seem willing to give him credit for, but it is fair to say he probably isn’t the guy to get the Bills from perennial play-off outsider to play-off mainstay. In a way, you have to applaud the organization. I don’t believe the Bills will get a lot for Taylor in a sign-and-trade, and I don’t think they want to run the risk of not being able to trade him. My guess is they just release him. So where does he sign? The most likely landing place may be Baltimore. The Ravens need someone to take the reins from Joe Flacco, and Taylor may be the best option they have. They have more urgent needs to focus on in the draft, and again, Taylor is actually pretty good. What are the other potential landing spots for Taylor? I don’t believe Denver or Arizona will have any interest, and I don’t think he’s the bridge QB the Browns could potentially pursue. The Jets are an option, but ultimately, I think he returns to Baltimore. Final verdict: Signs contract with Baltimore.
Eli Manning- I believe, like many, that the Giants will use the second pick in the draft to get its QB of the future, and I believe, again like many others, that will be Josh Rosen. Rosen is the most “game-ready” QB in the draft by all accounts, and that provides the Giants with some options. They can keep Manning in place and allow Rosen to study under him before taking the reins, or they can trade Manning and go all baptism by fire with Rosen. They have enough needs on the roster that a trade would make sense, but is there a team that is willing to give up any talent for Manning? I think it would be pretty cool if Denver went after him, simply because of Payton’s legacy in Denver. Denver still has a good defense and some weapons on offense. They may actually think they have a shrinking window in which to make another SB run and go for Manning. I think that would be a smart play, but I don’t see it happening. There has been a great deal of talk about Jacksonville as a landing spot for Eli, especially with Coughlin at the helm. But would Jacksonville have to give up too much form a talented young roster to acquire Manning? My guess is that the Jags would rather keep the core of its talented young team in place and take their chances with Bortles. Final verdict: Manning remains in New York and mentors Rosen.
Drew Brees- We all know Brees isn’t going anywhere. He is still in top-tier form, the Saints are a top-tier team once again, and there are few players that are loved by a city and serve as the face of a franchise to the degree that Brees does. This seems like a feel-good story in which Brees accepts a deal from the Saints even if there are better offers on the table. Final verdict: Brees re-signs with the Saints.
Colin Kapernick- That lawsuit pretty much ensures no team signs Kapernick.
Kirk Cousins- The crown jewel of this year’s free agency period is undoubtedly Cousins. Before this season started, there seemed to be a plethora of landing spots for him, most notably San Francisco and Los Angeles. But with Jimmy G joining the Niners and Goff emerging as a key piece for the Rams, those two scenarios became unlikely. Which brings us back to the list of likely suspects- the Jags, Cardinals, Jets, Broncos, Browns, and Bills. Oh, and there’s Washington of course. As I mentioned, if I am Jacksonville, I am going after Cousins. If I am the Broncos, I am also going after Cousins. If I am Arizona, I am going after Cousins. The Browns need to be thinking about the future, so they need to remain focused on drafting a QB. I don’t think Cousins would have much interest in playing for the Bills. That leaves the Jets (and that pesky Washington team). The Jets are actually pretty interesting. Cousins has enough left in him to be a team’s QB for the next 3–5 years and the Jets aren’t nearly as bad as people thought they would be. They have a top pick in the draft, a very good coach, and a surprisingly solid team. Cousins won’t have the Jets competing with the Patriots for the AFC East anytime soon, but he could help them to beat out the Dolphins and Bills for the number two spot in the division…and a potential wild card spot…in the years to come. Now, if I’m Cousins and I look at my options, where do I want to go? Probably Jacksonville or Denver. Denver would give Cousins 1–3 years in which to pursue a title. Jacksonville might give him a five-year window. But alas, Washington can franchise Cousins for yet another year, and I expect they will since they have the best free agent QB in hand and the top QBs in the draft will be gone well before Washington is on the board. Poor (rich) Cousins. Final verdict: Washington hits Cousins with the franchise tag yet again. See you next year, Kirk.
Jimmy G- Make no mistakes about it- the Niners have found their QB and Jimmy G has found his team. Jimmy G may be the “other” crown jewel of free agncy, but I don’t even think of him as being on the market. Final verdict: Signs a very lucrative deal with the Niners.
And now we get to the toughest predictions. “What do the Vikings do and what is the fall-out from their decision?” and “Where does AJ McCarron end up?”
AJ McCarron- There is of course a caveat to this prediction, and that is whether or not McCarron will get his wish of being a free agent. Let’s assume he does. Rest assured, he won’t be signing with the Bengals. The next question is if he would sign with Cleveland after the trade that fell through under mysterious circumstances. And will he even want to go to a place in which he is likely to be abridge QB? Take Cleveland off the board. AJ is the poor man’s Jimmy G. He has played well in limited snaps, but doesn’t have the hype that Jimmy G had. Maybe it’s all the terrible tattoos. In any case, Jacksonville probably isn’t anymore convinced of AJ than they are Bortles, and at least Bortles knows their system. Denver might have some interest, if another player (specifically Case Keenum) isn’t an option for them, but I think Elway would prefer to draft someone like Josh Allen than go all in on McCarron. That leaves two teams that I think are likely to pursue McCarron- Buffalo and Arizona. Both places offer him the opportunity he wants- to be a starter for the next few years and to have a team around him that is capable of contending for the play-offs in each of those. Both teams would be good landing spots for McCarron, but after everything I have seen from him, I think he’s much more of a Scottsdale guy than a Buffalo guy. Final verdict: Signs contract with the Cardinals.
And now the Vikings. Bradford is gone without a doubt. But who do they pick between Bridgwater and Keenum? Given the recent emergence of Keenum, and the concerning injury history of Bridgewater, they go all in on Keenum. My guess is the Broncos aggressively pursue Keenum as well, but he ultimately stays in Minnesota, a well-coached organization with a system he knows, a young nucleus, and a defense that is one of the best in the league and allows a QB to take chances downfield. The Broncos have a tight window to compete for a title. That is not the case with Minnesota, one of the best young teams in the league, especially if Dalvin Cook returns to his old form. So here goes:
Case Keenum: Vikings, for the reasons outlined above. Final verdict: Signs lucrative deal with the Vikings.
Teddy Bridgewater: The Bills need a QB, but if you’re a top free agent QB with your choice of landing spots, I don’t think you go to Buffalo. Nothing against the city of Buffalo, but nobody seems to want to live there unless they have no other option. And that is why Bridgewater could end up there. There are two types of teams that need QBs this off-season. One type is the team that is not going to be a contender in the short-term and needs a long-term answer at QB. Those teams will look to the draft. Then there are teams that are contenders in the short-term but need a proven QB. They will likely go after the guys with the fewest question marks…and unfortunately for Bridgewater, his injury history makes him even more of a gamble than the unproven McCarron and the human question mark that is Blake Bortles. I believe Bridgewater’s options will be to sign a not-so-lucrative deal with Jacksonville (which may be his best move) or sign a lucrative deal with Buffalo or the New York Jets. Of course, Denver could pursue him if they can’t get Keenum, but again, I think Elway would prefer to start rebuilding than take a gamble on Bridgewater. There is part of me that thinks Bridgewater goes to Jacksonville. He is well-liked by players around the league (or so it seems), he probably is confident that he can beat out Bortles (I don’t doubt it), he woudl be on a young team that could be a title contender, and he would be closer to home (Miami). That being said, I think Jacksonville will have to pay Bortles enough money that it will preclude them from also signing Bridgewater. They will have to go with one or the other and will go with Bortles. As much as Bridgewater would be a great fit in Arizona, I think McCarron is a good fit there (of course it’s hard to say until a coach is named) and Bridgewater’s injury history will lead the Cardinals to favor McCarron. That leaves the Jets and Bills. The Jets have the sixth pick in the draft. The Broncos have the fifth pick. My belief is that the Broncos take a QB if they can’t get Cousins or Keenum, and my gut tells me they will actually go after Josh Allen. It’s a gamble, but a cheaper one (possibly with more upside) than signing McCarron or Bridgewater. In any case, let’s assume the Broncos take either Allen, Baker Mayfield, or Lamar Jackson. That leaves the Jets with two QBs to pick from with the sixth pick, and the real question will be if they think Mauyfield or Jackson has long-term potential. They could potentially draft either of those two and still sign Bridgewater. That would provide them with options. I could definitely see that happening. Bridgewater is a smart QB that can make throws and manage a game. That may be the right fit for the Jets. I don’t see the Jets taking Jackson. I think there’s a good chance they take Mayfield, but that may not preclude them from signing Bridgewater. I’m between the Jets and Bills here, but I have to make a call. Final verdict: Bills sign Bridgewater to a rich, short-term contract. Confident in his abilities (and used to living in the cold), Bridgewater goes to Buffalo, figuring if he plays well for a couple years, he will be a top free agent at the end of his time in Buffalo.
Oh yeah, so what about Bradford?
Sam Bradford- I see three landing spots for Bradford: Jacksonville (as an assumed back-up), the Jets, or back in Minnesota (in an assumed back-up role). I really can’t call it. I think the Jets are all in on moving forward and don’t want to take a gamble on a mediocre guy like Bradford. The Vikings may see Bradford as a good back-up, since he knows the system in Minnesota. But something tells me Bradford still thinks he can be a starter. If Minnesota signs Keenum to a big contract, it goes without saying that he will be the starter. There may be enough of a question around Bortles that Bradford goes to Jacksonville. We may all assume he will be the back-up, but he may believe he will compete for a starting role. Final verdict: Signs a contract with Jacksonville.
So what does that make the QB situation for each team:
Jets- Baker Mayfield
Browns- Darnold (possible bridge QB to be signed)
Ravens- Flacco and Tyrod Taylor
Steelers- Roethlisberger, if he doesn’t retire, with Dobbs or a rookie as back-up
Jaguars- Bortles and Bradford
Colts- Luck and Brissett
Chiefs- Smith and Mahomes
Chargers- Rivers (perhaps drafting Rudolph or Jackson as back-up)
Broncos- Josh Allen
Giants- Manning and Rosen
Packers- Rodgers (perhaps draft Rudolph as back-up)
Cardinals- AJ McCarron
Niners- Jimmy G