NFL free agents 2013: Weak quarterback class drives down contract values

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

NFL teams searching for starting quarterbacks have traded for them this offseason instead of signing them -- and for good reason: this year's free-agent quarterback class is weak.

It's been slim pickings in the quarterback free agent market in 2013 -- and at this point of the year, that fact simply isn't going to change.

Quarterback-needy teams throughout the NFL were and are cognizant of the weak free agent market -- and consequently, three teams opted to trade for a starting quarterback rather than attempt to sign one. The Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, while the Raiders traded for Matt Flynn and then traded Carson Palmer to the Cardinals.

The top contracts handed out to free-agent quarterbacks illustrate how weak this year's market is.

2013 Top free agent quarterbacks:
Matt Moore, Miami Dolphins
: two years, $8 million ($3 million signing bonus, $4 million guaranteed)
Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals: three years, $8.2 million ($2 million signing bonus, $3 million guaranteed, $3.8 million in incentives)
Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis Colts: two years, $7.25 million ($3 million signing bonus, $6 million guaranteed, $500,000 roster bonus, $750,000 in incentives)
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Tennessee Titans: two years, $6.5 million
Jason Campbell, Cleveland Browns: two years, $3.75 million ($500,000 guaranteed)

None of the above quarterbacks will start for their new teams, as Moore will back up Ryan Tannehill, Stanton will back up Palmer, Hasselbeck will back up Andrew Luck, Fitzpatrick will back up Jake Locker and Campbell will back up Brandon Weeden -- though Campbell could get a chance to start at some point next season.

The remaining quarterbacks on the market aren't going to inspire any fanbases or galvanize a locker room, but they could provide competition in training camp -- and competition breeds success.

Best of the Rest

Vince Young, Buffalo Bills

Young wasn't able to crack Buffalo's roster last year, and spent the entire season out of the NFL. Young has dedicated himself to improving his mechanics, and reportedly had a "magnificent" Pro Day at Texas. While it's improbable Young will ever become a capable starting quarterback again in the NFL, it is possible that he can be a quality backup -- and he could be used sparingly as a change-of-pace quarterback for a team without a legitimate starter.

Brady Quinn, Kansas City Chiefs

Quinn hasn't played much in his NFL career, despite being a first-round draft pick in 2007. The Cleveland Browns drafted Quinn with the No. 22 overall pick, after Quinn kept sliding throughout the first round. Since then, Quinn has appeared in just 24 games in his career -- including none during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Last year, Quinn was horrendous for the Chiefs, completing 56.9 percent of his passes for 1,141 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Set to turn 29 in October, Quinn isn't likely to blossom into a quality NFL starting quarterback, but like Young, could prove to be a viable backup in the right system. Kansas City and Cleveland have been two of the least-successful franchises in recent years, and a change of scenery will do nothing but help Quinn's career.

Byron Leftwich, Pittsburgh Steelers

Leftwich served as Ben Roethlisberger's backup in Pittsburgh, but was injured as soon as he was thrust into Pittsburgh's starting role in 2012. Leftwich has only attempted 60 passes over the last three seasons, and simply hasn't played much since his departure from Jacksonville in 2006.

Leftwich turned 33 in January, and still has a few years left in him as a backup quarterback. Given his age, he's unlikely to be a team's long-term answer at as a backup quarterback, but Leftwich is capable of serving as a solid backup quarterback, while helping tutor a young, third-string quarterback.

Tyler Thigpen, Buffalo Bills

Thigpen has bounced around the league so far in his career, spending time with the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and most recently, the Buffalo Bills. Thigpen served as Kansas City's starting quarterback in 2008 -- and even caught a touchdown pass that year.

Thigpen will turn 29 in April, and should stay in the league for awhile, provided he's productive as a backup. The Seattle Seahawks have been linked to Thigpen recently. If Seattle signs him, Thigpen will immediately become Russell Wilson's backup quarterback.

In the last two seasons, Thigpen has only attempted 13 passes. In 2008 as a starter, Thigpen threw for 2,608 yards while completing 54.8 percent of his passes, with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

2012 vs. 2013

2012 will likely serve as an outlier in terms of free-agent quarterbacks. Three of last year's top five free-agent quarterbacks all figure to start in 2013 -- and the other two are more-than-capable backups.

2012 Top free agent quarterbacks:
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
: five years, $96 million
Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks: three years, $26 million
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers: three years, $24 million -- with incentives
Kyle Orton, Dallas Cowboys: three years, $10.5 million
Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars: two years, $6.75 million

It's always an anomaly when a quarterback of Manning's stature is available in free agency, but even aside from Manning, there are quality names up and down that list. Flynn figures to start for the Raiders, while Smith will start for the Chiefs. Both Oakland and Kansas City are hoping that their new quarterbacks will serve as more than stopgaps.

Despite its perception as a weak draft class, teams needing quarterbacks would be well served investing through the draft in 2013 rather than free agency, as most of the quarterbacks available this year have proven they are not capable of leading a team to the playoffs.

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