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The top free agent quarterbacks of 2016

It's not the deepest group, but a few quarterbacks are coming off career-best seasons just as they're ready to hit the open market.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Any team searching for a franchise quarterback in free agency is probably a little bit desperate. As a general rule, free agent quarterbacks are journeymen, and journeymen don't typically make the jump to franchise quarterback.

But lately, we've seen a few quarterbacks switch teams and find some measure of success, like Tyrod Taylor with the Buffalo Bills. He was acquired in free agency a year ago and he wound up winning the quarterback battle. The Bills didn't make the playoffs in Taylor's first year as a starter, but they showed promise and finished at 8-8.

This year, there will be several teams searching for a new quarterback, either as a starter or as a backup. As luck would have it, there are a couple of players coming off surprisingly successful seasons who are set to hit the open market when the new league year begins on March 9.

But can they continue to improve in 2016 or will they fall back down to earth? After all, the biggest names in this group are a quarterback who had one pretty good season, a backup who was carried by the league's best defense and a player whose greatest accomplishment was not getting injured.

Here are the five quarterbacks who made our top 100 free agents of 2016 list.

Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington


At the end of training camp, Washington head coach Jay Gruden said he was ready to hand the team over to Kirk Cousins and bypass Robert Griffin III for the starting quarterback job. Cousins didn't disappoint.

The 2012 fourth-round pick enjoyed a breakout season in 2015, completing 69.8 percent of his passes and throwing for 4,166 yards to go along with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was phenomenal in the second half of the season, posting a 126.1 QB rating over Washington's final eight games.

Turnovers plagued Cousins through the first three years of his career, as he threw 19 interceptions and 18 touchdown passes from 2012-2014. But with the turnovers under control last season, Cousins emerged into one of the better quarterbacks in the NFC.

Given the fact Cousins led Washington to only its second playoff appearance since 1999, it seems like a foregone conclusion owner Daniel Snyder and general manager Scot McCloughan will make every effort to keep him in the nation's capital. Look for Cousins to be paid as one of the top quarterbacks in football this offseason.

Brock Osweiler, QB, Denver Broncos


After sitting on the bench for the first three years of his NFL career, Brock Osweiler finally received a chance to start in 2015. The results were mixed.

Osweiler took over the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback job in place of a hobbled Peyton Manning during the Broncos' game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 15, in which Manning threw five completions and four interceptions. He started six games after that, completing 60.71 percent of his passes to the tune of an 83 QB rating. But then Osweiler was benched in favor of Manning midway through the Broncos' Week 17 matchup against the San Diego Chargers, and never saw the field again. Though Manning was far from spectacular during the Broncos' playoff run -- he had the worst performance of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback in history -- Gary Kubiak stuck with the future Hall of Famer.

But with Manning likely retiring, the Broncos' QB job could be Osweiler's. Denver will probably have to pay up, though, given how limited quality quarterbacks are around the league. It's too early to say how good Osweiler is, but potential sometimes pays just as well as performance on the free agent market.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, New York Jets


Fitzpatrick had his best years being coached by Chan Gailey with the Buffalo Bills, so when Gailey took over as the Jets' offensive coordinator, it seemed like only a matter of time before he acquired his old quarterback. That indeed happened, with the Jets trading a low draft pick to get Fitzpatrick from the Houston Texans.

Back in Gailey's offense and surrounded by great weapons (Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Chris Ivory), Fitzpatrick had his best season yet. He finished the year with 3,905 passing yards and 31 touchdowns, both career highs. Fitzpatrick is now 33 years old and unlikely to have as much success elsewhere, even with so many teams desperate for a decent veteran quarterback. The last time he signed a big contract (six years, $59 million with Buffalo) it turned out being a bust.

Ultimately, staying in New York on a short-term deal seems like the obvious solution for him. The New Jersey Star-Ledger speculates that Fitzpatrick could get a two- or three-year deal worth around $7 million per year, which would make a lot of sense for both sides. The Jets want to keep the quarterback that nearly got them into the playoffs, but they also don't want to be stuck with a contract albatross should Fitzpatrick quickly decline.

Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia Eagles


The trade that sent Sam Bradford to the Eagles may well be remembered as the deal that sank Chip Kelly's tenure in Philadelphia. The quarterback rarely looked comfortable in Kelly's offense, which required him to make quick reads and absorb excessive body blows.

Still, Bradford's season in Philly wasn't a complete wash. He set new career highs in completion percentage (65.0) and yards per pass attempt (7.0). Perhaps more importantly, Bradford demonstrated that he could stay healthy, starting 14 games during the regular season. For a player who missed the previous year and a half while rehabbing from multiple knee reconstructions, missing just two games and finishing the season upright could significantly aid his free agency.

The Eagles have expressed some interest in re-signing Bradford, though new head coach Doug Pederson may prefer to draft a young signal caller instead. If he walks, multiple QB-starved teams could offer him lucrative multi-year deals. Bradford's agent Tom Condon reportedly seeks $25 million per year, but the real number should fall below that.

Chase Daniel, QB, Kansas City Chiefs


It's difficult to place value on a player who has thrown a grand total of 77 passes in six NFL seasons and had just two pass attempts in 2015. But backup quarterbacks are a necessity in a league where defenses are built around finding pass rushers, and there's always the question of whether a backup could become a star if placed in the starting lineup.

Daniel has looked like a solid player in his brief moments on the field, but it's tough to imagine that any team will want the longtime Saints and Chiefs backup to handle starting duties in 2016. However, he's a safe option to have behind a starter and that's certainly worth something.

Several backup quarterbacks across the NFL make good money to be a "Plan B" and Daniel is one that playoff-level teams have had faith in before.