This year’s NFL free agent quarterback is defined by one man, and one man alone: Tony Romo.
Just about everybody assumed that the Dallas Cowboys would release Romo at the start of free agency, opening him up as the most in-demand QB of the offseason. Instead, we’re nearly two weeks into the new league year and Romo is still under contract with the Cowboys. That’s created a weird stasis in the free agent market, as teams interested in Romo are essentially sitting on their hands, waiting for Dallas to make a decision on him.
As a result, several teams have more unsettled depth charts than you’d expect just a month before the NFL Draft. With so much uncertainty, we’ll take a look at the teams with the biggest question marks at QB, and try to make an educated guess at who will be their Week 1 starter when September rolls around.
Current depth chart: Brock Osweiler (emphasis on “current”), Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
The Browns pulled off the most eye-opening trade of free agency, essentially buying a second-round pick from the Texans to absorb Brock Osweiler’s cap hit. They’re fully expected to release Osweiler sooner rather than later, and already cut Robert Griffin III loose, so who will be next in line?
Cleveland’s new front office collected draft picks like candy, and this year we should see the Phase 2 of its rebuilding strategy. The Browns own both the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks, and we can easily see a scenario where they take defensive end Myles Garrett (the consensus best player in this draft) first, while either landing a QB at 12 or trading down to get even more picks. Either way, the Browns are legitimately interesting —for the right reasons — for the first time in a while.
Best guess: They draft Deshaun Watson (or another QB) at No. 12 and hope he doesn’t Browns it up too hard.
Current depth chart: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch
Siemian was mostly competent last year, but he didn’t do enough to elevate the offense and get the Broncos back into the playoffs. Lynch looked out of his depth in a few starts, but the Broncos spent a first-round pick on him, and he should get a fresh look with a new coaching staff.
The Broncos are also one of the potential suitors for Romo, although John Elway is predictably mum on the subject. It’s not hard to connect the dots — this team is just two years removed from lifting the Lombardi Trophy, and boasts a top-tier defense still in its prime. Despite multiple flaws on offense, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders remain quality receiving weapons. Getting Romo wouldn’t be the first time Elway made an aggressive win-now move, and it probably won’t be the last.
Best guess: Barring a Romo acquisition, they give Lynch a shot to salvage something out of their first-round investment.
Current depth chart: Tom Savage, Brandon Weeden
The Brock Osweiler experiment was an utter disaster, and Houston got rid of him in a rare NFL salary-dump trade, sending him and a second-round pick to Cleveland just to get his contract off the books. Now the Texans are starting over again at QB, and by most accounts they’re in the running to get Romo. But if a Romo deal falls through, what then? Savage hasn’t shown much to prove he’s the guy, and Weeden is a proven failure. Houston doesn’t have many viable options left if it doesn’t get Romo.
Best guess: I still think they’re the frontrunners for Romo; he gets to stay in Texas and the roster is otherwise ready to win now. It’s a natural fit for both sides.
Current depth chart: Bryce Petty, Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg
The Ryan Fitzpatrick era ended with a predictable thud, while Geno Smith is now with the New York Giants. Once again, the Jets continue their quixotic quest for a franchise QB. That player clearly isn’t on the current roster — Petty showed that he’s replacement-level at best, and Hackenberg might already be a lost cause. The team also just signed Josh McCown, but he’s nothing more than a veteran bridge.
Best guess: Jay Cutler and the Jets were born for each other, but after McCown signed on, the Jets’ path became clear: Start the former Cardinals/Lions/Raiders/Panthers/Bears/Bucs/Browns quarterback and then draft a rookie to take over when McCown inevitably gets hurt again.
But here’s another comedy option: Mark Sanchez is a free agent!
Current depth chart: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley
Hoyer is the guy you sign when you don’t know who your starting QB is yet, but need someone to run OTA drills while you figure it out. Barkley showed flashes of promise in Chicago, but was unacceptably careless with the ball, throwing 14 interceptions in just six starts.
The big story surrounding the 49ers this offseason is their pursuit of Kirk Cousins. Shanahan helped develop him, and the situation in Washington has gone south so fast that Cousins wants out. Whether they get him in a trade this year or just wait until he hits free agency in 2018, Cousins in Santa Clara feels like a “when, not if” scenario.
Best guess: If a Cousins trade doesn’t happen, then I’m guessing they just hold their noses and ride it out with Hoyer and/or Barkley in an obvious rebuilding year.