There’s good news and bad news if you’re an NFL team in need of a veteran quarterback in 2019. The good news is there’s a wide array of options available in what will be a buyer’s market. The bad news is it’s a flawed market, with not so much as a Kirk Cousins-type impact player to be found.
This offseason’s spinning wheel of incomplete passers includes a pair of Super Bowl MVPs, multiple former first-round picks, and one guy who could hang up his cleats and take a job as an NFL QBs coach at any moment. 2019 stands to uproot longtime franchise fixtures and journeymen alike, and history suggests at least a couple will play a role in the playoff race.
So who will end up where? We’ve got a few guesses.
Joe Flacco: Denver Broncos
A big thanks to John Elway for making this one easy on me. Flacco wasn’t statistically much better than Case Keenum, but the Denver GM decided it was worth shipping out a fourth-round pick and eating $10 million in dead cap space to swap out a mediocre 31-year-old quarterback with a mediocre 34-year-old — a deal that will become official on March 13, the first day of free agency. At least he’ll be better than Paxton Lynch.
Nick Foles: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags’ championship window seemingly slammed shut after their breakthrough 2017 gave way to a massive 2018 regression. Jacksonville’s defense went from “great” to “good,” but the team’s offense disintegrated like a comet plummeting through the earth’s atmosphere.
Foles would give an unthreatening offense a Super Bowl MVP at quarterback, albeit one not exactly known for his consistency. The Jaguars have plenty of work to do to fix their scoring engine this offseason, including replacing the bombed-out husk of what was once a promising receiving corps and figuring out what to do with career 3.7 yards-per-carry haver Leonard Fournette. But with the Blake Bortles era likely over, the first item on that to-do list will be finding a quarterback.
Teddy Bridgewater: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bridgewater’s underwhelming Week 17 performance may scare teams away from offering him a starting role. Going to Tampa Bay and playing with Jameis Winston, however, will earn him several opportunities to earn snaps in 2019 and beyond.
The Buccaneers have to figure out what to do with Winston, who finished 2018 on a high note but got outplayed by Ryan Fitzpatrick in stretches and is set to play out the final year of his rookie contract this fall. Their first step in 2019 was to pair him with Bruce Arians, a noted developer of passing talent whose bond with the troubled quarterback goes back to when he was 13 years old.
Adding Bridgewater would give the team a solid backup for a quarterback who has only made 22 starts the past two seasons due to a combination of injuries, league suspensions, and subpar play. It could also give Tampa Bay a viable starter moving forward if the Bucs decide to cut bait with Winston. If anyone is able to push Bridgewater back to his 2015 heights, it could be the offensive mind who beat him in a Week 14 showdown that year.
Eli Manning: New York Giants
As much as a Manning-Tom Coughlin reunion in Jacksonville fits, it doesn’t make a ton of sense right now. Manning is coming off an overlooked revival in 2018. The presence of an actual running game led by Saquon Barkley helped push him to his most efficient season in years, leading to career bests in completion and interception rates (66 percent and 1.9 percent, respectively).
While cutting Manning loose would free up $17 million in cap space in New York, there’s no one on the roster who can capably fill in for him. While the team is almost certainly going to select a quarterback this spring, there’s no plug-and-play panacea at the top of this year’s draft. Releasing him and signing a cheaper veteran option to pair with a rising rookie would give the team 80 percent of his production at 40 percent of the price, but swapping the franchise’s leading passer for one year of Case Keenum or Blake Bortles would be terrible optics in what will likely be another rebuilding year.
Just let Manning play the helpful mentor role he’s earned and retire with the only team for whom he’s ever played.
Case Keenum: Miami Dolphins
Keenum’s 2018 saw him revert back to his prior form thanks, in part, to Vance Joseph’s inability to guide an offense. Now he’ll have to prove he’s a capable starter all over again after likely being pushed out of Denver by Flacco.
The Dolphins would welcome him to serve as a veteran mentor to whichever young passer — potentially Drew Lock or Kyler Murray — first-year head coach Brian Flores adds in this year’s draft. That’ll be a familiar role for Keenum, who served as a placeholder for Jared Goff in his rookie season with the Rams in 2016. It’ll also give him a chance to rehabilitate his career, albeit on another team run by a defensively minded coach.
At his least impressive he’s a useable backup, and at his best — like he was in Minnesota in 2017 — he’s a top 20 passer. Miami’s lack of talent in what promises to be a rebuilding year could push him toward the former, but Keenum’s capable of surprising the league.
Ryan Tannehill: Washington
Alex Smith’s football future is uncertain thanks to the broken leg that ended his 2018, and the only other quarterback on the team’s roster right now is Colt McCoy. While it makes sense for Washington to invest in a young passer in the draft, the club could also use a stopgap solution who provides an upgrade behind center.
Tannehill is still with the Dolphins as of now, but it’s unlikely he sticks around. While he’s an injury risk unto himself after missing 24 games the past three seasons, he could be a useful centerpiece for an underwhelming offense in the nation’s capital. The veteran will have the opportunity to prove he can be more than just a guy who takes too many sacks and struggles to complete passes downfield in a new environment.
The only problem for Washington is, well, Tannehill takes too many sacks and struggles to complete passes downfield.
Josh McCown: New York Jets
McCown will be 40 years old in 2019, but he might want one more shot to prevent an awful 2018 to be his last memory in the league. The veteran backup wasn’t able to capitalize on a better-than-expected 2017, recording a 55.8 passer rating and a 1:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three starts — though a limited supporting cast didn’t help things.
The arrival of first-year head coach Adam Gase could sweep McCown out, but re-signing the well-liked veteran could keep some good vibes and appreciated stability in a locker room that hasn’t always been known for its functionality. Factor in his ability to help mold Sam Darnold into a sturdy franchise quarterback, and it’s tough to see McCown going anywhere else if he chooses not to retire.
Tyrod Taylor: Baltimore Ravens
Taylor returns to the place he began his NFL career. Baltimore is in need of a reliable backup for Lamar Jackson, who ran the ball 17 times per start in the regular season and takes more damage than the average quarterback. The Ravens can retain Robert Griffin III, who was perfectly fine as the team’s third-stringer-turned-backup late in the season, but Taylor provides a higher level of play and more stable option for the club that drafted him in 2011.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: Cincinnati Bengals
The FitzMagic returns to Ohio as the 36-year-old goes back to the second franchise he’d ever called home. The Bengals floundered with Jeff Driskel starting in Andy Dalton’s stead, so adding a valued backup behind him makes sense. Zac Taylor’s move to push Cincinnati into a new era could begin with the addition of an old standby would give the team an insurance policy it lacked in 2018.
Blake Bortles: Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden is doing his best to make the Raiders weird while he rebuilds them in his image. Derek Carr’s declining returns have left him far removed from the MVP candidate who blossomed in 2015, and the team’s eagerness to trade stars like Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper last season suggests he could be on the chopping block.
That would leave the Raiders in position to add a franchise quarterback with one of their three first-round picks this year. The true supervillain move would be to celebrate stealing Oakland’s NFL team by adding former Athletics first-round pick Kyler Murray to the roster. But no matter what direction Gruden chooses, he’ll need a veteran quarterback on which to rely, and AJ McCarron doesn’t count.
Enter the guy Gruden once compared to Ben Roethlisberger:
Teams like the Buccaneers and Bengals could each use a high-value backup like Bortles, but in true Jaguars upside-down, The Good Place-inspiring fashion, let’s get weird. The Bortles revival begins with the San Antonio Raiders (or wherever they end up).