This is a unique NFL offseason, one in which there actually were some viable quarterback options for those teams desperately in need of help at the position.
If there was any question how eager those quarterback-needy franchises were to take advantage of the unusually strong free agent class, it was put to rest by Tuesday’s astonishingly rapid quarterback reshuffling leaguewide.
Case Keenum lined up a deal with the Denver Broncos. Drew Brees struck an agreement to remain with the New Orleans Saints. Kirk Cousins made arrangements to visit Minnesota and, assuming that all goes as planned on that trip, complete a record guaranteed contract with the Vikings. The Arizona Cardinals moved into position to sign Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. The New York Jets re-signed Josh McCown and set up an agreement with Teddy Bridgewater.
All of that, and the free agent market doesn’t even officially open until Wednesday afternoon.
Did you blink? You might have missed it all.
Tuesday’s flurry of activity came during the NFL’s so-called legal tampering period, when agents for players eligible for free agency were permitted to talk to interested teams. Contract agreements cannot be official until Wednesday afternoon. But those within the sport would be stunned if any of the arrangements made Tuesday come undone.
There still is the NFL draft to come, and it includes a highly promising class of rookie-to-be quarterbacks. USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield are likely to be early first-round picks.
But the desperation factor of most of those teams with glaring voids at quarterback—with the exception of the Buffalo Bills—has been reduced considerably. The Cleveland Browns, Broncos and Jets now have veteran quarterbacks to go with any prized rookie they might take early in the draft. The Browns agreed last week to trade for Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Time will tell how each of the teams have done. Some of the shiniest free agent maneuvers of March can end up looking quite a bit less dazzling by the time December rolls around. But the roster architects of the quarterback-starved teams probably will be able to rest a bit easier for the time being.
The Vikings landed the prize of the free agent class in Cousins, coming off three straight 4,000-yard passing seasons with the Washington Redskins. They also had to pay the heftiest price, fully (or nearly fully) guaranteeing a three-year deal worth a little more than $28 million per season.
There are risks for the Vikings, for sure. Cousins becomes the league’s highest-paid quarterback, at least until Aaron Rodgers signs the deal that he’s negotiating with the Green Bay Packers, at a time when few would argue he is the sport’s most accomplished player. He and the Redskins won relatively little of consequence during his time in Washington and had a propensity to make some ill-timed mistakes occasionally.
But the Vikings have a good team to put around Cousins, one that reached the NFC title game last season with Keenum in charge. They will cross their fingers and hope for the best. And then they will have to deal with Cousins being eligible for unrestricted free agency again at age 32, with another otherworldly payday possible.
Keenum moves to Denver to try to fix the Broncos’ quarterback problem after they went through Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler at the position last season. But will Keenum be the quarterback who played at a near-league-MVP level last season for the Vikings? Or will he revert to being the journeyman who was not the answer at the position for either of his previous two franchises, the Rams (in both St. Louis and Los Angeles) and the Houston Texans?
John Elway, the Broncos’ front office football czar, has the opportunity to hedge his bets on Keenum, if he chooses, by using the No. 5 overall selection in the draft on a quarterback.
The same goes for the Browns, who have the first and fourth overall choices, and the Jets, who pick sixth. John Dorsey, the new general manager in Cleveland, surrendered the top pick of the draft’s third round in the trade with the Bills for Taylor, who is mobile and avoids throwing interceptions but did not satisfy Buffalo’s decision-makers that he deserved to stay.
The Jets got neither Cousins nor Keenum but turned back to McCown, who re-signed for a one-year deal worth $10 million, and brought in Bridgewater, the former starter in Minnesota who returned last season from his devastating leg injury but could not unseat Keenum as the Vikings’ starter.
Bradford, like Keenum and Bridgewater, leaves the Vikings. He is coming off yet another injury-plagued season but continues to find teams willing to pay him, lining up a one-year deal with the Cardinals for $20 million, plus an option for another season for another $20 million. Glennon, expected to be released by the Chicago Bears, would be Arizona’s insurance policy against another Bradford injury. The Cardinals are replacing Carson Palmer, who retired.
Glennon serves as a cautionary tale in all of this. He signed a handsome contract last offseason with the Bears, worth about $15 million per season. He struggled and gave way to rookie Mitchell Trubisky, and now he’s already moving on.
Brees would have been the most celebrated player of all on the market. But he’d said all along that he planned to remain in New Orleans, and the Saints said all along that they planned to re-sign him. That was accomplished Tuesday with a two-year contract worth about $50 million.
The Bills were shut out Tuesday but have maneuvered their way into possessing five of the draft’s first 65 picks, including Nos. 12 and 22 overall. They probably can trade up into the draft’s top five for a quarterback if they want. They also could sign AJ McCarron, the former Cincinnati Bengals backup who remained available after Tuesday’s scramble.
It has been a bumpy ride in recent months for McCarron. The Bengals and Browns worked out a trade-deadline deal by which he would have gone for Cleveland for second- and third-round draft picks. But the Browns failed to file the necessary documentation with the league office in time and the trade was not approved. McCarron remained with the Bengals, then managed to become an unrestricted free agent in a dispute over his free agent status. Yet Tuesday came and went without him landing a new team.
That made McCarron and the Bills the outliers Tuesday. They were the most notable participants in the NFL’s quarterback market who ended the day without making their move.
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