Three-fourths of the NFC West is set at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Russell Wilson has proven himself up to the point where only an injury could send him out of Seattle within the next three years. Any argument that says otherwise or suggests a trade should be completely ignored. I sincerely feel that is good advice: ignore it. It’s not impossible, but it is improbable up to the point where it would be signaling a change in the course of NFL history. Wilson is going nowhere.
Jared Goff was not as great as the LA Rams’ league-leading offense would suggest, but he’s a 23-year-old first overall pick who is jiving quite well in Sean McVay’s offense. And Jimmy Garoppolo, the least-experienced of the three, is the highest-paid quarterback in the league so he’s likely not going away soon either — though the San Francisco 49ers last “quarterback of the future” turned out to not have much of a future after all.
So what of team four?
The Arizona Cardinals will be the universal pick to finish fourth in division after going 8-8 and seeing the retirement of their head coach and quarterback within a two-day span. As good as general manager Steve Keim seemed to be in his first few years on the job, one thing he did not do was prepare for this and I’d be hard-pressed to not agree that the Cards will be in last place next season even though that is still a long, long time away. The issue for them is that quarterback quality does often dictate on-field success and even if they manage to get a decent one in a rather saturated market, it will likely take time for the QB, new head coach Steve Wilks, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to get on the same page.
But it is still a big question that needs to be answered: Who will that quarterback be?
After Carson Palmer retired, it left zero quarterbacks on the roster who are signed for 2018. Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, and Matt Barkley are all free agents, not that any of the three will be a significant loss. The bad news for Arizona is that they have bypassed opportunities in recent seasons to draft a quarterback of the future and it has left them in this position, while also sitting at pick 15 which puts them out of range for one of the premier prospects in this draft. It doesn’t mean that the Cardinals couldn’t draft a quarterback at 15, or a bit higher if they trade up, who would be a success — even right away — but acknowledging that the best case scenario is unlikely, Arizona will have to be active on the trade and free agent market for a QB.
That’s where the good news comes in.
It’s possible that the NFL has never seen a quarterback market as rich as the one that will exist in 2018. That’s not to say that a single franchise quarterback will necessarily change teams (if they were a true “franchise” QB, by definition, they wouldn’t be changing teams) but more to the point that it is so rare for quality signal-callers to ever be allowed to leave their respective organizations. There will be at least a few quality starters available though and because of that Arizona will be getting a starter to replace Palmer who will not be entirely terrible. Perhaps — perhaps — he will even be good. I highly doubt that a Super Bowl-caliber QB will become available, but it is possible and a more likely scenario is that the Cards will get a quarterback who keeps the team within range of their 8-8 record, as even Palmer only played in seven games last season.
In fact, they went 5-4 with Stanton and Gabbert, compared to 3-4 with Palmer. These are their expected options.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Beyond the fact that Brees isn’t leaving New Orleans under pretty much any circumstances, he’s definitely not leaving to join a team that is far less likely to win a Super Bowl next season.
Kirk Cousins, Washington
He’s the best free agent QB since either Peyton Manning in 2012 or Brees in 2006. Because of that he could top Garoppolo’s deal and receive the largest guarantee in history so in those circumstances, you might even say it’s worth rooting for the Cards to sign Cousins. He’s gone 24-23-1 in the last three seasons — always posting really good numbers but never doing anything to make you believe he’s special beyond being very serviceable. I think it’s interesting that Washington opted to replace him with Alex Smith because I think both quarterbacks are basically guarantees that you will always contend for the playoffs and never win a Super Bowl.
But if I was Cousins, I’d be running to the AFC where he’d instantly become perhaps the third or fourth-best quarterback in the conference. Compare that to the NFC East alone where he’s currently the third-best quarterback. Cousins is perhaps the ninth or 10th-best quarterback in the NFC, so go to the other conference and give yourself a much better chance to make the Super Bowl. He could consider the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars — though salary cap considerations definitely need to be taken into play for those last two teams.
Even Cousins going to the Cleveland Browns could provide him more hope (yes, seriously) than aligning himself in the NFC West against the Seahawks, Rams, and 49ers; and even if they made the playoffs, a decade ahead still outlines way more franchise quarterback play in the NFC than in the AFC, including Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and maybe even an improved Mitchell Trubisky.
I don’t see Arizona being the smart play for Cousins — and with an estimated $22 million in cap space for next season, they might not be able to afford him anyway.
The Cards could clear money off the books quickly by releasing Adrian Peterson, Josh Mauro, Antoine Bethea, getting them to about $32 million in space. Bigger moves could give them plenty enough to sign Cousins, but still it’s impossible to not feel hampered by the cap once a single player takes up $24-$32 million per season.
Again, you could even root for the Cards to sign Cousins because of these reasons, but I don’t think it would be the likely move for either party.
A.J. McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals
It was announced on Thursday that McCarron won his grievance against the Bengals and would become a free agent this year, making him a candidate to be the next Mike Glennon who gets grossly overpaid because he “looks” like a quarterback and had a few promising starts three years ago.
I can’t tell you that McCarron will be bad or that he will be good. He’s an unknown which is why logically he should be paid like $2-3 million for one season to prove what he is but instead a team very well could give him $30 million over the next two years because of what they want him to be.
McCoy’s history as a coach includes a long history with Jake Delhomme, then Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Trevor Siemian/Paxton Lynch/Osweiler. In almost no situation has he ever “chosen” a quarterback so he really doesn’t have much of a track record to suggest which quarterback he’ll implore Keim and Wilks to acquire. The closest example would be the Broncos bringing Manning into the fold in 2012 when McCoy was the offensive coordinator and given the success of that move, McCoy may prefer Cousins or one of the other available veterans.
McCarron would just represent, in my mind, a guy you bring in to compete for the job not someone who you bring in to automatically get the job — but that’s just me and the NFL may turn out to not agree. I think Arizona would avoid this acquisition then for that reason.
Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings
Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings
You might as well lump all three together and it’s interesting that all three may end up having pros and cons that balance them out to equal parties of value ultimately.
Keenum has the fortune of the 2017 season, but little success prior to that and he was rather awful in the playoffs save the Stefon Diggs miracle. The Vikings are likely to re-sign one of these guys and Keenum is the most obvious choice, so there’s a good chance he never hits free agency. Bridgewater, 25, could also decide to stay with the team that stuck by his side these last two seasons, re-signing for a modest one-year deal to backup Keenum and hope that the competition is somewhat open as it probably will be.
That’s just the way I could see it playing out, leaving Bradford as the player most likely to be leaving Minnesota.
Bradford is obviously an NFC West alum but he remains the least-exciting $100 million player in NFL — say even perhaps American sports — history. He’s made an incredible amount of money for a 34-45-1 career record and zero playoff games. Teams still manage to convince themselves that he’s a good starter however, and I surely do not mind if the Cards count themselves among those franchises.
He ticks the box in experience, but there may be cheaper options available who also do that and who would provide at least the same amount of hope.
Josh McCown, New York Jets
The last time McCown played for the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald was 22 and Dennis Green was the head coach. He could potentially return, but only as a one-year option and only if they use their first round pick on a quarterback presumably. Despite decent numbers, McCown is still just 10-30 as a starter over his last five seasons. He set career-highs in completion percentage and touchdowns with the Jets in 2017.
McCoy coached McCown on the Carolina Panthers in 2008.
Also Free Agents
Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers
Wilks has seen Anderson over the last six years with Carolina. He could be brought in as a lower-tiered McCown, which is already pretty low on the tiers. Anderson would have to compete to start but could likely lose that battle to a rookie.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
His 163 attempts were his fewest since 2007. He could be brought in to curse the supposed starter.
Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
He retired a year ago only to return for a $10 million severance package from the Dolphins. He’s not at all good and it’s weird that teams are still trying.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
I’d say it’s almost certain that the reigning Super Bowl MVP will be traded, marking another moment in offseason history that will be checked off for a QB this year. The Eagles have done the thing that all franchises wanna do — won the Super Bowl — so I think it’s okay to take the risk of trading the quarterback who helped get you there. Even if Wentz is unable to go by Week 1, I’m sure Doug Pederson and his staff can make due for a bit with whatever QB they pick up to replace Foles, just as they did by picking up Foles in 2017.
Now, I doubt that return will be two first round picks, but I’m sure the Eagles can still make off with a ransom for a guy who was likely not worth a second rounder two months ago.
Foles has lost starter opportunities in 2014 with Philly and 2015 with the Rams, so it’s not out of the question that he’ll be a disappointment in 2018 regardless of his playoff run with six touchdowns, one interception, and 9.2 Y/A. However, given his 2013 season (27 TD/2 INT) and the last three games, maybe Foles can settle into an Andy Dalton-like existence. This comp is not great in the realm of postseason success perhaps, but I could see Foles being good enough to start but consistently frustrating at the same time. He’s gonna need the same type of support system he had with the Eagles to be successful, so if a team has that, Foles is an option.
The Cardinals are somewhat on the fence in that regard.
Arizona has David Johnson returning from injury and Larry Fitzgerald announced he will return for a 15th season. Those are potentially two great weapons, but the offensive line needs a lot of adjustments and they could use reinforcements at receiver, running back, and tight end. If the Cardinals have to trade their first round pick to acquire a quarterback, it will harm heir ability to add a cost-controlled player in that regard. They’re already down a fourth rounder from their trade up for Budda Baker in 2017.
Defensively, we’ve actually yet to see Arizona fall off. They have Patrick Peterson, Baker, Tyrann Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Deonne Bucannon (potential cap casualty?), and 2017 first rounder Haason Reddick, leading them to a DVOA ranking of fourth overall and first against the run. We’ll see what new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb does with this unit but potentially it is good enough for the Cards to believe they can get back to the playoffs with an adequate QB. (The QB coach will be Byron Leftwich.)
With that, maybe Arizona does decide to make a move for Foles but it’ll depend on how the market sets the need, perhaps after the first wave of the free agency period is complete. Is the 15th overall pick worth a starting QB? Usually, yes. Is Foles a starting QB? I’m not so sure about that. Could another team outbid an offer of the Cards’ second rounder? Probably. Might there be players or other picks involved? Absolutely.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
The Bills will reportedly look to trade Taylor before they release him, but either way it seems he’ll be on the move. He could be cheaper and maybe just as effective as Foles but would require an offense and an offensive coordinator who is prepared and willing to utilize his specific skillset. I think it’s a travesty that Taylor gets treated the way he does, but he does still have deficiencies and setbacks in his game. (It’s just that some of his counterparts have just as many flaws, if not more, but got paid WAY MORE in guarantees.)
Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos
Lynch has been terrible in his two seasons with the Broncos, but McCoy may see more potential in him than an average coach given that he was around for those two years. Or maybe he knows there’s nothing there to mine, in terms of talent. I guess we’ll find out if it happens, and I’d think Trevor Siemian is probably also on the trade table.
Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
He’ll be released or traded. He’s not much of an option, but he’s probably going to get a chance to compete somewhere, unless he chooses a life as a backup which isn’t a bad life at all.
The Arizona Cardinals need a QB and they’ll probably get one who has some starting experience and was at least once considered a very good prospect. It may not put them back into contention right away but it’s a better market than the one QB-desperate teams are used to.