Blog Entry

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Posted on: February 21, 2012 1:10 pm
Edited on: February 21, 2012 5:01 pm
The 2012 free-agent quarterback class is an, um, diverse group. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling lists of the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the quarterbacks.

Though the list of free-agent quarterbacks for 2012 isn't necessarily the greatest crop of players in NFL history, it does have the potential to be one of the most intriguing in years, because of one man: Peyton Manning. Manning's saga is well-documented at this point; the back-and-forth between Manning's camp and Jim Irsay dominated the freaking Super Bowl.

Releasing him into the wild seems like a mere matter of timing. So we're going to take that assumption and add Manning to our lists of free agents. We're also including the Saints Drew Brees and 49ers Alex Smith on this list, since both are technically unrestricted free agents, until they receive the franchise tag from their respective teams. There's a better likelihood of Jimmy Clausen unseating Cam Newton than there is Brees not returning to New Orleans, but maybe someone in the Saints office will forget to fax in the franchise-tag paperwork.

Brees offseason could be interesting.  (Getty Images)

1. Drew Brees

Breakdown: The biggest problem for the Saints isn't that Brees might leave. He's not going to unless something really ridiculous happens. The biggest problem for the Saints is that if they're forced to use the franchise tag on Brees, they could end up losing Carl Nicks and Marques Colston. That won't make Brees any happier when it gets down to brass-tack negotiating.
Potential Landing Spots: Saints

2. Peyton Manning

Breakdown: Perhaps you've heard of Manning before. He's third all-time in passing yards (54,828). He's third all-time in passing touchdowns (399). He's won more MVPs than anyone in NFL history (four). And he's second in his own family with Super Bowl rings (one). That last item isn't a shot at Manning, though. It's the reason we believe he's not done when it comes to football, and that he'll come back to the game supremely motivated. No one knows whether or not he'll be fully healthy by the time the 2012 season begins. We do know he won't be fully healthy by the time March 13 rolls around, though. Which means that anyone who signs him will be engaging in a serious high-risk, high-reward game of chicken with Manning's neck.
Potential Landing Spots: Cardinals, Dolphins, Seahawks, Jets, Redskins

3. Matt Flynn

Breakdown: Flynn's attempted just 132 passes at the professional level, but 81 of them are pretty impressive. Those came in the only two starts of his career, when Flynn managed to go 55 of 81 for 731 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. There are concerns that Flynn can't make every throw (right now) and that he might be a product of Green Bay's system. But that system's in Miami now, as former Packers quarterbacks coach Joe Philbin is the Dolphins head coach. If Miami doesn't make a run at Flynn when free agency opens up, that should be a big red flag for anyone else interested in Aaron Rodgers backup.
Potential Landing Spots: Dolphins, Seahawks, Redskins

4. Alex Smith

Breakdown: Smith resurrected his career under new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and, in the span of about two playoff minutes against the Saints, nearly flipped the entire narrative of his career. As it is, Smith's improvement in 2011 is impressive; according to Pro Football Focus, he had the third-highest accuracy percentage in the NFL (factoring in drops, throwaways and spikes) last year, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Smith's said he isn't interested in leaving San Francisco, and Harbaugh's gotten his back publicly, even though there's zero chance they'll use the franchise tag on him.
Potential Landing Spots: 49ers
Henne could surprise in the right spot. (Getty Images)

5. Chad Henne

Breakdown: Miami drafting a quarterback in the second round: an April tradition unlike any other! But no, seriously, Henne's in a long line of signal-callers that the Dolphins took in the second round who didn't pan out. He's had serious problems with interceptions; Henne's got a 3.5 percent INT rate over his career and only nine of his 36 NFL games have not featured him throwing a pick. And Henne tends to look particularly robotic at times in the pocket (these things go hand in hand). But he's only 26 and it's not fair to blame him for all of Miami's woes the past three years. Henne can make all the throws and flashed some serious potential at times during his tenure in South Beach. He's the highest-upside backup quarterback out there and he's got several former coaches -- Brian Daboll, Tony Sparano -- coaching in spots that could use a backup quarterback.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs, Jets, Broncos

6. Jason Campbell

Breakdown: It's hard not to feel sympathetic for Campbell. The former Auburn star and first-round pick has had roughly 25 offensive coordinators since he started taking snaps in college and he's about to start out on his third NFL roster once the free-agency shuffling begins anew this year. He's 30 and hasn't played a full season in the past two years, either because of injury or being benched. The latter was for Bruce Gradkowski, so it's hard to tell what's worse for his reputation. He makes a lot of sense for a team that wants someone to push their starter without making a stink in the locker room.
Potential Landing Spots: Chiefs, Eagles, Jets

NFL Free Agency

7. Kyle Orton

Breakdown: Orton's was a "winner" with the Bears, he was a stat-hog for a season with the Broncos, he flirted with the Dolphins and finally he was a streak-killer with the Chiefs. He's not going to be anyone's starter in 2011, unless Washington seriously misplays everything in free agency and the draft (not out of the question). But he's an above-average backup in the NFL and could certainly compete with the starters that various teams -- KC, Washington, Jacksonville, for example -- will trot out in 2011. Orton doesn't want to deal with being a "stop-gap option" but it's unlikely he'll have a choice next year.
Potential Landing Spots:
Redskins, Chiefs, Jaguars, Bears, Broncos

8. David Garrard

Breakdown: Pete Prisco's second-favorite quarterback missed the entire 2011 season after the Jaguars cut him and he underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his back. There was interest in the 34-year-old last year after teams lost quarterbacks to injury, but he decided to recover from the surgery instead. While that's the smart move, Garrard won't find the market as friendly for his services this time, especially since his agent said on February 15 Garrard would be ready in "four to six weeks." Expect someone with a steady starter and tenuous backup to look to Garrard.
Potential Landing Spots: Bears, Broncos, Buccaneers, Rams, Raiders

9. Shaun Hill

Breakdown: Hill's 32 and not exactly a spring chicken. But he performed admirably in place of Matthew Stafford in 2010 and the fit between he and the Lions is a nice one. The Lions are tight with cap space, but Hill appears to like where he's at, and it's not like he'd break the bank in another location anyway.
Potential Landing Spots: Lions
VY's likely to remain a backup. (Getty Images)

10. Vince Young

Breakdown: Now seems like a good time to remind you that the guy who coined "Dream Team" in Philly was indeed the backup quarterback and someone on a one-year contract. His personality and turnovers will cause a problem for teams looking to sign him. Unless that team happens to run the read-option offense and could really use a mobile quarterback with success in the NFL to step in and freelance if/when Tim Tebow gets hurt/melts down.
Potential Landing Spots: Broncos

11. Rex Grossman

Breakdown: Did you know that Rex Grossman is actually "Rex Grossman III"? Poor Mike Shanahan had RG3 on his roster the whole time and didn't even know it. Sigh. Anyway, Grossman's not going to attract a lot of attention on the market, and nor should he. As the old saying goes, though, "love the one you're with." And Grossman and the Shanahans are with each other, even if Rex isn't starting next year. It would be surprising to see him playing anywhere else in 2012.
Potential Landing Spots: Redskins


Unrestricted Free Agents: Dennis Dixon, Josh Johnson, Brady Quinn, Charlie Whitehurst, Donovan McNabb, Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton, Caleb Hanie, Charlie Batch, Kellen Clemens

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Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: February 23, 2012 7:20 am

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Since it makes little sense to talk about Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, since we know how good they are...I'm actually surprised you don't think former Dolphins QB Chad Henne can be a starter. You said he's only 26 and then you say he'd make a good backup. Matt Flynn has the most potential to be a starter somewhere, but how good can he bbe. As a QB for the Packers, he's shown a lot of promise and can definitely throw the ball. BTW, all QBs are a product of their systems on any team. The backup is always a guy who knows the system and can run the offense. The question is, can he lead another team in their system.

You might remember when A.J. Feeley filled in for injured Eagles QB Donovan McNabb on a year where they made a run for the Superbowl. Feeley signed as a Free Agent with Miami for some big money, and all know what happened there. Same thing happened with Matt Cassel when he subbed for Patriots Tom Brady for the year. Definitely another product of his system and he signed a fat contract with the Chiefs. Not sure if Cassel will be a bust or not...the jury is still out on him.

You may recall the Texans made a trade with the Falcons for Matt Schaub, which I thought was absolutely crazy...however, after several years at the helm, the Texans trade was a big success. Schaub isn't in the Brees or Manning category, but he's good enough to lead his team. If he had not been injured this year, I believe the Texans would have gone to the Superbowl.

I hope David Garrard lands somewhere...the Jaguars gave him a raw deal. I think he has a few good years left, but unfortunately, he will be a backup. These days, all the teams want to have a young gun in the stable, so for now, only a few of the FA QBs will be starters, if they are lucky.

Since: Sep 18, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 7:36 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Regarding Flynn bein a "product of the Green Bay system," when was the last time ANY good quarterback was a product of his system? (besides Tim Tebow, if you think he's good)  If anything, we usually learn that the "system" was dependant on the quarterback after he's left than the other way around.  Think Kurt Warner in AZ and Stl, Fouts in SD, Montana / Young in SF, etc.  All of those teams were given high praises for their "system" when they had a great QB, but afterwards, each team suffered through less successful stretches.

The only recent example I can think of where a QB was greatly helped by his system was Donovan McNabb in Philly's West Coast offense when they made 4 consecutive NFC title games.  But even in that case, McNabb was in the prime of his career and was one of the league's best QB's at the time.  Some will say his time with the Skins & Vikings prove he was a product of his environment, but I think it was more a story of a player in decline.

So when you see a guy throw for 480 yards and six touchdowns, don't just dismiss it as a "system" success.  Yes, the other 10 players on the Packers offense are damn good, but Flynn proved himself to have high upside with that performance.  The real question should be: Can he keep it up?

Since: Aug 10, 2008
Posted on: February 22, 2012 6:24 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Henne could be a good pickup for someone.  He was in a terrible situation in Miami, but he's young and can "make all the throws".  Give him support and coaching and he could blossom. 

Since: Dec 15, 2010
Posted on: February 21, 2012 9:38 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Other than the guy at #1 (and ignoring #2 & #3 due to injure risk and no decent history respectively), the rest are 3rd stringers at best.  Alex Smith needs to show more than 1 good year to be considered safe.

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: February 21, 2012 5:31 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Sorry about that mix-up on Orton and Campbell guys. HTML late at night = a disaster some times.

Thanks for reading.

-- Brinson 

Since: Aug 30, 2007
Posted on: February 21, 2012 2:06 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Proofreading....this article has none. 6 and 7 are mixed up.

Thats just how CBS rolls.

Since: Jul 29, 2011
Posted on: February 21, 2012 2:01 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Proofreading....this article has none. 6 and 7 are mixed up.

Since: Aug 30, 2007
Posted on: February 21, 2012 2:00 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback rankings

Manning's saga is well-documented at this point; the back-and-forth between Manning's camp and Jim Irsay dominated the freaking Super Bowl.

Come on lady. We know these stories were driven by you gossip queens.

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