The list of quarterbacks with expiring contracts is quite impressive. It is a rarity when there are multiple starting caliber quarterbacks potentially available on the open market like this year. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton could also be options for teams through trades with the Bengals and Panthers. As a result, there could be unprecedented veteran starting quarterback movement this offseason.
I have set target prices with total contract value and overall guarantees for the top eight impending unrestricted free agent quarterbacks. Age at the beginning of the 2020 regular season is included for each quarterback as well.
Drew Brees is returning in 2020. What does that mean for Teddy Bridgewater and the QB market? Will Brinson and Pete Prisco break that down and more on the Pick Six Podcast.
Players don't necessarily sign for their target prices because free agency is a fluid process where adaptations must be made to changing market conditions. Some players are disappointed in free agency's outcome because their market never develops for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). It should be noted that target or asking prices can be on the high side and aren't necessarily what the actual deals will be.
Contract Package: $150 Million/4 Years ($37.5 Million Per Year)
Overall Guarantees: $120 Million
Prescott doesn't seem willing to cut the Cowboys any financial slack after successfully incurring the risk of injury and poor performance while playing out his rookie contract. The 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year won't be hitting the open market. Absent a new deal, Dallas will be placing a franchise tag on Prescott before the 15-day designation period ends on March 10.
A statement Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made about Prescott during the middle of the 2018 season suggests Dallas will use the more expensive, exclusive franchise designation where soliciting offer sheets from other teams is prohibited. Jones said he wouldn't consider trading Prescott for two first round picks, which is the compensation for an unmatched offer sheet with the non-exclusive franchise tag, even if the top spot in the 2019 NFL Draft was included. The exclusive franchise number will be the average of the top five 2020 quarterback salaries (usually salary cap numbers) at the end of the restricted free agent signing period on April 20. It currently projects to $31.549 million.
Prescott becoming the NFL's highest paid player wouldn't be surprising. Being in the best quarterback discussion isn't a prerequisite for becoming the highest paid player. Since 2017, Derek Carr (Raiders), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers) and Kirk Cousins (Vikings) became the highest paid player when signing their respective contracts.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson currently holds the distinction. The four year contract extension Wilson signed last April averages $35 million per year. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has the highest maximum average yearly salary at $37 million per year. His four year, $134 million extension averaging $33.5 million per year is worth as much as $148 million because of incentives and salary escalators. Goff's deal also contains an NFL record $110,042,682 in guarantees.
Contract Package: $100 Million/3 Years ($33,333,333 Per Year)
Overall Guarantees: $65 Million
Brady has an expiring contract for the first time in his illustrious 20-year career. Reports started surfacing around the Super Bowl that the Patriots would be willing to pay at least $30 million per year to keep Brady, and the Raiders would also be in pursuit. There has been plenty of speculation about the Chargers as a potential suitor since Philip Rivers won't be back for a 17th season.
Brady has consistently stated he wants to play at until he's at least 45. He is already in uncharted territory as the oldest full-time starting quarterback in league history. Ben Roethlisberger, who will be 38 in March, sets the older quarterback market. The Steelers gave him a two-year, $68 million extension where $37.5 million was fully guaranteed last April.
If Brady ultimately is going to stay in New England, it would be beneficial for the Patriots to get a deal done before the last day of the 2019 league year on March 18. That's when his 2020 and 2021 contract years void. The Patriots will have a $13.5 million salary cap charge from the bonus proration with those years actually voiding regardless of Brady's decision about where to play next season.
Contract Package: $125 Million/4 Years ($31.25 Million Per Year)
Overall Guarantees: $75 Million
Tannehill took advantage of his opportunity after replacing Marcus Mariota when the Titans had a 2-4 record. The Titans made the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team by going 7-3 with Tannehill at starting quarterback. Tannehill led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating and 9.6 yards per pass attempt. He finished third in the league with a 70.3 completion percentage. The 117.5 passer rating is the fourth-best single season mark in NFL history. Tannehill was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year for his efforts.
The most likely scenario is Tannehill returning to the Titans. The safest route for Tennessee may be to have Tannehill play 2020 on a non-exclusive franchise tag if his contract demands are deemed excessive since his 2019 season was unlike any other in his eight year NFL career. The non-exclusive quarterback number projects to $27.067 million if the 2020 salary cap is set at $200 million.
Contract Package: $60 Million/2 Years ($30 Million Per Year)
Overall Guarantees: $32 Million
Rivers and the Chargers are parting ways after 16 years. The Chargers aren't going to re-sign him. Father Time started catching up with Rivers last season. His 20 interceptions were third most in the NFL. The Chargers, who had Super Bowl aspirations when the season started, finished with a disappointing 5-11 record. The Colts are considered a potential landing spot because Jacoby Brissett didn't demonstrate in 2019 he is the long-term answer at quarterback, and Rivers' connection to the coaching staff. Head coach Frank Reich was Rivers' offensive coordinator for two years (2014-15) and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was a Chargers assistant for five years (2013-17). Rivers doesn't plan on playing more than two years.
Contract Package: $28 Million/1 Year (two voidable years added for salary cap purposes)
Overall Guarantees: $28 Million
Brees announced on Instagram Tuesday he is putting off retirement to continue playing with the Saints. Just as in 2018, Brees isn't interested in exploiting contract leverage. He could have used his potential return for bargaining purposes with a new deal. Brees gave the Saints a slight break financially for the first time in 2018 when he signed a two-year, $50 million contract. Adjusting Brees' current $25 million per year average for salary cap inflation would make a new deal slightly over $28 million per year provided the 2020 salary cap is right around $200 million. The process will probably work like it did in 2018. An agreement will likely be reached before the current league year ends on March 18 so the Saints can avoid a $21.3 million cap charge from Brees' dummy 2020 and 2021 contract years voiding. No matter what the deal averages, expect the Saints to add voiding years like in 2018. This way, the bonus money can be better prorated to help keep a 2020 cap number, which already has $15.9 million in bonus proration, more manageable.
Contract Package: $25,106,400/1 Year (transition tag-120 percent of $20.922 million 2019 salary)
Overall Guarantees: $25,106,400
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has made several comments since the 2019 regular season ended that won't be confused for a vote of confidence or endorsement of Winston. The 2015 first overall pick made the wrong kind of NFL history last season. Winston became the first player to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season. His turnovers, which included five lost fumbles, led to 112 points for the opposition. Winston also led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards. He is the eighth player to ever throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season.
A Winston return could be a marriage of convenience through use of a transition tag, which would give the Buccaneers the right to match any offer sheet he signed. Winston could be in for a rude awakening if he hits the open market, especially if there's any validity to the reports of him wanting $30 million per year, primarily because of the turnovers. He has a league-high of 111 giveaways (88 interceptions and 23 lost fumbles) since he entered the NFL in 2015.
Contract Package: $100 Million/4 Year ($25 Million Per Year)
Overall Guarantees: $55 Million
Brees' return to the Saints means it's highly unlikely Bridgewater will be back in New Orleans. Bridgewater thrived while getting his first game action over an extended period of time since suffering a gruesome, career threatening knee injury during the 2016 preseason when he was the Vikings' starting quarterback. The Saints didn't really miss a beat in the five games he started, all victories, because of Brees' thumb injury. In the five starts, Bridgewater completed 69.7 percent of his passes (115 of 165 attempts) for 1,205 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was 103.7.
The most appropriate benchmark for Bridgewater might be the four-year, $88 million contract with $50.125 million in guarantees (worth as much as $102 million through incentives) Nick Foles received from the Jaguars in free agency last year. This is predicated on Bridgewater finding a team that doesn't view him as just a bridge quarterback or stop-gap starter.
Contract Package: $7.5Million/1 Year (worth up to $12.5 Million with incentives)
Overall Guarantees: $7.5 Million
Mariota was benched for ineffectiveness six games into the 2019 season. He was completing 59.1 percent of passes, averaging 196.5 passing yards per game and had been sacked a league-most 25 times when he lost his starting job. The Titans would have likely made a long-term commitment to Mariota worth upwards of $30 million per year with him living up to the potential that made him 2015's second overall pick last season. Mariota could have a tough time finding a team willing to make him a starter or give him an opportunity to compete for starting job in free agency. He may have to settle for the best backup situation that could eventually provide him a chance to play should the starting quarterback struggle.