The jostling for the few intriguing quarterbacks on the market has already begun. The NFL combine is still weeks away, while the start of the league year is over a month away, but deep, internal strategic discussions are ongoing in several quarterback-needy front offices. These clubs are outlining their offseason plans at the most critical position in football, and targets have already been set.
The Chicago Bears will make a strong, concerted effort to acquire quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The Illinois native is far and away their top offseason priority.
The Cowboys will listen to offers for Tony Romo, sources said, once owner Jerry Jones has his meeting with the Pro Bowl quarterback. Romo prefers to be moved to a contending team -- specifically, the Texans, Cardinals, Broncos or Chiefs. The Bills also have significant interest in Romo, team and league sources said, though they realize that it might be a tough sell. The Bills have not given up hope on retaining Tyrod Taylor on a lesser contract, too, though that might be wishful thinking on their part at this point.
Many teams view Garoppolo as the best option of all potential free-agent or trade targets, and the Bears will have competition. Teams like the Browns, Jets and 49ers could provide opposition, but the Bears' intent and willingness to complete a trade could not be more serious. Quarterback is an acute need -- the Bears are moving on from Jay Cutler -- and jobs are on the line there after two poor seasons from the John Fox and Ryan Pace regime. The Bears have abundant draft picks they could trade -- including picks in the top three of each round -- and while rival executives do not believe the Patriots will land a first-round pick that high via trade, a package including multiple high second-round picks is quite possible. Furthermore, trading Garoppolo out of the AFC would appeal to the Patriots, who expect him to prosper elsewhere.
The Bears have done extensive work on Garoppolo and are very comfortable with him. He shined in the preseason and was exceptional filling in for Tom Brady early this season and has strong roots to that community. He played at Eastern Illinois, where Pace played as well. Romo, Mike Shanahan and Saints coach Sean Payton are also Eastern Illinois products; Pace and Payton worked together in New Orleans and were very high on Garoppolo coming out of college.
The Bears are prepared to engage in talks on Garoppolo at the combine later this month, or sooner if need be. Trades cannot be officially consummated, however, until the league year begins in March. The Bears acknowledge it will be difficult to land much of anything for Cutler, with other teams preferring to not trade for him and instead wait for him to be cut to then sign him to a cheaper contract, though a suitor could emerge.
The Jets have strong evaluations on Garoppolo, but realize it's virtually certain Bill Belichick would not trade the prized young passer within the division. The 49ers are very high on the Redskins' Kirk Cousins, sources continue to maintain, but Washington will franchise the impending free-agent quarterback and is prepared to engage in talks in a lucrative long-term deal with him. It would take a huge haul of picks to pry Cousins away, and new 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who along with his dad drafted Cousins in Washington, has a ravaged roster with needs at every position. Paying that kind of draft-pick price could be prohibitive. The Bears also have done significant work on Cousins, but with the Redskins going to franchise him and that process playing out perhaps throughout the offseason, the timing may not work out and this team can't afford to be left without a seat in these musical quarterback chairs.
The Browns have stockpiled draft picks (again) and will explore multiple quarterback options, and they and the Jets are highly intrigued by North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, as we first reported months ago. Texans coach Bill O'Brien is a big believer in Garoppolo as well, but he is stuck with Brock Osweiler's salary for another year, and he is planning on giving Tom Savage every opportunity to win that starting job, sources said. Ownership has already declared the need to draft a quarterback.
Romo's market will be robust as well. The Chiefs have to make a determination on whether he, or any other option, would give them a better opportunity to win a Super Bowl than Alex Smith does. Smith has already played out the guaranteed portion of his contract. If so, Smith would be a trade-worthy commodity as well. While some reported the Cowboys might just let Romo walk, the demand for him should be such that Jerry Jones gets a strong return on his investment. Some GMs opined that the Cowboys would get a second-round pick, plus potentially another high pick based on Romo's playing time (injuries have dogged him in recent years).
The Broncos are likely inclined to give Paxton Lynch, their first-round pick in 2016, every chance to take the starting reins there, so a trade might not match up. Fitting Romo under the salary cap with Osweiler would be a challenge for the Texans. If Carson Palmer retires, Romo could be an option in Arizona, and sources said the Cardinals are very high on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and could be prepared to trade up to land him this spring. If the Cardinals determine Watson is out of their reach, Tyrod Taylor is very appealing to Arizona and would be a great fit in Bruce Arians' scheme.
Buccaneers backup quarterback Mike Glennon is viewed as the best of the free-agent quarterbacks set to hit the market, and his market will further come into focus after the chase for Garoppolo and Romo concludes.