We think quite a bit about coaches and general managers on the hot seat in the NFL. But what about quarterbacks?
Once you start assessing the state of each team's starting quarterback situations, it's a little surprising just how much change might be upon us next offseason as well. For how much is made of quarterbacks driving this league, and how difficult they are to find and how essential they are to keep, 2018 could end up being a wacky carousel.
So many QB deals are structured with teams flexible on keeping them, and a bunch of guys atop depth charts today have a tenuous grasp on their jobs. Add in the hype over next year's quarterback class in the NFL Draft and the fact that a Hall of Famer like Drew Brees could be on the open market, and there is potential for some bold and bizarre moves ahead.
Could a true contender sign Brees short term and trade their high-profile current starter? Could a guy like Mike Glennon, the alleged top free agent quarterback signing of 2017, be out of Chicago in less than a year? Could a veteran Pro Bowl quarterback or two opt to retire?
When you start comparing contracts and talent, it has the potential to be wacky. Surveying the QB landscape, I grouped the starters at risk of being elsewhere next season into three categories. The list ends up comprising nearly half the NFL. And that doesn't include Tom Savage, because I am assuming Deshaun Watson wins that job outright.
Here are the 14 quarterbacks, rated from scalding to lukewarm to tepid:
When a team in win-now mode goes up and makes a move as bold as what Andy Reid and John Dorsey did, and they do it for a top-ranked prospect playing your position, well, you time is pretty much up. And when you bank over $15M a year and you haven't been able to get the team over the top and you don't get the ball downfield and they clearly want to get more dynamic on that side of the ball, you have just become a place-holder. A highly-paid placeholder on a team with Super Bowl aspirations … but someone who everyone knows will be making way for Patrick Mahomes II in a year.
This is set up to be a one-year scenario and it will be a one-year scenario. If McCown is able to somehow help groom and bring Christian Hackenberg along to the point he can play a little -- then he's gone. And if he doesn't, then he's gone, because the Jets are going to be set up to draft the QB of their liking atop the 2018 draft regardless.
It's great that they picked up his fifth-year option and all, and maybe that gives him some confidence coming of a brutal 2016 season. But I don't see Tom Coughlin truly sinking more big bucks into a player at this position who hasn't developed, and actually has regressed some. This is a huge year for Bortles, without a doubt, and that option is only guaranteed for injury.
It's difficult to think of him anywhere other than The Big Easy, but that's obviously not where he has spent his entire career and it might not be where he ends it. The Saints don't seem to be inclined to do more one-year deals in the $22M range and they are going to need to identify a QB of the future soon enough. How much longer does Sean Payton stick around there? There is much uncertainty in New Orleans, and Brees could get one more big deal on the open market.
Some believe the Cardinals should have gone the Chiefs route and grabbed their QB of the future in 2017. They opted not to and are trying to make one last run with Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, but it's hard to project much beyond that with this cast. Palmer is open about retirement sooner rather than later and his health has been an issue and he's had some rough patches the last few years. Could he end up doing another no-frills one-year extension? I suppose, but I could also see the Cardinals going big to land a prized QB in what looks like a bumper crop of passers in 2018.
The Browns are going over the top to make you think Osweiler could be their starter. OK, cool. Let's take them at their word. Regardless, he won't be there long. And if they go with Cody Kessler -- the guy getting all the hype in Cleveland this time a year ago -- well, he won't be under center for long, either. There will be almost immediate pressure to play DeShone Kizer right away. The real question will be whether Cleveland feels it needs to draft another QB a year from now. Osweiler might not make it through camp, though Kessler should be a long-term backup/system guy.
Even though they gave him $18.5M in essence for this one season, I don't see him back there a year from now. They already created an awkward situation between him and first-round pick Mitch Trubisky, and he won't hold off Trubisky for long on the depth chart. And there ain't no way I see him hanging around Chicago as a backup in 2018. That's another Osweiler situation waiting to happen.
This is a big year in Minnesota with pressure on the coaches and front office to turn it around, and there is still great uncertainty about what the future holds for Teddy Bridgewater. This franchise might find itself needing to draft a QB as soon as next spring as well. Bradford completed a lot of short passes a year ago but his days of being considered a potential franchise QB are over and his deal is up after this season.
I have a hard time seeing Kyle Shanahan holding off on drafting a quarterback high in the 2018 draft, but that doesn't essentially mean that rookie QB will start from the opening snap of the 2018 season. Shanahan has a lot of faith and trust in Hoyer and it could be he fills that two-year deal as a starter for most of it. If Hoyer stays healthy and puts up the kind of numbers he did with Shanahan in Cleveland (and if Kirk Cousins ends up signing an extension with Washington -- more on that below), then Hoyer might not be a one-year rental.
He was in the scalding pot just a few months back, but I still maintain that his new contract will end up being more than a one-year band-aid. New coach Sean McDermott, the paramount football person in that revamped organization, wanted him back and knew it would be very difficult to upgrade. Taylor is young and has been well above average the past two years as a starter and remains affordable. I see him there at least two more years, but obviously his deal is set up to give Buffalo an easy out after this season if need be.
They need to sell hope and the future with their new stadium now delayed at least another year. They have done a lot of work on QBs the past few years. They're going to draft one soon enough. Rivers' last contract was set up with the 2018 season being the crossroads. The Chargers could save $9M in cap room by not having him on the roster for the 2018 season and would absorb only a $12M dead cap hit. So in all likelihood, Rivers is in the scalding category a year from now and perhaps a trade materializes. I'll put him here for now.
He doth protest so much, so much, about mulling retirement that one wonders if he'd be offended by not being on this list. He really wants everyone to think this could be it, though he also just signed a new mega-deal a few years back. With so much talent around him, and still young in QB years (though certainly beat up from all the pounding he's absorbed), I still imagine the concept of retirement sounds better to him than the ramifications of the actual decision come 2018.
I could see the Bengals going in a very different direction moving forward should 2017 resemble 2016. And if they do, they could opt to move Dalton and move forward with AJ McCarron as their QB. He's younger and cheaper and while Dalton hasn't been a problem at QB by any stretch, they structured that deal with incredibly team-friendly, pay-as-you-go options throughout. For all the rumblings about them dealing McCarron the past two offseasons, who's to say they don't let him be part of a rebuild and see what they could fetch in return for an established quarterback?
We'll have something of a better sense of closure on this one by July 15, which is the deadline to sign him to an extension off the franchise tag, under which he's set to make nearly $24 million. Of course, the Redskins could always franchise him again -- for a third straight time -- in 2018 if need be, but I actually expect these sides to agree to a long-term deal by the deadline this time around.