Huge Steal or Bad Deal: NFL Free Agent Quarterback & Team Grades
By Ha Kung Wong
QBs have been flying around the league, and if you didn’t notice, almost all those open QB spots have been filled. The drama likely won’t end until the draft (see, e.g., the Bears in 2017 when they paid Mike Glennon $18M then traded the farm away to move up one spot and draft Mitchell Trubisky), but at least for now, we have a clearer picture as to who will be starting behind center come the 2018 regular season. And how did these free agent QBs and QB needy teams do? Ryan Whitfield and I already discussed it on our podcast, but let’s take a closer look and grade them, shall we?
Kirk Cousins – Minnesota Vikings
3 years – $86M Guaranteed
2017 – 16 games, 64.3% completion rate, 4,093 passing yards, 27 passing TDs, 13 INTs, 179 rush yards and 4 rushing TDs
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 13, 2018
Vikings Grade – B+
I get it. Kirk Cousins was the best free agent QB on the market. But they had a stable of QBs in Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford, all of which at one time or another showed some promise and could be had for less than $86M guaranteed. But once they decided to let them all walk, it was Cousins or bust, as any other QB (other than their attempt to grab Drew Brees for $60M guaranteed over two years) would at least be seen as worse than what they let go. I’m not sure if the fully guaranteed contract was necessary, as the Vikings situation is exactly what Cousins was looking for and there really wasn’t a comparable one out there, but hey, if you’re in “win now” mode, you don’t have the luxury to gamble.
Kirk Cousins Grade – A+
I’m sure this is EXACTLY what Cousins was looking for. The Vikings have a great receiving core in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, plus they have Dalvin Cook returning to the backfield. Add in one of the best defenses in the NFL and you have a sure-fire recipe for high postseason expectations. Basically, it was the perfect “insta-team” for Cousins, who was specifically looking for a shot to “win now”. And $86M guaranteed? That’s just icing on the cake.
Case Keenum – Denver Broncos
2 years – $36M – $25M Guaranteed
2017 – 15 games, 67.6% completion rate, 3,547 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 7 INTs, 160 rush yards and 1 rushing TD
— NFL (@NFL) March 13, 2018
Broncos Grade – B
As far as I’m concerned, the Broncos really made this move two years too late. After Peyton Manning retired in 2016, the list of QBs iin Denver has been uninspiring to say the least. We had a little Mark Sanchez (!!) in there, which is shocking, then moved on to various combinations of Trevor Simian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler (by way of trade to the Texans, then to the Browns then a re-signing with the Broncos for pennies on the dollar). And all the while, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders got older and the vaunted Broncos defense faded away. Well, I guess this is a case of “better-late-than-never”. If nothing else, a 2 year deal makes sense, as the Broncos only really have that long anyway before Thomas and Sanders may be on a downward trajectory. If Keenum does what he did in 2017, this could be a steal, and if he crashes and burn, 2 years isn’t a long time to wait, as the Broncos are likely to draft their next QB this year as well.
Case Keenum Grade – A
As good as Keenum was in 2017, he’s never shown this before in 5 previous seasons, plus he looked much more limited during the postseason. So there’s no guarantee that Keenum can repeat in Denver, particularly playing outside with much less in terms of offensive weapons and defense. But Keenum certainly earned an opportunity to start, and picking up a 2 year deal averaging $18M a year was a huge get for a guy who just got $2M and only $1M guaranteed in 2017. In fact, having Thomas and Sanders is actually a pretty good pair of targets to prove his worth, and with no run game to speak of, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to do just that.
Sam Bradford – Arizona Cardinals
1 year – $20M – $15M Guaranteed
UPDATE – Bradford’s contract us actually 2 years, $40M with $15M Guaranteed. There’s an option in 2019.
2017 cut short after two games due to a knee injury, but came back as a backup in the postseason.
2016 – 15 games, 71.6% completion rate, 3,877 passing yards, 20 passing TDs, 5 INTs, 53 rush yards.
— NFL (@NFL) March 13, 2018
Cardinals Grade – C
This one reeks of desperation. And really, Larry Fitzgerald deserves better than this. Up until this signing, the Cardinals had no QBs on their roster. And then after signing Bradford, they went out got free agent super bust, Mike Glennon, as their backup. I’d argue that they still don’t have a QB on their roster. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their window of opportunity is expiring, with Fitzgerald likely to retire next year, their only other offensive weapon being David Johnson coming off injury, and the defense fading away. Since drafting a rookie QB probably isn’t the short term answer, I don’t hate this move, particularly since it’s only a 1 year contract. Bradford was arguably the best of the rest in free agency, and he’s had good seasons in the past. If he stays healthy, if nothing else, Fitzgerald will probably get to pile up a few more stats to break a few more franchise records.
Sam Bradford Grade – B+
I like this deal a lot more from Bradford’s side. He’s getting approximately a Mike Glennon 2017 deal, but he’s actually got a few weapons to work with. If he can stay healthy, he’ll have a chance to prove that he deserves a longer contract as a starter somewhere in the NFL. And if he doesn’t, $15M guaranteed isn’t a bad one year haul.
AJ McCarron – Buffalo Bills
2 year – $10M – $6M Guaranteed
We've agreed to terms on a two-year deal with QB AJ McCarron.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) March 14, 2018
Bills Grade – C
Yikes. Tyrod Taylor took you to your first postseason since the 20th century, and what thanks does he get? He gets traded to the cellar dwelling Browns. And who do they get to replace him (because clearly Nate Peterman is not ready for the limelight)? The Bengals backup QB, AJ McCarron. There’s no doubt that he’s shown some flash when subbing for an injured Andy Dalton, but he’s relatively unproven over his 4 seasons. Plus, he spent 4 seasons behind Andy Dalton. That’s Andy Dalton, folks. McCarron wasn’t good enough to supplant Andy Dalton. Let me let that sink in for a minute… But I understand the move. If Taylor wasn’t the long term answer, there’s no reason to pick up his $16M. Instead, trade him for a 3rd Round pick and get McCarron for cheap to warm the seat while whoever they draft this season as their long term solution. I would have preferred more of a veteran QB that could help out their new rookie, like Josh McCown for instance. But hey, who knows? Maybe McCarron is a Nick Foles waiting to happen. And if not, what’s $6M among friends anyway?
AJ McCarron Grade – B
McCarron must be fuming. He was supposed to be traded to the Browns midseason and almost certainly would have started there, but for the Browns being as inept at completing trades as they were at winning games. And then after the season was over, McCarron won his grievance with the Bengals and became an unrestricted free agent, only to see his spot on the Browns taken by Tyrod Taylor. And then he saw essentially every open QB position fill up around him until he was all that was left for the Bills. But honestly, McCarron will at least get an opportunity to start and to prove he deserves to stay. I think he’s better than Peterman, and the Bills would be wise not to throw whoever they draft right into the fire. Plus, he still has LeSean McCoy, Kelvin Benjamin, and some upside with Zay Jones in place to help him showcase his skills.
Teddy Bridgewater – New York Jets
1 year – $5M Base + up to $10M in incentives
Update: Bridgewater’s deal has only $500K Guaranteed (all in the signing bonus).
Was out in 2016 and 2017 recovering from a leg injury.
2015 – 16 games, 65.3% completion rate, 3,231 passing yards, 14 passing TDs, 9 INTs, 192 rush yards, 3 rushing TDs
— NFL (@NFL) March 14, 2018
Jets Grade – B
I actually like this move, in light of the fact that they have both Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown on one year contracts. McCown is a proven game manager and Bridgewater brings the upside. Will he get back to form after almost two years off the field? Who knows? But $5M is a small price to pay for the potential upside.
Teddy Bridgewater Grade – C+
I kinda feel bad for Bridgewater. He was clearly in line to be the Vikings franchise QB before his freak accident in training camp that threatened his ability to ever return to football. And when he did make it back, Case Keenum was playing out of his mind, leaving no room for Bridgewater to see the field. So getting a deal anywhere is a huge get for Bridgewater. It just stinks for him that the Jets already stated that McCown is the starter. Sure, that may change in camp or during the preseason, but even if he does start, he has very few offensive weapons at his disposal. Ultimately, he probably couldn’t expect much more than this, but with all the QB needs around the league, I thought he would’ve been able to do better.
Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
2 years – $50M – $27M Guaranteed
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) March 13, 2018
Saints & Drew Brees Grade – A+
There’s not much to say here. Drew Brees saved the Saints from Hurricane Katrina when he came in 2006. The Saints saved Brees after he was tossed aside by the Chargers due to injury in favor of Philip Rivers. Saints have a solid offense with two dynamic RBs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, plus the defense is no longer the doormat it once was. They still have a chance to win with Brees and Brees is clearly good for the city of New Orleans. In an amazing show of loyalty, Brees apparently turned down a 2 year contract worth $60M guaranteed from “at least one other team” (rumored to be Vikings) to take less money and stay with the Saints. How could you not love that?