Matt Cassel‘s decision to void the remaining year of his contract may not have been earth-shattering news by NFL standards, but it could have a sizable impact on 2014’s class of free agent quarterbacks. Since teams rarely let reliable starting quarterbacks reach free agency, the options on the open market will be limited, but there still could be a few players capable of competing for starting jobs, and several more who would make solid backups.
The Jaguars, Texans, Browns, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Raiders are among the teams expected to seek a starter this offseason, and many more clubs could have interest in a solid backup. Here are the quarterbacks eligible for free agency who will receive consideration from those franchises in the market for a QB:
Michael Vick is the most notable name in this year’s quarterback class, and will be looking to land a starting job somewhere. In fact, he recently expressed confidence that, wherever he ends up, he’ll be the starter in Week 1. That’s certainly possible — Vick didn’t play poorly before his injury, but Nick Foles‘ performance was so impressive that Vick didn’t get another crack at the starter’s job in Philadelphia. He figures to at least get a chance to compete for a No. 1 role in 2014, and is the early favorite to sign for the largest salary of 2014’s FA QBs.
While Vick began 2013 as a starter and finished it on the bench, a few other free-agents-to-be worked in reverse. After other signal-callers were injured or underperformed, Chad Henne and Matt Cassel ultimately took over the No. 1 jobs in Jacksonville and Minnesota respectively, and while they didn’t set the league on fire, both veterans performed well, given their relative dearth of weapons. The Jags and Vikings both figure to be in the market for younger QBs with higher upsides, but each team could bring back its respective incumbent to act as the short-term starter or at least to provide an insurance policy.
Although Josh McCown didn’t finish the season as the Bears’ starter, he filled in admirably when Jay Cutler missed a few games due to injury. He’ll be 35 in July, so no team will pencil in McCown as any sort of long-term answer, but his 13-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio last season pushes him above most of the rest of the backup alternatives.
The shine has come off Matt Flynn and Josh Freeman significantly over the last couple years, with Flynn seemingly unable to produce with any team besides the Packers and Freeman drastically regressing since his breakout season in 2010. Still, both players are still in their 20s and have bounce-back potential in the right system. Neither player should begin 2014 as a starter, but you could find worse No. 2 options.
Speaking of No. 2 options, there are several of those set to hit the open market next month. Shaun Hill, Kellen Clemens, Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson, Colt McCoy, Curtis Painter, and Luke McCown are among the backups eligible for unrestricted free agency. We could see many of those players return to their current teams, given their familiarity with those clubs’ offensive systems. Either way, they’ll sign very modest deals, and none of them should be counted on for significant playing time — even Clemens, who ended up starting more than half of the Rams’ 2013 contests after Sam Bradford went down.
Perhaps there’s a diamond in the rough among the rest of the group, which includes familiar names like Brady Quinn, Seneca Wallace, Rex Grossman, and Jimmy Clausen. More likely though, these guys will be looking to catch on as a team’s third quarterback.
Overall, there are some interesting names among the prospective free agent quarterbacks. But unless a team unexpectedly strikes gold with a reclamation project like Freeman, there won’t be any cornerstone players in the group. Clubs looking for a solid veteran who could keep a team afloat if its starter goes down should have several options to consider among this free agent class, but teams in search of a longer-term answer will be better off addressing that need in the draft, or perhaps via trade.