The 2020 NFL free-agent class of quarterbacks is unusually packed with familiar veterans and recent high first-round draft picks. There are even three teams whose top two QBs from 2019 are both pending free agents.
There are the usual expectations that several passers old and young from this mix — from the early 40s, late 30s and mid 20s — will be re-signed by their current teams.
But until the new contracts, short- or long-term, are in place, it’s time to weigh the QB options against each other, especially after five were action in the playoffs.
2020 NFL MOCK DRAFT:
Three QBs selected in first seven picks
2020 NFL free-agent QB rankings
1. Dak Prescott, Cowboys
Prescott has not yet gotten his lucrative contract extension from Jerry Jones after making only $720,000 in the final year of his bargain rookie contract. He is headed to being franchise-tagged, and according to OverTheCap.com, that salary tender for quarterbacks in 2020 is projected to be near $27 million.
For the Cowboys, that will be a place-holder until the summer, because there’s no way that Prescott will be playing on a one-year (albeit fully guaranteed) deal.
Prescott was challenged to have his best season in a contract year, and with his prolific numbers, he was not the reason the Cowboys missed the playoffs at 8-8. He also has Russell Wilson-like durability to start his career with 64 starts in 64 games. It’s just a matter of time before the Cowboys figure out how to re-sign both the QB and wide receiver Amari Cooper to their combined monetary satisfaction.
2. Drew Brees, Saints
Brees recovered from the right thumb injury that cost him five games to post a season even more efficient than last year’s, which was his best ever in that department. He remains in tremendous physical shape otherwise and shows little-to-no decline while rewriting the record books. It’s hard to imagine the Saints wanting to let Brees walk even though they have some semi-viable QB options (see below) behind him.
Brees can’t be franchise-tagged, but don’t be surprised if he gets another two-year deal with more than half the money guaranteed in relation to playing up to market value through age 44.
3. Tom Brady, Patriots
Going into the 2019 season after leading the Patriots to a sixth Super Bowl ring, there was little reason to believe the Patriots would not re-sign Brady. But as crazy as it might have sounded then, the Patriots and the GOAT parting ways has turned into a real possibility.
The issue is Brady, even though he went through a season of obvious, sharp physical decline — something indicated by every passing metric — wants to keep playing and starting somewhere in 2020. The Patriots, namely Bill Belichick, have to consider whether they can do better for cheaper at QB next season.
Brady wasn’t near his best, but he also was constricted by major woes in his supporting cast (offensive line, wide receiver, tight end) that he hasn’t experienced for a long time. There’s no doubt that affected his effectives, and he could rebound big-time elsewhere for team with more built-in help.
If Brady does become a free agent, it will be more about him choosing his team than that team choosing him, a la Peyton Manning.
4. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
The Titans traded for Tannehill as a backup flyer, needing to pay him only, $2 million (plus incentives) with his former team, the Dolphins paying for most of his salary. Their only regret is the fact that they didn’t give him a chance to play over fading 2015 No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota earlier in the season.
Based on Tannehill’s incredible, career-best second half of the season, the Titans should be ready to give him a nice bump in years and money, knowing it still wouldn’t be what Mariota would have commanded had he matched the high salary trajectory of his pedigree.
Even at something like three years for $60 million, which would put Tannehill in the upper-half of average annual salary for the position, would be well worth it for the Titans given how well he meshes in the offense with fourth-year running back Derrick Henry and rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown. The Titans can easily handle that under their cap, and it would set them up to re-sign Henry to a pleasing extension.
5. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
What to do with Winston? He led the NFL in passing yardage with 5,019. He also led the NFL in interceptions in 30. But he also had 33 TD passes and averaged 8.2 yards per attempt.
Winston proved to be tough and durable in going 7-9 during his first season with Bruce Arians. The coach, however, has strongly hinted Winston might not be the Bucs’ best QB answer going forward.
When he’s on, Winston has an extremely high ceiling. But when he’s making mistakes, he can still look like a bottom-barrel rookie. Arians’ M.O. in Arizona was trading for a downfield-throwing veteran whom he thought would be steady in his system, Carson Palmer. Note that Palmer had a 24 TD-22 INT season initially with Arians before delivering the most efficient play of his career the next two seasons.
The question here is whether Arians thinks he can get his sufficient QB play from someone else in this market (or in the draft) without succumbing to Winston’s asking price as the 2015 No. 1 overall pick. Someone will need to think Winston’s maddening inconsistency is worth it, or he might need to settle for a backup role.
6. Philip Rivers, Chargers
Rivers had a similar season to that of Winston, only at 12 years older with both 10 fewer TDs and INTs. After an elite 2018 season that matched his career-best passer rating at 105.5, Rivers regressed to the turnover-plauged, pre-Anthony Lynn days. His average yards per attempt plummeted to 7.8, and his team endured a 5-11 season after going 12-4 the year before.
That said, he is as durable as ever, and the perception of him being a gritty winner is bound to give him interest away from Los Angeles, especially if veterans such as Brees and Brady don’t become available. Just like the Chargers need to do first, potential suitors will need to weigh whether Rivers’ 2019 season was more mental funk than physical decline.
The former he has shaken off many times before; the latter is uncharted, uncomfortable territory.
7. Teddy Bridgewater, Saints
Bridgewater earned his $7.25 million in getting a chance to start a pivotal five games for New Orleans in place of Brees. He responded with a 5-0 record and a 99.3 passer rating. Although he was mostly leaning on the running game, defense and special teams to win games, when he was need to throw at high volume, he did what needed to be done to beat the Bucs, Jaguars and Bears.
There is much less element of unknown with Bridgewater now, well more than three years after his major knee injury with the Vikings. He can win if other things are right around him, and he would be ideal for a team like Tampa Bay should it move on from Winston.
8. Marcus Mariota, Titans
The Titans tried to make it work with many offenses for Mariota. He flashed plenty during his four seasons, but even with some good efficiency (89.6 rating), his tentative passing put a hard, low ceiling on Tennessee’s passing game, also putting a drag on its run-heavy approach. It’s inexplicable that his athleticism didn’t have a bigger, more consistent impact.
Mariota needs a change of scenery with a second chance tailored more to his strengths, possibly coming as a backup. He should think about a Tannehill situation, where he can be the one displacing a so-called young franchise passer.
Chicago once looked ideal, but that team no longer employs Mariota’s former head coach at Oregon, Mark Helfrich, as offensive coordinator. Perhaps he can attempt to be a bridge QB for whoever drafts current projected Ducks first-rounder Justin Herbert.
9. Case Keenum, Redskins
Keenum is quickly developing into the next Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh McCown. He has been on four teams in four seasons (Rams, Vikings, Broncos, Redskins) and helped those teams either through injury or as a bridge quarterback.
He has become a hired gunslinger, challenging a little bit of Jeff George, too. The Bucs, Panthers and Giants are among the teams that look right for his next stop in various capacities.