Successful, veteran sports agent Leigh Steinberg tweeted of NFL free agency on March 6: “The best players in NFL never become FA's, [their] contracts [are] extended or franchised. So in free agency (with exceptions) B+ players get A+ contracts.”
We’re about to see that play out again as free agent Mike Glennon, who has not started a game since Week 6 in 2014 (Tampa Bay), is headed to Chicago for a 3-year deal that will pay him an average $14.5 million per season, per Ian Rapoport.
Let’s take a closer look at the most sought-after free agent QBs over the past 10 seasons and how they fared. Remember, we’re considering perception of the QBs at the time, not ultimate performance.
2007: The untested Matt Schaub* signs a big deal with the Houston Texans
Background: We begin with an asterisk because Schaub was under contract for one more year at the time when Atlanta traded him because Michael Vick was entrenched as the starter (that plan went kaboom in short order). The Falcons figured that Schaub, who had started just two games and completed about 52% of his passes, was expendable after they signed him on a qualifying offer. Houston inked Schaub to a 6-year, $48 million deal and compensated Atlanta by swapping first-round picks in the 2007 and 2008 drafts.
Aftermath: Vick ended up in federal prison in connection with an illegal dogfighting ring. Schaub proved to be a pretty decent investment for Houston, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2009 (leading the league with 4,770 passing yards) and 2012 before the wheels fell off in 2013.
2008: Chad Pennington takes his talents to Miami
Background: This move went down in August when Pennington was pink-slipped after the Jets signed Brett Favre. A handful of QB-needy teams inquired about the arm strength-challenged “game manager” (basically an earlier version of Alex Smith) but Miami made the best offer (two years, $11.5 million) after going 1-15 the previous season with a combination of Cleo Lemon, Trent Green and John Beck under center.
Aftermath: Under new head coach Tony Sparano, Pennington helped lead Miami from the basement to AFC East champions (the season when Brady suffered an ACL tear in Week 1). He set a new Dolphins single-season completion percentage record (67.4%) but lost his job to Chad Henne in 2009.
2009: Matt Cassel capitalizes on Brady’s lost season in New England
Background: With Tom Brady on the mend in New England and Cassel set to become a free agent, the Patriots flipped him (along with Mike Vrabel) on March 1 to Kansas City, which was coming off a dismal 2-14 season, for a second-round pick (34th overall). Cassel had led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008 but Miami won the division via tie-breaker.
Aftermath: After signing for 6 years and $60 million ($28M guaranteed), Cassel proved a bit more error-prone than the rebuilding Chiefs had hoped but did enjoy a nice 2010 season before injuries abbreviated his 2011 and 2012 campaigns and he ended up in Minnesota.
2010: Jason Campbell dons Black and Silver after McNabb joins Washington
Background: After five rocky seasons in Washington behind a lackluster offensive line, Washington traded Campbell to Oakland after acquiring Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia as a panacea, they hoped, at the QB position. In the league’s uncapped year, Campbell didn’t get to explore unrestricted free agency but did sign a one-year extension for $4.5 million with Oakland for 2011.
Aftermath: A less-mobile McNabb at age 34 struggled in Washington to a 5-8 record as a starter and Campbell got benched for Bruce Gradkowski in 2010 due to inconsistent play, although he actually went 7-5 as a starter. Then after a pleasant 4-2 start in 2011, Campbell injured his collarbone, precipitating Oakland’s reach for Carson Palmer that cost a first- and second-round pick.
2011: Tennessee imports Matt Hasselbeck from Seattle
Background: After a successful 10-year run with the Seahawks, Hasselbeck learned (after the lockout ended) that Seattle was moving on from the veteran QB. He signed for 3 years and $21 million.
Aftermath: The crafty veteran, then age 36, still had gas in the tank, leading Tennessee to a 9-7 record with a 61.6 completion percentage. The next year did not go so well but incredibly the QB stuck around the league until age 40 in Indianapolis, where very strong and fast athletes punished him into retirement.
2012: John Elway courts Peyton Manning to Denver
Background: After undergoing neck surgery the previous season in 2011, Manning signed a new 5-year, $90 million contract. But after that “lost season," the Colts released him due to the uncertainty of his health with a potential $28 million roster bonus coming due. Then they drafted Andrew Luck at No. 1 overall. Suitors came far and wide for Manning’s services as Denver and Arizona emerged as the most likely destinations, ultimately heading to Mile High on a new 5-year, $96 million deal.
Aftermath: “The Sheriff” went bonkers in Denver, earned First Team All-Pro honors in 2012 and 2013, setting new single season passing yards (5,477) and touchdown (55) records until getting smashed by Seattle’s defense in Super Bowl XLVIII before Denver decided to become a defensive-minded team that helped carry a physically eroded Manning to a victory in Super Bowl 50.
Matthew EmmonsMatthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
2013: Joe Flacco gets paaaaaid
Background: All it takes is one fast and furious Super Bowl run to earn megabucks. Flacco was superb in the 2013 postseason, throwing 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a 117.2 rating as the Ravens ran through the AFC and then toppled the 49ers as 4.5 underdogs in Super Bowl XLVII.
Aftermath: Baltimore was not expected to let Flacco walk even though the QB’s demands and leverage were high. Ultimately he signed the richest free-agent QB ever at the time: 6 years, $120 million. Flacco’s postseason run has proven to be the high water mark for the 6-foot-6 Flacco, who has only a 82.5 passer rating in the four ensuing seasons and simply isn’t talented enough to mask some deficiencies at other positions caused in part by his large cap figure.
2014: Josh McCown jets Chicago for Tampa Bay
Background: McCown led a very unspectacular crop of free-agent QBs that included Mike Vick (to the Jets) and Cassel (re-signed with Minnesota). The Buccaneers were looking for a veteran backup for then-rookie Mike Glennon and McCown fit the bill for 2 years and $10 million.
Aftermath: Things got real ugly. The struggling Bucs went 1-10 with McCown as a starter who took 36 sacks in those 11 contests. McCown ended up in Cleveland the next season.
Getty ImagesVaughn Ridley
2015: Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer unite in Houston for “Hard Knocks”
Background: Ryan Fitzpatrick was not the answer in Houston, so the Texans hoped that Mallett would have some Patriots pixie dust on him or that Brian Hoyer (also a former Patriot) could resemble the best version of himself that he displayed in Cleveland the year before.
Aftermath: The position became a dreadful, yearlong game of musical chairs between Mallett and Hoyer (and Brandon Weeden, and T.J. Yates) that concluded when Hoyer turned in an absolutely dismal performance in the Wild Card round, tossing four interceptions and fumbling twice (one lost).
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
2016: Houston rolls the dice on Brock Osweiler at the high stakes table
Background: We come full circle from Shaub to Houston, which has been searching for a bona fide franchise QB all along. They didn’t find him during 2016's free agency period. Osweiler signed for 4 years and $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) based on his short and unremarkable stint as Denver’s starter.
Aftermath: He lost his job late in the season in favor of Tom Savage but the Texans are stuck with him for 2017 due to cap constraints. Still searching.