This offseason is gearing up to be one that’s somewhat rare. Not because the free agency class is littered with talent or that the draft class is loaded with quarterbacks, but because a handful of very talented QBs are set to become available.
There are a multitude of reasons that quarterbacks will be on the market – from Dak Prescott emerging in Dallas to Jay Cutler being expensive – and many of them are gearing up to change teams this offseason. Jimmy Garoppolo is seemingly on the trading block, while Kirk Cousins may hit free agency if the Redskins allow him to.
The quarterback carousel will start to spin in just a few weeks when the new league year begins on March 9, allowing teams to complete trades and sign free agents. The big moves likely won’t happen until then, but we’ve got you covered with where the top quarterbacks will land. Here are our predictions for the top available names, from Romo to Colin Kaepernick.
Tony Romo: Kansas City Chiefs
Tony Romo is the most intriguing quarterback on the market. He’s also the biggest question mark for a lot of people. Given his age (36), his injury history and his lack of starts the past two years, no one really knows what they’re getting with Romo. The Cowboys thought they were getting an All-Pro in 2015, and again in 2016. Instead, they got an injury-plagued veteran who couldn’t stay healthy.
That won’t prevent some team from taking a chance on him, likely after he’s released by the Cowboys. The obvious suitors are the Broncos and Texans, but watch out for the Chiefs.
They’ve gone nowhere with Alex Smith at the helm, and with a roster that’s worthy of a Super Bowl, they’re in win-now mode. Romo makes them a contender right away, which is why the Chiefs are an ideal fit for him. The defense, the solid offensive line, the coaching staff – it’s all there, except for a dynamic quarterback.
The Chiefs don’t have much cap space, but they can free some up with a handful of moves. By declining Nick Foles’ option, they could open up $10 million. Releasing Jamaal Charles would free up another $6 million. By signing Romo, the Chiefs would obviously move on from Alex Smith, which would save them $9.7 million against the cap.
This only works if Romo is released and agrees to a new deal with the Chiefs, allowing them to keep all their draft picks, too.
Bill StreicherBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmy Garoppolo: Houston Texans
This may not be the landing spot everyone’s talking about for Garoppolo, but it actually makes the most sense. Hear me out: The Patriots and Texans have a clear connection with each other. Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel and Larry Izzo are members of the Texans’ coaching staff who previously spent time in New England with Bill Belichick.
Granted, that doesn’t mean Belichick will do his friends a favor and lessen the price for Garoppolo, but the two sides have an obvious connection. They reportedly discussed a potential Jamie Collins-for-DeAndre Hopkins deal before sending the linebacker to Cleveland, which would have been huge.
What makes a Garoppolo-to-Houston trade so fitting is the Texans’ current quarterback situation. Brock Osweiler isn’t going anywhere with that $25 million in dead money, essentially forcing the Texans to retain him for at least one more season with a $19 million cap hit. Garoppolo, although he only has one year left on his contract, will make $820,077 next season with a measly cap hit of $1.1 million.
Acquiring Garoppolo for, say, the 25th pick in the draft would give the Texans a cheap starter in 2017 before cutting ties with Osweiler next offseason. At that point, they would take him off the books, opening up space to sign Garoppolo long term.
On paper, it’s the perfect match that no one is talking about. He’s younger, cheaper and less of an injury risk than Tony Romo. He’ll just require more to acquire. The Texans are a quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl, so why not deal a late first-round pick to make that happen?
Mark J. RebilasMark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jay Cutler: San Francisco 49ers
The Bears are reportedly shopping Cutler, hoping to fleece a potential suitor in a trade for the veteran quarterback. The Bears, though, won’t get more than a sixth- or seventh-round pick for Cutler and likely will end up releasing him.
That’s because of his contract, which features a $16 million cap hit in 2017 with that number climbing with each subsequent year until 2020. No team is going to take on that contract without knowing full well that he’s going to agree to a restructured deal. But why would Cutler do that when he can refuse to rework his contract and force the Bears to either pay him or cut him? He wouldn’t.
That’s why he’s going to hit free agency after the Bears release him, allowing him to join whichever team he chooses. When that happens, look for the 49ers to express interest. Kyle Shanahan is reportedly targeting a veteran bridge QB, with even Matt Schaub (yes, seriously) having his name brought up.
Cutler would be a much better fit than Schaub, and Shanahan’s system would benefit him. It would allow him to make easy reads in a West Coast offense, cutting down on his turnovers.
Kirk Cousins: Washington Redskins
The Redskins saved themselves from quarterback purgatory when they drafted Kirk Cousins in the fourth round after taking Robert Griffin III second overall back in 2012. Now, they’re paying for their smart decision.
Cousins is a good quarterback. He’s a guy who can win you a handful of playoff games and probably contend for a Super Bowl if he has the right pieces around him. He’s not Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Remember that point later on when he becomes the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history, likely surpassing all three of those players in that regard.
It’s not something the Redskins would prefer to do, but it may be necessary. Cousins is on the verge of playing a second straight season under the franchise tag, which would pay him about $24 million. That would allow the Redskins to see what he has to offer for one more year before deciding on a potential extension, essentially delaying the inevitable.
Regardless of whether the Redskins sign him to a long-term deal or keep him on the franchise tag again, they’re going to retain him. He’s not leaving Washington because it would be a disaster if the Redskins allowed that to happen.
Tyrod Taylor: Cleveland Browns
There’s not much of a chance the Bills will keep Taylor on his current contract, which calls for $27.5 million guaranteed due to an option on March 11. They can decline the option, which will make him a free agent and thus allow them to rework his deal and stay on a lesser contract.
That won’t happen for the simple fact that Taylor will have other suitors, namely the Cleveland Browns. Taylor would get an offensive guru to help him develop as a quarterback in Hue Jackson, which could be a match made in heaven for the Bills QB.
Taylor has a great deal of potential that he’s barely tapped into up to this point. Jackson could make the most of his skill set just as he tried to do with Robert Griffin III, who’s an inferior quarterback at this point. Many would say Taylor would be a similar experiment, but he’d be far less of a risk. Yes, he’d be more expensive, but he also has much greater potential.
Signing Taylor to a shorter, low-risk deal – two or three years – would allow the Browns to explore the possibility that he’s the answer as they rebuild. If not, they can structure his contract to allow them to get out of it after one or two years without much penalty. They have the cap space to sign him to big money if they so choose, too.
Alex Smith: Buffalo Bills
This is the direct result of two moves: Tony Romo to the Chiefs and Tyrod Taylor to the Browns. This doesn’t work if those players stick with their respective teams because otherwise, the Bills don’t have a QB need and the Chiefs don’t have an opening.
Those two moves are entirely possible, though, and would pave the way for Smith to join the Bills. Buffalo has been starved at quarterback for more than a decade. It’s endured the longest playoff drought in professional American sports and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Smith may not be a top-tier quarterback, but he has plenty of playoff experience. He’s started six games, been to the postseason in four of the last six years and has 12 touchdown passes with two interceptions in those playoff games.
He’s similar to Tyrod Taylor, only he’s slightly less athletic and has more experience as a starter. He’s also better at protecting the football and managing an offense. The question is how much he’ll cost on the open market -- if the Chiefs would cut him instead of trading him -- and whether the Bills would be willing to pay him.
If they believe he can help the Bills take the next step, they should go after him (if he becomes available).
Jeff CurryJeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Colin Kaepernick: New York Jets
The Jets have a huge decision to make at quarterback this offseason – arguably bigger than any of the teams on this list. With Ryan Fitzpatrick out of the picture, New York is left with Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg as the only viable options to start at quarterback.
Are either of them ready for the spotlight? Based on their 2016 seasons, the answer is a firm no. That leads the Jets to the next question: Is there a quarterback worthy of the No. 6 pick? That answer may also be no, especially after they just spent a second-rounder on Hackenberg in 2016.
As a result, they’ll be forced to bring in a veteran guy to provide some competition (and insurance) for the young quarterbacks. Kaepernick isn’t an ideal fit, but the Jets could be suitors for him. He’d have to come over on a new deal – not the expensive one he’s currently on with the 49ers – likely signing a short-term prove-it contract. The Jets can structure it in a way that’s incentive-laden and injury protected, essentially making him a bridge to one of their younger quarterbacks in 2018 or beyond.
Mike Glennon is also a candidate to fill that role for the Jets, but Kaepernick probably gives them a better chance to win now.