NFL FREE AGENCY: TOP 10 AVAILABLE QUARTERBACKS

BY ADAM GREENE

As I was putting this article together, news broke that the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears had cut a deal that sent the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick to Carolina, in exchange for the No. 9 overall selection, the No. 61 pick, a 2024 first rounder, a 2025 second rounder and wide receiver DJ Moore . It was quite the haul for Chicago for a pick they were probably going to use on a guy that might be there at nine anyway.

But, it does affect the potential free agent market. The Panthers now are settled in on a quarterback and, if head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer are smart (and they are), Carolina is picking a guy that can start on Day One. That means Ohio State’s CJ Stroud or Alabama’s Bryce Young. That also means they should have no real interest in any of the QBs on this list.

Because you don’t want a “bridge quarterback” when you pick the best guy in a draft class. You want that guy on the field. And you definitely do not want anyone challenging him or taking away reps in practice and in the preseason.

So while the Panthers might look over the free agent market and add a veteran QB, it’s not going to be anyone that can “push” a rookie. That does not work in the modern NFL. But that’s good news for the rest of the market as they have one less team to bid against in adding a quality signal caller to their rosters.

Here are the guys I think are the 10 best available through free agency and trades this offseason.

1. LAMAR JACKSON

Age: 26

2022: 6-2, 212 pounds, 62.3 completion percentage, 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 764 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns

He’s a proven winner, a generational talent and a former NFL Most Valuable Player. So why is Lamar Jackson “available” this offseason? Because he’s played out his fifth year rookie option and has, by all reports, demanded a contract similar to the fully guaranteed deal the Cleveland Browns stupidly gave Deshaun Watson. The Baltimore Ravens, understandably, don’t want to do that, because, No. 1, it’s just bad business (bad business is just normal for the Browns organization) and, No. 2, Jackson gets injured a lot.

Now, that second problem was really Baltimore’s fault as they employed Greg Roman at offensive coordinator, who called a Pop Warner offensive attack that ran Jackson into the teeth of the defense. Where most NFL offensive coordinators design plays to protect their quarterback, Roman liked to send Jackson, one of the most dynamic athletes in all of sports, right into the woodchipper. No good wide receivers would sign with the team because they didn’t catch balls, just blocked for the seventh-grade level gameplanning of Greg Roman.

With Jackson in the wind and due a monster, long term contract (regardless if he gets it all guaranteed or not), Roman finally got the ax and was replaced by Todd Monken, former OC for the Georgia Bulldogs and winner of two consecutive national championships.

Jackson, so far, has not budged on his contract demands. In response, the Ravens gave him the non-exclusive franchise tag, which means he (since Jackson has no agent) can be pursued by other NFL teams if they’re willing to give up to first round picks to sign him. Baltimore also has the right to match any offer Jackson receives and keep him. It’s a smart move for the Ravens and, probably, a wake up call for Jackson, who might not find anyone willing to give him a “Watson deal.” But he might get close and there’s a 50 percent chance, I think, that he suits up for another team next season.

Where he should end up: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens should absolutely do everything they can to match the incoming offers for Jackson’s services and there will be plenty. Every team that needs a QB or is shaky at the position should be in Jackson’s DMs as soon as it’s legally allowed. Obviously, there’s a number that Baltimore would be unwilling to match in guaranteed money, in which case the two first rounders could be solid compensation, depending on where Jackson would end up. There’s also a “sign and trade” possibility, where the Ravens are unwilling to match the deal, but are willing to ship him to another team in a trade combining players and picks. Realistically, the Washington Commanders should be very involved in Jackson’s negotiations before the draft, which would be my most likely destination for the former MVP outside of Baltimore. And, hey, he wouldn’t even have to move that far.

2. AARON RODGERS

Age: 39

2022: 6-2, 225 pounds, 64.6 completion percentage, 3,695 yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions

Well, congratulations to all of us, we get another offseason of Aaron Rodgers’ ridiculous “you better love me” dance. This time, it appears that the Green Bay Packers might be done with it for good. I mean, what’s the draw to keep Rodgers at this point? They couldn’t even win nine games a season ago, he’s a constant danger to catch COVID-19 and miss time, plus you have to do this “will he or won’t he retire or demand a trade” nonsense every single offseason. If they’d dealt Rodgers last year, they could have probably landed three first rounders and more. People would have criticized dealing the four-time MVP, but after the display he put forth in 2022, punditry would have applauded the Pack for cutting bait when the price was high. This season? They’ll be lucky to get a one and some lower round picks at best.

Where he should end up: New York Jets

Are the Jets a quarterback away? No. Is Rodgers the best option for New York on the market? Also, no. But it appears as if this deal is getting worked out as I type this and might even be done before I finish writing the article. Rodgers would be a significant upgrade for the Jets, unless he pulls a “Matt Ryan,” (which is entirely possible) and will likely land the team in the playoffs in 2023 as a Wild Card. But that’s where it tops out and the Jets will get to enjoy the offseasons of retirement conversations and dark room retreats where Rodgers gets South American hallucinogens fired into his anal cavity. So, gird yourselves.

3. JIMMY GAROPPOLO

Age: 31

2022: 6-2, 225 pounds, 67.2 completion percentage, 2,437 yards, 16 touchdowns, four interceptions

No player in recent NFL history has brought more success to his team while simultaneously being run out of town by the coaching staff, front office and fanbase than Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s helped the San Francisco 49ers make three NFC Championships in four seasons and a Super Bowl. A Super Bowl they did not lose because of him, but from a defensive collapse in the fourth quarter that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to come back from a double digit deficit. If Jimmy G starts most of a team’s games, they make the playoffs. The math is just that simple. The Niners hated him, as did everyone in the stands wearing scarlet and gold. The teams and fanbases facing a Garoppolo led team hated him too. For beating our teams. It’s ridiculous and he should pay immediate dividends to whichever franchise signs him.

Where he should end up: Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins don’t have the first-round picks to get into the Lamar Jackson or Aaron Rodgers conversations. They also have Tua Tagovailoa, a talented young quarterback who dealt with some scary concussions last season and probably needs to think about stepping away from the NFL for a while. Even if he’s healthy, the team can hardly count on him and, honestly, at this point, Garoppolo would be an upgrade and a guy that head coach Mike McDaniel has won with before in SF.

4. CARSON WENTZ

Age: 30

2022: 6-5, 237 pounds, 62.3 completion percentage, 1,755 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions

That’s it. We’ve passed up the available quarterbacks that would walk in as starters and now we get to the official “journeymen” portion of the list. We might all rank these guys differently, but this is pretty much the next group on every list you’re going to see. Why did I put Wentz as the best of the journeymen available? Because he was nearly league MVP in 2017 with the Philadelphia Eagles until he was injured late in the season. I can’t pinpoint everything that went wrong from that year until today, but the physical talent that helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl that season still exists. You just can’t trust him to be your starter out of the gate. Wentz could “rediscover” it again in the correct situation and that’s really what he needs to look for now that the Commanders have cut him loose and he’s a free agent for the first time in his career.

Where he should end up: Buffalo Bills

Wentz has made all the big money he can at this point and needs to look at attempting to either rebuild his career, or latch on to contenders to stretch it out and collect paychecks like former first round pick Blaine Gabbert has done since washing out with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wentz’s game isn’t far off from Josh Allen’s and, with the physical nature of Allen’s play, there’s a chance the Bills could need him at some point. His worst-case scenario is to sit and reboot, like Mitchell Trubisky did in 2021, to get a shot somewhere else in 2024.

5. BAKER MAYFIELD

Age: 27

2022: 6-1, 215 pounds, 60.0 completion percentage, 2,136 yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions

Baker Mayfield opened the 2022 season “much maligned” to say the least. The Cleveland Browns decided they’d rather have Deshaun Watson and all his baggage instead of Mayfield and all his commercials. So, they sent him packing to the Carolina Panthers in what turned out to be a face plant for all involved. But Mayfield’s story wasn’t over. He asked for his release, since the Panthers were trying out pretty much every QB on their roster, and they gave it to him just in time for the QB-needy Los Angeles Rams to add him to their roster. Mayfield went 2-3 (I’m counting the Las Vegas Raiders game where he entered on the second series) with a decimated Rams offense, but he looked good. In his four games with LA and head coach Sean McVay, Mayfield completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 850 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions, even winning in his first action against the aforementioned Raiders and really sticking it to the Denver Broncos a few games later. He never played poorly in any game with the Rams and rejuvenated his career to the point he can at least avoid the Fox Sports College Football analyst job that awaits him in the future for a while longer.

Where he should end up: Los Angeles Rams

As I wrote earlier, thes idea of a “bridge quarterback” is just ridiculous and it’s one that Mayfield himself proved is a worthless proposition after he was drafted by the Browns in 2018. Tyrod Taylor was supposed to be the “bridge” there and the team didn’t win a game until Mayfield was called upon. Like Wentz, he needs a year or so to reboot with a better coach on a better team. A month or so last season wasn’t enough. And the Rams will want to keep him simply because they would have won four more games and made the playoffs if Mayfield had been the back up all season. There’s also a chance that Matthew Stafford could get injured again and Mayfield is handed the reigns and keeps them. It’s his smartest move for all involved. No one is signing Mayfield, Wentz or any of the guys listed below as full-time starters.

6. TEDDY BRIDGEWATER

Age: 30

2022: 6-2, 215 pounds, 62.0 completion percentage, 683 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions

Teddy Bridgewater proved once again, for his third team in four seasons, that he’s entirely capable of coming out of the bullpen to replace a starting quarterback and keep a team in the playoff hunt. What you can’t do is rely on him as your starting quarterback all season. There’s nothing wrong with being a younger version of Case Keenum. Keenum’s kept an NFL job for years, got to travel the country, and would have made this list if there wasn’t so much younger talent above him. Bridgewater’s got a winning record as a starter (33-32), a career 66.4 completion percentage and by all accounts is a decent guy to have in the locker room.

Where he should end up: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs know better than anyone the value of a back up quarterback as both of their last Super Bowl runs were helped, if not saved, specifically because Chad Henne came off the bench and saved the day. As of this writing, KC has Shane Buechele, who I didn’t even know existed and Chris Oladokun, who I don’t even believe is a real person, listed as their back ups behind Patrick Mahomes. Andy Reid has never gone into a season that weak in the bullpen and he won’t do it this year either.

7. MARCUS MARIOTA

Age: 29

2022: 6-4, 222 pounds, 61.3 completion percentage, 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 438 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns

Marcus Mariota had some tremendous moments early in the season for the Atlanta Falcons in 2022 and some stunningly stupid moments later on that got him sent to the bench. It’s frustrating to see a guy with legitimate first round talent play that way this deep into his career, but that’s also why Mariota is not a starting option in this free agent class. Still, he’s a good player, he’s young and he can drop his Microsoft Surface tablet and win you some games when called upon in the correct system.

Where he should end up: Cleveland Browns

In a Browns offense designed for a player with Deshaun Watson’s skillset, you need a similar guy to run it as a back-up. They’ve let Jacoby Brissett walk (who, like Case Keenum, narrowly missed making this list), so they’re looking at Kellen Mond as a their No. 2 and that just feels like a disaster if he ever had to step onto the field. Mariota can run the same offense as Watson with just a little extra stupid every now and then thrown in.

8. TYLER HUNTLEY

Age: 25

2022: 6-1, 196 pounds, 67 completion percentage, 658 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, 137 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown

Yes, it is downright farcical that Tyler Huntley made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, but that’s not his fault. It’s the idiots who voted him in. But, hey, he’s still a solid back up and, for the Ravens, kept their season alive for two consecutive seasons running Greg Roman’s Pop Warner offense as good as it can be run when you’re not Lamar Jackson, a generational super human.

Where he should end up: Baltimore Ravens

If it’s not broken, you probably shouldn’t fix it. The Ravens have needed Huntley for the last two seasons when Jackson was injured. Even if they let Lamar walk and bring in somebody new, they could still use Huntley as a back up and possible starter if they have to replace whoever they add to take over for Jackson. Regardless of whether that’s in the draft or one of these other free agent quarterbacks. If they do let Jackson go and draft someone like Florida’s Anthony Richardson at No. 22, it wouldn’t hurt to have Huntley in the QB room helping the future draft bust delay his busting as long as possible.

9. GARDNER MINSHEW II

Age: 26

2022: 6-1, 225 pounds, 57.9 completion percentage, 663 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions, one rushing touchdown

Gardner Minshew has proven he can play in the NFL, but he’s also proven pretty definitely he’s not a potential franchise quarterback. He’s had plenty of opportunities and there’s a point where you just have to realize you’re this generation’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and roll with it. This past year’s Philadelphia Eagles team was the best Minshew ever took the field with and he lost both his starts while Jalen Hurts was injured. He’s a good back up and a fun character. He can do some good things in the right situation and will raise the swag level (if that’s still a thing) on any team that adds him.

Where he should end up: Detroit Lions

There’s probably never been a player more made for Dan Campbell than Minshew in the history of the league. The Lions should be more than happy with what they got out of Jared Goff last season and primed to run with him again in 2023. Behind him right now? Nate Sudfeld. They should go ahead and ink Minshew while they can and get back to chewing on kneecaps.

10. SAM DARNOLD

Age: 25

2022: 6-3, 225 pounds, 58.6 completion percentage, 1,143 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions

Like Mayfield, Sam Darnold has officially washed out for two different teams. But, also like Mayfield, he actually looked pretty decent at the end of last season. He led the Carolina Panthers to some big wins over the Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints and all but knocked the Detroit Lions out of the playoffs with a 37-23 performance.

Where he should end up: Seattle Seahawks

At present, Geno Smith is the only quarterback the Seahawks have on the roster. So why not add another former New York Jets QB cast-off with tons of talent, but no real history of winning, to be his back up? What’s the worst that could happen? Seattle ends up with two Genos?

Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.

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