Scarcity drives demand. It’s a core economic principle that is exemplified by the quarterback position in today’s NFL. Simply put, there aren’t 32 competent quarterbacks inhabiting the earth at the moment and with 32 NFL teams in need of one, we get a complete unknown like Brock Osweiler signing for $37 million guaranteed then getting benched within a year. This offseason though those teams without a legitimate starter are in luck. A smattering of possible starting quarterbacks will hit the market, whether it be through free agency or likely trade. Let’s take a look at those possible targets and who will be most coveted.
Note: Kirk Cousins is schedule to be a free agent this offseason, but was left off due to Washington’s likelihood of re-signing or franchise tagging him.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
If there were a franchise quarterback checklist, Garoppolo would check almost every box. He’s a former second-round pick who’s been allowed three years to grow under a coach with a proven track record for developing the position. Garoppolo has also won multiple games as a starter, looking impressive doing so. While all that sounds great, one could easily replace “Garoppolo” with “Osweiler” in the lines above and the same would have been true last offseason.
Jimmy G has one big thing in his favor though and that’s accuracy. More specifically, downfield accuracy. On throws targeted 10-plus yards down the field, Garoppolo has a 52.6 completion percentage this season while Osweiler’s was only 42.6 last season.
The Patriots’ backup isn’t hitting free agency though so there is no guarantee he’ll even be available. But with Tom Brady showing no signs of slowing down and Bill Belichick’s penchant for a deal, one would think Garoppolo could be had for the right price.
2. Tony Romo
Another quarterback who won’t be a free agent, though this one will definitely be available as there’s little reason for the Cowboys to pay $20 million a year to a backup. One could easily argue Romo as the No. 1 option available this offseason, but at 36 years old having not played in two years, he may be as much an unknown as Garoppolo. The Cowboys will sell him as the same guy though who finished as PFF’s sixth-highest graded passer in 2014 though his injury history should be just as worrisome. In his eight full seasons off PFF grading, Romo didn’t once finish with a below-average grade.
3. Matt Barkley
The wild card of this entire offseason, Barkley would have been laughed off this list as recently as a month ago. Once touted as a future franchise quarterback during his junior year at USC, an injury to his throwing shoulder saw him fall to the fourth round of the 2013 draft and then bounce from Philadelphia to Arizona to Chicago before even finishing his rookie contract. Over the last four weeks of the season though only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have graded higher as passers.
Barkley’s arm strength looks night-and-day better from early in his career and he looks like the guy everyone touted five years prior. His 82.6 quarterback rating doesn’t look amazing until you consider Bears receivers have dropped a ridiculous 16 percent their catchable passes over that span, including multiple game-winning touchdowns against the Titans. He’ll have two more games to prove it’s not a fluke, but even on the strength of this recent stretch he’ll draw considerable interest when he hits free agency in the spring.
4. Jay Cutler
Cutler’s contract actually extends through 2020, but there is exactly zero chance he’s in a Bears uniform that long. With Cutler due eight figure salaries over the next four years though, Chicago may not be able to get any return from the quarterback they once dealt two first round picks and a third to receive in 2009. At 33 years old though, he’s far from the downside of his career and is still the same guy he’s always been – an average quarterback. That’s a huge upgrade for a lot of teams though. This season it was clear that he’d given up on Chicago, posting the second lowest graded game of any quarterback this year in Week 10 against the Bucs. Teams will covet his deep-ball arm strength, but he hasn’t finished in the top-10 for deep-ball accuracy since 2013.
5. Mike Glennon
I can’t be the only one who thought Glennon never got a fair shake in Tampa for what he showed his rookie and sophomore seasons. That’s not to say he was great by any means, but showing the sort of competency he did in his young career would not have driven me to bring in Josh McCown as his replacement. Glennon was the highest graded rookie quarterback in 2013, and his 46.7 adjusted completion percentage on deep balls was the fourth highest we’ve ever seen from a rookie in 11 years of charting. That being said, he’s another complete unknown after spending two years on the bench backing up Jameis Winston now.
One might expect continued development from the former third-round pick, but it’s impossible to know for sure.