2021 NFL Free Agency: Quarterbacks
Hope is a magical elixir and one of the pillars of what makes the NFL offseason so captivating. For fans, one of these moments of abounding hope arrives in the precious panacea that is free agency where every raucous member of Bills Mafia or Cleveland's Dawg Pound and every 12th Man and Woman is able to convince themselves that their team is in line to sign the next legendary free agent. No position is as crucial (and consequently as in demand) during free agency as quarterback. The right signing can propel a team all the way to the Super Bowl like we saw with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in 2012. However, even the slightest misstep can handcuff ownership and sink a team for years like we saw in Houston after the Texans signed Brock Osweiler in 2016. Below, I take a look at the premier quarterbacks available in free agency, along with some intriguing names certain to impact 2021 NFL free agency.
Top Free Agent Quarterbacks:
Dak Prescott - Age: 28; Previous Team: Dallas Cowboys
As the crown jewel of the 2021 NFL free agent class, Prescott is in line to command a tremendous contract. Before a broken ankle ended his season after just four games this past season, Prescott had never missed a game due to injury in his career. Even with his season being cut short, Prescott showed his elite ceiling in those first four weeks. He has certainly benefitted from an elite surrounding cast that includes Pro-Bowl level talent at various crucial positions like offensive line, running back and wide receiver, but it's his accuracy, decision-making and mobility that fans look to as a sign that he can potentially lead a team to multiple deep playoff runs. Drafted by Dallas in 2016, Prescott played last season under the franchise tag, and the Cowboys can't afford to enter next season without him under a longer-term contract.
Contract Prediction: Prescott signs a four-year, $160 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys (the contract’s $40 million Average Per Year [APY] would have been second among quarterbacks during the 2020 season).
Jameis Winston - Age: 27; Previous Team: New Orleans Saints
Curiously settling for a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Saints in 2020, Winston’s gamble seems to have paid off. Drew Brees put a bow (if the bow was a forgettable playoff game laden with interceptions and passes shorter than your Uncle John’s in the backyard during Thanksgiving) on his historic career via his retirement, and the Saints look to transition to their next quarterback. After a year of familiarity in Sean Payton’s offense, Winston looks to be a serious threat for the starting job next year. Despite residing behind Taysom Hill on the depth chart in 2020, it would be unfathomable for Winston to not be the starter next season if he re-signs with the Saints.
Contract Prediction: Winston signs a one-year, $5 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.
Cam Newton - Age: 32; Previous Team: New England Patriots
Since his 2015 MVP season, it’s been a constant decline for the dual-threat Newton as injuries have taken their toll and limited his running ability which in turn has hindered his game as a whole. After signing with the Patriots for a paltry one-year, $1.75 million contract, Newton showed that as much as his running prowess remains, his arm talent has certainly deteriorated. His remarkable 12 rushing touchdowns were a stark contrast to his poor 8:10 TD:INT ratio, though a lack of weapons in New England played a role in his inefficient passing production. It’s unlikely that Newton is able to parlay his past season into a guaranteed starting job. However, he could sign as a backup and be ready to swoop in should the starter struggle or suffer an injury. The Denver Broncos are currently led by Drew Lock, who hasn’t lived up to expectations in his first two seasons, and signing Newton as competition or even as a replacement for Lock would elevate the Broncos’ 2021 outlook. A run game of Newton & Melvin Gordon along with improved weapons in Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant looks to comprise an above-average offense on paper.
Contract Prediction: Newton signs a two-year, $18.5 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
Ryan Fitzpatrick - Age: 39; Previous Team: Miami Dolphins
On his eighth team (and completing his 16th NFL season), “Fitzmagic” embraced his gunslinging ways more than ever in 2020, nearly leading the Dolphins to an improbable Wild Card spot despite splitting snaps at quarterback with rookie Tua Tagovailoa. While he is nothing more than a “bridge” quarterback, he is certainly the best bridge quarterback on the market. A fit with Washington, who are in need of a quarterback but aren’t positioned to draft an elite one due to winning the NFC East, makes perfect sense as it allows them to remain competitive without extinguishing resources for the future.
Contract Prediction: Fitzpatrick signs a one-year, $7 million contract with the Washington Football Team.
Other Notable Free Agent Quarterbacks:
Jacoby Brissett - Age: 29; Previous Team: Indianapolis Colts
Buried behind Philip Rivers this past year, it was just two seasons ago that Brissett threw for almost 3,000 yards for the Colts. He had a 3:1 TD:INT ratio, though the downside of this efficiency was a lack of big plays sporting the third worst Yards/Pass Attempt quarterbacks at just 6.6. He has proven to be a trustworthy game manager who has earned the right to compete for a starting job, likely factoring into a quarterback room where a veteran is on his way out or has already left.
Potential Fits: Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
Mitchell Trubisky - Age: 27; Previous Team: Chicago Bears
Forever plagued (through no fault of his own) by his selection in the 2017 draft over star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, Trubisky’s career has been one vicious cycle. He plays poorly for much of the year, has a hot streak where his arm talent and athleticism coalesce and his accuracy issues don’t plague him, leading to ownership propagating this false sense of hope into the next season only for Trubisky to succumb to his same tortuous cycle. His (relatively) dazzling end of the season, leading the Bears to 30 points on offense in three consecutive games for the first time since 1995, likely earns him a new contract from Chicago, though he could certainly figure into a QB competition elsewhere.
Potential Fits: Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers
Andy Dalton - Age: 34; Previous Team: Dallas Cowboys
Prescott’s injury thrust Dalton into a starting role for much of the year, and while he performed admirably, it was as a game manager at best. He relied on a wealth of skill players (including one of the best trios of wide receivers in the league) to account for much of his production. Dalton will remain one of the best backups in the league and could certainly play a few games to begin the season for a team whose quarterback’s Week 1 status may be in question (such as Dalton’s former employer, the Cincinnati Bengals).
Potential Fits: Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos
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