Quarterbacks. If you have one then you have a shot at the Super Bowl, if you don’t it is a long and arduous road to even competing for the playoffs.
It is the single most important position in team sports, and teams will throw money and draft picks around like mad to try to get one that gives them a chance of being great. Free agency saw an oddly high number of tried and tested quarterbacks hit the market, and all of them picked up a contract before the new league year even officially started. So which team made the best deal, both talent-wise and financially?
Minnesota Vikings sign Kirk Cousins
Minnesota had the best defense in the NFL last year and a ton of cap space, so it should be no surprise that they aggressively pursued the best quarterback available.
Cousins arrives in the Twin Cities with a trio of 4,000+ yard seasons under his belt but a few red flags. His completion percentage has fallen from 69.8 in 2015 to 64.3 in 2017, and he has just a 24-23-1 record in his three years as the man in Washington. For a lot of fans that would be a worry, but for Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman they know what they are getting. An aggressive, accurate passer who has navigated several offensive coordinator changes in recent years well and survived the turnover of his weapons.
Cousins represents an upgrade over Case Keenum from last season, and that is a good thing. The contract, a three-year, fully guaranteed $86 million deal, could change the market for quarterbacks in the future, but for the Vikings it isn’t a terrible burden, especially if they front load it to get most of the cap hit out of the way before they need to re-sign the likes of Anthony Barr and Mackensie Alexander.
Grade: B+ The Vikings know they have a window to win a championship and have pushed their chips into the middle of the table. It is a gamble, but a worthy one.
Arizona Cardinals sign Sam Bradford
This has the air of desperation about it. The Cardinals have been living on veteran quarterbacks and trying to milk one more season out of them for a while. Kurt Warner took them to a Super Bowl before finally giving up the ghost. Carson Palmer got them to the NFC championship game. Now Steve Keim and the Steve Wilks are crossing all their fingers and toes that Sam Bradford can stay healthy and give them quality under center.
The problem is that he has played 16 games just twice in his career. He missed all of 2014 through injury, and played just 1.5 games in 2017 thanks to a knee injury that defied diagnosis thanks to previous scarring making imaging impossible.
Nevermind that Bradford had a brilliant 2016 and Week 1 of 2017, forget that with the Vikings he completed 71.8% of his passes and threw just five interceptions in 595 pass attempts in purple. He cannot be relied upon to stay on the field from snap to snap, let alone week to week.
A one-year, $20 million deal (with $15 million guaranteed) represents very little risk, but it also hamstrings a team that is close to the cap this year and has a good defense. Nothing precludes the Cardinals from drafting a rookie, but they are throwing money at a player that is more likely to be in the trainer’s room than on the practice field, and that is no way to staff your quarterback position.
Grade: D Arizona better hope that Josh Rosen or Lamar Jackson is on the board when they pick at #15, otherwise they are going to be doing this all over again next year.
Denver Broncos sign Case Keenum
Earlier this week I asked where the best fit for Keenum would be; Arizona or Denver? While I settled on the Cardinals, going to Mile High and throwing to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders is no bad thing.
the details are surprisingly hard to pin down for Keenum’s contract, but it seems to be around the two-year, $36 million mark, which is not at all bad if the guarantee is in the $25-28 million range. Keenum comes with some worries. 2017 was the only time he has been given a consistent shot at the starting job, and while he played very well (7.4 yards per attempt, 22 touchdowns, seven interceptions), it is not a big track record to go on. That seems to have been baked into his contract, and if he turns out to be the quarterback the Vikings had rather than the ones the Rams tried to start in 2016 then it will be a bargain of a deal for Denver.
Grade: B– They went shopping for a Kirk Cousins but came back with 10% off a Case Keenum, which is no bad thing. It all comes down to replicating 2017, and the Broncos have the receivers that can help get him there.
New York Jets sign Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater
The Jets needed a quarterback and had the most cap room in the league, but somehow they ended up with the same journeyman they had last year and a total roll of the dice.
Ostensibly this stops the Jets from even slightly competing in 2018, but both moves are inexpensive one-year contracts that don’t prevent the Jets from spending elsewhere, or even drafting a quarterback at #6 overall this year.
McCown had the best year of his career in 2017 with the Jets, while Teddy Bridgewater was impressive before his knee imploded in the summer of 2016. If he can return to his 2015 form then the Jets just completed the heist of the century, and if not they are not tied to him for long.
Grade: C These aren’t the signings Jets fans would have wanted, but they are far from awful. The roster is a long way from allowing Keenum to flourish or being attractive enough for a competitive player like Cousins. These signings allow the Jets to keep their options open on draft day, and that is a good outcome for a team as far away as they are.
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