This year’s quarterback crop is, if nothing else, an interesting group. There’s top end prospects, but no one is the kind of sure-fire elite quarterback a franchise will mortgage the future to secure. There’s options down the ladder, but the lower a quarterback is selected, the more development that prospect requires.
Such a prospect won’t deter a team from taking a chance, but teams that do decide to pick up quarterbacks for development will also need some insurance, and that’s where free agency comes in.
A number of quarterbacks slated for free agency have the ability to step in as veteran mentors for young quarterbacks as well as being able to start for a team in need.
Michael Vick, Josh McCown and Matt Cassel, should they actually reach free agency, will be hot items for teams looking for stop-gap players that will allow them to put off directly addressing a need at the quarterback position for a year or two.
Unlike last year, there’s no potential franchise quarterbacks available on the open market or via trades, but Vick, McCown and Cassel have been able to provide their respective teams with quality starts. McCown was able to keep the Bears in postseason contention by providing the Bears with quality that was nearly equal to starting quarterback Jay Cutler.
Chad Henne, who is currently slated to become a free agent, will likely be locked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who he’s spent his last two seasons with, before he hits the open market. He’s been able to give the Jaguars a way out of using the third overall selection of this year’s draft on a quarterback that is ready to start from day one.
That’s the type of security picking up a top free agent quarterback teams will be looking for. Sure, these guys aren’t the long-term solution a draft pick can be, but at least teams know what they’re getting when they’re picking up a quarterback off the open market.
The question moving forward for teams that need quarterbacks will be simple. Does a free agent quarterback give them a better chance at winning now than down the road? In most cases, that is to say those teams that aren’t drafting at the top end of the draft, a free agent option will provide a better opportunity for teams to rise out of mediocrity than putting their hopes on raw talent at the most important position in the game.
We’ve seen teams take shots on raw talent in the very recent past. Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel were both shots taken by their respective teams, and both quarterbacks provided mixed results. If they can develop throughout the offseason, they’ll be homeruns in the long run, but if they implode under the weight of responsibility, they’ll become the latest cautionary example of why teams shouldn’t field players that aren’t prepared. It’s a question that won’t have one simple answer, and each quarterback needy team will have to make up their own mind about what the right direction to go in really is.
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