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Quarterback Options in 2018 Offseason if Brees Leaves the Team

Barring another mediocre season, Drew Brees will likely remain in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. However, if the team or Brees struggle in the 2017-18 season, there is a very real chance that New Orleans will part ways with the greatest player in team history. So the question arises, who will fill the massive shoes left behind by franchise’s most iconic player of all time? It is a daunting task but one that can be approached from multiple angles.  


Approach #1: 2018 Free Agency – Notable QBs with Expiring Contracts
Taking a look ahead at the quarterbacks set to enter free agency in 2018, there are a couple of factors that can be taken into account. See list below for quarterbacks the team may target.  

FREE AGENCY
PLAYER POS. AGE FROM STATUS
Drew Brees QB 38 NO 2018 UFA
Kirk Cousins QB 28 WAS 2018 UFA
Sam Bradford QB 29 MIN 2018 UFA
Matthew Stafford QB 29 DET 2018 UFA
Teddy Bridgewater QB 25 MIN 2018 UFA
Derek Carr QB 26 OAK 2018 UFA
Chase Daniel QB 30 NO 2018 UFA
Jimmy Garoppolo QB 25 NE 2018 UFA
A.J. McCarron QB 26 CIN 2018 RFA
Source: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/2018/


First off Mathew Stafford and Derek Carr will not make it to free agency.  In all likelihood, both are extended before the start of the regular season.  It is less of a sure thing that Jimmy Garoppolo signs an extension with New England but with the type of offers they turned down the keep him, it is looking more and more apparent that he is seen as Tom Brady’s eventual successor.  Because of this, I highly doubt he ever becomes a realistic possibility. 

Kirk Cousins is an interesting prospect.  Unlike the other quarterbacks mentioned so far, Cousins has a good chance of hitting the open market in 2018. Washington has positively botched the entirety of the negotiation process with their franchise quarterback. It is rumored that if he doesn’t resign with Washington, he will be bound for San Francisco.  While I definitely believe this scenario has a solid chance of playing out, it is not out of the question that an outside team, such as New Orleans, could swoop in a present Cousins with an offer he cannot refuse.  However unlikely, it is still an option. 

Both of Minnesota’s quarterbacks, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, are set to hit free agency in 2018. It is not out of the realm of possibility that both make it to the open market. However, If Bradford puts together another productive season like the one he had in 2016-17, I’d go out on a limb and guess he earns an extension.  After Bridgewater’s devastating injury, it looks like he and the team will part ways after the season.  Bridgewater is young and displayed plenty of ability prior to his injury. Of the two quarterbacks, Bridgewater is more likely than Bradford to be available during the 2018 free agency period.

 The final two options include Chase Daniel and A.J. McCarron.  Chase Daniel would be an interesting bridge quarterback and knows New Orleans’ offense.  He wouldn’t be a flashy option, but would come at a discount and would likely not be blatantly incompetent.  A.J. McCarron generated a lot of trade buzz this offseason.  He is young and has some relatively successful starting experience. However, he will officially be a restricted free agent and will likely come with a hefty price tag to simply acquire him from Cincinnati.  Having to give up significant draft capital and a massive contract to a player without elite traits and only minor experience is not an ideal scenario but remains an option.

 

Approach #2: 2018 QB Trade Options – QBs with 1 year remaining on contract in 2018
Trading for a quarterback in 2018 is also an avenue the team could explore.  For the sake of consistency, I focused on players that would have only 1 year remaining on their respective contracts during the 2018 NFL offseason. The list below represents the possible targets.  

TRADE
PLAYER POS. AGE FROM STATUS
Carson Palmer QB 37 ARI 2019 UFA
Matt Ryan QB 32 ATL 2019 UFA
Alex Smith QB 33 KC 2019 UFA
Tyrod Taylor QB 27 BUF 2019 UFA
Blake Bortles QB 25 JAC 2019 UFA
Brett Hundley QB 23 GB 2019 UFA
Trevor Siemian QB 25 DEN 2019 UFA
Source: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/2019/

Starting with the least likely options from this list, Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan and highly unlikely to be targeted by New Orleans for a number of reasons.  Carson Palmer has suffered serious injuries and is nearing the end of his career.  If Arizona decides to move on, I predict Palmer will more likely retire than move to a new team.  Matt Ryan is coming off an MVP season and Superbowl appearance.  He is likely to be extended in the near offseason barring a total collapse in 2017.  I’d put the probability of landing either player at <1%.

When Kansas City drafted Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the clock started ticking on Alex Smith’s tenure with the team.  Though unspectacular, Alex Smith could be a very interesting option as a bridge quarterback, especially if New Orleans plans on drafting a talented but unrefined rookie similar to Patrick Mahomes.

The next two quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles are both young options with some degree of NFL success but have fallen out of favor with their franchises.  Taylor is a mobile quarterback with underrated accuracy and velocity.  Where he runs into trouble, however, is his ability to process plays, break down coverages, and feeling the pass rush.  Bortles is also a young quarterback with an abundance of physical talent and a gun slinger mentality.  Bortles biggest issue has been his abysmal accuracy combined with inability to anticipate coverages.  He displayed promising qualities in 2015 but allowed his mechanics to fall off a cliff in 2016. Depending on how the 2017 season plays out, I’d expect one, if not both, of these quarterbacks to be available for trade if they are not simply released after the season concludes.

Trevor Siemian is also an interesting case.  Denver drafted Paxton Lynch in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft so it is only a matter of time before he is given his shot to start.  This is unfortunate since Siemian actually performed pretty well for a young, inexperienced quarterback with an abysmal offensive line.  Denver’s need to force Lynch into action will open up the possibility of trading Siemian during the 2018 offseason.  If the compensation isn’t extraordinary, I could definitely see New Orleans betting on a high character guy with some NFL experience and success.

An under-the-radar trade option could be that of Brett Hundley.  Although preseason games tend to be forgettable in essence, the memory of Brett Hundley absolutely dismantling the Saints’ defense still haunts me – not to mention that game took place during his rookie year. Being behind Aaron Rodgers the past couple years has undoubtedly helped him develop into a more complete passer and will only be 24 years old heading when the 2018 offseason commences.  He is a riskier option but one that the team has seen in action and likely has a pretty good understanding of what he is capable of doing.  Once again, there isn’t a lot to go by when determining his trade value.  If Hundley has solid 2017 preseason showing, his trade value during next offseason will likely be at least a 2nd round pick.
Approach #3: 2018 QB Draft Options
The most commonly used method in acquiring a franchise quarterback is done through the NFL Draft.  New Orleans has not had to embark on this journey due to the presence of Drew Brees.  However, it is very likely that the Saints will explore this option in the 2018 NFL Draft.  It wasn’t a secret the team was infatuated with Patrick Mahomes.  I could easily see them draft someone of a similar make-up in 2018.  Let’s review the projected best available options.

DRAFT
PLAYER POS. SCHOOL
Sam Darnold QB USC
Josh Alan QB Wyoming
Mason Rudolph QB Oklahoma State
Lamar Jackson QB Louisville
Josh Rosen QB UCLA
Nick Fitzgerald QB Mississippi State
Source: http://walterfootball.com/draft2018QB.php

In my humble opinion, this group is divided into two tiers.  In the first tier, I’ve included USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Alan and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.  In the second tier, I’ve included Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald.

In tier 1, Sam Darnold is likely the head of the pack.  He has been rumored as the number 1 overall pick when the 2018 draft rolls around.  Although he doesn’t have a ton of experience, he excelled in his time on the field and turned USC’s season around.  On top of elite production in the games he played, he also meets all the Saints physical thresholds.  The next tier 1 quarterback in this class is Josh Allen. He has all the physical tools and then some.  He is a similar to Patrick Mahomes in throwing ability but surpasses him athletically and is about 3 inches taller.  If he can improve his accuracy and decision making in 2017, it is not out of the question that he supplants Darnold as the top quarterback in the draft.  The final tier 1 quarterback is Mason Rudolph.  He is a tall, somewhat lanky quarterback with a solid arm and elite production.  He rarely makes mistakes as his interception totals would suggest.  The biggest issue with his game is the offense in which he plays.  He is rarely asked to go through progressions thus leading us to believe he can’t.  It is very possible, if not likely; he just isn’t asked to do so frequently.  Rudolph is another player with excellent physical dimensions and is right up there at the top of the pack.

Tier 2 contains some interesting options that could easily find themselves jumping into tier 1 with solid 2017 seasons.  First off, Lamar Jackson was absolute dynamite in 2016 on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.  Unfortunately for him, we have seen similar quarterbacks in previous drafts, not transition well to the NFL.  Jackson’s lack of size, tendency to run and inaccuracy are pretty big concerns.  Nick Fitzgerald and Josh Rosen are in a similar boat as they are tall, skinny, and lack ideal experience.  Like the quarterbacks in tier 1, both these players have the size and arm talent to jump into tier 1.  This is something of a long-shot, however, as Rosen struggles with intangibles and Fitzgerald struggles as a pocket passer.  The tools are certainly there but will they play to their full potential?

 

Conclusion
Taking a look ahead at the 2018 offseason, there will be no shortage of quarterback options. Ultimately, if I’m making an educated guess on how the team would approach their franchise quarterback vacancy, I’d definitely see them drafting the heir apparent to Brees and resigning Chase Daniel to operate as the bridge quarterback.  Signing Teddy Bridgewater in free agency or trading for Brett Hundley would also be very interesting moves that I would totally support.  I just have a gut feeling that will not be the direction they decide to go.  There are too many quarterbacks in this draft class with ridiculous upside.  Sean Payton will ultimately be unable to resist drafting a physical specimen to mold to his offense.