The best quarterback bargains in free agency
Everybody wants to talk about the premier free agents like Kirk Cousins, but this series intends to do the opposite: highlight the cheapest, bargain-basement free agents who may actually have some value to a roster.
Let’s get it started with QUARTERBACKS.
Chase Daniel, New Orleans
Despite only being 6’1″, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield is still projected to be a top 10 pick in the draft. He has a better-than-expected arm, but that largely results from his phenomenal production and efficiency back in college. Coming out of Missouri, no one gave the 6’0″ Chase Daniel that same benefit of the doubt. He lit up college defenses to the tune of a 4320 yards and 36 TD average over his last two seasons, with efficiency to boot (70.5% completion). His college system helped juice those stats, of course, but those are numbers that still dwarf his successor Blaine Gabbert‘s. (In Gabbert’s two seasons as a starter at Missouri, he averaged 20 passing touchdowns a year and completed 61.1% of his passes.) That said, concerns over Daniel’s lack of size and arm strength left him undrafted.
Since then, Daniel has barely sniffed the field in the NFL, amassing a grand total of 78 passes in 8 seasons. Nevertheless, Andy Reid saw enough in him to offer him a big deal to back up Alex Smith in Kansas City, and then Chiefs OC Doug Pederson helped land him a similarly oversized deal to come to Philadelphia. The fact that those two “QB guru” coaches appreciated Daniel’s game says something to me. Daniel struggled as the presumptive bridge starter in Philly, but he’s never the type to wow you with his arm in practice. Rather, he’s a heady QB who can be a pro behind the scenes and at least play a game manager role if pressed into duty. Still only 31, he projects as a competent backup for at least 2-3 more years.
CHI. Chase Daniel’s time in KC didn’t overlap with Matt Nagy’s heyday, but he still should be familiar with some of the Andy Reid principles as well as the spread principles they may bring in for Mitchell Trubisky.
JAX. The Jags committed to Blake Bortles for at least another year, but a competent (and cheap) backup like Chase Daniel may be helpful to keep the ship afloat if Bortles misses time.
TEN. The Titans don’t need to invest much in their QB position given the fact that Marcus Mariota has it on lockdown, but I’d like to see them find a better backup than Matt Cassel, who hasn’t been good in about 5 years now.
Mark Sanchez, Chicago
The kids out there who know and love Blake Bortles may not remember his spiritual predecessor, Mark Sanchez. Despite Sanchez’s erratic play under center, the Rex Ryan Jets were still good enough to make a few deep playoff runs. Through his 4 seasons at the helm, Sanchez topped out with a 56.7% completion percentage.
But let’s give Sanchez some excuses here. For one, he had been tossed right into the fire as an unprepared rookie (his USC coach Pete Carroll famously bashed his decision to enter the NFL too early.) To make matters worse, he landed on a Rex Ryan staff that didn’t specialize in offense and erred on the too-conservative side, in a similar manner to how Jeff Fisher stifled his QBs with the Rams. Sure enough, Sanchez looked better at his next stop in Philly (64% completion, 7.0 yards per attempt.)
Am I suggested that Sanchez is secretly some superstar? No, not at all. He’s mediocre at best. But I am suggesting that Sanchez is probably a better QB now, at age 31, than he had been at 23 or 24. Despite his fame early on, Sanchez has stuck around the league and proven to be a good character guy and a good mentor behind the scenes.
CHI. By all accounts, Mark Sanchez helped Mitchell Trubisky behind the scenes in Chicago, so perhaps he should just stay right there and continue that work.
NYJ. How do Jets fans feel about Mark Sanchez these days? Is he still a punching bag? Or do they appreciate his effort back in the day? Either way, I see a potential fit here if the team selects a QB like Baker Mayfield at # 6. Among all the rookies, Mayfield is the oldest and most experienced — and therefore the most likely to be ready to start Week 1. If that’s the case, the Jets need to find a veteran for that QB room behind him. Mayfield doesn’t need to soak up any “wisdom” from Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.
MIN. Let’s presume that the rumors are true and that Kirk Cousins may be leaning to Minnesota. If the Vikings sell the farm for Cousins, they don’t need a pricey backup behind him. Sanchez would come cheaply and be competent in that role (although maybe Kyle Sloter is ready for that himself?)
E.J. Manuel, Oakland
Next, we come to another R1 bust in E.J. Manuel, formerly of Buffalo. I actually had high hopes for Manuel coming out of Florida State despite the media and the fans calling him a reach (accurately, in hindsight). Jimbo Fisher’s offense may have helped quite a bit in college, but he still produced efficient numbers: 66.8% completion, 8.7 yards per attempt over his final two seasons. He also had a big frame at 6’4″, “plus” athleticism, and high character to back it up.
Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to immediate success with the Bills. Manuel performed poorly as a rookie (11 TD, 9 int, 58.8% completion, with a 39.5 QBR) and lost the faith of his staff. But again, I’d wonder about the Mark Sanchez excuse here. Sure, Manuel sucked as a rookie, but most rookies do. He’s never really gotten his second opportunity since — those 306 pass attempts as a rookie represent over half his career total.
Now 27 and hopping between teams, Manuel’s floating on the edge of the league and may slip off into the abyss. In my mind, he deserves a life preserver. If I had a team with a veteran and durable QB, I’d bring Manuel into the fold and try to re-develop him. He still has the tools to succeed and may thrive if he finds continuity in a system. A situation with a team like the Chargers (developing behind Philip Rivers) would make a lot of sense, although the team ended up favoring Cardale Jones in that role.
BAL. The Ravens have never locked in a long-term backup behind Joe Flacco, but E.J. Manuel makes sense in that role. He has some of the same qualities, and also has some experience with their assistant Greg Roman from Buffalo (albeit not all positive.)
ATL. With Matt Ryan squarely in his prime at age 32, the Falcons don’t need to worry much about the QB position. However, it’s not a bad idea to sort out long-term plans behind him. Matt Schaub is 36 now, so if they bring in E.J. Manuel and groom him for the # 2 role, he may be ready to keep it locked up for years. That’s the type of cheap investment that makes sense for a team that’s happy with their QB situation.
CAR. Similarly, Cam Newton is in his prime years at age 28 but backed up by an aging Derek Anderson (34). With Anderson entering free agency and a new offensive staff coming in, this may be time to consider a move towards a younger backup here. Again, you’d just be looking for Manuel to develop enough to lock up the backup job for the long term.