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Veteran QB market: Top 10 potentially available passers in 2020

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A few weeks back, The Dave Dameshek Football Program predicted the 2020 offseason will feature "the most QB movement in the history of pro football." While this is not the first time we've heard some iteration of that theory before new contracts and franchise tags inevitably thin the herd, the upcoming veteran quarterback class is certainly lining up to produce the most star-studded vintage in recent memory. Let's examine the potential 2020 landscape:

1
Dak Prescott
QB
Cowboys

When has Jerry Jones ever lost a marquee attraction because he couldn't afford him? Make no mistake, Prescott is a superstar. Over his past 16 games dating back to a November, 2018 epiphany that coincided with Amari Cooper's arrival on the scene, Prescott has completed 69.8% of his passes at 8.3 yards per attempt for a 29:12 TD-to-INT ratio and a 102.8 passer rating to go with six rushing touchdowns. Directing a pass-first offense for the first time under play-calling savant Kellen Moore, Dak is a top-five MVP candidate leading an offense that ranks first in Football Outsiders' efficiency metric and No. 2 in Drive Success Rate. "Dak played about as well as any QB I've seen all year," winning quarterback Kirk Cousins told NBC's Michele Tafoya after Minnesota's victory in Dallas last Sunday night. Dak might be eligible for free agency in March, but he's not going anywhere on Jones' watch.

2
Tom Brady
QB
Patriots

For all intents and purposes, Brady's three-year contract is a caveat-loaded sham. The final two years automatically void on the last day of the 2019 league year, March 17, 2020. The deal's true intrigue, as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport outlined in August, is the unconventional provision that prohibits the Patriots from applying the franchise or transition tag. In other words, the greatest quarterback in history's age-43 season will technically be up for bids when the clock strikes 4:00 p.m. ET on March 18. I don't believe Pats owner Robert Kraft will let Brady out of the building. You don't believe Brady would flee the Super Bowl-cozy cocoon of Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Dante Scarnecchia, Julian Edelman, James White and a shutdown defense for a mirage of more verdant pastures. But your conspiracy theory-loving uncle knows in his heart of hearts that Brady is dying to leave Belichick high and dry for a return to California -- just in time to don the black hat, join forces with Rams wunderkind coach Sean McVay and open the state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium for a Super Bowl LIII revenge tour. Your uncle's been watching too much pro rasslin'.

3
Drew Brees
QB
Saints

Similar to Brady, this Big Easy icon has reached the year-to-year stage of a storied career. The one obvious difference is the multi-faceted QB room in New Orleans, perhaps planting a seed in coach Sean Payton's head that could lead to doubt in the event of an unexpected Brees slump. The not-so-obvious difference is the change in Brees' game, with the field shrinking to suit his diminishing arm strength. Primary backup Teddy Bridgewater has already sailed the Saints' ship smoothly, with a steady hand that generated five victories in five starts. Taysom Hill, a video game create-a-player doubling as the third-string QB, has drawn Payton's anointing oils as the next Steve Young. As a student of NFL history, I'm obliged to refer back to the original Steve Young and the protracted San Francisco soap opera that ultimately unseated Joe Montana atop the iron throne.

4
Philip Rivers
QB
Chargers

Rivers will turn 38 in December. Rumors of a latent desire to finish his career closer to his northern Alabama roots have trailed him since he was 33. As he embarked on the final season of a four-year, $83.25-million extension, both Rivers and the Chargers decided to shelve contract talks until 2020. Even before Anthony Lynn's midseason ouster of long-time Rivers confidant and play-caller Ken Whisenhunt, I was starting to suspect the run-oriented head coach might prefer to go in a different direction with his offense as the Bolts transition to long-awaited SoFi Stadium. In the wake of last week's loss to the Raiders, Lynn balked at a long-term Rivers endorsement, explaining that he doesn't "have the luxury" to look beyond the season. It's worth noting that trusty backup Tyrod Taylor, who thrived as a dual-threat quarterback under Lynn's tutelage in Buffalo, is signed through 2020. Meanwhile, Rivers played his college ball in North Carolina, where the local NFL outfit may be in the market for a fresh face of the franchise ...

5
Cam Newton
QB
Panthers

The Panthers appear to be seeking a clean break atop their salary hierarchy as they prepare for a move to new headquarters in Rock Hill, South Carolina. While the team's coaching staff and front office may also be in flux this coming offseason, Rapoport reported last Sunday that it remains " highly unlikely" Newton will return as the quarterback in 2020. Due $18.6 million next year, along with a $2 million option bonus, Newton will be a tempting boom-or-bust trade target if owner David Tepper does indeed place his erstwhile QB showpiece on the open market. At the peak of his powers during his magical 2015 MVP season, Newton was perhaps the most lethal dual-threat quarterback the sport had ever witnessed. Now that he's considering Lisfranc foot surgery following multiple operations on his throwing shoulder, it's natural to wonder if football's version of collision kryptonite has taken its toll on the self-proclaimed Man of Steel. While the injury risk for running quarterbacks in the prime of their careers may be overstated, the career actuarial tables don't leave much room for optimism beyond age 30. To his credit, Newton had already begun the planned evolution to quick-strike pocket passer, playing the best football of his life through November of last season as he watched Andrew Luck bounce back from an even bleaker prognosis to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors.

6
Ryan Tannehill
QB
Titans

Marcus Mariota's stark regression in spatial awareness, pocket presence and arm confidence made a suspect offensive line appear downright inept. Enter Tannehill, who has led the Titans on three game-winning drives in four starts, specializing in the kind of downfield and tight-window throws that had gone missing not only in Mariota's early-season quagmire but also in Tannehill's own Miami offenses. Mike Vrabel's team is averaging 10 more points and 72 more yards per game under Tannehill, who sports a healthy 70.0 completion rate to go with a sterling 107.5 passer rating in his short stint as the Titans' starter. Already a bargain on the one-year, $7 million deal reworked under terms of the clever trade arrangement that landed him in Nashville, Tannehill might just be ticketed for the franchise tag if he continues at this rate. As we've witnessed with Rich Gannon in Oakland and Alex Smith in Kansas City, Tannehill wouldn't be the first athletic quarterback to resuscitate his career under a new coaching staff in a different locale.

7
Andy Dalton
QB
Bengals

Speaking of Smith's midwest sojourn, one organization's afterthought slough may be another desperate franchise's salvage project. When the 49ers deemed Smith just good enough to get beat by a better QB in the playoffs, Andy Reid came calling with a pair of second-round picks in exchange for a stable veteran to jumpstart his program as a perennial AFC West contender. Dalton is not on Smith's level in terms of mobility and game management, but he's proven to be superior in terms of pure passing ability. The knock on Dalton -- to this point in his career, an eminently fair one -- is that he doesn't elevate his teammates. If he's surrounded by a deep, talented supporting cast as he was in 2015, he can flirt with the fringes of the MVP discussion (just as Smith did in 2017). If he's buried behind a bare-bones offensive line with a historically inept ground attack and an absentee No. 1 receiver, he gets benched in favor of a middle-round rookie. Will there be an Andy Reid lurking next offseason, desperate to deal for Dalton when the woebegone Bengals identify their latest promised-land passer?

8
Nick Foles
QB
Jaguars

As Minshew Mania entered full bloom, Foles was the quarterback name most bandied about at last month's trade deadline. Armed with the assurance that they now have an intoxicating young fallback option under center, the Jaguars opted to keep their $88 million investment for a seven-game trial run that will offer ostensible clarity in the 2020 QB room. Should Foles succeed in transmitting his Super Bowl LII magic to a less talented supporting cast than the one he enjoyed in Philadelphia, the best course of action may be to hold Minshew in reserve as a premium insurance policy. Should Foles flounder or suffer yet another injury, however, it will behoove the Jaguars to solicit potential suitors such as the Bears, Broncos or Buccaneers. Yes, the Bucs.

9
Jameis Winston
QB
Buccaneers

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you may be the draft's No. 1 overall pick, but you're gonna have to serve somebody. We all understand defensive pressure necessarily forces a quarterback's hand -- or feet. What we may not realize, though, is that even the great ones must make statistical concessions in the face of pressure, sacrificing either yards per attempt, interception rate or sack percentage. Whereas Deshaun Watson believes waiting an extra second or two for the big play is worth the tradeoff in sack rate, Derek Carr (perhaps at the behest of Jon Gruden) prefers to get the ball out quickly, thereby reducing the chances of both a negative play and a chunk play of 20 or more yards. As researcher and theorist Adam Harstad articulated in laying out this pick-your-poison postulation, Winston is "addicted" to big plays to an aberrant extent, easily leading the NFL in turnovers since his 2015 arrival on the scene. At the crux of a make-or-break contract season, the mercurial Winston owns the longest active streak of 300-yard passing games (four), offset by the most giveaways (13) over that same stretch. Bruce Arians' Bucs have a 3-6 record after nine games, in line with Winston's career winning percentage of .381 in 63 starts. The jury is in: Winston's frenetic formula doesn't work.

10
Teddy Bridgewater
QB
Saints

TeddyB_H2O has proven to be the practically perfect backup quarterback, keeping a Super Bowl contender afloat during the month-long absence of a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. While the defense did the heavy lifting, Bridgewater moved the chains, minimized damage and mixed in an occasional highlight play. In other words, he managed the game as the situation dictated -- and as his coaching staff and surrounding talent enabled. Bridgewater has attempted the shortest passes in the league this year, averaging a scant 6.2 air yards per throw in five starts. Was play-calling master Sean Payton masking a backup's physical limitations or placing artificial constraints on a passer with potential to do more than was asked? Who has a better grasp on his quarterback's strengths and weaknesses than the head coach?

BONUS: Case Keenum, Washington Redskins

The deck has been stacked against Keenum in Washington, playing all season with a depleted, inexperienced receiving corps behind an often overmatched, makeshift offensive line. Barring an injury to rookie Dwayne Haskins, he's doomed to spend the rest of the season holding the clipboard iPad on the sidelines. The Ryan Fitzpatrick career path is not a bad way to experience life in the NFL fast lane.

Other QBs likely to be available: Joe Flacco, Denver Broncos; Eli Manning, New York Giants; Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans; Matt Moore, Kansas City Chiefs; Josh Rosen, Miami Dolphins; Nate Sudfeld, Philadelphia Eagles

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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