There's no doubt about it -- the NFL has become a passing league, and the numbers prove it. Three quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford) threw for 5,000-plus yards last season. Amazingly, only two field generals (Dan Marino - 1984, Brees - 2008) had previously accomplished that feat in the history of the NFL! We also saw 10 signal-callers throw for 4,000 or more yards. Furthermore, 10 quarterbacks also scored 25 or more total touchdowns.
With NFL rules clearly helping quarterbacks find greater statistical success than ever before, it's going to be interesting to see which players end up switching teams once the 2012 free agency period starts on March 13. This year's potential free-agent class includes some big names, but only one of them is likely to be wearing a new uniform. With that said, here's a look at where I'd like to see the top free-agent quarterbacks end up from a fantasy perspective this offseason.
Drew Brees, Saints: "Pee Wee Herman to marry Kate Upton" or "Yankees trade Derek Jeter to Red Sox for prospects." Those are two headlines you're more likely to read this year than "Saints, Brees part ways." Yes, the talented quarterback is a free agent. But there is no chance he will be wearing anything but a Saints uniform next season -- and into the foreseeable future. Whether that means he's franchised or signs a new deal, Brees isn't going anywhere. He'll be worth a first-round pick in all fantasy drafts.
Peyton Manning, Colts: Manning is still under contract with the Colts, but chances are pretty good that he'll be released before the team has to pay him a $28 million bonus on March 8. If his neck problems are no longer an issue and he does hit the open market, there won't be a shortage of suitors looking to sign the future Hall of Famer. In fact, teams like the Dolphins, Jets and Redskins have already been named as potential options. But from a fantasy perspective, Manning's best destination is the desert. Imagine what he could do with Larry Fitzgerald?
Matt Flynn, Packers: The Packers are unlikely to franchise Flynn, as free agents Jermichael Finley and Scott Wells are higher on their wish list. That means the L.S.U. product will be in a new uniform next season and could become a fantasy sleeper if he lands with the right team. To me, that team resides in South Florida. Re-united with former OC Joe Philbin, Flynn would be a nice fit for a franchise that needs to upgrade at the quarterback position. In the event that Flynn signs elsewhere, I'd be very concerned he would become the next Kevin Kolb.
Alex Smith, 49ers: Everything you read on the wires suggests that Smith will be playing for the 49ers again next season. He's coming off the best statistical year of his career, throwing for 3,144 yards with 19 total touchdowns and just seven turnovers while leading his team to the NFC Championship Game. From a fantasy angle, though, Smith just doesn't do enough in the stat sheets to warrant more than a late-round selection as a No. 2 quarterback or matchup-based starter. As a game manager for all intents and purposes, Smith's ceiling is very limited.
Kyle Orton, Chiefs: There's a chance that the Chiefs could look to re-sign Orton, which would create a quarterback competition in camp with Matt Cassel. But looking at this from a fantasy angle, Orton would obviously have more value as the favorite to start. That would be the case in Seattle, where the combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst left a whole lot to be desired. Based on the teams that need a quarterback, though, Orton would be hard pressed to be more than a No. 2 fantasy option or matchup-based starter in the majority of leagues.
Chad Henne, Dolphins: I don't see a single team outside of maybe the Browns where Henne could sign and clearly compete for a prominent role, and I expect Cleveland to do everything it can to land Robert Griffin III in the NFL Draft. The Broncos are another possibility, but Henne doesn't fit an offense that's been built to suit Tim Tebow. That leaves the Jets, who signed Henne's former coach Tony Sparano as their new OC and will no doubt be looking for a backup for Mark Sanchez. In this potential scenario, Henne would have little draft appeal in most formats.
Vince Young, Eagles: Young was actually a decent fantasy option in his three starts for the Eagles last season, but he still committed far too many turnovers for an NFL team to sign and hand him a starting role. Based on his skill set, the former Texas standout could turn into a nice fit behind Tebow in Denver. Broncos VP of Football Operations John Elway has confirmed that the team will bring in two quarterbacks to compete with Tebow, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone like Young or Josh Johnson is one of those potential offseason additions.
David Garrard, Jaguars: The Redskins will have a chance to upgrade their quarterback position in the draft, and players like Griffin and Ryan Tannehill have been mentioned as possible options. The team could also go after Manning, but a mentor for a younger signal-caller would be needed if that scenario doesn't come to fruition. Enter Garrard, who missed all of last season with back problems but is intent on returning in 2012. If the Skins do land Tannehill, for example, Garrard could open next season as the starter while the rookie learns the pro game.
Jason Campbell, Raiders: Campbell missed most of last season with a broken collarbone, and the addition of Carson Palmer all but ended his tenure with the Raiders. He'll be a nice veteran option for teams in need at the position, and landing with the Jaguars could give him the best chance of actually starting a few games. Blaine Gabbert showed last season that he's just not ready to be a starting quarterback at the NFL level, so Campbell could come in and help ease the transition. Neither Campbell nor Gabbert would have seasonal draft value in this situation.
Donovan McNabb, Vikings: McNabb was once considered one of the best fantasy players at his position, but that seems like light years ago when you look at how poorly he's performed over the last two seasons. Still, he has no plans to retire and believes there are three NFL teams that could use him. One of those teams could be his former employers, the Eagles, who will be looking for a backup to Michael Vick this offseason. If this does happen -- and Vick gets hurt like he normally does -- McNabb could end up starting a few games for the Eagles once again.