You've heard offensive minds referred to as "quarterback whisperers." Well, the week between the NFL Scouting Combine and the start of free agency is the time for "whispering about quarterbacks."
Rumors are omnipresent. The conversations coming out of Indianapolis from journalists and executives are as spicy and juicy as the shrimp cocktail and steaks at St. Elmo's Steak House. So let's name names and take some chances.
Here are our predictions for where nine big-name quarterbacks (in both free agency and the draft) will end up, listed in the order that the deals will happen, Schein Nine style. We start with some huge free-agent signings and then move through the 2018 NFL Draft:
1) Kirk Cousins to the Vikings
The Vikings were a game away from reaching Super Bowl LII. But let's be honest: They were a really good team that took advantage of some luck. Aaron Rodgers' collarbone injury helped clear the Packers away as an obstacle in the NFC North, while the play that propelled Minnesota to the NFC title game was literally dubbed a miracle. And then the Vikingsgot their doors blown off by the Eagles. Good teams and executives aren't satisfied with merely getting close -- they move forward. Consider what the Boston Celtics did after landing the No. 1 seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference playoffs last season. They changed the entire roster and got better. The Vikings know they have to do the same thing, specifically by upgrading at the quarterback position, as all three signal-callers from 2017 are hitting the market. And general manager Rick Spielman will get his man.
Thanks to the foolishness of the Redskins, Kirk Cousins is about to become that rarest of things: a free-agent franchise quarterback. I called the Vikings the odds-on favorites to land Cousins on my SiriusXM Radio show on Feb. 21, and nothing has changed since. Sure, the Jets -- who are projected to have more salary-cap space than the Vikings, per Over the Cap -- will offer Cousins more money. But when I talked to Cousins on my show in the week of the Super Bowl, he stressed that winning is his top priority. I believe that. Beyond Cousins being a Midwestern guy, the Vikings have a top-five defense, a solid receiver corps, a legit pass-catching tight end, a young stud at running back and a great head coach and offensive coordinator.
Without Cousins, Minnesota is a wild-card contender. With him, Minnesota is a legit Super Bowl contender. It's go time!
2) Case Keenum to the Broncos
After the pairing of Cousins and the Vikings shrinks the pool of available quarterbacks (and quarterback jobs) by one, Keenum will still be looking for a gig -- and the Broncos will still be looking for someone to stabilize a position that's been a liability since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset. Recent reports have suggestedKeenum could land in Denver, and it makes sense. Yes, during a lightning-in-a-bottle 2017 campaign with Minnesota, Keenum obliterated his previous career highs in starts (14), completion rate (67.6 percent), yardage (3,547), TD-to-INT ratio (22:7) and passer rating (98.3). But it wasn't a fluke. He's always had talent, and once he escaped ep (for whom he played in 2014, '15 and '16), the former undrafted free agent was able to show that to the world. The Broncos, meanwhile, ranked 31st in passer rating last season (73.0) and 21st in 2016 (83.9). Keenum could solve Denver's quarterback problem in a hurry -- and enable the Broncos to either nab a tantalizing non-QB at No. 5 overall or trade down for more draft capital.
3) AJ McCarron to the Browns
This feels like a done deal. And it makes a ton of sense. Browns coach Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati when the Bengals drafted McCarron in 2014, and he was there in 2015 when McCarron completed 66.1 percent of his passes and notched a TD-to-INT ratio of 6:2 and a passer rating of 97.4 in the four games (three starts) in which he saw significant action. Giving up a second- and third-round pick to trade for McCarron -- as the Brownswanted to do last year -- would have been the wrong move. But now that McCarron is about to become a free agent, he and Jackson should reunite in Cleveland. Besides, McCarron will know he's a stop-gap for the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. (More on that below ...)
4) Teddy Bridgewater to the Jets
The Jets need a veteran stop-gap, too. If/when they strike out on Cousins (a caveat: even if I'm doubtful Cousins ends up with the Jets, I absolutely believe they should go after him), Bridgewater is an upgrade on the depth chart, presuming his medicals check out. Veteran Josh McCown played well for New York last season, but he's a free agent and will be turning 39 this summer. Bryce Petty, meanwhile, produced an 0-3 record and a 55.1 passer rating in four games last season, while Christian Hackenberg has yet to see the field since being drafted in the second round in 2016. Bridgewater's character is impeccable, and his drive as he continues to come back from a devastating knee injury will be off the charts.
5) Sam Darnold to the Browns
John Dorsey has his job as Browns GM because his predecessor, Sashi Brown, failed miserably TWICE in passing up on a potential franchise quarterback (Carson Wentz in 2016 and Deshaun Watson in '17). I still can't believe Cleveland let Wentz slip away. So while I love running back Saquon Barkley -- I am reminded of when I banged the drum for the Cowboys to draft Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in 2016, or when I did the same for Leonard Fournette and the Jags last year -- Dorsey needs to find his franchise quarterback. That's why Dorsey is there. And he shouldn't wait to address the position with the fourth overall pick; get it done at No. 1. (This would also open the Browns up to the possibility of trading out of No. 4 if an offer proved attractive enough.)
I wish Darnold had thrown at the NFL Scouting Combine, but I'm not going to "hot take" it. If the Browns have the USC product as the top quarterback in the draft, they should select him first overall. I love this QB draft class, which I think will see four signal-callers selected in the top 10 and five or six going in Round 1. Josh Allen oozes talent and owned the combine, and I wouldn't bat an eye if he were the top pick -- in fact, I'd endorse it. But with about eight weeks to go before the draft, I think Darnold is the guy for Cleveland. And I love it.
6) Josh Allen to the Cardinals
I talked to both Cardinals GM Steve Keim and new coach Steve Wilks on my SiriusXM Radio show, and the Arizona brass made it clear the team is going to address the quarterback position in both the draft and with a veteran. I think Super Bowl hero Nick Foles being traded from Philadelphia to Arizona makes a ton of sense, once (if) the Eagles lower their trade demands. And they should. Nick Foles is a legend. He's also a backup quarterback.
Keim's roster is brilliant. Wilks is beyond impressive. This team is ready for prime time -- provided it can get a quarterback. Adding Allen would require a major move up from the 15th overall spot, to get ahead of other QB-hungry teams like the Jets at No. 6. But the Cards should do it. Allen is special -- that arm! I believe the Wyoming product is the most talented quarterback in the draft.
7) Josh Rosen to the Jets
Rosen's performance in on-field drills was a mixed bag, per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, but the UCLA product helped dispel myths about his personality -- which I never bought -- during the interview portion of the combine. He's brilliant. He speaks beyond athletics. I love it. And I think Rosen is going to be a great quarterback -- he can flat-out sling it, regardless of what he did on the field in Indianapolis.
8) Baker Mayfield to the Dolphins
I think Miami is in the quarterback business -- as it should be. Ryan Tannehill is coming off a season lost to injury. He's also Ryan Tannehill, owner of a 37-40 record and 86.5 career passer rating. I could see Rosen and Miami being a match, but I think the Jets will nab Rosen first. So Miami will jump into the top 10 via a trade (the Dolphins currently pick 11th) to secure the services of the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. I'm a believer in Mayfield as a legit NFL starter. And, after a college tenure that saw Mayfield making the wrong kinds of headlines, I think the Oklahoma product knows what can and cannot fly in the pros, both on and off the field. I'm buying.
9) Lamar Jackson to the Bills
Jackson is a quarterback worth drafting in the first round. No more words need to be added to that sentence. I don't want to hear about the former Heisman Trophy winner switching positions. It's offensive. OK, so Jackson completed less than 60 percent of his passes in his college career -- so did Josh Allen. I don't care about either statistical mark.
Even if the Bills are unable to trade up for one of the top four quarterback prospects in the draft, they still have two first-round picks (Nos. 21 and 22), meaning they'll be able to get their signal-caller of the future in Jackson (who would also make a lot of sense for the Chargers, Jaguars and Steelers). And Jackson will get his chance to stick it to everyone who ever questioned him coming out of Louisville.