America's favorite reality show, "Where Will Kirk Cousins Land?," is back for a third season starting in 2018, with all signs pointing to a series finale in March. Cousins and his representatives have built to this moment, leveraging the rising salary cap and franchise tag to make him the most eligible man in a quarterback-starved nation.
Cousins should have no shortage of options if the Washington Redskins can't close the deal, with upwards of 10 teams potentially changing quarterbacks in 2018. It remains to be seen how many big names join him on the market.
Drew Brees and Jimmy Garoppolo are very unlikely to be available. Big names like Alex Smith, Eli Manning and Tyrod Taylor are candidates to be traded, but the free-agent market will be typically thin. NFL players don't usually make it to free agency unless they aren't wanted -- and that's especially true at quarterback.
In this week's QB Index, I'm going to take an early look at the anticipated free agents, trade candidates and players who could be released, with a few X-factors thrown in. The updated 2017 QB rankings are at the bottom of the page, but for now, here's an early look at a quarterback market that is still taking shape:
1) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes in April because they wanted more from the quarterback position. Smith has responded with his best overall season since the Chiefs gave up two second-round picks to acquire the QB from San Francisco in 2013, but his limitations have shown up again in the second half of the season. How Smith performs in the coming weeks will play a big factor in his future, but the time feels right to move on with only one more season left on the 33-year-old's contract. Considering the barren market, the Chiefs could potentially flip Smith for a better draft haul than what they gave up for him nearly five years ago.
2) Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills: Tyrod's future was similarly foggy a year ago at this time, playing for an organization that was ambivalent about him. While Taylor outlasted former coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley, Tyrod appears even less likely to remain in Buffalo this time around. Due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year and $16 million overall, Taylor could have trade value. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Bills are expected to explore that value before any potential release.
(Barring, of course, a miracle run through the playoffs that the city of Buffalo deserves.)
3) Eli Manning, New York Giants: This is a long shot for various reasons, including the no-trade clause in Manning's contract that allows him to control his future. But if the next Giants general manager decides to move on from Manning and the soon-to-be 37-year-old still wants to play, a low-level trade like the one that sent Carson Palmer to Arizona could be a consideration. Nothing is off the table here, from an outright release to retirement to another Manning year in New York, mentoring a potential draft pick. For 14 seasons, everyone knew where to find Manning on Sunday afternoons. No one, even Manning, has any idea where he'll be three months from now.
4) AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals: The team was thwarted in its bid to deal McCarron to the Browns at the trading deadline due to some faulty TPS reports. The Browns might not stay so interested if coach Hue Jackson is no longer there, but the trade talks show a willingness by the Bengals to let go of their backup quarterback.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
1) Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: It would cost the Redskins $34.47 million to retain Cousins on the franchise tag for a third straight season. Another one-year deal would send a bizarre message: a monumental commitment to the organization's lack of commitment to its most important player. (It would also dramatically alter the quarterback position's pay scale, a change that is probably overdue.)
Reading between the lines on Cousins' comments throughout the season, it appears he's taking a wait-and-see approach with the organization. The team appears to be doing the same, with his play down the stretch expected to be a determining factor in his future, according to Rapoport. If the team doesn't believe in Cousins yet, it's hard to imagine what's going to change. Ugly stories have started to pop up, a familiar sight late in a lost Redskins season. It is all setting up for a divorce, with a team like Jacksonville a perfect candidate to swoop in and show Cousins some love.
3) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints: Brees could be preparing for the NFC Championship Game when he turns 39 years old on January 15. The Saints' success this season makes it difficult to imagine him playing anywhere else in 2018, despite the complicated negotiations that his age and franchise-legend status require. Brees said in November he doesn't plan on ever leaving New Orleans. After the Saintsfailed to secure Patrick Mahomes in last year's draft, fortuitously landing cornerback Marshon Lattimore, it's not as if New Orleans has any fallback option.
4) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings love Bridgewater and know far more about his recovery from knee surgery than any other team. That's why a deal to keep him in Minnesota makes the most sense for both sides. It only takes listening to coach Mike Zimmer talk about Bridgewater to know that the Vikes still want to find out if Teddy is the franchise quarterback they believe him to be.
5) Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings: It's going to be awfully difficult to keep Keenum and Bridgewater after the season. With a handful of starting jobs open, Keenum should have a chance to parlay his career year into life-changing money as a starter or "bridge quarterback" elsewhere.
8) Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers: One of the league's better backups seems to be content and best-suited for that role.
9) Geno Smith, New York Giants:His start against the Raiders was the first full game Smith played since the end of 2014, his second season in the league. The performance should help his chances to get a backup job, as he made a handful of impressive throws late in the game.
10) Blaine Gabbert, Arizona Cardinals: It's hard to imagine Gabbert playing better for anyone than Bruce Arians.
CANDIDATES FOR RELEASE
1) Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: Like so many of the names above, the next month will play an enormous role in determining Bortles' value. His play has improved this season, especially over the last two weeks. It hasn't improved enough to believe he's an asset as a starting quarterback at the $19 million price tag he's owed next season. The Jaguars have so much cap room that they could afford to keep Bortles on the roster until the 2018 NFL Draft.
2) Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears: Signed to a three-year deal in March, Glennon was paid $16 million by the Bears to start four games. He will likely collect $2.5 million more from Chicago after the team is forced to cut him. While I don't think Glennon's value has sunk to Osweilerian levels, a backup job is probably the best Glennon can expect in 2018.
Ryan Tannehill's future in Miami: He's expected to return from his torn ACL as the team's starter, but it's worth noting that coach Adam Gase was not part of the group that brought Tannehill to town. Would it be that shocking if Tannehill's name eventually showed up in trade rumors?
Sam Bradford's left knee: After a quietly solid campaign as a starter in 2016, Bradford put together one of the best games by any quarterback this season in Week 1 against New Orleans. He only threw 11 passes the rest of the season before hitting injured reserve. The damage to Bradford's left knee over the years is significant, with one FOX report calling into question his ability to continue playing football. Set for free agency at 30 years old with a lot of money in the bank, Bradford is no lock to even enter this market.
UPDATED 2017 QB RANKINGS
And now back to our regularly scheduled programming, the updated 2017 quarterback rankings. These are based on this season's play only, and I capped the rankings at 14 players this week because there was such a big drop-off after Dak Prescott. Carson Wentz is listed here for the last time after another excellent start in Los Angeles. Following Tom Brady's meltdown in Miami, Wentz was as close as he's been all year to the top spot in my season-long grades. I will miss his ability to stop on a dime, watch a defender fly by, then throw across his body for a crucial first down.
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 67.4 pct | 3,865 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 27 pass TD | 6 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 60.2 pct | 3,296 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 33 pass TD | 7 INT | 299 rush yds | 0 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 61.9 pct | 3,527 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 29 pass TD | 11 INT | 482 rush yds | 3 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 63.3 pct | 3,744 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 24 pass TD | 13 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 62.8 pct | 3,611 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 23 pass TD | 7 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 65.9 pct | 3,278 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 17 pass TD | 11 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 71.7 pct | 3,569 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 19 pass TD | 6 INT | 2 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 67.2 pct | 3,507 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 23 pass TD | 5 INT | 329 rush yds | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 65.6 pct | 3,683 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 23 pass TD | 9 INT </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 12 games | 66.8 pct | 2,983 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 18 pass TD | 7 INT | 142 rush yds | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 65.9 pct | 3,440 pass yds | 7.8 ypa | 22 pass TD | 9 INT | 159 rush yds | 3 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 60.0 pct | 2,720 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 17 pass TD | 12 INT | 585 rush yds | 5 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 62.2 pct | 3,383 pass yds | 8.1 ypa | 22 pass TD | 6 INT | 1 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
**2017 stats:** 13 games | 63.2 pct | 2,752 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 21 pass TD | 9 INT | 288 rush yds | 5 rush TD </content:power-ranking>
Check the Air Index each week to see which quarterbacks are delivering at the top of their game, just like FedEx Ground delivers with fast and affordable shipping.