It's finally Teddy's time. Right? Saints coach Sean Payton may not want to give away his plans for playing time in the team's season finale just yet, but with the No. 1 seed in the NFC already locked up, Drew Brees is among those expecting Teddy Bridgewater to get significant snaps against the Panthers on Sunday. In fact, Brees was inactive in a similar scenario back in 2009.
Bridgewater's comeback from the devastating knee injury he suffered in 2016 has included many notable benchmarks, but starting or getting significant regular-season snaps would be a big step forward. It could also serve as a springboard for Bridgewater to jump to the top of this offseason's crowded quarterback market.
For once, the supply of potential veteran starters could exceed the demand. There aren't many teams desperate for a new starter, a subject I wrote about in early December. The Jaguars and Redskins should definitely be looking to make deals, but there are more teams like the Dolphins, Giants, Broncos and Buccaneers that could play a game of chicken with their current starters, waiting to see how the trade market develops before turning the page at the position.
Bridgewater had high hopes heading into free agency this past offseason, but wound up signing for less guaranteed money than guys like Mike Glennon and Drew Stanton. That was a miscalculation by many teams. After Bridgewater's impressive preseason with the Jets, his value rose enough to inspire the Saints to send a third-round pick to the Jets just to get Bridgewater in the building as a backup. (New Orleans also received a sixth-round pick in the deal.)
Saints fans see Sunday as a recruiting effort. If Bridgewater can shine in Payton's system, perhaps he will be sold on remaining there as Brees' eventual successor. However, it's more likely that a prime performance inspires a team like the Jaguars or Dolphins to offer Bridgewater a real chance at a starting job and the money that comes with it. After three years off the field, that would be a difficult offer to refuse.
With the season-ending QB Index rankings on tap for next week, I wanted to take an early look at what players could be available this offseason. I've ranked quarterbacks in two categories: Expected free agents and potential trade/cut candidates, with Bridgewater leading the way in the first category.
Expected free agents
1) Teddy Bridgewater: Teddy just turned 26 years old and showed a mature understanding of the position early in his career, so he offers the best chance in this tier of a long-term solution at quarterback. His 75 preseason snaps with the Jets showed plenty, including his underrated skills at moving in the pocket.
2) Nick Foles: The Eagles and Foles have a mutual option in his contract that would pay him $20 million next season. Barring another Super Bowl run, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Eagles retain Foles at that price. It's possible the Eagles could pick up the option in an effort to trade him, but why would Foles agree to that? (He has to decline or approve the option within five days of the Eagles making their decision.)
Foles is an enigma and won't fit every system, but his ceiling is extraordinarily high. His previous two starts against the Rams and Texans showed his big-play ability and utter lack of damns to give. His Super Bowl performance may have been the best by any quarterback of all time. Nearly a year later, it's still hard to process that it actually happened.
3) Tyrod Taylor: Hue Jackson helped to sink Taylor's short-term value in Cleveland, and he's probably never going to get the long-term money he once hoped for in Buffalo. With that said, Taylor could be an exceptional value as a low-risk option for teams like the Redskins and Giants. At 30 years old, he'd be one of the best backup or "1B" options in football.
4) Ryan Fitzpatrick: September's Fitzmagic in Tampa guaranteed at least another two years of NFL contracts for the 36-year-old quarterback. Those are the rules of Fitzmagic.
Trade or cut candidates
1) Jameis Winston: The Buccaneers owe Winston $20.9 million on the fifth-year option of his contract. That money becomes guaranteed on the first day of the league year, and there's no telling who will be running the Bucs then. That contract could make Winston rather tradable if the Bucs want to move forward without him, although it appears more likely that the team will give Winston, 24, a chance to turn his career around with a new coach.
2) Ryan Tannehill: The no-show by the Miami passing game over the last two weeks has finally done Tannehill in, if you believe a report by Armando Salguero in the Miami Herald. That article suggested that ownership is tired of waiting for Tannehill to crawl above average among NFL starters.
Mid-level starting quarterbacks still have significant value, and the Dolphins made a curious decision to restructure Tannehill's contract before last season, a move that increased the amount of dead money on the salary cap Miami will incur by getting rid of him. Tannehill's lack of development will hamper any free-agent value if he's simply released, as he doesn't look like a significantly different quarterback than the one who posted an impressive rookie season in 2012.
Like others on this list, Flacco may see fewer opportunities than similar available quarterbacks in previous years. There aren't enough teams needing a starter to inspire bidding wars.
4) Jacoby Brissett: I'd rank Brissett higher if it didn't require a draft pick to obtain him. The Colts should be thrilled to keep Brissett as a quality backup in the final year of his rookie deal, barring another team giving up a quality pick to get him.
5) Case Keenum: Keenum is due a salary of $18 million in 2019, with $7 million guaranteed. That would make Keenum expensive to release, even if the Broncos wanted to start from scratch at quarterback again. It's more likely Keenum faces competition in Denver.
6) Eli Manning: There is a growing chorus of voices in New York that believe Manning should return for another season, many of whom coincidentally have a strong relationship with Manning. Keeping Manning would be a decision to forestall the future in New York again, an odd anxiety to move on for a franchise that has gone 8-23 over the last two years. Only one franchise (Cleveland) has fewer winning seasons than the Giants since 2013, and Baker Mayfield has a chance to ruin that stat on Sunday.
7) Blake Bortles: I've already written enough about the disastrous contract Tom Coughlin gave Bortles in February. Assuming Coughlin doesn't defy expectations and make an even worse decision by keeping Bortles around in 2019, the QB gets a chance to end his Jaguars career on a positive note on Sunday by hurting their draft position. If nothing else, this last month has proven he's better than Cody Kessler.
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