Doing the Wrong Thing: Offseason Quarterback Moves

Just as teams can win the offseason, they can certainly lose it through bad signings and salary cap mismanagement. In part two of this series, David McCullough looks at some potentially problematic offseason quarterback moves.

As winter turns to spring, NFL clubs continue to revamp their rosters. However, the on-paper allure of some transactions often fails to translate into positive results or value. In other cases, the moves are highly questionable to all but the general manager who swings the deal. A number of potential moves this offseason could involve quarterbacks, but front offices should tread carefully to avoid QB shenanigans.

St. Louis Rams: Keep Sam Bradford

Well, this is awkward. The Rams have already committed to bringing the first overall pick of the 2010 draft back for the final year of his rookie contract ‒ the contract that broke the CBA, caused a lockout, and resulted in the rookie wage scale. Sam Bradford will have been paid more than $78M in his six seasons as an NFL player by the end of 2015. And still no one knows whether he’s any good.

He missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. His 2013 stats reflected a player who might be improving or perhaps showing his ceiling. And his previous seasons suggested he might be a bust ‒ or might have potential. But after six years and $78 million, shouldn’t we know by now? Plays like this don’t help:

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St. Louis reaped a bevy of draft picks for ransoming the selection that became Robert Griffin III, and the team has stockpiled an enviable amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams have some intriguing offensive skill players and the makings of a decent offensive line. With a real quarterback, they’re a contender. Is Bradford that guy? And going into the last year of his astronomical contract, what will they have to pay him next year if he is the real deal?

It would have been hard to cut Bradford and head into the offseason with no real NFL quarterbacks on the roster. But a veteran like Brian Hoyer would have bought St. Louis time to find that QB, either in the draft or through trade. Instead, the Rams are rolling the dice with Bradford, and if it pays off they get to give the $78M man a raise next season.

Carolina Panthers: Don’t Sign Newton To An Extension

Having exercised the fifth-year option on Cam Newton’s rookie contract, the Carolina Panthers will dole out $14.67M for his services in 2015 , after which he will become a free agent. In other words, it’s time for the former #1 overall pick and Heisman winner to receive a contract extension. However, some do not believe he is worthy of the likely cost an extension would entail.

Coming off a sub-.500 regular season and a home playoff win, Newton has led the team to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons despite ongoing cap issues that decimated the roster. The quarterback suffered injury and a statistical downturn in 2014, passing and running for career lows in almost every category. However, a makeshift offensive line, a completely new receiving corps, and injured running backs all contributed to his awful season.

The Panthers stand nearly $13M under the cap and, with defensive end Greg Hardy unlikely to return, they have no must re-sign free agents. They do, however, need help all over the field. Many of the terrible Marty Hurney-era contracts finally expire next season and the 2016 Panthers project to have more than $80M in cap space at that point. Crafting the Newton extension to lower that $14M cap hit this season by pushing costs into 2016 and beyond will help Carolina immensely as the Panthers rebuild their team.

While he has flaws, remains unpolished and hasn’t become Superman, there’s no reason to give up on Newton yet. There is still a chance that with good health and a better supporting cast the Cam Era will continue racking up postseason appearances ‒ and, hopefully, playoff wins.

Chicago Bears: Trade or Cut Cutler

In 2012, Forbes listed the 10 least popular players in the NFL; Jay Cutler clocked in at #2. After 2014 ‒ a season in which critics blasted him for lackadaisical, indifferent play and benched ‒ there is no player with a better argument for #1, especially in his own locker room. Cutler got another head coach fired and Bears fans wish they could just move on.

But they cannot, despite having around $26M in cap space heading into 2015. Chicago was routinely humiliated, including by division rivals, as its once-vaunted defense rusted and decayed into one of the league’s worst units. A massive investment is required at every position on the defensive side of the ball, in both free agency and the draft.

The Bears’ skill position talent ‒ wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett, and running back Matt Forte ‒ are all near their prime and carry expensive contracts. With some reinforcements on the still problematic offensive line, Chicago’s offense should be able to compete with anyone.

If Jay Cutler feels like it, that is:

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Counting for $16.5M against the cap, it would actually cost Chicago space to cut or trade him, given his $19.5M dead money charge. Whereas next season, cutting Cutler loose costs a measly $3M in dead money. This is a no-brainer, even if Cutler is hated in his own locker room: bring him back, give it one more year, and build a defense. Another “effort” like 2014 and Cutler’s excision will carry little long-term consequence.

Tennessee Titans: Trade For or Sign Jay Cutler

Cutler’s future contract pays him an annual salary of at least $17M, and trading for the embattled quarterback would enable the Titans to cut him at any time with no cap hit. Signing him as a free agent (should Chicago release him) would also fit into Tennessee’s budget, with almost $42M available for the upcoming season. And there is no doubt that this franchise needs a quarterback, after the Jake Locker experiment ended with another injury and more disappointment.

But do they need this quarterback?

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The Titans are talent-poor up and down the roster. Using all their draft picks on young reinforcements is important, while spending to bring in contributors on both sides of the ball will help the holders of the #2 overall pick.

The question in Tennessee should be whether to take either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston in the draft, or whether 2014 sixth-round pick Zach Mettenberger is the QB of the future. Either option would be a more responsible choice for the future than importing a player who has already been dumped by two organizations and has questionable leadership skills.

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Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking down matchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.

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