The 2017 NFL trade deadline was surprisingly full of excitement this season. There were many high impact trades affecting teams both trying to win now and those preparing for the long term. However, I want to mainly focus on the quarterback movement, or almost quarterback movement in the case of A.J. McCarron, and how we can get a sense of how some of these teams feel about the 2018 NFL Draft quarterback class.
The potential quarterbacks of the 2018 NFL Draft include Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Luke Falk, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield to name a few. There will certainly be more added and some might go back to college. But those are the names most being talked about and who made the 2018 class the most hyped class in quite some time. I’ve seen a bit of these players thus far, but not enough have a definitive opinion of them. I do know someone whose quarterback evaluations I trust more than anyone though – Mark Schofield. When talking draft the other day Mark said that right now there are no elite quarterback prospects – which opens up room for other positions to be taken higher than usual. Supposedly, development is not linear and the grass is not always greener on the other side or so they say.
It’s apparent that the 2018 class is lacking elite quarterback talent and it seems the NFL’s worst teams in need of quarterback help are beginning to notice. Moves made at the trade deadline might be signaling how those teams feel about 2018’s quarterback crop.
The most notable trade of the deadline was the San Francisco 49ers trading a second round pick to the New England Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo. Then there was almost another premium backup quarterback on the move when the Cleveland Browns attempted to trade a second and a third round pick to the Bengals for McCarron. The Browns and 49ers are both 0-8 and are likely to finish with the two worst records in the NFL. In that case they’ll be picking 1 and 2 in the 2018 NFL Draft. Those draft slots are usually used on the top quarterbacks available, and they still could! But probably not by these teams if the deadline meant anything.
Prior to the trade the 49ers were candidates to either draft or sign a quarterback in free agency – like Kirk Cousins. Now both of those options are slim, but they could potentially still attempt to sign Cousins if they’re not happy with Garoppolo’s play. It would cost a lot of cap space for one season, but they could probably get a pick of somewhat lesser value in return for Garoppolo if they signed Cousins. It wouldn’t be surprising with teams having been known to spend a lot of resources on the quarterback position.
Let’s assume though that Garoppolo is Lynch and Shanahan’s quarterback in San Francisco. Cousins isn’t definitely going to be a free agent this offseason. Washington can still franchise him for another season or re-sign him for a lot of money. And if he does hit the market there will be a number of teams bidding up the price for him to be their quarterback. Cousins wasn’t guaranteed to be a 49er. Garoppolo is the best available option in that case. He’s learned from the best in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. He’s also played NFL snaps unlike any of quarterbacks coming out of the draft. They don’t totally know what they’re getting, but they have a better idea than if they drafted someone like Rosen who will have some flags. That’s also a reason why he shouldn’t cost as much as Cousins if they’re able to extend him. Garoppolo won’t be shattering any contract records anytime soon with only two career starts. That’s the tradeoff with Garoppolo. He shouldn’t cost as much as a Cousins, but he’s not as much of a sure thing.
As for Cleveland it’s unfortunate they couldn’t get the deal together in time. If the reports are accurate the attempt does signal that they aren’t happy with the current state of their quarterback position. It also signals that they aren’t happy with the Draft’s quarterbacks as they have a high chance of having the number one pick again.
This means there are options on the table for the 49ers and Browns come draft time. They could keep the pick and take an impact player or both teams could sell the pick to teams that are higher on the quarterback class than they are. I think the latter is the strategy as that’s something a Lynch-Shanahan led organization did in 2017 trading back one spot with the Chicago Bears to take Stanford DE Solomon Thomas. The Browns are also a team that would probably trade the pick as that’s something they’re accustomed to doing. Especially since there doesn’t seem to be a Myles Garrett type player at the top of the draft.
The Browns may still want to let DeShone Kizer develop, but they’ll have the opportunity to add Cousins, McCarron, or one of these rookie quarterbacks if they choose to.
Obviously, a lot can change from now until April 26th, especially between free agency and draft workouts. The early signs say that the teams with the best odds of holding the #1 and #2 picks aren’t taking quarterbacks. The 49ers seem to have their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. The Browns aren’t there yet, but have other markets than the draft to explore with their cap space and draft capital to make trades. This quarterback class can still produce talent, but it doesn’t seem to have the same hype it came into the season with.