The Miami Dolphins were in a tough situation last week. Franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill partially tore his ACL, and recently decided to undergo surgery, ending his 2017 season. Despite having a capable backup like Matt Moore, the Dolphins decided to fill the need left by Tannehill’s injury externally, signing Jay Cutler out of retirement and away from the FOX broadcasting booth. The deal was for one year worth $10M with the potential to earn an additional $3M in incentives.
Cutler is now back with Adam Gase, his former offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears in 2015. Despite a 6-9 record as a starter, Cutler performed well under Gase, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions – his lowest INT% of his career with 2.3% – while completing 64.4% of his passes. He also recorded the highest ANY/A of his career at 6.71 with Gase, surpassing his old career high of 6.61 in his last season with Denver. If this is any indication of what lies ahead for Cutler in 2017, he may be offered a second contract by the Dolphins.
Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap recently wrote about the Dolphins quarterback situation. In that piece he explains that due to consecutive knee injuries Ryan Tannehill’s time in Miami may be coming to an end. Prior to his injury this season, Tannehill was injured in the Dolphins 2016 Week 14 contest. It went on to damage their chances of advancing in the playoffs, as they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers during Wild Card weekend with Matt Moore at the helm. Cutler could have a good season in Miami warranting a second contract, and Gase then selecting his quarterback of the future in the draft. The Dolphins may also want to dip into the free agent market and try signing Drew Brees or Kirk Cousins, should they be available.
Financially ridding themselves of Tannehill’s contract is doable, as the team only owes him about $4.6M in guarantees after this season. If Miami were to move on from Tannehill, it would be probably be via trade, considering his contract isn’t much of a risk and there are a number of teams across the league who would likely be interested in the 29-years-old’s services. However, they could still cut him after 2017 without getting anything in return and save $15,200,000 as a pre-June 1st cut. Miami can also keep him on what is essentially a one-year deal for $19.5M as Conor Orr explained in his article last week. According to Orr, keeping Tannehill for a tryout season in 2018 at $19.5M would be roughly similar to the deal Mike Glennon is currently signed to.
As much of a blow as this is for Tannehill, this all makes for an exciting 2018 free agency period. There will be a lot of movement in the quarterback market which should change the landscape of the league. There is a chance that Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Ryan Tannehill all change teams. I won’t include Matthew Stafford considering it seems inevitable Detroit offers him a record-breaking deal sometime in the near future. It is also one of the more intriguing quarterback draft classes, but that’s still to be decided with many of the most hyped prospects being non-seniors.
There are a lot of teams in the market for a quarterback. There are the obvious suitors like the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, but also teams trying to upgrade or maintain their current talent level at the position like Washington, Miami, New Orleans, and Minnesota. For fun I’ll speculate which quarterbacks may end up with which teams and why they fit.
Cleveland Browns, Jimmy Garoppolo
The Browns are currently holding a four-man quarterback competition with Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, and Kevin Hogan. Kizer may be the only one who shows any promise to being a franchise quarterback, but he’s hardly a sure thing. Neither is Garoppolo to an extent, but he’s been knocking on the door in New England and has performed well in the time he has seen the field. If not for a shoulder injury, he could have added to his 2-0 record with 4 TD, 0 INT, and 502 yards, completing 68.3% of his passes. As I recently highlighted that New England should hold onto Garoppolo as long as possible – that may not be realistic beyond 2017 with the high cost of using the franchise tag. Cleveland is really the only team that has a surplus of high-quality picks. They currently control six draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft including two firsts, three seconds, and one third. They’ll likely be in the market for Cousins as well, as I think they’d rather spend cap space than draft capital, but I have Cousins going elsewhere.
Denver Broncos, Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill is still going to be sought after whether or not the Dolphins want him on their roster after the 2017 season. He’s a solid quarterback on most days that can play up to the level of a good quarterback. He needs a team that’s going to play top tier defense to compete for a championship. That’s where Denver comes in. The Broncos and John Elway have flirted with the idea of many quarterbacks post Peyton Manning. For quarterbacks like Brock Osweiler, Colin Kaepernick, and Tony Romo the prices didn’t exactly fit how Elway wanted them to and he decided to walk away. He now has a quarterback room led by Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. The former played well a season ago, but has a very limited ceiling. The latter has much higher upside, but he doesn’t seem to be picking up the Broncos system as quickly as the team would like him to. Tannehill would provide upside in that his contract is extremely team friendly and he should be somewhat familiar with new head coach Vance Joseph from his Miami days, despite Joseph serving as the defensive coordinator. This is also provided that Mike McCoy runs a system similar to Gary Kubiak, as Tannehill is a great fit for an offense that allows him to run play action and making easy throws while rolling out of the pocket. I’m not sure what McCoy’s offensive plans in Denver are yet so take this fit with a grain of salt.
Miami Dolphins, Jay Cutler + Draft Prospect
I think Cutler will play well for the Dolphins this season. Gase has a way of setting up his quarterbacks for success and as I stated earlier Cutler had one of his more productive seasons with Gase as his offensive coordinator. The team might think they have more of a sure thing in Cutler at season’s end considering Tannehill would be coming off his second knee injury in less than a calendar year. Signing Cutler to a second contract would make sense to compete right now and then taking a quarterback early or in the middle rounds of the draft to develop for the long-term future.
New Orleans Saints, Drew Brees
This is an interesting one, but I believe Brees will be back with the Saints in 2018. The team has made some good signings this offseason and had a pretty solid draft. Plus, he and Sean Payton seem to have a good relationship.
New York Jets, Draft Prospect
The Jets currently possess the worst roster in the NFL. They should be picking very high in 2018. With that pick they’ll probably select a quarterback. I’m not sure who yet because it’s way too early for that. If I had to guess, Sam Darnold seems to be the cool response for now. But he could always opt to go back to school at USC. Which actually might be the best decision for his long-term development.
San Francisco 49ers, Kirk Cousins
This makes the most sense to me as Cousins would be back with his old offensive coordinator from Washington, Kyle Shanahan. Washington could transition or franchise tag Cousins again for $23.94M or $34.47M respectively, but I’m not sure if the team is willing to do that considering they aren’t willing to offer him the premium contract he’s been eyeing for the last two offseasons. The alternative isn’t much better for Washington, though, as losing Cousins would set them back to mediocrity. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, it’s clear that Cousins would be welcomed to the Bay area with open arms as he’s a great fit for Shanahan’s system. Cousins has transformed the quarterback market with his playing-it-by-year strategy. As Fitzgerald also points out in his article on Washington and Cousins not agreeing to a contract extension, more quarterbacks should start following his path. It makes a lot of sense for a young signal caller to play it by year with how well-protected the position is. A quarterback in his mid 30’s should want the long-term security, but players like Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Dak Prescott, and Carson Wentz may want to try to maximize their earning potential the same way Cousins has. Thanks to Cousins we may have more interesting movement in free agency than in previous off-seasons.
Of course all of this makes sense now. A year from now this will probably look different. Tannehill’s injury made a potentially interesting 2018 free agency a lot more interesting.