JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - While the Jaguars could draft a quarterback in April, they will have to sign a quarterback in free agency or risk being without a quarterback when the draft arrives.
This is, of course, assuming they do not bring back Blake Bortles, who still has two years remaining on his contract.
Here are the quarterbacks who will be--or could be--free agents this year and how they might fit in with the Jaguars salary cap and scheme:
Tyrod Taylor--Taylor will be 30 years old in August. He won't be brought back by the Cleveland Browns, who have moved on to last year's No. 1 pick, Baker Mayfield. In his eight-year career, Taylor has always taken good care of the football, throwing just 20 interceptions in 62 games. In 2017, he led the league with the lowest interception rate as he led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs (only to lose in Jacksonville to the Jaguars). His style of play fits what the Jaguars have wanted to do on offense and he can run if needed.
Teddy Bridgewater--It's been quite a ride for Bridgewater since being drafted with the final pick of the first round in 2014. As a rookie, he became the starter, holding the position until a knee injury in the 2016 preseason landed him on injured reserve, ending his season. He didn't return to action until November of 2017. By then, Case Keenum had established himself as the Vikings starter for the season. Then, Minnesota signed Kirk Cousins and Bridgewater was traded to the New Orleans Saints as a free agent. Bridgewater started the final game of the season for New Orleans, completing 14 of 23 passes for 118 yards with one touchdown and one interception, not much of a sample size. Bridgewater is still a bit of a question mark as an NFL starter, but he has been an accurate passer. Because he only has two seasons of actual playing time under his belt, teams may be cautious of paying Bridgewater big money, which could play into the Jaguars favor, considering some of the salary cap restrictions the team has.
Ryan Fitzpatrick--For a few weeks in 2018, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the toast of the NFL. Starting in place of Jameis Winston for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Fitzpatrick began the season with three straight 400 yard passing performances. He had thrown 11 touchdowns in the first three games of the season. After the first month, Winston returned and Fitzpatrick was back on the bench, only to return to the starting lineup in Week 9. The following week, he passed for 406 yards, his fourth 400 yard passing performance of the year. He's a Harvard grad. Fitzpatrick will turn 37 during the 2019 season, so he would definitely be a short-term signing.
Geno Smith--Smith entered the league in 2013 and since has found himself on three rosters, first with the New York Jets, where he started 30 games in four seasons, all but one of them in the first two years in the league. The Giants signed him as a backup in 2017 before he moved on to the Chargers in 2018. He's still just 28, but signing Smith, who has won only four games since his rookie season would seem to be a desperation move and would almost certainly put hte Jaguars in a position to draft a quarterback in the first round.
Brock Osweiler--Similar to Smith's situation, if the Jaguars signed Osweiler to a free agent deal, they would certainly be forced to draft a quarterback early. Osweiler spent 2018 as the backup to Ryan Tannehill with the Miami Dolphins, although he started five straight weeks as a result of a Tannehill injury. In those games, Miami went 2-3 with Osweiler throwing five touchdowns and four interceptions. In his career, he has been less than a 60 percent passer and has 37 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. Not the kind of quarterback the Jaguars would favor.
Could be available
Nick Foles--Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles have a mutual option for 2019 of $20 million. Even though Foles continues to deliver in the clutch when called upon to fill in for the injured Carson Wentz, it is unlikely the team can afford to keep both on the roster. Although Wentz is just 26, he does have a history of injuries, including a fractured vertebra in his back that ended his 2018 season, the Eagles have repeatedly stated publicly that he is their franchise quarterback. So that leaves Foles, who turns 30 on Jan. 20, as the best quarterback likely to be on the market in March. Foles replaced the injured Wentz in 2017 and led the Eagles to a championship, earning himself Super Bowl MVP honors. He will likely command a multi-year deal in the $15-18 million range. If the Jaguars were to be able to sign him, a tall task considering the salary cap constraints, it would allow the Jaguars to not have to take a quarterback in the first round. He will be the most sought-after quarterback on the market in 2019.
Joe Flacco--The Baltimore Ravens are committed to Lamar Jackson and Flacco, who turns 34 on Jan. 16, will likely be available. The Ravens would have to absorb $16 million of dead money on the salary cap to let him go, but it's widely believed that the team will move on, either by trade or cutting him. As for a fit with the Jaguars, Flacco won a Super Bowl with a dominant defense and a strong running game, so it wouldn't be a stretch to say Flacco's style fits with what the Jaguars want to do. Acquiring Flacco would allow the Jaguars to draft a quarterback to develop, without an immediate need to have a rookie play. They could also wait for the 2020 draft, which could include such college stars as Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Herbert and Georgia's Jake Fromm.
Ryan Tannehill--If the Dolphins move on from Tannehill, they would have to absorb a salary cap hit, but considering his contract calls for cap hits of over $25 million each of the next two years, it's unlikely they would value him that much. Tannehill has been a bit of an enigma in his NFL career. He's never led the Dolphins to more than 8 wins in any season, but he has only once been more than two games under .500 in a season. He has been an accurate passer, completing nearly 63 percent of his attempts in his career, despite a rather high interception rate. His 123 touchdowns are balanced with 75 interceptions. He missed all of 2017 with a knee injury and missed five games in 2018, so his durability is in question.
Matthew Stafford--it's a long-shot, and since the Detroit Lions parted ways with offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, it's likely they will stay with Stafford, but I'll include his name here just in case. Stafford turns 31 this off-season and has been very durable, starting every game since 2011 for the Lions. He hasn't had a ton of team success in Detroit (who has?), but he is an effective passer. In the past four years, his lowest completion percentage is 65.3%, a rate that would be five percentage points higher than Blake Bortles best-ever effort. The biggest obstacle here is that Stafford still has $49 million guaranteed on his contract, a huge hit to any teams salary cap and the Lions aren't likely to want to absorb that.
It bears noting that the Jaguars aren't the only team in need of a quarterback. The Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins are likely to be active in the quarterback market and potentially, the Dolphins, Giants, Bengals and Lions could be as well, although some of those teams could stick with their existing quarterbacks and draft a future starter.
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