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Getting veteran QB help for the Washington offense - looking at the candidates for trades or free agent signings

Who will the Football Team sign to replace Alex Smith?

This was a week ago:

Of course, this week, Washington tendered ERFA QB Kyle Allen.

Washington has, perhaps, the thriftiest QB room in the NFL right now. Here’s a summary of the team’s scheduled 2021 cap hits at the position (per OverTheCap):

  • Alex Smith (dead cap) $8,600,00
  • Taylor Heinicke $1,593,750
  • Kyle Allen $850,000

The total is $11,043,750 but the dead cap is part of the $71m in guaranteed money already paid to Alex Smith for his three seasons with the team. The dead cap is just an accounting function.

Heinicke and Allen will take up just over $2.4m in cap space in 2021.

(Steve Montez, whose cap hit would be $780,000, isn’t counted because he isn’t among the top 51 contracts on the roster)

I think there’s universal agreement that the Washington Football Team will add another quarterback between now and the end of April.

There seems to be almost universal dis-agreement, however, about who that guy will be, or where he will come from.

As always, there are only three sources for acquiring a player:

  • trade for him
  • sign him as a free agent
  • draft him

Some players that might have been potential trade targets a few weeks ago (or even today) could move to the free agent category in the coming days as teams make salary-cap driven decisions ahead of the start of the new league year at 4:00 pm New York time on 17 March.

The player in that situation that is most often mentioned in connection with Washington lately is Marcus Mariota. A few weeks ago there was a lot of trade buzz about him since he is an expensive backup to Carr in Las Vegas. As people began to understand his contract structure and its cap implications, however, the trade talk faded away. Now, it is anticipated that Mariota will be released by the Raiders in the next few days, allowing him to sign as a free agent — presumably on a much more team-friendly deal than the one that would have come with him via trade.

I don’t think there’s a single available or potentially available veteran quarterback who hasn’t been linked to Washington in social media and sports reporting over the past couple of months. A number of college quarterbacks have also been projected to Washington at the 19th pick or in a trade up scenario. A few people have projected the team to select a QB with one of the three picks it holds in the second and third round.

Some suggestions have been highly unlikely — trading 4 first-round picks for Deshaun Watson or picking up Dak Prescott on the rebound after he and Dallas failed to reach an agreement on a long-term deal were both popular theories for a while.

Others seemed more realistic — head coach Ron Rivera has already confirmed that the team tried to trade for Matt Stafford, and a player like Sam Darnold could offer reasonable value if the team believes that he just needs good coaching and the right situation.

The kind of crazy thing is, it’s been possible to paint a reasonable scenario for every single candidate so far, but no quarterback that is available seems to be an ideal fit for Washington’s situation. There are warts that would come with every deal.

Since we are getting to crunch time on free agency and inside 50 days from the draft, I thought I’d look at the veteran options that Washington can acquire via trade or free agency. If nothing comes of it, then we can come back and look at the college prospects ahead of the draft.

Since most of these guys have been discussed to death already, I only intend to offer the briefest of thumbnail sketches on them, with a focus on (a) the advantage of signing the player; and (b) the problem with signing this player.

Impending Free agents

Jacoby Brissett, Colts

Journeyman backup. Expensive at almost $28m APY on current contract. Doesn’t seem to add anything more than we get with Allen and Heinicke.

Mitchell Trubisky, Bears

Former 1st round pick who has not lived up to his draft status. Still, he has a career 29-21 record as a starter, and is 25-13 as a starter under Nagy. Just 27 years old, but likely looking for more money than most fans would want to pay him. Boom/Bust potential.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dolphins

Nearly 40 years old; played for just $5.5m in 2020. Exciting player who is proven to be a great mentor to young quarterbacks. Good locker room guy and fan favorite who makes football fun on the field. Can be a starter or backup. In many ways, could be the ideal bridge to the future to replace Alex Smith, but reports have surfaced this week that he is considering retirement due to lack of intrest from teams.

Tyrod Taylor, Chargers

It’s hard to believe that Taylor is 32 years old. He would seem to fit the mold of Allen & Heinicke — a mobile QB who can run the offense. He also played for $5.5m in 2020. Seemed to resurrect his career as a starter in Buffalo a few years ago before sliding back towards the level of high-end backup/journeyman. He would be an inexpensive option and likely a good fit for the Scott Turner offense.

A.J. McCarron, Texans

A few years ago, I thought he was about to break out as he left the Bengals where he had been Dalton’s backup. Instead, he simply cemented his status as a career backup. It’s hard to see the coaches or fans getting excited about A.J.

Andy Dalton, Cowboys

He started for the Bengals for 9 years and is a three-time Pro Bowl QB with a 218:126 TD:INT ratio, and a 74-70-2 win-loss record. Frankly, I thought he looked pretty good playing in Dallas after Dak was injured last season, and I think he’d be excited to sign with a team where he had the chance to win the starting job. He played for $3m in 2020, so his salary expectations are likely to be pretty reasonable. At 34 years old, he could be a low cost veteran bridge to the future.

Cam Newton, Patriots

The obvious link is to Ron Rivera. This has been talked to death, mostly by people not very familiar with the WFT. Cam hasn’t been superman for a few years and didn’t look great in 2020 playing for the Patriots. I’m guessing Rivera sees Cam as his past and sets his eyes on the future.

Nate Sudfeld, Eagles

Of course, Sudfeld was drafted by the Redskins, so signing him would be bringing him home, but it’s a home he left voluntarily, and I doubt that either side — the player or the team — would be anxious to make this happen.

Joe Flacco, Jets

36 years old, former super bowl winner. He played for $1.5m last season.

Jameis Winston, Saints

Former #1 overall draft pick who threw for over 5,000 yards and 33 TDs in 2019. The problem is that he also threw 30 interceptions, which wouldn’t make him popular with Ron Rivera or Scott Turner. His cap hit in New Orleans last season was $1.1m. He’d probably take a very low-value contract for the chance to compete for a starting job in Washington.

Other free agent QBs:

Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley, Matt Shaub, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, Bryan Hoyer, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion, Blake Bortles, C.J. Beathard, Brandon Allen, Joshua Dobbs,

Potential trade targets or candidates for release

Marcus Mariota, Raiders

Mariota’s contract makes him an unlikely trade candidate, but the Raiders can’t really afford to keep him as an $11m backup to Carr. They are widely expected to release him this week, making him an unrestricted free agent who could be signed immediately.

The second overall pick in 2015, the 27-year-old Mariota has a 77-45 TD-INT ratio and a 30-33 record as a starter, but, in a bit of a Kirk Cousins-like fashion, took his team (the Titans) from 3-13 as a rookie to 4 consecutive 9-7 seasons.

Mariota’s skillset and style of play would probably make him an excellent match for Allen and Heinicke & Scott Turner’s offense. Mariota would likely see Washington as an attractive opportunity, as it would be one of the few places where he would be able to immediately compete for a starting job.

I suspect he’ll sign for around $7-8m on a one-year contract, which could suit the WFT very well. If he can be signed after release by the Raiders, he won’t cost any draft capital and wouldn’t count against the Comp Pick calculation, which could matter later.

Sam Darnold, Jets

At just 24 years of age, the former #3 overall pick in the 2018 draft has had a rocky career with the Jets. He’s 13-25 as a starter and has thrown 45 TDs and 39 INTs. He’s never played more than 13 games in a season in his short 3-year career.

Guys who watch film seems to believe that Darnold has all the tools to be a top NFL QB. The big question is whether he has been the victim of bad coaching or that he’s just a bust — a guy who can’t produce on the field despite his apparently full toolbox.

Unlike Mariota, Washington isn’t gonna get Darnold for free. He would need to be acquired in trade, though most people seem to think the cost will be a second rounder or a package of mid-round picks. If the Jets draft a QB in April, that could make Darnold available on draft day, so there he may not be traded prior to the start of free agency.

His cap hit in trade would be about $4.7m in 2021, and he would presumably play the ‘22 season on the 5th year option, which would be fully guaranteed. All in all, Darnold would look like a brilliant signing if he performed to his maximum potential, and like an idiotic move if the team committed both draft resources and guaranteed 2022 cap space to him and then he turned out to be what he’s looked like so far — a draft bust.

Jordan Love, Packers

I don’t think the Packers really want to trade him, so it would probably take a significant offer to acquire Love. There’s probably no advantage to trading for the 23 year old versus simply drafting a player in April. I’d put the chances of this happening somewhere near zero.

Other trade candidates that have been mentioned

Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Jared Goff (from the Lions), Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Tua Tagovailoa, Nick Mullens, Gardner Minshew

Most likely veterans for Washington to target

While I’m not ruling out the possibility of Washington getting another quarterback in the draft, that is outside the scope of this article. If the team decides to try to acquire a veteran quarterback via free agency or trade, here are the guys I think they would most likely target, in order of likelihood:

  1. Marcus Mariota (free agency)
  2. Tyrod Taylor
  3. Mitch Trubisky
  4. Sam Darnold (trade)
  5. Jameis Winston
  6. Andy Dalton
  7. Ryan Fitzpatrick

I wouldn’t bet money on any particular outcome with regard to how Washington resolve its quarterback search. I have no confidence that I understand what the brains trust of Mayhew, Hurney & Rivera value the most. Ron gave us a hint a few weeks ago when he talked about getting the right guy but still having the resources to finish building the team, and then added this week that they feel no particular urgency about loading up the roster for a one-season push, stressing that he wants to build the team for sustained success. That makes me think that the front office will put a high value on the thriftiness in terms of both draft picks and salary cap expended on the position, and that plays into my rankings above.

But, to be honest, I feel totally in the dark about what the outcome will be.

What should be obvious is that there are a ton of options, and the key will be making the best choice possible.

I feel good, though, that with Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke already under contract, the team has a fall back position that can save them from any desperate actions.

It will be an interesting week ahead, and — if the team doesn’t get their guy in free agency — it could be a fascinating lead up to the draft as well.