We know the 2015 quarterback power structure pretty well after 14 weeks. Our usual rankings are still below, but we wanted to start looking ahead to what teams will be looking for quarterbacks in 2016.
There are a few compelling potential free agents at the position this year, including Kirk Cousins, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Bradford. That quarter should mostly be re-signed before free agency, but other names figure to come available whether by release or trade. Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning and Johnny Manziel could all be in the mix.
For now, let's take a look at what teams should be in the market for a new signal-caller. If you are looking for the straight quarterback rankings, head straight to the bottom of this column.
Desperate for a solution
Houston Texans:Brian Hoyer's stats are better than you would expect, with 18 TDs, 6 INTs and a 7.4 YPA. Yet no one believes he's a franchise quarterback, including coach Bill O'Brien, who benched Hoyer for Ryan Mallett after three quarters in Week 1. With Hoyer on the books for $5.25 million, the Texans have a veteran in place who can compete to start or be a backup. They figure to focus on finding their next starter in the draft.
San Francisco 49ers:Blaine Gabbert's $1.95 million is a relative bargain. He can compete to start or be a backup again if the 49ers find a shinier object. Colin Kaepernick was reported to be on the trading block in late November and was back off it a few weeks later. It's not even January and the leverage games have begun. The best bet is that Kaepernick is dangled for offers; his pay-as-you-go contract would likely have to be re-structured by any interested team.
Philadelphia Eagles:Sam Bradford turned down a lucrative deal from the Eagles before the season, a decision to bet on himself that might not work out. His value after a rocky year with Chip Kelly is difficult to assess. These last three weeks will mean a great deal because he's played better of late. Even if the Eagles don't want to pay him big bucks in the offseason, there will be a general manager or three who believes he can unlock his No. 1 overall pick potential. We just haven't seen that potential on the field. As Chris Wesseling noted on the Around The NFL podcast this week, Kirk Cousins has outplayed Bradford this year. Mark Sanchez has regressed in Chip Kelly's system and should only be back as a backup.
St. Louis Rams: Perhaps the Eagles could re-acquire Nick Foles by trading Sanchez to the Rams. More than any team in football, it feels like the Rams are starting from scratch at the position. Foles is still due $7.75 million guaranteed next season, yet he's been benched for Case Keenum. The Raiders and Chargers might bring this up in their Los Angeles proposal.
Cleveland Browns: Like the three teams directly above, a lot depends on whether the team changes coaches in the offseason. Johnny Manziel's next three games against stiff competition (Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh) will also help set his value entering the offseason. Ownership could push for a new coach to develop Manziel rather than trade him for 50 cents on the dollar. Josh McCown and Austin Davis are also under contract next season for fair values. Someone has to go, because the Browns can't possibly run back the same trio. They will be high enough in the draft to have their pick at the position.
Work left to do
New York Jets:Ryan Fitzpatrick feels older than 33, which is practically a prime age for quarterbacks these days. He's a free agent and it makes a ton of sense for both parties to strike a deal. Other teams can't import Chan Gailey with Fitzmagic, and it's hard to imagine other situations where he could throw for 4,000 yards. He has more value to the Jets than elsewhere. The Jets might take the opportunity to move on from Geno Smith in a trade, while drafting another mid-round pick at the position to develop along with Bryce Petty. Just don't expect another $59 million deal for Fitz like the one Gailey helped secure in Buffalo.
Washington Redskins:Kirk Cousins' next contract will be even more fraught with potential for disaster than Fitzpatrick's. Cousins has shown the potential this season to be a poor man's Andy Dalton. He would get paid plenty on the open market and owner Daniel Snyder has a history of paying players a premium. Barring a meltdown in the next three weeks, Cousins is in position to score a deal from the Redskins that could be tough to live up to. It feels very unlikely that Cousins will leave if Jay Gruden remains the coach.
Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan is in a far better spot at quarterback than he was a year ago. Tyrod Taylor has earned the right to keep starting, and he's under contract for cheap next season (the third year of his contract has voided, so he's signed through 2016). EJ Manuel should be on the trade block and we wouldn't be surprised to see the Bills draft another quarterback to eventually compete with Taylor.
The X Factors
New Orleans Saints: If Sean Payton is available, could Drew Brees be packaged with him? It's at least possible the Saints decide to completely rebuild. Brees is still a high-level starter, but he's turning 37 in January and is entering a contract year. This is absolutely the time to consider getting big value for him.
Denver Broncos:Brock Osweiler has showed potential in four starts and could have four more by the end of the season to evaluate, including the playoffs. Peyton Manning looks highly unlikely to be back in Denver, barring a January resurrection. Whether Manning retires or tries to keep playing is a separate discussion. We put the Broncos as an X-Factor because you can't rule out John Elway from making a big splash at the position whether it's via trade or the draft. Denver knows Osweiler better than any team and should know whether he's worth starting quarterback money. It's going to be another tricky contract to figure out.
Chicago Bears: The same regime in Chicago tried to trade Jay Cutler last season. It didn't work, and now $10 million of his 2016 salary is fully guaranteed. Cutler has mostly played well under Adam Gase and we suspect the Bears will roll with Cutler as their starter again next season, with an eye on drafting an eventual replacement.
And now on to the rankings. They are based on 2015 play alone. And you'll note we have a special sponsor this week.