ENGLEWOOD, Colo. >> Already a dozen NFL teams have new quarterbacks, half of them starters. And next month’s draft features a deep class of QB prospects, a half-dozen of which could hear their names called in the first round.
Why such a remarkable run on prime-time passers?
“They’re hard to find,” Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said after introducing Case Keenum as his fifth quarterback since Peyton Manning’s retirement just two years ago. “It’s a tough spot to play. There are a lot of expectations. It’s a hard position. There are a lot pressures on it. You’ve got to play with consistency and there are a lot of people that rely on that position.”
So, proven passers and projects alike see teams jockeying to throw multiple millions their way.
The harbinger of the “Great Quarterback Shuffle” of 2018 came during Super Bowl week when word got out that the Kansas City Chiefs were sending Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, freeing Kirk Cousins to become a free agent in his prime, one who would rewrite the conventional contract.
Cousins made the media rounds at the Super Bowl, where he secretly scouted out the city he would soon call his own.
Minnesota surged past Denver, Phoenix and New York as Cousins’ desired destination after the Vikings decided to let all three of their veteran quarterbacks hit the open market.
While Cousins was working out a three-year, ground-breaking (fully guaranteed) and record-setting ($28 million average) deal in Minnesota , the Broncos, Cardinals and Jets were picking through the Vikings’ quarterback bin:
—Coming off a $2 million deal in Minnesota, Keenum commanded a two-year, $36 million deal in Denver after leading the Vikings to an 11-3 mark and the NFC championship game.
—Sam Bradford, whose injury opened the way for Keenum’s breakout season, signed a one-year, $20 million with the Cardinals, who lost Carson Palmer to retirement.
—Teddy Bridgewater, once the Vikings’ established starter before a devastating knee injury two years ago, signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Jets, who also re-signed Josh McCown for one year at $10 million.
Trevor Siemian, who blew up the Broncos’ quarterback plans two straight summers by beating out 2016 first-round flop Paxton Lynch, heads to the Vikings as Cousins’ backup after going 13-11 in Denver.
Leading the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 18 years wasn’t enough for Tyrod Taylor to secure his long-term future in Buffalo. The Bills traded Taylor to Cleveland, which traded DeShone Kizer to the Green Bay Packers, where he’ll back up Aaron Rodgers.
AJ McCarron finally gets his chance to prove himself after spending four seasons in Andy Dalton’s shadow. He signed a two-year deal with the Bills and said it makes no difference if his new team adds more competition by selecting one of the highly regarded quarterback prospects in the draft next month .
“I try not to ever waste any mental thought on it because it’s something I can’t control,” McCarron said. “… You can either let it affect you in how you go about your work and let that define you. Or you can change everybody’s thought process. My mindset is to change anybody that’s had any doubt.”
Keenum said his mindset won’t change should Elway draft a quarterback such as Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that anything is a possibility in this league. I was a starting quarterback when a team drafted somebody No. 1 overall and traded a bunch of draft picks. I know how that goes,” Keenum said, recalling when the Rams selected Jared Goff in 2016.
Teams are also doling out big bucks for backups just two months after watching Nick Foles’ MVP performance in leading the Eagles past Tom Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl 52 while starter Carson Wentz watched from the sideline.
Mike Glennon went from being the Bears’ backup to Arizona, Chase Daniel went from the Saints to Chicago and Tom Savage moved from the Texans to New Orleans.
None of them got the kind of money Jimmy Garoppolo did after serving as Brady’s backup for several seasons and then getting traded to San Francisco. After sparking the downtrodden 49ers, Garoppolo was rewarded with a record-breaking deal that averaged a whopping $27.5 million a season.
That mark stood until Cousins’ deal came in at an average of $28 million, which is sure to fall when the Packers and Rodgers work out a new contract in the next year or so.
In several weeks, the NFL will be flush with a new crop of quarterbacks, some of whom may one day make today’s jaw-dropping contracts look a little less eye-popping.
They may have to start out as a backup such as Patrick Mahomes II last year in Kansas City or Rodgers did in Green Bay when Brett Favre was still going strong.
Rodgers said that although there’s an ever-widening schism between college offenses and the ones the pros run, today’s QB prospects are in many ways more prepared for the NFL because the coaching is better at all levels.
“I think you’re seeing more spread offenses in college, which give you the run-pass option a lot of times. You’re seeing the NFL incorporate some of that. But in general, I think there’s just so much more education about quarterbacks that allows these guys to be more ready to play than, say, myself or Alex Smith or Jason Campbell were in 2005 when we got picked in the first round,” Rodgers said. “So, it’s a testament to those coaches but also those players for getting themselves ready to play earlier.
“But for any young quarterback, it’s about opportunity and fit, situation. So, you’ve seen guys like Big Ben (Roethlisberger) go into a good situation and play great his rookie year, DeShaun Watson this year with a good team around him, Carson in his second year. Those guys spoil us with their ability to make plays and to be great. Not every situation is like that. And I hope for those guys they get the right opportunity, and for some of them it’s sit and learn. That’s what I did and it worked out well for me.”