2015 Top Free Agents: Quarterbacks
Quarterbacks drive the league and Ben Stockwell reviews the free agent crop to see if they are capable of leading your team to a successful season.
2015 Top Free Agents: Quarterbacks
You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
1. Jake Locker – RETIRED
2014 Grade: -16.7
2014 Snaps: 309
It’s rarely a good year to be looking for a quarterback in free agency and this year provides a particularly barren crop. No-one is going to give any of these quarterbacks the keys to their offense coming in the door. The key to finding value from these quarterbacks is going to be pairing them with systems and situations to match what they do well.
Locker gradually fell out of favor in Tennessee and had some dreadful displays this season but did show some promise in 2012 and 2013. At the start of 2013 in particular he got off to a strong start in the first four weeks (+8.5 passing grade) before a hip injury derailed what looked like a promising season. Any team signing Locker to compete for a starting job will be hoping to re-discover that Jake Locker.
2. Matt Moore – Re-signed with Miami
2014 Grade: -1.2
2014 Snaps: 31
Moore’s days as a starter seem to be behind him having played only 94 snaps since the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill in 2012. As a dependable backup Moore arguably offers more of a sure thing than many players coming off of greater playing time in 2014.
Going way back to 2011 for Moore’s last extended playing time we find a strong season for Miami (+15.3 passing grade) where he finished inside the top 15 of our quarterback grades. That’s a long time ago, but a caliber of play that most teams would grab with both hands right now. Moore may return to Miami as Ryan Tannehill’s backup, but teams with young, unproven signal callers could do worse than having Moore as an insurance plan and competition to push their young quarterback on.
3. Ryan Mallett – Re-signed with Houston
2014 Grade: -7.4
2014 Snaps: 158
There were two unknowns about the Patriots’ 2011 third round pick entering this season; What is he worth? And how good is he? We found out the answer to the first question (a conditional seventh round pick, not a first round pick as some had suggested) but a pectoral injury robbed everyone of the chance to make a true evaluation.
Mallett played (poorly) through that injury against the Bengals in Week 12 to leave us only with a solid display at Cleveland the prior week to judge Mallett as a professional quarterback. The unknown factor may play in Mallett’s favor though (assuming his injury checks out for him to be signed early on), we’re still not sure how good or bad Mallett is, but that can’t be said for many other quarterbacks in this class.
4. Tarvaris Jackson
2014 Grade: 0.0
2014 Snaps: 3
Much like Matt Moore two spots above him, Jackson’s limited playing time since a new starting quarterback was acquired in 2012 makes him an unknown factor of recent times. However, stretching back to his most recent playing time you find a safe pair of hands both as a short term starter and a backup.
Jackson offers some mobility to the edge and has an arm to make better throws than simply pigeon holing him as a game manager, baby sitting a team until the team is ready for a younger signal caller. Jackson is by no means a nailed-on-safe option but at no point has he been as poor as some of the other quarterbacks in this free agent class.
5. Brian Hoyer – Signed with Houston
2014 Grade: -18.8
2014 Snaps: 934
2014 was Hoyer’s big chance to take his potential and turn it into reality but he didn’t take it. Things started reasonably with solid games up to Week 6 placing him inside our top 10 graded quarterbacks but things went drastically downhill from there. After that point Hoyer earned a -23.4 overall grade with only rookies Derek Carr (-26.8) and Blake Bortles (-29.7) earning a lower grade in the last 11 weeks of the season.
The last four weeks before his benching were particularly poor in summary. If Hoyer can re-discover his form from the start of the season then perhaps there is still something to salvage here, but he’ll be on a short leash with whatever opportunity he is given for 2015.
6. Mark Sanchez – Re-signed with Philadelphia
2014 Grade: -9.8
2014 Snaps: 640
Mark Sanchez and his agent found the perfect scenario to rebound from his time in New York, biding his time behind Nick Foles. Sanchez was given the opportunity to unseat the underwhelming Foles and did little to turn around the perceptions about his ability. In a quarterback friendly system there were productive performances that hid the fact that Sanchez was still the same inaccurate, mistake prone quarterback that we saw with the Jets.
As a quarterback with extensive starting experience, aged only 28 and having taken (or been taken, depending on your view) his team to consecutive AFC title games to start his career he will surely have offers once again. At some point Sanchez’s performances must start to outweigh his experience in evaluating what he can bring to a team.
7. Josh McCown – Signed with Cleveland
2014 Grade: -18.3
2014 Snaps: 644
A year ago McCown was an intriguing free agent prospect, coming off of a career resurrecting season under Marc Trestman in Chicago he was without doubt the top free agent in terms of 2013 performance. That 2013 performance however didn’t come with him to Tampa Bay, suffering a letdown season with the Bucs.
In both seasons McCown had the physical downfield options at wide receiver and was productive both years in that regard, but fell down in terms of avoiding mistakes this season. When he was with the Bears McCown only threw one interception in five starts, but a year later with the Bucs threw 11 on short and intermediate targets alone. No quarterback on this list has produced close to McCown’s 2013 in recent seasons; the question is whether that was merely a flash in the pan.
8. Colt McCoy – Re-signed with Washington
2014 Grade: -5.8
2014 Snaps: 249
Continuing the theme of calculated risks and reclamation projects, McCoy produced a late season quarterback controversy in Washington though his high watermark consists of only one game against the Cowboys in Week 8. A strong showing with his arm and his legs momentarily disrupted, Dallas’ season but is that enough to resurrect McCoy’s career?
McCoy spread the ball around the field in his five games for Washington this season and wasn’t poor in any area. By that same token he wasn’t very good in any given area either. In the right situation, possibly returning to the nation’s capital with Jay Gruden, McCoy could at least contribute to a quarterback competition and offer some insurance off the bench.
9. Matt Flynn
2014 Grade: -1.8
2014 Snaps: 31
The question that will continue to hang over Flynn and to some extent calls into question his place on this list is whether he offers any value to any team not named the Packers. In both Seattle and Oakland Flynn failed to grasp his opportunity to be a starter out of Aaron Rodgers’ shadow. Even after he returned to Green Bay he turned in poor performances against the Lions and Steelers in 2013 when pressed into a more extended run in the starting lineup.
The Packers seem to have a level of confidence with Flynn as their backup quarterback so an extension to his second stint in Green Bay would be no surprise. If they do choose to move on will his struggles in 2012 and 2013 limit his opportunities elsewhere?
10. Christian Ponder – Signed with Oakland
2014 Grade: -4.4
2014 Snaps: 91
Rounding out an underwhelming quarterback class is the third former first round pick in this top ten. Things started poorly for Ponder in Minnesota and rarely got better, despite having Adrian Peterson to lean on in the running game. Even when riding Adrian Peterson to a playoff berth in 2012 Ponder turned in far more poor performances than good ones, earning a passing grade below -10.0 in each of his three seasons as Minnesota’s starter.
At 27 the Vikings have given up on Ponder who is still fairly young. There is perhaps some hope that a new team can find something in Ponder as a reclamation project, at a similar stage in his career as when Alex Smith looked to be destined for an underwhelming career at best. Can a coach see the positives in Ponder to turn him around and resurrect his career as Alex Smith did under Jim Harbaugh and subsequently Andy Reid?
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.