Ranking the 2014 Free Agents: Quarterbacks
You’ve been reading along with our Projected Lineups series on a daily basis and have checked the PFF Free Agent Tracker more times than you can count, so you’ll be happy to see that today begins our effort to rank the top free agents available — the potential answers to the holes apparent on those team-by-team charts. We’ll be taking on a couple positions a day this week and discussing our Top 10 at each.
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.
We kick things off with this look at the free agent quarterbacks:
1. Michael Vick
2013 Grade: -0.2
2013 Snaps: 335
Summary: Vick seemed like a natural fit for the Eagles’ new offense when Chip Kelly was hired last offseason. After a solid showing in the preseason he clearly beat out Nick Foles as the starter. A hamstring injury early in the season kept Vick on the sidelines while Foles performed well enough to retain the starting job for the remainder of the season.
Although Vick isn’t the most accurate quarterback, he has improved as a pocket passer over the years. Athleticism is his biggest asset, allowing him to extend plays into huge gains—something that many other passers are incapable of producing. It comes with a price though, as we have seen year in and year out that his style of play poses a greater injury risk.
Vick is the most talented quarterback of the bunch. That said, as a 34-year-old, injury-prone, mobile quarterback, his time as a starter is ticking. He could be a very good option for one or two seasons for a team that wants to develop a younger player or has no viable starting option currently on the roster.
2. Josh Freeman
2013 Grade: -13.0
2013 Snaps: 271
Summary: 2013 was a rough year for Freeman. After a very public exit from Tampa, the Vikings quickly gave him the opportunity to prove himself. A significant portion of his grade (-10.8) came in his lone start for the Vikings, which was the worst game grade we’ve ever given to a quarterback. At least a small part of the blame can be attributed to the Vikings for starting him after just a week of practice, but it was still a dreadful performance that kept him from seeing the field again.
What to expect from Freeman remains somewhat unknown, which is odd for someone with his amount of experience. He has been so inconsistent during his five seasons though it is difficult to know which player is going to show up any given week. He has flashed his talent level numerous times, but for every good performance there are one or two poor ones. In his last full season as a starter he earned a +8.9 overall grade in the first seven games only to finish the last nine games with a -12.8 grade.
With Freeman’s age, talent, and arm strength, he has the most long-term upside of any of the free agents. However, as a coach, how much time do you spend trying to get the most out of Freeman? Especially in a league where success as a coach is tied to quarterbacks and coaches are getting let go as soon as one or two years into their jobs.
3. Tarvaris Jackson – Re-signs with Seattle
2013 Grade: +3.4
2013 Snaps: 42
Summary: Despite Jackson’s shortcomings with the Vikings and lack of playing time the last couple seasons, he is a better quarterback than his reputation may suggest. In his first stint with the Seahawks, he finished in the top half of all quarterbacks in passing grade (+2.3) and Accuracy Percentage (72.2%). More recently, Jackson has looked good in the little playing time he received last season even though most came via garbage time or the preseason.
He can mobile enough to extend plays but that hasn’t translated into success when under pressure. In 2011, he completed 70.2% of his passes with a 97.5 QB Rating when not pressured. Those dropped to 39.3% and 40.7, respectively, when he was pressured.
Jackson could be an average starter for a team in need or definitely a solid backup choice. He would benefit from having an offensive line that is strong in pass protection.
4. Matt Cassel – Re-signs with Minnesota
2013 Grade: -5.2
2013 Snaps: 467
Summary: Cassel was given only six starts last season but his on-field performance was the best out of the Vikings’ quarterbacks. He’s been a fairly safe and accurate quarterback with an Accurate Percentage over 70% in each of the last four years. One of Cassel’s strengths is being able to get rid of the ball quickly — last year he had the fifth-quickest Average Time to Attempt at 2.35 seconds, which also aids the offensive line in pass protection. The quickness doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a dink and dunk passer since 15% of his passes were targeted 20-plus yards downfield. His deep pass accuracy improved to a sixth-ranked 47.4%, but historically his success on those deep passes leaves something to be desired.
Cassel played well enough to get a couple looks to compete for a starting job. Any team needing a number two quarterback should feel more than comfortable with Cassel’s ability to fill in in case of injury.
5. Josh McCown – Signs with Tampa Bay
2013 Grade: +16.6
2013 Snaps: 427
Summary: McCown played better than one could hope to get out of a backup quarterback for such a long stretch. Even though he played less than half the season, he finished tied for the fifth-highest overall grade for a quarterback. Few quarterbacks were as accurate as McCown, who ranked fourth with a 77.8 Accuracy Percentage and a first-ranked 77.0% when under pressure.
McCown will turn age 35 before training camp and would likely be a fix of no more than a year or two if someone brought him in as a starter. More concerning is whether or not another team could get a similar level of production from him without quarterback guru Marc Trestman and one of the league’s top wide receiver duos.
6. Chad Henne – Re-signs with Jacksonville
2013 Grade: -21.0
2013 Snaps: 921
Summary: In his first nearly-full season as a starter since 2010, Henne had possibly his worst as a pro with just one positive-graded game all year. Somewhat in his defense, Jacksonville was without Justin Blackmon for the majority of the season and Henne’s offensive weapons were lacking after Cecil Shorts. Henne has significant game experience and does a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly. He will be 29 years old and could be an upgrade for several teams if they are looking for a backup.
7. Rex Grossman
2013 Grade: 0.0
2013 Snaps: 0
Summary: Grossman wasn’t stellar on the field in his last opportunity as the Redskins’ starter three seasons ago. His -6.5 pass grade ranked 27th out of 38 quarterbacks, however that ranked ahead of still-starters Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton in 2011. Grossman earned a +0.5 overall grade last preseason, albeit against somewhat lesser competition. He is bound to throw some frustrating passes, but overall you could do worse in terms of a backup quarterback.
8. Matt Flynn
2013 Grade: -11.0
2013 Snaps: 401
Summary: After losing the starting quarterback job in consecutive training camps, Flynn is once again a free agent after spending time with four different teams in the last calendar year. Flynn helped salvage Green Bay’s season with a few good performances, but he had just as many poor outings. Including his brief time in Oakland, he graded -4.0 or lower in three of the six games with significant playing time. That said, his 74.2% Accuracy Percentage ranked in the Top 10, although it should be noted that he had the fifth-shortest average depth of target among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts.
Flynn has proven valuable with the Packers despite having limitations downfield. It would be surprising if he gets another chance to compete for a starting job, but in the right system he can be an effective backup for a team looking for someone with some starting experience. The question is whether or not a team outside of the Packers will believe he is a fit.
9. Colt McCoy
2013 Grade: 0.0
2013 Snaps: 22
Summary: McCoy has played just 63 snaps over the last two seasons. He wasn’t ready to start so soon in Cleveland and was inconsistent throughout his two years as an off-and-on starter. A year under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage may have helped his progression, but it looks as if San Francisco is willing to move on. Although McCoy has some injury concerns, he is still young and can be a decent backup quarterback with the right coaching situation.
10. Derek Anderson – Re-signs in Carolina
2013 Grade: -0.1
2013 Snaps: 17
Summary: Anderson has not played a meaningful snap in the last three seasons, although he did overtake Jimmy Clausen as the number two quarterback in Carolina. In his last year as a starter in 2010 he was easily our lowest-graded quarterback (-24.4) despite playing just over half the season. He has some prior experience and looked serviceable in the preseason, but he has little upside, even as a backup.
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