Unrestricted Free Agents
Tony Romo (Dal, 37) – It’s hard not to feel bad for Romo, who has given his body to the Cowboys and still got unseated by a hurricane in rookie QB Dak Prescott. Romo suffered a back injury in his first series of the preseason, and never regained his starting job. Romo’s only action of the 2016 regular season came in Week 17’s meaningless game against the Eagles, when he led Dallas’ only TD drive, going 3/4 for 29 yards and a TD. Romo’s arm was live on that drive, and he clearly looked like he was having fun – his only incompletion was a deep ball on the first play of the drive. With the Cowboys likely unable to trade him, he will get to hand-pick his next spot, presumably with a contender. The injuries are a huge concern, but Romo is a good QB who ran into some brutal luck in 2016. And on the right team – Houston, Denver? – he will have Super Bowl upside.
Jay Cutler (Chi, 34) – The Bears have done the expected, and have officially released Cutler. It was a mostly polarizing eight years with the Bears. He sprained his thumb in Week 2 and missed five games to the injury before tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder and missing the final six games. He underwent surgery to repair his shoulder in early December. He completed 81/137 passes (59.1%) for 1059 yards (7.7 YPA), 4 TDs, and 5 INTs, averaging 15.1 FPG in his five games. The strong-armed, turnover-prone Cutler has had an up-and-down tenure in Chicago but has been in decline recently, and he played worse than his backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in 2016. Cutler likely has a few seasons left in him at 34, but the Bears decided to hand their reins over to Mike Glennon.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (NYJ, 34) – The Jets were forced to bet on Fitzpatrick last summer, and they clearly lost the bet. They brought Fitz back and paid him $12 million for 17 interceptions and just 12 TDs in what was a disastrous season – they paid a $1 million for every TD. The Jets were one of the worst quarterbacked teams in the league this season, starting with the veteran Fitzpatrick. He completed 229/404 passes (56.7%) for 2709 yards, 12 TDs, and 17 INTs for 14.0 FPG in 14 games. Fitz averaged a pathetic .49 fantasy points per pass attempt – the league average was .53 – and he averaged 6.7 YPA. He threw a league-high 6 INTs inside the red zone, and he finished with a league-low 69.6 passer rating among qualified players. Fitz got benched in game two separate times, and he forced too many throws once again. The difference this season was that opposing defenses actually held onto the passes they had chances to pick off, as he had a ton of luck on his side in 2015. Fitz will go back to being a backup QB for a new team this off-season, as his days of being a Week 1 starter are likely over.
Josh McCown (Cle, 37) – The Browns released McCown, which was no surprise, given he was owed over $4 million in 2017 and Cleveland is expected to have a new starting QB in 2017. In five games in 2016, McCown threw 6 TDs and 6 INTs while completing 54.5% of his passes, and he was often injured to boot. If he wants to continue playing, he’ll have to take a pay cut, but he’ll likely be a sought-after backup for a young QB given his reputation as a smart on-field “coach.”
Robert Griffin III (Cle, 27) – The RGIII experiment was certainly defensible in Cleveland, but it simply didn’t work out in 2016. He missed 11 games with a broken shoulder suffered at the end of the season opener, landing on the IR in Weeks 2-13. He ended up with five starts, two TD passes, two injuries – he also suffered a concussion – and one win. RGIII completed 87/147 passes (59.2%) for 886 yards (6.0 YPA), 2 TDs, and 3 INTs, and he added 31/190/2 rushing in 5 games. He averaged 17.1 FPG, tying him with Matt Barkley for 28th at the position. RGIII isn’t nearly as mobile as he once was when he broke into the league in 2012, and he remains highly inaccurate with poor field vision. It’s going to be very hard for him to find work, and getting a shot to actually compete will be impossible. He’s going to have to earn everything he gets from this point forward.
Case Keenum (LAR, 28) – Keenum may not be good, but he certainly was better than Jared Goff in 2016. And if the goal of the Rams was to win games, Keenum was obviously the better choice for Jeff Fisher (who, coincidentally, didn’t win enough games to keep his job). Keenum started nine games for Los Angeles, and quarterbacked the Rams to their only four wins of the year. In those nine starts, he went 191/313 for 2169 yards (61.0%, 6.93 YPA) with 9 TD and 11 INT. He added 20/51/1 rushing to rank 26th among QBs with 17.3 FPG over his nine starts. However, despite starting just over half of the Rams’ games, Keenum turned in LA’s four highest-ranking QB weeks of the entire season, finishing four times as a top-20 QB – Goff never topped 22. Keenum is a free agent, and with a new coach in Sean McVay in town, the Rams may choose to go another direction for their backup QB. However, GM Les Snead is still in place, and it may be well be in both the Rams’ and Keenum’s best interest to re-sign him. There’s obviously a chance a veteran is needed to make starts in Los Angeles, given how Goff played last year.
Colin Kaepernick (SF, 29) – The 49ers didn’t have many useful fantasy assets this year, but Kaepernick was one of them. The faded star started 11 games for Chip Kelly, starting in Week 6. In those 11 starts, Kaepernick posted 196/332 passing for 2241 yards (59.0%, 6.75 YPA) with 16 TD and just 4 INT. He added 69/468/2 rushing (6.8 YPC) to average 21.4 FPG, which ranked him 12th at the QB position. Despite starting just 11 games, Kap finished 2nd among QBs in total rushing (Tyrod Taylor, 580 yards). Kaepernick took over for an ineffective Blaine Gabbert in Week 6, and generally was a fantasy QB who could have led you to a championship. He had six top-12 finishes at the position, including #1 overall in Week 12 against Miami, when he threw for 296 yards and 3 TDs while also running for 113 yards. And in playoff Weeks 14-16, he had a nice run of finishes – #18, #10, and #6, respectively. Kaepernick’s fantasy numbers may have been artificially inflated by Kelly’s offense, an offense that had gotten career years out of Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford, but it’s hard not to be at least somewhat impressed by Kaepernick’s performance given the 49ers had absolutely nothing on the perimeter worth throwing to. Kaepernick chose to opt out of his contract, making him a free agent, and it appears the Niners will be getting a fresh start at QB under new coach Kyle Shanahan. As for Kaepernick, he is hoping for the same elsewhere, with at least a chance to compete.
Shaun Hill (Min, 37) – A solid veteran backup QB, Hill started the Vikings’ first game of the year as it was so soon after Minnesota’s trade for Sam Bradford. He quarterbacked Minnesota to a win over Tennessee, and given the Vikings may well not have Teddy Bridgewater next year either, it’d be smart of the Vikings to re-sign Hill to back up Bradford. He won’t cost a whole lot.
Matt McGloin (Oak, 27) – McGloin missed his opportunity to showcase himself late in 2016. Though Raider starter Derek Carr missed the last few starts of the year with a broken leg, McGloin injured his left shoulder in his first start of the year, and gave way to Connor Cook for the postseason. A “gunslinger” type of player who isn’t all that dissimilar from Ryan Fitzpatrick, McGloin has expressed his desire to get a shot to compete for a starting job. While that may be unrealistic, it’s not outrageous to think he could land somewhere where he has a better shot to do that than in Oakland, where he’s buried behind Carr and ostensibly Cook.
EJ Manuel (Buf, 26) – The Bills once drafted Manuel at #16 overall back in 2013 to be their franchise QB. Instead, his time in Buffalo will go down as a major disappointment. The Bills gave Manuel one last start in Week 17, but his performance in the season finale showed once again that it’s time for the Bills to move on from Manuel. He completed 9/20 passes for 86 yards with no TD and INTs before getting pulled for Cardale Jones. Manuel was hoping to impress potential suitors in his final audition, but he’s unlikely to have much of a market and will likely be competing for a backup job in some place other than Buffalo. Anyone looking for a “hard-count specialist?”
Blaine Gabbert (SF, 27) – Given that Gabbert isn’t good, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick after just five starts, but once again, Gabbert has made at least something of himself in his NFL career, which is more than we could say looked likely a couple of years ago in Jacksonville. In five starts for the 49ers, Gabbert posted 87/150 passing for 890 yards (58.0%, 5.9 YPA) with 5 TD and 6 INT. He added 39/172/2 rushing (4.4 YPC) to rank tied for 25th in the first five weeks of the season with 18.4 FPG. Gabbert still has no clue what to do under pressure, and he’s often wildly inaccurate despite the fact that he throws a pretty-looking ball. But he’s mobile, and as he enters free agency, he’s at least put enough positives on tape to get a look as a backup elsewhere. With the 49ers bringing in Kyle Shanahan, it appears unlikely that Gabbert will be able to stay in San Francisco.
Mark Sanchez (Dal, 30) – Signed by the Cowboys to back up Dak Prescott after Tony Romo got injured, Sanchez didn’t play much in 2016. He threw 17 passes in a meaningless Week 17 game for Dallas, and 2 of them were picked off. Sanchez’s propensity for turnovers make him an unappealing guy to compete for a starting job anywhere, but he can occasionally make enough positive plays to be a decent enough backup.
Dan Orlovsky (Det, 33) – Orlovsky didn’t attempt a pass in 2016, and according to his own Twitter account, he expects to have to look elsewhere for work in free agency. Still most famous for running out of his own end zone for a safety, “Safety Dan” isn’t likely to have a hot market.
Christian Ponder (SF, 28) – Ponder hasn’t thrown a pass since 2014, but he got paychecks from the Raiders in 2015 and 49ers in 2016. He at least seems to have some fans as a backup QB around the league, so we’ll see if he can land in a camp somewhere.
Thad Lewis (SF, 29) – There’s not much to see here, as Lewis hasn’t attempted a pass since 2013 and sat out the entire 2016 season with a torn ACL. Lewis has a great skill set that served him well at college but his efficiency hasn’t translated into NFL production. Whether he returns to San Fran or lands elsewhere, Lewis would likely need an injury for a chance to see the field.
TJ Yates (Mia, 29) – Yates was basically a body for competition during both stints in Houston, though he did find some success in 2011 as he helped the Texans clinch their first division title. Now, however, he is nothing more than a benchwarmer in Miami. He was signed in December after Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season, but backup QB Matt Moore showed he’s capable of at least managing and operating the offense if Tannehill isn’t available. For what it’s worth, Yates’ 2011 numbers — 82 of 134 (61.2%) for 949 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs, came while working under new Bills’ OC Rick Dennison. We know the Bills aren’t in love with Tyrod Taylor, so the connection here is something to keep in mind.
Kellen Moore (Dal, 27) – The 2015 season was a miserable one for Dallas after Tony Romo went down early, and Moore was part of that eye sore, seeing his first NFL game action and completing less than 60% of his passes with 4 TDs and 6 INTs in just 3 games. A fractured fibula sidelined him for all of 2016; the injury was a big part of Dak Prescott’s ascension to starter-status. However, since Tony Romo is unlikely to return, it would make sense if the Cowboys decide to hang on to Moore. Prescott’s youth and durability mean the team won’t have to spend much money at the backup QB position and Moore already knows the offense.
Ryan Nassib (NYG, 26) – The fourth round pick in 2013 out of Syracuse was placed on IR in December to undergo surgery on his elbow. And while he has received plenty of praise along the way behind starter Eli Manning, there hasn’t been much to suggest he’ll be anything in the NFL but a backup. Manning, for what it’s worth, has suggested Nassib has the potential to be a starting QB, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, and Nassib has been part of trade rumors over the last couple years, but with no team willing to pull the trigger in the past, we can’t imagine he’ll see the field in 2017 barring an injury to a starter.
Bruce Gradkowski (Pit, 34) – The aging veteran went on IR in late August last year with a torn hamstring and was then cut by the Steelers in October. The 34 year old journeyman really had just one meaningful season, in Tampa Bay in 2006, and while there’s still a chance he lands somewhere as a backup — or, more likely, a third-stringer — his days in the NFL are numbered.
Austin Davis (Cle, 27) – The undrafted journeyman out of Southern Miss worked out for the Ravens in January, as Joe Flacco is the only QB under contract for Baltimore with Ryan Mallett hitting free agency. Most recently, Davis started a handful of games for Cleveland in place of Johnny Manziel. He was without a team for all of 2016 after the Browns released him at the end of August.
Restricted Free Agents
David Fales (Chi, 26) – Fales hadn’t played an NFL snap until the 2016 finale. He was promoted to the 53-man Bears roster to back up Matt Barkley after Jay Cutler went down with a shoulder injury, and replaced Barkley in Week 17. Earlier in 2016, even with a terrible QB situation in Chicago, Fales was waived and the Bears felt comfortable riding with Jimmy Clausen as their backup. Fales is little more than a practice squad guy.
Ryan Griffin (TB, 27) – Buccaneer HC Dirk Koetter said last April that Griffin had the capabilities to be a No. 2 quarterback in the league, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Backup QB Mike Glennon is set to hit free agency, and the team seems to like what they see in Griffin. Still, he’s behind the team’s franchise quarterback and even if he is declared the No. 2 with full confidence, it will take a Jameis Winston injury for Griffin to see any playing time.