Every NFL offseason brings about change. Players move via free agency and trades. Rarely are there this many questions at the quarterback position heading into a new league year though. The beginning of the changing of the old guard is underway with the retirement of Carson Palmer from Arizona and the possibility of retirement of Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Drew Brees and Eli Manning both could potentially be moving on from the Saints and Giants respectively. Those changes will mean a brand new crop of quarterbacks will take over for those teams and many, many more.
What does this mean for fantasy owners? A shake-up at the quarterback position will impact teams as a whole and specifically all of their fantasy assets. What happens to Michael Thomas fantasy value if instead of Drew Brees, he has Josh McCown throwing him the ball next season? Now that Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians have retired from Arizona can David Johnson return to being a top-tier fantasy asset with an entirely new offense and quarterback? To figure out the answers to those questions and more, we have to take a look into the potential destinations for impact free agents and how their departure and arrival could change the course of fantasy in 2018.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Heading into his age 39 season, the New Orleans Saints quarterback will be coming off the second lowest passing yardage (4,334) and lowest passing touchdown output (23) of his last 10 seasons. The combination of an improved defense and dominating running game, which was top five in the NFL in rushing yards, led to a dip in Brees production. That being said, Brees hasn’t lost a step when it comes to his ability to be efficient and effective in the passing game. His 72% completion percentage is the best mark of his career, and the eight interceptions are his lowest in any season in which Brees played all 16 games.
Brees is ranked number two in among qualified quarterbacks in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement according to Football Outsiders, just behind Tom Brady. He added the second most value to his team in terms of yardage at the quarterback position in 2017. He continues to make plays at all levels on the field and is a maestro at the screen game, giving Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram the best chance to succeed on these plays in 2017.
If Brees has a new home in 2018, he will probably look to move to a team that is built to win-now versus a complete rebuild situation, even though Brees has talked about playing into his mid-40s. Teams like the Denver Broncos or Jacksonville Jaguars could be suitors for Brees with their strong defenses and array of skill players that would be able to make plays around Brees.
The big question for fantasy owners would be can Brees return to his ultra-consistent production from the last decade. 2017 is the first season that Brees threw for less than 30 touchdown passes since 2007. However, that isn’t due to a drop-off in ability, just volume. Brees finished as the QB9 in 2017 according to ESPN standard scoring and was also ninth in the NFL in pass attempts with 536. This was the first time he is under 600 attempts over the last seven seasons. Brees will still be a QB1 for fantasy owners, but shouldn’t be expected to produce like the fantasy superstar he’s been over the last decade.
Washington can’t franchise tag Cousins for another season, can they? A potential $35 million cap hit next season makes many think Kirk (not Kurt) will find a new home in 2018. Cousins has been a fantasy asset for much of the last three seasons, averaging 27 passing touchdowns over that span. He struggled in 2017 after the departure of both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, posting his lowest grade according to Pro Football Focus in the last three years (78.8). Even though he didn’t perform as well this season, Cousins still has been better than most of the other quarterbacks in the NFL, posting the 12th best DYAR according to Football Outsiders and also finishing his third consecutive season throwing for over 4,000 yards.
Washington could certainly bring Cousins back if they are willing to pay up but would need some help from the players around him after being sacked 41 times in 2017. The addition of Terrelle Pryor as a replacement for Garcon and Jackson did not pan out as expected as Pryor was only able to catch 20 passes in 2017. Cousins could be a strong replacement if New Orleans does decide to move on from Drew Brees.
The Cardinals would also be an interesting destination as they attempt to move on from the retired Carson Palmer. Cousins would be an upgrade for many of the offenses due to his consistent nature and ability to move the ball down the field in large chunks over the previous three seasons. Expect him to be a low-end QB1 for 2018 depending on his landing spot.
Sam Bradford/Case Keenum/Teddy Bridgewater:
It’s certainly an odd situation when a team’s entire roster of quarterbacks is set to become free agents all at one time. Sam Bradford started the 2017 season in grand fashion throwing for three touchdowns and 346 yards against the Saints but then had yet another knee injury to derail a promising season. Bradford was coming off an impressive 71.56% completion percentage in 2016 to lead the NFL and was primed to become a fantasy factor in 2017.
It seems like Bradford will continue to get chances to become an NFL starter and potential fantasy contributor in 2018 no matter where he ends up. If he does return to the Vikings, the skill players surrounding him will be some of, if not the best of his career. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and rookie running back Dalvin Cook all finished with over an 80 grade according to Pro Football Focus. Diggs and Thielen both finished the season as two of the top 10 rated wide receivers according to PFF and fantasy owners should not see any drop off from these two going forward.
If Bradford can stay healthy and that’s a big if, fantasy owners could expect to see low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 numbers as long as Bradford is on the field. He would be a worth a late-round flier in fantasy drafts in 2018 and would be a perfect streaming option depending on his weekly matchups. Fantasy owners should not expect Bradford to be their full-time starter for the 2018 season.
There is no doubt that one of the best stories this season has been the emergence of Case Keenum following the injury to Sam Bradford. Keenum finished the season as the number nine quarterback in terms of PFF rating at 85.4. He finished ahead of players like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff in 2017. After playing a backup role for the first five seasons of his professional career, Keenum found a scheme and team that allowed him to look much closer to the Houston Cougars version of Keenum in college where he threw for over 40 touchdowns per season as a starter from 2008-2011. This season was extremely impressive as he finished as the number one quarterback in terms of DVOA according to Football Outsiders.
He also finished as the 14th ranked quarterback in ESPN standard scoring leagues after only starting 14 games in 2017, and finished ahead of players like Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota. Keenum’s performance this season should allow him to be a starter in a league that is desperate for anything with a pulse at quarterback. Ideally, he would end up on a team like the Broncos that already have established skill players that Keenum could feed off of. Fantasy owners should not expect Keenum to produce at this QB1 level next season unless he is in an as ideal landing spot.
Last, but not least,Teddy Bridgewater was supposed to be the quarterback of the future for the Vikings, but his gruesome leg injury stopped that talk dead in its tracks. Now that Bridgewater returned and saw a bit of playing time, the question is if the Vikings will put him back under center for 2018. As alluded to earlier, the weapons are already in place in Minnesota with the trio of Cook, Thielen, and Diggs. Almost any quarterback should be successful in 2018 with those weapons and Bridgewater should be no exception.
He was impressive in the first two seasons of his NFL career, completing 64.4% and 65.3% of his passes respectively, but was not throwing touchdowns at the rate of Case Keenum did in 2017 (4.6% for Keenum vs. 3.3% for Bridgewater for his career). Even if Teddy Two-Gloves is the Vikings quarterback for 2018, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect the same type of production as Case Keenum in 2017 or Sam Bradford in the latter half of 2016. Bridgewater should be considered a mid-tier QB2 in standard leagues.
Potential cap cuts and trade candidates:
Eli Manning (New York Giants), Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills), Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars), Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)
Expected to Remain With Team:
Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers), Josh McCown (New York Jets)
For any thoughts about the upcoming free agent class contact me on Twitter @TheRealHalupka