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Ranking the best QBs and sleeper values in free agency

For quarterback-needy teams, the free-agent landscape looks considerably less bountiful in 2021 than it did the offseason prior.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston throws during warm ups prior to kickoff against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For quarterback-needy teams, the free-agent landscape looks considerably less bountiful in 2021 than it did the offseason prior.

A year ago, the free-agent quarterback market featured some of the best to ever play the position (Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and technically Drew Brees) while also featuring solid depth behind them (Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton, and others). Rarely has free agency provided so many quality veterans at the game’s most important position.

The 2021 free-agent class looks considerably different. The most decorated signal-caller of the group — Newton, a former first-team All-Pro and league MVP — comes off arguably the worse full season of his NFL career while the other top options offer medium-range, band-aid solutions rather than long-term stability under center. UPDATE: Newton has re-signed to a one-year deal worth up to $14 million.

Still, despite a less appealing group of passers and fewer suitors available due to the league-wide cap crunch, some of 2021’s free agents can expect to draw considerable interest.

Top 3

Jameis Winston

Following a 2019 campaign that saw Jameis Winston run away with the league lead in interceptions (30), the former No. 1 overall pick struggled to find a new home for much of the offseason. Eventually, the New Orleans Saints threw him a lifeline, signing him to a cheap one-year deal that would allow him to back up Drew Brees and Taysom Hill while learning under head coach Sean Payton. Though Winston barely saw the field this past season, the time he spent in a reserve role impressed the Saints. Not only will the team likely consider Winston as their 2021 replacement for the soon-to-be-retired Drew Brees, but the quarterback might also garner offers from other teams to start.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

Seemingly every offseason sees Ryan Fitzpatrick draw modest interest on the open market as a high-end backup or fridge starter. That trend doesn’t appear likely to change, as Fitzpatrick could field offers from cap-strapped teams like the Chicago Bears as a one-year starting option. Fitzpatrick turns 39 later this year, so he seems likely to go anywhere he can start and potentially reach the playoffs.

Jacoby Brissett

The Indianapolis Colts have given Jacoby Brissett the reins twice, first during Andrew Luck’s lost 2017 season and then again when Luck abruptly retired in 2019. Neither occasion led to a playoff berth, though Brissett hardly embarrassed himself in the starting role. That might provide enough encouragement for a team to bring him in and let him compete for a starting job this year.

Sleepers

Tim Boyle

A former undrafted free agent, Tim Boyle performed well enough last season to keep first-round QB Jordan Love inactive for the entire 2020 season. Boyle has not accrued enough seasons to qualify for unrestricted free agency. However, the Packers might only tender him as the lowest level for cap reasons, leaving him available for a team looking for a reasonably priced backup who can compete for a bigger role.

Andy Dalton

At this stage, no team will look at Andy Dalton as their Plan A at quarterback. Even so, he has considerable experience and can probably start under the right circumstances. Perhaps a team like the Chicago Bears, who considered acquiring Dalton last offseason, could bring him in to compete for the starting job.

Full list of free-agent quarterbacks

2021 free agents: Quarterbacks

Pos. First Last 2020 Team 2021 Team
Pos. First Last 2020 Team 2021 Team
QB Brett Hundley Cardinals
QB Matt Schaub Falcons Retired
QB Matt Barkley Bills
QB Mitchell Trubisky Bears
QB Brandon Allen Bengals
QB Dak Prescott Cowboys Cowboys
QB Andy Dalton Cowboys
QB Blake Bortles Broncos
QB Tim Boyle* Packers
QB A.J. McCarron Texans
QB Philip Rivers Colts Retired
QB Jacoby Brissett Colts
QB Mike Glennon Jaguars
QB Nathan Peterman Raiders
QB Tyrod Taylor Chargers
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick Dolphins
QB Sean Mannion Vikings
QB Cam Newton Patriots Patriots
QB Brian Hoyer Patriots
QB Jameis Winston Saints
QB Colt McCoy Giants
QB Joe Flacco Jets
QB Nate Sudfeld Eagles
QB Joshua Dobbs Steelers
QB Nick Mullens* 49ers
QB Josh Rosen* 49ers
QB C.J. Beathard 49ers
QB Geno Smith Seahawks
QB Blaine Gabbert Buccaneers
QB Ryan Griffin Buccaneers
QB Taylor Heinicke* Washington Washington
QB Alex Amith Washington