Offseason of the black quarterback: What’s next for Dak, Jameis, Teddy and Cam?
Big decisions await quarterbacks who could be in high demand this offseason
At the start of this NFL season, The Undefeated’s Jason Reid welcomed us to the year of the black quarterback. And this season has more than fulfilled expectations.
At the end of the regular season, we have black quarterbacks at the top of all significant quarterback stats. Four of the six Pro Bowl quarterbacks were black. The NFL MVP went from one young black quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, to another, Lamar Jackson. And Mahomes carried the year of the black quarterback through the postseason by winning the Super Bowl.
But, that’s not enough, Mr. Reid. This must also be the offseason of the black quarterback. Among the most intriguing quarterbacks are Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Teddy Bridgewater. Will they get paid? Will they be as in demand as we expect? Let’s take a look.
To tag or not to tag
Prescott and Winston are two very different quarterbacks, but they find themselves in similar situations this offseason. Both quarterbacks are set to become unrestricted free agents, so their respective teams can:
- negotiate a long-term deal with them
- allow them to test the free agency market/sign with another team, or
- franchise tag them, binding them to the team for one season.
There is no chance either of these quarterbacks actually becomes an unrestricted free agent. So, the choice for the teams is between signing them to a long-term deal or tagging them for one season.
Let’s start with the easiest one first. Sign Prescott to the longest deal possible — it is the best thing for him and the organization. We can put aside the fact that he is probably owed back pay, considering he has been paid less than $5 million for three seasons as a franchise quarterback. We can focus on the fact that he was the lone consistent bright spot on America’s Team in 2019. While everyone from the owner on down were unpredictable from week to week, Prescott was steady on and off of the field. Even in losses — the Dallas Cowboys had many (eight) — Prescott wasn’t the problem, contrary to what some would have you believe. In those eight losses, Prescott had a Total QBR of 58.9, which is better than the league average for all games and more than 17 points higher than the average losing quarterback. This verifies what my eyes tell me when I watch the Cowboys play — that Prescott deserves better support.
|Total QBR||Total QBR in Losses||Total QBR in Wins|
|Prescott||70.6 (4th)||58.9 (4th)||82.7 (2nd)|
(Note: Dear Dak-Hater, before you tweet some foolishness at me, you should know that Total QBR accounts for the strength of opposing defenses and discounts meaningless late-game stats.)
Now, Prescott wasn’t perfect this year. Sadly, the lasting image of this Cowboys season will be Prescott playing poorly in the Week 16 pseudo-playoff game against Carson Wentz’s Philadelphia Eagles. But, his pass catchers certainly didn’t help him. Two dropped passes killed drives, and a final drop at best would have been the touchdown that set up a game-tying 2-point conversion or, at worst, put the Cowboys in the red zone down eight with more than three minutes left. The Cowboys lost 17-9. And on that night, Prescott’s 2016 draft classmate, Wentz, who signed an extension before this season (worth $32 million a year), outplayed Prescott. For what it’s worth, Prescott won their Week 7 matchup 37-10 and outplayed Wentz. The question of who is the better quarterback is for another column. But for the purpose of this article, reasonable analysts would agree they are on the same tier. They are the same age and Prescott has been significantly healthier, missing zero games in his young career to Wentz’s 13 in the same period.
Prescott deserves at least an average of $34 million, which is Wentz’s average annual value plus a 6.27% bump commensurate with the growth of the salary cap. Though Prescott didn’t play well in the most recent Eagles game, he is better than Wentz in big moments. Prescott has a playoff Total QBR of 75.4, which is better than Drew Brees, Tom Brady, both Eli and Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. Granted, his three-game sample size is a fraction of the playoff games of some of the other guys, but it’s more than Wentz’s zero games.
The high end of Prescott’s contract should be around $37 million per year, which would be what Wilson got, 18.6% of the cap. Prescott isn’t as good as Wilson, but he may have the leverage to get a similar or larger deal because franchising him now could be a risky move. They then put Prescott, a player who hasn’t been afraid to bet on himself, in a position after next season where he could refuse all offers, forcing the team to franchise him for a second time, in which case he likely becomes a true free agent and leaves the team all together — unless they choose to tag him again at a cost north of $46 million for one season.
Winston is just as good as Prescott on his good plays. He is second in the league with 33 touchdown passes and first in the league with 5,109 passing yards. The problem with Winston is that he has way too many bad plays. He has a league-worst 30 interceptions. Winston isn’t a quarterback I’d like to have leading my team, but it seems he is the best guy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can get for now.
The hope is that in their second year with Winston, head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich can do what has never been done: reduce Winston’s bad plays while maintaining what he does well. I think it’s unlikely. This makes him the perfect candidate for the franchise tag. However, it might be wiser to sign Winston to a longer deal now after a less than ideal year, while the team has the leverage to negotiate a lower average value and lower guarantees. This could give them an option to get out of the deal with minimal dead money on the cap after two years, a Jimmy Garoppolo-style contract. In 2018, the 49ers wisely signed Garoppolo to a deal worth an average value of $27.5 million and on $4.5 million of dead money if they decided to cut him after two seasons. If the Bucs mimicked the deal for Winston in today’s money, they would be looking at $31 million in annual value and two years to make Winston his best self. If at the end of the 2021 season, Arians and Leftwich haven’t made Winston into the quarterback they promised, the franchise can move on from all three and start a rebuild.
New year, new team
Of the veteran quarterbacks who could potentially be available this offseason, Newton and Bridgewater figure to be the most coveted, especially for the teams that believe they are a quarterback away from being a contender. It’s a short list:
- The Chicago Bears will want to bring in an alternative to Mitchell Trubisky.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers may be able to squeeze one more year out of Ben Roethlisberger.
- The Los Angeles Chargers are in a similar situation with Philip Rivers.
- The New England Patriots are expected to be without Brady after this season.
Teddy Bridgewater or Cam Newton
Bridgewater is the more attractive option for several reasons: He is just 27 years old and played well enough this season to go 5-0 in five starts while Drew Brees nursed an injury. And Bridgewater will be an unrestricted free agent, unlike Newton, who has one year left on his deal. So any team that wants Bridgewater won’t have to negotiate a trade; just a new contract with their quarterback.
Aside from needing to trade for Newton, he is coming off of a disappointing 2019 season that ended due to injury after Week 2. But the last time we saw the former MVP healthy — the first nine weeks of 2018 — he was outstanding. There is no question that Newton can be great. As he ages and the injuries mount, the question is for how long.
I assume Bridgewater will get first pick and he should opt for the stability of a Super Bowl champion coach and a well-run organization. He can’t go wrong with the Patriots or the Steelers. Replacing the greatest of all time, Brady, is a stressful task, but having the opportunity to play for the best coach of all time is not an opportunity you pass up. In Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ legendary quarterback will be returning for at least one more season. Though Roethlisberger won’t be as effective as Brees was in New Orleans this season, Bridgewater could end up toiling behind another future Hall of Famer for one more season.
As for Newton, I can’t imagine the Steelers aggressively going after him. Having two quarterbacks with high injury risk who are nearing the ends of their careers doesn’t really solve their problem. As odd as it would be to see Newton in a Bears or Pats uniform, those teams would be great fits for him. His running ability and strong arm would fit perfectly with the scheme coach Matt Nagy and the Bears have built around Trubisky. And I would love to see how the Patriots, the most adaptable team and coaching staff, create around Newton’s abilities.
Whichever team gets Newton will be in great shape. Not only will they get the player with the higher ceiling, but they get him on the last year of a very manageable $21 million cap hit. So, it becomes a one-year tryout. If Newton shows that he can stay healthy for an entire season and plays well, the team can extend him for another few seasons. If he doesn’t, then there are no cap ramifications for letting him walk.
From a roster talent perspective, the Chargers appear to be an attractive destination. But, the coaching situation out there is far from stable. To be fair, nothing seems stable about this perpetually underachieving franchise that plays in a small soccer stadium half full with opposing fans. Rivers, their 38-year-old quarterback, is in the last year of his contract and hasn’t given them much reason to bring him back. So, if all other options fall through, this could be a low-pressure landing spot for Newton or Bridgewater, but it shouldn’t be their first choice.
There will be some intrigue around a few others quarterbacks too. Whether Brady will retire, return to the Pats, or play elsewhere is sure to be a burning question this offseason. Will the Cincinnati Bengals trade or release Andy Dalton? Will some team take Nick Foles off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ hands? Is Rivers done?
But outside of Brady, none of those questions have the potential to command our attention compared to the looming offseason of the black quarterback.