Free Agency, Quarterback Depth Charts, and Musical Chairs
A key to success in 2QB leagues is staying on top of roster transactions at the quarterback position.
It’s not enough to know who’s the backup. Or which practice squad player is getting the call up to become a clipboard holding third-stringer. You also need to tentatively predict roster moves such as quarterback benchings so you can be one step ahead of your league mates.
During the season that means deciphering coach speak, keeping up with team beat writers, watching game film, and going over box scores in order to spot a potential backup who’ll take over for an ineffective starter.
Think back to the 2013 season, when it seemed like a near certainty Mike Glennon would take over for Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay. If you rostered Glennon a week or two before Freeman was benched you found yourself owning a newly minted starting quarterback at a discounted price.
We’re in offseason mode now, and with free agency set to hit on March 9th (4PM EST), 2QBers should study quarterback depth charts to see if there are any potential impactful roster moves that could alter the QB1 or QB2 landscape in 2QB leagues.
Why should you place an emphasis on backup quarterbacks? In 2015, 53 different quarterbacks started at least one game. You never who might be starting in the NFL or for your 2QB roster.
I’ve researched the free agency market and depth charts to give you a hand with this. Below are a few quarterback situations to monitor during the upcoming free agency period and NFL draft broken down by tiers.
QB1 Situations to Monitor for 2QB Leagues
New York Jets – Free Agent: Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB1)
It was a banner season for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who set career highs in passing yards (3,905) and passing touchdowns (31). His 285.20 fantasy points was also the most he’s scored in a single season during his 11-year career.
With Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker to throw to, Fitzpatrick finished the season with seven weeks of fantasy QB1 production (Top-12). He finished outside of the QB2 tier (top-24) just once, and that was due to an-in game injury that saw Geno Smith take over.
The New York Jets are intent on re-signing the free agent Fitzpatrick, but he’s a 34-year-old journeyman who has thrown 15+ interceptions in four of his last six seasons. He’s also only started 16 games in a season three times.
Even if Fitzpatrick is re-signed you might want to keep tabs on Geno Smith, who would cost very little, if anything to acquire.
Smith, the presumed Jets starter last offseason, was relegated to backup duty in 2015. He did get one game of significant action in, replacing an injured Fitzpatrick early in Week 8. Even if it was against a Raiders defense most quarterbacks lit up, he did finish the week as the fantasy QB10.
Philadelphia Eagles – Free Agent: Sam Bradford (QB1)
The Sam Bradford-Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia was a failure. Kelly was eventually fired and there’s no guarantee Bradford will be re-signed.
However, Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins (see below), who are the only other free agent full-time starting signal callers from last season, will likely be locked up before the free agency period commences. Retaining Bradford might be Eagles’ best option.
With Mark Sanchez the backup in Philly, re-signing Bradford could become a priority, unless the team and new Eagles Head Coach/former Kansas City Offense Coordinator go after Chase Daniel as a stop-gap starter.
If Bradford is the 2016 Week 1 starter in Philadelphia, you might still want a piece of whoever the backup is, be it Sanchez, Daniel, or someone else. Bradford missed two games due to injury last season, and has played a full 16 games only twice in five-year career.
Washington – Free Agent: Kirk Cousins (QB1)
Thanks to a late-season surge, Kirk Cousins finished the 2015 fantasy season as the QB9. He threw for 4,166 yards and scored a combined 34 touchdowns (29-passing/5-rushing). Former starter Robert Griffin III’s career highs in passing yards is 3,203 and the most combined touchdowns he scored in a single season is 27.
Cousins played his way into a long-term starting contract, while RG3 is on his way out of Washington. Colt McCoy is the only other quarterback on the roster. Whether Cousins is the real deal or the next Nick Foles remains to be seen, but he will most likely return to a Washington offense featuring Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson.
Upgrading the QB2 spot might be something Washington considers, and if McCoy is replaced, rostering the new backup passer in hopes of finding the next Cousins could be a priority move for 2QBers.
QB2 Situations to Monitor for 2QB Leagues
Miami Dolphins – Free Agent: Matt Moore (QB2)
“Far from elite” Ryan Tannehill has been the same quarterback the last three years:
2013 – 60.4 completion percentage, 3,913 passing yards, 24:17 passing touchdown:interception ratio
2014 – 66.4 completion percentage, 4,045 passing yards, 27:12 Pass TD:INT ratio
2015 – 62 completion percentage, 4,210 passing yards, 24:12 Pass TD:INT rato
The Dolphins have a new coaching staff in place, which means Tannehill won’t be afforded as much leeway as he has in years past. That doesn’t necessarily mean Tannehill will get benched, but he might be on a shorter leash than before.
After a five-year stint in Miami, Matt Moore is a free agent. He signed a one-year deal last year worth $2.6 million ($1.6 million signing bonus), providing Miami with insurance at quarterback. Veteran quarterbacks with starting experience are wanted commodities in the NFL. Moore fits the bill, having started 12 games for the Dolphins in 2011.
Depending on his desire to start or how much it would cost to retain him, Moore could be on his way out in Miami. That would leave project Logan Thomas as the QB2. The backup quarterback gig in Miami could be an underrated 2QB target next season, if Tannehill falters. Keep close tabs to see who winds up as Tannehill’s backup
Baltimore Ravens – Free Agent(s): Matt Schaub (QB2)/Jimmy Clausen (QB3)
For the first time in his career, Joe Flacco missed games due to injury. From 2008 to 2014, he started all 16 games. Once Flacco was lost for the season due to a torn ACL, the Ravens started Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, and Ryan Mallett in his absence.
Schaub and Clausen are both free agents, and with the team leaning to Mallett at the end of last season, they will most likely let both walk, making Mallet the QB2. Unless Flacco suffers another season sending injury, it won’t matter much who the backup is in Baltimore though.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Free Agent: Bruce Gradkowski (QB2)
Did you know Bruce Gradkowski is 33? Or that he’s been in the league since 2006? Or that he’s been on five teams (Tampa, Cleveland, Oakland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh)?
After being put on season-ending IR in August, Gradkowski hasn’t thrown a regular season pass since 2012. Ben Roethlisberger wound up missing five games last season, which paved the way for Michael Vick and Landry Jones to see time under center.
Big Ben has missed at least two starts in five of his 12 seasons, and one start in 9-of-12 seasons. Those aren’t significant numbers, but they aren’t meaningless. For a signal caller routinely drafted as a QB1, having to worry about finding a replacement for one or two starts each season isn’t the most ideal situation.
Landry Jones didn’t impress much in his limited play time, so this could be a situation where Pittsburgh moves on from Gradkowski and looks to a veteran, ala Charlie Batch of Byron Leftwich, to be the team’s QB2.
Indianapolis Colts – Free Agent(s): Matt Hasselbeck (QB2)/Charlie Whitehurst (QB3)
Both backups Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst are free agents, which could leave Week 17 starter Josh Freeman as the backup to Andrew Luck.
Hasselbeck will be 41 once September rolls around, but was fantasy relevant in relief of an injured Luck last season. He scored 15 or more fantasy points three times, including one 20+ fantasy point performance.
Moving on from Hasselbeck and going with the younger Freeman could be the plan for Indianapolis this offseason. While Luck only started seven games in 2015, I wouldn’t put much of an emphasis on securing the services of the Colts’ QB2.
Denver Broncos – Free Agent: Brock Osweiler (QB2)
Will Peyton Manning retire or will Peyton Manning not retire? That is the $64 million question John Elway and the Denver Broncos front office will ask until Manning officially makes an announcement regarding his 2016 playing plans.
This is one situation 2QBers most definitely need to monitor all offseason, especially if Peyton calls it quits. Even if Peyton retires and Brock Osweiler is re-signed, that would still leave a gaping hole at the QB2 slot. It’s unlikely Denver would go with 2015 Seventh-round draft pick Trevor Siemian as the backup to Osweiler.
Bringing in a veteran quarterback as the QB2 could challenge Osweiler, and lead to a value pickup for 2QBers if an offseason competition occurs.
Kansas City Chiefs – Free Agent: Chase Daniel (QB2)
With rumours connecting Chase Daniel to Philadelphia, there’s a possibility the Chiefs could be looking for a new backup to Alex Smith. Aaron Murray, who hasn’t taken a regular season snap in his career, is the current QB3.
If Daniel moves on, and the Chiefs stick with the former 2014 fifth-round pick, it could be a telling move as to how Reid feels about Murray’s abilities. Or even Tyler Bray. With Smith being a stalwart at the quarterback position during his Kansas City tenure it might not matter a whole lot who the backup is next season though.
San Diego Chargers – Free Agent: Kellen Clemens (QB2)
The quarterback situation in San Diego is one to closely follow this offseason. Philip Rivers isn’t going anywhere, but he’s 34-going-on-35, and the only other quarterback on the roster is former seventh-round draft pick Brad Sorensen, who has never thrown a regular season pass in his three-year career.
If Kellen Clemens is re-signed it’ll be the status quo in San Diego, but the team holds the #3 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and could possibly use it to select their quarterback of the future. An aging Rivers plus a top-three drafted quarterback could make for an interesting scenario for 2QBers next season, especially those in dynasty leagues. There’s no validity to this thought process though, so take it with a grain salt.
Dallas Cowboys – Free Agent: Matt Cassel (QB2)
Tony Romo will be 36 once the 2016 season starts, and is coming off a 2015 campaign where he only started four games. Matt Cassel is a journeyman quarterback, who may or may not be re-signed. Third-stringer Kellen Moore is someone you could live with as your backup, but not rely on to lead your team week-in-and-week-out.
This is a spot to keep your eyes glued to this offseason, as many big name free agent quarterbacks will be linked to the Big Star. Romo might be healthy and ready to start the season, but there’s no guarantee he’ll finish the year healthy. I’ll be interested to see how the story unfolds in Dallas this offseason, but whoever the QB2 behind Romo is he will be someone 2QBers will want to keep tabs on.
Detroit Lions – Free Agent: Dan Orlovsky (QB2)
The Detroit Lions quarterback depth chart consists of Matthew Stafford and impending free agent Dan Orlovsky. Depending on the team’s plans with Orlovsky there could be a new QB2 in Detroit next season. Stafford started off slow last season, but eventually turned things around. The QB2 in Detroit won’t be a big concern for 2QBers.
Green Bay – Free Agent: Scott Tolzien (QB2)
If the Green Bay Packers move on from Scott Tolzien as Aaron Rodgers’ backup there’s a possibility Brett Hundley will slot into the number two role. And 2QBers should be excited.
The 2015 fifth-round draft pick didn’t suit up in the regular season, but in four preseason appearances last season, Hundley completed 69.2 percent of his passes (45-of-65) for 630 yards and seven touchdowns (to one interception).
It’ll take a significant Rodgers injury for Hundley to get on the field, if he were the number two, but it’s a scenario to be prepared for. Hundley would top my list of backup quarterbacks to roster if he were given the QB2 reigns in Green Bay.
New Orleans – Free Agent(s): Luke McCown (QB2)/Matt Flynn (QB4)
Veterans Luke McCown and Matt Flynn could both be gone in New Orleans, leaving Garrett Grayson to back-up the 37-year-old Drew Brees.
The Saints did use a third-round pick on Grayson in the 2015 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team would want to be all-in on him as Brees’ backup. Look for one of either McCown or Flynn to re-sign in New Orleans as veteran backup insurance.
Grayson would be someone to look into acquiring in 2QB dynasty leagues though.
Arizona Cardinals – Free Agent: Drew Stanton (QB2)
Drew Stanton could be back in Arizona next season, but if not, that leaves Matt Barkley as Carson Palmer’s backup. Palmer has been a revelation playing in Bruce Arians’ systems, but he’s dealt with injuries the last two season and is 36-going-on-37.
The Cardinals could address the QB2 spot during the draft or bring in another veteran to sit behind Palmer. I’ll be interested to see what Arizona does at the quarterback position this offseason, especially if they use a high draft pick on the position or bring in a veteran like Matt Moore.
Seattle Seahawks – Free Agent: Tarvaris Jackson (QB2)
Russell Wilson is entrenched as the Seahawks’ starter, and for good reason. Fantasy owners have reaped the rewards ever since Wilson was named the starting quarterback in Seattle. In his first four years he has scored no fewer than 270 fantasy points, with a 2015 high of 336.26 fantasy points.
Even if the team lets Tarvaris Jackson walk, it’s unlikely they would start the season with “Philip Sims” as their QB2. However, no matter who backs-up Wilson, they won’t have much fantasy value unless he were to miss time with an injury.
**Teams without free agent quarterbacks that could be in line for a shake-up
QB1 – Josh McCown
QB2 – Austin Davis
QB3 – Johnny Manziel
*It’s anybody’s guess as to what the Browns’ depth chart will look like Week 1. Johnny Manziel will probably be gone, and Josh McCown could stick around as a mentor. There are solid offensive pieces in Cleveland that could make whoever is quarterbacking the team an intriguing 2QB fantasy option. They’ll be relatively inexpensive to boot, making this a situation to monitor this offseason.
QB1 – Brian Hoyer
QB2 – Tom Savage
*I wrote a bit about the Houston Texans’ quarterback situation from a year ago earlier this offseason on TwoQBs.com. I noted how if you combined the stats for all starting Houston quarterbacks (Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, TJ Yates, Brandon Weeden) last season you would have created the fantasy QB17.
Houston is in a prime spot to bring in a new starting quarterback via free agency, possibly Bradford or RG3, or the NFL Draft with their #22 overall draft pick (maybe Christian Hackenberg?).
Bill O’Brien+DeAndre Hopkins is a plus situation for any quarterback in Houston, regardless of who it is, and depending on their 2QB ADP, could become a 2QB fantasy value pick.
QB1 – Marcus Mariota
QB2 – Zach Mettenberger
QB3 – Alex Tanney
*Tennessee is only listed here because of Zach Mettenberger. Marcus Mariota is the Titans’ franchise quarterback of the present and the future, but Mettenberger’s grasp on the backup job isn’t strong. The Titans could look to bring in a veteran behind Mariota for the 2016 season, and could be a fantasy QB3/QB4 to target.
Los Angeles Rams
QB1 – Case Keenum
QB2 – Nick Foles
QB3 – Sean Mannion
*It’s highly doubtful the Los Angeles Rams will trot out Case Keenum as their Opening Day starter in 2016, even if that means losing Matt Harmon as a season ticket holder. The same can be said of Nick Foles and Sean Mannion.
With a top-15 pick in the upcoming draft, the Rams could be poised to add one of the top quarterback prospects to pair up with Todd Gurley. They could also be thrown into the fire right away, if that were to happen.
San Francisco 49ers
QB1 – Colin Kaepernick
QB2 – Blaine Gabbert
*With Chip Kelly in town, we’re going to want a piece of whoever is the starting quarterback next season for San Francisco. Even if that is Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick.
Following along with the quarterbacking saga in San Fran this offseason will eventually become tiring, but quarterbacks under Kelly tend to become fantasy relevant, and we’ll want shares of whoever the QB1 and QB2 are.
That’s my attempt at breaking down the quarterback depth charts of each NFL team with pressing free agent issues at the quarterback position, and a few teams that could look to revamp their depth chart entirely.
Based on the current depth chart, and potential shuffling of the deck, be it due to age, injuries, or free agent issues, these would be the teams I would closely monitor this season: San Diego, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Cleveland, Arizona, and Los Angeles.