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Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield may join Russell Wilson on NFL QB market

Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield may join Russell Wilson on NFL QB market

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Quarterback-needy NFL teams have options this offseason. They just were at the NFL scouting combine evaluating a draft class that is top-heavy in prominent quarterbacks. Meanwhile, they can sort through a list of about-to-be-available veterans that includes Russell Wilson and soon could include Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield and Justin Fields.

The NFL’s free agent negotiating period begins Monday. That’s when teams can begin lining up deals with unrestricted free agents from other teams. Those contract agreements can become official next Wednesday, along with trades. The quarterback market could be intriguing as teams such as the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Commanders, New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos weigh what they could do now with a free agent addition or a trade against what they could do next month in the draft.

Cousins could be the headliner among the quarterbacks available in unrestricted free agency if the Minnesota Vikings don’t re-sign him.

“We have our interests. He has his,” Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said last week at the combine. “And we get to the table and see if we can figure out a creative solution and how to meet in the middle. … What we do know is we have a really great quarterback, a great leader and somebody that we think we can win the ultimate prize with.”

Cousins turns 36 in August and is coming off a season cut short by a torn Achilles’ tendon in his right leg. But he was playing extremely well before his injury. He is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and has been a master at getting the most out of his market value. If a team decides Cousins is the win-now addition it needs, he could emerge with yet another highly lucrative contract.

The Broncos informed Wilson Monday that they will release him next week. The move had been widely expected after his two-season stay in Denver became increasingly contentious.

Wilson, 35, was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl winner during his 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He was unable to duplicate that success in Denver, but he was the NFL’s eighth-rated passer last season. And the Broncos owe him $39 million for next season, minus whatever he earns from his next team — meaning Wilson’s new franchise might not have to give him an overly expensive deal, at least not for Year 1.

The Broncos must replace Wilson while dealing with an $85 million salary cap hit from his release. They can spread that amount over two seasons. And the cap will take a record $30.6 million jump from last season to next season, to $255.4 million per team. Nevertheless, the squeeze is less than ideal, and the Broncos may have to account for it in their quarterback deliberations.

“We want to see the entire landscape,” Broncos GM George Paton said last week.

Sean Payton, who took over as the Broncos’ coach last year, can only hope to find a quarterback to enable him to duplicate the success he had with Drew Brees while with the New Orleans Saints. Payton spoke at the combine about seeing a “a humorous meme” of a Broncos fan wearing a jersey with the names of about eight quarterbacks, all crossed off. The Broncos’ task, Payton said, “is to make sure that this next one doesn’t have a line through it.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided not to use their franchise player tag on Mayfield before Tuesday’s deadline, placing it instead on safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The tag would have resulted in a one-year deal worth $38.301 million for Mayfield.

Mayfield, the former No. 1 pick in the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, revived his career last season with the Buccaneers, helping them reach the NFC playoffs and beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the opening round. He is eligible for free agency after signing only a one-year contract with the Buccaneers last offseason. They still could re-sign Mayfield before the free agent market opens, and they seemingly would like to do so. But if that doesn’t happen, Tampa Bay would risk losing Mayfield to another bidder.

The Chicago Bears possess the top choice in next month’s draft and could use it on Southern Cal quarterback Caleb Williams. If so, the Bears perhaps would look to trade Fields, who has had some promising moments during his three NFL seasons but has not yet developed into a franchise quarterback.

The Commanders have the No. 2 selection. The Patriots choose third. The New York Giants are sixth. The Falcons are eighth. The Vikings are 11th, followed by the Broncos at 12th and the Raiders at 13th.

It’s possible fellow quarterbacks Drake Maye of North Carolina and Jayden Daniels of LSU will join Williams as top-three picks. The next tier of draft-eligible quarterbacks — Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Washington’s Michael Penix and Oregon’s Bo Nix — also is promising.

That is the backdrop against which teams that need quarterbacks must regard free agency and prospective trades. There is more that can be done in April — much more, in some cases.

But some teams won’t wait that long. There has been speculation about the Falcons being set to emerge next week as a top contender for Cousins. There has been conjecture about the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Kenny Pickett on the roster and Mason Rudolph eligible for free agency, or the Raiders being prospective bidders for Wilson.

The Vikings could be in the veteran quarterback market if they fail to re-sign Cousins. The Buccaneers could join if they don’t retain Mayfield. The Seahawks reworked Geno Smith’s contract and reportedly plan to retain him, but that hasn’t halted speculation that they still could make a quarterback move.

The other prospective free agent quarterbacks include Ryan Tannehill, Gardner Minshew, Joe Flacco, Sam Darnold and Jacoby Brissett. The Raiders are widely expected to release Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots could trade Mac Jones. The New York Jets have given Zach Wilson permission to seek a trade.

If it seems, for now, that there are more veteran quarterbacks available than desirable landing spots with starting opportunities, it rarely works out that way. The 32 NFL teams collectively used 66 different starting quarterbacks last season and 69 during the 2022 season. The Browns had five different starters last season even while making the AFC playoffs. The fourth of those, Flacco, was out of the league until signing with them in November, yet he ended up being named the NFL’s comeback player of the year.

The teams know how consequential these decisions are.

“It’s the most important position in sports,” Paton said last week. “So it’s important. … Our decision is very important.”

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