The typical NFL offseason is a minefield for finding a franchise QB. Recent signings, Brock Osweiler, RG III, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, have all turned in disappointing years. Most teams are wary of trading draft picks for QBs, resulting in very little QB turnover throughout the NFL. However, the 2017 offseason could be different. With teams like the Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jets, and Texans scrambling to find a new QB, things could heat up in a hurry. Whether it’s an established starter who could be on the market through free agency or trade, an unproven former backup, or a draftee, multiple teams could be looking at a new face behind center.
What it must be like to be Kirk Cousins. After turning in two top 9 fantasy seasons, leading the Redskins to one playoff appearance, and to the cusp of another, Cousins has all the leverage heading into free agency. Either he plays under the franchise tag, $23.94 million, or he signs a long-term deal approaching Andrew Luck levels, 6 years-$140 million with $87 million guaranteed.
Whichever scenario happens, Cousins notably improved in 2016 on his way to having one of the best, but most underappreciated seasons. Cousins was a top 6 QB in terms of fantasy points per game, 5th overall, following up a solid 2015 as a first-year starter where he finished 9th overall and 10th in points per game.
How exactly did Cousins becoming a top 5 QB option? For Cousins, it was all about the deep ball. Cousins ranked #1 in passes traveling 20+ yards downfield with a whopping 94, or 5.9 per game while ranking 5th in deep ball completion percentage at 45.7%. Desean Jackson was the primary beneficiary of this new and improved Cousins. With only the 49th most targets in the NFL (56), Jackson racked up the 21st most yards (1,005). He was 12th in the NFL with 745 air yards (74% of his yardage), 5th in the NFL in yards per target (10.1), and averaged 17.9 yards per reception. The way the Redskins used Jackson was in line with how Cousins succeeded. With 3,121 air yards, Cousins led the league, showing a major reliance on deep passes that correlates with how the Redskins attacked defenses.
After seeing the numbers above for Cousins and 87 red zone attempts (good for 7th in the NFL) I would have expected Cousins to be top 3 in fantasy points. With Jordan Reed’s injury (missed 4 games; limited post-Thanksgiving), the Redskins lacked a consistent red zone threat, as Jamison Crowder saw 16 RZ targets, but only scored 3 TDs inside the 20.
In 2016 Cousins upped his volume, attempting 63 more passes (606) while heaving 36 more passes downfield than 2015. Despite those gains and 751 more passing yards, Cousins threw 4 fewer TDs in 2016 than 2015. The best situation for Cousins is simply to stay put in Washington. The return of 2016 first round pick, Josh Doctson, should help with Cousins red zone struggles. While Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson are free agents, both of their skill sets are easily replaceable. Cousins should be a lock for over 4,000 yards and he possesses 30 touchdown upside while being very efficient. Cousins is shaping up to once again be a top late round QB option for 2017 redraft leagues everywhere.
Tyrod Taylor, the QB 8 in fantasy points, barely passed for more yards than Colin Kaepernick, QB 25, in 2016. Monster rushing production and superb efficiency catapulted Taylor into the QB1 conversation. As a part of Rex Ryan’s running attack, Tyrod led NFL in rush attempts (95), rushing yards (580), and tied for the lead in TDs (6). Taylor was one of the most protective QBs in the NFL, posting the 29th most INTs (6) and the 8th best INT rate (1.4%) in the NFL.
The former 6th round pick really struggled as a passing QB, which just so happens to be the most important part of quarterbacking. His 3,023 yards (25th in the NFL), 17 TDs (24th), and 6.9 Yards/Attempt (22nd) represent an easily replaceable player. Even more advanced metrics such as, Adjusted Yards/Attempt: 7.1 (18th) and Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt: 6.07 (18th) were barely more favorable to Taylor’s success.
Realistically, what is Tyrod’s ceiling going to be? It is going to have to come with a drastic increase in passing efficiency and volume. For the second year in the row, Tyrod Taylor ranked mid 20s in pass completion, completing 242 in 2015 vs 270 in 2016. The 512 completions is extremely low for a QB who has started 29 of 32 possible games over the last two years. Tyrod’s difficulty in completing 20+ yard passes (27.5%) combined with a meager 437 pass attempts in 2016, make it nearly impossible for him to become a top 12 passing QB, but rushing QBs are a cheat code.
Knowing his passing upside is probably limited, what would be the ideal landing spot for Taylor? First, clearing up the contract situation. For 2017, Taylor has a $15.5 million team option, but on January 6th, Adam Schefter reported that the Bills are unlikely to pick up the option. Once released, the ideal landing spot for Taylor could be, QB purgatory, the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have a plethora of interesting offensive weapons, not to mention their gazillion draft picks. Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman are a tantalizing WR duo. Duke Johnson is a capable pass-catching weapon. Isaiah Crowell would be an interesting RB2 if he returns through restricted free agency. The way a rushing QB affects the defense and opens up running lanes that would give Hue Jackson what he wanted with RG III, but one year later than expected. I would love to see Taylor come to Cleveland and he would be another late QB target ala Kirk Cousins, especially with his rushing upside.
Last of the established starters, and probably least of this trio in fantasy points, is Tony Romo. He has been much maligned over the recent years of his career because of injury woes, except the concerns might actually be unfounded. In the 10 years Romo has started an NFL game (2016 does not count), Romo has only played less than all 16 games five times. In 2 of those 5 seasons, Romo played 15 games and in one other, he started 13 games. However, in those two remaining seasons, Romo played a total of 10 games, starting 4 games in 2015 and 6 in 2010. Of course, we also need to remember that one hit in Romo’s 1st NFL action in a year knocked him out half the season and eventually the entire season as Dak Prescott stole his job. It is wise to be concerned with Romo’s health, because of the 2 injuries in back-to-back years present a worrying picture of health.
Prior to 2015 injuries, Romo established himself as a quality over quantity quarterback. In 2014, Romo was hyper-efficient on his way to posting a QB 1 season (11th overall) in 15 games. For example, Romo’s 435 pass attempts would have ranked 2nd in pass completions behind Drew Brees in 2014. Romo posted a 7.8% touchdown rate, throwing for 34 TDs off of 304 completions. In terms of Adjusted Yards/Attempt, Net Yards/Attempt, and Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt, Romo ranked 2nd overall, all behind Aaron Rodgers who won the MVP in 2014.
Romo is probably the most difficult evaluation of all three of these QBs, simply because there is not enough data to formulate an opinion for his last 2 years. However, we can assume, that as a 36-year-old with recent injury woes, Romo is no longer a QB who can carry an offense on his own for 16 games. With this knowledge, what landing spot(s) would make sense for both Romo and fantasy owners?
Denver and Houston. The two places he has been most linked too. Two teams with postseason success in the last 2 years. Two teams with elite level defenses. Two teams with a plethora of weapons. Denver has expressed interest in Romo, but only as a free agent. Denver’s WR duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders equal one of the best in the NFL, as well as Romo, would all be top 16 options if he took over the job. Houston was absolutely destroyed by the horrendous quarterbacking of Brock Osweiler. The Texans need to add another QB in the offseason, but adding Romo’s $14 million salary onto Brock Osweiler’s $19 million cap hit makes almost no sense. Houston looks like a pipe dream for Romo, but he would vault DeAndre Hopkins and CJ Fiedorwizc into top 10 consideration at WR and TE. Lamar Miller’s value would rebound back into the RB1 stratosphere. However, most of this comes with the caveat that Romo remains healthy for a greater portion of the season. Romo is the most difficult QB to project, but also the one who could benefit his weapons the most.