The problem with drafting a franchise quarterback is that a franchise quarterback needs to be available during the draft. Sounds simple, yes, but it never is, a reality that could quickly alter the landscape of the 2012 draft.
So thanks, Landry Jones. As we mentioned in this morning’s links, the Oklahoma Sooners quarterback has pushed aside this year’s draft to return for his senior season, a decision that was also made by USC quarterback Matt Barkley just prior to Christmas. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III hasn’t officially made a decision yet, but Chris Mortensen reported earlier this week that he’s expected to declare before the Jan. 15 deadline.
Jones wasn’t rated nearly as high as Griffin III or Andrew Luck after a sub-par junior season, but he was an option in the back half of the first round, and a target for a QB-needy team picking in the top 10 that’s eager to trade down and solve their problem at the most important position in football.
We can start pumping out the Luck jerseys now in Indianapolis, and if we assume/hope the Browns do something logical at No. 4 and take Griffin III, the team most affected by Jones’ decision will be the Redskins at No. 6. Washington’s franchise quarterback shopping could now go in one of three directions: an aggressive move up to draft Griffin III, a move down to take Ryan Tannehill, or a pile of money being thrown at Matt Flynn during free agency.
Desperate moves for desperate times, one year after four quarterbacks were taken in the top 12.
Flynn now becomes an even more attractive commodity on the open market, and the Packers have more motivation to place the franchise tag on their current backup who just threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns in their season finale against Detroit. Under the franchise designation Flynn could be dangled as trade bait during the draft, and used by the Packers as a tool to improve their weak secondary. There’s a clear risk in forcing a team to take on the $14 million contract awarded by the franchise tag, but with Flynn’s rapidly ascending value and the scarce market, the reward could be a first-round pick.
Beyond Flynn, the quarterback market will be thin and uninspiring. The 49ers will almost surely re-sign Alex Smith after his re-birth under Jim Harbaugh this year. It’s hard to believe Smith is still only 27 years old, which is further motivation for Harbaugh to stick with an arm that clearly fits his system, and a quarterback likely to sign a two-to-three year deal worth at least $8 million. Colin Kaepernick can either wait, or become trade bait himself and start fresh elsewhere.
Jason Campbell is a viable free agent option who had serviceable and slightly above average performances through the first five games of this season before his year ended with a broken collarbone in Week 6. Raiders head coach Hue Jackson has said he’d welcome Campbell back to play behind Carson Palmer, a role that’s ideal from the Raiders’ perspective, but shouldn’t be Campbell’s preference. A slightly above average starter can move down to become a highly trusted backup, but given the desperation for a fresh face elsewhere, Campbell should want to be this year’s Matt Hasselbeck, and capitalize on a market starved for a quarterback savior.
During the post-lockout frenzy, a 36-year-old Hasselbeck signed a three-year deal worth $20 million with Tennessee. The Titans could afford Hasselbeck’s price, but it was still a lofty one for a veteran arm who will likely be paid to start for one year, and then hold Jake Locker’s hand. Campbell is six years younger than Hasselbeck, and he completed 60.6 percent of his passes while throwing for at least 320 yards twice this year. The problem he’ll face is that he’s already been a starter for the only team that could give him the job right away.
There’s little reason for Washington to continue its Rex Grossman experiment, but there’s also little reason for the doggie door to be opened to allow Campbell to crawl back in. The other decisions to be made are in Kansas City and Miami, where an arm of Campbell’s ilk could be brought in to compete with Kyle Orton and/or Matt Moore, two quarterbacks who’ve shown promise this year–particularly Moore–but aren’t viewed as long-term solutions.
Orton is also a free agent, and if he’s trusted to do his best Smith impression with Kansas City’s plethora of high-caliber offensive options healthy next year, then he’ll be re-signed, and more water will be drained from the free agent pool.
By dumb luck the Chiefs may have solved their problem with their waiver claim on Orton, while teams like the Dolphins and Seahawks may not have a franchise QB on their roster, but instead have a capable and trusted arm who provides an opportunity to win a football game.
Grossman and John Beck don’t meet that description, and they’ve demonstrated this year that they’re little more than stop-gap solutions in Washington. But with the free agent pool shallow and the draft pool nearly bone dry after Jones’ decision last night, that gap could become a never-ending dark chasm without an aggressive move for either Griffin III or Flynn.