The NFL is a fast-moving business. Although the start of the new league year is over a month away, before we know it the free agency frenzy will be in full effect. Teams can officially begin to contact players on March 16, two days in advance of the 2020 NFL league year. As in previous years, what happens in free agency can have a profound impact on the NFL Draft. With that in mind, over the next few weeks, we will bring you our top available free agents. This week, we’ll start with the top five free agent quarterbacks for 2020.
The quarterback free agent market is possibly the most intriguing that it has been in a long time. It’s hard to remember a time when there have been so many big-name quarterbacks available. In Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers, there are three quarterbacks who have been consistently at the top of the sport for several years.
Coincidentally, it comes in a year that the NFL Draft quarterback class is extremely top-heavy, without any depth of talented signal-callers. Outside of Joe Burrow, there are question marks about the ability of the other prospects to come in and efficiently run an NFL scheme from day one.
There are also, it feels, more teams than ever in need of a change at the quarterback position. So, if you’re a quarterback-needy team for 2020, who should you be targeting in free agency?
Our top five quarterbacks in free agency for 2020 is compiled using our Offensive Share Metric (OSM), alongside NFL Next Gen Stats. OSM is a graded system used to define how much a player has individually contributed to his team’s offensive success.
1. Ryan Tannehill – Overall OSM grade: 34.36
Tannehill completely rejuvenated himself in 2019. After spending the early part of his career being maligned as the starting quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, he found himself shipped out to the Tennessee Titans. After taking over the starting job from Marcus Mariota, Tannehill turned the Titans around from a 2-4 team and guided them to the AFC Championship.
While most people attribute the Titans’ success to a phenomenal campaign from running back Derrick Henry, when you examine the OSM and Next Gen Stats, you begin to appreciate the job that Tannehill did in 2019.
He was our number one graded quarterback overall through the 2019 regular season. His best performance was an elite grade of 47.07 in his first game as the Titans starter, a week 7 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. It was a much-needed instant impact on offense.
He led the league in completion percentage versus expectation, with an 8% differential. Tannehill also showcased his ability to keep the chains moving, on average throwing the ball 0.6 yards past the first down marker. Although that doesn’t sound like much, it was the third-best in the NFL.
Both Tannehill and Mariota will hit the open market in 2020. As such, the Titans are a team that will be looking to secure a quarterback in free agency or the NFL Draft. They’d be well-served to look in-house before they begin that search.
2. Jameis Winston – Overall OSM grade: 29.96
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have quite the conundrum going into the 2020 NFL season. They drafted James Winston to be their quarterback of the future in 2015 and they now have to decide if he truly is that. If they don’t think he is, he’ll be a free agent on March 18.
He is the franchise leader for passing yards and is the only Bucs quarterback to throw for 100 touchdowns. Although he has shown signs that he can be great over the last five years, he has also shown moments of great ineptitude. He can be exceptional at times, but he can also be a calamity. Bruce Arians was hired to be the head coach that could finally solve Winston, but questions still remain.
Using just the box score alone, 2019 was a perfect example of the conundrum that is Jameis. He threw for over 5000 yards, leading the NFL, but his completion percentage was below expectation as per Next Gen Stats. He threw for 33 touchdowns, again leading the NFL, but he also threw 30 interceptions.
Winston was our fourth highest-graded quarterback through the 2019 regular season. He flashed signs of elite play, most noticeably in the Week 3 defeat to the New York Giants, with an OSM grade of 51.20.
It seems most likely that the Bucs and Winston will find an agreement on his return. However, are the flashes of elite play worth the reported $30 million that Winston wants to play in Tampa next year?
3. Dak Prescott – Overall OSM grade: 29.33
Of all the impending free agents in our top five quarterbacks for 2020 free agency, Dak Prescott seems to be the one most likely to return to his current team. However, Dak and the Dallas Cowboys still seem to be worlds apart on his value. The situation is further complicated by the sheer number of pieces that the Cowboys will have to pay sooner rather than later.
Prescott has been a revelation for “America’s Team” since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. His play in relief of the injured Tony Romo earned him the keys to the franchise.
Since then, however, he has faced ever-growing questions from a fan base frustrated by a lack of success. Those questions should have been directed anywhere else.
Prescott was our fifth highest-graded quarterback in 2019. As well as throwing for 4902 passing yards, and 30 touchdowns in 2019, Prescott was a top ten quarterback in terms of completion percentage against expectation, air yards to the sticks, and in air yard differential.
He posted an elite grade of 45.44 in the Cowboys defeat to the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, proving that the Cowboys offensive problems do not rest at the door to the quarterback room.
With the departure of head coach Jason Garrett, Prescott could have a new lease of life with a new head coach in 2020. If the Dak and Dallas can’t agree on his value, however, that new lease of life could be with a new team.
4. Drew Brees – Overall OSM grade: 28.06
Despite an early season injury, 2019 was a record-setting season for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Is there a chance that it was their last together?
If it was, it would likely be that Brees walks off into the sunset than on to another team, but stranger things have happened. One thing is for sure, if Brees does still want to play, then 2019 proved that he still can.
With an OSM grade of 28.06, he was our sixth graded quarterback. His grade of 53.95 in the Week 15 destruction of the Indianapolis Colts showed he is still capable of putting on an elite performance. Despite missing several games with his injury, Brees still threw for 2979 yards and 27 touchdowns.
However, if he does choose to move on, then he’ll need to be on a team surrounded by playmakers. Despite being second in completion percentage above expectation, and fourth in air yard differential, Brees ranked 34th in air yards to the sticks, indicating that his teammates were more responsible for picking up first downs.
Brees indicated last month that he would use the month after the Super Bowl to weigh his options. We don’t have long to wait to find out if the all-time touchdown record holder will be playing in 2020.
If he doesn’t, the Saints will be a team with an eye on our top five free agent quarterbacks, as they currently have no quarterbacks under contract for 2020.
5. Philip Rivers – Overall OSM grade: 27.08
Of all the top five free agent quarterbacks available in 2020, Philip Rivers is the only one that will definitely hit the open market. Nearly 16 years after arriving in San Diego, he finds himself looking for a new team after the Chargers announced he wouldn’t be re-signed for 2020.
Rivers shouldered a lot of the blame for the Chargers’ 5-11 record in 2019. At times he looked lost on the field, and his 20 interceptions were third in the NFL behind Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield.
Despite this, he was our eighth overall ranked quarterback with an OSM grade of 27.08. His completion percentage versus expectation of +1.9% was also eighth-best in the league. Despite having an intended air yard differential of -2.6 yards, his 4614 passing yards were fourth-best in the league.
It’s interesting that Rivers was behind Winston in interceptions thrown in 2019 as Tampa Bay could well be a destination for him in 2020. As reported by our Benjamin Allbright on January 20th, rumors have picked up steam linking Rivers to the Buccaneers.
Another possible destination is the Indianapolis Colts. Although Jacoby Brissett signed a new deal just last year, he is unlikely to be the future of the franchise. With one of the NFL’s best offensive lines in front of him, Rivers could be set for one final shot at a Super Bowl that eluded him with the Chargers.