Free agency in the NFL begins on March 13 and leading up to that date I’ll go position by position while highlighting the best players, best bargains, as well as the riskiest investments. Let’s start with the quarterbacks.
Best in Class: Drew Brees, Saints
While his agent Tom Condon is “baffled” by how slowly long-term contract negations have been going with the Saints, Brees is highly unlikely to land outside of New Orleans this offseason. In addition to breaking Dan Marino’s single-season passing record with 5,476 yards, Brees also set league records for completions (468) and completion percentage (71.2 percent) in 2011. If he were to hit the free agent market, there would be a mad scramble of teams willing to break the bank for his services. But again, all indications are that he’ll wind up back in New Orleans, ready to terrorize NFL defenses again in 2012.
The Biggest Risk: Matt Flynn, Packers
Flynn completed 31 of his 41 pass attempts for 480 yards with six touchdowns in just one start last season versus the Lions, which understandably turned some heads. But was his performance a product of the offense that he was running or is Flynn a bona fide starter that deserves a chance to shine? Everyone looks good driving a Cadillac but 480 yards and six touchdowns is 480 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterbacks don’t put up those kinds of numbers by accident, I don’t care what defense they were playing against. The Dolphins seemingly make the most sense to sign Flynn because they hired former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as head coach. But with Mike Sherman now the OC in Miami, the Dolphins could lean towards prospect Ryan Tannehill instead. (Tannehill was Sherman’s quarterback at Texas A&M the past few years.) Either way, there are plenty of quarterback-starved teams that could be interested in Flynn’s skill set. Which team will take the risk is the question.
The Best Value: Jason Campbell, Raiders
Given the ransom that former head coach Hue Jackson parted with in order to acquire Carson Palmer from Cincinnati last year, it’s highly likely that Campbell will be searching for his third home in the last three years. But at 30 he still has plenty left in the tank. A broken collarbone limited him to just six games last season but he had resumed throwing again back in December and will be completely healthy by the time OTAs start. While he’s never been a quarterback that can win on his own, surround Campbell with enough talent and he’s more than capable of getting the job done. At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he’s got great size and has always thrown a nice deep ball. He was also on his way to having one of his best seasons in the pros before he was injured last season. The biggest question is whether or not he can stay healthy moving forward because if he can, he’s proven that he can be productive in the right environment.
David Garrard would be worth a look as a backup and Kyle Orton fits the same mold as Campbell in that if a team surrounds him with enough talent, he can be productive. I wouldn’t touch Chad Henne with a 10-foot pole but he’s available, as is Detroit backup Shaun Hill, who like Henne does have starting experience. Vince Young is perhaps the biggest wildcard on the market but if no team wanted him as a starter last year, he’ll find it tough sledding again this offseason. While he’s likely to wind up back in San Francisco with a new deal, Alex Smith is a free agent as well.