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Bradford, Cousins signings leave thin market for quarterbacks

A look at potential free agents by position heading into the NFL shopping season. This installment features the quarterbacks.

By Jay Skurski

News Sports Reporter

Franchise quarterbacks do not reach unrestricted free agency.

That’s as much of a rule in the NFL as needing 10 yards for a first down.

This season, it appeared there would be some names that teams could talk their way into believing in, but that changed last week.

Philadelphia re-signed Sam Bradford, while the Washington Redskins used the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins, pretty much guaranteeing he’ll be back with them in 2016.

Bradford’s two-year contract can pay him up to $36 million, while Cousins gets a one-year contract that guarantees him $19.95 million, unless he can work out a long-term contract extension before the July deadline.

If there is anything to be learned from those two contracts, it’s that even average quarterbacks get big-time money in free agency.

Cousins completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4,166 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The 27-year-old has played in 30 career games, but it wasn’t until the last 10 of those that he looked like a franchise quarterback. In those games, he threw 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions, after throwing 24 touchdowns and 27 interceptions in his first 20 career games.

The Redskins don’t have a better option on the roster, so that’s why they tagged him.

Bradford, meanwhile, had a disappointing season with the Eagles after being traded from the Rams. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 14 starts – never quite fitting in with Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

Kelly is gone, however, leaving new Eagles coach Doug Pederson as part of the brain trust in Philadelphia that decided Bradford was worth another look as the team’s franchise quarterback.

The only other quarterback who could make a case to be paid like a starter is Denver’s Brock Osweiler. The Broncos have a tough decision to make with Osweiler, who went 5-2 in place of the injured Peyton Manning in 2015, helping the eventual Super Bowl champions earn the top seed in the AFC. Osweiler, however, returned to the bench in the postseason, even though it was clear Manning was shot.

In eight appearances, Osweiler completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Whether he showed the Broncos enough to get paid like their quarterback of the future is one of the more interesting questions of the NFL offseason.

With Bradford and Cousins locked up, Osweiler leads the list of quarterbacks scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the 2016 league year opens Tuesday. The rest of the options are backups. Here is a look at the unrestricted free-agent crop at quarterback, along with how the Buffalo Bills may approach the position.

The options: Drew Stanton, Arizona; Jimmy Clausen, Baltimore; Matt Schaub, Baltimore; Josh Johnson, Buffalo; Joe Webb, Carolina; Matt Cassel, Dallas; Dan Orlovsky, Detroit; Scott Tolzien, Green Bay; Brandon Weeden, Houston; T.J. Yates, Houston; Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis; Charlie Whitehurst, Tennessee; Chad Henne, Jacksonville; Chase Daniel, Kansas City; Matt Moore, Miami; Matt Flynn, New Orleans; Bruce Gradkowski, Pittsburgh; Michael Vick, Pittsburgh; Kellen Clemens, San Diego; Colt McCoy, Washington.

The skinny: Forget finding starters here – teams should just be looking for a quality No. 2. The best of those options might be Stanton, who helped Arizona make the playoffs in 2014 after starter Carson Palmer was injured. Stanton went 5-3 before getting hurt himself that year. … Cassel had a disastrous run as Dallas’ starter in 2015 after being traded by the Bills, going 1-6 in seven starts and completing just 58 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. … Tolzien threw five interceptions in three appearances in 2013, the only meaningful playing time of his career. He did start his career in San Francisco when Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman held the same post with the 49ers.

Weeden went 1-3 in four starts between Dallas and Houston, but put up decent numbers (69.3 completion percentage, 1,044 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions) and should get a shot somewhere as a backup. … Hasselbeck, 40, says he wants to play in 2016 – a mild surprise after the beating he took with the Colts last year.

Henne hasn’t played since going 0-3 as the Jaguars’ starter in the first three weeks of the 2014 season. … Daniel earned $10 million over the past three seasons to attempt 66 passes for the Chiefs in that time. He appeared in 10 games, but made only two starts. Clearly, the Chiefs valued him as their backup to Alex Smith. … Moore annually appears near the top of backup quarterback power rankings (yes, such things exist), but hasn’t started a game since 2011. In the past four years, he’s thrown just 30 passes. … Vick, 35, went 2-1 in three starts for the Steelers last season, but suffered a torn hamstring that ended his season early. If he were to return to Pittsburgh, he would likely compete with Landry Jones for the backup job. … Clemens played under Bills coach Rex Ryan for two seasons in New York. … McCoy passed Robert Griffin III as the backup on the Redskins’ roster.

Who might fit the Bills: Johnson spent most of 2015 in Buffalo as the third-stringer behind Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel. If Buffalo wanted him back in that role, he’d come cheap. If the Bills are content going with Manuel as the No. 2 quarterback, though, as Ryan has indicated they are, their interest in free-agent quarterbacks should be minimal. It would make more sense for the Bills to add a developmental quarterback in the draft than it would to sign anything more than a third-stringer.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com

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