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Inside the NFL: Window-shopping the potential QB market

Admit it. As a Buffalo Bills fan, you watched the Thanksgiving Day tripleheader (or as much as your eyes stayed open for) with more than a little envy.

Each game included some superb quarterbacking, the kind you’ve been seemingly waiting forever to see from the Bills. You witnessed more big plays being made with arms than with feet, and you wondered, “Why can’t our guy do that?”

It started with Matthew Stafford keeping his NFL MVP candidacy alive with the Detroit Lions. It continued with Kirk Cousins doing more of his “you-like-that?” thing for the Washington Redskins, and with the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott providing his weekly reminder that not all rookie quarterbacks selected in the fourth round (i.e. the Bills’ Cardale Jones) have to be major development projects.

It ended with Ben Roethlisberger doing what Big Ben does to allow the Pittsburgh Steelers to make quick work of the turkey sandwich disguised as the Indianapolis Colts.

With six games left, there’s still plenty of time for Tyrod Taylor to extinguish a lot of the smoldering, if not raging, skepticism over whether the Bills should pull the trigger on that $27.5-million commitment to him as their franchise quarterback.

But after last Sunday’s game at Cincinnati, when the Bills’ passing game remained true to its dead-last-in-the-NFL form, Buffalo fans began yet another year of QB window shopping. They’re not alone. Most of this so-called quarterback league is quarterback-challenged, so the search for “the guy” is on-going in many places.

There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of obvious dynamic talent at the position emanating from the college ranks, although, as Prescott keeps showing, it is possible to find a gem beyond the first few rounds if you dig and really do your homework. And the Bills should absolutely draft another quarterback to keep the pipeline stuffed until they truly have the right answer at the position, whether it’s Taylor or someone else.

The more likely place where most of the several NFL teams that will be looking for quarterbacks after the season will turn is the free-agency trade market. And there figures to be plenty available at various ages, costs, and levels of wear and tear.

Let’s start with the 28-year-old Cousins, who is playing on a $20-million franchise tag and keeps driving his value higher and higher. Right now, he’s at the very top of the list of potentially available quarterbacks. He’s a young and highly talented passer with a strong and accurate arm. He reads coverages well and maintains excellent poise and awareness in the pocket.

The Redskins continue to look like geniuses for making him a fourth-round draft pick (yes, another one) from Michigan State in 2012, even after using the second overall choice on Robert Griffin III, who is no longer on the team.

If they still can’t get Cousins’ signature on a long-term contract, they could always tag him again, at $23.94 million. Or they could get a long-term deal done that would probably involve paying him roughly $24 million in the first season. Or they could allow him to test the free-agent waters and outbid other teams. The last option is very risky, though, because Cousins could easily hold a grudge for the Redskins’ failure to tie him up when they had the chance and take similar money elsewhere.

Here are two lists, in alphabetical order, of quarterbacks that, like Cousins, are either "Truly Worth Considering," or will be "Just Out There":

Truly Worth Considering

Blake Bortles, 24, Jacksonville. He’s leading the 2-8 Jaguars into New Era Field Sunday to face the Bills. He’s a classic big, strong pocket QB, but has yet to deliver on the immense promise he showed when the Jaguars made the former University of Central Florida star the third overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. His skills have steadily diminished, raising serious questions about whether the Jags will have any interest in giving him a contract extension or even picking up a hefty option on his rookie deal. A new coach and, possibly, general manager will likely make that call.

Sam Bradford, 29, Minnesota. His interception that set up the Lions’ winning field goal on Thanksgiving certainly didn’t do much to convince the Vikings they should pay him the $4-million roster bonus he’s owed in March, on top of a $13-million salary for next season. Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery from a major knee injury will also factor into what the Vikings do with Bradford or if they'll pursue someone else to play quarterback in 2017.

Jimmy Garoppolo, 25, New England. You know Bill Belichick is the master of sending players on their way a year or two too soon than a year or two too late. He just might do that here, as Garoppolo is scheduled to enter the final year of his contract and a capable rookie is waiting in the wings in Jacoby Brissett. No potentially available QB from another NFL team has Garoppolo’s upside.

Mike Glennon, 26, Tampa Bay. He’ll be a free agent after the season. With no chance of supplanting Jameis Winston, he’ll happily move on, hoping some team will be intrigued by his career 30 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions.

Landry Jones, 27, Pittsburgh. He’s due to become a free agent. During those times when he has stepped in for Ben Roethlisberger, he has done enough good things to warrant a close look as a possible starter elsewhere.

A.J. McCarron, 26, Cincinnati. He is under contract through next season, but the Bengals just might want to see what they could get for him in a trade. He performed well enough while Andy Dalton was injured last season to create a little bit of a controversy over whether he should take over as the Bengals’ starter.

Carson Palmer, 36, Arizona. His pattern is to eventually walk out on teams, which he already has done in Cincinnati and Oakland, might very well be ready to do with the Cardinals. That is, unless they dump him first. Palmer can put up big passing numbers, but he also can make equally large mistakes. Plus, he’s an injury risk.

Tony Romo, 36, Dallas. A back injury kept him out long enough for Prescott to take his job and run away with it by putting himself in the discussion for league MVP. Romo’s age and chronic injuries are huge negatives, but the $14 million he is due to be paid next year and the fact he has played exceptionally well when healthy will make him attractive to a club that is on the verge of a championship run.

Tyrod Taylor, 27, Buffalo. As long as Rex Ryan is coaching the Bills, it’s hard to see the team not choosing to keep Taylor around after this season. However, depending on what happens in the next six games, there could be some pushback from General Manager Doug Whaley and others within the team’s hierarchy. If Taylor is available, it’s easy to see another club being eager to grab him, if only because he’s the best running quarterback in the NFL.

Just Out There

Jay Cutler, 33, Chicago. He’s a beat-up shell of what he was much earlier in an 11-year career. The Bears figure to be firing their coach, John Fox, after the season, leaving the decision of whether to hang onto him up to someone else. He has a manageable salary of $12.5 million, but how many games you actually get out of the guy is anyone’s guess.

Nick Foles, 27, Kansas City. With a salary scheduled to soar from its current $1.25 million to $10.4 million next season, Foles is likely to be released provided, of course, he remains a backup. He does not appear to have what it takes to be a consistently effective starter. The Chiefs also have to figure out what they want to do with their starter, Alex Smith, who has reached his non-championship ceiling.

Robert Griffin III, 26, Cleveland. He’s healthy, for now, which should allow him to show the rest of the NFL what he still might have to offer as the Browns slog through the remainder or yet another disastrous season. It’s hard to envision this guy ever being a regular starter again.

Colin Kaepernick, 29, San Francisco. It’s hard to see another team making any sort of push for him. He drew far more attention to himself for protesting the national anthem than his play – which has been awful – and then undermined his so-called courageous stance by choosing not to vote for a president.

Case Keenum, 28, Los Angeles Rams. He hits free agency after the season. Keenum probably falls somewhere between the categories, although it’s hard to see an abundance of interest in him even if other teams say he was a victim of the fact the Rams invested the top overall pick in a quarterback (Jared Goff) and didn’t help either QB with surrounding talent or coaching.

Don’t be surprised if …

… Tom Brady not only plays for the New England Patriots against the New York Jets Sunday, but puts up huge numbers. The Pats have been playing their usual injury list games. Brady didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday with a knee injury that he apparently didn’t suffer against San Francisco last weekend, but did take part in Friday’s workout. At this stage of his career, and this late into the season, Brady likely received a couple of “veteran” days off.

… Tennessee Titans linebackers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo have a big day of putting pressure on and sacking Matt Barkley, who makes his first career start at quarterback for the Bears Sunday in place of injured Jay Cutler. Morgan and Orakpo have combined for 17 sacks, the second-highest total for a duo in the NFL.

… More teams go for two points after touchdowns. I’ve already devoted plenty of words in this space to my feelings that all NFL teams should follow the lead of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and make the two-point conversion their first choice in almost every instance. After an NFL-high 12 extra-point kicks were missed last Sunday, it should be increasingly clear to coaches that a 33-yard attempt for one point isn’t as prudent as a 2-yard try for two.

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