The Seahawks’ total-team dominance notwithstanding, the NFL still consists of franchises that have franchise quarterbacks — and franchises that are looking for franchise quarterbacks.
The quarterbacks who become available in any given year rarely become franchise quarterbacks; few become starters. Still, every year, quarterbacks are available, via free agency or trade.
Here’s a look at the guys who will most likely be available in 2014, and where they could land.
Michael Vick: He’s confident he’ll be a starter, and for good reason. If there’s a coach who believes Mark Sanchez would be the starter of said coach’s team from Day One, there will be a spot for Vick, somewhere. In Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee, Oakland, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, Vick would be the starter immediately. With the Jets, Bills, and Bengals, Vick could give the current starter a run for his starter’s money. While Vick is far closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he may have one solid year left.
Josh McCown: A late-career surge in 2013 could make him an attractive option for a team looking for a veteran backup — or for a team that wants someone to mentor a younger player. In the right situation, he also could be a full-season starter. Regardless, McCown won offensive player of the week honors in 2013. None of the other guys on this list can say that.
Matt Cassel: Cassel didn’t walk away from $3.7 million in Minnesota because he thinks he’ll get less elsewhere. He’ll make more as the short-term starter in Houston (where he would be reunited with former Pats assistant Bill O’Brien) or as the full-season answer in Oakland. At worst, Cassel will make slightly more as the veteran backup to an established starter.
Mark Sanchez: Destined to be cut by the Jets with a $9 million salary for 2014, Sanchez could be an intriguing option for a team that needs a quarterback and that has the supporting cast he never really enjoyed in New York. Not many first-round busts have had strong second acts, but Sanchez could still develop into a decent starter, in the right situation.
Josh Freeman: After being run out of Tampa and languishing on the bench in Minnesota, Freeman has become a forgotten man. At best, he’ll get a chance to prove that he can and will work as hard as a quarterback needs to work in the today’s quarterback-driven NFL. If he fails, it could be over for Freeman.
Matt Schaub: With former Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland, some think Schaub will land there if/when he’s cut by the Texans. With a $10 million salary, it’s likely more “when” than “if” Schaub gets the heave-ho in Houston. At best, he’ll keep a spot warm somewhere for a rookie, providing protection against the possibility that the newcomer won’t be ready — and a little in-house competition to help get him there.
Kirk Cousins: Former coach Mike Shanahan showcased Cousins late in 2013, opening the door for a possible trade, even though the Redskins desperately need a competent backup to Robert Griffin III. Washington could flip its 2012 fourth-rounder into something more this year; the smart move may be to keep Cousins around for one more season.
Matt Flynn: While it’s unlikely that anyone will install Flynn as the starter (again) only to bench him (again), he has shown he can still play, when needed (again). The Packers would be wise to keep him around. If not the Packers, then a team that runs a similar system should sign him to serve as an insurance policy against an injury to the starter.
Jason Campbell: Still under contract with the Browns for another year, Campbell could be cut loose by the latest new regime. He played competently in 2013 for the overmatched Browns, continuing an understated career that makes him a viable presence on any depth chart — if the Browns choose not to keep him around.
Brandon Weeden: Speaking of the Browns, their 2012 first-rounder could be on the way out, and it’s unlikely anyone else would make him a starter. Still, every team needs backups, and Weeden surely will find a spot, somewhere.
Chad Henne: The Jaguars would like to keep him around, and for good reason. With limited weapons, Henne did well in 2013. Though not a sexy name by any means, Henne could be a solid backup. And he can still play, when needed.
Shaun Hill: Forgotten because he hasn’t played much in the last three seasons, the 34-year-old Hill did very well in extended action in 2010, when Matthew Stafford was injured. Hill also had respectable stretches with the 49ers. If the Lions don’t re-sign Hill, someone will want to bring him in to serve as a solid No. 2 option.
Kellen Clemens: After Sam Bradford tore an ACL, most thought the Rams would lose in convincing and ugly fashion, week in and week out. But the tough, gritty Clemens overachieved, going 4-5 as a starter and engineering upsets over the Colts, Bears, and Saints. While he may not be a starter, he still has a future in the NFL.
Tavaris Jackson: Few quarterbacks can match the experiences of Tarvaris Jackson. The much-hyped second-round pick in 2006 took the Vikings to the playoffs in 2008, lost his job to Brett Favre in 2009, lost it to him again in 2010, and then bounced around the league before winning a Super Bowl as the backup to Russell Wilson. In a league without enough good quarterbacks to go around, Jackson can hold his own when he gets chances to play — even though he hasn’t gotten many in the past few years.