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2024 NFL Free Agency Primer: Quarterbacks (Fantasy Football)

2024 NFL Free Agency Primer: Quarterbacks (Fantasy Football)

Nothing kicks off the start of a brand-new football season better than NFL free agency, which is sure to involve plenty of player movement.

Teams can place their franchise/transition tags on players as early as February 20, setting the stage for a wild off-season sooner than you think. The NFL never ceases to provide entertainment for all 365 days of the calendar year, and 2024 is shaping up to be no different. Free agency officially kicks off on March 13th. But deals will likely already be in place with the legal tampering period starting Monday, March 11th at noon.

So grab your popcorn and get ready for the free agency frenzy with the 2024 free agency primer. I’ll break down the most notable impending free agents across the four major fantasy positions – with some potential trade/cut candidates to widen the scope – through the lens of fantasy football to prepare you for the ensuing March Madness. This primer should also help you make optimal trades in your dynasty leagues, bet NFL futures and unearth values in early best-ball drafts before the chaos occurs.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

2024 NFL Quarterback Free Agency Primer

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins will be 36 years old in 2024, coming off a major injury. The Vikings QB suffered a torn Achilles against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8. He led the NFL in TD passes (18) before his injury. Cousins was QB6 overall, averaging just under 20 points per game. Considering mobility was never part of Cousins’ game, he’s another strong late-round QB option that will inevitably sneak into the top-12 if healthy in 2024. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about his injuries, especially if he lands back in Minnesota. But as easy as that seems to pencil in…it’s no guarantee. New Falcons OC Zac Robinson will likely draw up a similar offense to the one that Kevin O’Connell uses with the Vikings, given that the two stem from the Sean McVay coaching tree. He is listed at +190 to be a Falcon, while his -200 odds of returning to Minnesota have not changed since the lines were released this offseason.

Baker Mayfield

Regression. It’s scary. The Buccaneers lost OC Dave Canales to the Panthers as their new head coach. Canales has rejuvenated QBs in back-to-back seasons, which drastically increases the chances that Baker Mayfield becomes this year’s Geno Smith after the latter lost Canales from 2022 to 2023. That’s the real concern with being overly aggressive on Mayfield, who has been anything but reliable in fantasy football throughout his NFL career. Note that during Mayfield’s career year in 2023 as the QB10 overall, he was averaging just 16.8 points per game as QB19.

If Mayfield returns to Tampa Bay – the most likely outcome – stay up to date with the status of their OL. They performed WELL ABOVE expectations, considering no team spent less salary cap space at OL than the Buccaneers in 2023. They finished 8th in PFF pass-blocking grade. They did, however, boast the 4th-worst run-blocking grade, so it’s not as if the OL showed zero signs of weakness.

Ryan Tannehill

Have to imagine that Ryan Tannehill looks hard at signing a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, reuniting with former OC, Arthur Smith. It would be a great spot for the 35-year-old ex-Titans passer to land after he lost his starting job to Will Levis. Tannehill was a disaster in 2023 for the Titans, behind an OL that could not block anybody.

But backing up a former fringe first-round pick in Kenny Pickett would not be an adverse circumstance for Tannehill, considering he did the same thing in Tennessee after he flamed out in Miami.

We know that offensively, Smith is going to dial up more play action than the Steelers’ previous offensive regime. Pickett had the 4th-lowest PA rate last season. Despite his completion rate increasing by nearly 20% on play-action throws…

Desmond Ridder‘s play-action usage? Third highest in the NFL at 32%. Both Titans QBs last season averaged nearly 3.0 yards more per attempt off play-action throws under Smith in 2023.

Jacoby Brissett

In 2022, Jacoby Brissett was a stop-gap for Deshaun Watson in Cleveland, but he performed well beyond his low expectations. Brissett finished 17th in passing EPA and 12th in PFF passing grade while supporting fantasy viable weapons like Nick Chubb, Amari Cooper and David Njoku. Although Brissett’s real-life efficiency didn’t translate to much fantasy success for himself in 2022. Still, he at least shows the aptitude to keep others around him afloat in fantasy circles. He has ties to several QB-needy teams such as the New England Patriots. They drafted him and they also hired his former OC from his days back in Cleveland, Alex Van Pelt, making him a logical fit alongside a potential rookie QB should the Patriots select one in this year’s draft.

When Brissett was kept clean in 2023 during limited action, he posted the league’s highest passer rating.

Tyrod Taylor

Tyrod Taylor was more than solid in his spot starts for the New York Giants, further bolstering the case for mobility being a requirement for any QB behind a bad OL. In his four starts, Taylor averaged 16.3 fantasy points per game. The 34-year-old averaged 30 rushing yards per game and 274 passing yards per game. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Giants try hard to keep Taylor around with Daniel Jones‘ rehab from injury.

Sam Darnold

Give credit to Sam Darnold for providing a spark to a lifeless Carolina Panthers offense over the team’s last five games during the 2022 season. The former first-round selection tied a bow that season, averaging 18.1 fantasy points per game as the QB13 from Weeks 12-17. Overall, his 8.2 yards per attempt marked a career-high. Darnold is far from elite, but among the former first-round castoff QBs available on the market, he’s probably the best option in the short-term/long-term. He will only be 27 by the time the season starts, so perhaps the story with him as NFL quarterback isn’t finished. If he’s in a favorable system, he can be an average QB for fantasy purposes.

Jameis Winston

I must imagine that Jameis Winston’s days in New Orleans are over. After essentially giving the bird to his head coach in the final game of the season (potentially knowing it was his last game as a Saint anyway), he has no more ties to the offensive coaching staff that he initially signed with four years ago. Could see a scenario where he reunites with Sean Payton in Denver with them also in the quarterback market.

Gardner Minshew

Gardner Minshew played nearly the entire season with the Colts, playing in 17 games. He was underwhelming from a fantasy perspective despite getting Indianapolis in a position to make the playoffs toward the very end of the year. Still, he leaves a lot to be desired as the team’s full-time starter rather than a serviceable backup that can keep the ship afloat for a few games. He finished 33rd in PFF passing grade while averaging fewer than 15 fantasy points per game (QB28). At worst, he can at least keep fantasy-viable weapons ALIVE for whatever team signs him in the offseason. He’s what the kids call “a high-variance QB,” which can quickly turn the tides of NFL games in either team’s direction.

Joshua Dobbs

Tough to say how the real NFL will respond to Joshua Dobbs‘ 2023 “breakout” season. It had some major highs accompanied by some very bad lows that resulted in his outright benching over the last four weeks of the season for the Vikings.

From a fantasy perspective, we can deal with the highs/lows – especially in a best-ball scoring format. Dobbs posted five different games with 20-plus fantasy points while rushing for at least 40 yards in eight other starts.

I can’t imagine a team that pays Dobbs as a starter, but he showed enough to be worthy of a backup position somewhere – potentially even in Minnesota as they work to get Kirk Cousins back. Cousins – an older QB coming off a torn Achilles – suggests that the Vikings will be very active in the QB market even if Cousins re-signs.

Mason Rudolph

Mason Rudolph started the last four games of the season for the Steelers, including their postseason appearance loss to the Buffalo Bills. He went 3-1 as a starter, and it just makes sense for the team to bring him back after such a strong finish to the year. The team still wants to try and make Kenny Pickett happen, but Rudolph gives them a potential pivot option should they need to alter the QB course in 2024. He also showed the competence to be able to support the fantasy weapons in Pittsburgh, which was not the case under Pickett or the disaster that is Mitchell Trubisky. But keep in mind that it will be a new offense with Arthur Smith entrenched as the OC.

QBs likely on the MOVE

I want to point out that the betting markets are on the Atlanta Falcons as the most logical team to address the QB in free agency/trade. Each QB with “Next Team” odds per DraftKings Sportsbook has the Falcons listed with the shortest or second-shortest odds to land either Russell Wilson, Justin Fields, or Kirk Cousins.

Justin Fields

The writing is on the wall that the Bears are going to trade Justin Fields. I wrote about it my first 2024 NFL Mock Draft. But to whom…is the real question. As mentioned at the top, Atlanta is the team with the hottest QB trade market (-260 to land Fields).

And if you recall, the Falcons were also in the QB market when Fields came out of the draft, ultimately to pass on him for Kyle Pitts with the fourth-overall pick. If they didn’t take him then under GM Terry Fontenot, what has the Bears QB shown over the last three years to make him worth giving up premium draft capital for? That’s a question the Falcons brass will be asking.

And schematically speaking, Fields hardly fits the mold of any QB we have seen in the McVay scheme. And we saw the disaster that Trey Lance ended up being a “dual threat” in this offense under Kyle Shanahan.

So even though on paper it seems like it’s an easy ‘fit’ to put Fields in Atlanta, I am not so sure the new brass sees it that way after foregoing their chance to draft him back in 2021. The optics are certainly different, but the fact that they never showed that much love for Fields back in 2021…as me hesitant to say they will go out and acquire him under the same GM and owner.

The Raiders (+1000 to land Fields) could also be a landing spot, considering they just hired the Bears’ former OC, Luke Getsy, as their OC. But I’d hardly say the relationship (at least on the surface) between Fields/Getsy was so strong that it would signify a trade. However, looking back at some comments that Getsy made about Fields before Week 18 – great relationship, inspiration, belief – the Raiders might not be the worst spot for Fields to land. After all, he did progress again as a passer – even if it wasn’t perfect – and another year in the Getsy system with more weapons in Las Vegas could what be EXACTLY what Fields needs to make a Year 4 leap. Don’t forget that Fields’ season could have gone much smoother had he not suffered a dislocated thumb injury in the middle of the year.

Fields knows he has a believer in him with Getsy, and that’s not necessarily the case with the remaining Bears coaching staff, especially under new OC Shane Waldron.

And if Fields is reunited with Getsy in Las Vegas, we could see a fantasy football bonanza. From Week 4 onward in that offense, Fields averaged nearly 22 fantasy points per game.

Also, Raiders assistant GM Champ Kelly was the previous Bears’ assistant director of player personnel when the team selected Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft before joining the Raiders in 2022 as the assistant GM. He was hired as the interim general manager after the firing of general manager Dave Ziegler in 2023.

The other team I think could throw their hat in the Fields’ ring is the Commanders (+5000). Kliff Kingsbury runs the Air Raid offense, and Fields’ dual-threat ability – similar to that of Kyler Murray – makes it a potential fit. Also possible the Raiders looked at Kingsbury before Getsy was a move made in preparation for a trade for Fields.

Russell Wilson

Speaking of Waldron, I think there’s a non-zero chance that Russell Wilson could land back under Waldron in Chicago. Wilson could sign a super cheap deal on the veteran minimum with the Bears, as Denver will be on the books for the majority of his contract hit. I think his listed odds at +4000 to land in Chicago are pretty ludicrous, given the relationship he has with Waldron.

Currently, Wilson is the betting favorite to join the Steelers at -225 odds per DraftKings Sportsbook, followed by Raiders (+550) and Broncos (+600). He has already been slated to be released by Denver to save the money against the cap. Needless to say, he won’t be a Bronco in 2024 despite the positive lip service between the two parties in recent weeks.

Wilson initially was drawn to Waldron due to his experience on Sean McVay’s coaching staff and familiarity with McVay’s offensive system. So, in addition to Watson, Wilson is, therefore, theoretically tied to other McVay-needy QB teams such as the Vikings/Falcons.

The last time we saw Wilson play decent football was under Waldron in 2020-2021, when he was first hired by the Seahawks and finished QB7 (23.3) and QB13 (17.2) in points per game.

But if it’s not Waldron or another McVay scheme, you can consider me very skeptical that Wilson can turn things around after failing to hit 18 fantasy points per game the past three seasons. Keep in mind that Wilson was third in the NFL in passing TD% last season and finished as QB15 in points per game.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Mac Jones

If I had to bet on where Mac Jones gets traded to? It would be Atlanta. Because it’s the same old song and dance with these Alabama QBs in the pros. When they are put into favorable systems with weapons, they can be average to above-average passers at the NFL level.

That’s what Mac Jones was as a rookie and what he can still do entering his fourth season. But it’s just not going to happen in New England, given the current infrastructure of the offense/roster. He’s regressed the last two seasons after a stellar rookie year due in part largely to a lack of any supporting cast, in my estimation.

He’s not good enough to be the reason an offense succeeds. But he can succeed in a McVay scheme throwing the ball to Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson…that much I can tell you.

Jimmy Garoppolo

After getting benched for rookie Aidan O’Connell under new head coach Antonio Pierce last season, Jimmy Garoppolo’s days seemed extremely numbered in Las Vegas.

He’s the ultimate game manager that can’t stay healthy. Played in just six games in 2023, with a 7-to-9 TD/INT ratio. Woof. Averaged under 11 fantasy points per game after being removed from the Kyle Shanahan 49ers offense, 18th in yards per attempt at 7.1 in 2023.

Like I said last year, Jimmy G will be able to support 1-to-2 fantasy weapons but won’t fully transform an offense. I also doubt a team would fully invest in him as their only QB option based on his long injury track record. I could see him going to Atlanta, Minnesota, or even Chicago if they can’t get the actual guy they want. His new team will also consider his two-game suspension.

A Raiders-Bears trade with their two QBs as part of the deal could be a logical way for both teams to address the position this offseason. The Raiders get their guy, and the Bears get an adequate backup/mentor piece for future Bears QB Caleb Williams.

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