Before we get this misconstrued, let me be clear: this article is in reference to the backup quarterback position, not the starting position.
Jason Licht, general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced back in early January that Jameis Winston would be the Bucs’ quarterback in 2019.
The only issue with that is the fact that he is currently the only quarterback under contract for 2019. Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin are doubtful to return the team, which leaves a big hole behind Winston.
The backup quarterback position is important in its own right, but it’s even more important for a team like the Bucs, who don’t have a sure-fire, long-term answer at the position. While Winston has shown plenty of promise, he’s made some bad decisions both on and off the field that have persuaded Tampa Bay to take a wait-and-see type of approach in regards to the future.
The top-graded backup quarterback last season was the Bucs’ own Fitzpatrick. He finished with an 84.4 overall grade - good for eighth overall amongst all quarterbacks. His 82.9 pass grade was good for ninth overall in the NFL.
Just like the other posts, I will use the grading system provided from Pro Football Focus. I have yet to evaluate these players from a tape/scheme/fit perspective, so please keep that in mind, too.
And this one is pretty obvious, but there are a lot of different moving parts when it comes to evaluating a backup quarterback. Most backups don’t have much regular season, in-game tape to provide, but then there are others that do.
With all this being said, let’s dive into the last free agent candidate preview of the 2019 offseason.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, New Orleans Saints
PFF Grade: 58.4 Overall/59.4 Pass/59.6 Run/71 Total Snaps
The Bucs are in win-now mode. Therefore, the team needs to be prepared at every position in case disaster strikes. If there is no reliable option behind Winston - and if he gets hurt or suspended - then you can bet your ass that this team will not win many games in 2019.
So, Tampa Bay needs more than just a body backing him up. Whomever holds the clipboard needs to know how - and be able to - win in this league.
Bridgewater has won plenty in the NFL. Before his gruesome 2016 knee injury, he was 17-11 in two years as a starter for the Minnesota Vikings and completed 65% of his passes for 6,000 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.
I detailed him in our Free Agency Spotlight series that we have been running this year. In terms of avoiding monotony, you can check out more on his career here.
But the biggest question with Bridgewater is pretty easy: is he willing to be a backup?
It’s safe to say that most of the NFL views him as a starter. The New York Jets signed him to a one-year/$5 million dollar deal before drafting Sam Darnold. The New Orleans Saints then sent the Jets a third-round pick for Bridgewater’s services and he sat behind Drew Brees for the entire year.
He’d obviously be a backup in Tampa Bay unless something serious were to happen to/with Winston. That could be an easy reason to avoid the Bucs.
Another idea to ponder would be the fit. Bruce Arians runs a vertical offense and likes to throw the ball deep. Bridgewater is more of a west-coast type quarterback. It’s clear he has a big enough arm to play in the NFL, but the deep ball isn’t one of his hallmark traits. However, he is very good in play-action, which will be very useful in this offense.
2. Case Keenum, QB, Denver Broncos
PFF Grade: 70.0 Overall/66.9 Pass/81.5 Run/1,073 Total Snaps
Shhhh. Shhhhhhh. Stop yelling! I know Keenum isn’t really a free agent. I know that I’m cheating!
Hey, sometimes you get to play by your own rules in life and that’s what I’m doing here. I’m just going to assume that the Broncos will release - or trade - Keenum.
I’m also aware that a trade doesn’t count as a free agent acquisition.
For those of you still here, thanks for sticking around.
I wrote about the possibility of Tampa Bay trading for Keenum a week or so ago after ESPN’s Chris Mortenson came on the Midday 180 - a Nashville radio show - and said that he thinks Keeenum could be had for a fifth-round pick.
If Jason Licht could pull that off, then it’d be arguably the easiest decision of his career, but Keenum would also have to take a major paycut. I honestly don’t see why he would. This is the NFL though and if Denver were to just outright cut him and eat the $10 million in dead money, then there’s no reason to think he’d sign for a bargain price.
Keenum is a more than capable quarterback, but just like Bridgewater, there are a ton of questions surrounding his situation. Would he be willing to take a massive pay cut if traded? Would he be willing to be a backup if he’s released and can’t find a starting gig elsewhere?
If all of those questions are answered in the Bucs’ favor, then Tampa Bay should sign him as quickly as possible.
3. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Cleveland Browns
PFF Grade: 47.0 Overall/44.9 Pass/61.4 Run/185
Frankly, I wouldn’t pay attention to Taylor’s PFF grade from last season. Everyone knows what we saw in Cleveland was more of a result of Hue Jackson’s incompetence than anything else.
Before last season, Taylor had graded at 75 or higher for three years in a row. He is a smart, efficient, mobile quarterback that can win games.
Hell, his team was just in the playoffs two years ago. Granted, it wasn’t solely because of Taylor, but the point there is that he knows what it takes to win. A lot of players on the Bucs’ current roster are lost when it comes to that mindset.
He completed over 61% of his passes and threw 51 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions in the three years prior to last season. He also throw a pretty good deep ball, which is a big part of Bruce Arians’ offense.
The only obstacle with Taylor - but it’s an obstacle that all three of these guys have in common - is if he wants to start or not. One would think that after his stint with the Cleveland Browns, he wants to prove something to the rest of the league.
Taylor isn’t yet 30 either. Not only would he provide a veteran presence, but Tampa Bay could keep him around for a few years, completely solidifying the quarterback position if Winston does in fact work out.
While it’s probably a long shot that any one of these guys makes it to the Bucs, these three quarterbacks are the best options for Tampa Bay. Obviously, they won't come cheaply, but the Bucs shelled out over $3 million for Ryan Fitzpatrick last season, so the team could pay a bit more for a younger guy.
Don’t rule out Drew Stanton. Arians loved coaching him and he knows the offensive system. Personally, I don’t think Stanton would be a good option, but Arians is a NFL head coach and I am not, therefore, I have to give the benefit of the doubt on that one.