The list of NFL quarterbacks who could be looking for work next winter is a mixed bag. On it are younger QBs who have underwhelmed at the pro level, middle-of-the-road candidates who may need changes of scenery if they are to win in the NFL, and veterans eyeing the finishing lines to their playing days.
The majority of quarterbacks featured in this list won’t start in 2014. Several will be looking to prove they belong in the NFL moving forward, while one will be chasing after a mammoth contract. Last but not least is a proven QB hoping to keep his career going for at least a few more years.
Here are the 10 highest-paid NFL quarterbacks who could be free agents in 2015.
10. Blaine Gabbert — San Francisco 49ers: $2,011,587 cap hit in 2014
Gabbert may not have to wait until the new calendar year to hit free agency. Word out of the 49ers camp is that the Jacksonville Jaguars castoff is struggling with his new club, to the point that the Niners may elect to cut the 24-year-old before the upcoming regular season kicks off.
Per the terms of his rookie contract, Gabbert put pen to paper on a deal that guaranteed him slightly over $12 million. That’s not too shabby for a quarterback with a career NFL completion percentage of 53.3 and a career pro rating of 66.4. Gabbert lost the Jacksonville starting gig to Chad Henne last season, and odds are that he may never again obtain such a job.
9. Matt Flynn — Green Bay Packers: $2.625 million cap hit in 2014
Flynn likely imagined two years ago that he would be a starting quarterback this summer. After lighting it up for the Packers at the end of the 2011 campaign, the Seattle Seahawks signed Flynn to be the team’s starting quarterback for the following season.
That spring, however, the ‘Hawks drafted an undersized QB named Russell Wilson. Wilson went on to win the Seattle starting job the subsequent summer, and he and the Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl last February.
Flynn, meanwhile, is back in Green Bay after lackluster stints with the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills. He will once again be a backup to Aaron Rodgers.
8. Christian Ponder — Minnesota Vikings: $3,232,313 cap hit in 2014
The Ponder experiment with the Vikings has not worked out, but it hasn’t been entirely his fault. Minnesota’s defense routinely hung Ponder and the team’s offense out to dry last season. The Vikings were, in 2013, responsible for the second-worst pass defense in the NFL.
That said, the Vikes have clearly moved on from the Ponder era. Minnesota traded two draft selections to the Seahawks to move up and take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the No. 32 pick of the ’14 draft. Bridgewater could start for Minnesota as soon as this coming September.
7. Matt Hasselbeck — Indianapolis Colts: $3.75 million cap hit in 2014
Hasselbeck, compared with most of the quarterbacks featured in this piece, is in an ideal situation. The 38-year-old will make close to $4 million in 2014 for merely holding a clipboard during games and helping to teach other players in film sessions. Andrew Luck is arguably the best young quarterback in the NFL today, and he hasn’t missed a single regular season start in his two seasons in the league.
Many NFL insiders consider Hasselbeck to be the best backup quarterback in the league considering what he has achieved during his career and also that he likely won’t have to take more than a few meaningful stats from September through January. Age is the great equalizer for all athletes, and it’s possible that Hasselbeck will be cashing in his final NFL paycheck before he takes a different job in the game of football.
6. Michael Vick — New York Jets: $4 million cap hit in 2014
It’s hard to keep up with whether or not the veteran is actually in a quarterback competition with second-year pro Geno Smith. Some have speculated that Gang Green acquired Vick as an insurance policy for a QB who largely failed to impress in his first NFL season. Others, however, see Vick as a mentor for Smith, somebody who can tutor the New York starter on what to do and what not to do while on the field.
Either way, the once-named “Michael Vick Experience” could be put out of commission for good next winter. Vick, one of the most electrifying players to ever play the quarterback position in the NFL, is now a shell of what he was in his prime. Teams could get a better backup QB at half the price.
5. Jake Locker — Tennessee Titans: $4,004,637 cap hit in 2014
2014 will be a career-defining season for Locker. He will either establish himself as the team’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, or Locker will play himself right out of Tennessee and outside of the top spot on any NFL depth chart.
The biggest knock on Locker is that he hasn’t been able to remain on the field during his pro career. Locker has appeared in a total of 23 regular season games since 2011. That he has tossed 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in those contests hasn’t helped his cause.
Tennessee may already have Locker’s replacement on the roster. The Titans drafted prospect Zach Mettenberger out of LSU last May.
4. Mark Sanchez — Philadelphia Eagles: $4.8 million cap hit in 2014
The former “Sanchize” of the Jets deserved better from Gang Green. Sanchez helped the Jets earn multiple trips to conference championship games, and those who would point only to the New York defenses for the successes achieved by those squads would be dishonoring how well the USC product performed in postseason play.
Sanchez once outplayed Tom Brady in a playoff game that occurred in Foxborough.
With Nick Foles entrenched as Philly’s No. 1 quarterback, Sanchez will get a fresh start to his NFL career. Sanchez has thus far performed well in practice sessions and in preseason action, and he is expected to be behind only Foles on the depth chart of the Eagles.
Don’t be shocked if a different team presents Sanchez with an opportunity to earn a starting role next summer.
3. Matt Moore — Miami Dolphins: $5.5 million cap hit in 2014
Moore’s status with the Dolphins is up in the air in mid-August. He was never, barring a disaster, going to be named the team’s starting quarterback. Ryan Tannehill is, so long as he is healthy, Miami’s QB for the now and for the future. Moore was merely hoping to serve as Tannehill’s backup in 2014.
He may not even be that lucky. Moore injured his shoulder at the beginning of August, and he is struggling to recover from that knock. Miami signed journeyman Brady Quinn on August 12, a transaction that could send Moore away from South Florida.
2. Alex Smith — Kansas City Chiefs: $8 million cap hit in 2014
Smith continues to be one of the most polarizing starting quarterbacks in the NFL. He is a proven winner, having made playoff appearances with the San Francisco 49ers and with the Chiefs. Smith nevertheless cannot shake the “game-manager” label that he has been saddled with since he was drafted in 2005.
The 30-year-old has gone on the record and stated that he is not interested in signing a “pay-as-you-go” contract similar to deals recently inked by Cincinnati Bengals starter Andy Dalton and current Niners star Colin Kaepernick. Unless either he or KC budges, Smith is on the verge of entering a contract year with plenty to prove if he is to earn a massive deal from any team next winter.
1. Carson Palmer — Arizona Cardinals: $12 million cap hit in 2014
Palmer had a decent debut season with the Cards in 2013. The 34-year-old threw for 4,274 passing yards, a career high in a single season for Palmer. He found the end zone on 24 occasions, and he completed 63.3 percent of his attempts.
Palmer also threw a career high 22 interceptions last year.
Arizona holds the proverbial cards as it pertains to Palmer’s immediate playing future. Palmer is signed through the end of the 2015 regular season, but the Cardinals can void that contract next February. For what it is worth, Arizona rookie QB Logan Thomas has wowed coaches and analysts throughout July and August.