When it comes to free-agent quarterbacks, you can’t have your expectations set that high. If they’re getting to the market, there’s usually a reason. Rarely do you have a team just find an elite starter or future Hall of Fame quarterback available to add in free agency.
Must be nice, Buccaneers.
Those of us in the fantasy football space are sneakily the most level-headed when it comes to what we’re looking for out of a crop of free-agent passers. We’re not looking for someone to come in and save a team. No one is really expecting to see a guy change teams and truly move the needle for a franchise.
All we want is to see some competent, preferably aggressive quarterback come to a team and save the outlook of a gifted wide receiver or group of pass-catchers from misery.
That’s it. This hypothetical mid-level veteran quarterback would come to the rescue of a receiver who was stuck under the thumb of some truly hapless young guy...usually a massive first-round bust. We’re talking about guys who can’t even run a functional NFL offense, we certainly don’t trust them to get anything close to the best out of their No. 1 wide receiver.
Lucky for us fake footballers, three veteran free-agent quarterbacks who fit this bill moved to three teams who employ a WR1 who desperately needed saving.
There shouldn’t be any notion that quarterbacks like Andy Dalton or Ryan Fitzpatrick are the answer for a team. But there’s no question that they’ll be the best quarterbacks Allen Robinson and Terry McLaurin have played with during their NFL careers, sad as that is to say.
Jameis Winston and his marriage with the Saints is obviously a bit different, for a few reasons. You’re allowed to have a sliver bit more optimism that Winston might right the ship and become a full-time starter even if I don’t share it. Either way, Michael Thomas backers have to feel much better about him potentially taking the reins in New Orleans over some of the alternatives.
We can actually connect with these teams’ fans on one level: If you were hoping for much better passers to team with the Robinson-like receivers of the world...why? Did you really expect Russell Wilson or some other huge name to walk through the door? We all wanted upgrades under center in these cities but your expectations shouldn’t have been that high. This was about the best we were going to get.
Let’s look at each of these cases and why, even if fanbases aren’t over the moon with their quarterback situations, we selfish fantasy folks should be happy.
Andy Dalton to Chicago
The same “Nick Foles is the best quarterback Allen Robinson has ever had,” chants we used to cry ourselves to sleep last offseason will be repurposed this year with Andy Dalton subbed in for Foles. It holds true. Frankly, the Bears should have just made this exact move last offseason. Dalton is absolutely a better player than Foles but the coaching staff seemingly just opted for that extra layer of familiarity.
Dalton is in the bridge quarterback phase of his career and that’s where he belongs. When you judge him like that and not the failed face of the Bengals franchise, he’s actually one of the better options for that role.
His days in Dallas got off to a rocky start when he first stepped in for Dak Prescott but he stabilized an extremely broken offense once he returned from injury in Week 10. In the final seven games of the season, Dalton posted a 13:5 touchdown to interception ratio with a 95.1 passer rating. Even if the depth of the wide receiver position is more attractive in Dallas than it is behind Robinson in Chicago, that type of unspectacular but steady play is a fair projection for Dalton in his new home.
Dalton doesn’t have enough juice at this stage of his career to power an offense that will get Robinson back to the double-digit touchdown ceiling but he should keep his 90 to 100-catch floor afloat. Until next offseason, it’s the best we can do.
Ryan Fitzpatrick to Washington
Now this one is much more fun. It’s as if Allen Robinson came to haunt Washington’s decision-makers as the Ghost of Wideout Future to warn them of the cursed path of hapless young quarterbacks he’s been on for years. His mission: To show it was the same one they were setting up for with Terry McLaurin.
What’s the one type of sorcery that can break a curse like this? Fitzmagic.
Again, Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t suddenly make Washington a Super Bowl contender. His addition does instantly unlock new level of gas for an offense that was clearly stuck in reverse with Dwayne Haskins, and neutral with Alex Smith.
Fantasy football lore is littered with wideouts whose stats were beefed up by playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick and his sense of reckless abandon. Consider the Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker duo for the Jets, the Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin trio for the 2018 Buccaneers, or even a resurrected DeVante Parker in Miami. Fitzpatrick locked into those guys and fed them at a generous target rate. Terry McLaurin is next in line.
I’m of the belief that 30 seconds of film watching are all you should need to identify that McLaurin has the type of chops to become the league’s next superstar at wide receiver. He just needed baseline quarterback play to put the stats up for everyone to notice. We’ve seen Fitzpatrick bring that. However, it’s his “hair on fire” style and the possible glut of targets he’ll send McLaurin’s way that will really push him to that tier.
McLaurin cleared 130 targets last year. If Fitzpatrick can get him beyond that and perhaps even push the 145 to 150-range, a Top-10 receiver season is within reach.
Of course, McLaurin isn't the only skill-position player of note. The team just reached an agreement with former Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel on a three-year deal. Samuel is a super talented wide receiver who can thrive in multiple roles. He broke out with 1,000 total yards in 2020 and this move to become Fitzpatrick's No. 2 will at least stabilize his fantasy value. You can say the same for breakout tight end Logan Thomas. This is a pretty good trio for the veteran passer. All of this goodness in the passing game is only a boost for Antonio Gibson. The running back was awesome as a rookie and a functional offense is the key to keeping a fantasy back inside the back-end RB1 range.
Asking Fitzpatrick to turn all of these pieces into fantasy stars is foolish. As much as we love him, he's still a veteran journeyman passer. But at least we're spared having to watch them all suffer through a sub-replacement-level quarterback.
Jameis Winston back to New Orleans
While this one is a bit different than the other two, it might just be the most fascinating pairing.
Obviously, Winston isn’t replacing some hapless first-round bust at quarterback. He’s stepping in for a future Hall of Famer who was clearly out of gas to end 2020. Winston also spent last year with the Saints, unlike Dalton and Fitzpatrick. There’s some degree of familiarity there.
In the same vein, Michael Thomas has not suffered one bit at the quarterback position in his career like Robinson and McLaurin have in their time. Thomas won the wideout jackpot by playing in the Saints system with the hyper-accurate Brees for so many years. Now as he’s set to stare into the quarterback abyss, having Jameis Winston be the one to stare back isn’t so bad.
Personally, I can’t wait to watch how these two fit together. Thomas gets a bad rap for all the slant routes he runs but you can pretty easily argue he was assigned all those patterns because of his quarterback’s withering arm and this was a way to boost efficiency. Thomas is still a gifted separator at all levels of the field and proficient when it comes to playing the ball in traffic.
No one can argue that Winston provides a one to one upgrade over prime Brees for Thomas but a universe does exist where he helps the wideout expand his target distribution. At the very least, Winston does boost the volume of an offense both with his willingness to rifle the ball downfield and costly turnovers. He’s developing into an even more volatile Fitzmagic in this fashion. Keep all this in mind when Thomas predictably slides in drafts this season thanks to an injury letdown year and Brees’ departure.