The ink was hardly dry on last night’s post in which I agonized over the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback vacuum before the option I suggested went up in smoke. Several unconfirmed reports this morning indicate that veteran QB Colin Kaepernick has decided to opt out of the final year of his current deal with the Niners and give free agency a try. With several teams looking for a QB solution, I don’t see Kaep lasting very long on the market.
For the record, you can count this as the second quarterback 49ers’ owner Jed York has all but ruined with his ego producing constant coaching changes.
Anyway, this may call for a change in the strategy I recommended yesterday for the new front office team of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan. In the absence of any quarterback on the roster who is clearly a capable NFL quality player (sorry, Blaine Gabbert), the Niners are going to be forced to trade for an available player or pick up a free agent. (Of course, they could still land Kaepernick if free agency is a bust for him; I just don’t think that’s likely.)
As expected, the Redskins named Kirk Cousins their franchise guy. This means, according to Wikipedia, “[The] player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams. The player’s team has all the negotiating rights to the exclusive player.” According to preliminary figures released by the NFL, a quarterback with the exclusive franchise tag would command a salary of not less than $19,953,000. In essence, then, the Niners would have to offer Cousins a better deal after getting the Redskins’ approval to talk to him.
I’m not Cousins’ biggest fan and I’m not sure he’s the best QB available by trade or free agency. Take a look at this table that tracks all NFL free agents.
As of right now, Cousins is the only franchise-tagged player (so his name isn’t in that list because, technically, he’s not a free agent.) I studied this table for some time before deciding that I would champion the cause of Case Keenum of the Los Angeles (Again?) Rams. Keenum has proven value as a starter; last season he started nine of the Rams’ games before being benched for rookie draftee Jared Goff and compiled a record of 61% completions for 2,201 yards, nine TDs and 11 INTs. His passer rating was an unimpressive 60.9 but he showed flashes of brilliance at times, like the 2015 loss to Tampa Bay in which he recorded a Rams record near-“perfect game”, racking up a 158.0 passer rating by going 14 for 17 for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
Better yet, his 2016 salary with the Rams was just north of $3 million. This makes him a bargain even if the Niners have to pay him in the neighborhood of $10 million. At 29 and with three years of reasonably solid NFL experience under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised if, given the regular starting role, Keenum has a breakout 2017 season, living up to the potential he had coming out of college in Houston where he became the NCAA’s all-time leader in total passing yards, touchdowns, and completions.
Of the UFAs (unrestricted free agents) available, he’s easily the best of the crop given age, experience, salary and other conditions.