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2024 NFL Free Agency: Quarterback Carousel

Quarterbacks statistically score more points than any other position in fantasy football. Over the last three seasons, at least half of the top-10 players at any position, on a points per game basis, have been quarterbacks. It goes without saying, too, that quarterbacks are even more important as the focal point of any given offense to get our other studs the ball. So, where the biggest names at the position end up in 2024 NFL free agency matters greatly especially with a hype-filled draft class joining the league next month. Let’s look at where these quarterbacks will be playing in 2024 and how much it matters for fantasy football.

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Quarterback Movement and Impact in 2024 NFL Free Agency

Kirk Cousins, Atlanta Falcons

Four years/$180 million

The Atlanta Falcons are on a six-year playoff drought. They are a combined 39-60 in that span and 14-20 over the last two seasons following the departure of Matt Ryan. To make matters worse, the Falcons are three former top-10 picks on their offense, but scored just 18.9 points per game last season. That ranks 26th league-wide. Needless to say, signing Kirk Cousins can only be viewed as a win in NFL free agency for this franchise.

Let’s not pretend there isn’t any risk in handing $100 million in guarantees to a quarterback who’s turning 36 in August and recovering from a Week 8 Achilles tear. Of course there is! It’s a risk Atlanta is more than willing to take give their above struggles.

Cousins’ 2,331 yards in eight games last season puts him on a full-season pace of 4,953 yards. That would be a career-high. Cousins has 4,000 or more passing yards in seven of his eight seasons prior to last year, as well. Cousins’ new offensive coordinator, Zac Robinson, comes from the Los Angeles Rams, where Cousins’ former head coach in Minnesota, Kevin O’Connell, spent time before his current role. The two worked together in L.A. during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Robinson’s offense will likely run a heavy amount of 11-personnel. That’s three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back. Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Bijan Robinson will all thrive with Cousins under center, but NFL free agency addition, Darnell Mooney, will provide value as a result. This offense should skyrocket from 26th in scoring last season to a top-10 offense in 2024. Kirk Cousins has a ton of weapons at his disposal that averaging 20.0 or more fantasy points per game for the first time in his career is more likely than not.

Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, Pittsburgh Steelers

Wilson: One year/$1.2 million, Fields: Traded for 2025 Conditional 6th Round Pick

After releasing Russell Wilson, he will carry the largest dead cap hit of all time. While Denver is paying Wilson nearly $40 million not to play for them in 2024, he’s able to sign this veteran minimum contract in NFL free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, Justin Fields heads to Pittsburgh to compete for the starting job, on the books for roughly $3.3 million in 2024. That brings their current quarterback room combined salary to just $4.5 million between these two.

Both would arguably be the best quarterback this team has had since the 2018 version of Ben Roethlisberger. Arthur Smith returns to an offensive coordinator role after failing to succeed as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. While we begged Smith to deploy his best offensive weapons in Atlanta last season, I don’t foresee that problem with future Hall of Fame head coach Mike Tomlin having the final say.

I don’t think Wilson will provide anything more than QB2 value in Superflex fantasy football leagues. For those that start just one quarterback, he’s nothing more than a week-to-week streamer. The Steelers will have to find a replacement for Diontae Johnson after trading him to the Carolina Panthers. Until then, and independently, bringing in Wilson is good news for George Pickens as Wilson can still push the ball downfield quite well.

I’m not so certain Wilson wins the starting job or, if he does, retains it for as long as people think. Justin Fields’ ceiling is obviously much higher and the sooner they determine if he is their future, the better. All-in-all, the Steelers offense is much more desirable for fantasy football in 2024 than 2023.

Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Three years/$100 million

We know what Baker Mayfield and this offense can bring to the table. While they ranked just 18th in scoring (21.5) last season, the Buccaneers averaged 27.5 points per game in two playoff games. Including the playoffs, Baker Mayfield threw multiple touchdown passes in 12 of 19 games including 16 total in his final seven games of the season.

Now that he’s under contract for the near future, it’s easy to feel better about Mike Evans, too, who yielded a top-10 wide receiver fantasy football season on his way to logging 1,000+ receiving yards for the 10th-straight year. The Bucs far exceeded expectations. So, seeing their 2023 offensive coordinator, Dave Canales, walk and accept the Carolina Panthers’ head coaching job, stings a little.

Luckily, Liam Coen slides in who Baker Mayfield played under briefly during his time with the Los Angeles Rams at the tail end of the 2022 season. There’s no reason to believe Evans can’t log another 1,000 yards with Baker. Anyone who fades him expecting the drop-off just provides the rest of us with another discount.

As of now, Rachaad White looks to be the lead back in this offense barring the team using high draft capital on a rookie running back. He should continue to be an asset to Baker in the passing game having caught the fourth-most passes at the position last season. Baker Mayfield returning to Tampa at the start of NFL free agency is more important to the players around him than he himself for fantasy football purposes.

Sam Darnold, Minnesota Vikings

One year/$10 million

As of now, it looks like Sam Darnold is going to get the opportunity to revive his career as the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. After signing in NFL free agency, we turn our attention toward the NFL Draft where the Vikings currently hold the 11th overall pick. If they sit tight, they can grab a quarterback, but if they move up, as I expect them to, they can grab the quarterback of their choice.

It’s inevitable that the Minnesota Vikings will do so as they plan for life without Kirk Cousins and I anticipate an extension for Justin Jefferson. Still, if Darnold is under center for even a few weeks, he should succeed based on volume alone. The Vikings rank 3rd and 6th in pass attempts per game respectively in the first two seasons of Kevin O’Connell as the head coach. Jefferson, Jordan Addison, T.J. Hockenson, and Aaron Jones out of the backfield is the best group of weapons Darnold has had when facing an opportunity to start long-term in this league.

Jacoby Brissett, New England Patriots

One year/$8 million

Jacoby Brissett’s career comes full circle in NFL free agency as he returns to the team that drafted him in 2016. This deal has $6.5 million guaranteed at signing with workout and “per game active” bonuses sprinkled in. Given the structure, it leads me to believe we will see Brissett start at least the first few games for the 2024 New England Patriots.

I’m sure by mid-October, whoever the Patriots add in the NFL Draft at third overall will be getting the opportunity to start. Regardless of who is under center, it’s hard to get excited about any one pass catcher in this offense. The Patriots missed out on Calvin Ridley with no top talent left to sign.

The mediocrity continues, though the running backs interest me a bit. Rhamondre Stevenson welcomes Antonio Gibson into the mix. New England’s new offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt, comes from the role of offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. If we see Stevenson take on the Chubb role and Gibson mimic the Hunt usage in the passing ga,e both could have slightly more than just flex value this season.

Gardner Minshew, Las Vegas Raiders

Two years/$25 million

With $15 million in guarantees, all due at signing, one can only assume Minshew is the expected starting quarterback for this team. That reads to me as a one-year, $15 million deal for Minshew to bridge the gap to the next quarterback. The Las Vegas Raiders have a lot of holes in their roster. Replacing Josh Jacobs in the backfield and finding a quarterback of the future is me just naming a few. Good for Gardner Minshew as he finds another opportunity in NFL free agency to start next season.

Minshew averaged 220 passing yards per game in 15 starts with the Indianapolis Colts last season. He targeted Michael Pittman Jr. 9.4 times per game in those starts, as well. When in doubt, lean on your studs. If nothing else, Minshew will pepper Davante Adams with plenty of targets, especially in the red zone. Pittman’s 19 red zone targets in 2023 is tied for 9th amongst all players last season. Jakobi Meyers should remain a solid Points Per Reception asset to keep on your fantasy football roster, as well. Beyond those two, it’s hard to get too excited about the remaining personnel on a team likely to be drafting inside the top five in the 2025 NFL Draft.

A Bunch of Backups

Joe Flacco is signing a one-year/$4.5 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts. I’m going to be investing in this offense for the 2024 fantasy football season. It’s nice to know if something were to happen to Anthony Richardson, the 2023 Comeback Player of the Year would take over, keeping everyone’s value afloat.

Jameis Winston should back up the Cleveland Browns quarterback, Deshaun Watson, on a one-year/$4 million deal. Winston wants an opportunity to start in this league. He may just get it here, one way or another. Watson has thrown just 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions in just 12 starts over the last two seasons. Lamar Jackson’s most recent backup in Baltimore, Tyler Huntley, also joins this quarterback room. We will have a clearer picture of this all before the start of the 2024 season. I don’t expect all three of those mentioned here to remain on the roster.

Kenny Pickett is the new backup to Jalen Hurts. Nobody wants to actually see Pickett take the field, though, as that means Hurts is, well, hurt which would be a huge blow to our fantasy football rosters. If Pickett does see any playing time, Saquon Barkley should be extremely busy.

Tyrod Taylor is joining the New York Jets on a two-year deal. Aaron Rodgers is now 40 years old and will be one year removed from an Achilles tear when this season starts. If he isn’t able to take the field at any given time, Taylor is better than any backup that took the field in 2023.

Desmond Ridder will be playing in the desert after getting shipped from the Atlanta Falcons to the Arizona Cardinals. He’s nothing more than a backup to Kyler Murray. It’s concerning to think of how the Cardinals’ playmakers would fair with Ridder given how he struggled to support strong fantasy seasons from the Falcons last season.

Drew Lock is replacing Tyrod Taylor on the New York Giants roster on a one-year/$5 million fully guaranteed deal. It’s yet to be seen if a rookie is added to the mix here, too. Either way, I don’t really want anything to do with this offense. We could see Lock under center in Week 1.

Mason Rudolph, after spending his first six years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, is heading to the Tennessee Titans on a one-year/$3 million deal. We haven’t seen enough from Will Levis yet. However, with a new coaching staff as well as added weapons like Calvin Ridley and Tony Pollard, he should have a better chance of success in his second season. We’ll probably only see Rudolph in the event of a Levis injury.

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