Things are starting to heat up around the NFL Draft, and a few recent developments should especially affect the quarterback market — specifically, the stock of highly-rated ACC quarterbacks who entered the draft.
This week, the Washington Redskins applied the exclusive franchise tag to quarterback Kirk Cousins. That means no other team can negotiate with the former Michigan State gunslinger. A trade is still conceivable, but the cap number for the QB with the franchise tag was set at $21.268 million, which makes Cousins a little more difficult to trade than your average quarterback prior to hitting free agency.
Jimmy Garoppolo — the other theoretical QB option for teams craving a franchise arm — is reportedly staying put in New England. If neither Cousins nor Garoppolo are traded, the ripple effect in terms of the NFL Draft could start as high as the No. 1 overall pick.
But take a look at what one NFL executive told Mark Maske of the Washington Post about this year's crop of quarterbacks, including North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Miami's Brad Kaaya.
"I think these are guys that deserve to go late in the first round, early in the second round, somewhere in there," the front office NFL executive told Maske. "I don't think these guys are top-10, top-five guys. Now I'm sure you'll see some of these guys go in the top 10 or top five because there are teams up there that really, really need a quarterback. But to me, it'll be a reach."
It's unclear when exactly this statement was made, but the development of Cousins and Garoppolo only increases the stock of highly-rated passers, particularly Trubisky and Watson. Let's just look at the NFL Draft order for the first 10 picks.
1. Cleveland Browns
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Chicago Bears
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Tennessee Titans
6. New York Jets
7. Los Angeles Chargers
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Cincinnati Bengals
10. Buffalo Bills
Of those 10, Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Jacksonville, New York and Buffalo could all use the services of a new quarterback.
At this point, I'd be shocked if both Trubisky and Watson weren't selected in the first 10 picks. Quarterbacks have become such a commodity, and like Masse said, teams will stretch now more than ever. Without Cousins and Garoppolo available, the only other options beyond the NFL Draft are veterans Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and possibly Colin Kaepernick, who opted out of his deal with the 49ers.
I'm no NFL general manager — but I like any of the top ACC guys over somebody like Smokin' Jay Cutler. We've seen his ceiling, and it's not high enough. At least with Watson, Trubisky, and Kaaya, you might have the real deal. And can we really say the floor is lower?
Look at the disaster in Houston — the Texans brought in high-profile backup Brock Osweiler and we saw how that worked out. Obviously the situations aren't identical, and Garoppolo wouldn't have to do much to be better than Osweiler, but give me a young passer who has competed in one of the best conferences in college football and let my coaching staff groom him.
It wouldn't shock me to see Kaaya — a projected third rounder — make a significant jump in the NFL Draft if he has a solid combine performance. Kaaya has already been linked to the Chicago Bears.
The debate about whether Trubisky or Watson will become the better NFL option will continue, but both ACC players have a solid chance to get their name called early in the first round.
And the recent news surrounding Cousins and the report on Garoppolo's status with the Patriots only increases their chances.