The AFC South is primed for some upheaval across the division. The Texans’ reign over the division has been quiet but steady. Thanks in large part to the ineptitude of the Titans and Jaguars in finding a franchise quarterback, and Andrew Luck’s injuries and early retirement, winning the division hasn’t taken more than a nine or ten win campaign and four wins against division opponents.
That may all change this offseason as the market is flooded with premier talent. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, among others, could all become free agents in the coming weeks. Drew Brees has announced he will stay with New Orleans, but he has not signed a contract extension.
The Old Guard has aged into its upper thirties and has already seen the likes of Eli Manning call it quits, but many QBs will be looking for a new home for the first time in their careers. They are accompanied by many familiar faces in free agency, such as Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, and potentially Josh McCown. The combination of future Hall of Famers and journeyman QBs makes for one of the most highly anticipated offseasons in recent memory.
In the AFC South, demand is high to find a suitable short-term solution at quarterback. The Colts ended the season more than displeased with Jacoby Brissett. The Jags entered into an $80M contract with Nick Foles only for him to break his collarbone in his debut. Then the Titans made the AFC Championship Game, only relying on Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball 10-20 times per game.
For the Titans, both Tannehill and Marcus Mariota are free agents. Tannehill led the Titans to the AFC title game from the second wild card spot. This impressive feat has the organization looking at every possible opportunity to take a title shot next season. They know they have a young core of talented receivers led by A.J. Brown, but the Titans also know they cannot continue to feed RB Derek Henry 300 times a season. They even sat him Week 16 against the Saints because they needed him healthy in what became a win-and-you’re-in contest against the Texans. After being one game away from the Super Bowl, their fan base believes they are only continued solid quarterback play away from being a Super Bowl contender in 2020. With the taste of the franchise’s first Super Bowl on their lips, it would be surprising if they didn't attempt to upgrade the position to guide them to a championship. Tom Brady may not have any intention of going to Tennessee, but maybe the likes of Teddy Bridgewater would.
Imagine Teddy Bridgewater in a backfield with Derek Henry. The 7-10 plays Bridgewater would create per game through the air or ground would make all the difference for Henry’s health. Tennessee may be wary of signing another mobile quarterback after the failed Marcus Mariota experiment, but that decision was two Titans head coaches ago. The future has never looked brighter for Tennessee. Don’t expect them to sit quietly while everyone else around them improves.
In Jacksonville, the expensive Nick Foles experiment was like a gas fire in a kitchen. Minshew Mania won’t be enough to solve the Jags’ woes at QB; they’ll need a legitimate veteran while Gardner Minshew II hones his craft and his mustache.
I could easily see the Jags’ front office taking a shot on Taysom Hill. If they release Foles, they’ll inherit a serious amount of dead cap space. Upwards of $33M according to Spotrac. With that much money being thrown away, a low-risk, high reward opportunity such as Hill may be Jacksonville’s best option. If they don’t opt to draft a rookie, Hill could find a nice situation in Jacksonville and vice versa.
Option 1B is scrapping both Foles and Minshew, drafting a QB high in the first round (probably Jordan Love or Justin Herbert), and then go add a veteran like Case Keenum or Jameis Winston. Winston and his new eyes in Jacksonville sounds like a match made in hell. Beauty and the Yeesh, if you will.
Rivers did just move his family from San Diego to Florida, which means that Jacksonville could be a potential landing spot for him as well. If the Jags are wiling to let one or two players leave in free agency, which would certainly include Yannick Ngakoue, they could bring in Rivers to right the ship. Rivers in Jacksonville has a lower likelihood of happening than the Chargers’ longtime QB landing in Indianapolis, but it’s an intriguing story line to keep track of.
Speaking of, the rumor mill is abuzz with the potential for Philip Rivers to land in Indianapolis. He already has said he is not going back to Los Angeles. Picture Rivers dropping bombs to T.Y. Hilton. Yes, Rivers is basically a statue. If you watched the Texans play the Chargers, you noticed that Rivers cannot move out of the pocket to save his life. Fortunately for Indianapolis fans, their team has one of the best offensive lines in the league and can pass block with just about anyone. This would be tough for Rivers to pass up, considering his longevity in the league and continued talent when not pressured.
Rivers to Indianapolis is a lot better than Tom Brady going to Indy. If Brady lands in the AFC South, all bets are off. Brady wants a team ready to “win now”. Tennessee believes they are ready to win, and Brady saw this first hand in the AFC Wild Card game. Uniting Tom with Mike Vrabel could be a decent combination, but I doubt Brady wants to take his talents to Nashville. Indianapolis could be a strong landing spot. They have the offensive line, weapons, and the complimentary defense to usher him back into the Super Bowl. But would Brady want to be in Manning’s town? It would be just like when Brett Favre played for the Vikings. There is something pure about Brady starting and ending his career in New England, but if he doesn’t, I would not be shocked if he finds his way to the AFC South.
Isn’t it nice to not have to worry about this nonsense anymore in Houston? Just you, me, and our franchise QB for the rest of eternity.