Tony Romo is leaving the football field for the broadcast booth in a move that won’t just affect the Dallas Cowboys. Romo was supposed to be the best quarterback on the market once the Cowboys released him, but he decided to retire instead. With Romo off of the table, it means the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos have to look elsewhere if they want to add a quarterback.
Tom Savage is currently set to be the Texans’ Week 1 starter in 2017. They dealt Brock Osweiler to the Browns in a surprise move on the first day of free agency to free up cap space and to dump Osweiler’s expensive contract.
The Broncos still have Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch on the roster. Although both young passers struggled last season, John Elway has shown faith is his duo of quarterbacks and denied the Broncos were interested in Romo. Still, Denver always seen as one of the prime landing spots for the four-time Pro Bowler.
What the Texans and Broncos can do at quarterback
Both the Texans and the Broncos have stacked rosters. They have elite defenses and top-tier receivers, but they were hamstrung by mediocre quarterback play last season. The Texans still managed to win the AFC South, and even a playoff game, but need stability under center to compete for a Super Bowl. The Broncos missed the playoffs only one year removed from winning the Super Bowl, and much of their struggles can be attributed to the inconsistent play of Siemian and Lynch last year.
There are not many options left, but both teams still have a few options to land a new quarterback.
We already have entered the later stages of free agency, but there are a few intriguing quarterbacks who have yet to find a home. Colin Kaepernick could be the best option on the market, but the main reason he hasn’t been signed yet probably has little to do with football.
The Chicago Bears released longtime starter Jay Cutler at the start of free agency, so he’s available. There hasn’t been much news coming out of the Cutler camp — other than his wife posting a photo of Cutler’s bare butt on Instagram — leaving questions about whether he will retire after a decade-long NFL career.
Neither quarterback is the right fit for the Texans or Broncos, though. Cutler started his career with the Broncos all the way back in 2006, but demanded a trade after the 2008 season and ended up landing in Chicago.
The Texans might not want to take a chance on him, either. Cutler, who will turn 34 later this month, is coming off an injury-shortened season and has been plagued in recent years by terrible decision-making and his tendency to turn the ball over at crucial times. These are the same criticisms Osweiler received last season, and the last thing the Texans want is more of the same under center.
Kaepernick is not the most talented passer, but his speed and athleticism make him an excellent dual threat. He runs the read-option well and can torch defenses if given the opportunity. Both teams’ offenses are centered around more of a pocket passer, though, and putting Kaepernick in a starting role may force them to change their offensive system on short notice.
The NFL draft
Both teams pick late in the first round of the draft — the Broncos at No. 20 and the Texans at No. 25. That’s too late to land the top quarterbacks on the board, Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson. Beyond those two, there is not much to choose from in a weak class of quarterbacks. There are a few potential starters, like DeShone Kizer and Brad Kaaya, but no one talented enough to step in and make either of these teams legitimate contenders.
One interesting prospect is Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has been popular pick for the Texans in mock drafts. Mahomes has arm talent and the strength to succeed, but he is a raw talent that may take a few years to find his footing in the NFL. He also played in the often maligned air raid system in college, famous for producing NFL busts, notably Geno Smith, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel.
For the Broncos, a first-round quarterback is out of the question. They drafted Lynch late in the first round last season and will not spend yet another early pick on the same position. The already slim options at quarterback get even slimmer in the later rounds, and they may miss out on any potential starting quarterbacks in the draft entirely.
Trading for Jimmy Garoppolo or AJ McCarron
Tom Brady’s backup saw his value skyrocket once news came out about Romo’s retirement. With Brady saying he’d like to play six or seven more years, the Patriots would probably be willing to trade Jimmy Garoppolo — but it could cost another team two first-round picks. Taking a risk and mortgaging their future on a quarterback who has only started two games may not be the most ideal move for any team, though.
AJ McCarron is another interesting trade target. The Bengals backup quarterback has not seen much of the field in his career, but he did nearly lead his team to a playoff win in 2016 if not for a few boneheaded penalties by the defense. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tried to silence any rumors around McCarron at the NFL owners meeting last week.
“McCarron is a valuable member of our football team,” Lewis said. “No one has asked to trade him so we’re not going to trade away AJ McCarron and we’re not going to go out and seek a trade for AJ McCarron.”
But just like with Garoppolo, McCarron could still be traded away if a team is willing to pay the right price for him.