Jacoby Brissett atop free-agent QB options Cardinals must consider
No rebuilds are alike.
On top of Arizona Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort and head coach Jonathan Gannon revamping the roster and coaching staff, there’s also the realization that quarterback Kyler Murray’s rehabilitation from a torn ACL will likely pour into the regular season.
Not helping matters is backup option Colt McCoy and the minor procedure he had done after the season on an unspecified injury. He is expected to be limited this offseason as he recovers.
Beyond those two names, though, Arizona is without a QB currently under contract, with Trace McSorley (unrestricted) and David Blough (restricted) free agents this offseason. And after what we all saw transpire last season — four different signal callers over a four-week span to end 2022 — not having additional options in the QBs room can be detrimental.
For whoever joins Arizona’s QB ranks, there will likely be an opportunity to start the season. That is until Murray gets the green light to suit up. There’s also Arizona’s rebuild they must consider.
To some, that might sound like an unappealing option. To others, it’s a chance to show the Cardinals their worth.
A look at the options Arizona should at the very least kick the tires on as it works to get back to relevancy under Ossenfort and Gannon:
Brissett makes a ton of sense in more ways than one and should be the first free agent QB the Cardinals get on the phone this offseason.
For one, the veteran QB was a part of a timeshare last season with the Cleveland Browns, albeit for entirely different reasons. Due to Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension following allegations of sexual misconduct by multiple women, Brissett started most of the season, completing 64% of his throws for 2,608 yards and 12 touchdowns to six interceptions. He added 253 yards and two more scores on 49 carries.
Bringing Brissett aboard would also reunite the vet with former Browns QBs coach and current Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing, adding additional layers of comfortability and familiarity the new OC’s first year on the job.
Brissett would also give Petzing and the rest of the offense a pseudo-look at what to expect when Murray is back in the mix.
Last season, Brissett and Murray shared similar passing concept trends, with around 20% of their throws coming out of play-action, about 80% from non-play-action and between 9-14% through screens.
Those numbers shouldn’t change a ton under Petzing if Brissett were to sign on with Arizona, especially with what the former QBs coach got out of his signal caller in 2022.
Per Pro Football Focus, Brissett’s next deal is projected to be in the two-year, $16 million range.
From a free agency standpoint, you won’t find a much better fit on the open market than Brissett. He checks the box of being a solid bridge QB, has already proven he can be successful working alongside Petzing and can bring an added veteran voice to the locker room.
If not Brissett, what about Mariota?
Despite signing a two-year deal worth $18.75 million with the Atlanta Falcons last March, Mariota was shown the door this offseason with his release in February.
And while Mariota was benched in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder for the final four games of the season, the veteran presents another realistic option for the Cardinals to consider with Murray sidelined.
Posting a 5-8 record last season, Mariota completed 61.3% of his passes for 2,219 yards and 15 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He added 438 yards and four more scores on 85 carries.
From a passing concept standpoint, Mariota worked out of play-action 44.4% of the time, non-play-action 55.6% and screens 9.3%, per PFF.
As we saw last season with Murray, dropping back out of play-action was used sparingly by former head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
And with Mariota’s success in the passing concept in 2022 — 64.4% passing for 1,164 yards and nine touchdowns to four interceptions on 157 drop backs — implementing more play-action plays would likely be on the way in the Valley if the QB signs the dotted line.
There is at least one hang up, however.
Would Mariota want to join Arizona’s rebuild knowing he is nothing more than a stopgap QB until Murray returns from his torn ACL?
Looking at how things transpired last season, with Mariota stepping away from the team shortly after Ridder was named the starter, that’s up for debate.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith told Atlanta reporters that Mariota was dealing with a chronic knee issue but added it had not been an issue last season up until he stepped away.
Teddy Two Gloves!
Bridgewater has become a journeyman of sorts after flashing early on in his NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings.
Since his Pro Bowl season in 2015, the QB has played for five teams, most recently for Miami Dolphins on a one-year, $6.5 million deal.
He may have only played in two games in place of starter of Tua Tagovailoa last year, but Bridgewater isn’t that far removed from a near full season with the Denver Broncos in 2021.
Posting a 7-7 record as a Broncos starter, the QB completed 66.9% of his passes for 3,052 yards and 18 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
His 15-game stint with the Carolina Panthers in 2020 saw a similar showing from Bridgewater outside of his 4-11 mark as a starter.
Bridgewater would also give Petzing another familiar face to work with given they spent 2014-17 together in Minnesota.
The OC served as an assistant wide receivers coach during Bridgewater’s Vikings tenue before Petzing took on assistant QBs coach duties in 2018.
Heinicke presents another strong free-agent option for Arizona to consider.
After three years with the Washington Commanders, Heinicke hits the open market likely looking for a fresh start after sharing starting reps with Carson Wentz for the majority of the season.
Going 5-3-1 in nine starts last year, Heinicke completed 62.2% of his passes for 1,859 yards and 12 touchdowns to six interceptions. He also rushed for 96 yards and a score on 28 carries.
From a connections standpoint, Heinicke has more than a couple within Arizona’s new regime.
In addition to working with Cardinals new passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Drew Terrell in Washington (2020-22) and Carolina (2018), Heinicke was a member of the Vikings (2015-16) the same time Petzing and Gannon were aboard.
Heinicke was also on the New England Patriots (2017) during the same time Ossenfort was serving as the team’s director of college scouting.
While he’s a name Arizona should consider, Heinicke could also still be in Washington’s future plans given its recent release of Wentz.
Minshew would be a cheap option with Gannon ties from their time in Philadelphia together (2021-22).
It would also give the QB some more time to take in what the desert has in store.
Mayfield was a member of the Browns the same time Petzing served as Cleveland’s tight ends coach from 2020-21.
The inconsistencies are there but Mayfield has flashed in the past and it would reunite him with his former college teammate in Murray.
Another free-agent QB with prior ties, the 10-year vet worked with Petzing in Minnesota in 2017 and in Cleveland from 2020-21.