Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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What Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, other veteran quarterbacks will bring to their new NFL teams in 2024

While we didn’t see a super-busy veteran quarterback carousel this offseason like we did a few years ago, a small collection of marquee, established veterans will play in new locales this upcoming season. 

Of course, Kirk Cousins signed another fully guaranteed deal, this time with the Falcons. Gardner Minshew, who got an exceedingly long and mostly successful starter audition with the Colts in 2023, is now with the Raiders. Russell Wilson and Justin Fields will have a very intriguing quarterback battle in Pittsburgh. 

Drew Lock is going to back up Daniel Jones, right? RIGHT?! Same with Sam Howell for Geno Smith in Seattle. For the heck of it, I’ve included each of those strong-armed passers in this article, because there’s at least a reasonable chance they play more than mop-up snaps in 2024. 

What will these veteran passers bring to the field for their new teams? Here’s a breakdown.

What Cousins brings: Stability and consistency to position 

Since the start of 2022, in 25 starts, Cousins had 17 contests with a quarterback rating of at least 90 to just three with a rating under 75. He’s basically the anti-Desmond Ridder. 

Because it was Ridder who, in 19 appearances — 17 starts — over the past two years it Atlanta, had eight games with a rating under 75 to five contests with a rating above 100. 

On a more granular level, before his Achilles injury last season, Cousins had the league’s third-highest rating — 105.8 — from within the pocket. His inside-the-pocket rating of 102.3, starting in 2018 when he joined the Vikings, is the seventh highest in football during that time span. 

Now, we all know about Cousins’ prime-time woes, but I think more than anything else, the Falcons signed Cousins for the stability he’ll undoubtedly bring from inside the pocket, operating the scheme as it was intended. 

In his six seasons in Minnesota, Cousins’ completion rate ranged from 65.9% on a low end to 70.1% at the high end. He was above 7.0 yards per attempt every season, and his yards-per-game average fluctuated from 240 to 290. While not an elite quarterback and a passer with mobility, arm strength and aggressiveness deficiencies that hurt him at times, Cousins is a machine with his above-average steadiness in the production department. 

Now, what the Falcons brass likely envisions is getting “classic” Kirk in 2024 and that being enough to lift the offense to a respectable level unseen since the Matt Ryan era, and that being enough, with an underrated defense, to win a weak NFC South. Much crazier things have happened for teams that missed the playoffs the prior. 

What Wilson brings: Out-of-pocket flair

We all know Wilson isn’t in his prime. Even the highly confident Wilson probably knows that himself. He’s not as frequently making the miraculous plays while escaping he did during the height of his Seahawks tenure. 

But even an expected twilight-of-career regression closer to the mean for Wilson in that now-vital element of playing the quarterback position will make him much more of a weapon when the play breaks down than any of the Steelers quarterbacks since Ben Roethlisberger retired. 

In 2023, Kenny Pickett completed nearly 56% of his throws outside the pocket at a measly 4.8 yards per attempt with one touchdown and no interceptions. Mason Rudolph went 5 of 9 for 14 yards when pushed beyond the friendly confines of the past in his otherwise rock-solid relief appearance last season. 

Wilson threw nine touchdowns (!) without a pick outside the pocket in 2023. He averaged a respectable 8.1 yards per attempt in those scenarios. This can be a new element to Pittsburgh’s offense not seen since the prime Roethlisberger era. 

What Minshew brings: A veteran version of Aidan O’Connell

When it comes to getting rid of the football, Minshew and O’Connell are almost identical. Both had some of the lowest average-time-to-throw rates in football last season. They’re also comparably accurate. Minshew’s adjusted completion rate was 74.2% in 2023. O’Connell’s was 74.0% 

They’re even similarly athletic and have arms that, at best, would be deemed NFL average. 

What Minshew can bring to the Raiders goes beyond the numbers. It’s all about his experience. The week of preparation, the understanding of how defenses will attempt to disguise blitzes and specific coverages in specific scenarios. Sliding protections in certain looks, etc. 

The mental aspect of being a professional quarterback, of course, goes a long way in the NFL, and Minshew can either separate from O’Connell by tapping into the knowledge his experience has provided to him or, simply, imparting that knowledge on O’Connell as he develops entering Year 2.  

What Lock brings: Arm talent, aggression

Lock was a second-round pick in 2019. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he has a second-round arm. He absolutely does not. His arm is first-round caliber, and the aggressiveness switch is permanently turned on when the former Missouri Tiger is on the field. 

The latter should be a welcomed addition to the Giants pass game. Before his injury in 2023, Daniel Jones’ average depth of target (aDOT) was 6.9 yards, tied for the second lowest among 40 qualifying quarterbacks. Even in 2022, when the Giants won a playoff game with Jones as the starter, his aDOT was 6.5, the lowest in football. 

Lock has a cannon, knows that and uses it. His career aDOT on nearly 800 throws is a hefty 9.2 yards, and in two relief appearances plus some late-game duty in 2023, it was 8.5 yards. Why does that matter? Well, of course, being a quality quarterback is significantly more about launching it deep. But, it’s vital to stretch defenses horizontally and vertically, and Lock absolutely can do the latter for the Giants. 

What Howell brings: Dual-threat capability

Howell has yet to see a throw he cannot make. In his 18 starts in the NFL, he has made a number of impressive big-time throws — and interceptions. 

But, in Seattle, Geno Smith has played much more like the West Virginia version of himself than the New York Jets version. Plenty of awe-inspiring tosses to all three levels of the field. I expect Seahawks training camp to have the most underrated aerial displays on a daily basis in the entire NFL. Smith and Howell can really spin it. 

It’s the athleticism where Howell can add a component to the Seahawks offense. While he does need to rein in some of the recklessness as a runner with ball security and health in mind, he absolutely is more of a threat with his legs in his early 20s than Smith is now into his 30s. 

On 48 rushing attempts in Washington last season, Howell forced a whopping 21 missed tackles, the fifth most among all quarterbacks. Smith ran 37 times and forced four missed tackles. The difference on the ground between the two quarterbacks is as clear as day. 

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