Top 10 available QBs
The best of a weak crop of potential free agents
Posted: Wednesday February 16, 2005 4:34PM; Updated: Wednesday February 16, 2005 5:51PM

Late winter is a dangerous time for quarterbacks with big salaries. The announcements that Jeff Garcia and Drew Bledsoe will be cut have brought the 2005 free-agent crop into focus for the handful of teams that need either a starter or an experienced backup to mentor a young QB.

The two most exciting free agents, San Diego's Drew Brees and Seattle's MattHasselbeck, likely will re-sign with their current teams, so they don't make the shopping list. That leaves several players on the downside or the very last breath of their careers.

They may not be the pick of the litter, but many teams have won Super Bowls with former castaways. With an eye toward that diamond in the rough, here's the top 10 most attractive potential free-agent quarterbacks in 2005.

1. Brian Griese: After starting the season as the third QB, Griese compiled a 97.5 passer rating in 11 games with the Bucs last season, proving to be an efficient quarterback in JonGruden's system. But he's due a $6 million bonus in March and the Bucs need to renegotiate that deal in the next couple of weeks or cut him. Griese's success last year did a lot to erase the memories of his disastrous tenure in Miami and his troublesome demise in Denver. Of all the players on this list, the 29-year-old Griese has the best upside. At his best, he's the kind of QB that doesn't make mistakes and can run an offense efficiently, in the same vain as his old Michigan teammate Tom Brady.

2. Drew Bledsoe: His numbers plummeted steadily during three years in Buffalo, from 4,359 passing yards in 2001 to 2,932 last year. But those numbers are a reflection of the change in offensive philosophy more than a decline in Bledsoe's talent. And since Peerless Price left for Atlanta in 2003, Bledsoe hasn't had a secondary receiving threat to complement Eric Moulds. Bledsoe's arm strength is still there, and he's never been able to run, so his 33-year-old legs aren't really an issue. Since Buffalo announced it would release him, there's rampant speculation Bledsoe will be reunited with Bill Parcells in Dallas, where he'd be a spring chicken compared to the last quarterback, Vinny Testaverde (see No. 10).

3. Jeff Garcia: We learned two things about Garcia from his performance in Cleveland in 2004. First, he can't play in a system that isn't similar to the *****' West Coast attack. Secondly, he must have had some talent to run San Francisco's offense, because the ***** couldn't move the ball without him. OK, the Niners also missed Terrell Owens, but don't discount Garcia's achievements -- three Pro Bowls and an average of 3,281 passing yards per season over five years in San Francisco. For teams that run West Coast offenses, Garcia seems like a decent risk as a starter and a great option as a backup. His former team, the *****, and his former coach SteveMariucci's team, the Lions, seem like viable options, as is Tampa Bay, which flirted with signing Garcia last offseason.

4. Kelly Holcomb: With Garcia gone, the Browns appear to be interested in re-signing Holcomb, although an interested team certainly could make a run at the unrestricted free agent. The eight-year veteran had some bright moments in Cleveland -- including a 429-yard performance against the Steelers in the 2002 playoffs -- but he struggled when he finally beat out Tim Couch in the battle for the No. 1 spot. Holcomb may not have the strongest arm, but he's accurate underneath, which can set up longer plays. The Browns should reveal their intentions toward Holcomb soon, otherwise he'd be best served taking a job as a backup in a situation where the starter is shaky.

5. Kurt Warner: The 2004 season answered the lingering question of whether Warner could ever regain the form he had during the glory days in St. Louis. He can't. But all the news wasn't bad last season. The Giants were 5-4 with Warner starting and 1-7 after they benched him. He completed 62 percent of his passes and threw for 2,058 yards in nine starts -- numbers that might have looked pretty good in an entire season. If New York had stuck with Warner instead of rookie Eli Manning, it might have had a good chance of finishing at least 8-8 and sneaking into the playoffs. Warner, however, has lost the ability to throw touchdowns -- he has just 10 over his last 19 games, compared to 16 INTs during that stretch. But Warner might be interesting on a team with better receivers than the Giants, and there are at least 30 teams that qualify.

6. Brad Johnson: The 36-year-old Johnson will either be a great backup or a decent short-term answer after Tampa Bay releases him in the next couple of weeks. After 13 years in the league, a team isn't going to get any surprises with Johnson. In the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl run, Johnson displayed what he could do best -- accurate short-to-mid-range passing, smart decisions and leadership. The most obvious fit appears to be Arizona, since coach Dennis Green is comfortable with Johnson, his former QB in Minnesota.

7. Rich Gannon: Gannon may never be able to return from the neck/vertebrae injury that sidelined him last season, and if he does, he won't be a Raider because of the $8 million he's due this season. The general consensus is the 39-year-old QB should hang up the cleats, but Gannon has made a career of defying expectations. He didn't become a regular starter until he was 34 and he earned an MVP at age 35. Gannon might figure he hasn't had the normal wear and tear of a QB his age and give it another shot. Expect lots of talk about Gannon reuniting with Gruden in Tampa Bay, although the Bucs haven't said anything to imply that might happen.

8. Jay Fiedler: The 33-year-old Fiedler will be released by the Dolphins before March 1 and will get plenty of attention as a backup. He won't draw any interest as a potential starter, since there is little upside for a QB like Fiedler. He's a smart veteran who can win when he's not the focal point of the offense. Don't read too much into the problems the Dolphins had this season. Fiedler, who started seven games in '04, was behind one of the worst lines in the NFL and had no running game to distract defenses.

9. Kordell Stewart: If you can't even get on the field when Kyle Boller is your team's starting QB, you have issues. Stewart hasn't had a Slash-like season since 2001, and at 32, he no longer merits consideration as a potential starter. He did, however, show signs of his old self in the preseason with the Ravens last year and there's at least a chance he's got a comeback somewhere in him. And he could easily beat everyone on this list in a foot race.

10. Vinny Testaverde: Vinny started out OK in 2004 before running out of steam as the Cowboys' season unraveled. Dallas hasn't seriously pursued re-signing the unrestricted free agent, and Testaverde hasn't given any indications he's going to retire. There seems to be a perfect fit out there for the 41-year-old: the New York Jets. Coach Herman Edwards was comfortable with him as a backup behind Chad Pennington up until last season, and they need veteran help because of the seriousness of Pennington's shoulder injury.