If the Wheels Fall Off, Vikings Have One Notable QB Option Among NFL Free Agents

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Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORKCredit: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ask Kevin O’Connell and he’ll tell you that the NFL is an unpredictable place. The Vikings have done their best to provide themselves with sufficient QB depth, but sometimes a team is left scrambling.

Just look at the 2023 Vikings as an example.

“Most importantly, we played four [quarterbacks] last year,” O’Connell explained on June 12th, “including one guy who was not in our building throughout the offseason or training camp and relied on him to come in and win a game and then try to play it out from there. So I have total understanding of we only control so much in this whole thing.”

O’Connell has first-hand experience of getting his QB hierarchy tossed into a blender. If the wheels fall off again for QB health, who is available to Minnesota?

Vikings Have One Notable Name Left at QB Among Free Agents

In 2023, the quarterback who never gets hurt got hurt.

Kirk Cousins never missed time due to injury. The veteran was getting up there in age and had been through some thunderous hits but always displayed remarkable toughness. But then, of course, there was the non-contact injury that ended his season. In Week 8, Cousins tore his Achilles and he would never play another snap for the Vikings. He’s now a Falcon.

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Minnesota thus moved through a QB trio of Joshua Dobbs, Nick Mullens, and Jaren Hall. All three of those QBs took turns moving up and down the depth chart, all getting starts and all getting benched at different points. It was a wild ride, one Minnesota would gladly avoid in 2024 if at all possible.

And yet we know that the NFL is often a cruel place. Injuries do happen even as every provision is made to avoid them. Could the Vikings be forced to dip into free agency for QB help at some point? If so, who is available?

At this stage, the options aren’t great, but there’s one name that stands out: Ryan Tannehill. He came to mind recently due to Chris Simms’ QB ranking. Sitting at #33 is Sam Darnold; sitting at #30 is J.J. McCarthy. Sandwiched in between? Tannehill at #31 (as well as Indianapolis passer Anthony Richardson at #32).

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Now, the argument here isn’t that Minnesota is on the cusp of doing a deal with Ryan Tannehill. Quite the opposite is true. The Vikings are moving full steam ahead with this QB hierarchy:

  • QB1: Sam Darnold
  • QB2: J.J. McCarthy
  • QB3: Nick Mullens
  • QB4: Jaren Hall

In all likelihood, Minnesota is going into Week 1 with a trio of passers taken out of that quartet. Best guess is that Mr. Mullens — a strong backup who can win with the right team around him — gets shipped out in a trade.

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The point, folks, is simply that a look at the available options at quarterback isn’t super inspiring. Tannehill’s name stands out since he’s had some relatively recent success. O’Connell recently discussed how the future is unpredictable and how Minnesota had a QB1 in the middle of their 2023 season who wasn’t even on the roster during the offseason.

In other words, strange things can happen, even if they’re very unlikely. Anyone who has followed the Vikings for the past 10-15 years can tell tall tales about QB situations involving Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Case Keenum, Donovan McNabb, Kellen Mond, Sean Mannion, and so on.

The broader point, then, is that Ryan Tannehill is a notable name if no reason other than being perhaps the top free agent option at the game’s most important position. The PFF grades were elite back in 2019-20 before dwindling down to respectable in more recent years.

Gets the CNN
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Tannehill, 36 at the end of July, played in eight games last year while completing 64.8% of his passes for 1,616 yards. His 4 touchdowns against 7 interceptions were brutal, but the Titans weren’t exactly operating with a loaded offense.

His most recent contract was a four-year commitment that was tipping the scales at $118 million. Whoever signs Mr. Tannehill will be doing so on a considerably more modest deal. He’ll likely only get a single-season, backup deal with the team that does business with him.

The Vikings are moving ahead with a QB quartet that should leave them well-positioned for the various curve balls that 2024 has to offer. If, however, the depth gets thin, then free agency isn’t offering too many players who have accomplished more than Tannehill.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.