Free agent QB crop is thin

TAMPA — Alex Smith, the 49ers' veteran quarterback made suddenly expendable by the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, is expected to be traded to the Chiefs after the sides agreed to a deal last week, reportedly for a second-round pick this year and a pick of similar value in 2014.

As NFL trades go, this is what you might call a coup for San Francisco, unloading a player for whom it had no plans, receiving two prime draft picks in return.

That the Chiefs would make this move in spite of the 49ers' limited leverage underscores the reality of the free-agent quarterback market. Pickings will be slim when the NFL's free-agent signing period opens next week. Teams in the market for quarterbacks have been forced to consider other means of acquiring them — because the free-agent class is so unimpressive (to put it nicely).

This brings us to the Bucs. They might be in the market for a quarterback because, they say, you can't have enough competition. And considering quarterback Josh Freeman's uneven play in many games last season, he remains somewhat enigmatic despite posting some of the best numbers of his career.

But when it comes to bringing in someone to legitimately compete for the starting job, conventional wisdom says that such a quarterback wouldn't come from this class of free agents.

And that might not be the Bucs' goal anyway. Last month at the NFL combine, coach Greg Schiano offered his biggest vote of confidence, saying, "Josh Freeman is our quarterback … and I believe that with Josh Freeman we'll be able to accomplish our goals."

The Bucs also have backup Dan Orlovsky under contract, which is significant. He has almost as much starting experience as some of the other quarterbacks on the market.

Still, none of that prevents the Bucs from looking to augment the position. So, here's a sampling of quarterbacks to watch in the free-agent market when the signing period begins March 12:

Top of the class

Matt Moore, Dolphins

He's not an answer as a long-term solution for a club unstable at quarterback, but he might be a temporary fix. Moore never has had much talent around him, but he has managed to show some ability. The Dolphins appear to want him back, but with 2012 top pick Ryan Tannehill firmly installed as the starter, Moore might opt for a more competitive situation and could find it in this market.

Price: $$

Jason Campbell, Bears

He's far removed from his best seasons, in 2008 and 2009 with the Redskins, but as backups or stopgaps go, he's not a bad option. Campbell could be on the radar of teams with questionable starters who might want to open the job for competition.

Price: $$

David Garrard, free agent

Don't laugh. In August, when he sustained a knee injury, he was on his way to becoming the Dolphins' starter, ahead of Moore and Tannehill. By the time his injury healed, teams had moved on with their seasons. Given this market and his past success, Garrard's a more attractive option than most. He won't win single-handedly, but he might not cost you games, either.

Price: $$

Rest of the field

Drew Stanton, Colts — $

David Carr, Giants — $

Matt Leinart, Raiders — $

Charlie Batch, Steelers — $

Brady Quinn, Chiefs — $

Derek Anderson, Panthers — $

Josh Johnson, free agent — $

Bucs: Best guess

Because the free agent quarterback market is so devoid of good options, the Bucs — and most teams — might prefer to look to the draft. While there aren't many sure-fire starting quarterbacks there, either, the draft has some intriguing talents that might be available in middle and later rounds.

Additional trades aren't out of the question, either — Seattle's Matt Flynn might draw some offers — but the Bucs aren't desperate at quarterback and likely won't engage in such talks.

Key

$ = under $2M/year

$$ = $2-5M/year

$$$ = $5-7M/year

$$$$ = $7-10M/year

$$$$$ = More than $10M/year

Free agent QB crop is thin 03/04/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 10:36pm]

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