Editor's note: Jeff Howe will break down one position of the free-agent class each day. However, free agency won't begin until the NFL has a new collective-bargaining agreement.
Few NFL teams are completely set at quarterback like the Patriots. They've got a franchise quarterback in Tom Brady, and two-year veteran Brian Hoyer has locked down the backup job since his first training camp as a pro.
If the Pats were interested in adding a third quarterback through free agency, they'd likely go with a developmental project who would be happy with learning the ropes with the understanding that he's the clear-cut third-stringer. It's certainly a gamble to only carry two quarterbacks on the active roster, but if the Patriots ever needed to look to their third option, the game's outcome would have been long since decided anyway.
Let's break down the current crop of free-agent quarterbacks.
Head of the Class
1. Bobby Knight has as much of a chance to coach the Colts as Peyton Manning has of leaving Indianapolis, but the fact is that Manning's contract is up. Manning, who turns 35 in March, will likely receive a contract that will surpass the value of Tom Brady's, but if there's a snag in negotiations, there's no stopping a desperate team from trying to steal Manning's services away from Jim Irsay. It would take a colossal mistake on the Colts' part, but they can't take these negotiations for granted.
2. If Michael Vick hit free agency a year ago, it's hard to imagine him getting as much as $10 million. But after the best season of his career — with personal bests of 3,018 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, nine rushing touchdowns and a 62.6 completion percentage — Vick might command as much as $60-75 million, or maybe even more if he's the subject of a bidding war on the open market. It seems likely he'll remain in Philadelphia, but the Eagles should have a better plan than simply falling back on the franchise tag.
Diamond in the Rough
Seneca Wallace has always been an intriguing player, and he performed well as a spot starter in Seattle. Wallace — a mobile quarterback with a 5-9 career record, 4,241 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions — had a brief opportunity last season in Cleveland before suffering an injury that paved the way for rookie Colt McCoy. If Wallace joined a team that had enough of the right pieces in place, such as Minnesota, he could make them a playoff contender.
Fit for New England
At this point, Drew Stanton still looks like a career-long backup unless he can get the right type of teaching and development, and New England could be a good place for him. Hoyer actually took over for Stanton when he left Michigan State, so a reunion could heighten their compete level, which could yield some nice results for each backup.
1. Donovan McNabb will almost certainly be released by the Redskins after he signed a bizarre, big-money contract midway through the 2010 season. After a controversial season in which McNabb was benched for Rex Grossman, it would make sense for the Redskins to part ways and save some bank.
2. Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, will enter free agency after six tumultuous seasons with the 49ers. He will sign somewhere as a backup with the hopes of emerging after an injury.
3. Bruce Gradkowski might be a good option as a backup. Despite being limited by injuries, he's got a reputation as a tough player who has earned the respect of his teammates.
4. Matt Hasselbeck's 10th season in Seattle might have been his last, depending on how the Seahawks approach the draft. The 35-year-old is on the last leg of his career, and it wouldn't be shocking if he retired, but he'd be an intriguing option for a team that is looking for some leadership out of a stopgap quarterback.