Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 NFL: Teams that need a quarterback

It’s never too soon for NFL franchises to start looking for their quarterback of the future, even if they already have an established signal caller. Unfortunately, finding a player who can bring sustained stability to the quarterback position is easier said than done. For every Peyton Manning there is a Ryan Leaf, and not every sixth round pick turns out to be Tom Brady.

I will argue that quarterback is the most important position on an NFL roster, and few would disagree. Gone are the days of running backs grinding out yards and defenses preserving victories. If a team wants to be successful, they need an elite quarterback.

Of the 32 NFL teams, I counted 12 that have questions at quarterback. Some teams – like the Vikings, Cardinals and 49ers – are desperate, while teams such as the Browns, Bills and Jaguars may only be browsing this off season.

Carolina Panthers
That deflating sound you heard wasn’t the Metrodome collapsing, it was Panthers fans reacting to the news that Andrew Luck will stay at Stanford for another year. The Panthers were reportedly prepared to take Luck with the first overall pick in April’s NFL draft, but will now be forced to look elsewhere. Carolina does have two young quarterbacks in Jimmy Clausen (rookie) and Matt Moore (free agent). The Panthers could use a veteran quarterback, but with all their needs and a new head coach (Ron Rivera), I don’t know if they’d be willing to part ways with any of their draft picks. With a young QB in Clausen already on the roster, 34-year-old free agent Marc Bulger could be a good fit in Carolina.

Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals and superstar Larry Fitzgerald Jr. have reportedly started talks to extend his contract. That signals to me that Arizona is ready to bring in a top flight quarterback, either through the draft or free agency, or both. With Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton all seeing action this year – and all failing miserably – Donovan McNabb is certainly in play for the Cardinals, if he’s released by Washington. Also, the Cardinals may be the best fit for Kevin Kolb. Arizona could offer Philadelphia a high second round pick to land the 26-year-old. The way I see it, picking up Kolb for a second round pick is less risky than drafting Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Plus, Arizona could use that #5 pick to draft a defensive player or an offensive lineman.

San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh’s first order of business as head coach will be to find a new quarterback. Alex Smith and Troy Smith are both free agents and neither have played well enough to be considered a starting quarterback candidate for the Niners in 2011. The Niners could be a team that makes a play for Kyle Orton. They could offer a high fourth rounder in exchange for the Broncos QB. The Niners have a ton of playmakers on offense and adding a solid quarterback could bring some much needed consistency to San Francisco’s offense. And you can throw McNabb’s name into the mix thanks to Vernon Davis. The tight end said he’d “love to catch passes from Donovan McNabb.” If the 49ers fail to land a solid veteran, they do also hold the #7 pick in the April draft. Harbaugh could be tempted to nab Gabbert or Newton.

Tennessee Titans
When the Titans take the field in 2011, Jeff Fisher will be playing for his job. Fisher, who is in the last year of his contract, has apparently worn out his welcome in Tennessee. Another guy, who won’t be sticking around for next year, is Vince Young. The Titans have said they will cut the fourth year QB. That leaves the Titans with Rusty Smith, who played late in the season as a rookie, and journeyman Chris Simms. 39-year-old Kerry Collins is a free agent and no cinch to be back in the league next year.

Washington Redskins
In 2010, no team fumbled its quarterback situation worse than the Redskins. Mike Shanahan yanked McNabb from a game against Detroit, where the Skins trailed by six points with 1:50 left in the game. Shanahan said concerns about McNabb’s "cardiovascular endurance" motivated the benching. Shanahan took it a step further once the Redskins were eliminated from the playoffs. He named Rex Grossman the starting quarterback and had McNabb serve as the #3 QB behind John Beck. That discourse will likely lead to a changing of the arms on Washington. The Redskins will almost certainly look to the draft for their quarterback of the future.

Minnesota Vikings
After what turned out to be a disastrous season, on many levels, the Vikings will have a very different look in 2011. Leslie Frazier has replaced Brad Childress as head coach, Brett Favre is resting comfortably in retirement (presumably) in Mississippi and Tarvaris Jackson is no longer the quarterback of the future. In fact, no one on the current roster bears the title of quarterback of the future. Rookie sixth round pick Joe Webb did some nice things in limited action last season, but he’s far from the answer in Minnesota. The Vikings hold the #12 pick in the draft and that might be too late in the first round to grab Gabbert or Newton. The Vikings best shot at drafting a quarterback might come later in the first round, when Jake Locker is expected to be drafted. The senior from Washington has slipped down draft boards, but some still consider him a very solid prospect. The Vikings could trade down from their #12 spot, pick up a later first round pick as well as an extra draft pick in the later rounds, and draft Locker. While Locker could eventually become the Vikings quarterback of the future, he’s too raw to be their quarterback of the present. The Vikings will need to find a veteran quarterback who can be their starter on opening day. By bringing in an established name at quarterback, it shows the franchise is still committed to competing – while also developing a young quarterback. The cheapest option for Minnesota – which also might bring the most reward – is to sign McNabb. If McNabb becomes a free agent, the Vikings won’t have to give up a draft pick to land him. That is important because the Vikings will have one fewer draft pick (third rounder) in April due to the Randy Moss trade. The Vikings have plenty of holes to fill and shipping another draft pick to land Kolb or Orton would further complicate their roster rebuilding.

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins thought they had their quarterback of the future in Chad Henne. But after his miserable 2010, the Dolphins may be looking elsewhere for a signal caller. Miami has the #15 pick in the draft and could be tempted to take a quarterback in that slot. Miami will have more glaring needs, including at running back where Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown both might out in Miami. I don’t think Henne is going anywhere and I expect him to be the Dolphins starter next year.

Buffalo Bills
Once upon a time the Bills were desperately seeking a quarterback. Now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is their guy. End of story.

Seattle Seahawks
I have never been more convinced than I am right now that Matt Hasselbeck will be back in Seattle. Hasselbeck was great in the Seahawks playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, throwing four touchdown passes. His performance proved he can still play at a high level. Also, Hasselbeck said recently that the team is still learning Pete Carroll’s system. He sounded like a guy who was re-energized. However, Seattle may look to the draft to get their quarterback of the future. Jake Locker would be a perfect fit in Seattle. He grew up in Washington, played his college ball at the University of Washington and is already considered a legend in that area of the country. Locker could be available late in the first round when the Seattle is on the clock.

Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are without a first round pick this year, which means they won’t be there to provide us with their annual first round shocker. Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski split time at quarterback for the Raiders this year, neither put their stamp on the job. I will forgo trying to figure out what the Raiders will do at the quarterback position, but I believe Campbell and Gradkowski will be in the mix. And don’t count out Vince Young coming to the Bay Area.

Cleveland Browns
It’s hard to say if the Browns have their quarterback of the future in Colt McCoy. The rookie McCoy played more than expected this year after injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. I believe Cleveland is satisfied enough with McCoy that they will pass on taking a quarterback this draft, especially with #6 overall pick. Look for the same bunch of QBs to be back in Cleveland.

Jacksonville Jaguars
If you don’t think David Garrard is an elite quarterback, just ask his head coach, he’ll agree with you. Jack Del Rio doesn’t consider his QB to be elite, but Garrard did just wrap up one of his best seasons as a pro. Garrard is not flashy and after nine seasons, his career might be nearing an end. With the #15 pick in the draft, the Jaguars probably miss out on the Mallett, Gabbert, Newton trio. The fifteenth pick is too high to draft Locker, so the Jags are in limbo. If Jacksonville does see their future quarterback in this draft class, they will need to move up in the draft or move down. Also, don’t be surprised if Vince Young’s name gets mentioned as a potential back-up to Garrard.

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