Even though it’s billed as the ultimate team sport, it remains impossible to this day to compete in the NFL without a quarterback. With 2016 in the rear-view, it’s time for teams to evaluate where they stand at the most important position and where they’re going heading into free-agency and the draft.
This offseason presents the most intriguing crop of quarterbacks in recent memory. While Tony Romo will dominate the headlines, Jimmy Garrapolo might fetch a small fortune in trade bounty. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler and Tyrod Taylor could hit the open market. The class of Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and DeShone Kizer resembles the polarizing 2014 class.
Here’s a look at which teams need to upgrade the position.
Sitting Pretty At The Top
There is an embarrassment of riches in New England. Tom Brady has enjoyed three of his best seasons in consecutive years while thoroughly thumbing his nose at conventional rules of age. Jimmy Garoppolo looks to be the crowned jewel of this offseason.
Luck and Wilson have the look and feel of this generation’s Manning-Brady or Marino-Elway. Just entering their primes, the two have their teams squarely positioned to contend every year. Nothing is wrong with Aaron Rodgers. Armed with an unmatched toolbox, Rodgers freelances and discovers new boundaries for the position. He boasts the highest career passer rating in NFL history at 104.1
Locked In For The Foreseeable Future
Matty Ice set the football world ablaze in 2016, conducting the league’s most explosive offense. With everyone around him coming back, he’s poised to repeat next year. He’s still squarely in his prime. Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford really put their names in the MVP conversation for a second there. Both are still young, on ascendant teams, and could improve even more. Stafford has more yards in his first 100 games than any quarterback in NFL history.
There is no reason to believe for a second that Ben Roethlisberger is going anywhere. The presumptive Hall Of Famer is coming off a down year, but remains a top tier signal caller. His injuries have to be a little concerning. Pittsburgh should pursue a more promising backup than Landry Jones.
The Eagles, Cowboys, Titans, and Buccaneers have each secured their franchise quarterbacks in the last two years. Dallas sits in the enviable position of a franchise type quarterback as a trade chip. Prescott is set up for success with one of the most complete offenses in the NFL. He’ll play on an offense with six Pro Bowlers. The Eagles need to give Carson Wentz better receiving options than Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews.
A Hint of Doubt, Maybe
Washington is going to sign Kirk Cousins to an $100 million deal or franchsie tag him in the next month. Throwing nearly 5,000 yards with 25 touchdowns, he’s a plus quarterback at this stage. Still, a hint of doubt remains based on rumors trickling this month.
Andy Dalton seems to be past the inconsistency that plagued his first four years. It’s crazy to imagine how good those early Bengals teams could have been if he played at this level. He won’t win over his critics until Cincinnati finally wins a playoff game. They also have a potential trade chip in AJ McCarron, who displayed promise in relief last season.
The rest of this tier is fine for the present, but needs to keep an eye on the future. Jerry Reese acknowledged that Manning is entering the ‘back nine’ of his career. Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers, still playing at a high level, are year-to-year propositions. These teams need to find better backups than Ryan Nassib, Drew Stanton, and Kellen Clemens. They could look towards finding a successor in the second or third round of the draft in the next couple of years.
If the right guy comes around..
Whether or not Teddy Bridgewater is healthy, Sam Bradford earned the right to start at quarterback in 2017. Leading the league in completion percentage, Bradford actually played more aggressively than in years past with little help.
After another Divisional Round playoff exit, questions began to arise about to ceiling of an Alex Smith-led team. The maligned quarterback is just 7-41-1 in games in which the opposing team scores 24+ points.
Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill have shown that they can play well enough when managed by the system. It’s still too early to give up on Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff.
If the right guy falls in the draft, these teams shouldn’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity. Recent history has shown just how difficult it is to win a Super Bowl without above average quarterback play.
It’s become too hip to make jokes about Brock Osweiler and his contract. Houston is particularly hamstrung because of their financial commitment to their free agency debacle. Tom Savage isn’t the answer. They are a quarterback away from contention.
As Tyrod Taylor won’t restructure his contract, it’s hard for Buffalo to justify taking on a $27 million cap hit for a quarterback who doesn’t read the field clearly. Everybody but Doug Whaley knows that EJ Manuel is a bust.
With Colin Kaepernick presumably voiding his contract this offseason, the 49ers don’t have a returning quarterback in 2017. That seems problematic. The Jets current quarterback depth chart includes two project picks from 2014 and 2015 and two likely free agents. Not good.
While Jacksonville is still behind Bortles, at least publically, they can’t ignore that he’s been a bottom 5 quarterback two of his three years. A trip to Tom House to clean up his delivery won’t fix that.
And of course, the Browns remain on a perpetual carousel of quarterback hell.
These teams figure to have their pick between a top draft pick, be it Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson, or a trade for Jimmy Garrapolo or AJ McCarron.