The second in a series of articles focused on team needs by position, I’m taking a look at how teams should approach the most important position on the roster: the quarterback. This series chooses a different approach: we don’t go team-by-team to look at needs, but position-by-position so that we really know how valuable each pool of players will be.
Once again, it’ll be broken into tiers of need so we can look at who needs an immediate impact player like Teddy Bridgewater or a potential long-term, late-round backup like Aaron Murray or a developmental prospect with potential latent talent like Logan Thomas.
This doesn’t mean that teams who need an immediate upgrade at quarterback should necessarily invest in a draft pick (although that may be an option)—some teams that need quarterback work are too late in the draft order to pick a quarterback without a heavy buy-in and might rather pursue free agency options like Michael Vick or Josh McCown.
Naturally this isn’t a list of the desirability of a team’s quarterback situation, but instead a list of the nature of the offseason moves they’ll have to make.
New Starter Needed
Jacksonville Jaguars (#1 QB Need)
The Jaguars have had the worst three-year stretch of play passing the ball since they drafted Blaine Gabbert, who has been beyond disappointing to say the least. More than that, he hasn’t even been able to stay healthy enough to start sixty percent of games. There has been no sign of improvement, and even signs he’s gotten worse over the years. The Jaguars may need to work on other parts of their team (like protecting a new QB), but quarterback is the top priority. Even if they wanted to keep Chad Henne (they don’t), he’s a free agent come March regardless.
Minnesota Vikings (#2 QB Need)
The Vikings have more problems on the other side of the ball, but nothing would improve the team more than upgrading the team with one of the worst combined passing performances in the NFL, and with two quarterbacks leaving and a new head coach coming in, to boot. Other teams had worse quarterback play than the Vikings, but unlike those teams there is no immediate recourse to improve the position.
Houston Texans (#3 QB Need)
Case Keenum showed promise and Matt Schaub isn’t nearly as bad as his numbers this year would indicate, but neither of them can take the team to the next level quite like the best quarterback of a solid draft can. Houston had the worst passing year of any team not named Jacksonville and didn’t show signs of improvement like some of the other teams did. Bill O’Brien won’t want to be defined by Keenum or Schaub and the offense already has the pieces to win.
St. Louis Rams (#4 QB Need)
At this point it’s difficult to trust Sam Bradford to be efficient with the football or healthy enough to prove he can be the franchise’s answer. It is unlikely that the Rams would cut him (it would cost over $7M in dead space). In four years, he’s shown improvement, but it’s been scant. Kellen Clemens is hitting the market, which means even if they do believe Bradford is a late, late bloomer, they will need a backup to come in. This could either mean someone who is drafted to compete with him, or a veteran free agent.
Oakland Raiders (#5 QB Need)
Both Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor have surprised this season with the quality of their play, but neither has been consistent. Pryor has occasionally been brilliant—like against divisional rivals San Diego and Denver—but has also been abysmal, including a winning but lucky effort against Pittsburgh that started off with one long run and nothing else. McGloin showed off against Houston and fell flat against San Diego. Between the two of them, there’s not a terrible chance that one could be a franchise quarterback. But it’s not one Reggie McKenzie will want to gamble on as the odds are still not in their favor. The team turned out better than experts thought in the NFL’s toughest division and has loads of room to get better.
Tennessee Titans (#6 QB Need)
More driven by Ken Whisenhunt than by Locker’s pure talent or growth curve, it seems unlikely that they’ll move forward with everything invested in the injury-prone signal-caller. Whisenhunt did indicate he wanted to fall into a team that had a settled quarterback situation so things could be more than they seem, but the fact remains that Locker has started 16 games in two seasons and his talent hasn’t been enough to risk a big gamble. Fitzpatrick is perfect as a backup, but he’s not more than that. Locker needs to be challenged or replaced, and that could mean a mid-round quarterback pick like A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger or Jimmy Garoppolo.
Cleveland Browns (#7 QB Need)
The Browns are unlikely to roll with Brandon Weeden as their starting quarterback and have a reasonable hope in Brian Hoyer who is relatively young for a veteran backup at 28-years-old. His career numbers are actually starter quality, but his low game exposure means there are serious questions about whether or not his brief strong play is sustainable. With a new coach coming into town, there’s a decent chance that neither Hoyer nor Weeden will necessarily be handed the starting spot, but Hoyer’s promise isn’t guaranteed and a quarterback to challenge him or set to develop is going to be important for a team that has so many other spots filled.
Veteran Free Agent Needed
New York Jets (#8 QB Need)
Geno Smith showed flashes of brilliance against a variety of defenses, and his poise is commendable as is his adaptation from Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid system in West Virginia. But with those promising sparks have been enormous holes of dead space and poor play. In the aggregate, Smith’s play was among the worst in the NFL. Though entirely excusable because of his inexperience, it’s also not necessarily typical for a rookie and the Jets should invest in a backup plan. Matt Simms is leaving and isn’t very good anyway.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#9 QB Need)
Even with the Buccaneer’s impressive finish to the season, Glennon’s excellent touchdown-to-interception ratio shows all the signs of not being sustainable. His net yards per attempt was the league’s lowest and it wasn’t close. While the offense encouraged poor decisionmaking, he didn’t avail himself well and got away with more than he should have, something that doesn’t always translate into the next season. He was put into favorable position by an underrated defense (ranked sixth in points per drive given up) and that won’t be enough in the future. Glennon might have the tools needed to be the face of the franchise, but Lovie Smith should have a backup plan well in place.
Cincinnati Bengals (#10 QB Need)
Having raised quite a few questions already, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much to silence his detractors in the playoffs and may have already hit a ceiling. There’s no question he’s getting better but it doesn’t seem to be quick enough to take advantage of a weak AFC North and phenomenal defense. Hope isn’t lost for Dalton by any means, but he’ll have to cut down on poor decisionmaking far sooner. Josh Johnson won’t push him for his starting spot, so if Dalton falters, the Bengals will need to find someone to either light a fire under Dalton or replace him entirely.
Developmental Starter Needed
Arizona Cardinals (#11 QB Need)
Carson Palmer did a better-than-expected job for the Cardinals, but with a top five defense and no playoff berth, they’ll need to do better. Palmer is a perfect fit for the Arians/Goodwin offense, but is wont to take too many chances, which limited the opportunities to score despite excellent scoring position. Arizona is built right now to win with what they have, but they could do better. It might cost too much for them to consider benching a starting-quality player for a rookie, but they would do well to grab a player in the draft ready to start in two or three seasons.
Chicago Bears (#12 QB Need)
Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer had an immediate impact on the offense and improved Jay Cutler’s play to a high level and backup Josh McCown’s play to a near-elite level. After rumors that McCown would retire after having far and away his best statistical season yet, he affirmed his commitment to playing and hinting that he might leave in free agency, something general manager Phil Emery acknowledged. The need for a backup and a player to take over are related to the same thing: despite Cutler’s age (30 now, 31 by the beginning of the next season), he’s taken too many hits to be counted on as durable for a full season stretch or for the long haul. In addition, his hefty contract might encourage the Bears to be more protective and more willingly play a backup. Without McCown in town, the new backup will have to come from elsewhere and ready not just to relieve Cutler in the short-term, but replace him in the long run.
Kansas City Chiefs (#13 QB Need)
There’s no reason to get rid of Alex Smith, who did just enough in a new offense to bring the Chiefs to the brink of a divisional game, but Jamaal Charles will hit his peak age in just a few years and it would be enormous if the Chiefs could have a player ready to complement him through the air by then. There are cap issues on the offense and some holes to fill before they can consider grabbing a blue-chip quarterback, but developmental players are primed to do well under Andy Reid. Someone like Tajh Boyd or Logan Thomas could learn under Reid and compete with Chase Daniel in order to make an impact just as Peyton leaves the division.
Immediate Backup Needed
Baltimore Ravens (#14 QB Need)
Joe Flacco had a bad season and his contract may have been a bad decision, but the Ravens are locked in and they might as well be—Flacco is unlikely to continue playing at this poor level, especially if the Ravens invest in the rest of the offense. More worrisome is the fact that Tyrod Taylor may not be enough to be a viable backup, especially if Flacco does not return to form. Taylor was up and down in the preseason, and his showing against the Patriots at the end of the season was awful. If he continues to play slow, they’ll need to find a viable replacement.
New Orleans Saints (#15 QB Need)
At first glance, it might seem ridiculous to think that New Orleans is in more need of a quarterback than half the league, but the question isn’t about Brees’ talent, but the depth on the roster. Luke McCown is about to enter free agency and isn’t particularly good anyway. Adding to that is the fact that Brees will be 36 to end the next season and may start flagging or becoming prone to injury. His style of play protects him given his decisiveness and quick release, but it’s a significant issue when an already-questionable backup walks away.
Atlanta Falcons (#1 QB Need)
Matt Ryan is a relatively durable quarterback who’s only 28, so there’s no reason to th6ink he would need a backup more than the average quarterback, but it is surprising that the Falcons have been willing to have Dominique Davis be the primary backup to Ryan given that he didn’t enter the NFL with much talent and doesn’t have much upside either. The Falcons don’t have a quarterback behind Davis, even signed to a futures contract. There’s little risk that Davis will threaten an offense or even manage a winning game well, and if Ryan goes down, Atlanta better hope they have a strong running game.
Green Bay Packers (#17 QB Need)
Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn are bad, and the team is built around the quarterback. Rodgers is relatively young for an elite quarterback and has taken far fewer hits due to his late start but still has missed time because of injury. The situation to replace them is not as urgent as in New Orleans, because their backups are still on contract, but Green Bay stands more to lose than most if their quarterback goes out. They’ll grab either a veteran backup (of which there will be many), or a late-round prospect primed to run the offense in a pinch.
San Diego Chargers (#18 QB Need)
Charlie Whitehurst is set to leave the Chargers while Philip Rivers attempts to reclaim his career. After an incredible season as perhaps the second- or third-best performing quarterback in the NFL, Rivers might be safe for a few more years yet (he’s 32), but Whitehurst wouldn’t be the quarterback to fill in should things go awry. Aside from the fact that he’s hitting free agency at nearly the same age as Rivers but without a resume, he’s been spectacularly bad in his career even for a backup. Brad Sorenson likely won’t be able to adopt backup duties, so the Chargers will need to fill Whitehurst’s spot.
San Francisco 49ers (#19 QB Need)
The 49ers do not seem particularly interested in retaining Colt McCoy’s services, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson will likely never be ready for NFL play given how long he’s bounced around the league. The 49ers well know the value of a good backup and may want to consider it a priority position in the offseason given the dearth of talent behind Kaepernick and the potential risks of his playing style.
Carolina Panthers (#20 QB Need)
There seems to be a good chance that the Panthers aren’t chomping at the bit to re-sign backup Derek Anderson and may want to find someone who can fit into Cam Newton’s role in the offense in order to keep the same playbook should Newton ever go down. There aren’t a lot of size/speed matches in the draft, but there are a number of folks in the NFL and the upcoming draft that can at least run a similar offense. The Panthers would be wise to target them given that they don’t have a third option at QB.
Developmental Backup Needed
Dallas Cowboys (#21 QB Need)
Kyle Orton is a fine backup quarterback and should do well for the Cowboys should Tony Romo suffer another injury, but both Romo and Orton are aging (Romo will be 34 and Orton will be 32) and their third backup option seems to be a substitute teacher. Romo likely has a few years left and Orton more, but they should consider grooming another option even if it just means backing up the next Cowboys franchise quarterback.
Philadelphia Eagles (#22 QB Need)
Perhaps the most surprising year came from Nick Foles, who came in functionally as mop-up duty for Michael Vick and outperformed everybody. His numbers exaggerate his skill, but it’s clear that the Eagles seem to have settled on their quarterback of the future. Behind him is Matt Barkley, who can be adapted too easily within the scheme and should be a capable QB2. There is no third quarterback, but it is not unreasonable to see GJ Kinne (who signed a futures contract) take the spot, as he possesses many of the same traits as Foles. Still, the Eagles can do better and have the room to develop three potent weapons at quarterback if they manage it carefully.
Indianapolis Colts (#23 QB Need)
Andrew Luck isn’t known to play recklessly and has a good build to take hits, but the number of dropbacks they ask him to take puts more a toll on his body than most quarterbacks (he’s had the same number of dropbacks as Peyton Manning in the last two years, but has been sacked twice as often and hit even more), and they have 38-year-old Matt Hasselbeck behind him. An extremely solid backup that has a few more years left in him, he probably couldn’t take the punishment that Luck does. They should consider developing a backup to Luck as he takes the reins of the franchise.
Detroit Lions (#24 QB Need)
Shaun Hill is hitting free agency, but recently affirmed his commitment to the Lions and a desire not to retire so the need for a backup isn’t immediate. Nevertheless, it should be one of the key personnel decisions the Lions will need to consider as they prepare their offseason plans. Hill is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL (and seems content with that) but every year is another one he flirts with retirement. Kellen Moore is functionally the opposite of Matthew Stafford as a quarterback and it is unlikely he will be able to run the same offense should it come to that.
New England Patriots (#25 QB Need)
Rumors of a Ryan Mallett trade have swirled around the NFL for as long as he’s been on the roster and the Pats have kept him despite the implied market. If they do choose to trade him to avowed fan Bill O’Brien with the Texans, things will change, but for now the Patriots will need to find another developmental player instead of a plug-and-play backup. At 36, Brady seems to be aging a little faster than his contemporary in Denver and has been declining (slowly) qualitatively and statistically. While much of it can be attributed to his supporting cast, one has to wonder if the Patriots might want to find Mallett’s backup soon instead of Brady’s.
Seattle Seahawks (#26 QB Need)
Despite an expiring contract, both the Seahawks and Tarvaris Jackson seem happy with their arrangement and will probably continue it. Jackson is 30 and not likely to find himself obsolete soon, but the Seahawks can do better. Jackson has improved significantly since his days in Minnesota and his earlier stint in Seattle as a starter, but a team as dominant as the Seahawks will also want a top-tier backup so they don’t derail their chances if things should go sideways. At any rate, the potential salary cap issues the team might face in the next three years makes investing in a vet as a backup a bit riskier than it needs to be.
Washington Redskins (#27 QB Need)
If a trade for Kirk Cousins isn’t orchestrated before the draft, it might never be. New head coach Jay Gruden has affirmed Griffin’s place as the starter and that makes Cousins a highly coveted and useful backup. There’s all the reason to believe that Griffin will return to form next year, but at some point one of the two quarterbacks is going to be too valuable to keep. Should that be the case, they’ll need a solution waiting in the wings. Rex Grossman is hitting free agency and shouldn’t be that solution at any rate.
Backup Competition Needed
Pittsburgh Steelers (#28 QB Need)
Roethlisberger has already hit the peak of his career and may decelerate faster than other quarterbacks given how he plays and the injuries he’s accumulated over the years. They drafted Landry Jones in the fourth round of the draft last year and it may be the case that much of his pocket pressure issues have been resolved. Nevertheless, given the propensity of Steelers backup QBs to play, it will be important to make sure Jones is right for the job, and a competition might be the best way. The most likely scenario would be an undrafted free agent.
New York Giants (#29 QB Need)
Eli Manning had a terrible year, but it’s unlikely he was playing to his true talent level and he should bounce back next year. If he doesn’t calls for his backup could get louder, and they won’t be for Curtis Painter. Ryan Nassib was drafted, like Jones, in the fourth round of the draft and shares a number of skills with Manning that make him a good fit. But if Manning continues his poor play, Nassib might be forced in too early. Grabbing some insurance right after the draft in free agency will help.
Denver Broncos (#30 QB Need)
Coming off of one of the most impressive offensive performances in NFL history and with a second-round quarterback to back him up, Peyton Manning seems to be leading an offensive situation that could not be better. But at 37, Manning’s career will end sooner rather than later and Osweiler might have to take the reins. That may be fine if the Broncos are comfortable with it, but Zac Dysert as a primary backup would be disconcerting. He is probably better than a street free agent or an undrafted free agent in the coming years, but the Broncos should keep their eyes peeled for hidden gems.
Buffalo Bills (#31 QB Need)
If both EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb can stay healthy for 2014, then the only issue is having Jeff Tuel on the roster. He may develop in a significant way by the time the season starts next year, but what the Bills saw was not good even for a third-string quarterback. The Bills do not need to challenge or replace either Manuel or Kolb and both look to be set for some time, so the only real question is the third quarterback.
Miami Dolphins (#32 QB Need)
The Dolphins could rise from #32 to #2 within the year, but for right now have very few moves they need to make. They have a young quarterback (who has hit a rut) who will be the presumed starter without the need to challenge his spot as well as a veteran who’s young enough to stay on the roster for some time and under contract. More than that, he’s incredibly capable as a backup and played better than many starters when he had extended responsibilities in 2011. Devlin was a good fit for the previous offensive coordinator, but nevertheless has game management skills. He’s not great, and could easily be beaten out by other third quarterbacks, but neither is he bad for the situation.