The overlying idea in the National Football League is that you can’t win a Super Bowl title without an elite QB. Looking at the last eight champions, it’s hard to argue against that logic. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and the brothers Manning have now been joined by Aaron Rodgers as quarterbacks who have delivered their respective franchises at least one title over the past eight seasons.
With six quarterbacks drafted in the first 36 picks of the 2011 NFL Draft, it’s clear that teams place a premium on finding an elite signal caller. The popular opinion states that most of the teams drafting quarterbacks this year overdrafted those prospects; that is, the teams drafted the QBs higher than their talent would suggest they would be selected.
But they had to. The teams that are rising through the ranks to compete for playoff spots, No. 1 seeds and league titles, are doing so thanks to great quarterback play. Matt Ryan has turned the Falcons into a perennial contender, while Josh Freeman has the Buccaneers organization feeling they’re close to competing for another Super Bowl. On the flip side, two teams selecting in the top ten this year could be said to have an above-average QB under center, and one of those guys (Carson Palmer) has publicly said he’s not playing for his team any longer. The other case (the Cowboys) saw the No. 1 QB hurt early in the season.
So six teams, all picking in the top half of the draft, have made an attempt to solve their issues at quarterback. The Panthers chose Cam Newton first overall, the Titans surprised most by taking Jake Locker in the top ten, the Jaguars traded up for Blaine Gabbert, the Vikings reached for Christian Ponder once top options Gabbert and Locker were out of the picture, the Bengals took Andy Dalton to potentially replace Palmer and the 49ers traded up to grab the last potential franchise QB available in Colin Kaepernick.
Let’s look at the teams that still have work to do at the quarterback position. While it’s extremely likely some (and maybe all) of the above quarterbacks will fail to live up to their draft slot, we can cross their teams off the “Looking for a Franchise QB” list — for now. Along with each team, I’ll predict which QB will be targeted to become the face of the franchise at the most important position in football.
The Cardinals enjoyed elite production at the quarterback position through 2009, until Kurt Warner decided to retire. The team wanted to fill his shoes with Matt Leinart, who failed to show any progression since being drafted in 2006, but the underachiever was cut before the season started. That left the most important role on the team to Derek Anderson, who flopped, and then rookies Max Hall and John Skelton, who weren’t any better. The mediocrity meant the Cardinals weren’t able to cash in on the opportunity to win what was the easiest division in the current era of football. This is a team that seems one good QB away from returning to the playoffs, so expect a level of urgency in finding one.
2011 Prediction: Kevin Kolb. The Eagles have made it clear that they want to trade Kolb before losing him in free agency and receiving nothing in return. Lucky for them, Kolb is far and away the best available option to become a franchise QB. That upside should have the Cardinals more than willing to meet the Eagles’ asking price, which will be at least a first-rounder and a mid-rounder in the 2012 NFL Draft. In a division that features only one solid QB (Sam Bradford), Kolb could be just what the Cardinals need to win 9-10 games and return to the playoffs.
The Bills have been playing from behind in the AFC East for what seems like eternity, and things weren’t any better in 2010, as the team landed the third pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. They bypassed the top signal callers in the first round to add to their defense, and did so again at the top of the second round. Luckily, they have a quarterback on the roster that fits well with coach Chan Gailey’s pistol offense in Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, the team still should be on the lookout for a potential franchise quarterback, likely selecting one early in next year’s draft.
2011 Prediction: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Rather than bring in a veteran, the Bills will go to war again this season with Fitzpatrick, who passed for 3,000 and 23 TDs in 13 games while throwing 15 interceptions and adding 269 rushing yards. However, it would be intriguing to see the Bills gamble on Vince Young’s potential for a year.
The Browns selected college overachiever Colt McCoy in the third round of the 2010 draft, though he began the season behind both Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Delhomme and Wallace predictably underwhelmed, and while a look at McCoy’s statistics last season may draw the same conclusion, he actually did an excellent job of keeping the Browns in games and winning a few unexpectedly, including back-to-back victories against the Saints and Patriots early in the season. The performance has earned McCoy a chance to show he can bring an aura of winning to the Browns’ quarterback position.
2011 Prediction: Colt McCoy. Some projected the Browns to go quarterback with their first pick of the 2011 draft, but the team has far more pressing needs than competition for McCoy. He’s never going to be the best fantasy quarterback to own, but McCoy could eventually turn the Browns into a perennial contender in the AFC North if he can stay healthy. The Browns should look for a veteran quarterback to mentor the young starter as his backup, should Delhomme not want the job.
The Broncos new regime decided to turn the page completely during the 2008 season, shipping Jay Cutler to the Bears for Kyle Orton and a bevy of draft picks. Orton immediately made the Broncos look shrewd, winning his first six games as a starter in 2009. The team would underwhelm over the rest of the season before completely tanking in 2010, though Orton performed well statistically throughout the horrible season. Nevertheless, his 3-10 record last year necessitated a change and caused the Broncos organization to go through another overhaul. Will Orton remain the starter moving forward?
2011 Prediction: Tim Tebow. I say Orton’s doomed in Denver. Tebow showed enough at the tail end of last season that the team should feel ready to give him a full-time shot at becoming the franchise quarterback. He’s already turned into the face of the franchise, and his presence on the field would undoubtedly sell more tickets than Mr. Neckbeard under center. Orton’s solid statistics, hot streak in 2009 and manageable contract should make him a quality trading chip, and the Broncos are clearly a team that needs all the help it can get. Keeping both guys around is a luxury the franchise cannot afford.
The Dolphins anointed Chad Henne as their franchise QB in 2009, but two years of mediocre performances have them looking for the Next Big Thing. Completing over 60 percent of his passes each year, Henne wasn’t particularly bad, but he sure wasn’t good either. With a 27:33 TD:INT ratio, Henne appears destined to hold a clipboard. That caused many (including myself) to deduce the team was targeting a QB in the first round of the draft, but that plan fell by the wayside once the Vikings selected Christian Ponder. Now the Dolphins are left to root around for a veteran to “compete with” Henne.
2011 Prediction: Kyle Orton. At just 28 years old, Orton has the potential to give the Dolphins at least five years of good football. He’s compiled a nice 71:48 TD:INT ratio while going 32-30 as a starter. However, before last year’s nothing-can-go-right debacle in Denver, Orton was actually 29-20 as a starter for the Bears and Broncos, never posting a losing season until 2010 as the starter. Numbers like that should entice the Dolphins to move a third-rounder to Denver, who would then sign a capable veteran to play behind Tim Tebow.
The Raiders have been looking for quality play at the quarterback position ever since Rich Gannon took them to Super Bowl XXXVII. The team endured starts from Gannon, Rick Mirer, Marques Tuiasosopo, Kerry Collins, Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter, Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye and, of course, JaMarcus Russell from 2003-2009. In that span the team never won more than five games in a single season. Finally giving up on Russell, the Raiders brought in Jason Campbell, who immediately gave the team a 7-5 record as starter and played a huge role in Oakland’s 8-8 finish. Despite the success, the Raiders were reportedly on the lookout for a quarterback in the 2011 draft, so Campbell’s hold on the job may not be as solid as his numbers would suggest.
2011 Prediction: Jason Campbell. Having failed to bring in a youngster to compete with Campbell, the Raiders should try their hardest to give him 16 starts this season should health allow. He didn’t have a history of winning in Washington, but he’s proven to Oakland he can be good if not great. For an organization that has endured the carousel of failures above, that should be embraced. The pressure will be on to compete for a division title once again.
The Seahawks appear ready to move on from the Matt Hasselbeck era, and current speculation suggests the veteran will not be back with the team. Considering the Seahawks managed to win the NFC West before thumping the heavily-favored Saints in the Wild Card round, the team must feel it’s a playoff contender. However, Charlie Whitehurst hasn’t done anything to suggest he could lead a team to the playoffs and furthermore, he has just 99 NFL pass attempts to his name despite him entering his age-29 season. With a playoff appearance within grasp, the Seahawks aren’t likely to leave their fortunes to such an inexperienced guy. If Hasselbeck doesn’t return, the team will need to add a veteran.
2011 Prediction: Carson Palmer. While the Seahawks would love to get their hands on Kevin Kolb, but the Cardinals may have the inside track. The team would love to pry Palmer away from the Bengals, and while the organization has remained steadfast in their refusal to trade the player, I think common sense will eventually win out (this time). Considering the addition of a talented QB could make the Seahawks the prohibitive favorite in the West, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them make an offer Cincinnati can’t (or shouldn’t) refuse.
The Redskins decided to move on from Jason Campbell after he failed to deliver on his first-round draft slot, and they acquired one of the best QBs in football over the last decade to become the team’s new quarterback. Alas, Donovan McNabb looked to be a shell of his former self, eventually giving way to Rex Grossman. Neither one is expected back with the organization in 2011, leaving John Beck as the potential favorite to land the starting role. That ain’t happenin’. Washington will do their best to bring in at least one proven quarterback during the offseason, though they may be left choosing from the clearance rack of mediocre starters.
2011 Prediction: Matt Hasselbeck. The former Seahawk looks like a great fit in Mike Shanahan’s offense, and the fact that he won a playoff game while throwing seven touchdowns and only one interception in last year’s postseason certainly doesn’t hurt his case that he deserves to be a starter in 2011. Look for him to surface as a starter somewhere, though I believe Washington makes for the most likely landing spot.
Where do the other QBs land?
Donovan McNabb will be brought in to start in Minnesota while Christian Ponder learns the offense. Alex Smith will return to San Francisco to start a few games ahead of Colin Kaepernick. Billy Volek will follow Ron Rivera to Carolina to back up Cam Newton. Marc Bulger will head to Tennessee to play in front of Jake Locker until he’s injured again. Rex Grossman will land in Cincinnati to compete with Andy Dalton to start. Kerry Collins will back up Tim Tebow in Denver. Vince Young will compete with Jason Campbell in Oakland. Matt Moore will latch on with the Redskins as the No. 2 quarterback. Jake Delhomme will remain in Cleveland as Colt McCoy’s backup. Tarvaris Jackson will parlay his experience as a starter into a backup job in Buffalo.