The days of National Football League teams being able to coast to a Super Bowl championship without having at least above-average quarterback play are a thing of the past. Think back to the quarterbacks who have hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy over the past decade: The likes of Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. There is still some truth to the “defense wins championships” mantra, but any team is only going so far if it does not have a QB who is able to air it out during games when necessary.
With that said, there are some cases where it appears as if any quarterback would be destined to fail despite his talent and physical gifts. Perhaps the team in question has a head coach who is defensive-minded and who has, in the past, failed to help young quarterbacks reach their full potentials. In other instances, a team’s offense is lacking even adequate weapons that would help a good quarterback make plays. It could also be an issue of a franchise being unable to escape a culture of losing that has infected that organization for over a decade, so much so that no veteran QB would want to link up with that team.
It is no coincidence that the ten teams showcased in this piece were nowhere near capable of competing for a playoff spot let alone for a championship in 2014. All ten have major concerns at the quarterback position that must be addressed during the upcoming offseason either through free agency or the NFL Draft. The club that is featured in the top spot of the list could look for help in both free agency and the draft considering the fact that the team has a single QB who is technically available as of the posting of this piece. Will that side ever manage to right the ship?
10. Chicago Bears and Jay Cutler
The Bears went all-in on Jay Cutler after the 2013 NFL regular season, giving the quarterback a contract worth a guaranteed $54 million. Cutler was predictably the “box of chocolates” of NFL QBs in 2014, in that you never knew what you were going to get out of him. While some other team may be desperate enough to make an offer for Cutler before the summer months arrive, the Bears financially cannot realistically move on from the 31-year-old until after the 2015 campaign. Instead, Chicago will need to hope that Cutler stops being his own worst enemy and evolves into the franchise quarterback the club needs.
9. St. Louis Rams and Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford put pen to paper on a deal that guaranteed him $50 million after he was drafted by the Rams in 2010. It is no wonder that the club and also head coach Jeff Fisher want to give Bradford one more year to prove that he can play 16 straight games without getting hurt. Bradford’s inabilities to remain on the field for any significant length of time have been well-documented. He has the physical skills and the football-intelligence needed to succeed in the pro game, but Bradford is also, at this point, one massive hit away from being out of the league for good.
8. Arizona Cardinals and Carson Palmer
The Arizona Cardinals could have been the top team in 2014 out of the NFC had quarterback Carson Palmer not suffered a torn ACL. The world will never know what might have been for the team. What is public knowledge is that Palmer turned 35 years old last December, and he is coming off of the second serious knee injury of his NFL career. Arizona is not in a position where the team can move up in the draft for one of the top to-be rookie quarterbacks, and the club gave Palmer a contract extension last fall before he went down for the season. Banking on Palmer remaining healthy for a full campaign is a risk that the Cards have to take.
7. New York Jets and Geno Smith
I am sure that Geno Smith is a nice guy who works hard at his job. Nobody, however, has seen anything to inspire hope that Smith can be the franchise quarterback the Jets have been searching for since even before the days of Mark Sanchez lining up under center. History has taught us that the Jets will happily do two things: Complete a transaction to make headlines, and take a risk on a big-name quarterback (looking at you, Tim Tebow). Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota or even Jay Cutler could be holding up a Gang Green jersey at some point during the spring.
6. Houston Texans and Ryan Mallett
It was back in January of 2014 when we first learned that Houston head coach Bill O’Brien was interested in Ryan Mallett. The two worked together when they were with the New England Patriots years ago. Mallett showed some promise in a few appearances last season, but his campaign came to an early end when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle. O’Brien and the Texans are willing to give Mallett another opportunity to lead the team’s offense, which is a risky decision due to the fact that nobody can say for sure what Mallett will be as a starter. He has yet to prove that he can survive an entire NFL season.
5. Buffalo Bills and E.J. Manuel
The good news for the Bills is that the team has a solid defense and a new head coach who has been to two conference championship games. The bad news is that head coach Rex Ryan has no history of helping young quarterbacks improve throughout their careers, and there is speculation that former New York Jets starter Mark Sanchez would rather look elsewhere than link back up with Ryan. That would leave Ryan and the Bills with E.J. Manuel, Jeff Tuel and maybe Josh McCown or Brian Hoyer. None of those QBs are better options than the former Sanchize who is looking to revitalize his career.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Draft Pick
Here is the nightmare scenario for Tampa Bay fans: The Bucs do not pursue one of the top free agent quarterbacks, assuming that they will get the best QB in the draft only for that person, Jameis Winston, to get himself in some sort of trouble that takes him off of the team’s big board. Marcus Mariota is not, in the eyes of the majority of draft analysts, worthy of being taken first overall in the draft, and any character concerns that would prevent the Bucs from selecting Winston would also make it difficult for Tampa Bay to sell that pick.
3. Tennessee Titans and Zach Mettenberger
All indications are that the Titans remain high on 2014 NFL Draft pick Zach Mettenberger, but that could change at the NFL Scouting Combine and during personal interviews with Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. One of those two quarterbacks will fall to the Titans at pick No. 2 of the upcoming draft, which could make things very interesting on the night of April 30 if Tennessee makes it clear that the second overall selection is for sale. A trade could be in the works if Winston goes off the board first overall AND the draft stock of Mariota goes up over the next couple of months.
2. Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III
Where you would put the Redskins in this list depends on how much faith, if any, you have in Robert Griffin III. Washington mortgaged the future to acquire RG3 years ago, and the club has no other choice but to move forward with Griffin as the team’s starting quarterback for one final season to learn if he can/cannot be the team’s franchise QB. There are not a lot of stellar options out there this coming spring for the Redskins, were the club to become interested in moving on from Griffin. It may be painful for Washington fans to read, but Griffin should be the guy for 2015.
1. Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel
Brian Hoyer is a career backup, at best, who likely isn’t returning to the Browns. Johnny Manziel is currently in rehab. Thus, the undrafted Connor Shaw is the only quarterback who could meet up with those running the Browns as of the middle of February. Wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely, tight end Jordan Cameron is seemingly running away from any offers to return to Cleveland for the 2015 campaign, and some Browns players are throwing teammates under the bus through the press. The Browns likely are not moving up in the draft to acquire either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, meaning that Johnny Football will probably be asked to play the hero role for the club in 2015. Good luck with all of that.