We’ll go from most combustible to least, as I would size it up presently:
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Frankly, by Week 8, Sam Bradford could be holding the clipboard. His bizarre trade demand/holdout did him no favors.
Carson Wentz is the guy for 2017, but barring a sweeping run of injuries there is no way he’s starting this September.
I have a very difficult time seeing Bradford having so transcendent a season that he’s around a year from now, despite already having a well compensated backup on the roster in Chase Daniel. Not to mention that gave up a bevy to jump up to second overall pick via two trades to be able to draft Wentz.
3. Cleveland Browns
I didn’t realize it until I was on the radio with Marc Lillibridge the other day, but he pointed out that the Browns have five quarterbacks on their roster.
So if the saying is, if you’ve got two quarterbacks you’ve got none, what does it mean if you have nearly triple that?
Josh McCown is the best QB on their roster, but he seems destined to be some sort of mentor.
RG3 should start this season, but his ability to avoid injury will be tested greatly. I can’t see him making it through this season, nor starting Week 1 of 2017. Besides, they can’t stop talking up rookie Cody Kessler.
They should be poised to take a QB in the first five picks of the 2017 draft should one prove to their liking, and I personally figure at least three different dudes will start for them this season.
Josh McCown is perhaps the best QB on the Browns’ roster right now.
4. Buffalo Bills
I really liked a lot of what Tyrod Taylor did last season, but the Bills could not have made it any more clear he has won nothing beyond the right to begin this season as the starter.
Cardale Jones will need more than a year to develop. Then again, if the Bills don’t resemble a playoff team this year, I expect sweeping changes in the coaching staff and front office — which could mean drafting another potential starter.
This is a make-or-break year for Taylor and his bosses. Does he have the build to stay healthy? And, after Buffalo passed on throwing any coin his way this offseason, would they be willing to pay top dollar to keep him should he perform well again?
I don’t see any hometown discounts here.
5. Miami Dolphins
The Ryan Tannehill deal was never anything more than basically guaranteeing his fifth-year option salary a year before the fact and securing the right to pay-as-they-go with him beyond that.
New coach Adam Gase is a QB guru and inherits a kid who has major limitations. If it’s not the right fit, then Gase will move on from him regardless of where a prior regime drafted him or how much money he’s already banked.
Personally, I haven’t seen much growth from this quarterback. His inability to make the big-money throws downfield will work against him perhaps now more than ever. Not one penny of his $18 million base salary for 2017 is currently guaranteed, and he will need to evolve this season or risk finding work elsewhere a year from now.
Ryan Tannehill will need to evolve this season or risk finding work elsewhere.
6. San Francisco 49ers
Blaine Gabbert will have every shot to open this season as the starter. Considering his career arc, one would imagine that tenure ends up being measured in weeks rather than months, much less years.
Colin Kaepernick isn’t long for San Francisco. Should a viable trade option emerge for him before or during the season, projecting him on the 2017 roster would be the ultimate long shot.
At some point Chip Kelly will have to take a QB high in a draft. I suspect that comes next spring.
This team has two stop-gap veterans right now, neither of whom I suspect is all that long for Santa Clara. As with all of the other teams listed to this point, there is a very, very high probability of someone else under center next year.
7. Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler has made a lot of money and generated a lot of headlines … and thrown a ton of picks. With Gase gone after doing great work with him a year ago, things might just revert back to 2014 form.
Cutler being in a lame-duck situation may not bring out the best in him — it didn’t the last time around, but then the Bears ended up giving him a massive contract, anyway. Under new management that likely won’t be the case again without a big season, as young GM Ryan Pace will certainly want to find a QB of the present/future in the draft soon enough.
The loss of Matt Forte’s leadership could hurt that offense as well. This team’s array of weapons on that side of the ball pales to what it looked like just a few years ago.
I’m not loving how this could be shaping up for Bears fans.
Will Jay Cutler revert back to his 2014 form?
8. New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton has done a ton of work on quarterbacks the past few drafts and dabbled with the prospect of taking one very high.
Contract talks with Drew Brees haven’t gone anywhere to this point. Given Brees’ unique impact on this franchise and all that he and this team have gone through together professionally and personally, post-Katrina, etc., I would never discount the possibility these sides find a way to work it out for another two to three years.
But it would be impossible to make a list like this, at this point, and not include the Saints on it somewhere in the middle.
With quarterbacks who haven’t accomplished 20 percent of Brees getting mega-deals, Brees could end up doing very well on the open market should it come to that. The fact is the Saints are probably at least another few years from contending given the depth that defense has fallen to.
9. Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer has several years left on his deal and the Cardinals have no viable alternative to him. Plus he’s coming off a superb regular season. Which explains in large part why he is not higher on this list.
But his age, injury history, playoff meltdowns and the structure of his contract — he has an $8.15 million roster bonus due in March — at least begs the question of how much more Bruce Arians can get from the 36-year old QB.
This team is entering Super Bowl-or-bust mode and it’s going to have to develop the next QB sooner rather than later.
If Palmer were to suffer another serious injury, there would have to be some pause about paying another $17 million, and, man, if someone like Brees was on the open market this would be precisely the kind of contender who would have to covet his postseason pedigree.
They are low on this list for a reason (several of them), but are on here for a few as well.
Age, injury history, playoff meltdowns and the structure of his deal could work against Palmer.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
This is usually about the time when Andy Reid has at least one eye on the future of his quarterback position. And he is a guy who always believes in drafting quarterbacks, even if there isn’t present-day need.
After this season, the guaranteed money (all $45 million of it) will have been paid to Alex Smith, who has proven to be a solid starter who can stabilize a team.
But Smith’s limitations can only take the Chiefs so far. This may be the year in which Reid draws the same conclusions that former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh did, which led to his trade to Kansas City in the first place.
Thinking out loud here, but could Colin Kaepernick make sense in this offense come 2017? That would be weird, eh?
Of the QBs recently drafted by the Chiefs, I’m not positive the next guy is already on the roster as currently constructed. In all likelihood, 2017 becomes the defining year for this quarterback with this franchise, and not 2016.
I’d be surprised if the Chiefs don’t take a QB high next spring, regardless.
11. Denver Broncos
I am doing this list on my assumption that rookie Paxton Lynch ends up being the Week 1 starter. If in fact Mark Sanchez manages to hold him off for even that long, then you can go ahead and move Denver right up to the second spot on this list, in a tie with Philly.
It just depends how this quarterback competition goes this summer as to how quickly this inevitable transition takes place.
12. Washington Redskins
General manager Scot McCloughan really likes Kirk Cousins, believes he is a winning quarterback and a playoff-caliber quarterback. While ownership was hesitant to pay Cousins big-money long-term, the fact he’ll already make $20 million this year on the franchise tag, and this team’s woeful QB situation over the totality of Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner, puts Cousins in great stead.
Cousins has plenty to work with around him and he’s become a leader. I wouldn’t bet against him playing at the level he did a year ago, in which case McCloughan’s boss will have no choice but to slide another huge check across the table.
Everything is in place for Cousins to have a solid year, but there are still questions.
There’s never been a better time to be a quarterback.
Unproven quarterbacks, middling quarterbacks and, heck, even projected future middling quarterbacks have been the story of this NFL offseason. From the combine to free agency and through the draft.
They have gotten paid like never before. The $18 million to $20 million stratosphere became a lot more crowded. It seemed hardly a week went by in which some quarterbacks — generally one with a spotty resume at best — was commanding the league’s attention.
Guys like Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler got huge bucks. Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps waiting for a bigger contract offer that likely will never come. Colin Kaepernick remains shackled to the 49ers. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz ended up as the top two picks via trades no less. And in the third round, previous afterthoughts in Jacoby Brissett and Cody Kessler have drawn headlines for their high-profile benefactors — Bill Parcells and Hue Jackson, respectively.