No position in the NFL – or, arguably, in any of North America’s major sports leagues – is more crucial to a team’s success than quarterback. And by our count, half the teams in the league shouldn’t have to worry about the position this offseason at all.
Many of these 16 clubs have an established veteran who remains under contract for multiple seasons, like the Packers with Aaron Rodgers or the Patriots with Tom Brady. Others don’t necessarily have an elite veteran quarterback, but have recently committed a high draft pick to a young signal-caller who is still expected to be the long-term answer — think Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota or Blake Bortles with the Jaguars.
However, the other half of the league’s teams have some uncertainty at the position. In some instances, a team will actively pursue a starting quarterback in the draft of free agency. For other teams, it’s simply a matter of ensuring that the current QB gets locked up for a few more years beyond next season.
Here’s an early look at those teams that should need to address the quarterback situation in one way or another during the offseason:
Teams with no clear-cut starter for 2015:
- Buffalo Bills: Both players who have started at quarterback this year for the Bills could theoretically be back for the 2015 season — Kyle Orton has a second-year option on his deal, while E.J. Manuel‘s rookie contract runs through 2016. Neither player has asserted himself as a real answer for the club this season, but without a first-round pick, the Bills will be hard-pressed to find a long-term solution in the offseason.
- Cleveland Browns: Unlike many of the teams in this group, the Browns actually may have two plausible options at quarterback, rather than none. The question GM Ray Farmer and his staff must answer is whether the team will hitch its wagon to Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, or whether both players will return for 2015. Hoyer is eligible for free agency in March, so Cleveland could simply let him walk if the team believes Manziel will be ready to take over.
- Houston Texans: Even if the Texans had seen enough from Ryan Mallett to think he was their future starter, he’s a free agent at season’s end, so there’s no guarantee he returns. Perhaps Houston views Tom Savage as its future starter, but I’d be surprised if the team doesn’t seek out alternatives this winter.
- New York Jets: Like the Bills, the Jets haven’t had any success with their young quarterback (Geno Smith) or their veteran stopgap (Michael Vick). Smith could get one more chance in 2015 depending on how he finishes this season and who is coaching the team next year, but there are certainly no guarantees for the former second-round pick.
- St. Louis Rams: Coming off another season-ending knee injury and owed a base salary of nearly $13MM in 2015, Sam Bradford is a strong candidate to become a cap casualty in the offseason. Austin Davis likely isn’t the Rams’ long-term signal-caller of choice, so St. Louis looks like a team that could target a QB in the draft. The Rams are currently projected to select 12th overall.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Glennon received a vote of confidence as the Buccaneers’ “quarterback of the future” in the offseason from head coach Lovie Smith, but with Glennon currently backing up ineffective veteran Josh McCown, it’s not clear if the Bucs continue to stand by that stance. Glennon and McCown are both under contract for next season, so maybe Tampa Bay will try again with the duo and hope for better results, but with a potential top-five – or at least top-10 – pick on the way, the club will have to at least consider drafting a QB.
- Tennessee Titans: Former first-rounder Jake Locker is on an expiring contract and appears to be on his way out of Tennessee. That could leave Zach Mettenberger as 2015’s starter, but the LSU product was a sixth-rounder and will have only a half-season of experience heading into next year. Presumably, like the Bucs, the Titans would have to take a long look at quarterbacks with their potential top-10 draft pick.
- Washington: Amazingly, it was only two and a half years ago that Washington was giving up the farm in order to land Robert Griffin III. Now, it’s looks like there’s a reasonable chance that RGIII’s time in D.C. is coming to an end. Head coach Jay Gruden doesn’t seem any more enamored with Kirk Cousins than he is with Griffin, and Colt McCoy isn’t a long-term solution, so Washington is another team that could target a quarterback near the top of 2015’s draft. If they don’t go that route, Griffin could ultimately get the nod for at least one more year.
Teams facing decisions on options or extensions:
- Carolina Panthers: As the first overall pick in 2011, Cam Newton remains under contract for one more season because the Panthers exercised his fifth-year option for 2015. Still, it seems unlikely that the team would let him play Week 1 without a new deal. In all likelihood, it’ll be a matter of when – not if – Newton and the Panthers reach a long-term agreement, which could provide a notable benchmark for the quarterbacks from the 2012 draft.
- Indianapolis Colts: One of those 2012 quarterbacks is Andrew Luck, and again, it’s a matter of when – not if – he signs a new long-term contract with his current team. He becomes eligible for an extension this winter, but the Colts could choose to simply pick up his 2016 option and put off long-term negotiations another year.
- Miami Dolphins: Unlike Luck, Ryan Tannehill isn’t a lock to have his fifth-year option exercised. Still, despite Tannehill’s ups and downs over the years, and despite an expected price tag of about $15MM on that 2016 option, I’d expect the Dolphins to exercise it. It’s not immediately fully guaranteed, and even if it were, Tannehill has done enough this year that he’s worth keeping around for an extra year at that price, if not locking up to a full-fledged, multiyear deal.
- New York Giants: Eli Manning and the Giants have both expressed interest in continuing the relationship, and I anticipate that’ll be exactly what happens. Manning’s current pact expires after the 2015 season, so the two sides should get serious about an extension this winter.
- Philadelphia Eagles: Perhaps the Eagles should be included in the section above, since we can’t say with 100% certainty that Nick Foles will reclaim his starting role in 2015, given how shaky he was early this season. Still, I’d be pretty surprised if Philadelphia went another direction. Because he wasn’t a first-round pick in 2012, Foles doesn’t have a fifth-year option, meaning his deal will expire after 2015, and the Eagles will have to make a decision on him soon. In my view, Foles could start the ’15 season without a new deal and – if the Eagles like what they see – he could sign an in-season extension like Carson Palmer did with the Cardinals this year.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Another instance where it’s only a matter of time until a new deal gets done — the Steelers will likely sign Ben Roethlisberger to a contract this offseason that locks him up beyond 2015. The team has already indicated that negotiations will resume at season’s end.
- San Diego Chargers: Another veteran who should remain with his current team, Philip Rivers is expected to re-open extension discussions with the Chargers after the season. His current deal expires after 2015.
- Seattle Seahawks: Like Foles, Russell Wilson is a third-round pick whose rookie contract doesn’t feature a fifth-year option. As such, the Seahawks may be more aggressive about working out a multiyear extension sooner rather than later with their franchise quarterback, whose deal runs through the 2015 season.