Answering NFL's Biggest QB Questions for 2014
Not every NFL team is set at the quarterback position; that's for sure.
In fact, there's an assortment of teams that need to find an upgrade at the game's most critical position.
Some are undoubtedly in rebuilding mode, while others are mired in mediocrity.
Let's answer the most compelling quarterback questions heading into the 2014 season.
Who Will Start for the Vikings in 2014?
The Minnesota Vikings have a deadly, three-way quarterback conundrum on their hands. Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have all played in 2013, and none have showed signs of staying-power as a franchise signal-caller.
Ponder, the team's 2011 first-round selection, has completed a career-high 63.7 percent of his passes this year, but he's tossed six touchdowns with nine interceptions and has a 74.9 rating. Essentially, he's yet to show noticeable development as a passer in his third NFL season.
Cassel was efficient in the win in London over the Pittsburgh Steelers as he threw for 248 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, after that, he was picked twice in a home loss to the Carolina Panthers.
After the severe lack of consistency the Vikings have gotten from their quarterbacks of late, it wouldn't be easy selling Cassel as the future to fans in Minnesota.
Josh Freeman was added in early October, but he signed just a one-year deal.
He was disastrous as the starter against the New York Giants and hasn't played since. It's not crazy to think he'll could play elsewhere in 2014.
So, where does that leave the Vikings at the quarterback spot?
If the team struggles down the stretch and finishes with only a few wins, could head coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman be fired just a year after making the playoffs?
Regardless of who the coach and GM are, one of the top collegiate quarterback prospects will be high on Minnesota's priority list early in the draft.
The 2014 Vikings starter is clearly not on the roster. They'll continue their rebuild with a first-round rookie next season.
Will Bruce Arians Want to Move Forward with 34-Year-Old Carson Palmer?
After a shaky start, the Bruce Arians-Carson Palmer dynamic has started to click in Arizona.
The Cardinals began the year 3-4, and the veteran quarterback's statistics were as follows:
- 60.5 percent completion rate
- 6.54 yards per attempt
- 8 touchdowns
- 13 interceptions
During the team's current three-game winning streak, Palmer has improved significantly in those key areas:
- 68.4 percent completion rate
- 9.04 yards per attempt
- 6 touchdowns
- 2 interceptions
Sure, Palmer beat up on the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars—teams that have combined for five wins this season—but the strong performances against those weak clubs can't just be disregarded.
In Arians' vertical passing system, a quarterback with a strong arm is needed, and although Palmer can't sling it like he used to, his arm strength is probably still the most desirable aspect of his game.
The final six games for the 6-4 Cardinals and their quarterback will determine the team's future direction.
If Palmer continues to progress in Arians' offense, Arizona will be afforded the luxury of waiting on a quarterback in the draft.
If Palmer regresses, Arians and GM Steve Keim will scan the college football landscape for a big, cannon-armed quarterback to eventually be given the reigns in the desert.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger or Fresno State's Derek Carr could be first-round targets.
However, at the very least, Palmer will be on the roster next season in a quarterback competition with a talented rookie.
How Will the Rams Handle Sam Bradford?
The St. Louis Rams are in quarterback purgatory with Sam Bradford.
As the last quarterback selected under the old collective-bargaining agreement, the first overall pick in the 2010 draft is playing on his six-year, $78 million rookie deal that included $50 million guaranteed.
Bradford won't be a free agent until after the 2015 campaign, but there's an interesting provision that incites the idea that the Rams need to make an ultimate decision on the quarterback this offseason.
Per Spotrac, the $50 million guaranteed was paid to Bradford as his base salaries from 2010 to 2013.
In 2014, he's due to make a non-guaranteed $14.015 million in base salary and represents a $17.610 million cap hit. In 2015, his non-guaranteed base salary is $12.985 million.
With the guaranteed money out of the way, the Rams need to move on from Bradford, unless he's willing to considerably restructure his contract to be more team-friendly.
His career completion percentage is a shade under 59, and despite throwing 14 touchdowns with only four interceptions before he tore his ACL against the Carolina Panthers in Week 7, his 6.44 yards-per-attempt average still ranks as the sixth-lowest in the NFL out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks.
Bradford did show some promise in 2013, but over the past three-plus seasons, he also showed he wasn't worth anywhere near his monstrous contract.
Is Mike Glennon the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Franchise Quarterback?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won two straight after starting the year with eight consecutive losses.
While the 2013 campaign is all but officially over from a playoff standpoint, the development of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is integral to the future of the organization.
With seven starts under his belt, the third-round pick out of N.C. State has accumulated the following statistics:
- 62.1 percent completion rate
- 6.19 yards per attempt
- 11 touchdowns
- 4 interceptions
Only Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs has a lower yards-per-attempt average than Glennon among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 200 passes this season, which speaks to each quarterback's propensity to check down.
Interestingly, though, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Glennon's average depth of target is 8.8 yards, tied with Drew Brees. Smith's average depth of target is a league-low 6.5 yards.
Glennon has been relatively steady and hasn't turned the ball over frequently.
The latter has kept the Buccaneers defense—an underrated group—out of precarious situations.
If Tampa Bay displays competence down the stretch and Glennon doesn't take a huge step back in December, pencil him in as the 2014 starter.
If his play is only mediocre and the Buccaneers end the year with, say, only three wins, there's a decent chance Greg Schiano is fired. In that case, the team's new head coach could be in the market for drafting his quarterback early.
Even in that circumstance, Glennon will be given a chance to win the starting job next year.
Brian Hoyer or a First-Round Quarterback for the Browns?
Brian Hoyer was remarkably more efficient and effective than Brandon Weeden early in the season, but a knee-ligament tear prematurely ended what looked to be a promising 2013 campaign.
Cleveland Browns GM Michael Lombardi's admiration for Hoyer is well-documented, and the former Michigan State Spartan didn't disappoint as the starter this year.
In two-plus games, he amassed the following statistics:
- 59.4 percent completion rate
- 6.41 yards per attempt
- 5 touchdowns
- 3 interceptions
He tore his ACL in Week 5's game against the Buffalo Bills, which means he'll have plenty of time to rehab and ultimately be ready for the 2014 campaign.
Because Hoyer replaced the perpetually inconsistent Weeden and the Browns won the three games in which he started, he's viewed to have been better than he actually was.
Without question, Hoyer will be on the 2014 roster, and Lombardi's backing will certainly help him. But, Cleveland has to keep an open mind about the future of the franchise.
With two first-round picks next May, the Browns can't pass on a quarterback with significant talent and upside just because Hoyer appeared to be a better fit in Rob Chudzinski's offense than Weeden or veteran Jason Campbell.
How Much Longer Can the Raiders Stick with Terrelle Pryor?
Terrelle Pryor has flashed on a few occasions as the Oakland Raiders' starter in 2013, but he's also displayed his deficiencies often.
He's an otherworldly athlete; however, to succeed at the quarterback position in the NFL, he must become a more refined passer.
Pryor has appeared in eight games for Dennis Allen's club this season and has amassed the following statistics:
- 58.9 percent completion rate
- 6.96 yards per attempt
- 5 touchdowns
- 10 interceptions
He's also dealt with a concussion and missed Week 11's game against the Houston Texans with a knee injury.
His replacement, Matt McGloin, went 18-of-32 for 197 yards with three touchdowns in the 28-23 victory.
While McGloin's effort shouldn't instantly signify the end of the Pryor era in Oakland, the final six games will determine how the Raiders progress at the quarterback position.
If healthy, Pryor needs to be on the field to gain invaluable experience.
However, he must demonstrate some semblance of development to lock down the 2014 starting job.
Remember, Pryor has thrown only 254 passes in his NFL career.
Unless the former Ohio State standout disappoints, Oakland should exercise more patience with him heading into next season.
Is Case Keenum the Texans' New Franchise QB?
Case Keenum has experienced an incredible rise from obscurity over the past month. After taking over the Houston Texans' starting quarterback job following Matt Schaub's benching, the former undrafted free agent has proven to be a dynamic passer.
Although he's completed only 55.6 percent of his passes, he's tossed eight touchdowns with only one interception and has a respectable yards-per-attempt average of 7.87, which is higher than the yards-per-attempt averages of Matt Stafford, Cam Newton and Tony Romo, among others.
While his Pro Football Focus (subscription required) accuracy percentage is a league-low 65.7, his average depth of target of 10.9 yards trails only Michael Vick's 11.3.
Though Keenum's yet to win a game in the NFL and was benched in the third quarter of Week 11's loss to the Oakland Raiders, he's exhibited many desirable quarterbacking attributes, namely the ability to throw on the run and fire accurate passes downfield.
After being stuck in the mud with Schaub, the Texans actually have a decent quarterback situation.
If Houston goes .500 or better over its last six games, in all likelihood, Keenum will have played well enough to at least earn the starting job at the beginning of the 2014 season.
At 5-11 or 6-10, the Texans would be slotted between the eighth and 12th picks in the 2014 draft, which likely would mean the top-two or -three quarterbacks would be off the board by the time they go on the clock. At that point, passing on a signal-caller would be logical.
If Houston tanks in December and finishes with only two or three wins, Keenum will have probably played poorly, especially with two games against the Jacksonville Jaguars remaining.
In that circumstance, the Texans would find themselves with a top-three pick and could alleviate their quarterback issues by drafting a highly touted signal-caller.
Is Nick Foles the Future for the Eagles, or Will Chip Kelly Draft His Guy?
The NFL quarterback rating leader is not Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Philip Rivers.
It's Nick Foles.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback has tossed 16 touchdowns to zero interceptions and has added two rushing touchdowns this season.
While not the prototypical, read-option quarterback for Chip Kelly's system, the strong-armed Arizona product has deciphered coverages quickly, and his ability to stretch the field has made Philadelphia's offense one of the most dynamic units in football.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Foles' average depth of target is a robust 9.7 and his accuracy percentage of 75.0 is currently higher than the accuracy percentages of Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck.
Kelly inherited the 6'6'' signal-caller, but with the way he's playing, there's no reason the former Oregon Ducks head coach needs to draft his guy in 2014.
It's too early to call Foles a lock as a long-term franchise quarterback, but it's not too early to say he deserves to be the Eagles' starter at the beginning of next season.
Should the Steelers Trade Ben Roethlisberger?
Do the Steelers really want to trade Ben Roethlisberger?
It's been the talk of Pittsburgh over the past two weeks.
NFL Networks' Ian Rapoport tweeted the following before Pittsburgh's Week 10 win over the Buffalo Bills:
Steelers sources expect Big Ben to ask them to explore trade options after 2013. They fielded offers for him last offseason. Could again
I said on NFL GameDay: Ben Roethlisberger isn’t happy with the current Steelers situation. And it’s not just Todd Haley among the coaches.
Soon thereafter, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora quoted high-ranking Steelers officials who stated that Rapoport's report have "zero truth, are fabricated and are totally, totally false."
Regardless of who's being honest, the Steelers must ride out Big Ben's contract and move into 2014 with the Super Bowl winning quarterback as the unquestioned starter.
His base salary jumps from a pedestrian $2.60 million this season to $12.1 million next year.
The average of those two campaigns is reasonable, though.
Roethlisberger's current completion percentage is 64.5, and his yards-per-attempt average is up from 2012.
If Pittsburgh goes on a little run and is in the playoff hunt late, it will likely be due to efficient play from the veteran signal-caller.
However, if the Steelers collapse and finish with only five or six wins, Mike Tomlin could be out as head coach, which would certainly increase the chances Big Ben plays elsewhere in 2014.
The Jets Can't Give Up on Geno Smith After One Year, Can They?
The New York Jets have experienced a roller-coaster season of epic proportions in 2013, and so has their quarterback, Geno Smith.
The 2013 second-round pick has pieced together five games with a passer rating of more than 70. Conversely, on four occasions, his passer rating has been below 50, including the most recent absolute stinker against the Buffalo Bills.
With the game out of reach in the second half, Smith was actually benched for Matt Simms, who led an impressive touchdown drive.
Only Eli Manning has thrown more interceptions (17) than Smith (16) this year.
Simms' upside pales in comparison to that of the former West Virginia standout, and it would be extremely unfair if Gang Green moved on from Smith after one season.
Unless the Jets stumble down the stretch and win only a game or two, Rex Ryan will likely remain the head coach in 2014, which means Smith should be given the starting nod at the outset of the 2014 campaign.
While fans today want quarterbacks to immediately flourish in the NFL, history tells us that young signal-callers take a season or two to fully develop.
Smith's rookie year has been so up-and-down, it's hard to peg if it should be ultimately deemed as encouraging or discouraging.
Either way, he should be the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback next season.
Which College Quarterback Will the Jaguars Draft Early?
The Jacksonville Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL, devoid of much talent on either side of the ball.
However, their most glaring problem is at the quarterback position.
The Blaine Gabbert experiment is over, and Chad Henne hasn't done much to prove he's franchise-caliber.
Gus Bradley's team will likely have one of the top picks in the 2014 draft and should have their pick of the quarterback litter.
Barring any unforeseen developments, Jacksonville will hitch its wagon to either Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater or Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
While Mariota's athleticism and experience in the increasingly popular spread, read-option heavy offense is enticing, Bridgewater is the more polished pocket passer who appears to be more NFL ready at this juncture.
For a team clearly in rebuilding mode, Bridgewater seems to be the safer selection.
Should the Bears Shell out Big Money for Jay Cutler?
At 6-4, the Chicago Bears are in a heated race for the NFC North crown, but they've essentially gotten there over the past month despite Jay Cutler.
Backup Josh McCown, who replaced Cutler after he injured his groin against the Washington Redskins in Week 7, has compiled the following statistics to go along with a 2-0 record as a starter:
- 60.4 percent completion rate
- 7.47 yards per attempt
- 5 touchdowns
- 0 interceptions
When Cutler returned against the Detroit Lions in Week 10, he went 21-of-40 for 250 yards with a touchdown and an interception before being sidelined with an injured ankle.
The Bears lost 21-19 despite McCown's comeback efforts.
Cutler was completing a higher percentage of his passes in Marc Trestman's system this season than he had in the past in Chicago, and he's still on pace to post his best quarterback rating since his rookie year in 2006.
However, he's a free agent at season's end, meaning the Bears' GM Phil Emery and his staff have a huge decision to make this offseason.
It remains to be seen what Cutler's asking price will be, but if he wants anywhere near "elite" quarterback money—similar to what Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo or Matt Ryan received in 2013—Chicago should let Cutler go.
He simply hasn't been able to sustain high-level play and has been injured often.
Will Cutler's camp realize it doesn't have the leverage to demand any more than $40 million guaranteed?
With Trestman's quarterback-whispering specialty, Chicago would be smarter to draft a quarterback and hang onto McCown instead of shelling out huge money for Cutler to be the team's franchise signal-caller for another three-to-five years.
Should the Titans Continue to Ride Jake Locker?
Jake Locker improved in 2013—quite considerably.
Unfortunately, he suffered two serious injuries, and the final one ended his promising third season.
He completed 60.7 percent of his passes, up more than four percentage points from 2012.
The 2011 first-round pick's touchdown percentage jumped from 3.2 last year to 4.4 this year, and his interception percentage dropped from 3.5 to 2.2.
Locker is set to make a modest $2.091 million in 2014.
But per Jim Wyatt of the Nashville Tennessean, there's a caveat about his future with the Titans beyond that.
The Titans have an option for 2015 but must decide by May 3, 2014, if they’re going to exercise it.
And that’s where things get interesting.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, teams exercising the fifth-year option for a top-10 pick have to pay him a salary equal to the NFL transition tag.
That means in 2015, Locker would make the average salary of the 10 highest-paid quarterbacks during the 2014 season.
The transition tag for quarterbacks this year is $13.068 million.
The former University of Washington star absolutely should be given another chance to become Tennessee's franchise quarterback, but at this point, it simply wouldn't be fiscally responsible for the Titans to exercise the 2015 option.
If Locker plays well in 2014, he'd earn a new contract beyond that, but Tennessee cannot move forward paying him top-quarterback dollar.