Breaking Down NFL's Biggest QB Controversies Exiting the 2013 Season

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 19, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins chats with Robert Griffin III after throwing a 4th quarter interception against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Only two weeks remain in the 2013 NFL season. Soon, 12 teams will begin the postseason tournament that will culminate in New Jersey and Super Bowl XLVIII, while the other 20 NFL clubs will cast their eyes towards free agency and the NFL draft.

Wanna know an easy way to figure out which teams are which? Look at the quarterback positions, as most of this year's contenders possess established starters under center.

For teams like the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, the answer to their quarterback situation would seem pretty clear-cut. Those teams need one. Period.

For some teams, though, the answer isn't so clear. Whether it's an injured starter or a full-blown battle at the position, a handful of NFL teams will enter the offseason with big questions to answer at the most important position in football.


Chicago Bears

The Bears are an anomaly on this list, as Chicago remains very much in playoff contention. That's due in large part to the fact the quarterback controversy in Chicago has been created by passers playing well, not poorly.

In fact, Josh McCown played so well in relief of an injured Jay Cutler that more than a few eyebrows were raised when Cutler was reinserted into the starting lineup in Week 15.

Jay Cutler vs. Josh McCown 2013
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Per Pro Football Reference

The Bears' issues go well beyond play on the field. Cutler and McCown are both set to hit free agency at the end of the season. Reinserting Cutler as the starter had as much to do with contract negotiations that haven't started yet as it did performance this year.

That's partly because, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports, due to the manner in which McCown's deal is structured, the Bears literally cannot negotiate with the 34-year-old until free agency opens. Even then all they can offer McCown is a one-year, league-minimum deal.

In short, the Bears hitched their wagon to Cutler because they have no chance of keeping McCown.

How Cutler plays over the next two weeks (or more, if Chicago makes the playoffs) is going to have a huge impact on the number of zeroes on his paycheck next year.

It may affect the zip code where it's received as well.


Cleveland Browns

At first glance, it may seem that the Browns are a prime candidate for the "need a quarterback, period" list. After all, the Browns have won only four games in 2013 and, well, you know, Brandon Weeden.

The Browns would also appear to be in excellent position to move up and draft a quarterback, thanks to the extra first-round pick obtained from the Indianapolis Colts in the Trent Richardson trade.

However, with Marcus Mariota returning to Oregon, Brett Hundley strongly considering a return to UCLA and Zach Mettenberger nursing a torn ACL, the pool of available talent in the draft at the position just got a lot shallower.

Unless the Browns are willing to part with both picks in a bid to move up, Cleveland may miss out on the so-called "elite" options at the position.

That, in turn, might just open the door for Brian Hoyer to get one more shot.

Brian Hoyer 2013
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Per Pro Football Reference

It was a small sample size, but Hoyer was far and away the most effective quarterback the Browns had this season. Before he tore his ACL against the Buffalo Bills, Hoyer was one of the feel-good stories of the early part of the 2013 season.

There are a lot of variables in play here. Hoyer's rehab. How the 2014 class eventually shakes out at quarterback. Cleveland's eventual draft slot. With all that said, though, it isn't a foregone conclusion that the Browns' starter in 2014 isn't presently on the roster.


New York Giants

There's no question who the starting quarterback is for the New York Giants. In fact, some would point to Eli Manning's two Super Bowl wins and call it lunacy to suggest there's a quarterback controversy in the Big Apple.

However, after Manning threw five interceptions last week—hitting a new low in a season filled with them—the grumbling surrounding the 32-year-old grew quite a bit louder.

It isn't just this year. Manning's last two seasons look much worse than the two-year period before it, a period that ended with Manning's second Super Bowl win.

Eli Manning 2010-2011 vs. Eli Manning 2012-2013
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Per Pro Football Focus

Then there's the matter of Manning's $20.85 million cap figure in 2013, the highest of any single player in the National Football League.

That's a lot of cheese to pay a quarterback with 25 interceptions on the season, and while the dollar figure decreases a bit in 2014, it isn't by much.

All this isn't to say that Eli Manning is going anywhere. However, with Manning not getting any younger and struggling this badly, quarterback is suddenly on the table early for the Giants in 2014.

Another poor season, and Manning's future in New York, once considered as safe as safe can be, will be anything but, especially if head coach Tom Coughlin is let go in the offseason.


Tennessee Titans

Speaking of head coaches being let go in the offseason, the uncertainty surrounding the staff in Nashville is one of the things that makes pegging the passer prognosis for the Tennessee Titans so problematic.

On one hand, there's Jake Locker, who showed some real signs of improvement in his third NFL season.

Jake Locker 2013
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* Career high

For the third straight year, though, Locker has gotten hurt, and Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated recently reported that the Titans appear set to move on from the 25-year-old.

According to Farrar, the Titans may be preparing to make a big push for Cutler, who has ties to the area from his time at Vanderbilt.

The odds are stacked highly against the Titans handing the reins to Ryan Fitzpatrick, at least long term.

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 15:  Ryan Fitzpatrick #4 of the Tennessee Titans throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals at LP Field on December 15, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The 31-year-old has played fairly well this year, but he remains a low-upside passer who turns the ball over more than you'd like. He's shown this year that as backups go you can do much worse, but as starters go you could do much better.

It is possible that a new regime in Tennessee could use Fitzpatrick as a "bridge" to a young starter, but as things stand today in Tennessee, the only thing for certain is that nothing is for certain.


Washington Redskins

If you had said one year ago there would be a quarterback controversy in Washington right now, you would have been fitted for a straitjacket.

My how things can change in a year.

Robert Griffin 2012 vs. 2013
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Per Pro Football Reference

Since the Washington Redskins finished their magical 2012 run that ended with an NFC East title, the team has seen Griffin tear his ACL, sit out the entire offseason, return for Week 1 only to be mostly ineffective and finally be benched after guiding the Redskins to a 3-10 mark.

Kirk Cousins is now the starting quarterback, at least for the remainder of the season, and after throwing for for 381 yards in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week, the media has already picked up the narrative:

Head coach Mike Shanahan said after the Atlanta loss that Griffin is "clearly" the Redskins' starter, according to Mark Maske of The Washington Post. Of course, Shanahan also said that he wants "legitimate competition at every position," and there's the not-so-small matter of Shanahan all but certainly being fired after the season.

If Cousins plays well over the last two weeks of the season, it's not inconceivable that a new staff could declare the starting job up for grabs, and that would make for a second straight very interesting spring and summer in the nation's capital.



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