Franchise QBs Who Could See Their Successor Drafted in 2014
In the modern NFL, quarterbacks are most commonly drafted to be the man on day one—no grooming or development on the bench, just straight into the fire.
All 11 of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2010 have started at least one game as a rookie, with seven starting on Week 1 of their debut seasons.
These trends aren't expected to change, as too many teams still need immediate fixes at the game's most important position. And clubs hurting at quarterback usually don't want to wait for a high pick to learn wearing a ball cap and holding a clipboard on the sidelines. More so than ever, the NFL is an instant-gratification business.
However, the 2014 NFL draft might represent a temporary inflection point.
There are still plenty of teams that will draft a quarterback to be the franchise guy right away. But there are also a significantly high number of clubs that might look at this draft as the right time to find a successor to an otherwise entrenched No. 1 quarterback.
Maybe, just maybe, the idea of draft-and-develop at quarterback can still live on in the NFL.
In the following slides, we'll examine the quarterbacks who could see their teams pick a successor in the 2014 NFL draft.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
2013 Stats: 7 games, 1,687 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs, 90.9 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2016
A former No. 1 overall pick, Bradford is still only 26, and 2013 produced maybe the best seven-game stretch of his career. These factors make it very unlikely the Rams will use the No. 2 or 13 overall pick on a quarterback.
Bradford will rightfully receive another chance to finally take the next step in his development. But the clock should also be ticking.
For his career, Bradford has completed less than 60 percent of his passes with an average per attempt of just 6.3 yards. He's missed significant time in two of his four NFL seasons, and he also had shoulder problems during his time at Oklahoma. The Rams also have just 18 wins over his 49 career starts.
Durability remains a huge factor for quarterbacks, especially for those who haven't been consistently brilliant and who are due big bucks. Bradford will make over $34 million during the final two years of his rookie deal.
The Rams have 12 picks in the 2014 NFL draft, including five in the top 110 and four in the first 75. There is enough capital to fill other holes on the roster and still find a developmental quarterback early on.
Just look at how successful the Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson, third round) and San Francisco 49ers (Colin Kaepernick, second round) have been after finding franchise quarterbacks outside the first round. The Rams can follow that blueprint in this draft.
Bradford's make-or-break season will come in 2014. The Rams can provide insurance for their future with a young quarterback in May.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
2013 Stats: 16 games, 4,274 yards, 24 TDs, 22 INTs, 83.9 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2016
Over 4,000 yards passing and 10 wins in 2013 should give Palmer at least another year under center for Bruce Arians, but at some point the Cardinals need to look forward to the future at the position.
Arizona's backups are currently Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley, neither of whom are anything close to sure-fire successors. Stanton has a career passer rating of 63.1, and Lindley threw zero touchdowns against seven interceptions during a disaster rookie season in 2012. Neither quarterback played in 2013.
The Cardinals are probably out of the market for a first-round quarterback, given Palmer's status and the team's draft slot (No. 20 overall) and proximity to the postseason. But it can't be ruled out that general manager Steve Keim will pull the trigger on a developmental player later on in the draft.
Remember, Palmer is one of the more immobile quarterbacks in football, and he's getting up there in age. Injury is a big concern, especially with the options behind him. Drafting a young quarterback would both insure against injury and give Arians a moldable player to lean on once Palmer's reign as the starter comes to an end.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
2013 Stats: 7 games, 1,256 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs, 86.7 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2016
Like Bradford in St. Louis, Locker is about to enter his make-or-break season with the Titans.
The former first-round pick missed nine games in 2013 and five in 2012, his career average sits under 200 passing yards a game and the Titans have just eight wins over his 18 career starts. Add in that Locker has an expensive club option in 2015 that is unlikely to be picked up, and it's clear his time in Tennessee could have a rapidly approaching expiration date.
New head coach Ken Whisenhunt should have the opportunity to bring in his own guy, possibly even early in the 2014 draft.
Tennessee owns both the No. 11 and 42 overall picks in May. Whisenhunt might be tempted to use one of the two on his next quarterback.
Locker is almost certain to get another shot at starting in 2014, but his ties to Tennessee may be only temporary. Jump-starting the development of his replacement could be on Whisenhunt's agenda next month.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
2013 Stats: 16 games, 4,343 yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs, 87.3 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2018
Brett Favre was 35 years old when the Green Bay Packers selected Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft. After a rocky and well-publicized transition, Rodgers eventually went on to win a Super Bowl as Favre's replacement.
Might the Patriots be in position to replicate the start of that same process nine years later?
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, New England hosted both Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday. Both are expected to be high first-round picks.
The visits could be viewed two ways. Either head coach Bill Belichick wants to pick the brain of two quarterbacks he'll likely be playing against in coming years, or the Patriots have a legitimate interest in taking Brady's successor at some point in this draft.
New England has Brady, who turns 37 in August, under contract for the next four years. But backup Ryan Mallett is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and it remains uncertain if the Patriots view him as a serious successor. Over 12 career preseason games, Mallett has an underwhelming passer rating under 80.0.
If one of the big quarterbacks fall in the draft—New England picks No. 29 overall—the Patriots could very well find themselves in the same situation Green Bay was in 2005. Taking the value quarterback with a legend already on the roster eventually worked for Ted Thompson and the Packers.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
2013 Stats: 15 games, 3,828 yards, 31 TDs, 10 INTs, 96.7 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2020
Romo is signed to a big deal that doesn't expire until after 2019, veteran Kyle Orton is likely to return and the Cowboys snagged former first-round pick Brandon Weeden after he was dumped by the Cleveland Browns.
Could this already be a set quarterback situation? Maybe. Or maybe not.
Keep in mind, Orton is entering the final year of his contract and Weeden signed a deal averaging less than $700,000 per year, with no signing bonus. Who knows how much longer Romo will be a lock starter, but the backup situation is far from settled.
The Cowboys still aren't in a position to use a high pick on a quarterback, but one shouldn't be counted out in the middle to late rounds. Dallas hasn't drafted a player at the position in five years, and it probably makes more sense to carry at least one young, developmental prospect and either Orton or Weeden than both older, middling players.
And does anyone really think Romo will play out his entire deal? He'll be 34 in less than three weeks and 39 when his final year under contract begins in 2019. The time could be right to start the grooming process.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
2013 Stats: 11 games, 2,621 yards, 19 TDs, 12 INTs, 89.2 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2021
The Cutler situation might be the most delicate of any on this list.
On one hand, the Bears just handed their 30-year-old quarterback a seven-year, $126.7 million deal containing $54 million in guarantees. He's also entering the second season in the Marc Trestman offense, a system that appeared to calm and refine his game some in 2013.
But the deal is actually nothing more than a three-year commitment, as the $54 million in guarantees includes each of his first three base salaries and nothing more. The Bears recently converted a portion of his 2014 base salary into a $5 million signing bonus, but that prorated money wouldn't stop Chicago from parting ways if the need arose three years down the road.
This reality, when combined with the departure of backup Josh McCown, could open the door for Trestman to draft a quarterback he can groom behind Cutler.
The still defense-deficient Bears probably can't afford to spend a high pick on the position. But a middle-rounder would be a worthwhile investment, especially considering how hard it has been for Cutler to stay on the field in recent years. And given how well Trestman has handled quarterbacks, it's not unreasonable to think he could eventually produce an successor from a slightly less-heralded draft choice.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
2013 Stats: 16 games, 5,162 yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTs, 104.7 passer rating
Contract Status: Free agent in 2017
All good things must eventually come to an end, and it appears as if there's a faint light emerging at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Brees and the Saints.
Brees turned 35 in January, and his current deal only lasts through the 2016 season. That leaves the Saints with potentially three more years with their franchise player before a changing of the guard inevitably occurs.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller heard at the combine in February that the Saints were meeting with top-level quarterback prospects, potentially to prepare themselves for a Aaron Rodgers-like situation in which one of them falls down the board. It would be an ideal scenario if the Saints can nab a raw, high-upside quarterback at some point in this draft, as the presence of Brees would give that player a chance to develop and learn behind one of the best of all time.
The Saints don't need a successor for Brees anytime soon. But the day when they do is approaching, and it's possible New Orleans will begin plans for it in this draft.
Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.