If you have watched the Arizona Cardinals at all in 2010, one thing, above all else, will be painfully obvious to you.
The Cardinals are in desperate need of an upgrade at Quarterback.
And while many fans and analysts are suggesting that they should use their fifth overall pick in the upcoming draft to find one, as the Cardinals learned with Matt Leinart, a college stud is not a sure thing in the NFL.
What's more, with Andrew Luck out of the picture, the value of the remaining quarterbacks, Cam Newton, Ryan Mallet and Blaine Gabbert has skyrocketed, and, however unlikely, all three could be gone before the Cardinals pick.
If the Cardinals prefer to go a different route to the craps shoot that is the NFL draft, there are no shortage of experienced quarterbacks set to become free agents or trade fodder in the postseason.
And selecting an experienced quarterback frees the Cardinals to make better decisions in the draft itself, whether that means improving their pass rush in Robert Quinn or DaQuan Bowers, or, should he fall that far, select a receiver like AJ Green.
So, who will be starting for the Cardinals in 2011? Let's take a look at the options.
Some names will almost certainly be linked to any team in need of a QB in 2011, and, as the Cardinals have amongst the biggest need of anyone.
However, the Cardinals will almost inevitably be linked with these players, but should avoid them like the plague.
Favre is now 41, and has been in the NFL for 20 seasons.
At one point, Favre was one of the most well respected, well liked, and inspirations players in the league. His last few seasons have been marred by poor performance and personal scandal.
Favre has lost his shine a little. Few players still look up to him, fans are beginning to dislike him, and almost everyone who has watched him play wished he had stayed retired, and ended his season on a high, rather than putting himself, and his teams through the disappointment that has been his last four seasons.
Favre will likely retire again following 2010 season, and, by spring, will likely feel the itch once more and seek a new home. The Cardinals will be linked with him, but should not even consider him for a moment.
Russell is a former number one draft pick, and, although he has firmly cemented his reputation as the biggest bust of all time, teams still seem to hope that he will shake that, and continue to try him out.
In spite of his shocking numbers, persistent "purple drank" drug rumors, and reputation for being a locker room cancer, Russell still believes he deserves to be an NFL quarterback, and teams continue to add fuel to the fire by trying him out.
Lack of any kind of QB will likely mean Arizona may be tempted to trial him, but they absolutely should not.
After all, accounts suggest that Derek Anderson was brought in to spur on Matt Leinart, and he ended up winning the starting job.
The Cardinals need to avoid the temptation to even give Russell a minute of their time. They need to bar his number, and that of his agent Ethan Lock. I don't care that Lock's partner Eric Metz represents Ken Whisenhunt. I don't care that "Ethan Lock, Ken Whisenhunt" throws up over 18,000 hits on google.
Ken Whisenhunt must not be tempted to consider Russell as an option. Period.
Michael Vick could be the most exciting prospect in the NFL today.
A 2010 MVP Candidate, Vick's resurgence goes to prove that, in the NFL, anything is possible.
When he joined the Eagles in 2009, they knew it was a punt. He was offered a one year contract, with no money guaranteed. He played sparingly as Donovan McNabb's backup in 2009, and his off field persona earned him a second year in Philly.
In 2010, following the release of McNabb, Vick found himself starting in the NFL once more.
The Eagles kept Kolb, a starter in his own right, ready and prepared for when Vick came unstuck, but it never happened. An Injury in Week Four gave Kolb a hand full of starts to win the job back from Vick, but by Week Nine, Vick was back to full health, and returned to the starting lineup.
In some ways, you shouldn't even include Vick on these sorts of lists, the likelihood is that the Eagles will be forced to make him their number one priority and he will re-sign with the team which gave him his second chance.
However, you can't deny that Vick would be a fine addition to the Cardinals roster.
Not only would he improve their passing game no end, he would also bolster their lacklustre running game too.
The Cardinals have to consider spending their way out the hole they find themselves in, so, should a bidding war erupt for Vick, the Cardinals could just find themselves on top.
He is not a perfect fit for Arizona's current system, but, the fact of the matter is, the Cards need to re-think a few things on offense anyway, so they could rebuild around him.
Unfortunately for everyone else, odds are that Vick will be an Eagle in 2011 and beyond.
And perhaps that could be a blessing in disguise. The sort of football Vick plays means that, when he does begin to deteriorate, physically, his playing ability will decline very quickly, and going from league MVP to retirement over the course of one season is a very real possibility.
Impact at Cardinals: A- in 2011: His impact will decrease significantly once his body starts to fail
Fit for Cardinals: C+
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 50-to-1
Like Michael Vick, It's hard to imagine Peyton Manning signing with anyone but his current team.
But, he is still technically a free agent in 2011. He has not yet signed anything with the Colts, and, in spite of their commitment to make him the highest paid quarterback in the league, he is perfectly entitled to listen to other offers.
Peyton Manning, 34, is one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Whatever you feel about him, or the Colts, his numbers speak for themselves. He is without a doubt a future hall-of-famer.
And, while all signs point to the fact that Manning will retire a Colt, his agent, Tom Condon, will have no shortage of offers when he becomes a free agent at the close of the season.
There is reason to suspect that, both sides, may not be quite as sure about this deal as they would have us believe.
Manning, who will be 35 next season, is without a doubt closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning. Indeed, there is reason to believe that he may have less than a season remaining while he is at the top of his game. The Colts have built their offense around Manning for years, and it has worked for them, but the question remains, what happens next?
For as long as Peyton Manning is your quarterback, it is practically impossible to develop anyone to replace him. No-one will step out from his shadow and become the next franchise quarterback, which has to be a concern for them.
From Manning's point of view, it's pretty simple. The Colts are not a good team, Peyton Manning is just an exceptional quarterback.
His ability covers over a multitude of frailties all over the field for the Colts, but, as he gets older, and his ability diminishes, he may relish the chance to play with some elite receivers who can keep him at the top of his game for a little longer.
Could the Cardinals be his home in 2011? It wouldn't be the first time they have signed a future hall-of-famer towards the end of his career. Do the names Kurt Warner, Emmitt Smith or Edgerrin James ring any bells?
If the Cardinals were to sign Manning, they would need to outbid the Colts by quite a significant number, and throw a similar amount of money at the offensive line to boot, which would rule out re-signing Larry Fitzgerald, the one and only real reason Manning would consider leaving Indy, but, we can always dream.
Impact at Cardinals: A++
Fit for Cardinals: B+
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 100-to-1
Chad Pennington is a veteran QB, known, above all else, for his accuracy.
His career completion percentage is 66, and has thrown 102 touchdowns and only 64 interceptions.
He has been one of the leagues most accurate passers since he became a starter in 2002.
Given the Cardinals horrendous completion percentages, and large number of interceptions in 2010, an accurate QB could be an answer to prayer.
Pennington is a ten year veteran and not the oldest player on our list, however, he has not played very much in the past two seasons.
What's more, his 2010 campaign was ended by a shoulder injury which many suspected would be career ending.
His reliability has been in question, and he has been injury prone over his career, playing every game in only two of his 10 seasons in the NFL.
Pennington has claimed that he only feels "50-50" about returning in 2011, but the Cardinals could be a good home for him should he decide to do so. He would need a dependable backup, something that Arizona don't necessarily have right now, and they would also need to have a young player who will be ready to take over within one or two seasons at most.
Ultimately, there may be too many question marks surrounding Pennington for him to be the answer the Cardinals are looking for, but if a few of these questions are answered sooner than later, then maybe Arizona could prove to be good home for Pennington to finish his career.
Impact at Cardinals: C+
Fit for Cardinals: A
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 35-to-1
It's been a tumultuous season for Vince Young.
The former first round pick lead his team to a 5-5 start, before tearing the flexor tendon in his thumb, suffering a meltdown, and, to add insult to injury, hearing through the press that his services would not be required in 2011.
VY has had an inconsistent NFL history, and has failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him following his illustrious college career.
He is clearly a fragile personality, and may be a bridge too far for most teams.
However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and there is always the possibility that the Titans was just not a good fit for Young, and he could do much better elsewhere.
For most teams, Young will be viewed as a punt, a prospect, but not a great one, wherein lies the problem.
Young still appears to view himself as one of the all time great players, and will likely expect to be compensated thus. Teams will likely not be willing to offer him the multi-year, multi-million dollar contract he feels he deserves
Young would be a pretty good fit for the Cardinals, and plays the sort of football that Coach Whisenhunt can make work in Arizona without too many changes.
How much of an improvement he will make at the Cards is up for debate however. He has never come near his college best in the NFL, but is still young and still has bags of potential.
He is emotionally fragile and has had injury concerns too, and may be detrimental to the locker room.
Put simply, he would be a mixed bag, not exactly what the Cards need right now, but if he turns out to be as good as people once thought he would be, he could be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Impact at Cardinals: Between A- and D+: Unfortunately, Young is a mixed bag. He could be too fragile and inconsistent to really improve things for the Cards, or could return to his college best in a new system.
Fit for Cardinals: B+
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 20-to-1
No, this isn't a typo, yes, I did just suggest Matt Leinart, and yes, I do mean that Matt Leinart.
Leinart, was released by the Cardinals following their 2010 preseason.
You have to believe that the Coaching staff have regretted it ever since.
Leinart had not been a real success in Arizona, and never really developed into what they wanted him to be, so it may come as a shock that I would be suggesting bringing him back in 2011, but think about it.
Arizona spent four seasons grooming him to be their franchise QB. No-one currently playing knows the Cardinals system better than Leinart, His completion percentage in preseason (78.6) was much better than any other Cardinals QB in 2010.
In preseason, he completed 22-28 attempts for 175 yards and a TD. He was not picked off.
What Cardinals wouldn't have given for those kind of numbers.
What's more, he did so without star wide-out Larry Fitzgerald, and under immense pressure, with no less than three other QBs gunning for his job.
Leinart has spent the season on the bench in Houston, and, is unlikely to find too many teams wanting to make him anything more than a backup in 2011, so if the Cardinals came knocking, offering him a starters spot, all may be forgiven
I always liked Leinart, and think he lost out more because of a personality clash with Whisenhunt than because of his ability.
He is not, nor is he ever going to be, the next Tom Brady or Payton Manning, but, I suspect, would have been a whole lot better in 2010 than Derek Anderson or Max Hall.
I understand the Cardinals decision to cut him, his contract was disproportionately high, compared to his production, but in 2011, as a free agent, desperate for another chance, Leinart may be willing to settle for a much more reasonable salary with the Cardinals.
I still believe that he can become a solid, dependable Quarterback for the Cardinals, or someone else.
And, like I said, he knows the Cardinals offense better than anyone.
Impact at Cardinals: B+: Leinart is a relatively solid, dependable passer.
Fit for Cardinals: A+
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 15-to-1
The Cardinals have reportedly been interested in Marc Bulger for some time, and you can sort of see why.
Bulger is a very similar player to Kurt Warner. Both played for St. Louis, has a good arm, decent accuracy and completion percentage, and TD-INT differential.
He is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but still has a few years left in him yet.
What's more, he knows the Cardinals well, having played them often in the NFC West.
He has spent the season playing backup to Joe Flacco in Baltimore, and would likely jump at the chance to take over as starter in Arizona, and mentor a young QB like John Skelton, Cam Newton or Ryan Mallett.
Like Maning or Vick, he is a short term solution, his NFL career as a starter is limited to just a few short seasons, but unlike Manning or Vick, this is not a problem. Young stars would have plenty of opportunities to step out from his shadow, and if they do, that would be okay.
After a year on the bench, and ever-decreasing stats, you have to question whether he would be a division winning QB in 2011, and is a pocket passer, with no scrambling ability. For Bulger to be successful, the Cardinals O-Line would need major improvements, which may mean that, overall, he becomes too expensive.
But the potential is obvious, and, there is a good chance that he will be on the Cardinals shopping list again in 2011.
Impact at Cardinals: Between C+ and A-
Fit for Cardinals: B+
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 15-to-1
Kolb has been heir-apparent in Phillidelphia since being drafted in 2007. He has been moulded and groomed to take over, but it has never happened.
Kolb seems like a genuine, team oriented sort of guy, but that will only take you so far. Frustration must be setting in for Kolb, and, assuming that the Eagles re-sign Michael Vick, Kolb is unlikely to happily play backup again.
The Eagles will likely want to keep Kolb around, Vick is injury prone, and his playing style means that he will likely deteriorate quickly in the next few years, however, a starter in his own right, Kolb will likely force the issue and insist on a trade.
If he does, the Cardinals could be a good fit for the young signal caller.
He should be able to slip in to the Cardinals scheme fairly quickly, and take control of the offense.
The downside—He's not a free agent, and the Cardinals may be reluctant to give up what the Eagles want.
To my mind, Kolb is probably the best fit of anyone suggested here, but unfortunately, to get him, the Cardinals will probably need to give up at least two 2011 draft picks, which is probably more than he is worth, given how much rebuilding may be necessary elsewhere on the field. In the unlikely event that Kolb is released, however, expect him to move to the head of such lists.
Impact at Cardinals: A
Fit for Cardinals: A-
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 20-to-1
Donovan McNabb has not had a successful tenure at the Washington Redskins.
His numbers have declined steeply since leaving Philadelphia, so much so that he was benched in favor of Rex Grossman for the close of the season.
McNabb, 34, has been known for his accuracy and distinct lack of turnovers throughout his time in the NFL, but the 2010 campaign has seen him throw more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career.
McNabb is the name most often linked with the Cardinals, and you can see why. He owns a home in the Phoenix area, and is known to have a friendship with a number of Cardinals players, including Larry Fitzgerald.
He is also an experienced QB, who plugs Arizona's biggest needs, accuracy, experience and ability not to throw too many picks. He is a fan favorite in the area too, and is well liked by most of the Cardinals faithful.
You can see why he normally finds himself at the head of these sorts of lists.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks, McNabb has watched his value plummet.
Many commentators had put his poor 2010 performance down to the Redskins system and receivers he was throwing too. However the performance of Rex Grossman to close out the season is forcing everyone to reassess McNabb's culpability in all of that.
In his three games in charge, Grossman, who is known for throwing large number of interceptions, managed to post a similar completion percentage, higher QB rating and significantly better TD-INT ratio than McNabb.
In addition, McNabb signed a multi-year contract extension with Washington for 2011. They will almost certainly drop him rather than pay his 2011 contract, for which he would be due a $2.5 million base salary, plus a $10 million option bonus.
However, the contract is written in such a way that the Redskins can keep him on their roster right up to the first game of the season, and not owe him any extra money, so they are in no hurry to release him at all.
The problem, for anyone looking to sign him, of course, is that they will either need to sign someone else in case they don't get him, or attempt to trade for him, both of which are problematic.
And, the contract he signed with Washington, which sees him paid, on average, $12 million a year over the next five years gives an indication of how McNabb values himself, which may be too rich for the Cardinals blood.
On top of all of that, the Cardinals have had numerous chances to sign him in the past, and have never seriously pursued him. They have even gone so far as going on record to assure fans that he is not the sort of player that they have ever been interested in. Clearly, they believe that there is some merit in the reports of him being lazy, and out of shape.
However, in spite of all of these things, McNabb is still likely to be the most experienced, most proven QB who the Cardinals stand a real chance of signing, so the chances are high that they will at least consider him.
Impact at Cardinals: A to C: Depends heavily on how responsible for Washington's failures he really was.
Fit for Cardinals: A
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 8-to-1
It seems the experiment is over. Alex Smith, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, is finished with the 49ers. Or perhaps they are finished with him.
Regardless of which party wants out more, Smith has confirmed that there is no chance of him re-signing with the 49ers.
Alex Smith has had a difficult career in the NFL, and 2010 has been no different. His biggest issue has always been consistency. While he has shown flashes of brilliance, shown glimpses of what the Niners thought he could become, he has also single handedly lost them numerous games too.
His 2010 campaign has seen him complete nearly 60% of his passes, for 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating was 82.1. Not horrendous stats, but not brilliant ones either.
Why, then, would Smith find himself sitting at number two on this list?
Actually, it's quite simple.
Alex Smith is a franchise QB. He's just not San Francisco's franchise QB.
He has never really had the chance to excel. The fans have never warmed to him, booing the smallest mistakes he makes, while never acknowledging his best play, the system he was asked to play in never really fit his style, and his receiving core has been nearly as inconsistent as he has.
I genuinely believe that Alex Smith could yet develop into one of the NFL's top signal callers with just a change of scenery, and a coaching staff who believe in him.
Arizona may not be that home, Coach Ken Whisenhunt has proved that he is willing to chop-and-change quarterbacks at the drop of a hat, which has always hampered Smith in the past, and appeared to have a similar effect on Matt Leinart, but if the imminent coaching changes in Arizona help calm Coach Whisenhunt down enough to name him permanent starter, he could be exactly what the Cardinals ordered.
He feels like the sort of QB who could succeed in the Arizona desert. He is a tough, cerebral passer, who would certainly benefit from a sure-handed target like Larry Fitzgerald. He has a decent enough arm, is young and athletic enough to extend plays with his feet, and some nice touch.
His mechanics could still do with a little tweaking, but he is still a quarterback who appears ready to start in the NFL, something which can not be said of any quarterback on the Cardinals roster at present.
Impact at Cardinals: B
Fit for Cardinals: A
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 5-to-1
Kyle Orton has been one of the more productive quarterbacks in 2010. In his 13 games starting, he has completed 58.8% of his passes for 3.653 yards, 20 TDs and only nine INT. His passer rating is 87.5.
His season has been relatively successful, except for one thing, his stats haven't translated into wins.
For Orton, he now faces the difficult wait to discover who will take over in Denver, knowing that, almost certainly, it will result in his being relieved of starting duties, in favor of Tim Tebow, who was solid in his three games starting, or some other quarterback.
For those considering picking him up, his most impressive stats in 2010 are his TD-INT ratio and the number of yards per game average.
Of course, the observant amongst you will note that the rest of his stats are actually pretty average, and you would be right. You would also argue that it is not really fair to call Orton one of the most productive QBs in the league with such average stats.
However, it is important to factor in that Kyle Orton is also one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league. His offensive line has been none-existant in 2010.
To make things worse for Orton's stars, when he reached the red-zone, he was often pulled in favor of Tim Tebow, a dual threat quarterback.
When summing up Kyle Orton, it's also imortant to remember who he has been throwing to. In 2010 he managed to turn Brandon Lloyd—who's previous best season, 2005, saw him post 733 yards receiving—into one of the NFL's top Wide Receivers.
Lloyd has caught 77 passes for an NFL best 1,448 yards, and 11 TDs. His average yards per reception was 18.8 yards.
His other targets, Jabar Gaffney and Eddy Royal have been similarly average prior to 2010, and have improved under Orton.
And while all of these players have done more than their fair share, and have all worked hard in 2010, it's fair to say, none of these players would normally be considered amongst the top WRs in the game without Orton.
Just imagine what he could do with Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and—should he fall to them—AJ Green.
Orton is a great fit for Arizona, and at just 28 is approaching what should be the prime of his career.
He has a decent arm, good touch, great decision making and is mobile enough to extend plays. He is supremely hard working, has a great attitude and is mentally tough.
He doesn't throw too many interceptions, a big plus in Arizona right now, and has good size and weight.
His Mechanics are as close to perfect as you are likely to find in a Quarterback, and with a little better pocket protection—which should be a priority for Arizona regardless of who is their quarterback—Orton could become an elite quarterback.
The consensus is that Ortons value is somewhere between a third and fourth round pick, which is good value for the Cardinals.
I believe that the Cardinals should, and will, pursue Orton hard this off-season, which is why I am making him my favourite pick to lead Arizona in 2011.
Impact at Cardinals: A+
Fit for Cardinals: A
Odds of signing for Cardinals: 3-to-1