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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NFL '07 Preview: Quarterbacks

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In his Hashmarks blog on ESPN, Matt Mosley posed a question: who are the most indispensable players in the NFL? Jeffri Chadiha was writing a column, wanted to know what the people thought.

I put in my own two cents: Bob Sanders and Jeff Saturday. L.J. If he goes down, the Chiefs would be completely wrecked. Ed Reed, Vince Wilfork (or any other top-flight nose tackle in a 3-4 like Jamal Williams), Nick Hardwick, Torry Holt, Vince Young.

My focus was obviously on non-quarterbacks. Sure, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are indispensable. They're the two most important players in the league, both first-ballot Hall of Famers. I was more interested in everybody else.

Of course, Chadiha went with the obvious. He really didn't have a choice. If the premise had been "who are the most indispensable non-quarterbacks," he'd have a great debate. But he didn't, so the list was the NFL glamour package: Larry Johnson at one, because the Chiefs really would be wrecked without him, followed by Brady, Manning, Brian Urlacher, Antonio Gates, Julius Peppers, Michael Vick, Walter Jones, Champ Bailey, and Carson Palmer.

In other words, he picked as many quarterbacks as could get away with (trying to avoid the "only focus on the pretty boys" backlash), then added the top running back, top middle linebacker, top tight end, top defensive end, top tackle, top cornerback, and Michael Vick, because apparently Joey Harrington is the worst player in the league.

Again, you can't really blame him. Under that premise, I actually would have gone more quarterback heavy. The Rams' offense would be devastated by the loss of Marc Bulger. Tennessee wouldn't win four games with Kerry Collins. A.J. Feeley in Philadelphia? Cleo Lemon in Miami? Jamie Martin in New Orleans?

If you define indispensable as meaning "they're completely screwed without him," quarterbacks are far and away the leaders of the pack. Just ask Seattle fans about the Seneca Wallace era.

And it's with this in mind we begin our 2007 NFL Season Preview Series with a ranking of each team's quarterback situations. This isn't an individual ranking. There are no fantasy points here. This is about which team is strongest at the position, taking into account the likelihood of injury or performance replacement of the starter, and the quality of backups on the depth chart.

Hall of Fame

Indianapolis (Peyton Manning, Jim Sorgi, John Navarre/Josh Betts)
New England (Tom Brady, Matt Cassel)

Notes: Cassel and Sorgi may suck. They may be awesome. We'll never know because Brady and Manning never come off the field. They are two Hall of Famers behind excellent offensive lines with excellent skill position players around them and coaches who know how to call a game. There's not a coach or GM in the league who wouldn't pick Brady and Manning one-two if they were building a team from scratch. That alone gets them atop any QB listing.


St. Louis (Marc Bulger, Gus Frerotte, Ryan Fitzpatrick)
New Orleans (Drew Brees, Jamie Martin, Jason Fife)
Cincinnati (Carson Palmer, Doug Johnson, Jeff Rowe)
Carolina (Jake Delhomme, David Carr, Brett Basanez)
Seattle (Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace, David Green)

Notes: Bulger, Brees, and Palmer are Pro Bowl-caliber. Delhommer isn't done by any means, and Carr makes for an excellent insurance policy. Wallace actually came on late in his stint last year, and Hasselbeck is due for a bounce-back from the injuries.

Future Rising

San Diego (Philip Rivers, Billy Volek, Charlie Whitehurst)
Arizona (Matt Leinart, Kurt Warner, Shane Boyd)
Denver (Jay Cutler, Patrick Ramsey, Preston Parsons)
Dallas (Tony Romo, Brad Johnson, Matt Baker)

Notes: All young stars in the making with veteran back-ups who've started in the past. The Johnson signing was huge for the Cowboys.

Greatness On a Short Leash

Baltimore (Steve McNair, Kyle Boller, Troy Smith)
Philadelphia (Donovan McNabb, A.J. Feeley/Kelly Holcomb, Kevin Kolb)
New York Jets (Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Marques Tuiasosopo)
Detroit (Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton)

Notes: The four starters have seen glory, but there are questions. The reserves make you grimace just a little bit. Tuiasosopo is the best third stringer in the league.

Maybe, Maybe Not

Buffalo (J.P. Losman, Craig Nall, Trent Edwards)
Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Brian St. Pierre/Bryan Randall)
Houston (Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, Bradlee Van Pelt)
Tennessee (Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Tim Rattay)
New York Giants (Eli Manning, Anthony Wright, Jared Lorenzen)
Atlanta (Michael Vick, Joey Harrington, Chris Redman/D.J. Shockley)
Tampa Bay (Jeff Garcia, Bruce Gradkowski/Chris Simms)
San Francisco (Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill)
Jacksonville (Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Quinn Gray)

Notes: Losman needs to stop making mistakes. Roethlisberger needs to stop making excuses. Schaub is a complete unknown as a starter and has a bad offensive line. Young needs to lead a solid passing game to move up. Eli would have been much better off in San Diego. Vick can be awesome or completely suck. Garcia is old and doesn't have Brian Westbrook carrying the load for him. Smith could be good or he could be Dilfer in the making. Leftwich and Garrard deserve a better ranking, but Jack Del Rio is managing them into the ground.

As for the second-stringers, Rosenfels and Wright are starter material. Harrington isn't nearly as bad as people say. Dilfer is solid. Nall and Collins would be complete disasters if they were pushed to start.

Oy Vei

Miami (Trent Green, Cleo Lemon, John Beck)
Cleveland (Jeff Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn)
Kansas City (Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, Preston Parsons)
Oakland (Josh McCown, JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter/Josh Booty)
Washington (Jason Campbell, Mark Brunell, Todd Collins/Jordan Palmer)
Chicago (Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, Kyle Orton)
Green Bay (Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Ingle Martin)
Minnesota (Tarvaris Jackson, Brooks Bollinger, Drew Henson/Tyler Thigpen)

Notes: Can Green stay healthy behind a mediocre-at-best offensive line? Frye or Anderson or Quinn? All three will probably start this year. Didn't Grossman prove he sucked last year? Brodie Croyle? Welcome to the fire, JaMarcus. Campbell hasn't done anything to even remotely deserve a hand-given starting spot. This is the end of Favre and there is a nightmare brewing for the Vikings.

Seth Doria is a freelance writer in St. Louis. For daily news and notes on sports, entertainment and politics, please visit The Left Calf.

Comments on "NFL '07 Preview: Quarterbacks"

On July 12, 2007, Rob said...

"excellent skill players around" Tom Brady? When? MAYBE this year and this year only. At no time prior had he EVER had skill players the level of Marvin Harrison or Edjerrin James (in his prime). He was winning SB's with David Patten and Antwoine Smith. Excellent skill players my ass.

On July 12, 2007, Seth said...

This is about this year and this year only. (And it's not a maybe. It's not even close to a maybe. It's a most-definitley-biggest-lock-ever sure thing.)

On July 12, 2007, Jeff said...

How do you figure Del Rio managed Leftwich and Garrard into the ground? One was lost for the season with ankle surgery, the other screwed the pooch in all 3 of the losses that kept the Jags from the playoffs at the end of last year.

Let me guess, Del Rio told Garrard to let the Titans score 3 defensive TD's, right? If Leftwich stays healthy all season, does that suddenly mean that Del Rio managed him much better?

On July 12, 2007, Seth said...

It started with the playoff loss to the Pats at the end of the 05 season, when he pulled a streaking Garrard (won four of five and scored 78 in the previous two games) for a rusty Leftwich. That loss (28-3) led to a full offseason of questioning Leftwich, with a lot of people calling for Garrard to become the starter. Then Leftwich regains the job, goes 3-3 before getting hurt, then gets into the “I’m healthy enough to come back” “No you’re not” debate while the Jags stumble out of the playoff picture.

And now this offseason, Del Rio straight up tells Leftwich, playing on the final year of his contract, and Garrard, who is signed through 2008, that he’s thinking about bringing on Culpepper. Translation: “I wish I had another option at starting quarterback.”

As the head coach, Del Rio has taken what used to be considered one of the best young 1-2 quarterback tandems in the league and turned them into inconsistent game managers who don’t know what their long-term roles are going to be. How can you not be mad at him for that?

On July 13, 2007, Jeff said...

Those two games prior to the playoff loss in 2005 where they scored 78 points, how many did Garrard account for and who were they playing? Houston and Tennessee and Garrard account for 7 of the 78 points. The rest of those points were a result of the running game. The week before they barely beat the 49ers 10-9, and that was a very bad team. They were winning in spite of him, not because of him.

The only people calling for Garrard to start in 2006 were the national media, who don't pay attention to the Jags anyway. Leftwich outplayed Garrard for the job in 2006, and only lost it due to injury. Garrard showed his value (or lack thereof) the rest of the way, which is the whole reason they are even looking at Culpepper.

Del Rio has also repeatedly stated that if they sign Culpepper, it will be as a backup for 2007 with a chance to compete in 2008. Leftwich is in the final year of his contract, so it makes sense to explore other options for next year. If they do sign him, I wouldn't be surprised to see Garrard let go. They know what they have with him.

I think Del Rio made it pretty clear what their long-term roles are. Leftwich is the starter this season and his performance will dictate if he stays with the team beyond that. Garrard is a backup that can be effective for one, maybe two games before defenses force him into bad decisions.

The only thing I am mad about is that Leftwich can't seem to stay healthy. Don't forget how well he was playing in 2005 before he got injured. If he plays all 16 games this season, expect the Jags to be in the playoffs, and possibly win the AFC South.

On July 13, 2007, Seth said...

I can see your logic, but have two questions:

1. Do you think Culpepper will really sign for more than a one-year deal? I I'm him, I want a chance to prove myself, then get paid next offseason. There's no way he's satisfied coming to camp without a shot at the starting job.

2. Say Leftwich stays healthy for all 16, then bolts as a UFA. (The Jags won't franchise him and he won't be giving any home town discounts). Then what? Maybe Culpepper, maybe Garrard, maybe somebody that's not currently on the roster. That's cool with you?

I'm a Leftwich fan, have been since college. I think he can be outstanding, a consistent top-10 QB, and the Jags should have already given him an extension this offseason. Health risks aside, the fact they are letting him go into a walk year is an error in judgment. I blame Del Rio.

On July 13, 2007, Jeff said...

I can see the Jags extending Byron during the second half of the season, provided he stays healthy beyond the halfway point. They have done that the past few seasons with players to use up available cap space rather than waste it by including a lot of money in signing bonus.

If not for the health issues, I agree he would have been locked up long term already, and Garrard probably wouldn't even be on the team anymore. In my opinion, Quinn Gray is a better QB than Garrard, difference being he hasn't gotten the opportunity to start. Garrard has flaws that simply shouldn't be there for a six year veteran and don't suddenly correct themselves. He is still on the roster only because he has starting experience.

I could also see them franchising him if they don't do a long term deal because of the available cap space and the desire to see him put up back to back good and healthy seasons. Also just to protect the asset of a starting QB, ensuring that if someone else wanted him they would get compensated for him.

I can see Culpepper getting a 3 year deal from the Jags that has a good sized signing-bonus and since they have the cap space with future years tied to performance. The word I have been hearing is that Culpepper won't even be ready to play at the start of the season and will probably be placed on a team's PUP list.

I don't blame Del Rio, as he is just the coach. He doesn't have final say into the financial and personnel decisions of the team. That is all Shack Harris and Paul Vance. As you might have seen after the draft, if it were up to Del Rio there is a good chance Brady Quinn would be a Jag right now. Thank god that didn't happen.

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