Need a new quarterback? Good luck finding one this year.
If the 2012 NFL offseason was the “Year of the QB,” the 2013 offseason has all the makings of being “The Year of the Good QBs Going Into Hibernation.” Last offseason, Peyton Manning was a free agent, Tim Tebow was on the trading block and Drew Brees’ contract situation was a constant topic of conversation. Five eventual first-year, full-time starters — Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson — were entering the NFL Draft. Capable veterans such as Chad Henne, Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton, Alex Smith and Matt Flynn were on the free-agent market, too. The surplus of strong, quality quarterbacks on the market was overwhelming.
Make no doubt about it: The demand for a quality quarterback this offseason has never been greater. There just happens to be a minor catch: The supply is at an all-time low.
Let’s start with the free agents. There’s bleak and then there’s this year’s class, which is about 10 tiers below that.
Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco technically can become a free agent, sure, but he’s not going anywhere. The Ravens either will lock him up with a long-term extension or will put the franchise tag on him, paying him a yearly salary close to $20 million either way. Bills backup Tarvaris Jackson, a former starter for the Vikings and Seahawks, was expected to generate some interest on the free-agent market in March. That, of course, was until he signed a two-year extension on Friday.
After Flacco and Jackson? Yikes.
Here are the top five quarterbacks on the free-agent market this offseason:
1. Brian Hoyer: Undrafted in 2009, released by New England in August, released by Pittsburgh in December, started a Week 17 loss for Arizona.
2. Matt Moore: Undrafted in 2007, started 12 games for Miami in 2011, saw action in two games as a backup for the Dolphins in 2012.
3. Jason Campbell: He’s a 31-year-old journeyman who has played for three teams in the past four years. Started one game for the Bears in 2012 — a 32-7 loss to the 49ers in Colin Kaepernick’s first career start.
4. Drew Stanton: Well-liked career backup in Detroit and Indianapolis. Hasn’t thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2010.
5. Seneca Wallace: Longtime NFL backup and Mike Holmgren favorite. Like Holmgren, finished the 2012 season out of work and not with an NFL team.
Doing flips over any of those guys? I didn’t think so.
This year’s rookie quarterback class isn’t much to marvel at, either.
As I mentioned earlier, the 2012 NFL Draft netted five first-year quarterbacks who started from Week 1. Wilson, RG3 and Luck started playoff games, too, becoming the first rookie trio to start contests in the same postseason.
Ryan Lindley and Nick Foles also started games for the Cardinals and Eagles, respectively, while Brock Osweiler spent a year under Peyton Manning’s wing with the Broncos.
That’s eight first-year quarterbacks who either started multiple postseason games, a single playoff game, every regular-season game or a handful of regular-season games or spent an entire season backing up one of the greatest quarterbacks in the sport’s history.
Veteran scribes and football purists laughed at me when I called the 2012 rookie quarterback class the greatest one football’s ever seen back in October. I had no problem being the subject of widespread Twitter ridicule. I stood firmly behind my comment.
Four months later, you can’t dismiss my original thesis as new-age hooey or Internet “trolling.” Sure, the 1984 class featured three Hall of Fame quarterbacks. And, yes, the 2004 class already has four Super Bowl rings among them. But the 2012 class — with its depth, potential and immediate success — has a beautiful future. There’s no reason to believe RG3, Wilson and Luck can’t have careers as successful as Jim Kelly, John Elway and Dan Marino or Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.
The 2013 rookie quarterback class? Well, fasten your seat belts. From the early looks of it, this could be a bumpy ride.
Frank Scelfo, the Jaguars’ new quarterbacks coach, caught some heat this week for insisting Jacksonville starter Blaine Gabbert would be the first passer taken in this year’s draft if he were a 2013 prospect.
“If you graded him out right now, this is his draft class. If he were coming out — and the quarterback draft class the way it is — would he be the top guy taken? I think the answer is yes,” Scelfo told The Florida Times-Union.
People mocked Scelfo last week, but guess what? He’s absolutely right.
I’ve spoken to several different sources the past few weeks, and you can expand Scelfo’s list to include Tannehill, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, too.
There’s no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this draft’s quarterback class. There might not even be a Gabbert.
If the Chiefs draft an offensive tackle or pass rusher with the top overall selection, it won’t be for any lack of need for a franchise quarterback. It’ll be for a lack of a quarterback worthy of the top pick.
“It’s as bad — if not worse — than the 2007 class, in terms of the quarterback position,” I had one source tell me this weekend. That ’07 class, one in which I’ve written about extensively the years, boasted the following 10 names:
• JaMarcus Russell • Brady Quinn • John Beck • Kevin Kolb • Drew Stanton • Trent Edwards • Jeff Rowe • Troy Smith • Jordan Palmer • Tyler Thigpen
With the possible exception of Kolb (and that might be a stretch at this point), there’s not a single 2013 opening-week starter in the batch.
Unlike that year’s class, though, there is no JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn — two guys who were, at least at the time, considered surefire first-round talents. The quarterback class this year has eight names that have all been tossed around as potential first-round guys but none considered locks.
West Virginia’s Geno Smith, USC’s Matt Barkley and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones were the early favorites to be the first overall pick at the start of the 2012 college football season. All three struggled in the second half of their senior years and have seen their draft stocks take significant hits since last April. I’ve had one reliable source tell me that Barkley — a player I had listed as my top overall pick in an August mock draft — is by no means a “definite” first-round selection.
Florida State’s EJ Manuel and Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson both left the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., with a lot of positive buzz, but February buzz can be fleeting, forgotten by April. Their game film will be inspected under countless microscopes the next two months, and the results might not be as pretty as hoped. Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon and Tennessee’s Tyler Bray are this draft’s three wild cards — guys who could go anywhere from the top 10 to the third or fourth rounds.
Though I’ve heard some chatter that there might not be any quarterbacks selected in the first round come April, I think there will be least two or three. Teams are too quarterback-starved and under the new collective-bargaining agreement, the first-round contracts are no longer the four-year, salary cap-crippling albatrosses they once were. Rolling the dice on a quarterback in the first round isn’t going to set you back half a decade or put a general manager in an instant “sink or swim” situation. Truthfully, you can pretty much wipe your hands and be done with it a year later if you don’t believe he’s your guy (as Cleveland might end up doing with Weeden this year). A first-round pick’s contract under the new CBA is a lot different than the old days. Cam Newton’s deal was for four years and $22 million; Sam Bradford’s deal, signed a year earlier, was for six years and $78 million.
Smith, Barkley, Jones, Manuel, Wilson, Nassib, Glennon and Bray will all look to separate themselves from one another this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Through typical sports media desperation and hyperbole, one of them might even receive the annual wave of post-combine media hype.
But don’t be shocked if even the most talented of the eight is not treated the same way Luck and Griffin were a season ago or Newton and Gabbert were a year before that.
This, by all accounts, just isn’t a particularly strong offseason for the quarterback position. Whether it’s the free agents or the incoming rookies, there have been few years as bleak for teams looking for franchise quarterbacks.
Then again, you never know. I, we, everyone could be very wrong.
After all, I’m the same guy who said Russell Wilson wasn’t going to be an effective NFL quarterback 12 months ago. Thirty-one NFL teams passed on him last April in the draft.
None of us could have been more off with that assessment.