As the old saying goes, quarterbacks usually get the credit when a team wins but also take the brunt of the blame during the down times. FOX Sports Senior NFL Writer Alex Marvez takes a look at 11 QBs who enter the preseason under even more pressure than what playing the position customarily brings.
Buffalo's EJ Manuel
Offseason coaching changes in Buffalo will either rejuvenate Manuel’s career or continue a track sending him out of Western New York. The first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL draft with the 16th overall pick, Manuel started 10 games in an injury-plagued rookie season and the first four last year before being benched in favor of Kyle Orton. Manuel’s lack of job security is reflected by Buffalo’s open quarterback competition that includes newcomers Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor.
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New York Jets' Geno Smith
A bumpy 2014 campaign in which Smith briefly lost his starting job to Michael Vick ended on a high note. He posted a perfect quarterback rating during a 358-yard, three-touchdown performance against Miami in Week 17. That effort was one of the reasons New York’s first-year pairing of head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan is bullish enough about Smith that he will enter training camp as the unquestioned starter. Smith, though, must show consistency to keep that role. The Jets have another option waiting in the wings in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey when both were in Buffalo.
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Houston's Brian Hoyer
What started as a breakthrough 2014 season for Hoyer ended with him being benched for Johnny Manziel in Cleveland last December. Hoyer has gotten his mojo back this offseason since being reunited with Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, who was his offensive coordinator in New England. Hoyer enters training camp having pulled ahead of Ryan Mallett as the frontrunner to start. If he keeps the job, Hoyer must next show he can play well enough to make Houston competitive against Indianapolis in the AFC South race.
Cincinnati's Andy Dalton
Bengals fans who booed Dalton at a recent softball game should be subjected to old David Klingler and Akili Smith videos for a reminder of what bad quarterbacking was in Cincinnati. Dalton, though, will continue to catch grief until leading Cincinnati to a playoff victory after four consecutive first-round losses.
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Cleveland's Josh McCown
Johnny Manziel’s on-and-off-the-field struggles led to the Browns signing the 36-year-old McCown as at least a short-term quarterback fix. McCown is well regarded for his leadership as a positive locker-room presence. But after a disastrous 2014 campaign with Tampa Bay, McCown must show his stellar stretch during the 2013 season with Chicago wasn’t a fluke in what has otherwise been a mediocre quarterbacking career.
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Denver's Peyton Manning
Manning's "hot seat" status stems solely from his previous success and last season’s late struggles. Whether fair or not, Manning has played at a Hall of Fame level for so long that anything less than elite play even at age 39 is a disappointment. Manning, too, doesn't want to keep going if he can’t compete for a Super Bowl. Manning’s dip last season may stem more from a Week 15 quadriceps injury suffered against San Diego than rapidly diminishing skills. Denver believes Manning is still capable of winning a championship although the Broncos want to give him the same kind of help that team executive John Elway received late in his quarterbacking career. Bolstering the running game is a major focus of new head coach Gary Kubiak. However, one has to wonder whether 2015 is the swan song for one of the all-time greats.
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Philadelphia's Sam Bradford
The first overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford was finally on the verge of fulfilling his promise as a franchise quarterback in St. Louis before suffering two knee injuries that sidelined him for much of the past two seasons. Bradford was still rehabilitating during the offseason but is expected to open training camp as Philadelphia’s starter. This season will show whether the Rams’ offseason trade of Bradford to the Eagles was short-sighted or prudent. Bradford’s pending status as a free agent in the 2016 offseason adds to the intrigue in Philadelphia where he will be surrounded by more offensive talent than he was at any point in St. Louis.
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Washington's Robert Griffin III
Considering his struggles the past two seasons, it’s easy to forget that Griffin edged Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2012. Griffin has plenty of ground to make up if he wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as Wilson and Luck once again for stellar quarterbacking. Jay Gruden’s attempt to reinvent Griffin as more of a pocket passer proved disastrous in last year’s 4-12 campaign. Washington hopes that a second year in Gruden’s system, an improved offensive line and some offensive tweaks (including the flopping of wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson) help get Griffin back on track. Should none of this work, expect the Redskins to start from scratch under center once again in 2016.
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Chicago's Jay Cutler
Cutler's steady decline continued in 2014 when he sputtered to the point of being benched for a game in December by head coach Marc Trestman, who was fired at season's end. The structure of his contract prompted Chicago’s new football brass to try to reinvent Cutler rather than take the salary cap hit of at least $16.5 million that would have come with his release. By keeping him on the roster, Cutler is now guaranteed $10 million of his $16 million base salary in 2016. The Bears, though, may be willing to swallow that large chunk of change if Cutler can’t reinvent himself under incoming offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
St. Louis' Nick Foles
Foles is a curious case. One would think Philadelphia shouldn’t part ways with a passer who posted a 14-4 starting record the past two years before suffering a season-ending clavicle injury last November against Houston. Yet the Eagles traded Foles this offseason to St. Louis for Sam Bradford, who hasn’t started since midway through the 2013 campaign because of two knee injuries. After a 2013 season in which he threw 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions, Foles came back to earth last year with 13 scores and 10 INTs in eight starts. Was that a sign for things to come or just a hiccup for a 26-year-old QB whose best days may be ahead? The Rams will find out in 2015 with Foles set to enter the final year of his rookie contract.
San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick
Two seasons removed from almost leading San Francisco to victory in Super Bowl 47, Kaepernick saw his star lose some of its luster in 2014 as he failed to show much progress as a pocket passer. With all the offseason changes in San Francisco, ranging from head coach to personnel, Kaepernick must carry more of the offensive load than in any of his previous 2.5 seasons as a starter.