NFL success has everything to do with strong quarterback play. Whether it’s a rookie like Dak Prescott or a veteran like Tom Brady, a top-tier quarterback can mask a lot of issues a team may have.
Unfortunately, they don’t last forever. We saw Peyton Manning retire last year, and a few other veteran quarterbacks could potentially step away relatively soon. Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Drew Brees are all over age 35, meaning their departures from the NFL could be just around the corner.
Manning said this week that he’d be fine with the Giants drafting his successor, and they may not be the only team to do that in this year’s draft. Here are six teams that need to plan for the future and draft a quarterback to eventually take over for their veteran starter.
Kansas City Chiefs
It’s not that Alex Smith is old -- though he will be 33 in a month -- it’s that he may not be a guy you can win a Super Bowl with. He fits well in Andy Reid’s scheme and has played fairly well in recent years, but do the Chiefs really think he can be the guy to lead them to the promised land? That’s up for debate – or at least it should be.
The Chiefs are stacked on defense, and they have enough offensive weapons to win a championship. What’s holding them back a bit is Smith’s play. He’s thrown for 3,500 yards once, has only two 20-touchdown seasons and doesn’t have the big arm to create explosive plays downfield. He’s terrific as a game manager, throwing fewer than 10 interceptions in each of the last six seasons, but it’s hard to win Super Bowls with a quarterback of that caliber.
If the Chiefs can land a gunslinger like Patrick Mahomes, their offense could go to the next level in a year or two.
Jeff CurryJeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers’ career path has been similar to that of Eli Manning’s. Both have been very good quarterbacks out of the 2004 draft, starting every game since taking over as the starter for their respective team. That being said, it should come as no surprise the Chargers need to draft a quarterback.
Rivers, 35, said he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, but he’s still going to worry about himself until the time comes for him to step away. Heck, he even said the rookie would have to “sit for a while.” Despite Rivers’ comments, the Chargers need to draft a quarterback. His arm strength is worsening, and at 35 years old, it’s unclear how much longer he really wants to play – knowing how important family is to him.
Kellen Clemens obviously isn’t the long-term answer, nor is he a great backup.
The Steelers got a bit of a scare this offseason when Ben Roethlisberger said he wasn’t certain to play in 2017. It was never likely Roethlisberger, 35, would just suddenly retire – mainly for contractual reasons – but that comment almost certainly sparked a conversation within the walls of the Steelers facility.
It’s time for Pittsburgh to draft a quarterback to eventually replace Roethlisberger. He has a notable injury history, which makes the need to find a successor even more dire. Roethlisberger could probably play until he’s 40, but it’s unclear whether he has any desire to do so.
As a result, the Steelers have to be thinking about who will replace him. Landry Jones is a decent backup, but he’s no franchise quarterback. Don’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh take a guy before the fourth round.
New York Giants
Eli Manning is 36 years old, and though he’s arguably the most durable quarterback in the NFL, he’s not going to play forever. Sure, there’s a good chance he plays longer than his brother Peyton did, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for the Giants. His play fell off a bit in 2016, and it’s clear he’s well past his prime.
Ryan Nassib, who the Giants selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, never panned out. That shouldn’t stop New York from taking another shot on a rookie quarterback, this time potentially with a higher pick. The rookie wouldn’t take Manning’s job right away, but in two or three years – when the Giants can easily get out of his contract – it’s a legitimate possibility.
With New York’s roster looking as strong as it has in years, there’s no better time for the Giants to spend a draft pick on a quarterback.
New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is still one of the three or four best quarterbacks in the NFL, leading the league in yards and completions at age 37. He’s made it clear he can play until 45, but with his contract situation and the steep decline many quarterbacks experience, the Saints shouldn’t bank on that happening.
It’s time for New Orleans to address the very real possibility that Brees won’t be an elite quarterback for much longer. They need to draft his successor soon, whether it’s with the 32nd pick or in the middle rounds.
The trouble with the Saints’ situation is that they have so many holes on the roster. They need help everywhere on defense, and drafting a quarterback early could prevent them from addressing a position that needs more immediate attention.
Carson Palmer, like Ben Roethlisberger, nearly called it a career this offseason, seemingly mulling retirement after the season ended. He gave the Cardinals a bit of good news when he announced his return, but Arizona shouldn’t be content with its quarterback situation going forward.
Palmer, 37, has battled injuries in recent years, and he’s not the player he was in his 20s. If the Cardinals go anywhere in 2017, it’ll be largely due to the outstanding play of David Johnson, and the defense stepping up. If they struggle, it’ll likely be because Palmer struggled again behind a shaky offensive line.
The Cardinals need a young guy who can move outside the pocket with their offensive line being so bad. Patrick Mahomes is a perfect fit for Bruce Arians’ offense, but it remains to be seen whether the Cardinals will draft a quarterback that early. Expect them to take one in the first few rounds, though.