The forward pass wasn’t legalized in American Football until 1906, but it wasn’t until after the “greatest game ever played” that football tactics began to be dramatically altered and the skill of one’s quarterback became paramount. Significant changes to defensive pass interference rules in 1978 and 1979 led to the most noticeable shift in strategy. The average number of combined passing yards per game increased from 283.3 in 1977 to 408.7 just two years later. These ten teams may wish they could still play by those old 19th century ‘rugby-style’ rules.
From Oakland to Houston, the names Marcus (Mariota) and Jameis (Winston) may become a lot more popular by next April. Or not. According to one top AFC executive, "Winston has a lot of baggage off the field, but when you study him on tape, he's pretty impressive. His pocket movement and accuracy are both outstanding.” With massive boom or bust potential, expect there to be more than a few teams to take a chance on Winston. If he can provide them some respite from the misery currently on display every Sunday, what happens on Friday and Saturday may be quickly forgotten. And when you have Randy Moss and Johnny Manziel telling you it time’s to clean up your act, you better listen up.
The offense can move the sticks and defense may win championships, but in today’s NFL, your team is a sinking ship without a legitimate captain at the helm. There is simply no way a team has a legitimate shot at the Vince Lombardi trophy without an elite, or at least a semi-elite quarterback. And that is why these ten teams will have one top priority this off-season: find their future franchise QB, whether at the draft or in free agency. Fail to do so, and it could be another long season in 2015-2016.
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10 Arizona Cardinals
The injury to Carson Palmer was absolutely devastating to the Cardinals dreams of being the first team in NFL history to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy in its own building. But that’s what happens when you start a 35 year-old at QB. And Drew Stanton, who just turned 30, is not the answer either. Arizona may be able to ride Palmer for another couple seasons (after having given him a significant contract extension), but they’re going to need to draft a reliable QB soon. Seeing as they’re playoff-bound this year, anticipate the Cardinals moving up at the 2015 or 2016 draft.
9 Washington Redskins
At the beginning of the season, it was more likely that the Redskins would change their name before they would start Colt McCoy over a healthy Robert Griffin III. Then again, when Dan Snyder is your owner, all bets are off. RGIII will almost certainly be taking his considerable talents elsewhere next season, and neither Kirk Cousins nor McCoy is a genuine replacement. With Washington likely to finish with a mediocre record and nowhere near the top of the draft, not to mention the fact that Washington’s inexperienced front office has burned much-needed capital on Griffin’s contract, expect some major changes in the nation’s capital. Jay Gruden won’t be giving RGIII any more chances, so look for Washington to pick up a proven free agent like Michael Vick or Mark Sanchez for 2015.
8 St. Louis Rams
Austin Davies has pulled off some miraculous wins this season against the NFL’s elite teams, but he is not a long-term solution. Neither is the injury-prone Sam Bradford, whose contract will top $15 million next season. The Rams QB situation is murky at best next season, but I can’t see either Bradford or Davies at the helm in 2015. Unfortunately, due to those miracle wins, the Rams will be unable to draft Mariota unless they trade up and it is highly unlikely Jeff Fisher will want to draft another head case like Winston after the Vince Young saga. Like the Redskins, expect the Rams to dump their current, overpaid QB in favour of a cheaper free agent veteran.
7 Chicago Bears
There are few certainties in life and even fewer in football, but one of them is that Jay Cutler will inevitably turn the ball over at the most inopportune time. Since 2009, Cutler has thrown a remarkable 89 INTs in just 79 starts, with an additional 23 fumbles lost. It’s year two under the newly implemented Marc Trestman system and Cutler just isn’t living up to expectations. The time for excuses is over and while everyone in the Bears’ front office wants (and needs) Cutler to succeed, if Chicago can’t show real improvement in the final four weeks of the season, anticipate the Bears testing the free agent market.
6 Houston Texans
Coming off one of the best weeks of his career after being named the AFC offensive player for week 13, Ryan Fitzpatrick is looking like a solid choice to start in 2015. But just ask anyone in Buffalo, Pickspatrick is known to be an inconsistent liability (he averaged well over one interception per game starting four seasons in Buffalo) and is not a long-term solution for the Texans by any stretch. The Texans won’t have a realistic shot at Winston or Mariota in 2015, so expect Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien to put his trust in the unproven Mallett next season and, if things go south, look to the 2016 draft to fill the void. Then again, the way J.J. Watt is playing on both sides of the ball; you could just stick him in at QB and see what happens.
5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs’ “quarterback of the future” Mike Glennon didn’t exactly work out as planned, with Glennon starting at left bench in favour of Josh McCown. Though Tampa isn’t yet officially eliminated from the pathetic NFC South, expect them to be in the running for Mariota with one of the NFL’s worst records. If the Bucs can’t land Mariota, assume that they will to look for a veteran free agent to fill the void for 2015. A team with so many offensive weapons can’t afford to make another long-term blunder at the QB position. If they can’t land the whale they need in 2015, expect them to hold on until the 2016 draft. But by then, just don’t expect to be seeing Lovie Smith in South Florida.
4 Cleveland Browns
Browns fans got a little glimpse of the future during week 13 when Johnny Manziel got his first taste of NFL action in Buffalo. And while it wasn’t all sunshine (it was in Buffalo after all), Cleveland could have another superstar in town. Move over Lebron because Manziel might snatch your crown. Brian Hoyer could have something to say about that, but I imagine that the outcry amongst Browns fans will simply be too loud to ignore if Cleveland slips out of a playoff spot in a jam-packed AFC wildcard race. There is no way Johnny Football doesn’t start week 1 in 2015. That is, if he can survive the off-season with no further incidents.
3 Tennessee Titans
The Titans thought they had a future quarterback in Jake Locker and things may have turned out differently if Locker wasn’t riddled with injuries. With Locker riding the pine, the Titans have put their faith in Zach Mettenberger, who has shown glimmers of brilliance, particularly in the Titans’ home loss to the Steelers. In his five starts, all losses, Mettenberger has thrown for 1,280 yards, eight TDs and five INTs at a 60.7 percent completion rate. Good numbers, but certainly nothing to build a franchise around just yet. Expect the woeful Titans, with a nice high draft pick, to take a hard look at Mariota, Winston or maybe even Connor Cook.
2 Buffalo Bills
With E.J. Manuel on the bench, the well-traveled veteran Kyle Orton at the helm as a band-aid solution and a new ownership team on the horizon, the Buffalo Bills are in desperate need of a new quarterback. While the team isn’t moving north of the border anytime soon, the team’s improved record (due mainly to an elite running game and smothering pass rush) means that the new owners will be under immense pressure to find a new QB. If coach Doug Marrone can’t sneak Buffalo in the playoffs this season, all bets are off on Orton and the team will likely look to free agency instead of the draft after giving up their 2015 first-rounder to acquire Sammy Watkins.
1 New York Jets
It may be my Miami Dolphins bias kicking in, but Geno Smith may be the worst quarterback in the NFL. In a 16-13 loss to the Fins on Monday Night Football, the Jets let Geno throw the ball an astonishing thirteen times. And he still managed to throw an interception in the game’s final minutes. With Vick looking to be on the move in free agency, expect the Jets to look to the draft. While many teams will likely shy away from burning a first-rounder on the temperamental, risky Jameis Winston, the Big Apple could be the perfect place for Winston under the player-friendly Rex Ryan, if he doesn’t get the boot himself. Or the Manhattan nightlife could eat Winston alive. Either way, the New York media is going have a field day during the offseason.
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