Every one of last year’s 12 NFL playoff teams entered the postseason with a starting quarterback who was at least in his second season with the team. No wonder the Arizona Cardinals front office was so eager to bring Kurt Warner back for a second campaign in the desert.
“I think being able to stabilize that position and create some leadership and continuity is critical to the success of a team,” Cardinals vice president of football operations Rod Graves said. “Certainly, people are looking for leadership, but they are also looking for timing and working and familiarity with each other. The quarterback position becomes critical (for that), probably more so than any other.”
The Cardinals will be joined in their commitment to one man by seemingly fewer teams than ever this fall.
Only 17 of the NFL’s 32 teams appear fully committed to sticking this year with the same quarterback who took the first snap of last season. The Bills and Jets are leaning in that direction, too, but are closely monitoring position battles in the preseason.
That leaves 12 squads almost certainly turning the first snap over to a new quarterback next month.
Some changes are minor, but some could shift the balance of power in the NFL.
Daunte Culpepper ditched Lake Minnetonka for Miami’s South Beach, Aaron Brooks chose to don the silver and black of the Raiders and Drew Brees stepped out of the way of Philip Rivers in San Diego and into Brooks’ place in New Orleans.
Steve McNair bumped Kyle Boller out of the top spot in Baltimore, and Brian Griese could supplant oft-injured Rex Grossman for the Bears’ starting job held most of last season by Kyle Orton.
Even after Brett Favre finally announced his intention to return to Green Bay just days before April’s draft, several quarterbacks were still trying to sort out their employment status.
Left in limbo were Kerry Collins, who was cut by the Raiders and is still looking for a gig, and McNair and Joey Harrington, who were later traded to the Ravens and Dolphins, respectively. Keep in mind that two of those players have led teams to the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think you’re overreacting. There’s been a lot of movement and a lot of opportunity for some guys,” said ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann. “You don’t see this with starters. Aaron’s a starter. Kerry’s a starter. Drew’s a starter. You see Joe Montana move (from San Francisco to Kansas City in 1993) because of Steve Young, but this amount of movement is unusual.”
A number of questions remain, even for teams that have solid two-deeps.
Injuries to the shoulders of Brees and the Jets’ Chad Pennington and to the knees of Culpepper and the Bengals’ Carson Palmer ended those players’ 2005 seasons early and clouded their preparations for 2006.
Their backups are Jamie Martin, Patrick Ramsey, Harrington and Anthony Wright, respectively, each of whom started at least one game last year for another team.
Brees and Pennington reported nothing more serious than typical bumps and bruises after extensive work in their preseason debuts. But Culpepper attempted just 11 passes in his first two games with the Dolphins and Palmer hasn’t played in either of the Bengals’ two exhibitions.
Oh, yes, then there’s the matter of high-priced firstrounders like Vince Young, Matt Leinart and Aaron Rodgers playing second fiddle for what could be bad teams in Tennessee, Arizona and Green Bay, respectively.
Even if Pennington and the trio of injured Pro Bowlers are ready to lead their teams in Week 1, some believe quarterback play could be ragged early because of all the player movement. Considering the importance of the position, that could result in ragged play all around.
Throw in the fact that 10 teams changed head coaches this offseason and there could be a repeat of last year when a record 14 teams won fewer than seven games and fans were subjected to some sleepy Sunday afternoons.
“I don’t think it was a very good league last year,” ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen said. “The NFL was not a well-played game from start to finish. I don’t think it’s going to be very pretty, especially in the first half of this season, because of all the coaching changes and quarterback changes.”