Quarterback changes happen in the NFL every off-season, but how have teams gone about making a switch? After describing what makes a great quarterback last week, let’s connect the dots on changes made this off-season. Why was a change made and what ripple effect did it have? (Notice the number of trades due to the premium put on the position.)
The Quarterback Carousel
1. Alex Smith traded to Chiefs for two draft picks
With Colin Kaepernick leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl, it became painfully apparent to Smith that his days starting for the 49ers had come to an end. He did not want to stay as a back-up, and the 49ers knew his superb play during the season made him trade worthy.
The Chiefs new regime felt the need to immediately address the quarterback position on their team, first thing. Alex Smith was the best available answer in their minds, so they gave up the draft picks to get him. Consequently, they cut Matt Cassel, the incumbent starter whose contract was too big of a burden to bear for a back-up role.
2. Matt Cassel signs with Vikings
Shortly after being released by the Chiefs, Cassel found a new home with a Vikings team that needed a veteran back-up for starter Christian Ponder. Cassel took the opportunity, along with a steep dip in pay.
3. Chase Daniel signs with Chiefs
The former back-up for the Saints received a more lucrative offer financially from the Chiefs, so he walked away from the Saints. The Chiefs apparently like Daniel’s running style and will look to use him as a situational player to complement Alex Smith’s “pocket passer” style.
4. Luke McCown signs with Saints
Signed off the street, McCown saw a great opportunity to be a back-up on a top tier team, and he took it. The Saints had a hole to fill with Daniel leaving, and they had very little cap space to fill it.
5. Jason Campbell signs with Browns
New Browns management apparently didn’t like the idea of having Colt McCoy or Josh Johnson as a back-up to Brandon Weeden, so they signed veteran Jason Campbell from the Bears.
6. Colt McCoy traded to 49ers for draft picks
The 49ers moved quickly to acquire McCoy as a back-up to starter Colin Kaepernick. After trading away Alex Smith for valuable draft picks, the 49ers needed a back-up. The acquisition of McCoy for minimal draft pick compensation makes sense, as his style of play is similar to Kaepernick’s. If Kaepernick goes down, McCoy can step in without the coaching staff having to change the scheme! Smith would have required a strategy shift, along with costing the 49ers considerably more money.
7. Kevin Kolb cut by Cardinals, signs with Bills
Kolb was the prize off-season acquisition of the Cardinals 2 years ago, but he never did produce for the team. After giving up a draft pick, a player and a LARGE sum of money, the Cardinals knew they had to cut their losses. Kolb had a $2 million bonus due in March, so the Cardinals released him before it came due.
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick cut by Bills, signs with Titans
Similar to the Cardinals, the Bills also knew they had to address their quarterback situation this off-season. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was not leading the team to the playoffs, so team executives determined he wasn’t worth his large contract. They cut him and reloaded with a much cheaper version in Kevin Kolb. No matter if it was Kolb or Fitzpatrick, it looks as if the spot is destined to be a back-up role as the Bills have made it known that they intend to acquire their starting quarterback via the NFL Draft.
9. Matt Hasselbeck cut by Titans, signs with Colts
Matt Hasselbeck served as Jake Locker’s back-up last season, and his performance was average when called on to play. The Titans considered Hasselbeck’s age along with his declining performance and decided to move on. They viewed the recently released Ryan Fitzpatrick as a much more agile replacement with youth and durability on his side.
Drew Stanton left the Colts for greener pastures, so the Colts saw Hasselbeck as the perfect veteran back-up as a voice of wisdom for second year quarterback Andrew Luck.
10. Drew Stanton signs with Cardinals
New Head Coach Bruce Arians of the Cardinals wanted quarterback Drew Stanton to come along with him to Arizona. Arians knew the quarterback situation he inherited was a mess, so he moved quickly to sign Stanton, who he believed played well for him last season with the Colts. Stanton welcomed the move, receiving more money and a chance to compete for the starting job.
The Cardinals were planning to get rid of last year’s starter Kevin Kolb, so they felt they needed a reliable option if they couldn’t attract any other starters. Stanton is by no means an elite quarterback, but Arians felt that he could manage a game if he needed him to start.
11. Matt Flynn traded to Raiders for draft picks
Similar to the situation the Chiefs found themselves in this year, the Seahawks had no viable options at quarterback last off-season. So they gave Matt Flynn a sizable contract, because he was the best free agent option (other than Peyton Manning), despite his lack of regular season game experience. Fortunately, Seattle’s college scouts had done great work identifying draft prospect Russell Wilson as a top quality player for the Seahawks offensive scheme. Wilson ended up beating out Flynn and leading the Seahawks to the playoffs.
The result was that Flynn was expendable this off-season. His contract was prohibitive to the cap flexibility of the Seahawks, so they traded him for late round draft picks in 2014 and 2015.
The Raiders were desperate “buyers” for Flynn’s services. Starter Carson Palmer’s $13 million salary was so high that the Raiders couldn’t afford him on their salary cap, and Palmer wasn’t willing to accept a pay cut. So the Raiders dealt for Flynn. The Raiders ideally would have liked to maximize their return on Palmer by trading him before acquiring Flynn, but they couldn’t find anyone offering worthwhile compensation for such a high salary.
The Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie knew Flynn from their days together with the Packers, and he obviously liked Flynn’s style of play. It makes good sense if the Raiders are looking to adjust their offense to fit the running and scrambling type quarterback: The Raiders back-up, Terrell Pryor, plays with that style. So that provided another good reason to target acquiring Flynn.
12. Carson Palmer traded to Cardinals for draft pick, John Skelton cut by Cardinals
With Flynn in the fold, the Raiders could officially move on from Palmer. As mentioned above, teams knew Palmer was a goner, so the Raiders only got a 2014 conditional 7th round pick in return.
As detailed above, the Cardinals had previously released Kevin Kolb after receiving no trade offers. They apparently weren’t comfortable letting Stanton take the reigns outright, so they felt giving up minor draft pick compensation for Palmer was worth it.
Adding Palmer increased the total number of quarterbacks in Arizona to a hefty FIVE, and there is no need for any team to carry that many healthy quarterbacks on their roster. John Skelton took the fall.
13. Bruce Gradkowski signs with Steelers
Last season the Steelers relied on veterans Charlie Batch (age 38) and Byron Leftwich (age 33) to back-up starter Ben Roethlisberger. But having two back-ups that are past their prime with injury histories is never prudent. The Steelers re-signed neither, instead going with a slightly younger option in former Bengals back-up Bruce Gradkowski (30). Gradkowski plays with the same style as Roethlisberger, extending the play much longer than expected.
14. Josh Johnson signs with Bengals, John Skelton signs with Bengals
The Bengals let Gradkowski leave for the Steelers and decided to reload with two other quarterbacks that were back-ups elsewhere last season. Both have prior starting experience. Josh Johnson signed after being unwanted by the Browns’ new regime, and John Skelton signed after being cast aside by the Cardinals crowded roster.
15. David Garrard signs with Jets
The Jets have added Garrard to the quarterback battle as they look to improve performance at the position. Garrard is a former starter that did not play last season.
One can clearly see that teams constantly try to turn over every rock to find the one quarterback that will consistently lead them to victory. This 2013 analysis paints a pretty clear picture of how the quarterback carousel constantly spins! Plan to see a few more spins in 2 weeks during the NFL Draft.
Teams realize that a quarterback that tries too hard will result in costly mistakes. But if a team finds the right quarterback to fit their scheme, and this quarterback understands that his number one priority is to manage the game, wins should be plentiful.
And at the end of the season, WINS are all that will have mattered.