The yearly exercise at NFL.com where players vote on their own top 100 listing of their peers is not exactly scientific, but it is wildly successful in accomplishing its real goal, attracting attention and clicks. One of the most discussed names on the list was Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who surprisingly was ranked 14th overall. The biggest argument that he was seriously overrated was that he only has one season in the league. He ranked ahead of several other quarterbacks, including stellar names like Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, who certainly have much more lengthy and accomplished resumes.
But whether or not the players voting intended it, this may point out a very valuable attribute Prescott brings to the table. He is of course very young. Given the resiliency of youth and his impressive size and strength, he is expected to have a long and successful career. One season is a small sample size. Yet it was a remarkable one, in some eyes the best rookie quarterback performance in NFL history.
And if you step back and look at the league as a whole, there is something of a trend developing. The supply of new franchise quarterbacks entering the NFL is not large, and may be declining. With many of the current top-flight quarterbacks growing increasingly older, there may be a quarterback crunch coming. For the Cowboys, that puts them in an enviable position: They have their quarterback for the next decade or longer, barring injury issues.
With the relative lack of Cowboys news during this dead period before training camp, this is a good time to look at the quarterback situation for all the teams in the league. For many, it is a real problem. And for quite a few that seem to be in good shape at the moment, the clock is ticking before they have to find the next man up.
Here are some (rather arbitrary) categories, and what they mean for each team. A key factor is the age of the quarterbacks (as of the start of the season on September 7th). The presumed starter for each team is based on the depth charts at Ourlads.com.
It may be tank city.
These are the teams where the crisis is right now. These teams all have starting quarterbacks that are very questionable, and they may already be in the position of playing for draft position in 2018. That looks to be a fairly strong QB class. But that was the thinking about 2016, and outside of Prescott’s phenomenal debut, the top quarterbacks taken in the draft had starts ranging from middling to downright disappointing.
Starter: Josh McCown, 39
One of the oldest, least accomplished quarterbacks in the league. And there is no young arm on the roster to offer hope for the future.
Starter: Cody Kessler, 24
No team has been searching longer with more futility for an effective starter than the Browns. Kessler is projected to start at the moment, but word from their OTAs is that Brock Osweiler (26) may challenge him. Cleveland also drafted DeShone Kizer (21) in hopes he will develop, but the odds there are long.
Starter: Tom Savage, 27
The Texans took Deshaun Watson (21) in the draft, and there is more hope for his future. If he develops, they may be in fairly good shape, especially if they can keep a fairly good roster, including a really strong defense, intact until he is ready.
Starter: Trevor Siemian, 25
Like the Texans, the Broncos took what they hope is their future starter in Paxton Lynch (23), although a year earlier. And they also have a strong defense. But Lynch did not show as much progress as a rookie as they had hoped.
Starter: Mike Glennon, 27
The Bears are another team hoping they have their future franchise QB in Mitch Trubisky (23). But it’s likely to be a really bumpy ride until he is ready.
Starter: Sam Bradford, 29
Bradford can look quite good at times, and at other like a total train wreck. They are also a textbook illustration of how injury can strike. Teddy Bridgewater (24) looked like he was their answer until his devastating injury. Now they hope he will recover, but it looks like that is going to be a long process.
Starter: Jared Goff, 22
The number one overall pick, Goff showed very little in his rookie season. The Rams invested so much to get him that they have to try and make it work. A new coaching staff may be able to undo the damage of Jeff “7-9” Fisher. Maybe.
Starter: Brian Hoyer, 31
Dumpster fire. No other way to put it.
That is eight franchises, or a full quarter of the league, who may not have a truly NFL caliber QB on the roster, at least for the coming season. Some may get a surprising season out of their starter, or have a young player step up. But it won’t be all or even most of them.
Racing Father Time
These are all teams with proven, established starters, many with serious skins on the wall. But all of these starters are already 35, an age where skills can suddenly, even precipitously, decline, and also where coming back from injury is not as easy. Remember, just a year ago the Cowboys were in this position with Tony Romo as the starter. And what happened with Prescott was a miracle that most teams can only dream about.
Starter: Tom Brady, 40
Brady is simply a phenomenon, not just because of his handful of rings, but also the incredible shape he is in. He seems confident that he can play for several more seasons. That would be in defiance of all the odds - and for the Patriots it may not matter, because they have Jimmy Garoppolo (25) waiting in the wings, and a head coach in Bill Belichick who can seemingly get double digit wins with any quarterback (see: Matt Cassel). Also, he is probably the only man in the NFL who will give Brady his walking papers without hesitation if he thinks it is time.
Starter: Ben Roethlisberger, 35
There was some buzz about Big Ben wanting to retire after last season. That went away, but if that thought has really floated around in his brain, it may not be much longer for him. He is as tough as they come at the position, but even someone of his physical size and prowess cannot hold out against the beating of NFL games forever.
Starter: Philip Rivers, 35
Many Cowboys fans bemoaned the failure to provide a strong enough supporting cast for Romo before it was too late, but what has happened to Rivers with the Chargers is at least as bad. He not only has had to carry far too big a load on his shoulders, he has also been regularly beaten up doing it.
Starter: Eli Manning, 36
He has those two Super Bowl rings, but he may be the opposite of Rivers and Romo, a quarterback who was carried in crucial moments by the rest of the team. Always an interception machine, he just seems like he is dancing on the cliff of sudden decline.
Starter: Drew Brees, 38
Brees may be as capable of carrying a team as any QB in the league, but the past few seasons, the Saints have proven to be too heavy a load for him. And he is also one who gets banged around a lot, and he is not a big man who can shrug that of with ease.
Starter: Carson Palmer, 37
Bruce Arians has just written a book called “The Quarterback Whisperer”, and his coaching may be why the Cardinals remain a threat year in and year out. But Palmer is getting long in the tooth and has recent injury history.
That is six teams that have quarterbacks who appear to be nearing the end of their careers.
We have a starter - but is it the right one?
Call it quarterback purgatory. The starter is in place and there is no real challenger, at least for now. But can these teams really win with what they have?
Starter: Tyrod Taylor, 28
The team seems to believe in him. But they have to figure out how to get past that Patriots team in the AFC East.
Starter: Ryan Tannehill, 29
Same problems as Buffalo has. Tannehill is a great example of being too good to lose his job, but not good enough to really lead the team to success.
Starter: Joe Flacco, 32
The debate about whether Flacco is elite or not will continue. Now if the Ravens could just duplicate that Super Bowl winning defense.
Starter: Andy Dalton, 29
Is the team holding Dalton back, or is he holding the Bengals back? It may be a little of both. Or maybe Cincinnati is just not good enough.
Starter: Blake Bortles, 25
This may be Bortles’ last season to prove he is a capable starting quarterback.
Starter: Alex Smith, 33
Smith has the dubious honor of having a stat named for him by Football Outsiders that describes the failure to complete passes far enough down field to move the sticks. Ironically, he actually did very well in this area in 2016, which is a sign of hope for the Chiefs. Andy Reid is a very good coach, and he may be enough to elevate Smith’s play for another few years.
Starter: Kirk Cousins, 29
This is a unique situation in the NFL, because every indication is that Cousins is the quarterback they need to succeed. But the always entertaining circus that is the management in Washington seems determined to screw up his situation so badly that they will lose him after 2017. They may salvage things yet. But don’t bet the mortgage payment on it.
Starter: Cam Newton, 28
It is hard to believe he was so recently quarterbacking in the Super Bowl. He is extremely talented, but the rest of the league just seems to have figured out how to stop him. Of all the quarterbacks on this list, he is the one who may have a chance at a real rebound.
Some of these teams are not without hope, but for one reason or another do not seem serious threats to have sustained success unless something changes. That may not be the QB in all cases, but for several, it most likely is.
We are set.
These are the teams that have quarterbacks that appear to be the real deal and are young enough to have five or more productive seasons ahead of them. They are where all NFL teams would like to be - at least behind center.
Starter: Andrew Luck, 27
There is no questioning Luck’s talent and skill, and every reason to criticize the horrendous job done in building the team around him. If he ever gets a supporting cast that can optimize his ability, the Colts can play with anyone. But that is a huge if.
Starter: Marcus Mariota, 23
They are still getting things in place, but look to be getting close. A team to watch in the next several years.
Oakland Raiders (AKA Las Vegas Raiders)
Starter: Derek Carr, 26
A popular pick as the AFC team most likely to challenge the Patriots. Had Carr not suffered his late-season injury last year, they may have already been there.
Starter: Dak Prescott, 24
You know the story. And with the heavy investment on defense this year, things look bright in Dallas.
Starter: Carson Wentz, 24
There are still some who think Wentz will turn out to be the best quarterback drafted in 2016. A lot of us here at BTB think that is crazy talk, but the Eagles still look to have their QB for the future.
Starter: Matthew Stafford, 29
Stafford has shown good growth the past few seasons. No one has a stronger arm, and the Lions look to be getting closer and closer to challenging Green Bay in their division.
Starter: Aaron Rodgers, 33
He is getting older, but is also unquestionably still in his prime. The only real challenger to Brady as the best QB in the league.
Starter: Matt Ryan, 32
Also in his prime, and pretty much a consensus top five quarterback. Atlanta may be a force for several years to come.
Starter: Jameis Winston, 23
He and Mariota may be the best first and second picks to start a draft in recent memory. And like the Titans, the Bucs seem to be steadily building a formidable roster around their quarterback.
Starter: Russell Wilson, 28
He is not the prototypical NFL quarterback, but Pete Carroll seems to know how to get the most out of him and his team. As long as they aren’t on the goal line in the Super Bowl, anyway.
That’s ten teams that have their starters and, barring misadventure, no real questions looming for several years - less than a third of the league. It once again reinforces just how incredibly fortunate the Cowboys were in getting through the transition from one franchise quarterback to his successor - almost entirely by accident. Now they and the teams grouped with them look to be the teams to beat for the next five years or longer.