If you read this blog, you'll know I subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea that this is a quarterback driven league. I understand, then, that the NFL is heavily divided between the haves and the have nots in this department, with the Bears having spent most of my life in the have nots until the recent past. Not surprisingly, signal callers with any modicum of experience or promise tend to be overvalued and can draw a king's ransom in return during a trade. As we all know, Jay Cutler cost the Bears two first round picks and a third round pick, while others have cost nearly as much. Matt Schaub, for example, had started just two games for the Falcons and had just a 6:6 TD:INT ratio and a measly 69.2 passer rating, but he cost the Texans two second round picks and a swap of first round picks in a trade. Obviously Schaub has justified the cost, but other pricey quarterback trades haven't paid off (*cough* Charlie Whitehurst *cough*).
This year's golden goose is obviously Kevin Kolb. It seems he's the only quarterback on the market worth taking a look at, and it sounds like a given at this point that he's going to cost at least a first round pick. I'm not really sure he's worth it.
In nineteen games and seven career starts, Kolb's completed 60.8% of his passes (194/319) for 2082 yards, 11 TDs, and 14 INTs, averaging 6.5 YPA with a rating of 73.2. Those aren't exactly jaw dropping numbers. Even if you take away Kolb's stats as a second year player in 2008, when he was thrown into the fire after McNabb was benched against a very good Ravens defense, those numbers still only improve to 62%, 1938 yds, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, 6.8 YPA, and an 80.4 rating. Personally, I watched almost all of Kolb's starts over the last two years and have walked away largely unimpressed, which is surprising since I liked him far more than any other QB in the 2007 class coming out of college (and I was totally right! Granted, he only had to top JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, and Trent Edwards, but a win is a win).
I get what people seem to like about Kolb, though. He's a young guy (27 next month) with a great build at 6'3'', 218. He's got a very strong arm, he racked up a lot of yards and experience in college, he spent several years under the tutelage of a well-respected offensive head coach, and he has shown flashes in those seven starts, including back-to-back 300 yard games in 2009 and a 326 yard, 3 touchdown effort against the Falcons this year. I won't deny there's enough there to warrant a trade for him, but I'm not sure he's necessarily worth the kind of first round bounty that people are associating with him, considering that in 4 of the 6 games where he threw at least 10 passes this year he had mediocre to extremely poor outings (56.2 rating vs. GB, 76.0 vs. WASH, 56.9 vs. TEN, 37.0 vs. DAL).
I truly do believe that Kolb would be an upgrade for almost all of the teams that are rumored to be interested in his services (Arizona, Seattle, and Cleveland among others), but I don't think he's a franchise quarterback worth the kind of bounty that we've seen those type of players draw in the past. All of those franchises have enough holes that they'd be best served continuing to build from within while finding a stopgap QB at a lower price. Arizona and Seattle could both compete in a crappy division with a more affordable veteran while building an actual contender through the draft. If either of those teams (Arizona particularly) gets into the habit of patching holes with high-priced veterans in order to skate by in a weak division they could very well end up in a jam like the Redskins.
Looking around I see the following names as available quarterbacks this offseason:
Of the trade candidates I'd say it's likely that McNabb and Young will be released rather than traded, since both make way more money than they are worth on their current deals. As for Carson Palmer, well, I think Mike Brown might truly be crazy enough to let Palmer go through on his threat to retire rather than try to get any actual value for a guy that could reap a substantial reward in draft picks in a thin market. Only the f*&king Bengals...
That really leaves Kyle Orton as the only other viable starting quarterback prospect on the trade market besides Kevin Kolb. I'd say of that list the best candidates for starting positions (in order) are:
Obviously, I think somewhat highly of Kyle's ability to not embarass himself as a professional NFL quarterback. He certainly has his limitations, something that Denver managed to hide to an extent the last two years (although not well enough to prevent his overthrow by Tim Tebow, which by all accounts will occur this year), but he's also a guy more than capable at this point of guiding an NFL offense for a year or two. In my mind it'd be a much wiser proposition on the Cardinals part to send a mid-round draft pick to Denver in order to acquire Orton rather than send a first round or a possible mid-round+player package (I'm hearing possibly Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, which would be absurd) to Philadelphia for Kolb. Build a team that can consistently compete while Orton manages the game and sends some ducks Larry Fitzgerald's way (and Brandon Lloyd's #s last year would indicate that Kyle is capable of heaving the ball downfield to a wide receiver capable of making plays) and then turn that team over to a more talented QB that you find somewhere in the draft.
I really do apologize to Donovan McNabb for the fact that I've got him ranked lower than Alex Smith, but at his age with his injury history I'm not sure he could give you a year of average production, whereas Smith could give you many years of absolutely average production. I mean that in the nicest way, Alex. I think Smith probably will get more chance with the Niners, since Harbaugh appears to think he can be the one that finally "fixes" him. I'm more than eager to see the Vikings make the McNabb mistake.
As for the others, well, Bulger was never that good without Faulk/Jackson/Bruce/Holt and Mike Martz and hasn't done much since 2006 to show that he wasn't just the product of a system. He's not worth a starter's job. Vince Young would be worth a gamble for a team with a strong running game that would allow him to make the occasional play without having to rely upon him to win games (something that Tennessee was able to do with Chris Johnson). Matt Hasselbeck seems to be the second most popular name out there these days, which is funny since he's old, oft-injured and completely unproductive since 2007. As for Grossman, well, I'd be very happy to see him get another starting opportunity with the Redskins, but Shanahan appears willing to roll the dice on John Beck in what I assume must be some kind of sinister plan to tank the season and acquire Andrew Luck.
So really the market boils down to Kolb and Orton, and I'd have to say that anybody willing to stake the future of their franchise on Kevin Kolb will be disappointed. His ceiling may be higher than Orton, but I'd have to say Orton is most likely going to be the better value, price wise.