|Thomas Campbell/US Presswire|
|Ryan Tannehill, who will participate in Texas A&M's pro day Thursday, is rated as the third-best QB in the draft.|
The NFL free-agency period gave us a high-stakes game of quarterback musical chairs.
Peyton Manning's nationwide tour led to his choosing Denver as his future home, which led to the trade of Broncos fan favorite Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, which in turn led to recent free-agent signee Drew Stanton moving from the Big Apple to Indianapolis to play behind likely No. 1 pick Andrew Luck.
Seattle landed highly regarded Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn, and Alex Smith re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers after they lost the Manning Sweepstakes. Meanwhile, these top backups all found new homes: Derek Anderson (Carolina Panthers), Jason Campbell (Chicago Bears), Trent Edwards (Philadelphia Eagles), Chad Henne (Jacksonville Jaguars), Kyle Orton (Dallas Cowboys), Brady Quinn (Kansas City Chiefs), David Garrard (Miami Dolphins) and Charlie Whitehurst (San Diego Chargers).
Not all of the QB dominoes have fallen, though, and the position will certainly continue to be a hot topic as next month's draft approaches. Let's take a look at where things stand:
Top of the draft
Two QB-bereft squads are in line to secure the draft's elite quarterback prospects. The Colts "earned" the top overall pick with a 2-14 2011 season and are widely expected to take Stanford's Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick. The Redskins made a bold move to sit directly behind Indianapolis in the draft order, giving up their first-round picks in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts, as well as their second-round pick in April. Washington has its sights set squarely on Robert Griffin III.
That leaves Cleveland and Miami as the teams most discussed as needing signal callers, with apologies to the Browns' Colt McCoy and Dolphins' Matt Moore and Garrard. They are the leading candidates to select Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, either in the top 10 (where Cleveland has the fourth overall pick and Miami the eighth) or in the middle of the round after trading.
Though obviously a promising prospect due to his very good physical and mental attributes, Tannehill is not considered early first-round value by many, due to his inexperience. (Though neither were Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder before they were picked eighth, 10th and 12th, respectively, in last year's draft.)
The Browns possess the 22nd overall selection, as well as an extra fourth-rounder. They could use those picks to move up in the first to ensure getting Tannehill if Miami does not feel he is worthy of their pick at eight. Patience could be team president Mike Holmgren's plan, selecting running back Trent Richardson or receiver Justin Blackmon at four and then holding tight while Miami makes its decision.
Either Cleveland or Miami (or both, if a surprise team emerges to take Tannehill) will join a few other teams in yet another game of musical chairs -- this time in competition for the third tier of quarterback prospects. The hope here will be to find an eventual starter or long-time reliable backup.
Buffalo is the top candidate to fight the Browns and/or Dolphins for Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) or Brock Osweiler (Arizona State), the next three QBs on the draft board behind Luck, Griffin and Tannehill. The Bills have just two true quarterbacks on the roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen. Giving Fitzpatrick a $5 million roster bonus last week by no means takes them out of the quarterback sweepstakes on the second day of the draft. Weeden or Cousins could fill the "caretaker" role that Fitzpatrick struggled with at times in 2011, leading the NFL with 23 interceptions.
Weeden's age (he turns 29 in October) should not turn off teams from considering him as a second-round pick. He is a mature player to fill an immediate need, as teams no longer have the luxury of long rebuilding plans. Cousins may not have elite physical tools but seems like a natural fit to play in Buffalo or Cleveland, as he possesses similar intelligence to Fitzpatrick and leadership qualities to McCoy.
Osweiler's 6-foot-7 frame and ability to distribute the ball from the pocket could land him in Denver, if those other teams aren't interested, especially now that the Broncos have an extra fourth-round pick from the Jets in the Tebow trade. Team president John Elway and head coach John Fox will want to ensure their team doesn't nose-dive in the standings like the Colts did if Manning cannot stay on the field. Osweiler's delivery needs to be shortened, and who better to emulate than the similarly-sized Manning.
St. Louis may also search out a reliable backup for Sam Bradford, who missed six games last season (and most of his final season at Oklahoma) due to injury. Weeden is likely to be gone before the Rams consider selecting a quarterback. Although neither Osweiler nor Cousins can match Bradford's accuracy, they should be prepared to fill in admirably for a few games if needed, much like 2011 fifth-round pick T.J. Yates did for the Texans when Matt Schaub was injured last season.
These three quarterbacks, somewhat lost in all the Luck-Griffin-Tannehill talk, have the ability to become at least solid starters in the mold of Cincinnati 2011 second-round pick Andy Dalton or former third-rounder Matt Schaub. If they do, the winner of the secondary game of musical chairs could find a more comfortable place to settle than those buying expensive seats in free agency.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter