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Examining the free-agent class at quarterback

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"All we need is a quarterback" are the six scariest words an optimistic NFL fan can utter. Well, "My house boat is on fire" is probably worse, but you get the point.

You're not going anywhere in this league without a legitimate signal-caller. Unfortunately for teams looking to upgrade, this is annually the most difficult position to improve on the fly.

This year is no exception. Most draft analysts regard this to be an extremely weak quarterback class. Even supposed blue-chip prospects like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston come with red flags, and teams that believe themselves to be on the cusp of contention -- the aforementioned "All we need is a quarterback" crowd -- are going to give pause before handing their offense to an unheralded rookie.

Unless you can pull off a trade, that sends many teams in the NFL's middle class to the always shallow free-agent pool. Here's our list of the top quarterback free agents. If you have a weak stomach, consider yourself warned.

1. Mark Sanchez: Things started well for the Sanchize in Philadelphia. Who can forget a glowing Sanchize wolfing down cheesesteaks after he thrived on Monday Night Football in his first game in place of an injured Nick Foles? Sanchez gradually returned to form, however, and was a major reason the Eagles tumbled from the playoff picture in late December. It speaks volumes that he's the consensus best option on the market.

2. Josh McCown: This all depends on perspective. Do you remember the McCown who played as well as any quarterback in football for a six-week stretch under Marc Trestman in 2013? Or do you remember pretty much every other game McCown has ever played? He was an injury- and turnover-plagued mess in his one season with the Bucs. Are you willing to gamble he re-captures lightning in a bottle at age 36?

3. Brian Hoyer: Hoyer defenders -- and Cleveland Springsteen certainly has plenty of them -- will point to Hoyer's 10-6 record as a starter. In Cleveland, that is (rightly) considered an outrageous achievement. But basing a QB's effectiveness on wins and losses alone is a dangerous game. To wit, here are Hoyer's numbers in his final four starts: 49.3 completion percentage, one touchdown, eight interceptions, 980 yards, 6.53 yards per attempt and a 50.4 passer rating. Again, this is my choice as the third-best quarterback on the open market.

4. Jake Locker: Damn, we've already reached Jake Locker? I made this list and I'm stunned. The former top 10 pick used up a deep well of patience in Tennessee, suffering the ignominy of being benched in favor of Clipboard Jesus. If you want to convince yourself that Locker remains an untapped talent, hit up Game Rewind and check out his game tape prior to his hip injury against the Jets in Week 4 of the 2013 season. Strong arm, fleet feet -- his high draft standing made sense. But Locker has always been a fairly inaccurate passer who cannot stay on the field. Wrist, hand, hip, knee, foot and shoulder injuries have hampered Locker's development and put Tennessee in a bad position time and time again. Are you going to be the team that teaches Jake Locker durability?

5. Ryan Mallett: Smart football people have been intrigued by Mallett's potential since the Patriots used a third-round pick on the passer in 2011. Mallett never got his chance in New England (selfish Tom Brady), and had a brief audition with the Texans was cut short when he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. Entering his age-27 season, he remains a giant mystery. Literally ... he's 6-foot-6.

6. Michael Vick: We know what we're getting by now. On occasion, Vick can still flash the ability that made him a superstar with the Falcons. But at 34 and four long years removed from his last healthy, productive season, he's no longer anybody's long-term answer behind center. At least, he shouldn't be.

The rest ...

7. Christian Ponder: Vikings draft bust did have that one game against the Packers ...

8. Colt McCoy: Gutsy performance in Monday Night Football win over Cowboys should keep him employed a few more years.

9. Matt Moore: Had opportunities to compete for starting job two years ago and opted to remain Ryan Tannehill's understudy.

10. Tarvaris Jackson: Has spent the last two seasons playing behind Russell Wilson. What's your stance on osmosis?

11. Shaun Hill: Are you excited about the upside of a 35-year-old Shaun Hill? If so, are you Shaun Hill's mom?

Explore if you dare ...

Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Flynn, Blaine Gabbert, Uncle Rico, Matt Hasselbeck, Josh Johnson, Ryan Lindley, Dan Orlovsky, Tyrod Taylor, Austin Davis, Joe Webb, David Spade, T.J. Yates.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the top 25 free agents and reacts to the latest news. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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