It's not a coincidence the eight teams still standing in the NFL postseason all feature talented quarterbacks. The quarterback remains the most impactful player on the field; teams without a standout signal-caller are hopeless in big games when the outcome is routinely decided by a critical play in the passing game.
Here are the nine teams, in order of need, I think will be closely evaluating quarterbacks over the next four months, and, depending on what happens in the trade and free agent markets, will be prime candidates to take one in the draft:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draft position: No. 1
Analysis: For the Buccaneers to get back into playoff contention, Lovie Smith needs to find a franchise quarterback capable of lifting the play of the offense. Josh McCown was expected to steady the unit as a veteran free-agent signee, but he failed to play up to expectations following a strong run with the Chicago Bears. Although Mike Glennon has shown flashes of brilliance in limited play, he doesn't appear to be in the team's long-term plans as the quarterback of the future. The overall uncertainty at the position could lead Smith to search for his franchise playmaker in the draft.
Draft*position*: No. 2
Analysis: For all of the promise rookie Zach Mettenberger showed in seven games, the jury is still out on whether he has the goods to be a franchise quarterback in Tennessee. Despite posting an 83.4 rating in six starts, Mettenberger is a suspect decision-maker under duress, as evidenced by his nine turnovers this season. With the team expected to move on from Jake Locker, the Titans could be in search of their long-term solution at quarterback in the 2015 draft.
New York Jets
Draft*position*: No. 6
Analysis: Despite Geno Smith's proclamations about his Pro Bowl potential, the Jets' new management team could decide it wants to find its "guy" at the position. Whether it's a veteran free agent or a highly touted draft pick, the Jets need a quarterback with the confidence, charisma and physical tools to take the franchise to the next level. While it is possible that Smith eventually becomes that player, the odds suggest that Gang Green will trot out a new signal caller when the season kicks off in 2015.
Draft*position*: No. 7
Analysis: After watching the Bears flounder this season with Jay Cutler at the helm, there is a growing sense that Chicago might be willing to part ways with him despite his enormous contract and salary-cap implications. While it is hard to imagine the Bears opting for Hoyer or Sanchez as a replacement, the bloom is clearly off Cutler's rose, and the new management team will face a huge decision whether to carry on with him going forward. He could even be traded, although that could prove to be a challenge with a $15.5 million guarantee.
Draft*position*: No. 16
Analysis: Credit Bill O'Brien for guiding the Texans to a winning record despite scattershot play at the quarterback position, but he must get better play from his signal caller to overtake the heavyweights in the AFC. Although Ryan Mallett or Ryan Fitzpartick could return and solidify the position with improved performance, the Texans should investigate all of their options in the draft or free agency to see if they can find a franchise quarterback. Rookie Tom Savage will have every opportunity to compete for the position, but he didn't show enough to dissuade the team from pursuing a better option in the draft.
St. Louis Rams
Draft*position*: No. 10
Analysis:Jeff Fisher has openly discussed bringing Sam Bradford back after another injury-marred season, but the Rams can't depend on the former No. 1 overall pick after his checkered medical history. The team could opt for one of the veteran free agents on the market to help the Rams' offense take a step forward or elect to make a move to acquire one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. With plenty of options on the table, Fisher has a big decision to consider over the next few months.
Draft*position*: No. 12
Analysis: After drafting Johnny Manziel to be the face of the franchise a season ago, the Browns could be in the market again for a starting quarterback this offseason. Although Hoyer could return based on his moderate success as a starter in Cleveland, the team could want more playmaking potential from the position and turn to the free agent or draft market for a solution. Manziel will certainly get a chance to compete for the job, but the Browns need to find a dependable option to build around at the quarterback spot.
Draft*position*: No. 20
Analysis: It's rare for a team with a Pro Bowler on the roster to be in the quarterback market, but Chip Kelly could look for a more athletic playmaker to take the Eagles' offense to another level. While Nick Foles and Sanchez have been productive within the fast-paced scheme, a dynamic athlete like Oregon's Marcus Mariota, if he enters the draft, could add an explosive element to the Eagles' attack.
Draft*position*: No. 19 (owned by Browns)
Analysis:The recent retirement of Kyle Orton and the lack of development by E.J. Manuel could send the Bills searching for another option at quarterback heading into the offseason. With a new head coach tasked with fixing the offense, the Bills might be in the market for a couple of quarterbacks to improve the outlook of a team that was on precipice of a playoff berth this season.