Unlike the workforce in these rugged economic times, where there are plenty of qualified people to fill a limited number of jobs, teams in need of quarterback help have slim pickings. The free agents are older (Jeff Garcia), injury-prone (Byron Leftwich) or have been unable to consistently succeed when presented with opportunities (Chris Simms, J.P. Losman, Dan Orlovsky, Joey Harrington and Rex Grossman). They wouldn't be free agents -- save for Arizona's Kurt Warner and Tennessee's Kerry Collins -- if there weren't blemishes.
No quarterback with Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, San Francisco and the New York Jets has a firm grip on the starting job. Other teams such as St. Louis, Buffalo and Jacksonville have quarterbacks who've been as bad as they've been good. With 11 new coaches, turnover -- some at quarterback -- is inevitable.
Where is the help?
Minnesota hopes Tarvaris Jackson finally capitalizes on his natural gifts, and Tampa Bay seems as if it will let Luke McCown, Brian Griese and Josh Johnson fight for the job. The Jets could do the same with Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge. Chicago hasn't fully committed to Kyle Orton and seems content to leave Grossman on the open market. Those are fringe playoff teams that might be better served by taking a short-range flyer on Leftwich or Garcia.
Cleveland's Derek Anderson and New England's Matt Cassel, who had a spectacular 2008 after Tom Brady went down with a knee injury, could be trade options, should their current teams be willing to entertain the notion. New Jets head coach Rex Ryan also might bring in former Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller for a look-see, since they spent the past few seasons together with the Ravens.
Leftwich said he hasn't spoken to his agent, Tom Condon, about any potential suitors. He declined to single out the Jets as a preferred landing spot and said he didn't know if his agent had been contacted by any teams. But don't think Leftwich wouldn't mind resurrecting his career behind New York's solid offensive line, its strong running game and its new stadium.
"I try not to put my eggs in any basket," said Leftwich, who started for Jacksonville and Atlanta before signing on as Ben Roethlisberger's backup in Pittsburgh last season. "I just want to be with somebody who wants me to be a part of their team. I'm anxious to get back in a situation where I can compete, but I don't want to get overanxious. Hopefully, I will have the chance to compete week to week."
Warner and Collins are wild cards. If Warner opts not to retire, any team trying to sign either him or Collins seemingly would have to pay handsomely to lure them away from their respective playoff teams, which seem poised to make another push. Favre's retirement just gave Warner and Collins a little more leverage as a new potential suitor -- the Jets -- was added to the mix. Oh, and both guys have previously played in New York.
The Lions, who have the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft, and the Chiefs, who pick third, figure to build their team with young quarterbacks since each team has major work to be done in the short and long terms. Detroit is projected to draft Stafford, although that's not a certainty. Kansas City could give Tyler Thigpen a shot, but it might not be out of the question for the Chiefs to offer some of their desirable draft picks to land Cassel, especially since their new general manager, Scott Pioli, came from New England and is very familiar with Cassel.
With veterans Collins and Warner, along with rookies Flacco and Ryan, being such huge surprises last season and players such as Anderson, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and St. Louis' Marc Bulger unexpectedly struggling for various reasons, it's hard to figure how things will shake out in 2009. As dire as things look now, another Cassel could arise somewhere.
Who knows? Maybe his last name is Clemens, Ainge or Ratliff.
Cable: Defense, plus Nnamdi, will be better
"Mr. (Al) Davis and I talked about it," Cable said. He was great. He said that dealing with my father was important and that he would be patient."
There was widespread speculation that he would receive the job on a full-time basis, as assistant coaches were interviewed by Davis, the power-wielding owner, and Cable for weeks after the season. However, Davis interviewed Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss and Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride along the way. Though no overly familiar names surfaced for the job, giving thought that the Raiders' gig was a career-killing venture, other coaches on other staffs hoped for interviews that never came.
Cable, who took over the job after Lane Kiffin was fired Sept. 30, said he hired his own coaches, which was an agreement he made with Davis upon their first interview for the job. Even so, Cable didn't have sole autonomy in making the final hires as everything with the organization has to be run through Davis.
One of the interesting things Cable mentioned about his staff were his thoughts on new defensive coordinator John Marshall, formerly of Seattle, and how he will differ from former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who took the same position with Cleveland.
"We're not going to change much," Cable said. "You want to do what you believe you're best at and what you drafted for. John Marshall is going to do what he's always done well. It's not going to be a huge change in personnel or scheme. There will be a change in the way it's taught and done. "The one thing I'm confident in is John Marshall will get them all on the same page. He will get the right packages together, get them all going in the right direction. He'll rally them together."
Cable said he believes the Raiders will retain free-agent Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, but he wasn't specific as to the measure it will do so. The Raiders would like to lock up Asomugha to a long-term contract, Cable said, but Oakland could slap the franchise tag on the cornerback like it did last season.
"You want to find a way, get him under a long-term deal," Cable said. "As we get ready to start this whole process and move toward free agency, the first thing you want to do is sign your own."
As far as quarterback JaMarcus Russell, Cable said the third-year pro shouldn't be stunted by having to learn another new offense. When broken down to its most common denominator, Russell simply needs to trust his "big old arm," Cable said.
Russell might not have to trust it much, though. Oakland has no plans to part with any of its three running backs -- Darren McFadden, Michael Bush or Justin Fargas. Instead, Cable and the rest of the offensive staff hope to devise a scheme to work all of them into the game plan, especially McFadden, whose versatility was hampered by injuries and rookie uncertainty last season.
Cable said it took until the end of the season to figure out the best personnel groupings for each running back, seemingly illustrating how disjointed everything was on the Raiders' offense.
With the salary cap (set at $123 million) expiring before the 2010 season, some teams could be hamstrung entering 2009.
Before owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement, teams could push a variety of salary-cap charges to the following year. Teams could cut players after June 1 and push their cap charges to the next year. Incentives earned during the season also could be pushed to the next year.
Not this season.
All cap charges from player cuts, incentives and bonuses, on top of base salaries, will count against the 2009 cap, forcing teams to be more diligent than ever in how to shop in free agency and measuring the ramifications of cutting a player with several years left on his contract.
While a team might save on not having to pay a player's base salary if it cuts him, the cap charges as it relates to a signing bonus will accelerate to 2009, potentially costing the team.
Teams always leave themselves some wiggle room under the cap to sign players during the season. That cushion is expected to be greater this season to accommodate bonuses and incentives that players attain during the season because those will count toward the 2009 cap.
A negotiation to watch
While CardinalsPro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin has made his displeasure about his contract status and feelings for the franchise widely known, another Pro Bowl wide receiver looking for big money, Roddy White, could quietly enter into contract extension talks with Atlanta in the next few weeks, if not days.
White has one year left on his contract, and both sides don't want Ryan's favorite target to go into next season being disgruntled, like Boldin. The financial compensation for White could get into the ballpark of Larry Fitzgerald's four-year, $40-million deal, although it could be structured differently.