Football is the ultimate team sport, but success in the NFL is directly tied to the performance of the quarterback. Teams with legitimate playmakers at the position always have a chance to hoist the trophy at the end of the season, while teams without competent quarterbacks languish near the bottom of the standings. Thus, it is important for every general manager and head coach to find a franchise quarterback to build around.
Looking ahead to the 2016 offseason, there are several teams in need of a quarterback with the talent and leadership skills to reverse the fortunes of a franchise with their performance in the pocket. After surveying all 32 rosters, I've determined there are six teams likely looking for quarterbacks this offseason. With few viable options available on the free-agent market, here are the teams I expect to make a play for a quarterback on draft day:
First-round draft position: No. 2
Analysis: The Johnny Football experiment will likely come to an end after a tumultuous two-year run that included a series of embarrassing off-field incidents and scant on-field production. While his supporters will point to his significant improvement as a passer and playmaker in Year 2, Manziel's questionable judgment and immaturity could prompt the Browns to move on from the former Heisman Trophy winner. Armed with the second overall pick and a host of analytics to determine which quarterback gives them the best chance to win going forward, the Browns will certainly take a long, hard look at the intriguing prospects in the 2016 draft class.
First-round draft position: No. 4
Analysis: After watching the Cowboys fall apart following Tony Romo's injury, Jerry Jones needs to address the backup quarterback situation to avoid a similar meltdown in 2016. While conventional wisdom suggests the Cowboys invest in a quality veteran backup following the spectacular failures of Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore, Romo's age (35) and injury history should encourage Jones to look for a long-term solution. With the franchise's highest pick in the last 25 years (Cowboys selected Russell Maryland with the No. 1 overall pick in 1991), the Cowboys have a chance to grab a difference maker at the position to succeed Romo when he exits the stage in a few years.
San Francisco 49ers
First-round draft position: No. 7
Analysis: The 49ers' recent coaching carousel has thrown the quarterback situation into a tizzy, with the fates of Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert hinging on the desires of a new head coach. The team will need to determine if either player is a good fit for the new play caller, or turn its attention to the draft to see if the team can identify a young quarterback with the potential to reverse the fortunes of the franchise with their play from the pocket. Given the wealth of options available to the 49ers this offseason, it is possible the team bounces back strong in 2016.
First-round draft position: No. 13
Analysis: Despite the presence of two former first-round quarterbacks on the roster (Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez), the Eagles could be in the quarterback market if their new head coach wants a fresh start at the position. Although Bradford and Sanchez have enjoyed some high moments during their respective careers, it is hard to imagine a new coach casting his lot with each player based on their shortcomings (Bradford's durability; Sanchez's turnover woes) throughout their careers. Thus, the Eagles will take a long, hard look at the 2016 quarterback class to determine if one of the young passers has the physical tools and leadership skills to re-energize the franchise.
St. Louis Rams
First-round draft position: No. 15
Analysis: The Rams have more than enough talent to emerge as a playoff contender in 2016, but their fate hinges on the play of the quarterback. While Jeff Fisher has shown confidence in Case Keenum as a starter, the Rams desperately need a franchise player at the position to complement their dynamic duo on offense (Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin). Whether it's identifying an underrated veteran on the free-agent market (see Blaine Gabbert) or plucking one of the crown jewels in the 2016 draft class, the Rams must solve their quarterback problem or run the risk of missing another postseason tournament next season.
First-round draft position: TBD
Analysis: Credit Bill O'Brien for coaching around the team's quarterback woes to guide the Texans into the postseason. Although he captured the AFC South with four different starters (Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden), O'Brien has to find a long-term answer at the position for the Texans to emerge as a legitimate title contenders down the road. With several intriguing options in the 2016 draft class, including his former pupil Christian Hackenberg, O'Brien could determine that this is the offseason to find his franchise player.