It's roster-remake season, as NFL teams get ready to overhaul or tweak the personnel formulas upon which their 2018 fortunes hinge. Before free agency and the draft open the transaction floodgates in earnest, let's review the needs of each team at four key positions: running back, receiver, cornerback and quarterback.
Today, Marc Sessler assesses each team's quarterback situation. And unlike the previous three positions in this series, QB sits in a class all its own, so we've altered the categories to reflect the most important position in sports. Who desperately needs to find a starter? Which teams are graced with a long-term answer under center? Who might be open be to change? And which franchise sits in a position unlike any other?
IN DESPERATE NEED OF HELP
Arizona Cardinals: Steve Keim has drafted just one passer since assuming GM duties in 2013: Logan Thomas, a guy who spent last season playing tight end for the Bills. Without a single quarterback under contract, the Cardinals are destined to go back to the well. "It's the holy grail for an organization," Keim said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. "If you don't have one, you can't find one, the head coach and the general manager's stay is usually not very long." In a post-Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer world, Keim and new coach Steve Wilks have promised a multi-pronged approach to restocking under center. Look for the club to swoop in and sign a veteran free agent -- maybe two or three -- before investing in a future starter in the draft. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported the Cardinals remain "firmly in the mix" for free-agent prize Kirk Cousins. He'd give the team an immediate solution, but Arizona can't outspend the Jets or offer Minnesota's wide-open Super Bowl window. Here's another idea: With Teddy Bridgewater looking for a chance to revive his career, the Cardinals could ink the ex-Vikings starter to a manageable deal before trading up in the draft from their No. 15 slot for a future franchise arm. It will take a village to re-cram Arizona's empty quarterback room.
Buffalo Bills: Eternally lukewarm on the concept of Tyrod Taylor, the Bills feel like a team ready to pounce. With two first-round picks (21st and 22nd overall) and a pair of second-rounders (53rd and 56th), Buffalo has the ammunition to trade for a big-name rookie the way Houston and Kansas City did last spring. The front office digs Nathan Peterman, but all that goes out the window if those powers that be fall for one of this year's young guns.
UPDATE: After this article was published, the Bills traded Taylor to the Brownsin exchange for the 65th overall pick in the draft. Buffalo owns five selections in the first 65 picks, a sign that the Bills are seriously considering trading up for a rookie QB. At first listed as a "Wild Card", Buffalo is now "In Desperate Need of Help" at the QB position.
Cleveland Browns: The combine started with whispers of the Browns angling to grab Sam Darnold at No. 1, AJ McCarron in free agency and maybe even another quarterback in the early rounds of the draft. Those whispers evolved into Cleveland "firmly" considering Saquon Barkley at No. 1. "I truly believe he's their pick," NFL Network's Mike Garafolo tweeted of the singularly gifted Penn State running back, while adding that Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield could be in play at No. 4. By the way, we're not that far removed from reports stating there was "no way" new Browns general manager John Dorsey would pass on cannon-armed prospect Josh Allen. With Cleveland "not in the mix" for Cousins, look for coach Hue Jackson to get his "preference" in free agency by inking McCarron -- this time minus the egg-on-your-face trade-deadline fiasco. Cleveland will certainly add a passer in the first round, too, which amounts to ugly news for last year's starter, DeShone Kizer, along with backups Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. It's possible all three could be deep-sixed. Armed with a bushel of new passers, the pressure will fall squarely on Jackson to finally flip the switch on Cleveland's inept offense.
*UPDATE: *After this article was published, Cleveland made a flurry of moves, including acquiring Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo in exchange for the 65th pick and sending Kizer to the Packers for cornerback Damarious Randall. The Browns still own the first and fourth picks in the draft and are expected to select a QB of the future with one of those selections, but no longer look to be a destination for McCarron.
Denver Broncos:Broncos football czar John Elway is moving on from last year's putrid carousel of passers who "guided" the team to a messy five-win campaign. By all accounts, Denver remains a central player in the fight for Cousins, with eyes for free agent Case Keenum as a potential Plan B under center. With Barkley and defensive wonder Bradley Chubb looming as top-tier draft prospects, the Broncos could also see a promising rookie quarterback fall into their laps at No. 5. With last year's starter, Trevor Siemian, already on the trade block, look for Denver to shotgun Brock Osweiler into hyperspace while retaining slow-developing first-rounder Paxton Lynch in a face-saving move for Elway as the team reboots under center.
Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota's answer at quarterback boils down to Cousins, whose suggested interest in the Vikings reportedly has the Jetsa little freaked. Still, TheMMQB's Peter King left Indianapolis convinced that Cousins has yet to decide his fate. As for the Vikings, they said very little about their plans under center, but gave us the impression they might opt to re-sign Sam Bradford over impending free agents Keenum and Bridgewater. A little dot-connecting points to Bradford's time spent -- albeit brief -- with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in Philadelphia. As of this writing, the Vikings remain our pick to woo Cousins into the fold.
New York Giants: New coach Pat Shurmur talked about Eli Manning as a player with "multiple" years left as a starter. The team appears compelled to correct last year's public-relations nightmare, in which Eli was benched for Flat-EartherGeno Smith. At 37, Manning is better used as a veteran bridge for the quarterback Big Blue takes with the No. 2 pick. The Giants are sitting pretty with a rare opportunity to nab their favorite passer in the draft if the Browns opt for Barkley. Every one of these rookie prospects looms as a better option than second-year arm Davis Webb. Fail to find Eli's successor at your own risk.
New York Jets: Mike Maccagnan is the rare general manager who drafted a pair of flame-outs under center and lived to tell about it. The Jets must treat Bryce Petty and hyper-enigma Christian Hackenberg like a violent new strain of H3N2, fleeing in the opposite direction in favor of a shock-and-awe campaign for Cousins. If they fail in that quest, look for New York -- packed with around $90 million in cap space -- to chase down proven veterans in free agency and swing for the fences on a rookie with the No. 6 pick. SNY's Ralph Vacchiano suggested a plan that could see Josh McCown return alongside Bridgewater. Whatever the combination, Maccagnan is under pressure to deliver the goods.
SET FOR YEARS TO COME
Atlanta Falcons:Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is at peace with his quarterback situation, making it crystal clear Matt Ryan "wants to be with us; we want him to be here." Said Dimitroff: "Our focus is on Matt and getting him secured here for years to come [with a new deal]." Set to turn 33 in May, Ryan is a season removed from an MVP campaign and shows no signs of decline. Not the case with dangerously milquetoast backup Matt Schaub, who must be replaced with a known quantity unless the Falcons believe Garrett Grayson can serve as a steady No. 2.
Carolina Panthers: Signed through 2020, Cam Newton remains the unquestioned focal point of Carolina's offense. He could use a batch of new receivers, while the Panthers must also pinpoint a veteran backup to replace free agent Derek Anderson. The only other arm on the roster is someone named Garrett Gilbert, leading us to believe the Panthers will aggressively pursue a reliable ex-starter.
Chicago Bears: New coach Matt Nagy and inventive offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich are all in on second-year starter Mitchell Trubisky. Not the case with nouveau richeMike Glennon, who was cut to the wind during last week's combine. With the Bears hunting for backup help, it's worth noting that Nagy spent years in Kansas City with free agent Chase Daniel serving as the understudy to Alex Smith.
Green Bay Packers: New Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made it quite apparent at the combine that extending Aaron Rodgers with a new long-term deal is a raging priority in Green Bay. It makes sense for the quarterback's camp to see what kind of cash Cousins nets before proceeding. At 34, Rodgers has talked about playing into his 40s and remains the finest signal-calling specimen on Earth today. Backup Brett Hundley was a mixed bag filling in last season, but coach Mike McCarthy seems to trust him.
Houston Texans:Deshaun Watson resumed running in February on his way back from last year's ACL tear. Emerging as one of the most exciting quarterbacks league-wide as a rookie, the 2017 first-rounder gives coach Bill O'Brien the player he's patiently waited for all along. With Tom Savage hitting free agency, the Texans could use a reliable backup -- only Taylor Heinicke currently sits behind their prized starter.
Indianapolis Colts: The lingering effects of shoulder surgery turned Andrew Luck into a ghost last season. The Colts publicly believe he'll roar back in 2018, with general manager Chris Ballard telling scribes in Indy: "Do I have any doubt that he's going to be ready? No, I don't." Set to turn 29 in September, Luck has missed a whopping 26 starts over the past three campaigns. The Colts haven't flinched in support of their talented starter, but until Luck receives a clean bill of health, backup Jacoby Brissett remains a valuable chip on a roster that also includes Brad Kaaya and Phillip Walker.
Kansas City Chiefs:Patrick Mahomes has barely played, but Chiefs general manager Brett Veach gushed over the newly anointed starter in Kansas City: "All the physical tools are there. He is one of the best players I have ever seen." Alex Smith's successor has plenty of talent around him -- and should soon have more -- with Veach emphasizing the need for another deep-threat receiver alongside Tyreek Hill to maximize Mahomes' titanic arm. With no other quarterback under contract, Kansas City is a lock to add a savvy veteran and possibly draft another developmental body.
Oakland Raiders: Jon Gruden's return to Oakland had plenty to do with the presence of Derek Carr. The former MVP candidate struggled through a back injury that contributed to a down campaign, but Carr has comprehensive backing from the organization. The only other passer on the roster is Connor Cook, making it fair to wonder if Chucky will seek out a veteran he can trust at No. 2.
Philadelphia Eagles: Can Nick Foles be pried from the Eagles? Unlikely. Rapoport revealed that Philly wants a first-round pick "at the very least" in exchange for their Super Bowl winner. With Foles and starter Carson Wentz costing less than $10 million for 2018, why break up one of the finest duos league-wide? Until the Eagles are certain Wentz can return to pristine form in time for Week 1, it makes sense to keep the band together. And even if Wentz returns to action good as new, it wouldn't hurt to have Foles as an insurance plan for the entire 2018 campaign.
Pittsburgh Steelers:Ben Roethlisberger spent last offseason openly weighing retirement, but he came out of this past campaign saying he hopes to play for three more years. Not sure I buy that, but he's seemingly thrilled with the elevation of Randy Fichtner to offensive coordinator. The Steelers also have backup Landry Jones under contract through the coming season and second-year arm Josh Dobbs through 2020.
San Francisco 49ers: Instead of facing an offseason flush with questions and speculation at the quarterback position, the Niners pulled off what looks like the steal of the century in trading for starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Inked last month to a five-year, $137.5 million deal, Jimmy G rests as the richest player in football (... until Cousins puts pen to paper). There's a subset of fans out there who rail against analysts for anointing Garoppolo as the next big thing after just seven pro starts, but his film is brilliant, his coaches adore him and he turned the winless Niners into one of the NFC's sauciest clubs down the stretch. With hand-picked C.J. Beathard sitting behind the team's star arm, San Francisco won't be asked about the quarterback position anytime soon.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lost in a massively disappointing year for the summertime-hypefest Bucs, Jameis Winston overcame a recurring throwing-shoulder injury to strive down the stretch. His penchant for bizarre turnovers is concerning, but Winston remains unquestioned as Dirk Koetter's main squeeze. Ryan Griffin, meanwhile, has a solid shot to enter the season as Tampa's No. 2.
Tennessee Titans: It's Marcus Mariota or bust for Tennessee, with new Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur arriving from the Rams with plans to reorganize Tennessee's air attack. Mariota can't be blamed for his injuries -- or the fact he's playing under his third head coach in four seasons. The athletic starter could use a dose of organizational consistency. Behind him, the Titans must quickly ditch backup Matt Cassel and seek upgrades over Alex Tanney and Tyler Ferguson.
Washington Redskins: No longer playing cat-and-mouse with Cousins, the Redskins have their starter of tomorrow in Alex Smith. Earning a five-year extension with $71 million in guarantees, Smith won't have to look over his shoulder anytime soon. Meanwhile, Colt McCoy serves as the dictionary definition of an NFL backup, with Stephen Morris behind him.
IN A LEAGUE ALL THEIR OWN
New England Patriots: You have the finest quarterback of our lifetime coming off a season that saw him show zero indication of giving in to Father Time. Tom Brady turns 41 in August on a team that no longer boasts tucked-away Mr. Fabulous Jimmy Garoppolo as New England's savior in waiting. Nobody knows how long Brady will endure. Same goes for coach Bill Belichick, who could choose to exit stage left when his quarterback calls it quits. With only journeyman Brian Hoyer behind Tommy, the Patriots must think about a succession plan, but the situation is attached to legacy, legend -- and the reality that Brady could feasibly play for multiple years into the future. Add it all up and the Patriots find themselves in an unusual push-and-pull between the present and future.
TIME TO THINK AHEAD
Baltimore Ravens: Combine gossip suggested Baltimore could be in play for a quarterback earlier than expected in the draft. Joe Flacco struggled through a back injury last season -- not his fault -- but the 33-year-old's play has fallen off in recent years. With Josh Woodrum the only other passer on the books, the Ravens must think about a better (and future) option at No. 2.
New Orleans Saints:Drew Brees is set to sign a new contract with the Saints, a clear indicator that he'll start in New Orleans until his 40th birthday. Brees was brilliant in 2107, but the Saints have talked for years about finding someone to grow in his wake. FYI: That isn't Taysom Hill. Like Baltimore, look for New Orleans to explore the position this offseason or next.
THE WILD CARDS
Cincinnati Bengals: History tells us the Bengals will blandly avoid upgrading their quarterback room in favor of clinging to Andy Dalton. They refused to give AJ McCarron a chance at the job and offer nothing in the form of competition, with Jeff Driskel at the backup spot. Dalton's an easy target, but he legitimately struggled for weeks in a row last season. Bringing in a true challenger makes too much sense.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I don't doubt the team's desire to start Blake Bortles next season, not with general manager Dave Caldwell staunchly defending the oft-picked-on starter last week: "For everything he has been through and all of the things people say he can't do, he has proven that he can do it. This wasn't a decision where he's going to be here for a year and we're going to be keeping our eyes out." With $26.5 million in guarantees on the books, Bortles isn't going anywhere -- not yet. What happens after this coming season, though, is anyone's guess.
Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase continues to call Ryan Tannehill his starter, but doth the Fins coach protest too much? The Dolphins are "looking hard at quarterbacks," per Peter King, with much of the combine gossip linking them to surging prospect Baker Mayfield. Miami's interest in the Oklahoma star picked up serious steam in Indy, but he's no lock to be there when the Dolphins pick at No. 11. With just David Fales (restricted free agent) and Brandon Doughty behind Tannehill, this team looms as a candidate to trade up for a signal-caller.