It is always nice if you know who your quarterback is long before the season starts. There is peace of mind when Peyton Manning or Tom Brady is on your roster. When the situation is cloudy and every night after practice the general manager and the head coach sit down to have the same quarterback discussion they had the day before, it can be very stressful.
Here are the challenges that are on the table each day, and believe me they don't necessarily go away when you name a starter. The third preseason game is the "tune up" game for the regular season, but what if the guy you pick fails miserably in that game? Can a team afford to give up valuable practice reps to keep a quarterback battle going right up until the season starts?
Which quarterback is mentally better suited to come off the bench later in September if the first choice fails? Is the battle so close that politics enter the equation; is there a first-round draft pick in the battle along with a former free agent or a quarterback not drafted by the present regime? Are the players in the locker room taking sides and the team is becoming divided by the two quarterbacks?
This preseason, there could be a case made that eight teams hit the practice fields Aug. 1 with a quarterback competition as part of the summer plan. The Vikings ended their quarterback issues when Brett Favre signed, and now Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson fight it out for the No. 2 spot. I had a similar situation with the Jets years ago when we traded for Boomer Esiason and wound up with four quarterbacks. We let a young, inexperienced kid, Jeff Blake, go and he went on to a Pro Bowl two years later. In my opinion, the Vikings should not trade or release Jackson and they should also try and keep John David Booty on the practice squad. As for the other seven quarterback battles, things seem to be clearing up for now, maybe.
I was able to attend five of the seven training camps where a quarterback competition was under way. Moreover, watching the game tapes has helped clear up the short-term picture. The long-term picture, however, is another story.
You could make a case that Derek Anderson has outplayed Brady Quinn at times this summer. If it remains close, the Browns will go with Quinn to start and then it becomes his job to lose. Anderson is much better suited to come off the bench like he did in 2007 when Charlie Frye stumbled out the gate. Quinn is the people's choice, but if he struggles coach Eric Mangini will not hesitate to make the switch. Keep your eye on Brett Ratliff, who could find his way to the field before the end of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were in a three-way battle before rookie coach Raheem Morris named veteran Byron Leftwich the starter this past weekend. Both Leftwich and Luke McCown have looked good at times this preseason, but neither guy is the long-term answer in Tampa. Young Josh Freeman, the Bucs' first-round draft pick, has completed 15 of 32 passes and run for a touchdown. If the season gets headed in the wrong direction early, we probably will see Freeman right after the Buccaneers' bye week, which also coincides with the four games against the NFC East as well as a game against the Patriots out of the way.
New York Jets
Mark Sanchez has been named the starter, which is no surprise to anyone. He has 16 college starts under his belt and 32 NFL preseason passes, but there really was no reason to wait with his only competition, Kellen Clemens. It would have been ideal for an older veteran such as Jon Kitna to get things started in New York. Sanchez would learn a lot from a seasoned vet on how to prepare and provide another set of eyes on the sideline. This is a tough spot for Sanchez, but there's no turning back now. Maybe an old vet such as Damon Huard comes free at the last cut that the Jets could put on the roster just to help out.
Unlike the Jets, the Lions have a veteran quarterback who can start the season and give Matthew Stafford some learning time. Daunte Culpepper gives Detroit the best chance to win a game early, and after an 0-16 season last year, that is the first objective. Culpepper didn't throw a touchdown pass until the Lions' third preseason game, but he has completed 65 percent of his passes and he hasn't thrown a pick. Stafford isn't ready, and the Lions fans will judge him the second he gets on the field. Detroit can't afford another Joey Harrington experience.
The Raiders never really had a quarterback competition as JaMarcus Russell was handed the job and veteran Jeff Garcia never got a chance to compete. Russell finished strong last season, but struggled in the spring. That made it appear as if Garcia would push him. Now, I would not be surprised if Garcia wasn't even on the opening-day roster. People in Oakland like what they have seen from Bruce Gradkowski so far in the preseason. If Garcia is on the roster and Russell struggles, people will call for Garcia. If Russell struggles and Gradkowski is the backup, you will not hear a sound.
San Francisco 49ers
Shaun Hill was named the starter, and why not? Naming Hill the starter was the first big decision Mike Singletary made when he took over the team, and Hill responded by going 5-3 as the starter in the second half of the season. Alex Smith has done nothing to distinguish himself in the preseason. As one 49ers scout said to me, "It is not about charting practice completions, it is about winning games." If Hill struggles during the season, we could very well see Smith.
Kansas City Chiefs
In the spring, new coach Todd Haley said that he instructed Tyler Thigpen to go after the starting job and that nothing was promised to Matt Cassel. Then, along came a multi-year deal to Cassel, Thigpen fell behind and there was no real competition. But Thigpen better stay ready for health reasons. Through three preseason games, Cassel was sacked four times in 22 pass attempts -- the last one knocking him out of the preseason loss to Seattle and leaving his status for Week 1 of the regular season in question due to an injured leg.
Finally, quarterback battles could emerge during the season. Miami is high on Chad Henne, who waits in the wings. What if one of the older starters such as Favre, Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner or Jake Delhomme struggles and shows his age? What if Jason Campbell starts off the way he finished in 2008? What if a starter goes down with injury and the backup lights it up? Remember, only 16 quarterbacks played all 16 games last year.