Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Quarterback Carousel

Len Pasquarelli has an interesting look at the sudden instability at the quarterback postion in the NFL, where even solid starters are being let go and teams seem to be churning their backups with great frequency.

In what appears to be an offseason unparalleled in terms of quarterback movement, the carousel of change has operated at warp-speed, spinning out of control at times, and the volume on the calliope has been cranked to the max. Most of the past several offseasons have included a high-stakes game of quarterback musical chairs. But there might not be enough overstuffed recliners in a La-Z-Boy warehouse to handle what has transpired leaguewide since the end of the 2005 season.


Consider this: Of the 102 quarterbacks who finished the 2005 season either on active rosters or one of the NFL’s several injury lists, 48 of them, nearly half, are with new franchises or out of the league entirely. As of Friday morning, there were 91 veteran quarterbacks, players with at least one year of experience, on the 32 league rosters. And the Bollinger deal means that 36 of them are with new teams in 2006.

Just four teams — Jacksonville, Carolina, Seattle and the New York Giants — have the same quarterback depth charts now as they had at the conclusion of the 2005 season.


Not all that long ago, opining that teams should rearrange the quarterback furniture would be akin to suggesting the solar system might really have only eight planets. But just as Pluto got booted out of the planetary fraternity, quarterbacks are getting kicked to the curb, or to other teams, with regularity now. And the process isn’t merely a function of free agency, although the system clearly provided the impetus for so much quarterback shuffling, most league observers agree. Since the end of last season, there have been 11 trades of veteran quarterbacks, five of them involving former first-rounders.

“When you see guys like Culpepper or [Steve] McNair or Joey Harrington changing teams, big-time players or prospects, that pretty much tells you something about the climate now,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. “It’s kind of become a ‘nothing lasts forever’ league now at quarterback. What’s that thing they talk about, the winds of change? This has been more like a twister. But I think the really noticeable thing, too, is how often teams are changing backups. It seems like people are always breaking in a No. 2 guy anymore, you know?”


It used to be that the model depth chart included a veteran starter, an experienced backup who perhaps had been a starter previously in his career or might be one in the future, and a young, developmental-type passer. That model, though, has gotten mangled as the position continues to lose stability.

And just how little stability is there? Just nine teams, little more than one-quarter of the league’s franchises, will start the same quarterback next weekend with whom they opened the 2003 season.

Said one NFC pro personnel director: “Never did I think the whole ‘instant gratification’ mentality would trickle down to [the quarterback] position. I always figured it would be, you know, like the last bastion of stability and sanity. It’s not quite a disposable position yet, like wide receiver is becoming, but it’s getting there and that’s scary. Be honest, did you ever think you’d see something like what happened at Tennessee this week? And without an injury being involved? That might be an extreme example, but it’s still a sign, a bad sign, of what we’ve gotten to.”


History has often demonstrated that, just because the grass appears a lot greener on the other side of the quarterback street, doesn’t mean a greened-up depth chart will guarantee success. Too many moving parts tends to complicate matters, and allows for breakdowns, so it will be interesting to see just what is wrought this season by the volume of movement at the quarterback position.

The pundits, and maybe some football organizations caught up in the wildly spinning quarterback carousel, might do well to note this: The last veteran quarterback to win a Super Bowl in his first season with a new team was Trent Dilfer with Baltimore in 2000.

In an oddity that might be more appropriate for the current climate, Dilfer was gone within three months of claiming that Super Bowl ring. He has been with three teams since then.

And the Ravens haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since.

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