With the NFL draft having reshuffled a few quarterback depth charts around the league, let's take stock of the shifting arms-race landscape as we await the opening of training camps in about three months. It's a quarterbacks' world in the NFL, but it seems to change about every other week, so you have to stay current.
Here's our list of the 10 most compelling quarterback situations to watch when the season starts, and in the interest of full disclosure, we do not consider Minnesota (you know No. 4 is coming back) or Pittsburgh (it's still Ben Roethlisberger's job) as having vacancies.
1. Carolina PanthersStarter: Matt MooreChallengers: Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike, Hunter Cantwell
The Upshot: After Moore went 4-1 to end the season in his first real shot at the No. 1 job, the Panthers let Jake Delhomme, A.J. Feeley and Josh McCown walk and handed the job to Moore, the former Oregon State star who stuck in the league after going undrafted in 2007. But the draft threw Carolina's quarterback depth chart in a whole new light because the Panthers went out of character and nabbed both Notre Dame's Clausen (second round) and Cincinnati's Pike (sixth). Clausen is obviously well-positioned to challenge for Moore's job from day one, and don't overlook Pike's potential to get himself noticed with some solid preseason work.
Potential For Change: I like Moore; when he's been given a chance, he has produced during his three years in Carolina. But with Clausen being a first-round talent in the eyes of many, the reality is he's going to get a chance to play at some point as a rookie. And let's not forget, Panthers head coach John Fox is in the final year of his contract, so he's not going to hesitate to make a move if Moore struggles early. The "Clausen to the Rescue'' clamor will be heard in 2010.
2. Arizona CardinalsStarter: Matt LeinartChallengers: Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall
The Upshot: With Kurt Warner retired, this is Leinart's team, and Leinart's time to shine. But with an ex-Pro Bowl pick in Anderson added in free agency, and the promising Skelton drafted in the fifth round, the Cardinals are intent on making the 2006 first-round pick earn it. Leinart really can't afford to show much rust in the preseason because Anderson will be itching to seize any perceived opening and exploit it. He knows all about competing with former first-round picks, and let's just say he left Cleveland without ever believing Brady Quinn legitimately beat him out for the Browns starting job.
Potential For Change: The Cardinals have a lot of time and money invested in Leinart, and he'll be given every possible chance to succeed. I made the case earlier this offseason that Leinart played better in 2006-07 than folks really remember, but all that matters now is what he does with the opportunity. Anderson can look very good at times, and Skelton, who has been compared to Joe Flacco, is a raw but intriguing talent who's intent on becoming the NFL's next Fordham Flash.
3. Oakland RaidersStarter: Jason CampbellChallengers: Bruce Gradkowski, JaMarcus Russell, Kyle Boller, Charlie Frye
The Upshot: When the Raiders wisely traded a 2012 fourth-round pick to Washington for Campbell on Saturday, it showed Al Davis was finally waking up and smelling the coffee in the case of the disappointing Russell. Davis will reportedly release Russell any day now, but given the Raiders owe him $3 million guaranteed this season, I'm not sure the point of whacking him now. There's time for that at the end of the preseason. Campbell walks in the door as the team's most accomplished starter, and that's saying something given the five-year ride he just took in Washington. If I'm new Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, my depth chart reads Campbell, Gradkowski and Russell, in that order. Boller and Frye look like camp arms only, or maybe the team's No. 3 if Russell is released.
Potential For Change: Oakland's starting quarterback slot has been a revolving door since Rich Gannon left town, but Campbell now gets his turn to end all the instability. He'll put in the time and the work necessary to earn the job, unlike Russell, who only won it via his contract and draft status. Gradkowski can't be completely overlooked, but Campbell's experience makes him the best of three first-round quarterbacks on the roster (Boller in 2003, Campbell in 2005, Russell in 2007).
4. Cleveland BrownsStarter: Jake DelhommeChallengers: Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Brett Ratliff
The Upshot: You still wonder if the Browns viewed all of Delhomme's game film from mid-January 2009 on before giving him $8 million to play this season, but Cleveland has mystified us on the quarterback front many times before. He'll get the first crack at the starting job, but can anyone envision him keeping it for all 16 games? I still see Wallace pushing Delhomme in the preseason, and now you're going to have a groundswell of support for the people's choice: McCoy, the third-round rookie who happens to be the all-time wins leader in major college football history. Browns football czar Mike Holmgren said he doesn't expect McCoy to play this year, but that's no fun. Just let the Browns offense struggle for two games and see how fast McCoy's learning curve changes.
Potential For Change: I'd bet cash money Delhomme, Wallace and McCoy all get at least one start in 2010 because that's how things have gone for the Browns at quarterback for a while now. Cleveland should spend most of its time and energy this season figuring out if McCoy is the future, but with head coach Eric Mangini needing to win every game he can to protect his job, his goals and the team's goals might not perfectly jive on that front.
5. Seattle SeahawksStarter: Matt HasselbeckChallengers: Charlie Whitehurst, Mike Teel
The Upshot: The plan in Seattle this year was to improve the team around Hasselbeck and let the veteran have one season to see what he can do as the team's clear-cut starter. But you might have noticed that plans can change rather abruptly in the NFL. Last month's surprising Whitehurst trade added an element of competition to Seattle's quarterback situation that didn't exist when Seneca Wallace was the backup, and new head coach Pete Carroll has been a bit all over the map, saying both that Hasselbeck is still the guy and the two quarterbacks will compete in camp. What that means is stay tuned, because if Whitehurst looks sharp in the preseason and Hasselbeck doesn't, nobody's going to be in the mood to wait until 2011 to see what the new guy can do.
Potential For Change: The Seahawks think they've uncovered a gem in Whitehurst, but they paid a high price to San Diego for a guy who has yet to throw a regular-season pass. I don't expect he'll beat out Hasselbeck this season, but injuries have bedeviled the Seahawks starter in recent years, and that may open the door for the ex-Clemson quarterback. Let's see what he does with his opportunity once it comes.
6. Buffalo BillsStarter: Trent EdwardsChallengers: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, Levi Brown
The Upshot: With the exception of adding Troy's Levi Brown in the seventh round Saturday, the Bills' three-man quarterback contingent returns intact from 2009. But with a new head coach in Chan Gailey and a new general manager in Buddy Nix, nobody has much of a grip on any job in Buffalo. So the part worth watching this season will be how Gailey sorts through his passers and finds the one he's willing to live with. His history is to run the ball, play field position and not ask his quarterback to put the game on his shoulders. Edwards is still the guy who makes the most sense to start, but Fitzpatrick is Gailey's type of game-manager QB, and some folks are very interested to see if Brown can be that rare late-round pick who's more than just developmental material.
Potential For Change: In Buffalo? There's the potential for a change at quarterback every week. If I had to pick one team that could hit for the quarterback cycle this season -- starting four players -- it would be the Bills.
7. Denver Broncos Starter: Kyle OrtonChallengers: Brady Quinn, Tim Tebow, Tom Brandstater
The Upshot: The selection of Tebow in the first round Thursday night may not wind up greatly impacting the 2010 season, but with head coach Josh McDaniels' fate now tied to the ex-Gator quarterback, it's clear that everything about Denver's future revolves around the former Heisman winner. Orton is entering the final year of his contract, and in a perfect world he plays well this year and then leaves via free agency. Quinn just had his path back to relevancy blocked by Tebow's arrival, and he's just an insurance policy in case Orton gets hurt at this point. At best he's playing for an opportunity with a third NFL team. Brandstater actually had his fans in Denver, but the field is too crowded and he's probably the odd man out.
Potential For Change: Orton still has a commanding edge when it comes to the starting job, but it'll be fascinating to watch how the Broncos employ Tebow in either specialty packages or getting-his-feet-wet, mid-game roles. There's certainly a chance for Orton and Quinn to feel some frustration this year because they can read the writing on the wall in Denver, and it doesn't include their names.
8. Philadelphia EaglesStarter: Kevin KolbChallengers: Michael Vick, Mike Kafka
The Upshot: There should be no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia this year now that Donovan McNabb has finally met his destiny and become an ex-Eagle. The job belongs to Kolb and he's had three years to prep for this opportunity, much like Aaron Rodgers did replacing Brett Favre in Green Bay. But this being Philadelphia, I'm curious to see how long the fans remain in love with Kolb now that he's not the backup option, but has to turn his promise into production on a week-to-week basis. And could Vick's pinch-hit role in the offense increase with No. 5 out of the way, and is he willing to stay patient and quiet if he has to spend 95 percent of the time on the sideline again in 2010?
Potential For Change: We know Andy Reid doesn't do knee jerk, so Kolb doesn't have to look over his shoulder this year. But Vick can't be completely sold on the situation, and how long until someone starts agitating to see what the wonderfully named rookie late-round pick Kafka can do?
9. St. Louis RamsStarter: Sam BradfordChallenger: A.J. Feeley, Keith Null
The Upshot: If I had to put a buck down, I'd say Bradford's rookie season will be closer to the Matthew Stafford experience in Detroit last year than the Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez magic-carpet rides of 2008 and 2009: Some good, some bad and plenty of ugly. But that says more about where the Rams are as a team than it does about the ex-Oklahoma quarterback. Bradford doesn't have to win the starting job per se, he just can't lose it. The Rams didn't draft him first overall to sit, watch and learn while Feeley plays. He'll be center stage from day one, and in the long run, St. Louis will be better off for it.
Potential For Change: Only an injury or a complete loss of confidence will result in Bradford leaving the Rams lineup. The best thing St. Louis did for the rookie was use its second-round pick on Indiana University offensive tackle Rodger Saffold, and if you don't understand the wisdom of that move, just ask Marc Bulger.
10. San Francisco 49ersStarter: Alex SmithChallenger: David Carr, Nate Davis, Jarrett Brown
The Upshot: Smith's grip on the starting job got a little more secure when the 49ers passed repeatedly on Notre Dame's Clausen last Thursday and Friday nights. But it remains less than vise-like. The 2005 top overall pick is entering the last year of his rookie deal, and he's playing for his NFL future this season. He's San Francisco's clear-cut starter entering camp, but he'll be operating on a short lease this season because it's win-now time for Mike Singletary's 49ers. Should Smith struggle, you'll see Carr (another former No. 1 overall pick) and maybe even second-year man Davis given a turn under center.
Potential For Change: I liked what we saw out of Smith's career-resurrection last season, and my sense is he's by far the best option to run the 49ers offense. If San Francisco reverts back to a running-game-centric offense and gets away from what Smith does best, spreading the field and finding the open receiver, he could be back in the soup. But the 49ers are a team on the cusp, and Smith gives them the best possible chance to get where they want to go. The 2010 season is and should be in his hands.