Which backup QBs will get a shot in 2012?
Last week, Bills GM Buddy Nix said that "probably the stiffest competition from what we’ve seen" during his team's early offseason workouts was the battle for the backup QB role between Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young.
"I don’t know how it’s going to turn out," Nix told BuffaloBills.com.
The difference between having a capable No. 2 QB and not can be season-changing -- the Bears fell apart in the midst of a playoff chase last season when Jay Cutler went down with an injury; the Texans, meanwhile, won their division and a postseason game despite being forced to turn to third-string QB T.J. Yates.
With training camps around the NFL set to open this week, here are the teams most likely to turn to their backup QBs for help at some point in 2012:
No. 10 -- Denver/Philadelphia (Caleb Hanie/Mike Kafka): There are several starting QBs you could consider "injury risks." To name a few: Matthew Stafford had back-to-back season-ending injuries in 2009 and '10, Matt Schaub was just recently cleared for practice again following a Lisfranc injury suffered last season, and Sam Bradford took a beating last year. But the health of the QBs in Denver and Philadelphia will be at the forefront of storylines for those teams.
Denver is all-in that Peyton Manning will be 100 percent after sitting out 2011 with a series of neck issues. The Broncos will have to be extra cautious with him, though, especially early, which means a very realistic possibility that we see Hanie, Brock Osweiler or Adam Weber for a spell.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Michael Vick's style of play puts him at constant risk for an injury (similarly, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III will take hits, just because of how they play). Vick missed three games last season and four in 2011. The Eagles let Young walk, so Kafka would be the next man up right now.
No. 9 -- Buffalo (Young, Thigpen): Why is the Buffalo backup race so important? Well, the Bills suddenly have the pieces in place to challenge for a playoff berth, but it will require a much better season from Ryan Fitzpatrick. He battled through injury last season en route to 24 touchdowns and 23 interceptions; he regressed to a 10:16 TD-to-INT differential during the Bills' 1-8 close. Fitzpatrick signed a massive contract extension last October, but Buffalo could wiggle out of it next offseason, so this is a make-or-break year.
Given the raised expectation surrounding this team, the Bills could pull the plug on Fitzpatrick if he stumbles out of the gate.
No. 8 -- Cleveland (Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace): The Browns make it on the list, but with a couple of caveats. First off, McCoy doesn't appear long for Cleveland's roster -- if he isn't traded or released before Week 1, it would be an upset. And two, the only thing holding Brandon Weeden back from the starting gig and, more than likely, a full season on the field, is his ongoing negotiations over a rookie contract. If Weeden misses camp time, the Browns' QB situation becomes a lot more unsettled.
And the Kansas City fans took that opportunity to boo him. Suffice it to say, Cassel hasn't exactly lived up to expectations since joining the Chiefs in 2009. After a lost 2011 season, in which the Chiefs were hammered by injuries, nothing short of a playoff berth will fly. Quinn has had a less-than-stellar career thus far, but if Cassel and the Chiefs start slowly (and a tough schedule could make that happen), Romeo Crennel may make a change.
No. 6 -- Seattle (Tarvaris Jackson, Russell Wilson): Pete Carroll has kept his QB competition wide open, despite landing Matt Flynn in free agency. Flynn should still have the inside track on the No. 1 job, but Jackson has experience in Carroll's system. The wild card is Wilson, who slipped in the draft but wowed Seattle during early workouts. Flynn will have to play well in camp and out of the chute in the regular season to prevent any rotation here.
No. 5 -- Tennessee (Jake Locker): Matt Hasselbeck appears set to reclaim his No. 1 job, but it won't be much longer until Locker is handed the reins here. Will it happen in 2012? If Tennessee gets off to another slow start or the aging Hasselbeck suffers a nick or two, absolutely.
No. 4 -- Arizona (John Skelton): Wins and losses come down to more than QB play, generally speaking, but the numbers are pretty clear-cut: The Cardinals were 5-2 last season when Skelton started and 3-6 under Kevin Kolb. And while Kolb may slot back into the starting lineup for Week 1, the Cardinals' offseason pursuit of Manning showed what they think of their current options at quarterback. If not for the $65 million contract Kolb signed after Arizona traded for him, Skelton might already have this gig nailed down.
No. 3 -- Miami (Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill): I'm working under the very uncertain assumption that David Garrard will win the Miami job out of camp. No matter what happens, there could be some shuffling under center -- Moore played well down the stretch last season, and the Dolphins used a high draft pick to nab Tannehill in April. Tannehill is expected to be the quarterback of the future, but it's a fairly even race for the QB-of-the-present tag.
No. 2 -- Jacksonville (Chad Henne): Prior to last season, I predicted that Henne, then entrenched as Miami's starter, would be one of the NFL's biggest surprises. My bad.
Henne posted an 0-4 record and then was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. He has resurfaced in Jacksonville and may rip the starting job from Blaine Gabbert's fingers. It would be a huge blow to Gabbert's future with the Jaguars for him to lose the No. 1 job, but Henne might give this team a better chance to stay competitive in 2012. No. 1 -- New York Jets (Tim Tebow): This one's obvious, right? We're still several weeks out from the regular season, and the buzz about Tebow getting snaps in the red zone (at least) has picked up steam. Does New York plan to let Tebow push Mark Sanchez for the starting job? Or is this how the Jets want to use the southpaw -- as a change-of-pace QB capable of picking up tough yards on the ground? Either way, Tebow should get on the field early and often.