Quarterback is the most important position on the field, and the most talked-about position off of it.
The first pick of the draft? Sam Bradford. The biggest surprise of the draft? Jimmy Clausen. The biggest offseason move? The trade of Donovan McNabb. The biggest offseason story? The self-destruction of Ben Roethlisberger.
|It's up to Mike Martz to coach up Jay Cutler in Chicago. (AP)|
Granted, there are others almost as fascinating -- like what happens to Pittsburgh with and without Roethlisberger? Or what happens to Arizona without Kurt Warner? For that matter, how much better can Oakland be without
Sorry, but they didn't make the cut. These did, and here's why:
A year ago, Mike Martz criticized Jay Cutler on the NFL Network, basically saying he needed to grow up. Now that he's Chicago's offensive coordinator, Martz says that working with the quarterback is "a dream." Well, which is it? We have all season to find out. All I know is that putting Cutler and Martz together makes the Bears must-see football, with the innovative Martz trying to resurrect a quarterback who produced a league-high 44 interceptions the past two seasons, including 26 in 2009. One coach I trust thinks the odd couple could work for this reason: "Mike will intimidate him," he said.
That means he believes Martz will scare Cutler straight, with the quarterback having the best season of his career. Maybe. It depends on if Cutler makes a better student than he does a marksman. If he listens, he has a chance. Martz had Jon Kitna throw for 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons for crying out loud, and we all know how Kurt Warner got his start. But if Cutler is stubborn ... if he is the quarterback he was a year ago ... if he refuses to knuckle under ... well, then, the best fireworks won't be reserved for Navy Pier. He'll get Martz and coach Lovie Smith canned. Talk about power. The Bears' hierarchy put their offense in Cutler's hands; now he determines what happens to them.
When the Cleveland Browns drafted Colt McCoy, team president Mike Holmgren said he wouldn't play this season. Then Eric Mangini said he wouldn't rule it out. Then Holmgren corrected himself, saying that "if [McCoy] is the guy he plays." This is what happens, people, when Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are your only other options. Anything is possible. Delhomme is the starter, and, I'm sorry, but if I'm Eric Mangini I'm worried. The reason: Mangini wasn't hired by Holmgren and is on a short leash, with Jon Gruden already an early favorite to succeed him. I don't know if that happens, but I believe Mangini needs to win and win now. So how do you win with a guy who's coming off the worst season of his career and has 23 interceptions in his last 12 starts? Answer: You might not, and that makes Cleveland another story worth following.
The Browns won five games last season with their quarterbacks completing 33 passes -- including two against Buffalo -- but that's living dangerously. Mangini can't rely on an encore performance, though, considering what he has to work with, he might not have a choice. The Browns played well down the stretch, relying on Jerome Harrison and their defense to string together four straight wins, but they produced only five turnovers over their last four starts; they had 26 in their other 12. So, quick now, tell me how you continue to minimize mistakes with Jake Delhomme as your quarterback. Now you know why Colt McCoy is in town.
So Pete Carroll says that nothing has changed and that Matt Hasselbeck is Seattle's starter. I don't care. It's what Pete Carroll does that matters, and what he did was trade for Charlie Whitehurst -- overpaying for a third-string quarterback who hasn't thrown a pass in four years. I say "overpaying," because that's what it looks like now. But if Whitehurst is the franchise quarterback Carroll thinks he can be I don't care what the Seahawks paid. They made the right move. Finding good, young quarterbacks is difficult, and maybe the Seahawks just solved the puzzle. If nothing else, they found a safety net for Hasselbeck, who missed parts of the past two seasons with injuries and may be nearing the end of his career.
Carroll said he likes competition at every position, and that tells me that he'll want Whitehurst to push the incumbent so that when the time comes he's ready to take over. That could happen now. It could happen later. Given Hasselbeck's age (he turns 35 in September) and medical history it could happen this season. I don't know what the Seahawks have in Charlie Whitehurst, but I do know I can't wait to find out why Carroll was so hot and bothered over the guy.
For the past 11 seasons Donovan McNabb was the face of the Eagles' franchise. But now he's gone and not because he did anything wrong; the club simply decided it was time to make a change. And change, we're told, is good. Let's see. McNabb's successor, Kevin Kolb, allows coach Andy Reid to run more of a traditional West Coast offense, with more short to intermediate passes, slants, crosses and curls. But the question is: Will it allow the Eagles more success than they had with McNabb? That will be difficult. He led the team to the playoffs eight times, including five conference championship games in five years and one Super Bowl. Still, the Eagles thought they had gone as far as they could with him and wanted a new approach. This is that new approach.
Kolb looked good in his only two starts last season, throwing for more than 300 yards in each game, but let's see how he weathers a season in Philadelphia. One of McNabb's most admirable qualities was that he was able to keep his poise and withstand the ebb and flow of criticism that is as much a part of Philadelphia as Rittenhouse Square. Fans cut you little margin for error, and maybe Kolb finds out. If he flops, the Eagles have Michael Vick at the No. 2 spot, and imagine what happens if they're forced to call his number. It's always something in Philadelphia, and it's almost always something with the quarterback.
Kyle Orton is the Broncos' starter, but not for long. First, Denver went out and acquired Brady Quinn. Then it went out and drafted Tim Tebow ... in the first round, no less. That should tell Orton what the Broncos think of him, and it's not much. But somebody tell me why -- or how -- Quinn or Tebow assumes command. I know, if the Broncos maneuvered to acquire them, they must have convictions about them. I get it. But why? The Browns didn't think Quinn could play, and they had a first-round draft pick invested in him. What they determined, and rather quickly, was that he isn't as accurate as he should be to play at this level. So that changes in Denver? Color me skeptical.
Tebow, of course, is the more intriguing choice here. A lot of people in the league don't think he can make it as a quarterback in the NFL, especially in one or two years, but all it takes is one believer. Josh McDaniels, come on down. McDaniels already has compared Tebow's intangibles to Tom Brady, and that's not fair. Brady won three Super Bowls. Tebow hasn't won a job. McDaniels hitches his wagon to an immensely gifted and likable quarterback who may or may not have the right stuff for the NFL but who almost surely determines what happens to his head coach. Tebow already demonstrated he can sell pro jerseys. Now the question: Can he win pro games? McDaniels' future could depend on it.