If this offseason taught us anything about the state of quarterbacking in the NFL it's that change is inevitable.
Even mediocre QB talent will get paid and teams lacking a relatively permanent solution at the most important position will go to great lengths to find it.
That's even more reason why a good number of men who will take the field come Week 1 probably should be looking over their shoulders. It's the nature of the game, especially at this position.
The "Not For Long" league particularly applies when it comes to coaches and quarterbacks. Those tend to be symbiotic relationships. The less secure they are, the more likely that at least one of them will be departing in short order.
Heck, many of the teams that invested a considerable amount of money into the quarterback position in 2016 did so with an eye toward someone else under center in 2017. It wouldn't surprise me if at least 25 percent of the league ended up with someone other than their 2016 Week 1 starter in that same spot a year from now.
Actually, leaving injuries aside for now, you could make the case that a third of the league will be poised to turn over the starting job by 2017. At least I could.
Next March has the potential to be even more wacky than what we just experienced on the quarterback market:
- Some quarterbacks on what are essentially expensive or relatively expensive prove-it deals -- see Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin III.
- A few big-money passers are entering potential lame-duck years -- see Jay Cutler and Drew Brees.
- Some are heading into the last year of any real guaranteed money owed to them -- see Ryan Tannehill and Alex Smith.
- Others are getting older and staring at a significant 2017 roster bonus -- see Carson Palmer.
- Some younger starters are failing to get any financial mandate whatsoever -- see Tyrod Taylor.
- The Jets are still without a viable Week 1 starter, and it's safe to assume the quarterback shuffle will be robust and continue into the conclusion of the 2016 season.
This is one area where supply seemingly never meets demand, and it is in those crevices that pedestrian quarterbacks get grossly overcompensated with teams often fooling themselves into thinking these cats are something they are not.
With that in mind, here's my attempt to track the quarterback hot spots of 2017 as they presently stand, and put a list together of the teams who could be going with a new QB atop their depth chart by this time next spring.
We'll go from most combustible to least, as I would size it up presently:
1. New York Jets
It's kind of difficult not to start here.
Geno Smith would be the guy to start if they had to play a game tomorrow, and he's also the most likely guy to be gone the moment Ryan Fitzpatrick comes to his senses and signs a contract. But even if Fitzpatrick signs, the Jets have made it clear they won't do a long-term deal with big guaranteed money.
They're hedging their bets, considerably.
Starting Christian Hackenberg in Week 1 would be perilous, though the second-rounder might well be their guy for 2017. Regardless, it's impossible to take glance at a quarterback window one year out from now and not start here.
Frankly, by Week 8, Sam Bradford could be holding the clipboard. His bizarre trade demand/holdout did him no favors.
Carson Wentz is the guy for 2017, but barring a sweeping run of injuries there is no way he's starting this September.
I have a very difficult time seeing Bradford having so transcendent a season that he's around a year from now, despite already having a well compensated backup on the roster in Chase Daniel. Not to mention that gave up a bevy to jump up to second overall pick via two trades to be able to draft Wentz.
I didn't realize it until I was on the radio with Marc Lillibridge the other day, but he pointed out that the Browns have five quarterbacks on their roster.
So if the saying is, if you've got two quarterbacks you've got none, what does it mean if you have nearly triple that?
Josh McCown is the best QB on their roster, but he seems destined to be some sort of mentor.
RG3 should start this season, but his ability to avoid injury will be tested greatly. I can't see him making it through this season, nor starting Week 1 of 2017. Besides, they can't stop talking up rookie Cody Kessler.
They should be poised to take a QB in the first five picks of the 2017 draft should one prove to their liking, and I personally figure at least three different dudes will start for them this season.
I really liked a lot of what Tyrod Taylor did last season, but the Bills could not have made it any more clear he has won nothing beyond the right to begin this season as the starter.
Cardale Jones will need more than a year to develop. Then again, if the Bills don't resemble a playoff team this year, I expect sweeping changes in the coaching staff and front office -- which could mean drafting another potential starter.
This is a make-or-break year for Taylor and his bosses. Does he have the build to stay healthy? And, after Buffalo passed on throwing any coin his way this offseason, would they be willing to pay top dollar to keep him should he perform well again?
I don't see any hometown discounts here.
The Ryan Tannehill deal was never anything more than basically guaranteeing his fifth-year option salary a year before the fact and securing the right to pay-as-they-go with him beyond that.
New coach Adam Gase is a QB guru and inherits a kid who has major limitations. If it's not the right fit, then Gase will move on from him regardless of where a prior regime drafted him or how much money he's already banked.
Personally, I haven't seen much growth from this quarterback. His inability to make the big-money throws downfield will work against him perhaps now more than ever. Not one penny of his $18 million base salary for 2017 is currently guaranteed, and he will need to evolve this season or risk finding work elsewhere a year from now.
Blaine Gabbert will have every shot to open this season as the starter. Considering his career arc, one would imagine that tenure ends up being measured in weeks rather than months, much less years.
Colin Kaepernick isn't long for San Francisco. Should a viable trade option emerge for him before or during the season, projecting him on the 2017 roster would be the ultimate long shot.
At some point Chip Kelly will have to take a QB high in a draft. I suspect that comes next spring.
This team has two stop-gap veterans right now, neither of whom I suspect is all that long for Santa Clara. As with all of the other teams listed to this point, there is a very, very high probability of someone else under center next year.
Jay Cutler has made a lot of money and generated a lot of headlines ... and thrown a ton of picks. With Gase gone after doing great work with him a year ago, things might just revert back to 2014 form.
Cutler being in a lame-duck situation may not bring out the best in him -- it didn't the last time around, but then the Bears ended up giving him a massive contract, anyway. Under new management that likely won't be the case again without a big season, as young GM Ryan Pace will certainly want to find a QB of the present/future in the draft soon enough.
The loss of Matt Forte's leadership could hurt that offense as well. This team's array of weapons on that side of the ball pales to what it looked like just a few years ago.
I'm not loving how this could be shaping up for Bears fans.
Sean Payton has done a ton of work on quarterbacks the past few drafts and dabbled with the prospect of taking one very high.
Contract talks with Drew Brees haven't gone anywhere to this point. Given Brees' unique impact on this franchise and all that he and this team have gone through together professionally and personally, post-Katrina, etc., I would never discount the possibility these sides find a way to work it out for another two to three years.
But it would be impossible to make a list like this, at this point, and not include the Saints on it somewhere in the middle.
With quarterbacks who haven't accomplished 20 percent of Brees getting mega-deals, Brees could end up doing very well on the open market should it come to that. The fact is the Saints are probably at least another few years from contending given the depth that defense has fallen to.
Carson Palmer has several years left on his deal and the Cardinals have no viable alternative to him. Plus he's coming off a superb regular season. Which explains in large part why he is not higher on this list.
But his age, injury history, playoff meltdowns and the structure of his contract -- he has an $8.15 million roster bonus due in March -- at least begs the question of how much more Bruce Arians can get from the 36-year old QB.
This team is entering Super Bowl-or-bust mode and it's going to have to develop the next QB sooner rather than later.
If Palmer were to suffer another serious injury, there would have to be some pause about paying another $17 million, and, man, if someone like Brees was on the open market this would be precisely the kind of contender who would have to covet his postseason pedigree.
They are low on this list for a reason (several of them), but are on here for a few as well.
This is usually about the time when Andy Reid has at least one eye on the future of his quarterback position. And he is a guy who always believes in drafting quarterbacks, even if there isn't present-day need.
After this season, the guaranteed money (all $45 million of it) will have been paid to Alex Smith, who has proven to be a solid starter who can stabilize a team.
But Smith's limitations can only take the Chiefs so far. This may be the year in which Reid draws the same conclusions that former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh did, which led to his trade to Kansas City in the first place.
Thinking out loud here, but could Colin Kaepernick make sense in this offense come 2017? That would be weird, eh?
Of the QBs recently drafted by the Chiefs, I'm not positive the next guy is already on the roster as currently constructed. In all likelihood, 2017 becomes the defining year for this quarterback with this franchise, and not 2016.
I'd be surprised if the Chiefs don't take a QB high next spring, regardless.
11. Denver Broncos
I am doing this list on my assumption that rookie Paxton Lynch ends up being the Week 1 starter. If in fact Mark Sanchez manages to hold him off for even that long, then you can go ahead and move Denver right up to the second spot on this list, in a tie with Philly.
It just depends how this quarterback competition goes this summer as to how quickly this inevitable transition takes place.
General manager Scot McCloughan really likes Kirk Cousins, believes he is a winning quarterback and a playoff-caliber quarterback. While ownership was hesitant to pay Cousins big-money long-term, the fact he'll already make $20 million this year on the franchise tag, and this team's woeful QB situation over the totality of Dan Snyder's tenure as owner, puts Cousins in great stead.
Cousins has plenty to work with around him and he's become a leader. I wouldn't bet against him playing at the level he did a year ago, in which case McCloughan's boss will have no choice but to slide another huge check across the table.
The real money in Andy Dalton's contract has been paid. It's year-to-year now and the questions about him, and coach Marvin Lewis, in the postseason remain.
The performance of young backup AJ McCarron turned a few heads.
The fact that Dalton's deal is so manageable -- signed through 2020 with no cap numbers over $17.7 million -- means he probably isn't going anywhere. But then again, it also makes it a very tradable contract should they ever want to go that route (teams were probing around on McCarron already this offseason).
This dynamic is at least worth watching as the expectations for the Bengals remain very high, the pressure on Lewis remains very real and the playoff curse lives on.
This team could end up much higher on this list a year from now.
14. Houston Texans
Talk to me next spring when Brock Osweiler is going into his second season there -- and the last one with the huge guaranteed money attached to it.