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RP: The Quarterback Dead Zone

There’s not much real NFL news out there as the lockout continues, but that hasn’t stopped the rumors from floating around. Kevin Kolb remains a hot prospect for several teams at quarterback, while rumors are that the Redskins are prepared to go with John Beck as their starting quarterback.

Since both Kolb and Beck are former second-round picks, I was curious to dig back through drafts of past years to see how such picks have done in the NFL. The results of this research project were startling, and they revealed that both the second and the third rounds of the NFL draft have become the quarterback dead zone.

Can John Beck escape the QB dead zone in his 3rd NFL stop? Photo via bleacherreport.com

Only 14 percent of quarterbacks (5-of-35) taken in the second and third rounds since 1997 have been successes – and that’s if you grade generously and count Kolb as a success. And if you start grading after the first third of the second round, the success rate plummets even more to 7 percent (2-of-29).

Let’s look back at the drafts to see how these failures have happened. Our guess is that you’ll look at this list and marvel at just how poorly teams have done drafting quarterbacks in the dead zone. And after the list, we’ll make some conclusions.

Pat White, just another victim of the QB dead zone, via nydailynews.com

FYI, Quarterbacks who we’re grading as successes are in all caps below. We went back through the 1997 draft, since there’s only one QB left in the league who entered before then (Kerry Collins, 1995).

Second round

2011 – Andy Dalton (CIN, 35); Colin Kaepernick (SF, 36)

2010 – Jimmy Clausen (CAR, 48)

2009 – Pat White (MIA, 44)

2008 – Brian Brohm (GB, 56); Chad Henne (MIA, 57)

2007 – KEVIN KOLB (PHI, 36); John Beck (MIA, 40); Drew Stanton (DET, 43)

2006 – Kellen Clemens (NYJ, 49); Tarvaris Jackson (MINN, 64)

2001 – DREW BREES (SD, 32); Quincy Carter (DALL, 53); Marques Tuiasosopo (OAK, 59)

1999 – Shaun King (TB, 50)

1998 – Charlie Batch (DET, 60)

1997 – JAKE PLUMMER (ARIZ, 42)

Third Round

2011 – Ryan Mallett (NE, 74)

2010 – Colt McCoy (CLE, 85)

2008 – Kevin O’Connell (NE, 94)

2007 – Trent Edwards (BUFF, 92)

2006 – Charlie Whitehurst (SD, 81); Brodie Croyle (KC, 85)

2005 – Charlie Frye (CLE, 67); Andrew Walter (OAK, 69); David Greene (SEA, 85)

2004 – MATT SCHAUB (ATL, 90)

2003 – Dave Ragone (HOU, 88); Chris Simms (TB, 97)

2002 – Josh McCown (ARIZ, 81)

2000 – Giovanni Carmazzi (SF, 65); Chris Redman (BALT, 75)

1999 – Brock Huard (SEA, 77)

1998 – Jonathan Quinn (JAX, 86); BRIAN GRIESE (DEN, 91)

Conclusions

History tells us that to have any chance of success with a second-round quarterback, you have to take him in the first 10 picks of the round. That’s what the Bengals did with Andy Dalton and the 49ers did with Colin Kaepernick this year. But after the first 10 picks of the round, the chances of success plummet and stay low through the third round.

And we discussed last year how trading into the back end of the first round for a quarterback is a strategy that fails. In other words, it seems like the best chance for success with a quarterback isn’t just taking one early – it’s taking one in the first 15-to-20 picks. Spending a second- or third-round pick is an even worse risk than the 50/50 shot a first-round QB is.

Meanwhile, lower-round quarterbacks – Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck, and of course Tom Brady – have had more success than the QBs taken in the dead zone of the second and third rounds. While it’s been a few years since a late-round or undrafted QB has rocketed to stardom, finding a QB that way is ironically a better bet than taking one in the second or third round.

All this history points does not bode well for recent draftees like Jimmy Clausen (who appears headed down the traditional second-round path) and Colt McCoy (who has shown a bit more promise). And it makes us wonder whether the Patriots’ 2011 gamble on Ryan Mallett will end up like their selection of Kevin O’Connell three years before.

We’ll see if Dalton, Kaepernick, Mallett, or any other young quarterbacks can escape the trend. But for now, we have no choice but to believe in the force of the QB dead zone.

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RP: Trading for backup quarterbacks

Kevin Kolb

Trade target Kevin Kolb. Image via Wikipedia

In the midst of the NFL lockout, one rumor that won’t go away is that the Eagles are looking to deal backup QB Kevin Kolb to a team that wants to make him a starter. Kolb, who is signed to a reasonable contract and who sits behind Michael Vick on the depth chart, says he’s ready to start, and his performance in fill-in performances supports that belief. And Eagles head coach Andy Reid seems open to granting Kolb’s trade wish if the price is right.

But is this wise for the Eagles? And is trading for Kolb a good move for a quarterback needy team? Let’s do a research project to see the results other trades in which teams dealt for someone else’s backup quarterback and made him a starter.
*If  you can think of an example we forgot, leave a comment and we’ll add it in below.

2010 – Chargers trade Charlie Whitehurst and 2010 second-round pick (60th overall) to Seahawks for 2010 second-round pick (40th overall) and 2011 third-round pick – Whitehurst, a former third-round pick, was never going to surpass Philip Rivers in San Diego, but he had also fallen behind vet Billy Volek on the depth chart. So when the Seahawks wanted Whitehurst to compete for their starting job, the Bolts made the deal. The Seahawks didn’t give up as much as other teams had for QBs they knew would start for them, but it was a fairly hefty price for an unproven backup. In his first year in Seattle, Whitehurst couldn’t beat out veteran Matt Hasselbeck, and he started just two games. While his numbers weren’t great, he did lead the Hawks to a Week 17 victory over St. Louis to clinch a playoff spot. Hasselbeck is now a free agent, and the Seahawks want to keep him, which speaks to Whitehurst’s current value. But the jury is still out on whether Seattle got what it paid for in this deal.

2009 – Patriots trade Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel to Chiefs for second-round pick (34th overall) – Cassel, who had been a backup at USC and with the Patriots, got his chance to play in 2008 when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. Cassel acquited himself well, to the point that the Patriots put the franchise tag on him after the season. That was really a move to protect his value, and New England soon traded Cassel to Kansas City for an early second-round pick. That was a pretty nice return on investement for the Pats, who were obviously going to turn back to Brady as their starter. Cassel struggled a bit in his first year as a starter, but he really came on in 2010 to show he can be at least an above-average NFL starting QB. At this point, K.C. has to be thrilled to have Cassel, even after paying a hefty price.

2007 – Falcons trade Matt Schaub and 2007 10th overall pick to Texans for 2007 8th overall pick, 2007 second-round pick, and 2008 second-round pick – This is the one example that worked out far better for the team acquiring the backup quarterback. Schaub had started two games behind Michael Vick in Atlanta before the Falcons were able to get a pretty nice ransom for the former fourth-round pick. Schaub went on to the Texans, where he supplaned disappointing No. 1 overal pick David Carr. Schaub has developed into a prolific passer and has started every game when healthy over the past four seasons. The Falcons, meanwhile, didn’t know that their first season without Schaub would also be their first season without Vick, whose legal troubles began that year. So under first-year head coach Bobby Petrino, Atlanta started a poo-poo platter of Joey Harrington, Chris Redman, and Byron Leftwich that season. Petrino bailed and went to Arkansas, and the Falcons ended up drafting Matt Ryan as their new franchise QB. Atlanta bounced back from this trade, but it was as disastrous at first for the Falcons as it was shrewd for the Texans.

2004 – Eagles trade A.J. Feeley to Dolphins for 2005 second-round pick – Andy Reid learned from Ron Wolf, the GM of the team he had been an assistant coach for, when it came to trading quarterbacks. So once Donovan McNabb was an established starter, Reid dealt third-stringer Feeley to the Dolphins for a pretty high price – a second-rounder. Feeley had been a fifth-round pick, but when McNabb and backup Koy Detmer were injured in 2002, Feeley went 4-1 as a starter, helping the Eagles land a playoff berth. He was stuck on the bench another year before the Dolphins anted up to get him. But Feeley started just eight games in Miami and played poorly, losing the starting job to Jay Fiedler as coach Dave Wannstedt got forced out. Within two years, Feeley was gone. The Eagles, meanwhile, got WR Reggie Brown out of the deal as a draft pick, and actually got Feeley back as a backup a few years later. Philly won in this deal, and Miami definitely lost.

2001 – Packers trade Matt Hasselbeck plus 2001 17th overall pick and seventh-round pick to Seahawks for 2001 10th overall pick and third-round pick – Hasselbeck was the third Packers backup under Brett Favre who was traded to become a starter elsewhere, and he was the most valuable. For one, GM Wolf had built up the value of his backups enough to show that they were worthwhile investments for trading partners. Plus, the Seahawks made the trade under GM/coach Mike Holmgren, who had been in Green Bay when Hasselbeck was drafted in 1998. Hasselbeck was a sixth-round pick who developed into a preseason star in Green Bay, but he was never going to get a chance to start with Favre in place. So he moved on to Seattle. It took a while for Hasselbeck to beat out Trent Dilfer for the starting job in Seattle, but Hasselbeck eventually developed into a three-time Pro Bowler who led the Seahawks to several playoff berths and one Super Bowl. The fact that Seattle lost just one draft pick (a third-rounder) while giving up a few spots in the first round was a solid investment. Both teams came out of this deal as winners.

2000 – Packers trade Aaron Brooks and TE Lamont Hall to Saints for 2001 third-round pick and LB K.D. Williams – Brooks was the Packers’ third-string quarterback as a fourth-round pick out of Virginia, but after a year Ron Wolf was able to deal him to New Orleans for a third-rounder. The move was worthwhile for the Saints, as Brooks became a starter his first year and ended up starting 82 games for the team. Meanwhile, the Pack once again took advantage of Favre’s durability and turned a backup quarterback into a better pick than the one it had spent on him. So this deal was another win-win.

1999 – Broncos trade Jeff Lewis to Panthers for 1999 third-round pick and 2000 fourth-round pick – The Panthers, looking for a franchise quarterback, dealt for Lewis, who was a former fourth-round draft pick who was backing up John Elway in Denver. But Lewis couldn’t beat out veteran Steve Beuerlein in Carolina. Lewis was a backup for two years, in part because of a severe knee injury, getting only nominal playing time after the Panthers were eliminated from the playoff chase in 2000. And after George Seifert cut Beuerlein following the 2000 season to clear the way for Lewis, he fell flat on his face and was released at the end of training camp. The Panthers, led by rookie Chris Weinke, fell to 1-15 in 2001. The Broncos, meanwhile, dealt Lewis at the top of his value, because they already knew that Brian Griese had surpassed Lewis on the depth chart. After Elway’s retirement in 1999, Griese surpassed Bubby Brister and became a four-year starter for Denver. Denver fared fine in this trade, but it was a disaster for the Panthers.
(The short-lived Lewis era was when I covered the Panthers. Two funny stories: First, Lewis referred to himself as No. 8, leading reporters to joke that he was the first athlete to talk about himself not in the third person but the fourth person. Secondly, when Lewis saw a group of out-of-shape reporters going to play basketball during training camp, he looked at them and said, “Don’t blow a knee,” pointing back to the basketball injury that had derailed his career. It was the only time we saw a sense of humor from Lewis.)

1995 – Packers trade Mark Brunell to Jaguars for 1995 third-round pick and 1995 fifth-round pick – Brunell, who had spent two years backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay, was Jacksonville’s choice as their franchise quarterback for their first season, despite the fact that he had thrown just 27 NFL passes. It was a great move for the Jags, who got a three-time Pro Bowler for a very reasonable price. The Packers, meanwhile, had figured out that starter Favre was not just a Pro Bowl player but also an iron man who wouldn’t miss any time. So Wolf turned Brunell, a former fifth-round pick, into third- and fifth-round picks. The deal ended up as a win-win for both sides.

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Griese’s gone

It’s been really slow going on the NFL transactions wire lately, aside from the spate of draft-pick signings. But Monday, the Buccaneers finally released QB Brian Griese. Here are some thoughts on the move; you can see how it compares to other post-draft cuts in this post.

Griese’s second tour of duty in Tampa Bay came to an end, and it wasn’t unexpected. After signing Luke McCown to a backup-quality deal in the offseason, then adding Byron Leftwich, and then drafting Josh Freeman in the first round, there was simply no room for Griese. The 11-year veteran still has enough to be a decent backup if he wants to keep playing, but he also has been around long enough that retirement could be an option. If it is, the former third-round pick who succeeded John Elway can rest in the fact that he had a solid if unspectacular career.

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Post-draft cutbacks

We’ve done two cutbacks posts thus far this offseason, one detailing cuts before free agency opened and one between the beginning of the new league year and the draft. But after the draft, there were some pretty significant cuts, and so we decided to begin a new post to compare those. This is once again a relativity poll with 10 being the most significant cuts and 1 being cuts that are merely worth mentioning. We’ll continue updating this post, so check back.

10 – Cardinals (cut RB Edgerrin James, DE Travis LaBoy, and CB Rod Hood) – James was a high-dollar free-agent acquisition three seasons ago, and he had two good seasons before beginning to decline last season. With the emergence of Tim Hightower last year and the selection of Beanie Wells in the first round, James became extraneous. The question is whether he has enough left to still contribute somewhere or if he’s just having the end-of-career dropoff that all running backs seem to have. Regardless, he’s had a great career with more than 12,000 rushing yards. LaBoy was one of Arizona’s big-money signings last year (5 years, $22 million), but injuries limited his effectiveness, and he only had four sacks last year. His price tag was just too high. Hood started 14 games last year, but he wasn’t good enough, and the Cards replaced him with Bryant McFadden in free agency.

9 – Bengals (cut OT Levi Jones, RBs Chris Perry and Gary Russell, S Mike Doss and Ps Kyle Larson and Ryan Plackemeier) – Jones was once a top-10 pick, and he started for a long time for Cincinnati. But injuries sapped his effectiveness over the past few years, and the Bengals finally replaced him by drafting Andre Smith at No. 6 overall this year. Jones would have been cut earlier, but Cincinnati waited to get his replacement in house before pulling the plug. Jones could still land somewhere as a backup tackle who’s good enough to play in a pinch but probably can’t play 16 games without getting dinged up. For his sake, we’ll hope he lands with a contender in that kind of role after years of meaningless games in Cincy.  Perry was a former first-round pick who fought injuries so often that he never really lived up to his potential. He was talked about as a starter going into the ’08 season after the Bengals released Rudi Johnson, but injuries derailed him again. Still, Perry is a good enough pass catcher to at least get a look as a third-down back elsewhere if he can stay healthy. Russell was a waiver claim from Pittsburgh just before the draft, but after the Bengals picked two backs, he became expendable. Doss was a former Colts prospect who disappointed for a second team. Larson and Plackemeier were cut after the Bengals drafted Kevin Huber, who looks to take over the punting job.

8 – Cowboys (cut DE/OLB Greg Ellis) – Ellis came to Dallas in 1998 in the midst of a firestorm, because the Cowboys picked him in the top 10 instead of selecting Randy Moss. While Ellis was never the difference maker that Moss was and is. He had 77 sacks in his career and was also a solid run-stopper. When Bill Parcells came to Dallas and switched the defense to a 3-4, Ellis was unhappy with his role. Still, as an outside linebacker, he tallied 12 sacks and won comeback player of the year honors in ’07 coming off an injury. That would suggest the Ellis still has something to contribute in a limited pass rushing role somewhere like Carolina or Washington. The Cowboys, meanwhile, will rely on former first-round pick Anthony Spencer to finally emerge as an impact guy. But Spencer has a long way to go to fill Ellis’ shoes.

7 – Steelers (cut ILB Larry Foote and P Dirk Johnson) – Foote has started every game for five years in a row, but ’07 first-rounder Lawrence Timmons is ready to take that spot.  Foote is a solid run-stuffer who has to come off the field in obvious passing situations. Those limitations made his $2.8 million salary-cap number too rich for the Steelers.

7 (con’t) – Redskins (cut OT Jon Jansen and WR James Thrash) –  Jansen was a stalwart of the Redskins’ offensive line for 10 seasons after joining the team as a second-round pick. He started 123 games in that time, almost all at right tackle. He was a physical run blocker who held his own in the passing game as well. He missed most of the 2007 season with an injury, though, and last year he only started 11 games. Although he was never a Pro Bowler, he was generally an asset as a starter until the last couple of years. But declining performance, coupled with a contract that lasts until 2011, made him expendable. The Skins don’t really have a replacement lined up, unless they want to depend on Jeremy Bridges or recent fill-in Stephon Heyer. So they may have to invest in a veteran – someone like a Jon Runyan – to fill in until they get a replacement ready to go. Thrash, a 12-year vet, failed his physical due to a bulging disc in his neck. He’s never been a top receiver, but he’s always found a role as a backup and special-teams dynamo. He carved out a pretty good career, and Washington seems open to bringing him back if he gets healthy. But if this is it, he should be proud.

6 – Lions (cut CB Travis Fisher, OT George Foster, QB Drew Henson, and LB Alex Lewis) – Fisher was brought over last year from St. Louis to be a starter, but Detroit spent most of this offseason signing corners to replace him. He still considered himself a starter, which might have been why the new regime cut the cord so quickly. Still, Fisher will latch on somewhere. Foster, a former first-round pick in Denver, was part of the package the Lions got in exchange for CB Dre Bly a couple of years ago. But Foster never lived up to his potential, and after Detroit added Jon Jansen and Ephriam Salaam this offseason, someone had to go, and Foster was that someone. Henson, a former top prospect both in baseball and football, was Detroit’s No. 3 quarterback last year, but he was released as the Lions put in a claim on John Beck (see above). Henson’s chances to make it in the NFL are just about gone. Lewis was a five-year Lion who played most on special teams, but he became replacable as Detroit worked to improve its talent at linebacker this offseason.

6 (con’t) – Falcons (cut QB Michael Vick, C Alex Stepanovich and OT Renardo Foster) – It’s hard to know how to compare Vick, who hasn’t played in two years, to other cuts because at this point, the Falcons have moved on. They have a new franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and a new playing style. Plus, they were basically forced to release Vick so that they didn’t end up having to pay him when he is eventually reinstated. So Vick is now free to try to find a team. His talents fit the new Wildcat fad across the league, but it’s going to be hard for a team to stomach the firestorm of publicity (or even criticism) that would come with signing Vick. This release is just the next step in a drama that still has miles to go. Stepanovich and Foster were once both prospects, but they fell in line as mere backups in Atlanta. Maybe a change of scenery will help, or maybe they’re just not all that good.

5 – Rams (cut LB Pisa Tinoisamoa) – Tinoisamoa — known as as The Tower here on FR — was the Rams’ leading tackler in 2008 with 135 stops, so it was somewhat surprising that he was released just after the team’s first minicamp. But the Tower Pisa was leaning too much the previous two years as he missed a bunch of time with injury. Once the Rams invested a second-round pick in James Laurinaitis, the Tower’s starting spot was gone. He’s not special, but he’s an effective inside ‘backer who can clean up tackles if he’s protected. With so many teams moving to 3-4 defenses, there will be someone who can use the Tower at one of those inside spots, at least for two downs. He doesn’t merit a big contract, but he does deserve a starting spot in the league.

4  – Broncos (cut RBs Selvin Young and J.J. Arrington, LBs Boss Bailey and Louis Green) – Young entered last year as a starter, but injuries limited him to just eight games. After drafting Knowshon Moreno and signing three vets, there was no more room for Young in Denver. He should end up as a backup somewhere in the league, though. The Broncos added Arrington as part of their free-agency binge, and even with the glut of running backs Denver brought in – Arrington, Correll Buckhatler, Lamont Jordan, and Moreno – Arrington looked to have a solid role based on underrated his triple threat skills. But Arrington had a knee injury in Arizona, and he never was healthy enough to pass a physical in Denver. The Broncos lost about $100,000 but had protected themselves against a greater loss by the way they structured Arrington’s contract.  His departure won’t be a huge blow at running back, but he would have helped if he had been healthy. Bailey, brother of Broncos star CB Champ Bailey, started six games last year before suffering a knee injury and undergoing microfracture surgery. The former Lion is undersized and hasn’t performed well enough in the pros to really carve out a role. If he can prove he’s healthy, he might find a roster spot for a team that plays a 4-3, but this knee surgery might prove to be the end for him. Green is a special-teams ace who is replacable, especially considering the system change the Broncos are undergoing right now.

3 – Saints (cut DTs Brian Young and Hollis Thomas and LS Kevin Houser) – Young is a solid veteran who has been so battered by injuries that his effectiveness has been severely limited. Unfortunately, this could be the end of the line for him, but if he gets healthy he can fit into someone’s rotation as a backup. Thomas is a huge inside player who missed most of last season with injury. Because of his size, someone will take a look to see if he can still play 15-20 snaps a game. Houser had been the Saints’ long snapper since 2000, but the team decided Jason Kyle was an upgrade there and so they made the switch and cut Houser. He should find work elsewhere, either in camp or because of injury during the season.

3 (con’t) – Buccaneers (cut QB Brian Griese) – Griese’s second tour of duty in Tampa Bay came to an end, and it wasn’t unexpected. After signing Luke McCown to a backup-quality deal in the offseason, then adding Byron Leftwich, and then drafting Josh Freeman in the first round, there was simply no room for Griese. The 11-year veteran still has enough to be a decent backup if he wants to keep playing, but he also has been around long enough that retirement could be an option. If it is, the former third-round pick who succeeded John Elway can rest in the fact that he had a solid if unspectacular career.

2 – Dolphins (cut QB John Beck) – Beck was a second-round pick in ’07, but once his advocate Cam Cameron was fired, he quickly fell out of favor with new decision-maker Bill Parcells. It took just one year for Chad Henne to pass Beck as the Dolphins’ signal-caller of the future. Beck still has talent, so he’ll get another shot (apparently next in Detroit as a backup).

2 (con’t) 49ers (cut S Jimmy Williams) – The former Atlanta second-round pick was out of football last year after flaming out with the Falcons. The 49ers had signed him earlier in the offseason as a flier, but he obviously didn’t leave an impression during minicamps, because he was quickly released. Williams has size, but how many chances does he have left?

2 (con’t) Jaguars (cut CB William James and QB Cleo Lemon) – James, formerly known as Will Peterson, spent eight years in the NFL, the last one with Jacksonville. He’s probably a marginal NFL player at best at this point, which means he’s a roster fill-in but not much more. Lemon was once thought to have potential, and he actually started some games with the Dolphins, but Jacksonville chose to go with Todd Bouman as its backup quarterback instead. Lemon at this point is no better than a No. 3 QB.

2 (con’t) – Jets (cut TE Bubba Franks) – Franks, the long-time Packer, had only six catches in his first season with the Jets in ’08. In fact, his primary role might have been as terminology translator for Brett Favre once Favre joined the Jets in training camp. The Jets resigned Franks in the offseason but released him on the eve of training camp. That seems to indicate that Franks is getting very close to the end of his career.

1 – Chargers (cut TE Scott Chandler and CB DeJuan Tribble) – San Diego gave up on Chandler, a fourth-rounder in ’07, and Tribble, a sixth-rounder last year, after selecting this year’s draft picks.

1 (con’t) – Patriots (cut RB Patrick Pass) – Pass, one of only 7 Patriots who was on all three Super Bowl winners, has been out of football since 2007. He signed with the Patriots in early June but was released one week later, which seems to indicate that he is in fact done with his NFL career.

1 (con’t) – Raiders (cut LB Stryker Sulak) – In an unusual move, the Raiders cut Sulak, a sixth-round pick, before he even signed a contract or reported to training camp. That’s either a failure in scouting – teams should have enough players on their draft board that a sixth-rounder is someone they like – or an organizational cheapness that’s regrettable. Either way, it’s not a good sign. Sulak, who hasn’t gotten a paycheck or any signing bonus yet because he had not yet signed, could land somewhere else, but he would basically be an undrafted free agent there who faces long odds to make a roster.

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Is Leftwich right for Tampa?

It’s unusual to have a potential starting quarterback land a new gig at this point in the offseason, but that’s exactly what happened over Easter weekend as Byron Leftwich inked a two-year deal with Tampa Bay. Here are some thoughts on the move; you can see how it compares to other pre-draft free agency moves in the fifth NFL free agency relativity comparison coming soon.

Leftwich, once a top-10 overall pick, saw his career die on the vine when he was cut by the Jaguars just before the ’07 season and then failed as a starter in Atlanta later that season. It seemed like Leftwich’s flaws – most notably his slow release and even slower feet – had overcome his career. But then Leftwich went to Pittsburgh as a backup last year, and in addition to pocketing a Super Bowl ring, he played very well in a couple of relief appearances. That raised his perception, at least in the public’s eyes.
Still, Leftwich struggled to get many shots at competing for a starting job. He visited Washington and got an offer to return to Pittsburgh, but he held out until he finally got the chance he wanted in Tampa on a two-year deal potentially worth $7.5 million and almost certainly worth a minimum of $4 million. He immediately becomes the favorite to leap career journeyman Brian Griese, journeyman-in-training Luke McCown, and developmental project Josh Johnson on the depth chart and thus start for the Bucs. Leftwich has an infectious personality, and he still has enough talent to be a top-20 quarterback. He’s not a world-beater, but he’s still markedly better than anyone else Tampa had to choose from. That makes this addition a move that matters for 2009.

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FR: Quarterbacks for 2009 and beyond

In all the Super Bowl coverage, Chase asked if we could cite Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame chances. It’s too soon to do that (he’s only 5 years into his career), but it’s not too soon to play football relativity with the quarterbacks in the NFL for 2009 and beyond. We’ll do this on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best in the league right now, and 1 being a marginal starter (the ultimate 2008 example is J.T. O’Sullivan). We’re not rating shouldn’t-be-starters like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ken Dorsey or Dan Orlovsky.

10 – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger. Normally, I would have put Brady and Manning on a level by themselves, but I think Ben is on their same level this year for a couple of reasons. One, Ben took a step forward this year by winning a second Super Bowl and performing so well in the clutch. Plus, there are questions about Brady (health) and Manning (is his prime ending?). So I’m putting the three together and calling them the elite.

9 – Kurt Warner, Drew Brees. Warner showed this year that his fastball is back, and when he’s at his best he’s an elite QB. Brees puts up crazy numbers but turns the ball over just a little too much to be on the elite level. The fact that Brees has no ring also keeps him from going any higher.

8 – Philip Rivers, Donovan McNabb. McNabb’s stats don’t bear out this ranking, but his consistent performance and his playoff W/L record nudges him above a few other quarterbacks. Rivers had a breakout year and has played well in the playoffs the last two years. He’s not elite yet, but he looks to be a top-5 QB in the next two years or so.

7 – Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo. This the level at which it’s possible to start poking holes in a quarterback’s resume. Manning has a ring, but his playoff performances otherwise have been spotty. Romo and Cutler put up big numbers, but they’re still inconsistent. Ryan had a great first year, but 2009 could move him way up or way down the list.

6 – Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Matt Cassel, Chad Pennington. Pennington is the one vet on this list; when he stays healthy, he’s solid. Rodgers, Flacco, and Cassel were all first-time starters in 2008, and all showed that they have the potential to be above-average starters. We’ll put them here knowing that any of the three could take another step forward or a step back next year.

5 – David Garrard, Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, Jeff Garcia, Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins. Favre, Palmer, and Hasslebeck would all have rated higher in the past, but injuries or age (Favre) have limited their potential. We’ll see this year if any of the three can move back up the scale. Garcia and Collins are both acceptable starters, but neither can put a team on his back and carry it for more than a game or two. They can win with good teams, but can they make a full playoff run anymore? Garrard seems to be like a newer model of Garcia – a guy who can lead you to the playoffs, but who is unlikely to make a three- or four-game playoff run.

4 – Matt Schaub, Jake Delhomme, Jason Campbell, Trent Edwards. Schaub and Delhomme are hot-and-cold guys. If Schaub could stay healthy, he could move up at least one level. Campbell and Edwards have won some games, but their potential seems limited. Neither is going to win big unless the team around them is dynamite.

3 – Tyler Thigpen, JaMarcus Russell, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Shaun Hill, Marc Bulger, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Orton. Thigpen, Russell, Anderson, Quinn, and Hill can go on good streaks, but they haven’t stayed there long enough to be solid NFL starters. Leftwich wasn’t a starter in ’08, but he’s good enough to be at least a caretaker with a bit of upside. That’s what Bulger is at this point in his career, and that’s what Orton showed himself to be in ’08. None of those three is a long-term answer at this point, but teams could also do worse.

2 – Tarvaris Jackson, Seneca Wallace, Gus Frerotte, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese, Daunte Culpepper, Rex Grossman. All of these guys show flashes that they can be productive starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but none can sustain those flashes anymore. I’d take these guys as backups, because they might bring a spark, but as a No. 1 they just aren’t going to be the answer.

1- Brodie Croyle, J.P. Losman, J.T. O’Sullivan, Jon Kitna. There is an excuse for starting one of these guys in a single-game situation. (Somebody else got hurt, or, more likley, two somebody elses got hurt.) There is not an excuse for making any of them part of your 2009 plan, even in setting up a quarterback competition.

Thoughts? Anybody I missed that you’d like to see rated? Share them in the comments below.

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