Quarterback wheel soon to start spinning

January 23, 2018
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Here we go.

In three months and three days, the NFL Draft opens in Arlington, Texas. Who knows at this point -- could as many as six quarterbacks go in Round 1? It's happened once, in 1983. Remember how that turned out? For all the talk you've heard and will hear about how uncertain the draft is -- the proverbial "crapshoot" -- the one time six quarterbacks went in the first round, three would go to the Hall of Fame. At this early stage, that outcome is no worse than possible: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph? It could happen.

There's no telling yet though, and before the first strides can be made toward figuring out which quarterback goes where we have to know where certain veterans stand -- and there are as just as many to talk about.

We're almost completely in the dark at this point. Teams are making their plans and their calls, but media access to them has thus far stopped at the water's edge of the one postseason news conference. For example, all we have on the Buffalo Bills' plans is what Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott said two days after the Jacksonville loss. And it was intentionally vague; teams have learned that to hold the post-mortem right after the season ends allows them to skirt any hard questions, and also any appearance of secrecy.

"What are your plans?"

"We don't know yet."

"Thank you for your time."

When trying to figure out what's going to happen around the league -- without any concrete indications from teams -- I think you start with what expectations for certain teams might be, or should be, and also what might be on the line personally for the men in charge. In Buffalo, McDermott and Beane don't have to win next year, as in, they won't be around past that if they don't. The plan here was to build something, and the rookie option qualifies for a team of that standing.

All the teams in play for a quarterback have unique sets of circumstances serving as puzzles for anyone interested in figuring out their plans. Even perhaps the most predictable of them, the Cleveland Browns. If it hadn't made a management change, I could see Cleveland going for a veteran to put in front of DeShone Kizer; instead, the Browns seem pretty transparent as a team likely to draft a quarterback at the top.

Other situations, like Buffalo's, can be really tough to figure out.

** Does Washington keep Kirk Cousins at $30M per year-plus? It's been four years of Cousins and Jay Gruden, with a 28-35-1 record and one playoff loss to show for it. At dollars per win, that's pretty bad.

** The team with the personality profile I think most likely to want a free-agent Cousins is Denver. I think that's their style, as long as they like the player. And I think the team that signs Cousins can pass on a rookie quarterback in Round 1; the Broncos, with the fifth pick, otherwise could get a good one.

** You might assume Kansas City looks to trade Alex Smith. They made the trade and picked Pat Mahomes last year, and the argument for putting that transition to him off just isn't very good. Smith might be the leading choice as a quarterback to keep your team above water as the rookie you draft this April learns and develops. Possibilities: Arizona, N.Y. Jets, Jacksonville, and yes, Buffalo.

** What happens in Minnesota? Case Keenum had an excellent and surprising year. But that doesn't mean the Vikings have to feel like they couldn't live without him. My guess it's the franchise tag there, which probably would bump Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford to market. I could see either getting $10M a year to compete for a starting job. Both come with risks.

** Certain other players could become available and complicate things further. Does Philadelphia, off its success this postseason, try to flip Nick Foles? Would Cincinnati use the Jimmy Garoppolo trade as a standard and send off backup A.J. McCarron? If Jacksonville looks to upgrade, what becomes of Blake Bortles? And last but not least, what are Tyrod Taylor's prospects after three respectable seasons in Buffalo?

Maybe it stops here, maybe it doesn't. A lot of teams I haven't mentioned wouldn't be crazy to go quarterback-hunting. Baltimore, Oakland, Dallas, the Giants ... these teams aren't holding straight flushes. And of course in the draft, teams with great starters might be competition for quarterbacks -- New England, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, the Chargers.

Can't wait for news to start trickling out -- corner pieces to this puzzle, as it were. Actually yes I can. The speculation is fun too.