The Quarterback Market


Merry Christmas, and Happiest of Holidays to all the Twelves out there and your families. Please be safe, especially those of you who are traveling.

After yesterday's loss, as frustrated as I am with our QB situation, in my saner moments I recognize that QB upgrades--like better jobs--are extremely hard to come by. Ultimately, long-term upgrades are almost always "grown" through the draft rather than acquired in free agency or via trade. Every 12 knows this. We've been over it a thousand times.

Nevertheless, Schneider and Carroll will have opportunities to upgrade the position this off-season. But, finding a sufficient upgrade to justify the inevitable disruption that goes with changing QBs--at a price that doesn't fundamentally weaken the team--is among the most difficult moves in all of pro sports. So, self-righteously "demanding" a QB change, as I've heard from some fans, is about as pointless as a five year old's tantrum. Schneider and Carroll will be window shopping, as they have never so much as uttered a phrase publicly that implies long-term commitment to Jackson. But the fairly heavy odds are on Tarvaris Jackson returning as the starter in 2012. I'm at an uneasy peace with this. I look at the 49ers and see the same basic game plan at work. The better the team around him, the less Alex Smith must do. He was essentially one play better than Jackson yesterday. The near-perfect 41-yard sideline throw to Crabtree was the difference. So, continuing to improve the team around Jackson seems the most likely course of action.

Still Schneider will prepare to strike at an unexpected opportunities. QBs move every off-season, and this will be no different. So, who might strike Seattle's fancy? In order to avoid complete rosterbation here, I restrict my focus to pro players who are free agents or who have been recently rumored to be available. I'll separate them out by how much of an upgrade I perceive them to be after the jump.

Obviously, this is super preliminary. Caveats abound. This is not an exhaustive list of every potentially available QB. We don't know who will re-sign with their current team, who will be injured in week 17 or in the playoffs, who might declare for this draft with Barkley going back, yadda, yadda. It is worth noting that Seattle will almost certainly be in the market for at least a backup QB as Charlie Whitehurst will likely move on.

Huge Upgrades -- The QBs in this category become options if the front office shifts into "win now" mode. I see the odds of such a shift as quite low, given the potential cost in cap space and/or trade assets. But you never know.

1. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis) -- We all know the situation in Indianapolis. With the Colts in the driver's seat to select Andrew Luck, Manning may come available. He has a significant roster bonus due in February, so that situation could get very messy soon. Given injury and age, I see Manning as a poor gamble for Seattle at this stage (and unlikely to be interested anyway). Still, Schneider would not be doing his job if he didn't investigate the possibility.

2. Kyle Orton (Kansas City) -- Although obviously not in the same category as Manning, Orton is a clearly competent (sometimes very good) QB. He is a free agent this off-season. Kansas City is currently committed to Matt Cassell, who has struggled. Also, the Miami Dolphins attempted to acquire Orton via trade but the asking price was evidently too high. So I suspect there will be a decent market for him. He won't come cheap.

Moderate Upgrade -- This category includes youngish QBs who have been replaced as starters on other teams. The front office would essentially be betting that they are better versions of Tarvaris Jackson.

1. Jason Campbell (Oakland) -- He became the odd man out once Oakland acquired Carson Palmer. He is a free agent, and a better version of Tarvaris Jackson. Given his connection to Tom Cable there may be a fit. He is intriguing, but is he enough of an upgrade to warrant the inevitable step back that accompanies a QB change? He's also coming off a broken collarbone; a simple injury, but one that can recur frequently.

2. Matt Cassell (Kansas City) -- He wasn't playing well before he was injured. If KC decides to hire Romeo Crennell to coach the team he has made it clear he prefers Orton. Frankly, I am not sure how much of an upgrade Cassel represents even if he comes available.

3. Chad Henne (Miami) -- Henne is another QB who was playing poorly prior to injury. Even if Miami strikes out in a bid to draft a QB early it is unlikely that Henne will return. So, he'd be coming off a shoulder injury and replacement by Matt Moore. I doubt Henne is an upgrade over Jackson, but he will likely be looking for a deal as a backup.

Mild Upgrade/QB of the Future -- This category includes young QBs without significant starting experience. With the possible exception of Matt Flynn, these are players Schneider might bring in to compete with Jackson without promise of a starting role.

1. Matt Flynn (Green Bay) -- He is a former seventh round pick out of LSU, and current Green Bay backup. He is a free agent this off-season, and some speculate that Seattle is a likely destination. Although the comparisons to Matt Hasselbeck are obvious they are also surface comparisons. Hass was a far more accomplished college passer than Flynn. Although acquiring Flynn would make sense, he's not a guaranteed upgrade by any stretch.

2. Brian Hoyer (New England) -- Currently serving as Tom Brady's understudy, Hoyer is a restricted free agent this off-season. Though considered a quality backup, much like with Flynn it is unclear how much he benefits from the halo that comes with being in a good organization behind an amazing starter.

3. Chase Daniel (New Orleans) -- Ditto, except replace Aaron Rodgers/Tom Brady with Drew Brees. Daniel was an accomplished college passer in a spread offense who has played well in the pre-season. Like Hoyer, he is a restricted free agent very likely to return to his original club.

4. Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) -- Unlike Hoyer and Daniel, Dixon is a free agent. I always liked him and suspect he'd be willing to come in a backup role for a chance to compete.

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