These QB transactions get passing grades

Published April 09, 2013

| Sports Network

NFL teams who don't possess franchise quarterbacks are on a seemingly never-ending search to find one.

The Baltimore Ravens drafted Joe Flacco five years ago, and he led them to a Super Bowl championship last season. His reward: a six-year, $120.6 million contract.

The Dallas Cowboys developed a franchise quarterback off the scrap heap, and undrafted Tony Romo showed his front office enough production during seven seasons as the team's starter to warrant a six-year, $108 million extension.

About eight teams, representing 25 percent of the league, would probably like to replace their starting quarterbacks this offseason. It's not as easy for such teams as it was last year, when the draft produced immediate stars like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. This time around, NFL scouts don't seem to believe that any of the 2013 prospects is a sure thing to reach franchise quarterback status.

Given that situation, several teams were proactive in recent weeks. Some were willing to swing trades for veteran signal-callers, and others signed free agents who might benefit from a change of scenery.

Let's take a look at the five teams who most improved their quarterback depth chart since the end of the 2012 season:

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Acquired Alex Smith from San Francisco; signed free agent Chase Daniel.

Matt Cassel, acquired in a 2009 trade from the New England Patriots, enjoyed his finest season in 2010. Leading Kansas City to an AFC West Division crown, he threw for 27 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.

Although he was regarded as a game manager, Cassel's 2010 performance had the Chiefs believing they were capable of taking over the AFC West for the foreseeable future. After all, the quarterback was just 28 and heading into his prime, they figured.

It turns out they figured wrong. Last year, Cassel lost his starting job, but not until he was responsible for 19 turnovers (12 interceptions, seven lost fumbles) in just nine games.

It didn't figure to take much for Kansas City to upgrade at the position, and that's what the Chiefs did this offseason. Sure, Smith is also a game manager, but at least he possesses superior passing accuracy and doesn't turn the ball over much. In 10 games last year, he turned it over just six times. In 2011, he committed just seven turnovers in 16 games.

Playing behind Drew Brees throughout his young career in New Orleans, Daniel hasn't seen the field all that often in the pros. However, his skill set should translate well in new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid's West Coast offense. Reid also knows a thing or two about developing young quarterbacks, so this should be a great marriage.

ARIZONA CARDINALS: Acquired Carson Palmer from Oakland; signed Drew Stanton.

The Cardinals' 2012 quarterbacks would actually make the Chiefs' departed Cassel look efficient.

John Skelton led the team with seven starts, compiling a 55.4 passer rating and throwing just two touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. Still, Skelton was much better than rookie Ryan Lindley, who set an NFL record for most pass attempts in a season without throwing a touchdown pass (171). Lindley did, however, manage to throw seven interceptions.

Palmer was uneven as the Raiders' quarterback last season. He threw for 4,018 yards, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 15 games. He compiled a respectable 85.3 quarterback rating despite a mediocre-at-best wide receiver crew, but the Raiders won only four games.

Palmer has signed a three-year, $26 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, and the Cardinals essentially have an out after the 2013 season if they're not satisfied with his performance. That's not a bad risk, since having a legitimate starting quarterback will greatly enhance the performance of all- world wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Because of poor quarterback play last year, Fitzgerald was held to 798 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

In addition to Palmer, the Cardinals also have added Stanton. He should be a quality backup, since he is quite familiar with new head coach Bruce Arians' offense. Stanton was Arians' backup last season with the Colts.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: Acquired Matt Flynn from Seattle.

This rating is not to say Flynn is a definite upgrade over Palmer. He's not. What he is, however, is an affordable option with a team-friendly contract. It basically amounts to Flynn getting a one-year tryout to attempt to become "the answer" in Oakland. Also, he's six years younger than Palmer.

Flynn's two-year, $11.5 million pact is fully guaranteed for $6.5 million in 2013. His $5 million base salary for 2014 is not guaranteed. So, essentially, if Flynn fails to show the Raiders he can be a franchise quarterback, he could be let go easily enough. Also, his contract isn't so enormous that it would prevent Oakland from picking a quarterback in one of the first two rounds of this month's draft.

Flynn is a former seventh-round draft pick who signed as a free agent with Seattle last offseason, but lost out to rookie sensation Russell Wilson for the Seahawks' starting job.

In the limited action Flynn has seen in the pros, however, he has been terrific. He threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns against playoff-bound Detroit in the final game of the 2011 season with Green Bay. Also, filling in for Aaron Rodgers in a 2010 Sunday night game against New England, Flynn threw for three touchdowns in a 31-27 loss.

Maybe Flynn won't be the long-term answer in Oakland. Then again, maybe he will. It's worth a gamble of $6.5 million guaranteed to find out.

BUFFALO BILLS: Signed free agent Kevin Kolb.

Kolb guided the Cardinals to wins in each of their first four games last season, coming off the bench to beat Seattle in the opener, then starting and winning the next three contests. He finished his injury-shortened campaign with a solid 86.1 quarterback rating.

When Kolb went to the sidelines for good with a rib injury, the Cardinals were 4-2 overall and a playoff contender. They finished 7-8-1.

The Cardinals traded for Kolb prior to the 2011 season, hoping they had found their franchise quarterback. In his two seasons with Arizona, however, he played in only 15 combined games because he proved once again to be injury- prone.

Maybe Kolb will never be able to stay healthy for all 16 regular-season games. When he can stay on the field, though, he has shown he can be a respectable NFL starter.

For two years and $13 million, the Bills are taking a chance that Kolb can remain relatively healthy and bring stability to the quarterback position. If healthy, he should be an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The contract was certainly worth the minimal risk, and it shouldn't eliminate Buffalo from picking a quarterback in the first round (Geno Smith?) or second round (Ryan Nassib?) of this month's draft if new coach Doug Marrone thinks that's the way to go.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: Signed free agent Jason Campbell.

For a rookie, Brandon Weeden was just fine last season. Had it not been for the all-time performances of fellow rookies Griffin, Luck and Wilson last season, Browns fans would probably be singing Weeden's praises.

The first-year player threw for 3,385 yards, 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Not great, but pretty good for a rookie. On the other hand, Weeden - a former New York Yankees farmhand who got a late start on his pro football career - turns 30 in October. So Cleveland's new coaching staff might not see him as promising enough, given his age and level of development.

Newcomer Campbell is not an elite quarterback, but he gives new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner a respectable alternative if they don't want to go with Weeden. At the very least, he would be a decent stopgap if the team decides to draft its quarterback of the future later this month.

One thing for certain is that Campbell is a far better fit for Chudzinski's offense than Colt McCoy, who was shipped off to San Francisco.

Jeff Saukaitis has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.

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