Wednesday, April 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

NFL teams spend big, still searching for franchise QB

Michael Vick, Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb signed contracts totaling $225 million. They have zero playoff wins to show for all those dollars, and no assurances they’ll be starters in 2013.

Finding a franchise quarterback is a tough call in the NFL.

The Eagles, Chiefs and Cardinals are just a few of the teams facing this problem. The Jets aren’t sure about Mark Sanchez, who was benched last week only to get another chance to play this Sunday.

Carson Palmer’s prolific numbers haven’t translated into wins in Oakland. The Jaguars could be undecided about Blaine Gabbert, especially if Chad Henne plays well down the stretch.

It’s no surprise these six teams are struggling. The Eagles (3-9), Chiefs (2-10), Cardinals (4-8), Jets (5-7), Raiders (3-9) and Jaguars (2-10) are a combined 19-53 this season.

But the bottom clubs aren’t the only ones with questions at quarterback. The NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) benched Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick. The Minnesota Vikings (6-6) are concerned about Christian Ponder’s recent struggles. Even the Baltimore Ravens (9-3) might have to make a difficult decision about Joe Flacco because his contract expires after this season.

Of course, if the Ravens somehow let Flacco walk, there will be plenty of teams eager to land a legitimate No. 1 starter.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs are in disarray at quarterback. Cassel has been benched despite his $63 million, six-year contract, and Brady Quinn is on his third team since being chosen by Cleveland in the first round in 2007. The only other quarterback on the roster is Ricky Stanzi, a fifth-round draft pick last year who has never thrown a pass in the league.

Cassel is due to earn $16.5 million over the next two years, so it’s unlikely the Chiefs will pay him that much to hold a clipboard. Unless Quinn really impresses in the final month, they’ll be looking in the draft or free agency for a long-term solution.

“I think anytime you have an opportunity to play more and get more experience, you’re going to continue to grow and improve as a player,” Quinn said.

Not always the case.

Look at Sanchez and Vick. Both have regressed the past two years.

Sanchez led the Jets to consecutive AFC championship games in his first two seasons. But he struggled down the stretch last year and the Jets flirted with Peyton Manning in the offseason.

Fans in New York have been calling for Sanchez to be benched ever since the Jets acquired Tim Tebow from Denver. Sanchez finally got pulled last week in a 7-6 win over Arizona, but it was for Greg McElroy with Tebow injures. Still, Jets coach Rex Ryan is going back to Sanchez this week.

“I believe Mark has a skillset that is pretty impressive,” Ryan said. “He can make all the throws. The thing that Mark needs to do a better job of is protecting the ball and know when it’s OK to take chances and know when you shouldn’t. I think that Mark is going to do a better job at that.”

Sanchez got a three-year contract extension for $40.5 million in March. That deal calls for $20.5 million fully guaranteed, meaning the Jets are going to give him every opportunity to earn it as a starter this year and likely next.

“It’s my job to play the way I know how,” Sanchez said. “These last couple of weeks, and certain stretches of this season, I haven’t. It kind of culminated there on Sunday and hopefully that’s the end of it. I think it is. That’s the way I’ll approach this next one.”

The Eagles rewarded Vick with a $100 million contract in August 2011 after his incredible comeback season in 2010. However, only $35.5 million of that deal is guaranteed money and nearly all off it will be paid by the end of this year. Vick is due to make $15.5 million in 2013, but the Eagles can release him without taking a major salary-cap hit.

Vick’s latest injury, a concussion, forced him to miss the last three games, and gave rookie Nick Foles an opportunity to play. The third-round pick struggled in his first two starts before a strong performance last week against Dallas in Philadelphia’s eighth straight loss. Coach Andy Reid made him the starter for the rest of the season, so the Eagles will be trying to figure out if he’s their No. 1 guy going forward.

“He’s a smart kid. He works hard. He spends a lot of time in his job. He’s done well up to this point,” Reid said. “You’ve got to keep going. As teams have an opportunity to study you and your strengths and weaknesses and present you with different looks according to what they see, you may be able to answer that. Again, it’s a matter of just getting reps under his belt.”

Whatever Foles lacks in physical skills, he makes up for in poise. Foles has the makeup for the job. Now he has to show it on the field.

“There are only 32 jobs, but you don’t make it too big,” he said. “You take it one day at a time. I just think of it that we have great guys in this locker room and it’s a great team to be a part of with all the coaches and everyone who works here. We’re all in it together. It’s great to be a quarterback here in a great place like this.”

The situation in Arizona is tricky. The Cardinals traded a second-round pick and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles for Kolb. Then they gave him a $63.5 million, six-year contract. He’s started just 14 games in two seasons, going 6-8. He also lost his starting job in the preseason to John Skelton, only to regain it because of injury and then get hurt again.

Kolb helped the Cardinals to a 4-0 start, lost two games and then went down. If he doesn’t return this season, that won’t help his chances going into next year. The Cardinals pursued Manning last offseason and certainly will keep their options open.

Jim Harbaugh has the same approach, but in a winning environment.

The 49ers coach prefers sticking with the hot hand under center. That’s why Kaepernick, a second-year pro and second-round draft pick in 2011, will make his fourth straight start Sunday against Miami. Smith was near-perfect in his last full game before sustaining a concussion. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.

But he stayed on the bench after being medically cleared, though Harbaugh has said he is willing to go back to him.

“We’ve got faith and trust in Colin in the way he’s played,” Harbaugh said. “Therefore, another start this week.”

At least the 49ers have that luxury. Other teams wish they had one clear-cut guy.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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