We’ve already seen our first starting quarterback go down before the 2014 season has even started, with St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tearing his ACL again (ugh) and giving way to Shaun Hill.
Get ready for more quarterbacks to be replaced in due time. There are a number of tenuous-at-best starters holding for dear life, with the tide rising.
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With zero rookie quarterbacks slated to start for the first time since 2007, there are a lot of young talents on the bench who will be champing at the bits.
Here’s a look at the teams that are most likely to replace their starting quarterback this season — with rookies or veterans — in some kind of predicted order of occurrence.
Starter: Matt Schaub
Potential replacement: Derek Carr
Surprised to see this pair above a certain other rookie in a certain Midwestern town? Don’t be. Although Carr is dealing with a concussion he suffered in the second preseason game, he appears to be in good shape and has impressed all summer while Schaub has started to regress after a strong start. Plus, Schaub is dealing with a sore elbow and might need early-season relief. The Raiders open with three solid-to-tough defenses in the Jets, Texans and Patriots and might have to call on Carr if they struggle offensively.
When Schaub might be replaced: Week 4 vs. Miami Dolphins
Starter: Brian Hoyer
Potential replacement: Johnny Manziel
You know the deal here by now, and if you don’t we honestly are wondering how you surfed on in here. Realistically, in being named starter, Hoyer won a three-game audition. The Browns face three pressure defenses to start the season in the Steelers, Saints and Ravens, all of which are unafraid to bring the blitz, which the Browns have struggled to block up in the preseason. If Hoyer struggles, he’s out — there will be too much noise from a fanbase the Browns are desperate to appease and head coach Mike Pettine, stubborn as he might be, doesn’t want to alienate himself in his first year. We saw what happened to the last coach (Chud) who did that. Ready or not, Manziel would get the call in that scenario after the Week 4 bye.
When Hoyer might be replaced: Week 5 at Tennessee Titans
Starter: Matt Cassel
Potential replacement: Teddy Bridgewater
To his credit, Cassel has been very, very solid this preseason, holding off the challenge of Bridgewater, with head coach Mike Zimmer naming Cassel his official starter for now. Cassel has consistently moved the chains for what Zimmer might believe is a team that is capable of sneaking up on some folks this season, and he should get a fair chance to keep his job. And even with some challenging opponents in the first third of the season (Patriots, Saints, Packers) you’d think he’d get at least five games before getting the hook if he’s sub-par.
When Cassel might be replaced: The earliest likely would be Week 6 vs. Detroit Lions
Starter: Chad Henne
Potential replacement: Blake Bortles
Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch have stuck with the message that they delivered on Draft Day: that Henne is their guy and they are planning to sit Bortles. But back then, they said Bortles would sit until 2015; now that looks utterly impossible unless Henne is lights out. Having seen Henne’s up-and-down career to this point, that appears unlikely, especially in light of Bortles’ strong preseason — the best of any rookie quarterback to this point. The Jaguars’ first five games could be a season definer. If the team comes out of them in good shape, Henne could keep his gig. If not …
When Henne might be replaced: Week 6 at Titans
Starter: Tony Romo
Potential replacement: Brandon Weeden
This one is the most clear of the quarterback situations we’ve discussed so far: If Romo is healthy, he’ll be the starter all 16 games. But starting any sentence with “if Romo is healthy,” coming off multiple back surgeries, is a slippery slope. Weeden has leveled off a bit after a nice start to the preseason, but he doesn’t evoke panic either based on what we’ve seen. Predicting when Romo might get hurt, too, is almost an impossible task. But we’ll say that if there’s a team capable of injuring him (unintentionally, of course), it’s the devastating Seattle Seahawks defense the Cowboys will face in Week 6.
When Romo might be replaced: Week 7 vs. New York Giants (again, only because of injury)
Starter: Robert Griffin III
Potential replacement: Kirk Cousins
Another starter who is locked in, pending health, is Griffin, despite what Joe Theismann might have to say about it. We expect Jay Gruden to give RG3 every opportunity to take the job and run with it, despite an inconsistent preseason. Cousins has looked good at times, but not everyone in the organization is as enamored with him as some fans and media seem to be. Like Romo, this is most likely an injury situation. Although we hate to project when a guy might get hurt, there is that chance, with the Redskins offensive line undergoing some changes and Griffin still not showing he’s fond of sliding, throwing it away or running out of bounds on scrambles.
When Griffin might be replaced: Week 11 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, right after Week 10 bye
Starter: Nick Foles
Potential replacement: Mark Sanchez
New York Jets fans might be snickering here, with Sanchez one snap away, but he largely looked good this preseason while Foles was hot and cold (albeit against tougher defensive personnel). Foles is coming off a remarkable season, and Chip Kelly hasn’t given any indication that Sanchez is breathing down Foles’ neck. But Kelly also has a wildcard factor to him, and it wouldn’t be stunning if the Eagles are struggling to consistently move the ball that the Eagles consider a change.
When Foles might be replaced: Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans
New York Jets
Starter: Geno Smith
Potential replacement: Michael Vick
This has been an awkward QB pairing since Day One, even if no one wants to outwardly admit it on the team. Smith should get every chance to be a 16-game starter, just as he was as a rookie — in fact, that’s what we expect. But what happens if the Jets arte struggling, and Rex Ryan starts feeling the heat for his job? We don’t know what Ryan is capable of if he’s desperate, and he could try to insert Vick into the lineup just for a Hail Mary shot of giving his team a spark. Would it be pretty? Of course not. It can’t be ruled out, but we’re putting this happening at less than 50 percent.
When Smith might be replaced: Week 12 at Buffalo Bills
Starter: Jake Locker
Potential replacement: Zach Mettenberger
Locker is the starter and Charlie Whitehurst is the backup. But Whitehurst was signed as a backup, no more, and is destined to remain as much. Meanwhile, Mettenberger has lit it up in the preseason and offers an intriguing option down the stretch if the Titans fall out of contention or if Locker proves without a doubt that he isn’t the future.
When Locker might be replaced: Week 14 vs. New York Giants
Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Potential replacement: Case Keenum/Tom Savage
We’re of the belief that while Fitzpatrick isn’t an ideal starter for a team that has a defense that’s ready to win now, he’s not going to be the disaster that some have forecast him to be. It might not be pretty, but there’s a better-than-even chance that Fitzpatrick is the season-long starter. One reason why: His backups are less than appealing. Case Keenum doesn’t appear to be a favorite of this new coaching staff, at least long term in any way, and Savage is still a ways off. We think the chances are low, but if Fitzpatrick struggles …
When Fitzpatrick might be replaced: Week 15 at Indianapolis Colts
Starter: EJ Manuel
Potential replacement: Thad Lewis/Jeff Tuel
Manuel and the first-team offense have struggled considerably in the preseason, and there’s the fear that he might not develop after an injury-plagued rookie season. The Bills have a strong run game and a defense that can make plays, but Doug Marrone might not be able to handle Manuel’s penchant for checking down so often — they have to find a way to stretch the field vertically. Are either Lewis or Tuel the answer? Likely not. But Marrone might feel like he doesn’t have much of a choice at some point.
When Manuel might be replaced: Week 15 vs. Green Bay Packers
Starter: Carson Palmer
Potential replacement: Drew Stanton/Logan Thomas
Palmer is coming off a 4,000-yard passing season and should be the guy, even if he has a few pick-happy games like he did a year ago. But the feeling in league circles is that Palmer might be the kind of player who, when he falls, he falls off a cliff. There’s no clear indication that’s going to happen this season, especially with a strong-looking receiving group. And as solid a backup as Stanton might be, he’s not the future; we don’t know yet if Thomas is, despite a few nice moments in the preseason.
When Palmer might be replaced: Week 15 at St. Louis Rams, with three division opponents to close the season
St. Louis Rams
Starter: Shaun Hill
Potential replacement: ??? (not Austin Davis)
The Sam Bradford injury was devastating, for sure. The Rams might be comfortable now with Hill, but is he a miracle worker? Doubtful. Nor is he the next Kurt Warner. Still, he’s reliable and can make more plays downfield than he’s given credit for, so we very well could see him out there for 16 games — and keeping the Rams competitive while doing so. But this picture is incomplete, with Davis likely a placeholder for now and the team at least investigating potential backup options in case Hill goes down.
When Hill might be replaced: Week 16 vs. New York Giants
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