It would be an understatement to say that the Miami Dolphins have not had much success in finding a franchise quarterback since Dan Marino’s retirement over a decade ago. Consider that Jay Fiedler, who led the team to two playoff appearances but finished his Dolphins career with an uninspiring 66:63 TD-to-INT ratio, and Chad Pennington are the only Miami quarterbacks to start all 16 games over the last 11 years.
The team has consistently tried and failed with 13 other QBs, banking on the likes of John Beck, A.J. Feeley, Joey Harrington, 37-year-old Trent Green, and Cleo Lemon. And of course, the decision to sign Daunte Culpepper over Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees will forever haunt every fan’s nightmares.
The problem is that besides Brees, nearly every top-tier NFL QB – Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo – was drafted, groomed, and since re-signed to a long-term contract by his respective team. The readily-available players are either well past their primes, pose serious character concerns, or come off season-ending injuries.
With that in mind, if the Dolphins are truly in win-now mode and looking to upgrade from the inconsistent Chad Henne, the best options are likely trading a first- or second-round pick for an up-and-coming talent (a la the Houston Texans dealing for Matt Schaub in 2007), or taking a chance on a veteran QB who might have enough left in the tank to guide the team to glory (the next Pennington, per se).
So, which QBs are out there and which of them are worth pursuing? Here’s a look at 15 players (2011 contract in parenthesis) who could be on Miami’s radar this offseason.
Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos ($9 million) – It’s still hard for me to accept that Kyle Orton is not only an unquestioned NFL starter, but a QB who drew some consideration for the Pro Bowl. Over the first 11 games of the season, Rex Grossman’s one-time backup completed 61.8% of his passes, threw for 3,370 yards (306 per game), and compiled a 20:6 TD-to-INT ratio.
Then again, he was dreadful over the final two games while dealing with arm and rib injuries – 40.6% completion percentage, 283 total passing yards, no TDs and three picks – before getting shut down in favor of Tim Tebow. High-priced WR Brandon Marshall, who played with Orton in 2009, also didn’t exactly give his former QB a glowing endorsement, which could make the front office think twice about reuniting the duo that led the Denver Broncos to an 8-8 record.
Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles ($12.26 million) – It’s hard to know if Kolb is as good as his 2009 numbers once suggested (64.7% completion percentage, 718 passing yards, 4 TDs in two starts) or as mediocre as he was in 2010 (1,197 yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs, sacked 15 times in seven appearances), when he lost his starting job to Mike Vick.
The 26-year-old has drawn favorable comparison to Schaub, who shined once he became a full-time starter after, ironically enough, sitting behind Vick in Atlanta. Kolb offers plenty of upside and carries value around the League – Arizona Cardinals star WR Larry Fitzgerald has already urged his team to trade for him – and will surely cost a first-round pick.
Donovan McNabb, Washington Redskins ($10 million option) – A five-time Pro Bowler who posted a stellar 92.9 QB Rating in 2009, McNabb was bad enough in Washington to get benched for Grossman (yes, him again). The 34-year-old QB threw for 3,377 yards through the first 14 weeks of the season – higher than Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, and Matt Ryan – but also threw at least one pick in 10 straight contests. He finished the year with the fewest TD passes (14) since his rookie season and the higher number of picks (15) of his career in only 13 games.
McNabb will almost certainly become available once the Redskins release him, but it’s fair to wonder how much he has left in the tank and whether his reportedly-questionable work ethic would have a negative impact in the locker room. He could, however, serve as a reputable one- or two-year stopgap while the team develops (or likely continues searching for) his successor.
Vince Young, Tennessee Titans (Free Agent) – Young made the Pro Bowl in 2009 after leading the Titans to an 8-2 finish when he was named the starter over Kerry Collins. In addition to always being a threat with his legs (12 career rushing TDs), he posted an excellent 10:3 TD-to-INT ratio and the highest passer rating (98.6) of his career last season.
Young’s off the field problems over the course of his five-year career and his public fall-out with ex-coach Jeff Fisher last season have been well documented, so the Miami nightlife is probably not the best place for a 27-year-old with so many lingering maturity concerns.
Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals ($11.5 million) – Palmer, a two-time Pro Bowler, reportedly wants out of Cincinnati and still carries name recognition despite his declining skills. Ever since a torn elbow ligament ended his 2008 season, Palmer’s passer rating and completion percentage have been the lowest since his rookie year. Even more alarming is his decline in throwing the ball deep – only 574 of his 3,970 yards last season came on passes of 20 or more yards, compared to 1,013 of 4,035 yards in 2006.
That said, Palmer still ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards and ninth in TD passes (26), while throwing the third-most INTs (20). The 31-year-old would be an obvious upgrade for the Dolphins, but his downward spiral and the hefty price tag make him a less appealing option.
Matt Flynn, Green Bay Packers ($555K) – Aaron Rodgers is clearly not going anywhere, but his talented backup could be looking for a chance to lead a team of his own. Flynn started only one game in three seasons, in which he completed threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a near-win against the New England Patriots. The 25-year-old could be precisely the type of potential breakout candidate the Dolphins need if the Packers were to make him available.
Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks (FA): The 35-year-old Hasselbeck hasn’t played a full season since 2007 – the last time he made the Pro Bowl – and has thrown 34 interceptions over the last two years (third in the NFL and one more than Henne). He was, however, surprisingly impressive during Seattle’s playoff run, throwing for 530 yards, seven TDs and just one INT in two games. A veteran leader with close to 30,000 passing years on his resume wouldn’t be the worst addition to a team hoping to make it back to the postseason, though it’s a given that Henne would get a handful of starts in place of the oft-injured Hasselbeck.
Brady Quinn, Denver Broncos ($700K) – Dolphins fans were irate when the team passed on Quinn, who was perceived as a can’t-miss-prospect worthy of the top overall selection, in favor of WR/KR Ted Ginn, Jr. Four years later, neither player has done much to justify even a first-round selection, as Quinn has thrown for just 1,902 yards, 10 TDs, and 9 INTs in 14 games (66.8 QB Rating) during his career (he didn’t take a snap as the emergency third-string QB in Denver last year).
The only reason his name has been mentioned is because the Miami’s new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, has history with Quinn from their time in Cleveland, where Quinn couldn’t beat out Derek Anderson and Charlie Frye for a starting job. Hopefully, Miami fans won’t be subjected to a Henne-Quinn training camp “battle.”
Matt Leinart, Houston Texans (FA) – Leinart entred the 2010 season as the presumed starter in Arizona following Kurt Warner’s retirement, but continued to display poor leadership and (marginally) worse skills than the afore-mentioned Anderson. Much like Quinn, he ended up serving as the inactive third QB behind Schaub and Dan Orlovsky in Houston after getting released by the Cardinals.
The 10th overall pick the 2006 Draft has posted an uninspiring 70.8 career passer rating and a14:20 TD-to-INT ratio in 17 starts. He’s highly unlikely to suddenly put it all together and wouldn’t even be the unquestioned starter over Henne, but I suppose anything is possible.
Marc Bulger, Baltimore Ravens (FA) – It seems like eons ago that Bulger replaced Kurt Warner as the starter on the St. Loius Rams and put up perennial Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. But he started only eight games in 2009, winning one, and didn’t take a snap as Joe Flacco’s backup on the Ravens last year. With his best days squarely behind him – he’s thrown 27 TDs and 34 INTs since 2007 – the Dolphins can safely pass on the 34-year-old QB.
Dennis Dixon, Pittsburg Steelers (Restricted FA) – Dixon didn’t throw a TD passes in his two starts last year, but completed 68.8% of his throws and displayed his athleticism and mobility with 32 rushing yards on five scrambles. He’d be worth a flier for a mid-round pick, but will almost surely be kept as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup over aging veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.
Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota Vikings (FA) – T-Jack appeared in three games (one start) in place of Brett Favre last season, throwing three TD passes and four INTs. Once anointed as the Vikings’ franchise QB by ex-coach Brad Childress, Jackson’s career mark of 110.7 passing yards per game is the fewest of any QB who’s made at least 20 starts since 2006. For comparison’s sake, JaMarcus Russell threw for 131.7 yards per contest. No, thanks.
Bruce Gradkowski, Oakland Raiders (FA) – Speaking of JaMarcus, his former backup on the Raiders is on the market, too. I’ve always liked Gradkowski – and not just because his name makes me think of the dreamy Kelly Kapowski – and felt that he’s a viable NFL starter. He moves an offense well down the field, and two years ago, he led the Raiders to a win against the Pittsburg Steelers with an impressive 308-yard, three-TD performance. Gradkowski wouldn’t be an exciting addition, but at the very least, he wouldn’t single-handedly lose games for Miami.
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (FA) – Another former top pick who hasn’t lived up to expectations, Smith appears likely to return to the 49ers. Besides, Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who was fired as the head coach in San Francisco after the 2008 season, would probably advise Miami to look elsewhere.
Drew Stanton, Detroit Lions (FA) – Stanton somehow managed to win two of his three starts for the Lions, throwing four TDs and three picks in the process. He also scored a rushing TD and then inexplicably danced “The Dougie”in the end-zone. For that reason alone, I can’t take him seriously.
Honorable Mention: Kerry Collins, Tennessee Titans; Troy Smith, San Francisco 49ers; Seneca Wallace, Cleveland Browns