"Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."
No, that quote is not from a Marvin Lewis pep talk to Andy Dalton. That's the money quote from Andy Dufresne's note to his dude Red in The Shawshank Redemption. (And honestly, if I have to spell that out for you, we probably can't be friends.) It's a quote that works in so many situations — sports, sales, sickness, chasing tail at two in the morning. All of it.
It also outlines the fundamental core of an NFL fan's existence. Every season, 32 teams open training camp, and armed with reams of data on NFL parity and the somewhat factual "fact" that nearly half the playoff teams from the previous season are replaced with new teams the following season, fans in all 32 cities have varying degrees of hope.
Fans in certain cities know their hope for that season is a bit futile, but if there's a young franchise quarterback in place, they can take solace that their day may come soon. Jacksonville, Nashville, Tampa, Oakland, Minneapolis, you all know what I mean.
Then there are fans in other cities who feel good about 95 percent of their roster, but there's no long-term plan in place at quarterback. Their hope is the same as the hope you get at a roulette table, that maybe they'll be the "once every 15 years, defense-rules, Trent Dilfer-style Super Bowl champ." Houston, Buffalo…what's up?
There's also possibly the most dangerous type of hope — the kind where your team insists they've found "their guy," spent "their guy" kind of money, made an emotional commitment and a sizable financial investment, and there still aren't any real indicators that the city is any closer to a Super Bowl. Cincinnati, Chicago…hello!
Oh, there's also real, actual, justifiable hope. You know, as when you're one of the dozen or so cities who aren't lying to themselves or rubbing a rabbit's foot at night before they go to bed. One of the cities that have a good, even a GREAT quarterback. That kind of hope is what makes living in places like Green Bay or Indianapolis tolerable in December and January. If hope is the best of things, then this is the best type of hope. Rodgers, Luck, Brady…the best of the best!
The bottom line is that the degree of hope, short-term and long-term, that you feel as an NFL fan is almost inextricably linked to how you feel about your team's quarterback situation, just how likely it is the quarterback in whom your team has invested will lead your favorite team to the promised land, if not in 2015, then soon thereafter. In short, if hope is the blood that sustains the NFL fan as a metaphorical alter-organism to his self, then let's rank the 32 NFL fan bases on just how close they are to either flatlining or immortality.
Let's rank the 32 NFL quarterback situations based on the hope they instill in their fan bases. Before we get started, here are a few translation notes for you:
* The players are listed in the order they're in on their Ourlads team depth chart. The first player listed is the projected starter.
* Players whose names are in ALL CAPS are greater than 30 years old, which these days is more of a factual benchmark than any sort of vital sign, but it's worth knowing
* The parentheses after each starter contain, in order, their age, 2015 cap figure and 2015 dead money. Figures all courtesy of Spotrac.com.
32. CHICAGO BEARS
6 CUTLER, JAY (32; $16,500,000; $29,500,000)
8 Clausen, Jimmy
15 Carden, Shane
COMMENT: Even the smallest sliver of QB hope has to come from somewhere — a young quarterback with a shred of potential, a veteran who can still rally the troops, a team not overly committed financially with some flexibility at the position. The Bears have NONE of these things. They have Jay Cutler, a despondent mope who will cost $13 million to CUT in 2016. Behind him they have Jimmy Clausen. When Jimmy Clausen actually brightens up your overall QB situation, you are officially in QB hell.
31. BUFFALO BILLS
16 CASSEL, MATT (33; $4,750,000; $500,000)
3 Manuel, EJ
5 Taylor, Tyrod
8 Simms, Matt
COMMENT: Normally, I'd say, "Well, a team with no real commitment to the horrible veteran they have starting to go with a guy they drafted in the first round a couple of years ago…that's not completely hopeless. I mean, you COULD have Jay Cutler, right?" But this is Rex Ryan. He will find some way to make the quarterback position the cross to bear for his team, even if they draft a good, young QB next spring.
30. NEW YORK JETS
7 Smith, Geno (24; $1,368,983; $1,015,310)
14 FITZPATRICK, RYAN
9 Petty, Bryce
3 Heaps, Jake
COMMENT: The only thing keeping the Jets ahead of the Bills is that I think there may be some sizzle in Bryce Petty's right arm. Other than that, Geno Smith is just E.J. Manuel with a more sour look on his face. And Fitzy is Cassel with a beard.
29. ST. LOUIS RAMS
5 Foles, Nick (26; $1,522,000; $0)
9 Davis, Austin
14 Mannion, Sean
17 Keenum, Case
COMMENT: The Rams traded for Nick Foles thinking he could be the solution at quarterback, and reportedly are trying to sign him to an extension. Apparently, Jeff Fisher hasn't looked at Foles's advanced analytics charts that show roughly 99.3 percent of his passes thrown in Chip Kelly's system were completed behind the line of scrimmage, catch and run type shit. This might be the one team whose hope level goes down immediately after its young quarterback signs an extension. Foles stinks.
28. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
10 Griffin, Robert (25; $6,719,713; $6,719,713)
16 McCoy, Colt
8 Cousins, Kirk
COMMENT: Most QB rankings this preseason have had Griffin ranked somewhere between Case Keenum and Shane "Footsteps" Falco. I still think there's at least enough hope that a former PRODUCTIVE No. 2 overall pick can find something. And if he doesn't, then the Redskins bail on the fifth-year option to Griffin and start over. It's pretty simple.
COMMENT: I actually included McCown's and Manziel's numbers here, since either could start. McCown is just a stopgap/backup on a three-year deal, and for Manziel, it costs more to cut him than to keep him until 2017, which means it's almost a lock that the Browns will somehow muddy this thing even further by taking a QB in next spring's draft.
COMMENT: It's funny, Bill O'Brien got really pissy with the media over the weekend for kind of "down-talking" Hoyer and Mallett. Here's the thing — the Texans owe neither guy a thing after this season. No salary, no dead money, nothing. Which basically means the Texans and the entire league, contractually at least, feel the EXACT same way about Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett!! The actual quarterbacks involved are near minimal hope-inducing, but the lack of salary commitment is nice, especially a year after the team took a $10 million cap hit on Matt Schaub.
25. OAKLAND RAIDERS
4 Carr, Derek (24; $1,220,864; $2,334,236)
9 Ponder, Christian
14 McGloin, Matt
8 Fajardo, Cody
COMMENT: I actually kind of like Derek Carr, I just can't put the Raiders any higher than 25 by rule. But I will go out on a limb and say Carr will at least have a better career than his brother.
24. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
11 SMITH, ALEX (31; $15,600,000; $40,400,000)
10 Daniel, Chase
7 Murray, Aaron
COMMENT: Now we start to see the teams that have deluded themselves into thinking they've found "the guy." The Chiefs are $25 million UPSIDE DOWN (cap hit vs dead money) on Alex Smith. ALEX SMITH!! They're more than $7 million upside down in 2016 ($17.8 million cap hit versus $24.9 million in dead money), before finally taking a mere $7.2 million cap hit to eject in 2017 if they so choose. That's a LOT of cheddar to go 9-7 and cough up huge playoff leads. Have fun with that, Kansas City.
23. CINCINNATI BENGALS
14 Dalton, Andy (27; $9,600,000; $13,600,000)
5 McCarron, AJ
8 Johnson, Josh
10 Wenning, Keith
COMMENT: The Bengals are basically the Chiefs with an EJECT button that is operable one year earlier. Dalton's cap hit to get traded or cut in 2016 is $7.2 million (versus a $13.1 million cap hit). Cutting him sounds crazy, but 0-4 in the playoffs seems to have the Bengals faithful restless. They booed Dalton at a celebrity softball game this summer!
COMMENT: Classic Chip Kelly stuff here — five quarterbacks, no commitments to any of them. I suppose if Bradford has a good season, he could get an extension, but I feel like there's a better chance that Bradford has a good season and then Kelly signs a dancing bear to play QB just to see if it's his system or if humans are really "all that."
21. TENNESSEE TITANS
8 Mariota,Marcus (21; $4,402,541; $24,213,976)
7 Mettenberger, Zach
12 WHITEHURST, CHARLIE
11 Tanney, Alex
COMMENT: My biggest takeaway from the research for this post is that if you're a highly, highly drafted QB in the NFL, under the new rookie cap, there's never a point where it costs less to cut you than to keep you. It's break-even in the final year; that's as good as it gets. By the way, I know you're like "Tennessee? 21? Really, Sean?" Tell me Titans fans aren't more enthused about the future than most of the teams below them on this list? (I say, ALL of those teams, but I'm giving you wiggle room.)
20. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
3 Winston, Jameis (21; $4,609,323; $25,351,277)
8 Glennon, Mike
4 Lobato, Seth
COMMENT: Ditto everything I just said for Mariota.
19. ATLANTA FALCONS
2 RYAN, MATT (30; $19,500,000; $33,900,000)
13 Yates, TJ
12 Renfree, Sean
COMMENT: So why is Ryan not ranked alongside his fellow "just good enough to get beat in the playoffs" compadres like Smith and Dalton? Well, I think Ryan is a better player than both of them, has better weapons, and I'm willing to see if the Dan Quinn Era is a positive shakeup to the Mike Smith Era.
18. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
5 Bortles, Blake (23; $4,694,275; $16,899,390)
7 HENNE, CHAD
6 Morris, Stephen
9 Tuel, Jeff
COMMENT: Ditto everything I said for Mariota and Winston.
17. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
5 Bridgewater, Teddy (23; $1,556,705; $4,250,115)
13 HILL, SHAUN
4 Kafka, Mike
16 Heinicke, Taylor
COMMENT: And here is the highest ranked of all the 2014 or 2015 quarterbacks, Teddy Bridgewater. I have him ranked the highest hope-inducer among the group because a) I like him the most and b) the Texans could've had him if they had moved up one spot in 2014. Bridgewater tormenting them as a perennial Super Bowl contender feels very Texan-ish.
16. NEW YORK GIANTS
10 MANNING, ELI (34; $19,750,000; $2,250,000)
9 Nassib, Ryan
2 Stanzi, Ricky
COMMENT: I'll plunk Eli right here until I see just how cap-strapped his extension makes the Giants. I'm in the "Eli is done" crowd, but the Giants will pay him in perpetuity for the two Super Bowl wins. Not a great way to run a franchise, but it's their money.
15. ARIZONA CARDINALS
3 PALMER, CARSON (35; $7,375,000; $20,500,000)
5 STANTON, DREW
6 Thomas, Logan
4 Harnish, Chandler
1 Sims, Phillip
COMMENT: It's kind of scary to think about what the Cardinals might have done last season with a healthy Palmer. (Hell, with a healthy Stanton!) He is their guy for the next three seasons, and normally I'd say that it's not the most hopeful scenario, but the presence of Bruce Arians as the head coach automatically bumps Palmer up like 5 or 6 spots, at least.
14. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
7 Kaepernick, Colin (27; $15,265,753; $20,263,012)
2 Gabbert, Blaine
13 Thompson, Dylan
COMMENT: Kaepernick backslid last season after signing an extension that looked bigger than it really was. ($61 million guarantee, but for injury only.) Fact is, the Niners can very easily cut bait on Kaep after 2016 for a $7.3 million cap hit (and a savings of more than $9 million versus what the hit would be if he stayed with the team. I'm still a believer in Kaepernick, which explains this "higher than you probably think" ranking for him.
13. MIAMI DOLPHINS
17 Tannehill, Ryan (27; $4,873,364; $23,413,364)
8 MOORE, MATT
16 Bethel-Thompson, McLeod
5 Freeman, Josh
COMMENT: It's weird — Dalton has made the playoffs four straight seasons and I have him in the 20's. Tannehill has missed the playoffs three straight seasons and I have him 13th. Would Dalton have been higher on this list going 8-8 or 9-7 all those seasons, instead of going 0-4 in the playoffs? Maybe. But there's a reason Tannehill was drafted 8th overall. He has tools. He's improved every year. Also, the Dolphins' schedule to start the season is the ultimate "confidence booster" to begin a season — @ WAS, @ JAX, vs BUF, vs NYJ, @ TEN.
12. DETROIT LIONS
9 Stafford, Matthew (27; $17,721,250; $27,221,250)
17 Moore, Kellen
8 ORLOVSKY, DAN
14 Gilbert, Garrett
COMMENT: Stafford got the Lions back to the postseason last year, where they lost to Dallas in controversial fashion. His current contract runs through 2017. As one of the last No. 1 overall "bonus babies" (2009 draft), and having gotten his second contract, there's a chance that Stafford will have made more money for accomplishing very little team-wise than nearly any other player in league history when it's time for his next deal. He will get paid, but the "hope factor" in Detroit bears watching the next couple of seasons.
11. CAROLINA PANTHERS
1 Newton, Cam (26; $13,000,000; $41,000,000)
3 ANDERSON, DEREK
14 Webb, Joe
COMMENT: Here are Newton's cap-hit / dead-money splits for the next three seasons after 2015:
2016: $19,500,000 / $18,000,000
2017: $20,166,666 / $13,500,000
2018: $21,500,000 / $9,000,000
He's yours, Carolina, for better or worse. Hope he gets those fourth quarters cleaned up, for your sake.
10. BALTIMORE RAVENS
5 FLACCO, JOE (30; $14,550,000; $36,400,000)
8 SCHAUB, MATT
9 Renner, Bryn
7 Lovelocke, Jerry
COMMENT: Along those same lines, here are Flacco's next three seasons on the splits:
2016: $28,550,000 / $25,850,000
2017: $31,150,000 / $15,300,000
2018: $24,750,000 / $4,750,000
Flacco will be 34 when this deal is up. The Ravens will be looking at a decision very similar to what the Giants are facing right now with Eli Manning, and to some extent what the Chargers are with Philip Rivers. Speaking of which….
9. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
17 RIVERS, PHILIP (33; $17,416,668; $1,666,668)
10 CLEMENS, KELLEN
4 Sorensen, Brad
16 Rettig, Chase
COMMENT: As with Eli, the flexibility of the money on his extension (if there is one) will dictate whether this ranking goes up or down. The Chargers were reportedly shopping Rivers this past offseason, so we will see where this goes. For now, Chargers fans can take comfort in having a guy who is just good enough to make them relevant but just goofy enough to screw up somewhere along the way. Good enough for ninth.
8. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
9 BREES, DREW (36; $26,400,000; $33,550,000)
7 MCCOWN, LUKE
18 Grayson, Garrett
4 Griffin, Ryan
COMMENT: Do you like soap operas? Start watching the Saints, with Drew Brees heading into his final season in 2016. They actually used a substantial draft pick on a quarterback (Grayson) for the first time in years. This could get fun, especially if Brees throws another 17 picks like he did in 2015.
7. DALLAS COWBOYS
9 ROMO, TONY (35; $14,973,000; $45,908,000)
3 WEEDEN, BRANDON
10 Vaughan, Dustin
7 Showers, Jameill
COMMENT: Here are Romo's cap-versus-dead-money splits for the rest of his deal:
2016: $20,835,000 / $31,935,000
2017: $24,700,000 / $19,600,000
2018: $25,200,000 / $8,900,000
2019: $23,700,000 / $3,200,000
My biggest takeaways here are: a) it's a good thing the Cowboys finally invested in an offensive line, and b) How silly is it to think that the Cowboys entertained taking Johnny Manziel in 2014?
6. DENVER BRONCOS
18 MANNING, PEYTON (39; $17,500,000; $20,000,000)
17 Osweiler, Brock
2 Dysert, Zac
3 Siemian, Trevor
COMMENT: Hey, Denver, enjoy one last season with Peyton before Gary Kubiak tries to stamp the organization with his own guy. You all do know that he coached somewhere else before Denver, right?
5. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
7 ROETHLISBERGER, BEN (33; $17,245,000; $37,795,000)
5 GRADKOWSKI, BRUCE
3 Jones, Landry
2 Boyd, Tajh
16 Murphy, Tyler
COMMENT: Here are Big Ben's splits on his extension:
2016: $23,950,000 / $24,800,000
2017: $18,200,000 / $18,600,000
2018: $23,200,000 / $12,400,000
2019: $23,200,000 / $6,200,000
You can thank the Texans, Pittsburgh, for jumpstarting this guy's career again in the Monday night game last season.
4. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
3 Wilson, Russell (26; $7,054,868; $31,854,868)
7 JACKSON, TARVARIS
5 Daniels, BJ
6 Archer, RJ
COMMENT: Super Bowl-winning quarterback, locked up at age 26. Good for the Seahawks, good for the quarterback, bad for the two or three guys who will get cut now that they're paying Wilson more than $600,000 a year:
2016: $18,540,000 / $24,800,000
2017: $18,800,000 / $18,600,000
2018: $21,700,000 / $12,400,000
2019: $23,200,000 / $6,200,000
3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
12 BRADY, TOM (40; $14,000,000; $18,000,000)
10 Garoppolo, Jimmy
COMMENT: This ranking is a suspension-free zone. Might move it one or two spots down if Brady has to pay the full freight.
2. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
12 Luck, Andrew (25; $7,034,363; $7,034,363)
8 HASSELBECK, MATT
7 Bennett, Bryan
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COMMENT: I hate the Colts.
1. GREEN BAY PACKERS
12 RODGERS, AARON (31; $18,250,000; $29,450,000)
16 Tolzien, Scott
7 Hundley, Brett
6 Blanchard, Matt
COMMENT: Honestly, the Packers have had high-level hope every season going back to like 1994. You lucky cheese eaters!
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