There have been major changes at the most important position on the field in the AFC West this week. In Oakland, the Raiders turned the NFL world upside down by spending wildly to get Carson Palmer to replace the injured Jason Campbell. In Denver, the much-awaited Tim Tebow era is about to begin.
Because of the major happenings in the division at quarterback, let’s rank the quarterback situations in the division. Please note we are ranking the overall situations (not just the current standing of each team’s starter), putting both this season and beyond into consideration.
1. San Diego: This one is easy. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is the best player in the AFC West. In my opinion, he is the best player in the NFL who doesn’t own a Super Bowl ring. He will turn 30 in December and is under contract in San Diego through 2015. He is in the second year of a six-year, $90-plus million deal.
The Chargers won’t have to make a decision on Rivers until he is 34. Billy Volek is considered a quality backup if Rivers misses some time. The Chargers may soon need to develop a youngster, but overall this is an extremely solid situation.
2. Oakland: It’s gets very tough here. I could see an argument for any combination of the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos in the final three spots. All three quarterback situations have major questions moving forward.
But I’m going with the Raiders at No. 2 for now. With the high price Oakland sent to Cincinnati for Palmer (a 2012 first-round pick and a conditional 2013 pick that could be a first-rounder), the Raiders are clearly committed to Palmer for the foreseeable future.
The only question is if Palmer can still be productive. His numbers have slipped in the past three seasons and he will soon be 32. He has suffered major knee and elbow injuries in the past. So, he has a lot of miles on him. But Palmer is an accurate, experienced quarterback who can help the Raiders.
Palmer is under contract through 2014. Tuesday's trade means Campbell, who made good strides this season before he got hurt, will likely look to become a starter elsewhere next season as a free agent. This is shocking because just prior to his injury Sunday, it seemed plausible that Oakland would consider giving Campbell a contract extension.
The Raiders also have rookie Terrelle Pryor to develop. He has a long way to go before playing, but the Raiders seem to have a quarterback structure in place. They just need to see it work.
3. Kansas City: This is an interesting situation. The Chiefs triggered the option on his six-year, $40 million deal this year, so they are committed to him. Cassel made great strides in 2010 (his second season in Kansas City), but he struggled in the final two games of last season (including a playoff loss) and the first several games of this season. Yet, Cassel has been terrific in the past 10 quarters.
But there are long-term questions about whether Cassel can be a well-above-average player.
“Cassel is just a stop-gap player,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “Last year might have been his ceiling. I would suggest drafting someone high to groom.”
I think if Cassel, 29, continues to play well this season, the Chiefs will feel good about sticking with him. However, if he stumbles and the injury-ravaged Chiefs end up with a top-10 pick, they could consider taking someone such as Oklahoma’s Landry Jones in the first round. Still, I doubt the Chiefs will make a play for a new starting quarterback in the offseason.
The Chiefs drafted developmental quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round this season. He will continue to be developed and could be a player the Chiefs turn to in the future. There are questions about the Chiefs at the position, but the cupboard is far from bare.
4. Denver: In a division with many questions at the position, the biggest questions are in Denver. There is a chance Denver could move above Oakland by next summer or it could stay on the bottom of the division.
If Tebow plays well in the final 11 games of the season and convinces the Broncos’ brass he is their quarterback of the future, the Broncos will be set. If Tebow is awful and Denver gets a chance to draft Stanford’s Andrew Luck (that would require having the No. 1 pick or trading a load to get him), Jones or USC's Matt Barkley, the Broncos could be set for the future.
Denver has to see how Tebow does before figuring out which way it is going at quarterback. It is the team’s biggest issue heading into the 2012 offseason, especially considering the other two quarterbacks on the roster -- former starter Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn -- are free agents.