We continue our position-by-position look at the way the free-agent seasons of the NFC East teams could be affected by the proposed return to the system that makes players unrestricted free agents after just four years of service time. Over the past couple of days, we've done cornerbacks, running backs, guards, outside linebackers and safeties. Today, we look at quarterbacks. And since Jon Kitna has proved himself a more-than-capable Tony Romo backup in Dallas and Eli Manning is as durable as any quarterback in the league, we're focusing on two of the division's teams.
NFC East teams in need
Redskins: Mike Shanahan has said he likes John Beck and is willing to give him a chance at being the starter. Rex Grossman, once re-signed, will hope to challenge for the position. Donovan McNabb is still on the roster, but there's no chance he'll be back. Clearly, if they intend to be a serious contender this year, Washington could use an upgrade at the most crucial position in sports. But with so many other needs, and with the projected first round of next year's draft deep at the quarterback position, it might not make sense for the Redskins to devote resources (especially long-term dollars) to a 2011 answer that isn't a long-term answer. So maybe they hunt for a veteran who can compete for the job in training camp, but they're not going to be looking to make a big commitment to a free-agent quarterback. Fortunately, the field leans heavily toward the former group.
Eagles: The Eagles are actually very strong at the position at the moment. But assuming they trade Kevin Kolb once the lockout ends, they will need to find a veteran backup for starter Michael Vick, a running quarterback whose style puts him at risk of injury. They like the way Mike Kafka has developed in a reserve role, but he's not the kind of guy they could put into a game right now, should Vick get hurt, and expect to win it. The Eagles are a win-now, go-for-it team and they'll want someone more reliable in there if Vick has to miss a game or two.
Top five potential unrestricted free-agent quarterbacks
1. Matt Hasselbeck. Looks like he's out in Seattle, and if healthy he can probably help someone as a starter. If they could get him for one year, he'd make a lot of sense for the Redskins. But I wonder if a place like Miami or Minnesota might give him more than one year and a chance to start.
2. Alex Smith. Sounds as if he's staying in San Francisco. But if he were to leave, he probably has the most upside of this somewhat underwhelming bunch. Hard to see why he'd justify much more of Shanahan's faith than Beck, however.
3. Bruce Gradkowski. Has some starting experience over the past couple of years in Oakland, and he's managed to have a modicum of success with it. Seems to have an ability to get guys around him to play hard for him. Another guy who'd be a better short-term option in Washington but likely isn't worth investing any real part of the future in. Might make sense as the Vick backup in Philly.
4. Kerry Collins. If the Eagles are looking for a backup with experience who can competently manage a game should their starter have to leave due to injury...well...
5. Billy Volek. Career backup probably doesn't fit what either of these teams is looking for, though some have speculated that he could wander east from San Diego with new Panthers coach Ron Rivera and be the stopgap starter until Cam Newton is ready.
Predictions that mean nothing: Eagles wait to see if Vince Young becomes available and pounce if he does. If not, they sign Gradkowski. Redskins go with what they have, filling other needs and hoping to be or get in position to draft their franchise quarterback next April.