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oregonsfan (12/31/2007)
Len P has an article on possible QB changes for 2008. I don't have ESPN Insider, but for anyone that is interested, the article is here: http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/insider/col...%26id%3d3170946

dude,

I recently cancelled Insider, they hint at stuff but NEVER have anything BREAKING on there. During this crazy season there was nothing there that isn't on Rotoworld 3 minutes after they post it on Insider.

Insider is a rip off.

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This season could rank as the most unstable for quarterbacks since the NFL implemented the 16-game schedule in 1978.

Teams have used 61 different starters, and that number is set to rise in Week 17.

But maybe even more distressing than the fact that the league's 32 teams will have used 62-64 different starters in 2007 -- if the number reaches 63, it will be the all-time high for a non-strike season since 1978 -- is that the tumult certainly will carry over into the offseason for many teams.

By even a conservative count, more than one-third of NFL franchises will venture into the offseason with their quarterback situations for 2008 unsettled. And that's part of the reason why, for some teams, what might appear to be otherwise meaningless games this weekend will take on additional import.

Example: There is little more than pride at stake when the New York Jets play host to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium. But for Jets coach Eric Mangini and his predecessor, Herm Edwards, who is now the Chiefs' coach, the contest represents one last opportunity this year to assess the work of young quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Brodie Croyle, respectively.

It's a last chance to gather data on the two youngsters who had been viewed as the so-called quarterbacks of the future for their franchises; now, though, they're under scrutiny because of uneven performances in starting opportunities in 2007. This game is the final audition for the quarterbacks and the final test, under live conditions, for the coaching staffs to assess them in the crucible of an exercise more challenging than, say, a springtime seven-on-seven passing drill.

Edwards said this week that, looking forward, he sees Croyle as the Kansas City starter in 2008. But he said the same thing this past spring, went to camp in the summer with Croyle atop the depth chart, and then pulled the plug after the preseason games and opened the year with journeyman Damon Huard as his No. 1 guy.

It could well be, in a touch of irony, that the starting quarterback of Edwards' short-term future at least is actually the starting quarterback of his recent past. Chad Pennington, the eight-year veteran and former league passing champion whose already suspect arm strength has further waned because of two rotator-cuff surgeries, will stand across the field from his former boss on Sunday afternoon.

With a scheduled base salary of $4.8 million for next season, and having seemingly worn out his welcome in New York, it could be that Pennington will be reunited with Edwards for the 2008 season.

The Jets will own a top-five selection in the 2008 draft but have been loathe to make the kind of investment it takes to sign a quarterback chosen that high. So they will spend much of their early offseason perusing videotape of Clemens, and just as much of it contemplating how to proceed at the game's most critical position.

And they won't be alone in undertaking such a critical evaluation and deliberation process.

The Oakland Raiders, for instance, guaranteed $31 million to JaMarcus Russell when they made the former LSU star the top pick in the 2007 draft. Because of a protracted contract negotiation, Russell missed all of training camp and the preseason, has played just 73 snaps in three appearances as a rookie, and finally will make his debut as a starter in Sunday's season finale against San Diego.

Can coach Lane Kiffin go into the offseason confident that Russell, with so little exposure in a rookie campaign that barely scratched the learning curve, is ready to assume the starting role in 2008? And if Russell isn't ready, then who starts for the Raiders, since the two most experienced quarterbacks on the current roster, Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown, are both eligible to move on as unrestricted free agents?

In Miami, new executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells has perhaps even fewer options for 2008, but he does own the top overall pick in the draft.

Of course, as the San Francisco 49ers might attest, that doesn't always ensure success; Alex Smith, the first player selected in the 2005 draft, regressed this season before suffering a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his campaign. The 49ers' brass might be forced to make a call between Smith and head coach Mike Nolan, who seems incapable of coexisting with his young quarterback and who appeared to undermine him at times this season.

In other league precincts, there are going to be similarly difficult decisions, tough calls that will have to be made to ensure that the quarterback carousel in 2008 doesn't spin as wildly out of control as it did this season.

The Carolina Panthers, so far the only team in the league to have used four different starters this season, will hold their breath that the ligament surgery performed on Jake Delhomme in September heals his throwing elbow.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt will have to choose between a rehabilitated Matt Leinart and an aging Kurt Warner. Minnesota coach Brad Childress has hinted that, while he likes the potential of Tarvaris Jackson, the second-year pro needs to make a big jump forward in his third NFL season.

Their rhetoric aside, the Philadelphia Eagles might have to make a decision on Donovan McNabb; despite his protests, McNabb certainly seems weary of the close scrutiny in the country's toughest sports town.

Atlanta, Chicago and Baltimore each have been through three starting quarterbacks this season, and none appeared to be the answer for those franchises.

Few general managers and coaches want to go through a season like 2007 again. Assuming that Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh sits out the season finale at Baltimore to heal for the playoffs, only 11 quarterbacks will have started every game for their respective teams. Which is why the offseason figures to be a busy one, with teams attempting to somehow solidify a position which was anything but stable in 2007.

Around the League

" Losman trade bait? Since some scouts say there isn't a quarterback in the 2008 draft pool worthy of top-10 consideration -- and that includes Brian Brohm of Louisville, Boston College's Matt Ryan and Kentucky's Andre' Woodson -- it might be tough for teams to bolster the position in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Gojkovich/Getty Images

J.P. Losman's tenure in Buffalo seems near its end.

The pool of veteran free agents is hardly impressive, either. This could mean that the Buffalo Bills -- who feel they got a real steal in Trent Edwards, a third-round pick in the 2007 draft who has been unspectacular but solid in posting a 5-3 record in his eight starts -- might be able to generate interest in former starter J.P. Losman on the trade market.

Assuming the Cleveland Browns keep Derek Anderson for at least one more season and don't dangle him in trade talks aimed at freeing up the position to move Brady Quinn into the starting role in 2008, Losman might be the best young talent available.

Philadelphia could shop McNabb and find plenty of interested teams, but any franchise vying for him figures to be a playoff-ready team seeking the final piece of the puzzle.

The Bills' first-round pick in the 2004 draft, Losman regressed this season, demonstrating questionable decision-making before he lost his job to Edwards. But the four-year veteran still has upside; he'll turn 27 in the spring, right about the time the offseason trade moratorium ends. Losman is athletic, has a pretty strong arm and made strides in 2006, when he started 16 games.

He certainly isn't going to be content sitting behind Edwards again in 2008. Buffalo overachieved this season, and while the Bills have a nice nucleus of young players, they need to make a big leap forward to somehow close the gap with New England in the division. Using Losman as trade bait could land the Bills some additional draft choices, rid the franchise of a player who no longer wants to be there, and provide a young quarterback with some still-developing talent a welcome change of scenery and a chance to fulfill his potential elsewhere.

" Parcells' housecleaning: Now that Parcells is officially on the ground in Miami, having arrived Thursday and observed the team's practice as it prepared for the season finale against Cincinnati, don't expect it to be too long before The Tuna begins enacting change with the Fish.

Linebacker Joey Porter observed that players and coaches alike were "nervous" as Parcells viewed the practice session, and well they should be. While Parcells will be deliberative and thorough, he isn't going to drag his feet in beginning to alter the culture of a team that is lacking in a lot of areas.

Expect the first changes to come in the front office. Despite suggestions that Parcells will retain Randy Mueller, the Dolphins' general manager could be among the first casualties -- maybe as early as next week.

In fact, word is that first-year coach Cam Cameron might have a better chance than Mueller of surviving what figures to be a pretty significant purge. Then again, if you're Parcells or anyone else, you've got to wonder why Cameron wasn't trying to get rookie quarterback John Beck some snaps in the second half of Sunday's loss at New England.

Beyond being physically ineffective, starter Cleo Lemon made some abysmal choices. His failure to give up his body and lay out on an attempt to score on a fourth-down scramble when he ran out of bounds inches shy of the goal line should have been reason enough to yank the guy.

" Dallas defection rumors: Hard to say which is more preposterous -- the notion that the Cowboys kept wide receiver Patrick Crayton away from Parcells by signing him to a four-year contract extension on Thursday night, or that The Tuna will be interested in plucking Julius Jones from Dallas when he is an unrestricted free agent in March.

[+] EnlargeStephen Dunn /Getty Images

Patrick Crayton (left) is staying in Dallas and his former head coach Bill Parcells will be looking elsewhere to rebuild the Dolphins receiving corps.

There have been suggestions that Parcells was poised to raid his former employers, to snatch up their free agents when they became available, but in the cases of Crayton and Jones, nothing could be further from the truth.

When Parcells was in Dallas, he viewed Crayton as a No. 3 wideout, nothing more. For openers, there was no way that Parcells, even as much as he needs to upgrade the talent in Miami, would have given a No. 3 wide receiver a $6 million signing bonus, as the Cowboys did as part of a deal worth $14 million, to keep Crayton off the unrestricted market. Plus, Crayton didn't enjoy playing for Parcells and wanted to stay in Dallas.

As for Jones, well, he didn't enjoy his time under Parcells, either. And Parcells never embraced the tailback, who was constantly the subject of trade rumors when he was under The Tuna. The one pending Dallas unrestricted free agent in whom Parcells might have some interest is left offensive tackle Flozell Adams. And Parcells, while he needs to fix the Dolphins' blocking unit, isn't going to overpay for a 10-year veteran who turns 33 in the spring.

" Deep rookie LB class: It isn't a position that gets much interest, but the crop of middle and inside linebackers that entered the NFL this season has been an exceptional one, starting with Patrick Willis of San Francisco, the league's leading tackler and the presumptive Rookie of the Year.

Drafted out of the University of Mississippi, Willis has been exactly as advertised, a tackling machine who authors game-changing plays, and a defender who is going to play in a lot of Pro Bowls. Included in the standout rookie class is Jon Beason of Carolina, who moved into the middle when Dan Morgan went down and who could make the Panthers' oft-injured starter expendable. And David Harris of the Jets, who is a far better fit in the 3-4 than Jonathan Vilma, the man he replaced.

Because of Harris' play, the Jets might market Vilma in the offseason to 4-3 teams seeking an upgrade at middle linebacker and willing to take a chance that Vilma's knee woes were addressed successfully by his recent surgery. In addition, Paul Posluszny of Buffalo looked like the real deal before suffering a season-ending injury. Teams have done a nice job of filtering in good, young inside linebackers over the past three or four seasons, and this year's contingent is no exception.

" Tough calls for Jets: Beyond the previously mentioned quarterback decision, the Jets' youthful brain trust faces several tough calls in the offseason.

Look for general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Eric Mangini to make some staffing changes, beginning with the defensive coordinator post, where incumbent Bob Sutton is believed to be in jeopardy. And the Jets have some high-priced veterans whose futures likewise are in doubt -- such as wide receiver Laveranues Coles and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who has never been a comfortable fit for the 3-4 front Mangini prefers.

The offensive line needs fixing, and there is a general need for more speed on both sides of the football. Many observers said the Jets' wild-card berth last season was a bit of a mirage, and New York certainly has slipped this season (3-12) after winning 10 games last season.

The Jets will have to make wise decisions in using their top-five draft pick and in addressing a sizeable laundry list of concerns.

" For whom will Bell toil? One of the more mysterious career plummets in recent history is that of linebacker Kendrell Bell.

The seven-year veteran candidly conceded to the Kansas City Star this week that the season finale will mark his last game in a Chiefs uniform. His NFL tenure is general is in jeopardy at age 29. Bell was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a second-round pick who played inside linebacker and was named to the Pro Bowl squad in his debut season.

The former University of Georgia star, Bell had nine sacks as a rookie and, in his second season, then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher decided to move Bell outside on passing downs to rush the quarterback. Bell was never the same player in that role, though, and he appeared stiff and somewhat unathletic. And then injuries began to get the better of him, as well.

The New York Giants almost signed Bell as an unrestricted free agent in 2005 before then-general manager Ernie Accorsi got scared off by lingering shoulder problems, backed away and snatched Antonio Pierce from the Washington Redskins instead. It turned out to be a fortuitous move for Accorsi.

And for Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, who subsequently signed Bell and awarded him a contract that included about $10 million in guarantees, it turned out to be a disaster. This is Bell's third season with the team, and he has basically become an afterthought; he didn't even dress for four games this season. After his nine sacks as a rookie, Bell has only 11 ½ sacks in the six seasons since.

Bell was an ill fit in the Chiefs' 4-3 alignment, and there are doubts as to whether he can contribute anymore even in the 3-4 scheme that first tabbed him as a perceived rising star in the league.

" Schottenheimer return to KC? On the subject of the Chiefs, there are rumblings -- and they are presented here as nothing more than such -- that former Kansas City head coach Marty Schottenheimer could return to the franchise in a front office capacity.

Peterson, who serves as president and general manager, is under contract through the 2008 season, and strongly has suggested in the past he could retire at the end of the deal. So if there are any legs to the rumors about Schottenheimer and his return, it could be tied to the fact Peterson might be a relative short-timer. There is also a chance that assistant general manager Billy Kuharich, a seasoned and much respected personnel man whose name has been whispered in some other spots, might be a candidate to replace Rich McKay as the Atlanta general manager.

As for the talk that the Falcons are interested in talking to Schottenheimer about their head coach vacancy, well, owner Arthur Blank has yet to make contact with him. And Schottenheimer is telling people that, unless the situation is an ideal one, he can't see himself returning to the sideline.

" Dunn is not done: Falcons tailback Warrick Dunn, one of the league's classiest players, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that he does not plan to retire and wants to play again in 2008.

Dunn, who turns 33 next week, is distressed over what he termed a "wasted" year in the failed regime of former coach Bobby Petrino, and doesn't want his career to end on such a dismal note. But it remains to be seen if the new football regime that Blank installs wants Dunn around as much as the owner -- who is fond of the veteran tailback and admires his charitable endeavors and social consciousness -- probably does.

Because the Atlanta running game design changed so dramatically in 2007, with Petrino scrapping the zone-blocking scheme of the past and installing a more physical, helmet-on-helmet approach, it's difficult to evaluate Dunn and his dwindling numbers. The 11-year veteran has carried 216 times for 648 yards and three touchdowns, and his 3.0-yard average is distressingly low.

How distressing? Dunn could become the first back since Eddie George in 2001 to log 200-plus carries in a season and finish with an average of 3.0 yards per rush.

In a Nov. 4 game against San Francisco, Dunn had his high-water mark for the season, rushing for 100 yards, but it took him 27 carries to reach the century mark. The following week, against Carolina, he rushed 26 times for 89 yards. In the six games since, Dunn has 68 attempts for only 167 yards, an anemic 2.45-yard average.

In 1999, with Tampa Bay, Dunn averaged just 3.2 yards per rush, but logged only 195 carries. In 2001, his final season with the Bucs, he had 158 carries and posted a career-low average of 2.8 yards. If Dunn has a bad day against Seattle in Sunday's season finale, he could dip below the 3.0-yard average.

And if that occurs, he will become the first back since Marion Butts in 1994 to get 200 or more carries in a season and average less than 3.0 yards per run. Playing for the Chargers in 1994, Butts averaged just 2.9 yards on 243 attempts.

" Changes in store for Bengals: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tried this week to debunk the rumors that, in the wake of another disappointing season, he is poised to make changes on his staff, notably on the defensive side of the ball. That said, it's hard to fathom that Cincinnati can maintain the status quo given the disastrous results of this season.

[+] EnlargeJim McIsaac/Getty Images

Veteran defensive backs Dexter Jackson (left) and Madieu Williams might not be wearing Bengals' colors next season.

There are reports that Lewis wants to overhaul the personnel department, to augment the scouting staff, and perhaps gain more control over roster decisions. Certainly the Bengals lack talent on the defensive side. But the unit hasn't exactly been "coached up" either, and part of that responsibility must lie with Lewis, who earned his stripes as a defensive coordinator.

The Bengals currently rank 27th statistically in total defense. In Lewis' five years, the unit has never rated better than 19th, and this will be the fourth season in which Cincinnati has been in the bottom quadrant of the league -- 28th in 2003, 28th in 2005, 30th last season and 27th this year.

The Bengals have suffered some misfortunes, like the neck injury that figures to end the career of linebacker David Pollack and the league-imposed suspension of middle linebacker Odell Thurman, but other clubs have better compensated when faced with such setbacks.

Lewis has three seasons remaining on his contract and owner Mike Brown certainly isn't going to dismiss him. But this is a team that needs to demonstrate progress in 2008.

One sign of optimism is the recent play of the young secondary, where first-round cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall have demonstrated progress, and where rookie safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Marvin White are coming off terrific performances in last week's victory over Cleveland.

The tandem played well enough in its first start together that the Bengals almost certainly will part with veteran starters Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson after this season. Once considered a rising star, Williams' play has slipped the past couple years, he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and Cincinnati probably won't make much of an effort to keep him. Jackson has two years left on his contract, at base salaries of $1.3 million for 2008 and $1.5 million for 2009, and is expected to be released.

" More Morris instead of Alexander?: There is a feeling in some league circles that, for Seattle to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs, and actually mount a threat to Dallas and Green Bay in the NFC bracket, the team has to feature Maurice Morris more than Shaun Alexander at tailback.

Seattle will need to be more two-dimensional offensively in the postseason, and Morris is simply a better back than Alexander now. Also, the whispers persist that coach Mike Holmgren might step aside after this season to pursue some of the non-football interests of which he has spoken in the past. If that is the case, assistant head coach Jim Mora probably would have a decent shot to succeed him.

" Strategic roster moves: In a maneuver designed to retain the rights to some promising youngsters for training camp next summer, more than two dozen players were elevated from teams' practice squads to active rosters in the final two weeks of the season. How come?

By doing so, clubs retain exclusive negotiating rights to the players, meaning they can't move on. Players who finish the year on practice squads become free agents immediately at the end of the season. Rather than lose some of them, clubs prefer to sign them to the active roster for the final game or two. They can then keep them, and at a minimum base salary, for the following year.

" The list: Despite a minus-2 point differential, with 285 points scored and 287 points surrendered, the Tennessee Titans can earn the final AFC wild card berth with a victory at Indianapolis on Sunday night.

So it's possible that with a one-point victory at the RCA Dome, the Titans can go to the postseason for the first time since 2003 while allowing more points than they have scored.

But advancing to the playoffs with a negative point differential isn't as unusual as it sounds. In fact, 27 teams have done so since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978, and that includes two franchises, Seattle (minus-6) and the New York Giants (minus-7), in 2006.

Here are the team with the 10 worst point differentials to advance to the playoffs since 1978: Rams, 2004 (minus-73); Steelers, 1989 (minus-61); Cardinals, 1998 (minus-53); Falcons, 1978 (minus-50); Oilers, 1989 (minus-47); Bears, 1994 (minus-36); Broncos, 1983 (minus-25); Jets, 1986 (minus-22); Eagles, 1995 (minus-20); and Raiders, 1993 (minus-20).

" Stat of the week: You've got to like LaDainian Tomlinson's chances of winning a second straight league rushing title.

For starters, the San Diego star leads runner-up Willie Parker by 102 yards, and the Pittsburgh tailback is done for the season with a fractured fibula. The league's No. 3 rusher, Adrian Peterson, trails Tomlinson by only 113 yards, but the Minnesota rookie has just 108 yards on 45 carries his last three outings.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Tomlinson concludes the season on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, a defense he has basically owned during his seven seasons.

In 13 appearances versus the Raiders, who rank 31st in defense versus the rush and have surrendered an average of 147.6 yards per game, Tomlinson has 341 carries for 1,653 yards and 16 touchdowns. That includes a 198-yard, four-touchdown performance in the teams' first meeting this season on Oct. 14.

Tomlinson has eight games of 100 rushing yards or more, and has run for 150-plus yards on five occasions, and 180-plus yards three times. For good measure, Tomlinson has 49 catches for 246 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders, and he has also thrown three touchdown passes.

" Stat of the weak: In his last three games, two of which were victories, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has completed just 42 of 99 passes for 514 yards, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions, and a passer rating of only 57.4.

Manning has been sacked six times in that stretch and has only two completions of longer than 19 yards. His 42.4 percent completion rate is troubling. But the number that perhaps might reflect his struggles more than anything else, and one that many scouts feel is the most critical statistic for a quarterback, is yards per attempt, where Manning has averaged only 5.19 yards in the three games.

" The last word: "It'll be like the State of the Union address. You can flip to every channel and see it." -- New England coach Bill Belichick on the three-network simulcast of the Patriots' regular-season finale against the New York Giants on Saturday night

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

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This season could rank as the most unstable for quarterbacks since the NFL implemented the 16-game schedule in 1978.

Teams have used 61 different starters, and that number is set to rise in Week 17.

But maybe even more distressing than the fact that the league's 32 teams will have used 62-64 different starters in 2007 -- if the number reaches 63, it will be the all-time high for a non-strike season since 1978 -- is that the tumult certainly will carry over into the offseason for many teams.

By even a conservative count, more than one-third of NFL franchises will venture into the offseason with their quarterback situations for 2008 unsettled. And that's part of the reason why, for some teams, what might appear to be otherwise meaningless games this weekend will take on additional import.

INSIDE TIP SHEET

Here's what you will find in Tip Sheet notes.

" Losman trade bait?

" Parcells' housecleaning

" Dallas defection rumors

" Deep rookie LB class

" Tough calls for Jets

" For whom will Bell toil?

" Schottenheimer return to KC?

" Dunn is not done

" Changes in store for Bengals

" More Morris instead of Alexander?

" Strategic roster moves

" The list

" Stat of the Week

" Stat of the weak

" The Last Word

Example: There is little more than pride at stake when the New York Jets play host to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium. But for Jets coach Eric Mangini and his predecessor, Herm Edwards, who is now the Chiefs' coach, the contest represents one last opportunity this year to assess the work of young quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Brodie Croyle, respectively.

It's a last chance to gather data on the two youngsters who had been viewed as the so-called quarterbacks of the future for their franchises; now, though, they're under scrutiny because of uneven performances in starting opportunities in 2007. This game is the final audition for the quarterbacks and the final test, under live conditions, for the coaching staffs to assess them in the crucible of an exercise more challenging than, say, a springtime seven-on-seven passing drill.

Edwards said this week that, looking forward, he sees Croyle as the Kansas City starter in 2008. But he said the same thing this past spring, went to camp in the summer with Croyle atop the depth chart, and then pulled the plug after the preseason games and opened the year with journeyman Damon Huard as his No. 1 guy.

It could well be, in a touch of irony, that the starting quarterback of Edwards' short-term future at least is actually the starting quarterback of his recent past. Chad Pennington, the eight-year veteran and former league passing champion whose already suspect arm strength has further waned because of two rotator-cuff surgeries, will stand across the field from his former boss on Sunday afternoon.

With a scheduled base salary of $4.8 million for next season, and having seemingly worn out his welcome in New York, it could be that Pennington will be reunited with Edwards for the 2008 season.

The Jets will own a top-five selection in the 2008 draft but have been loathe to make the kind of investment it takes to sign a quarterback chosen that high. So they will spend much of their early offseason perusing videotape of Clemens, and just as much of it contemplating how to proceed at the game's most critical position.

And they won't be alone in undertaking such a critical evaluation and deliberation process.

The Oakland Raiders, for instance, guaranteed $31 million to JaMarcus Russell when they made the former LSU star the top pick in the 2007 draft. Because of a protracted contract negotiation, Russell missed all of training camp and the preseason, has played just 73 snaps in three appearances as a rookie, and finally will make his debut as a starter in Sunday's season finale against San Diego.

Can coach Lane Kiffin go into the offseason confident that Russell, with so little exposure in a rookie campaign that barely scratched the learning curve, is ready to assume the starting role in 2008? And if Russell isn't ready, then who starts for the Raiders, since the two most experienced quarterbacks on the current roster, Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown, are both eligible to move on as unrestricted free agents?

In Miami, new executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells has perhaps even fewer options for 2008, but he does own the top overall pick in the draft.

Of course, as the San Francisco 49ers might attest, that doesn't always ensure success; Alex Smith, the first player selected in the 2005 draft, regressed this season before suffering a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his campaign. The 49ers' brass might be forced to make a call between Smith and head coach Mike Nolan, who seems incapable of coexisting with his young quarterback and who appeared to undermine him at times this season.

In other league precincts, there are going to be similarly difficult decisions, tough calls that will have to be made to ensure that the quarterback carousel in 2008 doesn't spin as wildly out of control as it did this season.

The Carolina Panthers, so far the only team in the league to have used four different starters this season, will hold their breath that the ligament surgery performed on Jake Delhomme in September heals his throwing elbow.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt will have to choose between a rehabilitated Matt Leinart and an aging Kurt Warner. Minnesota coach Brad Childress has hinted that, while he likes the potential of Tarvaris Jackson, the second-year pro needs to make a big jump forward in his third NFL season.

Their rhetoric aside, the Philadelphia Eagles might have to make a decision on Donovan McNabb; despite his protests, McNabb certainly seems weary of the close scrutiny in the country's toughest sports town.

Atlanta, Chicago and Baltimore each have been through three starting quarterbacks this season, and none appeared to be the answer for those franchises.

Few general managers and coaches want to go through a season like 2007 again. Assuming that Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh sits out the season finale at Baltimore to heal for the playoffs, only 11 quarterbacks will have started every game for their respective teams. Which is why the offseason figures to be a busy one, with teams attempting to somehow solidify a position which was anything but stable in 2007.

Around the League

" Losman trade bait? Since some scouts say there isn't a quarterback in the 2008 draft pool worthy of top-10 consideration -- and that includes Brian Brohm of Louisville, Boston College's Matt Ryan and Kentucky's Andre' Woodson -- it might be tough for teams to bolster the position in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Gojkovich/Getty Images

J.P. Losman's tenure in Buffalo seems near its end.

The pool of veteran free agents is hardly impressive, either. This could mean that the Buffalo Bills -- who feel they got a real steal in Trent Edwards, a third-round pick in the 2007 draft who has been unspectacular but solid in posting a 5-3 record in his eight starts -- might be able to generate interest in former starter J.P. Losman on the trade market.

Assuming the Cleveland Browns keep Derek Anderson for at least one more season and don't dangle him in trade talks aimed at freeing up the position to move Brady Quinn into the starting role in 2008, Losman might be the best young talent available.

Philadelphia could shop McNabb and find plenty of interested teams, but any franchise vying for him figures to be a playoff-ready team seeking the final piece of the puzzle.

The Bills' first-round pick in the 2004 draft, Losman regressed this season, demonstrating questionable decision-making before he lost his job to Edwards. But the four-year veteran still has upside; he'll turn 27 in the spring, right about the time the offseason trade moratorium ends. Losman is athletic, has a pretty strong arm and made strides in 2006, when he started 16 games.

He certainly isn't going to be content sitting behind Edwards again in 2008. Buffalo overachieved this season, and while the Bills have a nice nucleus of young players, they need to make a big leap forward to somehow close the gap with New England in the division. Using Losman as trade bait could land the Bills some additional draft choices, rid the franchise of a player who no longer wants to be there, and provide a young quarterback with some still-developing talent a welcome change of scenery and a chance to fulfill his potential elsewhere.

" Parcells' housecleaning: Now that Parcells is officially on the ground in Miami, having arrived Thursday and observed the team's practice as it prepared for the season finale against Cincinnati, don't expect it to be too long before The Tuna begins enacting change with the Fish.

Linebacker Joey Porter observed that players and coaches alike were "nervous" as Parcells viewed the practice session, and well they should be. While Parcells will be deliberative and thorough, he isn't going to drag his feet in beginning to alter the culture of a team that is lacking in a lot of areas.

Expect the first changes to come in the front office. Despite suggestions that Parcells will retain Randy Mueller, the Dolphins' general manager could be among the first casualties -- maybe as early as next week.

In fact, word is that first-year coach Cam Cameron might have a better chance than Mueller of surviving what figures to be a pretty significant purge. Then again, if you're Parcells or anyone else, you've got to wonder why Cameron wasn't trying to get rookie quarterback John Beck some snaps in the second half of Sunday's loss at New England.

Beyond being physically ineffective, starter Cleo Lemon made some abysmal choices. His failure to give up his body and lay out on an attempt to score on a fourth-down scramble when he ran out of bounds inches shy of the goal line should have been reason enough to yank the guy.

" Dallas defection rumors: Hard to say which is more preposterous -- the notion that the Cowboys kept wide receiver Patrick Crayton away from Parcells by signing him to a four-year contract extension on Thursday night, or that The Tuna will be interested in plucking Julius Jones from Dallas when he is an unrestricted free agent in March.

[+] EnlargeStephen Dunn /Getty Images

Patrick Crayton (left) is staying in Dallas and his former head coach Bill Parcells will be looking elsewhere to rebuild the Dolphins receiving corps.

There have been suggestions that Parcells was poised to raid his former employers, to snatch up their free agents when they became available, but in the cases of Crayton and Jones, nothing could be further from the truth.

When Parcells was in Dallas, he viewed Crayton as a No. 3 wideout, nothing more. For openers, there was no way that Parcells, even as much as he needs to upgrade the talent in Miami, would have given a No. 3 wide receiver a $6 million signing bonus, as the Cowboys did as part of a deal worth $14 million, to keep Crayton off the unrestricted market. Plus, Crayton didn't enjoy playing for Parcells and wanted to stay in Dallas.

As for Jones, well, he didn't enjoy his time under Parcells, either. And Parcells never embraced the tailback, who was constantly the subject of trade rumors when he was under The Tuna. The one pending Dallas unrestricted free agent in whom Parcells might have some interest is left offensive tackle Flozell Adams. And Parcells, while he needs to fix the Dolphins' blocking unit, isn't going to overpay for a 10-year veteran who turns 33 in the spring.

" Deep rookie LB class: It isn't a position that gets much interest, but the crop of middle and inside linebackers that entered the NFL this season has been an exceptional one, starting with Patrick Willis of San Francisco, the league's leading tackler and the presumptive Rookie of the Year.

Drafted out of the University of Mississippi, Willis has been exactly as advertised, a tackling machine who authors game-changing plays, and a defender who is going to play in a lot of Pro Bowls. Included in the standout rookie class is Jon Beason of Carolina, who moved into the middle when Dan Morgan went down and who could make the Panthers' oft-injured starter expendable. And David Harris of the Jets, who is a far better fit in the 3-4 than Jonathan Vilma, the man he replaced.

Because of Harris' play, the Jets might market Vilma in the offseason to 4-3 teams seeking an upgrade at middle linebacker and willing to take a chance that Vilma's knee woes were addressed successfully by his recent surgery. In addition, Paul Posluszny of Buffalo looked like the real deal before suffering a season-ending injury. Teams have done a nice job of filtering in good, young inside linebackers over the past three or four seasons, and this year's contingent is no exception.

" Tough calls for Jets: Beyond the previously mentioned quarterback decision, the Jets' youthful brain trust faces several tough calls in the offseason.

Look for general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Eric Mangini to make some staffing changes, beginning with the defensive coordinator post, where incumbent Bob Sutton is believed to be in jeopardy. And the Jets have some high-priced veterans whose futures likewise are in doubt -- such as wide receiver Laveranues Coles and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who has never been a comfortable fit for the 3-4 front Mangini prefers.

The offensive line needs fixing, and there is a general need for more speed on both sides of the football. Many observers said the Jets' wild-card berth last season was a bit of a mirage, and New York certainly has slipped this season (3-12) after winning 10 games last season.

The Jets will have to make wise decisions in using their top-five draft pick and in addressing a sizeable laundry list of concerns.

" For whom will Bell toil? One of the more mysterious career plummets in recent history is that of linebacker Kendrell Bell.

The seven-year veteran candidly conceded to the Kansas City Star this week that the season finale will mark his last game in a Chiefs uniform. His NFL tenure is general is in jeopardy at age 29. Bell was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a second-round pick who played inside linebacker and was named to the Pro Bowl squad in his debut season.

The former University of Georgia star, Bell had nine sacks as a rookie and, in his second season, then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher decided to move Bell outside on passing downs to rush the quarterback. Bell was never the same player in that role, though, and he appeared stiff and somewhat unathletic. And then injuries began to get the better of him, as well.

The New York Giants almost signed Bell as an unrestricted free agent in 2005 before then-general manager Ernie Accorsi got scared off by lingering shoulder problems, backed away and snatched Antonio Pierce from the Washington Redskins instead. It turned out to be a fortuitous move for Accorsi.

And for Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, who subsequently signed Bell and awarded him a contract that included about $10 million in guarantees, it turned out to be a disaster. This is Bell's third season with the team, and he has basically become an afterthought; he didn't even dress for four games this season. After his nine sacks as a rookie, Bell has only 11 ½ sacks in the six seasons since.

Bell was an ill fit in the Chiefs' 4-3 alignment, and there are doubts as to whether he can contribute anymore even in the 3-4 scheme that first tabbed him as a perceived rising star in the league.

" Schottenheimer return to KC? On the subject of the Chiefs, there are rumblings -- and they are presented here as nothing more than such -- that former Kansas City head coach Marty Schottenheimer could return to the franchise in a front office capacity.

Peterson, who serves as president and general manager, is under contract through the 2008 season, and strongly has suggested in the past he could retire at the end of the deal. So if there are any legs to the rumors about Schottenheimer and his return, it could be tied to the fact Peterson might be a relative short-timer. There is also a chance that assistant general manager Billy Kuharich, a seasoned and much respected personnel man whose name has been whispered in some other spots, might be a candidate to replace Rich McKay as the Atlanta general manager.

As for the talk that the Falcons are interested in talking to Schottenheimer about their head coach vacancy, well, owner Arthur Blank has yet to make contact with him. And Schottenheimer is telling people that, unless the situation is an ideal one, he can't see himself returning to the sideline.

" Dunn is not done: Falcons tailback Warrick Dunn, one of the league's classiest players, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week that he does not plan to retire and wants to play again in 2008.

Dunn, who turns 33 next week, is distressed over what he termed a "wasted" year in the failed regime of former coach Bobby Petrino, and doesn't want his career to end on such a dismal note. But it remains to be seen if the new football regime that Blank installs wants Dunn around as much as the owner -- who is fond of the veteran tailback and admires his charitable endeavors and social consciousness -- probably does.

Because the Atlanta running game design changed so dramatically in 2007, with Petrino scrapping the zone-blocking scheme of the past and installing a more physical, helmet-on-helmet approach, it's difficult to evaluate Dunn and his dwindling numbers. The 11-year veteran has carried 216 times for 648 yards and three touchdowns, and his 3.0-yard average is distressingly low.

How distressing? Dunn could become the first back since Eddie George in 2001 to log 200-plus carries in a season and finish with an average of 3.0 yards per rush.

In a Nov. 4 game against San Francisco, Dunn had his high-water mark for the season, rushing for 100 yards, but it took him 27 carries to reach the century mark. The following week, against Carolina, he rushed 26 times for 89 yards. In the six games since, Dunn has 68 attempts for only 167 yards, an anemic 2.45-yard average.

In 1999, with Tampa Bay, Dunn averaged just 3.2 yards per rush, but logged only 195 carries. In 2001, his final season with the Bucs, he had 158 carries and posted a career-low average of 2.8 yards. If Dunn has a bad day against Seattle in Sunday's season finale, he could dip below the 3.0-yard average.

And if that occurs, he will become the first back since Marion Butts in 1994 to get 200 or more carries in a season and average less than 3.0 yards per run. Playing for the Chargers in 1994, Butts averaged just 2.9 yards on 243 attempts.

" Changes in store for Bengals: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis tried this week to debunk the rumors that, in the wake of another disappointing season, he is poised to make changes on his staff, notably on the defensive side of the ball. That said, it's hard to fathom that Cincinnati can maintain the status quo given the disastrous results of this season.

[+] EnlargeJim McIsaac/Getty Images

Veteran defensive backs Dexter Jackson (left) and Madieu Williams might not be wearing Bengals' colors next season.

There are reports that Lewis wants to overhaul the personnel department, to augment the scouting staff, and perhaps gain more control over roster decisions. Certainly the Bengals lack talent on the defensive side. But the unit hasn't exactly been "coached up" either, and part of that responsibility must lie with Lewis, who earned his stripes as a defensive coordinator.

The Bengals currently rank 27th statistically in total defense. In Lewis' five years, the unit has never rated better than 19th, and this will be the fourth season in which Cincinnati has been in the bottom quadrant of the league -- 28th in 2003, 28th in 2005, 30th last season and 27th this year.

The Bengals have suffered some misfortunes, like the neck injury that figures to end the career of linebacker David Pollack and the league-imposed suspension of middle linebacker Odell Thurman, but other clubs have better compensated when faced with such setbacks.

Lewis has three seasons remaining on his contract and owner Mike Brown certainly isn't going to dismiss him. But this is a team that needs to demonstrate progress in 2008.

One sign of optimism is the recent play of the young secondary, where first-round cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall have demonstrated progress, and where rookie safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Marvin White are coming off terrific performances in last week's victory over Cleveland.

The tandem played well enough in its first start together that the Bengals almost certainly will part with veteran starters Madieu Williams and Dexter Jackson after this season. Once considered a rising star, Williams' play has slipped the past couple years, he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and Cincinnati probably won't make much of an effort to keep him. Jackson has two years left on his contract, at base salaries of $1.3 million for 2008 and $1.5 million for 2009, and is expected to be released.

" More Morris instead of Alexander?: There is a feeling in some league circles that, for Seattle to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs, and actually mount a threat to Dallas and Green Bay in the NFC bracket, the team has to feature Maurice Morris more than Shaun Alexander at tailback.

Seattle will need to be more two-dimensional offensively in the postseason, and Morris is simply a better back than Alexander now. Also, the whispers persist that coach Mike Holmgren might step aside after this season to pursue some of the non-football interests of which he has spoken in the past. If that is the case, assistant head coach Jim Mora probably would have a decent shot to succeed him.

" Strategic roster moves: In a maneuver designed to retain the rights to some promising youngsters for training camp next summer, more than two dozen players were elevated from teams' practice squads to active rosters in the final two weeks of the season. How come?

By doing so, clubs retain exclusive negotiating rights to the players, meaning they can't move on. Players who finish the year on practice squads become free agents immediately at the end of the season. Rather than lose some of them, clubs prefer to sign them to the active roster for the final game or two. They can then keep them, and at a minimum base salary, for the following year.

" The list: Despite a minus-2 point differential, with 285 points scored and 287 points surrendered, the Tennessee Titans can earn the final AFC wild card berth with a victory at Indianapolis on Sunday night.

So it's possible that with a one-point victory at the RCA Dome, the Titans can go to the postseason for the first time since 2003 while allowing more points than they have scored.

But advancing to the playoffs with a negative point differential isn't as unusual as it sounds. In fact, 27 teams have done so since the 16-game schedule was implemented in 1978, and that includes two franchises, Seattle (minus-6) and the New York Giants (minus-7), in 2006.

Here are the team with the 10 worst point differentials to advance to the playoffs since 1978: Rams, 2004 (minus-73); Steelers, 1989 (minus-61); Cardinals, 1998 (minus-53); Falcons, 1978 (minus-50); Oilers, 1989 (minus-47); Bears, 1994 (minus-36); Broncos, 1983 (minus-25); Jets, 1986 (minus-22); Eagles, 1995 (minus-20); and Raiders, 1993 (minus-20).

" Stat of the week: You've got to like LaDainian Tomlinson's chances of winning a second straight league rushing title.

For starters, the San Diego star leads runner-up Willie Parker by 102 yards, and the Pittsburgh tailback is done for the season with a fractured fibula. The league's No. 3 rusher, Adrian Peterson, trails Tomlinson by only 113 yards, but the Minnesota rookie has just 108 yards on 45 carries his last three outings.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Tomlinson concludes the season on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, a defense he has basically owned during his seven seasons.

In 13 appearances versus the Raiders, who rank 31st in defense versus the rush and have surrendered an average of 147.6 yards per game, Tomlinson has 341 carries for 1,653 yards and 16 touchdowns. That includes a 198-yard, four-touchdown performance in the teams' first meeting this season on Oct. 14.

Tomlinson has eight games of 100 rushing yards or more, and has run for 150-plus yards on five occasions, and 180-plus yards three times. For good measure, Tomlinson has 49 catches for 246 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders, and he has also thrown three touchdown passes.

" Stat of the weak: In his last three games, two of which were victories, Giants quarterback Eli Manning has completed just 42 of 99 passes for 514 yards, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions, and a passer rating of only 57.4.

Manning has been sacked six times in that stretch and has only two completions of longer than 19 yards. His 42.4 percent completion rate is troubling. But the number that perhaps might reflect his struggles more than anything else, and one that many scouts feel is the most critical statistic for a quarterback, is yards per attempt, where Manning has averaged only 5.19 yards in the three games.

" The last word: "It'll be like the State of the Union address. You can flip to every channel and see it." -- New England coach Bill Belichick on the three-network simulcast of the Patriots' regular-season finale against the New York Giants on Saturday night

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

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michaelgee (12/31/2007)
oregonsfan (12/31/2007)
Len P has an article on possible QB changes for 2008. I don't have ESPN Insider, but for anyone that is interested, the article is here: http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/insider/col...%26id%3d3170946

dude,

I recently cancelled Insider, they hint at stuff but NEVER have anything BREAKING on there. During this crazy season there was nothing there that isn't on Rotoworld 3 minutes after they post it on Insider.

Insider is a rip off.

Agree for the most part. 95% of the stuff they hint at is just a regular newspaper article from some teams local coverage. The rest is just an opinion piece, which really isn't worth #$%!.

They do have some good info in there though regarding specific players, draft rankings & such that will make me pay monthly from Feb - Apr.

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