The "Bridge Quarterback" has emerged as one of the more increasingly popular monikers in today's NFL. Teams aren't just in search of the next guy to be their face of the franchise at the game's most important position anymore. They are also, in some cases, looking for the guy before the guy. With some NFL teams poised to start 2014 with either a rookie quarterback or a veteran journeyman at the controls, the phrase "Bridge Quarterback" has once again come to the forefront. Let's take a look at some players who fit this description.
Josh McCown - Tampa Bay
Josh McCown spent 2013 in Chicago, honing his craft under QB guru Marc Trestman for a year in the windy city. When Jay Cutler went down with a mid-season injury, McCown stepped up big and virtually outplayed Cutler during his stint under center. McCown wound up tossing 13 touchdowns to just one interception, in addition to 1,829 yards in his eight appearances with a glistening 66.5 completion percentage. Following Chicago's decision to stand by Cutler, McCown hit the market and became 2014's most sought after free agent at the position, ultimately signing on in Tampa Bay with former Bears coach Lovie Smith. In spite of speculation that they would do so, the Bucs did not use a pick in last week's draft on a Quarterback. The franchise claims it turned down several approaches for Mike Glennon, who showed flashes of competence and talent in 2013 following the Josh Freeman debacle, and says it still views Glennon as its QB of the future. Whether that is true or not, McCown figures to be in position to be the team's guy in 2014. Will he produce the goods as he did in Chicago without Trestman in his ear? Bucs Offensive Coordinator Jeff Tedford hopes to have a similar impact with McCown, who signed a two-year $10 million pact in March. The team stresses that there will be an open competition, but McCown should give the Bucs the best chance to win from the outset of the 2014 season, as the franchise looks to climb back up the NFC South ladder. Should he falter, Glennon is waiting in the wings.
Matt Schaub- Oakland
2013 was an unmitigated disaster all-around for Matt Schaub and his Houston Texans teammates. A season that began with Super Bowl aspirations quickly folded into a nightmare of epic proportions that ultimately saw Gary Kubiak fired, and Schaub jettisoned to Oakland for a draft pick. Schaub's play in 2013 was downright abominable at times, though the team was a mess from top to bottom. A fresh start in Oakland looms for the 32 year old, but do the Raiders really view him as more than a stop-gap option until Derek Carr is deemed ready for action? Ironically, it was Schaub who Houston brought in to replace Carr's older brother David in Houston. Schaub had made a name for himself while filling in for Michael Vick in Atlanta, and though he had some good seasons in Houston, durability and a knack for untimely and costly turnovers plagued him in big games. The Raiders, seemingly stuck in rebuilding mode for over a decade, are likely still a ways away from challenging for a playoff push, though they did come away with an impressive haul from the 2014 NFL Draft. One of those picks, Carr, could well be the team's Quarterback of the future, but the franchise appears set to enter 2014 with Schaub as their man. Schaub's salary is not guaranteed beyond 2014, and should his play early in the season resemble anything close to that which saw him benched in favor of T.J. Yates and Case Keenum, look for the quickest of hooks, and the dawn of the Derek Carr era to begin in Oakland. Can Matt Schaub shake off his 2013 skid?
Matt Cassel - Minnesota
Speaking of disastrous Quarterback situations, the Minnesota Vikings know all too well how a logjam of sub-par talent at the position can hinder a team's chances of competing. Christian Ponder once again failed to take the next step forward, while Josh Freeman never had a chance up north. In between, Cassel, who the Vikes re-signed this offseason, emerged from the not-so-impressive pack of Quarterbacks in Minneapolis, throwing for 1,807 yards with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, leading Minnesota to all five of their victories. Unspectacular numbers to say the least, but Cassel seemed to be the team's only competent option under center in 2013. He signed a two-year $10 million deal, similar to McCown's, and looked poised to open training camp as new coach Mike Zimmer's starter. However, the team traded into the back-end of the first round to select Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, who they hope will be their starter for years to come. This may cast some doubt as to whether or not Cassel has a chance to start next season. It will depend on whether Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner feel Bridgewater is capable of shouldering the load from the get-go. Adrian Peterson can only do so much, and the team may hesitate to throw the former Louisville ace to the wolves from day one. Then again, given Bridgewater's pedigree, coming from a Louisville program that ran a sophisticated, pro-style attack, the Vikings may decide to throw Bridgewater into the deep end and let him learn on the fly. Whatever the case may be, Cassel still has value within the organization, and at worst will be a viable backup to a rookie in need of seasoning.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was signed to be Bill O'Brien's potential bridge stater. Trouble is, there may no longer be a bridge as the team did not select a Quarterback until they grabbed Tom Savage in the 4th round. It is highly unlikely that the team rolls into week one with Savage under center, so Fitzpatrick, who completed a career best 62% of his passes in relief of Jake Locker in Tennessee last season, figures to man the position for Houston in O'Brien's inaugural campaign. Fitzpatrick has shown glimpses of being a starter in this league, but has proven to be inconsistent and turnover-prone in the big picture. Nevertheless, Houston has a solid option to turn to as they look to groom Savage, and possibly target another signal caller in next year's draft. The former Ivy Leaguer should give Houston their best chance to win in 2014, while serving as an invaluable sounding board for a youngster like Savage. Of all Quarterbacks mentioned above, "Fitzmagic" may have the best chance at success, and his new coach has quite the reputation of his own as a Quarterback tutor.
Ryan Fitzpatrick figures to start most of the Texans' games in 2014.
Others to watch...
Chad Henne could once again be thrown to the wolves assuming the Jacksonville Jaguars are reluctant to risk scarring Blake Bortles so early in his career. The team still needs a draft or two to further enhance their weapons around Bortles, who the team firmly believes can be their QB for years to come.
Michael Vick may not be in position to start, but could quickly unseat Geno Smith if the Jets' starter from 2013 continues to struggle under center. Should this happen, Vick could find himself playing out 2014 as the starter in New York, as the team goes back to the drawing board at the position next offseason.