The quarterback position has always been the most important position for any NFL team. Having a confident field general is essential for any team that wants to go deep into the playoffs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the AFC East.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have dominated the division since Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe three games into the 2001 season. Now the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills are all trying to find that diamond in the rough like the Patriots did when they selected Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
Daunte the Dolphin
Miami is coming off a 9-7 season and has some quality skill position players. The Dolphins’ biggest problem the last few seasons has been at quarterback. Miami has had immortals such as A.J. Feely, Jay Fielder, Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels taking snaps in the last three seasons.
Now the Dolphins think they’ve solved their problem. The Dolphins traded for former Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper and former Detroit signal caller Joey Harrington this off-season to sure up their weakness. The problem is, both QBs are huge question marks. Chances are, Miami will be searching for answers at the QB position again this season.
Culpepper will be the starter if he’s healthy. The 6’4”, 260 lb veteran was in the midst of his worst season as a pro when he suffered a catastrophic knee injury during the seventh game of the 2005 season. He had thrown just 6 touchdowns and 12 interceptions at the time of his injury. The season before, however, Culpepper was an All-Pro as he tossed 39 TDs and just 11 INTs while posting an impressive 110.9 quarterback rating. He would have been league MVP had it not been for Peyton Manning’s record-breaking season.
Culpepper is optimistic that he’ll be done with rehab and ready for the start of the season, but that’s wishful thinking. Miami will probably open the season with Harrington at the helm and that could leave the Fins in a big hole right off the bat.
The former University of Oregon star has never fulfilled the promise of being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft. Despite having talented wide receivers and running backs around him, Harrington floundered in his 4 years with the Lions, throwing two more interceptions than touchdowns while leading the Lions to just 18 victories in 51 starts.
The Dolphins have another intriguing option in their camp: Marcus Vick, the troubled younger brother of Atlanta QM Michael Vick. The odds are better that Vick will be in police custody rather than a Dolphins uniform come September, but if Nick Saban and the coaching staff can find a way to keep Vick on the field, he could offer Miami some insurance in case Culpepper and Harrington falter. Vick will most likely be made into a wide receiver anyway, but he could end up being used in several roles similar to the original slash, Kordell Stewart.
The Jets and Bills continue to look for answers at the QB spot as well. New York’s QB job is up for grabs as incumbent Chad Pennington missed most of last year after undergoing rotator cuff surgery. Pennington has a history of injuries and may never be the same after his latest setback. The Jets also acquired veteran Patrick Ramsey in a trade with the Washington Redskins in March. Ramsey has been a disappointment in Washington where he lost his job to Mark Brunell last season.
New York’s best hope may be rookie Kellen Clemens. Clemens was having a stellar senior season at Oregon before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. He has good size, speed and quickness, and could be the quarterback of the future that the Jets have been looking for.
Buffalo, on the other hand, has done nothing to upgrade its weakness at quarterback. The Bills had a terrible draft and will go into the season with Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman vying for the starting job again. Neither are a very attractive option and the Bills look to be going nowhere again.
In order for Miami, New York or Buffalo to make the playoffs, they will have to go through New England. The Patriots look to be even better than last season, having drafted running back Laurence Maroney and wide receiver Chad Jackson to add to Brady’s arsenal of weapons.
The Patriots are still the kings of the AFC East and are one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl again. Should the Patriots regain the championship, it would be their fourth Super Bowl in six years and will cement their place as one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the league.