- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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A major storyline of the 2010 season in the AFC West has been the quarterback play in each of the four cities in the division.
There has been significant development at the position for each team. Some of the developments have been positive and some situations still need time to play out. With the regular season soon coming to a close, here is a look at what has happened and what to expect at the position for each AFC West team:
The skinny: This is the most fluid quarterback situation in the AFC West. A few weeks ago, Denver had quarterback stability. Kyle Orton was on pace for a 5,000-yard passing season and he looked like he clearly would be Denver’s starter in 2011. Now it may be Tebow Time beyond the short term. With Orton dealing with a rib injury, rookie quarterback Tim Tebow started his first game for Denver in Week 15 in a loss at Oakland. Yet, even though Orton is getting healthy, Tebow will start in Week 16 at Houston and very likely start in Week 17 against San Diego. Denver is 3-11. Seeing what Tebow can do is the only thing Denver has left this season. Tebow was fairly solid in his first game. He made plays with his arm and his legs . Tebow showed that the NFL game isn’t too big for him.
The future: I wouldn’t be surprised if either Orton or Tebow is the starter next season. If Tebow finishes the next two games strong, there will be reason to allow him to work toward being the starter next season. The plan of former Denver coach Josh McDaniels was to have Orton start next season and have Tebow take over in 2012. That’s why Orton was given an extension through next season during the summer. Now all bets are off. It all depends on what the new coaching staff wants. While the Broncos likely will be better off in the short term with Orton, they probably won’t be a playoff contender next season. Giving Tebow the chance to show whether or not he’ll be the quarterback of the future may be the right decision. With up to a dozen teams needing a quarterback next year, Denver might find value in dealing Orton. That possibility didn’t seem plausible a month ago. Orton seems to know his future in Denver is tenuous. "I said I'd like to finish the season. That wasn't the option that was presented," Orton told reporters this week. "I don't know if I'll be here next year. We'll just have to wait and see what shakes out with the organization."
A scout’s view: “It’s pretty messy. I think Denver needs to find a head coach who likes Tebow, but I don’t think there were that many NFL people that liked him going into the draft, so it might be tough. And you don’t want to hire a coach just based on him liking one player. It’s a tough situation. I think maybe Denver will bring in both Tebow and Orton and let them compete. I could see a market for Orton if Denver does go with Tebow. I could see a team like Arizona making a move for Orton.” -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.
The skinny: Few players in the NFL have sold themselves like Matt Cassel has in the past two-plus months. Cassel has gone from a question mark to the MVP of one of biggest surprise teams in the NFL. It is obvious that the Kansas City Chiefs would not be on the brink of an AFC West championship without Cassel. After a sluggish 2009 season and a slow start to this season, Cassel has been on fire the past 10 weeks. He’s accurate, efficient, tough, rarely makes mistakes and he’s a leader. Cassel has thrown 24 touchdowns passes and just five interceptions this season. He has taken just 20 sacks after being dropped 42 times last season.
The future: Kansas City has an option on the $40 million deal it gave Cassel in the summer of 2009. There is little doubt it will exercise the option. Earlier this year, there was some hope among the Kansas City fan base that the Chiefs would dump Cassel after the season and go after someone like the Eagles’ Kevin Kolb or use their first-round draft pick on a player such as Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett. But the future is for Cassel, who should continue to develop under head coach Todd Haley and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
A scout’s view: “I don’t think Cassel can be a guy who can carry a team to the Super Bowl on his back. But I do think he’s the right guy for the Chiefs. He’s not a liability. He’s really done well this season, which I thought was a make-or-break year for him.” -- Williamson
The skinny: Jason Campbell’s first season in Oakland has been very up and down. Campbell has had his moments, but overall he’s been a disappointment. Campbell is too inconsistent. He was benched multiple times in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. Campbell is 6-4 as Oakland’s starter. Gradkowski was 1-3 as the Raiders’ starter before he was put on injured reserve three weeks ago.
The future: It’s still up in the air. Campbell must finish the season strong for the Raiders to feel comfortable with him. He has been too erratic for the team to be sold on him at this point. The Raiders don’t have any other sure answers at quarterback, though. Campbell likely will be brought back with a chance to be the starter. Gradkowski, who is a free agent, is best suited as a backup. The Raiders could look for other veterans to compete with Campbell. Oakland doesn’t have its first-round pick (it was sent to New England for defensive lineman Richard Seymour), so it will be out of the running for a top quarterback, unless it packages a deal to draft a player such as Mallett or perhaps Auburn’s Cam Newton.
A scout’s view: “Campbell just hasn’t been good enough. I thought he’d be better, but he hasn’t been. I think both Campbell and Bruce will be back next year, but I don’t think the position will exactly be settled. Oakland is getting better in a lot of areas and it will be a run-first offense, but there are questions at quarterback moving forward.” -- Williamson
The skinny: This is, by far, the most settled quarterback situation in the AFC West. Really, it's one of the most settled quarterback situations in the NFL. Philip Rivers, in his fifth season as a starter, is having another brilliant season. He is getting better each season. He is second in the NFL with 4,141 yards passing nad probably will finish in the top three in MVP voting.
The future: Rivers turned 29 this month. He is in his prime. Expect him to continue to be the best player in the AFC West for the next several years. As long as Rivers will be around, the Chargers will be in the playoff hunt.
3hEric D. Williams