NFC West: Brian Hoyer

Marshawn Lynch might have a powerful politician on his side, but Larry Fitzgerald remains the NFC West's most polished diplomat. Not even the Arizona Cardinals' great quarterback collapse of 2012 can draw out from Fitzgerald the finger of blame.

Fitzgerald, featured in the video above with new Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, doesn't have to blame the Cardinals' previous quarterbacks for a drop in his personal stats. The chart below will do the work for him. It shows Fitzgerald's regular-season and playoff stats by quarterback over the past five seasons. While it's possible Fitzgerald's own play has slipped some since the Kurt Warner era, the numbers are consistent with general perceptions of the quarterbacks involved.

After judging a quarterback by the company he keeps, I've expanded the field to show additional names with recent ties to the NFC West.

The chart below ranks these QBs by most starts since 2010 with at least 15 action plays and a Total QBR score in the 90s.

For additional context and to avoid implying any similarities between emerging star Colin Kaepernick and journeyman backup Brady Quinn, I've included an additional column showing cumulative QBR figures for all starts since 2010, regardless of how many action plays (all QB plays except kneel-downs, spikes and handoffs).

The information reflects negatively on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who has just one 90-plus game out of 42 qualifying starts and a cumulative QBR score of 42.3, well below the 50-point mark indicating average play.

Some context is in order. QBR assumes an average supporting cast. Some quarterbacks on the list have played with exceptionally weak supporting casts. Bradford has arguably played with the weakest of the group, especially when factoring for the injury problems that wiped out Bradford and the Rams in 2011 in particular, when St. Louis led the NFL in adjusted games lost.

The Rams think Bradford's production will improve significantly in 2013 and especially beyond now that the team has acquired fresh, fast talent on offense. So, while we might reasonably have expected Bradford to have provided a few more exceptional performances to this point in his career, a case can be made that he has too often found himself in survival mode.

A look at the Arizona Cardinals' offseason to this point ...

What went right: Carson Palmer became available by trade and the Cardinals were able to acquire him for late-round draft considerations, instantly upgrading the one area where Arizona had to upgrade the most. ... Arizona had its choice of offensive guards in the draft after the teams selecting ahead of the Cardinals focused on offensive tackles and pass-rushers. Guard was the team's primary need on the offensive line. ... General manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians won larger coaching and scouting staffs while also firming up plans to build an indoor practice facility. ... The Cardinals emerged from the draft with nine selections, their highest total since 2001. ... Keim and Arians gained long-term roster flexibility by clearing out unwieldy contracts and adding younger veteran players on short-term, cap-friendly deals. ... Karlos Dansby remained available at a reasonable price when the Cardinals needed options at linebacker.

What went wrong: Andy Reid accepted the Kansas City Chiefs' coaching offer without visiting Arizona after Cardinals president Michael Bidwill had expressed interest in Reid as a candidate to succeed Ken Whisenhunt ... The NFL has levied a four-game suspension against linebacker Daryl Washington. Authorities subsequently filed assault charges against Washington for his role in a domestic dispute. ... Rules preventing coaches and players from discussing football early in the offseason prevented Arians from getting a feel for Kevin Kolb in time for the sides to work out a new contract. The team might have released Kolb anyway, but Arians would have liked an opportunity to consider the Kolb option in greater depth. ... The team could not get trade value for Brian Hoyer.

The bottom line: The Cardinals are better at quarterback. They are younger throughout their roster. They are in position to improve.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
Brian Hoyer's release from the Arizona Cardinals, reported Monday, clears $2 million in salary-cap room while reflecting significant roster changes at quarterback since Hoyer started in Week 17 last season.

The team released Kevin Kolb, released John Skelton, acquired Drew Stanton and acquired Carson Palmer in remaking the position.

Hoyer, tendered by the Cardinals as a restricted free agent, was once a fallback in case the team could not add a clearly defined starter. Palmer's arrival by trade signaled Hoyer's likely departure from the roster, particularly after Stanton received a $2 million signing bonus.

Financial realities made keeping Hoyer unrealistic. Palmer's contract counts $4 million against the salary cap in 2013. That is a modest figure for a starter, but Kolb's deal is counting the same amount. That is because some of the money paid to Kolb previously had not yet counted against the cap. Rules require Arizona to account for that money even after releasing him.

Five quarterbacks will count against the Cardinals' cap in 2013 even though only three remain on the roster. Releasing Hoyer had no negative cap consequences because he had received no guaranteed money. Releasing him meant subtracting from the cap equation the $2 million in salary he would have earned.

Ryan Lindley is the only quarterback remaining on the roster from last season.
Kellen Clemens' new one-year deal with the St. Louis Rams gives every NFC West team at least three quarterbacks heading into the 2013 draft.

A quick look at where things stand at the position:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer is the starter and Drew Stanton is the backup. Both signed contracts with millions in guaranteed money this offseason. Coach Bruce Arians wants -- and has -- a clearly defined depth chart at the top. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Lindley round out the depth chart at the position.
  • St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford has no competition for the starting job. Coach Jeff Fisher has suggested all along the team could re-sign Clemens. However, he also suggested Austin Davis could remain in the No. 2 role even with the more experienced Clemens in the mix.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick heads into a regular season as the starter for the first time since his college days. Colt McCoy has the early advantage over Scott Tolzien for the No. 2 role. McCoy is actually the highest-paid quarterback on the roster in terms of average per year ($1.5 million). Overall, the 49ers are committing less than $3.5 million in 2013 cap space for quarterbacks.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, like the other NFC West starters, is firmly established as the starter. Recently signed backup Brady Quinn might fit more for what he offers in the film room -- a diligent study partner for Wilson -- as for what he offers on the field. Re-signing Josh Portis to the No. 3 role gives Seattle another quarterback familiar with the offense.

Every NFC West team could conceivably select a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but there is less pressure to do so now that each team has at least three of them under contract.
The Arizona Cardinals have parted with five of the seven quarterbacks to drop back for the team since Kurt Warner's retirement following the 2009 season.

John Skelton's release Monday made him the latest post-Warner quarterback cast aside.

The Cardinals announced that move and Brian Hoyer's signing to a one-year deal amid speculation the team would add Carson Palmer via trade with the Oakland Raiders.

The chart ranks Arizona quarterbacks since 2010 by number of pass drop backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those numbers include plays when the quarterback dropped back to pass, then ran with the ball.

Skelton, a fifth-round pick in 2010, had 12 touchdown passes with 22 interceptions and 45 sacks in 17 starts. The Cardinals posted an 8-9 record in those games. That included 5-2 during the 2011 season, results that contributed to then-coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to name Skelton the starter over Kevin Kolb entering the 2012 season.

Whisenhunt thought the team could win with Skelton as long as the quarterback had help from a strong ground game, talented receivers and a stout defense.

Injuries claimed the Cardinals' top two running backs and multiple starting offensive linemen. Skelton struggled and lost his job to rookie Ryan Lindley during a defeat at Atlanta. Lindley finished the season with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions. Skelton and Lindley combined for two touchdowns with 15 picks in the 10 games they started last season. Arizona went 2-8 in those games.
Carson Palmer could become available to the Arizona Cardinals and other teams with unsettled quarterback situations.

A few thoughts on the possibilities:
  • The situation: Palmer is scheduled to earn $13 million in 2013 salary from the Oakland Raiders under a deal inherited from the team's former leadership and renegotiated by its current one last year. Palmer could become available for trade or through release if the sides cannot workout a deal that makes more sense from a salary-cap standpoint. Palmer appears unwilling to rework his contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. A timetable for Palmer remains unclear.
  • Forget about a trade: Acquiring Palmer would mean acquiring his contract. I cannot imagine the Cardinals acquiring a $13 million salary for a 33-year-old quarterback who ranked 29th in Total QBR last season at 44.7. That would make no sense, especially if the Raiders were going to release Palmer anyway. Arizona has been freeing itself from cumbersome contracts recently, not seeking them out. The team would have more than $20 million in 2013 cap space committed to Palmer, Drew Stanton and Kevin Kolb's old contract if the team acquired Palmer's current deal.
  • Palmer would help: Palmer has a 12-28 starting record with a 48.1 QBR score and 83.1 NFL passer rating over the past three seasons. He would still upgrade the Cardinals' quarterback situation. Palmer is close to an average starter, in my view. His reputation is better than that, but even if he's merely average, Arizona could use him. The Cardinals got sub-backup play from the position much of last season. They rank last in QBR (26.8) and passer rating (65.7) over the past three seasons. They have zero or one viable starter on the roster right now, depending upon your opinion of Stanton. They need more than that, obviously. Adding Palmer would, in theory, give the Cardinals an average starter and a backup with potential in Stanton. Arizona could then feel better about the position heading into the draft.
  • Cap considerations: The Cardinals released Kolb, but the quarterback's contract is counting $6 million against the Cardinals' salary cap in 2013. Stanton, Brian Hoyer, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley are scheduled to count about $4.9 million against the cap. Any deal with Palmer would be signed in that context. Stanton has guaranteed money in his deal. Hoyer has a $2 million salary that is not guaranteed. The Cardinals have scrambled to fix their salary cap, cutting veterans before signing or re-signing 10 unrestricted free agents for less than $15 million in total cap charges. They would have the flexibility to sign Palmer on a shorter-term deal worth somewhere north of the $5 million per year Matt Hasselbeck recently got as a backup in Indianapolis.
  • Getting ahead of ourselves: If Palmer left the Raiders, Oakland could be in the market for a quarterback such as ... Seattle's Matt Flynn? Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was in Green Bay when Flynn was there. It's something to keep in mind.
PHOENIX -- The Arizona Cardinals could usually count on a quarterback competition under former coach Ken Whisenhunt.

That sometimes reflected the absence of a franchise quarterback. Whisenhunt also believed in making all players earn their starting jobs, even if it meant going deep into training camp and the preseason without a clearly defined starting quarterback.

Those days are over.

First-year Cardinals coach Bruce Arians plans to name the Cardinals' starter for 2013 well before training camp. That is his philosophy.

"I don't think there's any doubt when you have an established quarterback, it is much better than when someone is competing for a job," Arians said Tuesday from the NFL owners meeting. "Guys' friendships get involved and their own evaluations are made in the locker room because of friendships, and it's not always in the best interests of the ball club."

Whisenhunt and coaches such as the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll aren't willing to exempt quarterbacks from having to compete for their jobs. Whisenhunt in particular felt credibility in the locker room was at stake when a coach supported one quarterback as the starter in the absence of clear evidence the job had been earned outright.

Arians isn't going to name a starter randomly, of course, but he does treat the position differently. Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid and others lean toward this method of quarterback treatment. They feel as though the position deserves special treatment for the way its handling impacts the locker room.

"It's better to have one and he is your guy and let's rally around that guy," Arians said. "That is just my opinion. I have never been a two-quarterback guy."

Arians was responding to questions about his philosophy independent of what came before him in Arizona. I never brought up Whisenhunt or past quarterback battles featuring Matt Leinart, Kurt Warner, Derek Anderson, Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, etc.

It was with that history in mind, however, when I asked Arians whether he would be more apt to have a starting quarterback named during the earlier stages of training camp.

"Oh yeah, ours will be done before we get to camp," Arians said. "Our quarterback will be named quickly. We'll just see what is all there when we start practicing."

The recently signed Drew Stanton should have a head start on Brian Hoyer and Skelton when the Cardinals begin practicing. He played under Arians in Indianapolis and knows the offense.

Rules adopted last offseason allow teams with first-year head coaches to begin on-field work early next month. The Cardinals and other teams will not hold offense-against-defense sessions until after the draft.
A few thoughts after the Arizona Cardinals announced releasing safety Kerry Rhodes and adding Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Drew Stanton, Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers, Washington Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and New York Jets safety Yeremiah Bell:
  • Familiarity: Mendenhall, Stanton and Powers have played for first-year Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on other teams. Bell played for first-year Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles in Miami. Only the best players make it to the NFL, at least in theory, but these associations consistently come into play when teams assemble coaching staffs and rosters. Organizations like to know what they are getting. The Cardinals know what they are getting for the most part with these moves.
  • Age at safety: Bell hasn't missed a game over the past five seasons. He'll come to Arizona familiar with Bowles' defense, most likely. That will be an asset. However, Bell turned 35 this month. He is older than Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, the safeties Arizona released this week. Bell's addition looks like a short-term move designed to speed the transition to a new defense.
  • Secondary switch: Bowles played safety in the NFL. He should have strong opinions about the type of secondary he wants. Salary-cap concerns are a driving force, too. The team gained cap flexibility by dumping Wilson and Rhodes. Powers has started each of the 42 games he has played in four NFL seasons, but he has never played in more than 12 games in a season. The team signed Powers to a three-year deal after letting Greg Toler leave in free agency. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is the only incumbent starter from the secondary still on Arizona's roster. Powers has been an aggressive tackler and that probably hasn't helped his durability.
  • Alexander's role: Alexander, who signed a three-year deal, has generally played less than one-third of the Redskins' defensive snaps in recent seasons. He did start 10 games and play 58 percent during the 2010 season. That was more because of injuries than by design. Alexander, 29, projects as a high-impact player on special teams. He should be a tone setter for Arians and the new staff.
  • QB situation: Stanton reportedly got a three-year deal with $3 million in guarantees. That is backup money, but the situation in Arizona could allow Stanton to compete for the starting job. He'll presumably have a chance to earn more through incentives. The team still hasn't made a move with incumbent starter Kevin Kolb, but the status quo is not an option with Kolb set to earn $9 million in salary. Arizona recently made a $2 million commitment to quarterback Brian Hoyer. The draft provides another option. This situation is still taking shape. Stanton is part of the mix and he'll come to Arizona with the advantage of knowing Arians' offense from their time together in Indianapolis. That's what we know for now.
The Arizona Cardinals have added Indianapolis Colts free-agent quarterback Drew Stanton on a contract as part of a busy Wednesday featuring multiple moves.

This is a fluid situation and we don't have all the relevant details, including what the immediate future holds for incumbent quarterback Kevin Kolb. Stanton played under Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, so he'll come to Arizona knowing the offense.

I've put together a chart showing how Stanton has fared in limited chances since making his NFL debut in 2008. The chart shows stats over the same time period for Kolb and recent Arizona quarterbacks Brian Hoyer, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley. None has a Total QBR score in the 50-point range representing average play.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
Good morning, NFC West. Here's hoping the free-agent signing period that opens Tuesday will be more exciting than the ongoing three-day window for negotiating.

Alas, a weekend designed to help NFL teams add players will instead be remembered for notable roster subtractions. While teams were allowed to speak with representatives for projected free agents, the NFL warned teams against reaching contract agreements even in principle. It's not yet clear to what degree the three-day window will help teams get a feel for what players might command in free agency.

In the meantime, teams reduced salary-cap obligations.

The Arizona Cardinals, having already cut safety Adrian Wilson, released receiver Early Doucet, leaving NFC West teams with five of the 28 players they drafted in 2008.

The St. Louis Rams, having already cut Wayne Hunter and watched Steven Jackson void his contract, planned to release safety Quintin Mikell. Those moves gave the Rams enough salary-cap room to strike for a marquee free agent if the team wants to go that route for a second consecutive offseason.

Kevin Kolb's contract situation stands as perhaps the biggest unresolved issue in the NFC West heading into free agency. Arizona recently placed a second-round tender on restricted free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer, an indication he figures into their plans for now, at least. Will Kolb take a reduction from his $9 million salary, or might he reach the market for the first time in his career?

NFC West links: Walton to run Rams D

February, 13, 2013
Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback Kevin Kolb would like to stick with the Cardinals, but not at the expense of a better contract, writes Darren Urban of Kent Somers of also weighed in on Kolb's contract situation. Somers: "There’s little question Kolb, carrying a cheaper price tag, is a better option than anyone else on the roster or in free agency."

Dan Bickley of looks at alternatives to Kolb at QB for the Cardinals: Drew Stanton, Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer.

San Francisco 49ers

Will the 49ers make a play for Vikings receiver Percy Harvin? Don't count on it, writes's Matt Maiocco. "Good teams treat their draft picks like gold. Teams that want to win consistently generally do not hand out big contracts to attract players from other teams. Yes, Harvin's contract for 2013 makes him affordable, but he would want a lucrative extension from any team that acquires him," Maiocco writes. "The 49ers have done a good job of managing their salary cap, and I would not expect them to break the bank with a market-value deal for a big-name player from another team."

Free agent receiver Greg Jennings would be a "perfect fit" for the 49ers, according to Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be driven by the 49ers' loss in the Super Bowl all offseason. "That's sort of the life of a coach. Will it eat at me? Of course it will. But I'll use it as motivation going forward," Roman told's Peter King.

Seattle Seahawks

The team had three players -- Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas -- on's All-Under-25 Team.

Defensive back/kick returner Will Blackmon signed with the Seahawks Wednesday, reports USA Today's Mike Garafolo.

St. Louis Rams

Detroit Lions assistant coach Tim Walton has accepted the Rams' job offer to be their defensive coordinator, reports Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Rams could lose promising wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola in free agency, writes Ryan Van Bibber of Turf Show Times.

QBR ranks: Acknowledging Sam Bradford

January, 5, 2013
The St. Louis Rams, though home for the NFC playoffs, finished the 2012 season with a positive combined net points differential against second-seeded San Francisco and fifth-seeded Seattle.

Their defense and special teams deserve some of the credit, for sure.

So does quarterback Sam Bradford.

As concerning as it might be for Rams fans to see young quarterbacks emerging elsewhere in the NFC West, they should know Bradford generally did his part in hard-fought games against the more talented 49ers and Seahawks.

The Rams' third-year quarterback finished the 2012 season with a 67.1 Total QBR score in four games against San Francisco and Seattle. Fifty is average. Players with a 65-plus score or higher over a full season would generally command Pro Bowl consideration.

Bradford posted a 2-1-1 starting record against Seattle and San Francisco. He completed 62 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, two picks and only six sacks on 156 dropbacks. He added three first downs on seven rushes.

Bradford posted a season-high 82.0 QBR score during the Rams' 24-24 tie at San Francisco in Week 10. He completed 26 of 39 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. That included seven third-down pass completions resulting in first downs. That game demonstrated the Rams at their best on offense, with the potential for more (top deep threat Chris Givens missed that game).

A penalty for illegal formation against receiver Brandon Gibson wiped out an 80-yard strike to Danny Amendola in overtime, a play that likely would have delivered the Rams to victory while affecting the NFC playoff race and possibly getting St. Louis to .500 for the season.

Now, for the not-so-good news: Bradford's QBR score was a below-average 43.2 against all other opponents. His starting record in those games was 5-7, with four of the victories against Arizona (twice), Buffalo and a tanking Tampa Bay team.

I've felt as though a player drafted as early as Bradford was drafted -- first overall in 2010 -- should occasionally dominate a game. There should be times when the opponent leaves the stadium thinking something along the lines of, "Hey, when Sam Bradford gets hot like that, there's not much anyone can do about it."

We haven't seen those types of games from Bradford. We still might if the Rams continue to upgrade the players around him. For this season, he was good enough to help the Rams compete on pretty even terms with the two best teams in the NFC West. That's a start.

With that, let's take a player-by-player look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 17:
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (81.4 QBR, 114.6 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for 276 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions and one sack. Kaepernick carried three times for 5 yards and zero first downs. There are times when players with high NFL passer ratings don't fare so well in terms of QBR. That was the case for the 49ers' Alex Smith last season. QBR was telling us what the 49ers told us when they decided to replace Smith with Kaepernick this season (although Smith's QBR score was much higher in 2012). Kaepernick, like Smith, has posted high passer ratings pretty consistently. QBR also likes the way he's playing. I think that's a very good sign for the 49ers in the long term, and perhaps in the short term as well. Kaepernick finished the regular season with a 76.8 QBR score. That ranked third in the NFL behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Smith ranks seventh with a 70.1 QBR score this season.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (69.0 QBR, 74.7 NFL rating). Bradford completed 25 of 42 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown, one interception and zero sacks. Bradford carried one time for 6 yards and a first down. Bradford's QBR score was 73.2 in the first half and 65.2 in the second half. Bradford has generally been better in second halves this season. He was pretty consistent against Seattle.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (65.7 QBR, 136.3 NFL rating). Wilson completed 15 of 19 passes for 250 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and six sacks. Wilson carried 10 times for 58 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He had three first downs rushing and 32 of his 58 yards after contact, with a long rush of 15 yards. Wilson struggled against the Rams' pressure in the first half, taking five sacks. He outplayed Bradford in the second half, but Bradford still finished with a slightly higher QBR score, largely because he took no sacks.
  • Brian Hoyer, Arizona Cardinals (43.4 QBR, 73.8 NFL rating). Hoyer completed 19 of 34 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks. Hoyer had one carry for 6 yards and a first down. Hoyer threw a touchdown pass, a significant achievement for the Cardinals recently. They had tossed only two scoring passes with 15 interceptions from Week 7 until this game.

The chart below shows QBR scores for quarterbacks relevant to NFC West games in Week 17. Rankings in the first column reflect all NFL games for the week.

Wilson, Bradford gain in adjusted QBR

January, 2, 2013
The Total QBR metric we've consulted in evaluating quarterback play can be tweaked to account for strength of opposing defense.

Alok Pattani of ESPN's analytics team passed along information showing how these adjustments would affect QBR rankings for the 36 quarterbacks with enough plays to qualify for consideration.

Seattle's Russell Wilson and St. Louis' Sam Bradford joined Detroit's Matthew Stafford as the biggest winners in terms of ranking spots gained. Each would move up three ranking spots if opponent strength were factored.

Wilson jumps from eighth to fifth, moving past wild-card playoff opponent Robert Griffin III. Griffin moved back one spot to No. 7.

The chart shows the changes for qualifying NFC West quarterbacks, plus Griffin and Andrew Luck, who are competing with Wilson for offensive rookie of the year. The numbers suggest Griffin and Wilson are interchangeable from a production standpoint.

Fifty is considered to be an average QBR score. The max is 100. Peyton Manning led the NFL in unadjusted QBR (84.1) and defense-adjusted QBR (82.5). The New York Jets' Mark Sanchez ranked last in both at 23.4 (unadjusted) and 22.1 (adjusted).

MVP-caliber quarterbacks tend to be in the 75-plus range.

Arizona's quarterbacks did not have enough plays to qualify in the broader league rankings. However, the defense-adjusted QBR scores for Kevin Kolb would have been lower (38.0 to 33.5). They would have been higher for John Skelton (13.9 to 14.2), Ryan Lindley (9.8 to 11.5) and Brian Hoyer (37.7 to 44.2).

Note that San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick had enough plays to qualify for consideration. He was third in the NFL this season. Kaepernick rises to second behind only Manning when considering only production as a starter.

The move to replace Alex Smith with Kaepernick remains a sensitive subject. The 49ers have opened themselves to criticism if the team fails to reach the Super Bowl. However, the numbers suggest Kaepernick is doing at least as much to help the 49ers win. One question, I suppose, is whether those contributions cost the team in other ways, specifically in relation to style of play. That is a tough one to answer.