NFC West: John Skelton

Circling back to Josh Freeman

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
8:30
PM ET
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Earlier this week, we examined if quarterback Josh Freeman would interest the San Francisco 49ers in a trade.

Freeman
Now, the scenario has changed. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released the 25-year-old former starter outright Thursday. He is free to sign with any team.

Answer me this: If starter Colin Kaepernick were to get injured, do the 49ers have a better option than Freeman on the roster? It is a question the 49ers have to be currently asking themselves.

When Freeman does land, I’d be surprised if it’s with the 49ers. He will have better chances to play elsewhere and the need isn’t pressing.

But here’s why I wouldn’t be shocked if the 49ers didn’t, at least, consider talking to Freeman: Jim Harbaugh loves quarterbacks.

The 49ers just signed John Skelton. Freeman is a better short- and long-term prospect than Skelton. Freeman is also a better option that Colt McCoy, the 49ers’ current No. 2, who could potentially be unseated by Skelton soon. I think Harbaugh would smile himself to sleep at the thought of a quarterback stable of Kaepernick, Skelton and Freeman.

Again, there are obstacles in the way of making it happen, but there are reasons to believe such a pairing is intriguing to San Francisco.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – One of the reasons John Skelton is excited to be a San Francisco 49er is his desire to play for Jim Harbaugh.

“There’s no doubt about it, I wanted to play for him,” the quarterback said Wednesday. “He’s been there before. He’s played at this level. I’ve talked to guys who played for him and I’ve heard nothing but good things. … When you get to know him you see what he’s all about – it’s a passion for the game. He’d strap it on again if he could. … I want to learn from him.”

Skelton
Harbaugh is just as fired up to work with Skelton.

“Good stature in the pocket. Experienced guy.” Harbaugh said of the former Arizona Cardinals starter. “He’s played, won games and been in those battles. Had an excellent workout when he was here a few weeks back. One of the better workouts I’ve seen from a quarterback in one of those type of workout environments. … Big, strong, definitely has arm talent. I’m excited to work with him, and that’s really what it amounts to.”

The 49ers signed Skelton, who was recently cut by Cincinnati, and released rookie B.J. Daniels. The 49ers had planned to re-sign Daniels to the practice squad, but he was claimed Wednesday by Seattle.

Harbaugh indicated the 49ers wanted more overall experience at quarterback. Skelton likely will push Colt McCoy for the No. 2 job behind Colin Kaepernick. Harbaugh wouldn’t talk about the backup competition, but it is clear the 49ers brought Skelton in to see if he can progress in their system. If Skelton quickly catches up, I could see a scenario where he overtakes McCoy fairly soon.

“[We have] three quarterbacks that all have played in games and been in the fire, and now we have three at our disposal,” Harbaugh said. “We have a great starter and two guys now, two guys to back up that have been in those games."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Wednesday that the team was hoping to reconnect with preseason star quarterback B.J. Daniels. But, naturally, the Seattle Seahawks got in the way.

Daniels
According to several news outlets, the Seahawks claimed the seventh-round pick off waivers, one day after the the 49ers cut Daniels to make room for veteran quarterback John Skelton.

Seattle’s claim is not a surprise. Coach Pete Carroll said last month that the team liked Daniels, and both the 49ers and the Seahawks have made it a sport to poach players from the other’s roster.

The 49ers wanted to keep Daniels in the program. Harbaugh said less than an hour before the claim was made that the team hoped to bring back Daniels to the practice squad.

They cut him in favor of Skelton because they think Skelton's experience can help the 53-man roster more at this point. I get the sense the team thinks Daniels is very much a developmental player and that he’s nowhere close to being ready to help.

I know many fans will be up in arms about losing Daniels, who dazzled in the preseason. But the truth is, he is a long way from being a factor on Sundays.
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.

The Arizona Cardinals held a 10-0 lead in Atlanta last season when their defense picked off Matt Ryan, setting up first-and-10 from the Falcons' 18.

The team sent Larry Fitzgerald onto the field as the lone receiver in a run-oriented personnel grouping featuring two backs and two tight ends. Enabled by a play fake and outstanding pass protection, Fitzgerald beat the coverage and was running wide open through the end zone when quarterback John Skelton went to throw.



The pass missed Fitzgerald by several yards. This single play came to symbolize how much even a great receiver such as Fitzgerald requires a baseline level of quarterback play to produce at a high level. But in looking to explain all the reasons Fitzgerald's production plummeted last season, we should at least acknowledge another possibility -- that Fitzgerald wasn't at his best, either.

Facing fourth-and-2 in that same game against the Falcons, Arizona needed a conversion while fighting to overcome a 23-19 deficit with 3:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. This time, Skelton's replacement, Ryan Lindley, threw to Fitzgerald along the left sideline inside the 5-yard line. Fitzgerald was covered, but he leaped to get both hands on the ball, one at each point. Fitzgerald controlled the ball as his feet touched down, but he couldn't maintain possession as his body fell to the ground.

This wasn't a dropped pass by ESPN's game charting standards, but it was the sort of play Fitzgerald makes at his best. So, when the 10th-year receiver says he's coming off his worst season as a pro, we can presume he's taking his share of ownership for what happened in 2012.

The Cardinals would lose that Week 11 game to the Falcons and 11 of their final 12 overall. Fitzgerald would end a five-year streak as the NFC West leader in receptions and receiving yards. The San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree claimed top honors in the division with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards. Those numbers served notice that Crabtree would challenge Fitzgerald's largely unopposed run as the most productive receiver in the NFC West. But with Crabtree suffering a torn Achilles' tendon during practices this offseason, Fitzgerald appears primed to retake the top spot, particularly with a new quarterback (Carson Palmer) and an upgraded offensive line.

Or does he?

We consider today five leading challengers from the NFC West in 2013, ranked by ESPN's fantasy projections for total receptions:

1. Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks. ESPN projects Harvin to finish this season with 101 receptions for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns, figures Fitzgerald has not exceeded over the past four seasons, including in 2009, when Kurt Warner was his quarterback. Seattle has other viable options in Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller. There are no guarantees Harvin will dominate the stat sheet. ESPN projects only 34 receptions for Tate, a player Seattle expects to flourish with Harvin attracting coverage.



2. Anquan Boldin, 49ers. Fitzgerald's former teammate in Arizona becomes the statistical beneficiary from Crabtree's injury. His production with Baltimore spiked in the playoffs last season after Boldin had 65 catches for 921 yards and four touchdowns in 15 regular-season games. Improved play from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was one factor. The 49ers' Colin Kaepernick has an 81.2 Total QBR score in his first 10 starts, counting playoffs. No player in the five-year history of the metric has posted a higher QBR score through his first 10 starts. That could help Boldin remain productive.

3. Vernon Davis, 49ers. Davis had 210 yards receiving over the 49ers' final two playoff games. He seemed underutilized as a receiver at times last season, but I expect his stats to spike this season. Crabtree was the preferred target for Kaepernick. We know that isn't going to be the case for much of this season.

4. Chris Givens, St. Louis Rams.
No Rams player has led the NFC West in receptions since Torry Holt in 2006. Givens impressed as a rookie. Right now, however, it's tough to know how all the pieces are going to fit in St. Louis. Rookie first-round pick Tavon Austin is going to factor right away, most likely. The team also invested heavily in free-agent tight end Jared Cook. ESPN seems to be hedging its bets by projecting Givens, Austin and Cook with between 51 and 57 receptions apiece.

5. Andre Roberts, Cardinals. ESPN's fantasy projections have Roberts with 57 receptions and teammate Michael Floyd with 53. Floyd seems like a volatile variable within this equation. He had 14 receptions over the Cardinals' final two games last season. He finished his rookie season with 45 receptions for 562 yards and two touchdowns. I'm taking the "over" on ESPN's fantasy projection (53 receptions for 686 yards and two scores).

The second chart shows ESPN's fantasy projections for every NFC West wide receiver and tight end with at least 40 projected receptions. The projections for Fitzgerald -- 79 receptions for 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns -- approximate his average totals for the past three seasons, with a spike in receiving yards. He's right there in the No. 2 spot, unfamiliar ground for the only consistently productive wideout in the NFC West.
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.

Les from Philadelphia read our recent piece on quarterback victories over average and wondered if we could apply the same approach to other teams.

"Can you do the same analysis for other QB-challenged teams such as Philadelphia, Minnesota, etc.?" Les asked.



We can take a shot at it, Les. First, a quick primer on the methodology.

Total QBR measures quarterbacks' contributions to winning on a 100-point scale, with 50 as average. The scores correlate with a team's likelihood of winning a game. In other words, a team scoring 50 in Total QBR would, on balance, win about half its games. The chances for winning would be 75 percent for teams with QBR scores around 75, and so on.

With this established, we can calculate the wins over average a quarterback provides over the course of a 16-game season. We simply average his single-game QBR scores, subtract 50 from that number, convert the result into a percentage and multiply by 16.

A quarterback with a Total QBR score of 75.0 would provide four victories over average, for example (75 minus 50 equals 25, and 25 percent of 16 is four).

The first chart ranks 2012 quarterbacks with at least four regular-season starts by wins above average, based solely on their single-game QBR scores last season. The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson ranked among the NFL's best.



The second chart shows the quarterbacks with the worst figures for wins above average. These quarterbacks' performances reduced their teams' chances for winning by 1.5 to 5.3 games per 16-game season.

The Arizona Cardinals' Ryan Lindley (minus-5.3) and John Skelton (minus-5.0) top that list. Kevin Kolb was better, but he was still eighth-worst in the league at minus-1.9. Note that the figures for these quarterbacks project their impact as if each played a full season. Skelton and Lindley combined to start 10 games.

Les asked about Minnesota and Philadelphia.

The Vikings' Christian Ponder was 19th at plus-0.2 wins above average. His single-game QBR scores averaged out to 51.5 in 16 starts. The Eagles' Michael Vick (minus-1.5) and Nick Foles (minus-0.8) ranked lower.

We'll revisit this information as the offseason continues.

The chart below takes a longer-term approach. It shows wins above average over a 16-game season based on single-game QBR scores since 2008. I added a column for expected wins if these quarterbacks played for teams that were average in other ways. By this method, expected wins are simply wins above average plus eight. We might think of Peyton Manning as a 12- or 13-win quarterback based on how he played last season. Note that some quarterbacks making surprise appearances on the list played fewer games.

Peyton Manning appears twice, once for his work with Denver last season and also for his contributions with Indianapolis previously. The Denver-era Jay Cutler also appears. The Chicago-era Cutler has been far less impressive, checking in at plus-0.3 wins over average. That version of Cutler doesn't appear in the chart.

Adam Snyder's release from the Arizona Cardinals made him the sixth player to leave the team's roster this offseason after starting at least 10 games for the team in 2012.

Paris Lenon, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Snyder and Adrian Wilson each started at least 14 games last season before departing the roster. D'Anthony Batiste, an unrestricted free agent, started 10 games.

Quentin Groves, Beanie Wells, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and LaRod Stephens-Howling were part of a group of former Cardinals to start between five and seven games for Arizona last season.

Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Lindley, Pat McQuistan, Early Doucet, Greg Toler, Reagan Maui'a, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday and Todd Heap started between one and four games for the team before leaving the roster.

You get the point. The Cardinals have a new head coach and new general manager. They weren't very good on offense last season. Some of their players' contracts reflect what the team's previous leadership once thought of those players. They've become outdated. And so the Cardinals are turning over a pretty fair percentage of their roster by design.
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.
Drew Stanton is the leader in the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback clubhouse following Kevin Kolb's release Friday.

Stanton
That could change as the offseason progresses. The team could draft a quarterback or acquire another veteran. Until then, here are a couple of thoughts on where things stand specifically in relation to Stanton:
  • Four starts: Stanton has started four games since Detroit made him a second-round choice (43rd overall) in 2007. There's not enough evidence to say much about his prospects. The chart below shows four-start totals for Colin Kaepernick, Kolb, Sam Bradford, Stanton, Russell Wilson, John Skelton, Charlie Whitehurst and Ryan Lindley. They are or recently were young NFC West quarterbacks of note. Wilson's hold on the starting job in Seattle appeared tenuous after four games last season. He finished the season in the Pro Bowl. Four games isn't enough to go on.
  • Circumstances matter: Matt Millen drafted Stanton in Detroit. New Lions leadership drafted Matthew Stafford a year later. That new leadership wanted Shaun Hill as the backup. When injuries forced Stanton into action during the 2010 season, he was the quarterback of record for victories over Green Bay and Tampa Bay. Beating the Buccaneers gave the Lions their first road victory since 2007. To summarize, Stanton walked into a horrible situation in Detroit. That situation got worse for him through no fault of his own. He later signed with the New York Jets only days before the team acquired Tim Tebow. The Jets then traded Stanton to Indianapolis right before the Colts drafted Andrew Luck. It's been one misfortune after another for Stanton. Things could be looking up for him in Arizona.
  • Hoyer in picture: Stanton got a three-year contract worth $8.2 million. The team previously placed a $2 million tender on quarterback Brian Hoyer, meaning any team signing Hoyer would have to send a second-round choice to Arizona if the Cardinals chose against matching.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb's release from the Arizona Cardinals, announced by the team Friday, lines up with expectations.

The absence of a surprise factor doesn't diminish the transaction's gravity, though.

Arizona paid $20,504,650 to Kolb for two seasons in which the quarterback ranked 33rd out of 38 qualifying players in Total QBR. The team posted a 6-8 record in games Kolb started, compared to 6-7 in games John Skelton started.

Also over that two-year span, Kolb took sacks on 11.6 percent of drop-backs, highest in the NFL for the 35 players with at least 400 pass attempts during that time. Six percent was the NFL average.

Kolb was not solely to blame for his or the team's struggles over the past two seasons. The Cardinals' offensive line wasn't good enough. Injuries hurt on the line and at running back in particular.

He also had trouble staying healthy, but he was a healthy scratch when then-coach Ken Whisenhunt named Skelton the starter over Kolb coming out of training camp last season. That decision, made even after the team paid a $7 million offseason bonus to retain Kolb, showed what Whisenhunt thought about Kolb's ability to lead the team.

It's not like Skelton was an All-Pro.

There was some sentiment that Kolb had shown meaningful improvement from 2011 to 2012 and that only the injury he suffered against Buffalo derailed him. That is a tough case to make from a statistical standpoint, as the second chart demonstrates.

An 8-3 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions for Kolb in 2012 had more impact on paper than on the field, where the Cardinals owed their 4-0 start largely to a defense that played well most of the season.

Releasing Kolb allows Arizona to make a clean break at the position under new coach Bruce Arians. That is probably best for all involved. In the short term, however, Arizona appears weaker at quarterback without him. The team might have been better off if Kolb had accepted a reduction from his scheduled $9 million salary.

There was simply no way Arizona was going to pay that money. The team had already parted with a 2011 second-round draft choice and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in acquiring Kolb from Philadelphia. That move worked out poorly for both teams and especially for Whisenhunt, who essentially bet his Arizona future on Kolb.

Kolb leaves Arizona having received a $10 million signing bonus, $3 million in base salary, a $7 million roster bonus and a $504,650 offseason workout bonus. He'll get a chance to revive his career elsewhere, perhaps under circumstances more favorable than the ones he encountered in Arizona.

The fallout from the Kolb trade goes beyond Whisenhunt's firing and the Cardinals' organizational overhaul. I suspect other teams have become less willing to acquire unproven veteran quarterbacks for the kind of draft compensation and salary Arizona shelled out. A team's desperation can override reason, however, and the Cardinals were truly desperate for quarterback help when they made the move to get Kolb. The risk was defensible at the time, I thought, but we all knew the consequences if the trade failed.

Kolb struggled adapting to the Cardinals' offense after coming up in Andy Reid's West Coast system. He held the ball too long. His footwork was a work in progress. Whisenhunt fired his quarterbacks coach after Kolb's first season with the team, but nothing seemed to work. And when injuries wiped out Kolb, both top running backs and multiple starters along the offensive line, there could be only one ending.

The Cardinals will be digging out for some time.
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.

» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?

Arizona Cardinals: This was a tough assignment because I'm not of the mind that teams should rush out to sign free agents at inflated prices. In most cases, NFC West teams should let the market settle before striking. My first inclination for Arizona would have the Cardinals seeking to stabilize the quarterback position. Much depends upon whether Kevin Kolb remains in the picture. Kolb is due to receive a $2 million roster bonus March 17. Free agency begins five days earlier, potentially giving Arizona some time to decide upon its course. Indianapolis' Drew Stanton is a free agent and would come to Arizona already knowing the offense coach Bruce Arians is installing. Miami's Matt Moore was someone I thought might project as a solid backup with the potential to start if needed, but he re-signed with the Dolphins. Not that Stanton or Moore would excite anyone, but after watching John Skelton and Ryan Lindley struggle last season, the Cardinals need to get better at quarterback as soon as possible. They need options.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams would be well served finding a right tackle in free agency, knocking off a clear need before the draft. The big question, as usual, is whether the price would make sense. But after using 16 starters on the offensive line over the past two seasons, St. Louis could justify the investment. New England's Sebastian Vollmer or Minnesota's Phil Loadholt would give the Rams an imposing presence on that side of the line. Both are proven and young, an ideal combination. Last offseason, the Rams spent big for veteran center Scott Wells, with underwhelming results. Wells was 31 years old at the time. He struggled getting and staying healthy. He had played 111 regular-season games when St. Louis signed him. Vollmer (51) and Loadholt (63) have played 114 games between them. They've got fewer miles. In looking through the available tackles, I also noticed Sam Baker, who played left tackle for Atlanta when Rams line coach Paul Boudreau was with the Falcons. Baker has been hurt, however.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers could use depth along their defensive line and insurance for Justin Smith while the All-Pro end recovers from arm surgery. Oakland's Richard Seymour has the experience, versatility and talent to instantly upgrade the 49ers' rotation. Signing Seymour to a short-term deal would be the goal here. San Francisco could address the line further by re-signing its own free agents and targeting a future starter in the draft. Signing Seymour would be a shorter-term proposition as the 49ers attempt to maximize their championship window. The team would be buying time to acquire and develop longer-term solutions along the line. General manager Trent Baalke did recently say he thinks the team has adequate depth along its line. He suggested that coaching philosophy explained why the 49ers used such a limited rotation last season. Whatever the case, San Francisco could stand to add defensive linemen. I can't endorse signing Seymour to a lucrative deal, but if the 49ers could get good value, the move could make sense.

Seattle Seahawks: Again, there's no urgency to overspend early in the signing process. Seattle mostly needs to continue building through the draft. Targeting 49ers tight end Delanie Walker should appeal on a couple of levels, however. It would give the Seahawks a chance to weaken a division rival while helping their own offense and special teams. Walker matched or set career highs in receiving yards (344), receiving touchdowns (three) and yards per reception (16.4) last season. He's 28 years old and possesses versatility Seattle could use as the team continues to diversify its offense. Seattle has more pressing needs, of course. Defensive end is a position for the Seahawks to address while Chris Clemons recovers from knee surgery. I'm not sure the team should rush out to sign one of the older pass-rushing veterans such as John Abraham or Dwight Freeney. But if Seattle targeted a veteran pass-rusher early in the process, that would be defensible, too.

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