The NFL long has been a quarterback-dominated league.
But quarterbacks will be more important than ever in 2011 if a protracted labor stoppage wipes out offseason workouts or encroaches on training camps.
ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton wrote a column on the topic, stressing teams with stability at quarterback could emerge way ahead of those that do not once a new collective bargaining agreement is brokered.
Several clubs, two in the AFC East, are evaluating their quarterback situations and are open to addressing their needs through free agency, trades or the draft.
We have no idea when free agency will commence or player trades will be permitted. The longer teams must wait on those options, the less time there will be to learn playbooks and develop chemistry with receivers.
With that in mind, let's rank each situation in the AFC East based on how much its quarterback and infrastructure (stability of his supporting cast) will be able to withstand NFL dormancy.
The Patriots have one of the NFL's most consistent situations. Tom Brady is the reigning MVP, guided his team to a 14-2 record and has all of his receivers coming back.
He and Deion Branch have an eerie chemistry that resurfaced immediately despite 3 1/2 years apart. I don't think Brady and Wes Welker need to worry about getting on the same page, but I wouldn't be shocked if they worked out regularly again like they did last summer, while Welker was rehabbing from his knee injury. Brady proved how quickly he can integrate new blood by the way he used rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien will call the plays for the third season. The Patriots, like the Indianapolis Colts with Peyton Manning, will be just fine if there's a lengthy lockout.
Fact: Mark Sanchez has the second-most NFL starts of any No. 1 quarterback in the AFC East. He's only 24 years old, but Sanchez has started 37 games, one more than Ryan Fitzpatrick and 10 more than Chad Henne.
Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh have been with Sanchez from the beginning. Sanchez also is a self starter in the offseason. He convened a "Jets West" camp for his receivers last summer in California.
A potential problem is that Sanchez will have trouble gathering receivers this offseason because they don't know if they'll be back. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are free agents. But receiver Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Dustin Keller are on the roster.
Even if the Bills draft a quarterback, a long lockout probably would ensure Fitzpatrick remains the starter by wiping out rookie camps and other critical orientation time. Fitzpatrick is a savvy veteran, a calming influence for the Bills' offense. He incorporates head coach Chan Gailey's concepts and has the support of his locker room.
Based on how Fitzpatrick played as the season wore on, there's no reason to believe the Bills suffered from a lack of chemistry. When receivers Roscoe Parrish and Lee Evans went down with injuries, Fitzpatrick had no trouble getting undrafted rookies David Nelson and Donald Jones involved.
But the Bills still could benefit from informal practices during a work stoppage. Top receiver Steve Johnson told me this week they have none scheduled.
Henne created a stir when he divulged he had been, against the NFL's wishes, going over the playbook with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and new quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell. The NFL declined to pursue, and that was doubly good news for the Dolphins. They avoided punishment and got a head start before the league turned into a pumpkin.
But Henne would appear to be at a disadvantage despite the extra help. The Dolphins have declined to give him any kind of legitimate public endorsement. He's entering his fourth season, presents more questions than answers and is working with a new playbook. Top receiver Brandon Marshall suggested after the season he had more chemistry with third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen than Henne.
Henne also revealed the Dolphins have informal workouts and a location arranged. That's much easier to do in Broward County than, say, Western New York. Good thing, too, because Henne can use all the help he can get to morph into the franchise quarterback the Dolphins hoped he would be.