NFL Nation: 2014 NFL MVP Replacements NFC

MVP replacements: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

McCoy
McCoy
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two legitimate candidates as their MVP.

You can’t go wrong with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy or linebacker Lavonte David. Both are among the best players in the league at their positions.

But I can only pick one MVP here, and I’m going with McCoy. My logic is simple. Losing David to injury, or for any other reason, wouldn’t be good -- but the Bucs could plug in another linebacker and at least get by.

The same can’t be said about McCoy. If the Bucs were to lose him, it would be devastating. The drop-off from McCoy to his backups is so great that the Bucs opted not to rotate McCoy last season. He played about 90 percent of the defensive snaps, and turned in a Pro Bowl season.

McCoy is a do-it-all defensive tackle. He plays the run well and he rushes the passer, leading the Bucs with nine sacks last season. After dealing with injuries in the first two years of his career, McCoy has been healthy the past two seasons.

When healthy, McCoy has shown he can be a dominant player. David also is dominant. But good defensive play starts up front, and that’s why McCoy is the cornerstone of Tampa Bay’s defense.

MVP replacements: Arizona Cardinals 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Dansby
The clear-cut MVP this season was linebacker Karlos Dansby, and the possibility of him leaving the Cardinals this offseason is quite good. He is a free agent, and Dansby wants more than the $2.25 million he made in 2013, but at 32, whether he’s worth that to Arizona will determine if he returns.

If Dansby is not back next season, how Arizona fills that inside linebacker position next to Daryl Washington will be telling. The Cardinals drafted inside backer Kevin Minter, in 2013 but with the rejuvenation of Dansby, Minter spent the season watching the defense and playing special teams. After a year learning defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ system, one would expect Minter to be ready. He’s a “thumper” according to coach Bruce Arians, and would be a powerful complement to Washington’s speed.

But it’s not that easy. Minter would have to compete with Jasper Brinkley, who’s under contract for through 2014. Brinkley got the nod at starting inside linebacker when Washington was suspended for four games to start the season. But he’s not the future for Arizona. And if a weird twist of fate occurs this offseason and Arizona chooses not to pay Washington his $10 million roster bonus -- and Dansby doesn’t return -- the Cardinals would be without their starting inside backers. Then Arizona's priorities could shift in free agency and the draft.

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MVP replacements: New Orleans Saints 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Brees
Quarterback Drew Brees is the clear MVP of the New Orleans Saints -- and they would clearly be in a world of hurt if he went down with an injury. But the Saints have never invested heavily in a backup for Brees. And it’s still a tad early to use a high draft pick on a potential future replacement since Brees, 35, should have at least three or four good years left -- if not more.

Last season, the Saints’ backup was veteran journeyman Luke McCown, who is now a free agent. The Saints could certainly choose to re-sign McCown or someone like him. But they also have second-year backup Ryan Griffin, whom they signed as an undrafted free agent from nearby Tulane last year. The Saints are high on Griffin’s potential -- enough that they promoted him to the active roster last season to keep him from signing with another team.

It’s too early to predict whether Griffin has the potential to be Brees’ eventual successor. But the 6-foot-5, 206-pounder could certainly follow the career path of former Saints developmental project Chase Daniel, who earned the backup job in New Orleans for three years before leaving for the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.

There is always a chance the Saints could fall in love with a late-round draft prospect to compete with Griffin for that developmental role. But it’s hard to imagine them using a significant pick on one.

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MVP replacements: Seattle Seahawks 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Wilson
The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl because of several MVP candidates that include running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Richard Sherman, and free safety Earl Thomas.

But if we’re talking about the real MVP, the player they can least afford to lose, the landslide winner is quarterback Russell Wilson.

You can make a valid argument that Seattle would have made in to the Super Bowl without either Sherman or Thomas, simply because of the extraordinary depth in the secondary.

Lynch also is a major component to the team’s success, rushing for more than 1,200 yards for the third consecutive season. This team’s offense is built around his power running.

Robert Turbin, however, is a quality backup and Christine Michael, the team’s top draft pick last April, is a talented player the Seahawks see as their long-range future in the backfield.

But this team would not be in the Super Bowl without Wilson. Not even close.

Tarvaris Jackson, who was the starter two years ago, is an experienced backup quarterback who knows the system well. But he can’t match Wilson’s ability to scramble and make positive plays with his legs. More importantly, Jackson doesn’t possess the intangible qualities Wilson brings as a team leader.

Truthfully, few teams in the NFL could lose the starting quarterback and continue to play at the same level. And the Seahawks’ top draft needs aren’t at quarterback. The offensive line and possibly a big wide receiver are what the team needs now.

But Seattle is not a Super Bowl team without a healthy Russell Wilson.

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MVP replacements: Philadelphia Eagles 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

McCoy
You could make a case that Nick Foles, not LeSean McCoy, was really the Eagles’ most valuable player in 2013. Through eight games, McCoy led the NFL with 733 rushing yards, while the Eagles’ record was just 3-5. In the second half, with Foles starting all eight games, the Eagles’ record was 7-1.

It would be a reasonable argument, but that’s all it would be. Foles might prove to be the more important player over the long term – he’s a quarterback, after all – but McCoy was the Eagles’ MVP in 2013.

Fortunately for the Eagles, they have the 25-year-old McCoy under contract through 2017. So unless he is injured or abducted by aliens, he figures to have four more prime seasons in an Eagles uniform.

If something were to happen to McCoy, the Eagles would need to be in better position to replace him than they were in 2013.

Going into the season, Bryce Brown was considered a promising backup running back. Brown had two remarkable games in relief of McCoy in 2012, rushing for 178 and 169 yards. Based on that, it was expected that Chip Kelly would use him to change pace and to keep McCoy from being overworked.

But Brown never did emerge as that kind of weapon. He broke a 65-yard touchdown run late in a blowout win over Chicago in December, but was otherwise pretty quiet all season.

Chris Polk, meanwhile, had only 11 carries all season.

So it wouldn’t be surprising if the Eagles drafted a running back in the second or third round this May. That has been their pattern, drafting Duce Staley while Ricky Watters and Charlie Garner were still going strong, Brian Westbrook during Staley’s prime and McCoy while Westbrook was still productive.

Kelly’s offense and the Eagles’ excellent offensive line could make a back like Brown or Polk serviceable for a game or two. But a true replacement for McCoy is not on the Eagles’ roster right now.

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Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Bowman
Wondering how they might have to replace perhaps their best player is a literal exercise for the San Francisco 49ers.

In a crushing side story to a last-second loss against NFC West rival Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco saw star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman go down with a devastating knee injury in the fourth quarter.

Bowman suffered a major ACL and a MCL injury in his left knee. He is expected to have surgery in the coming weeks. Bowman and the 49ers are confident he will be able to play next season. However, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said, at this point, there is no way to be sure he will be ready for Week 1.

In the worst-case scenario, Bowman -- a dominant playmaker who is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate -- will miss a few games. Also, it is fair to wonder how long it will take him to get back into form.

There is little doubt Bowman will become a dominant player again, but the 49ers might have to live without him for a while. He is such a special player and such a great fit for this stout, aggressive defense, the 49ers would have a hole without Bowman in the lineup.

If the 49ers would have beaten Seattle, Michael Wilhoite would have taken Bowman’s spot. Wilhoite, a special teams ace, spelled fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense for a short time this season when Willis was dealing with a hamstring injury. Wilhoite did well, and many scouts think he can be a starter.

But he’s not at Bowman’s level. Few players are.

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MVP replacements: Green Bay Packers 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Rodgers
Rodgers
The Green Bay Packers don’t have to wonder what would happen if they lost their best players; it happened to them in 2013.

They were forced to play without quarterback Aaron Rodgers for nearly eight full games after he fractured his collarbone on Nov. 4 against the Chicago Bears and without outside linebacker Clay Matthews for six games (including the playoffs) after breaking his right thumb on two different occasions.

It not only reiterated Rodgers’ value but also exposed their inability to develop a capable backup. The Packers don’t have to worry about a long-term replacement for Rodgers yet. He only recently turned 30 and is signed through the 2019 season after agreeing to a $110 million contract extension last April. Rodgers has said he intends to play through the end of that contract and possibly even a few more years.

The only other quarterback currently under contract is Scott Tolzien, who played in three games (including two starts) during Rodgers’ absence. Tolzien, the former University of Wisconsin starter who spent two years as a backup with the 49ers, showed some impressive arm strength but either didn’t have a good enough command of the offense or made too many mistakes. He was unable to lead the Packers to a victory.

The Packers would like to see what Tolzien can do with an offseason in coach Mike McCarthy’s quarterback school, but there’s no more clarity to the backup situation now than there was a year ago, when the Packers were hopeful Graham Harrell or B.J. Coleman would excel in that role. When it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, they brought veteran Vince Young to training camp and that didn’t work, either.

There’s also the possibility that free agent Matt Flynn, who went 2-2-1 in place of Rodgers last season, will be re-signed. Flynn, who began his career with the Packers in 2008, was signed to only a one-year deal when he returned last season.

As for Matthews, that he still led the Packers with 7.5 sacks despite playing in a career-low 11 regular-season games says plenty about what they have -- or don’t have -- behind him at outside linebacker.

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MVP replacements: New York Giants 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Manning
You think the New York Giants had a rough year with Eli Manning struggling and leading the league in interceptions? Bah. Just imagine what it would be like if Manning weren’t even on the team.

Manning is far and away the Giants’ most valuable player, even coming off his worst NFL season. He has not missed a game since becoming the team’s starting quarterback during his 2004 rookie season, and the plain fact is that the Giants are completely without a fallback plan if they were to lose him to injury or for any other reason.

Curtis Painter filled the backup quarterback role in 2013, taking over for longtime backup David Carr as the guy who runs the scout team and only plays if the Giants are down by 30 in the fourth quarter in Carolina or if Manning sprains his ankle in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Redskins. Ryan Nassib, the 2013 fourth-round pick, was drafted as a developmental flyer -- a player they think has a chance to be good down the road but is not, in their estimation, even close to being ready to see actual NFL game action.

No, Manning is really all the Giants have at quarterback. Their offense -- nay, their entire team -- is built on the assurance that he will take every meaningful snap. He is 33 years old, still in his prime, and not only is he not going anywhere with two years left on his deal, he’s a strong candidate for a contract extension this offseason as the team works to sign free agents and stay under the salary cap.

You might be upset with Manning over the season he just had, but the fact remains that if the Giants were to lose him, there would be no reason for them even to show up on Sundays.

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MVP replacements: St. Louis Rams 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Quinn
There is little doubt that St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn was the team’s most valuable player in 2013. His ascension in his third year elevated him to status as one of the league’s best defensive players.

Quinn has another year left on his rookie contract, and the Rams hold a team option for a fifth season, but they could find themselves in a spot where they have to make him the highest paid defensive player in the league or risk losing him.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher has long operated with the belief that you can never have too many pass-rushers, but he also doesn’t have any other players on the level of Quinn.

Behind Quinn, the Rams have one of the best third ends in the league in William Hayes, and a solid fourth end in Eugene Sims. The Rams could likely make do in the event of an injury to Quinn, but would undoubtedly miss his dominant presence.

The question for the Rams might not be whether they have enough insurance behind Quinn, but whether they can resist the temptation to add a piece that would make their backups better than most teams’ starters.

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MVP replacements: Dallas Cowboys 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters, along with Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others; draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Romo
One of Jerry Jones’ biggest laments as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys is that the club has wasted three (mostly) healthy seasons in Tony Romo’s prime.

The quarterback has started 47 of the team's past 48 games, played at a high level (mostly), and the best the Cowboys have to show for it are three eight-win seasons.

Romo is the Cowboys’ most valuable player. He covers up a lot of flaws on offense and defense. He can make an offensive line look better than it is with his ability to create out of the pocket. He can make up for a poor defense by putting up enough points to win a game.

The Cowboys are 6-6 in their last 12 games without Romo, including the 2013 season-finale loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that kept them out of the playoffs.

At some point, however, the Cowboys will have to look for his successor. With Romo coming off back surgery, it would seem the sooner the better -- but that does not sound as if it's in Jones’ plans.

Veteran Kyle Orton played well in Romo’s absence, throwing for 358 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first start since the 2011 season finale while with the Kansas City Chiefs. But Orton is 31 as he enters the final year of his contract. The Cowboys will have several salary-cap decisions to make, and Orton’s $4.377 million cap figure could force the team to restructure his deal again or cut him.

The Cowboys do not have a developmental quarterback on the roster. They had Alex Tanney on the practice squad for most of the season before he left for the Cleveland Browns’ active roster. The Cowboys have drafted two quarterbacks since 2000 (Quincy Carter in 2001 and Stephen McGee in 2009) and Jones does not want to take a quarterback early in the draft.

Taking a quarterback in the middle rounds, like McGee, is hardly the recipe for success, either.

With all of the needs defensively, Jones might be able to push back a decision on the quarterback to 2015.

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MVP replacements: Atlanta Falcons 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Jones
The loss of wide receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending foot injury in 2013 showed just how vulnerable the Atlanta Falcons can be without their most valuable player.

Jones’ explosiveness and ability to stretch the defense was sorely missed. In just five games before the injury, Jones caught 41 passes for 580 yards with two touchdowns.

Of course, Jones won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. He means too much to the organization and is sure to be rewarded with a lucrative contract once he returns to full strength. Falcons coach Mike Smith said Jones is on track to return this spring.

But what if the unthinkable happens and Jones is lost to another injury? Who will the Falcons turn to then, particularly with tight end Tony Gonzalez now retired?

The Falcons might want to consider the possibility or even prepare for the possibility of Jones not returning to full strength after foot surgery. Roddy White, 32, is capable, but has had injury problems of his own. Harry Douglas is coming off a 1,000-yard season, but is best suited to fill a complementary role.

This is not to say the Falcons need to go out and get a high-caliber receiver in free agency, although they might want to investigate some pass-catching tight ends. And drafting a receiver early probably wouldn’t be wise based on the needs along the offensive and defensive lines. But grabbing a speedy receiver at some point in the draft wouldn’t be a bad idea, just in case.

An MVP-caliber player is hard to replace. Regardless, it’s better to be prepared for the unexpected.

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MVP replacements: Washington Redskins 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Garcon
Garcon
The problem with the Washington Redskins this past season was the lack of an obvious MVP. It should have been quarterback Robert Griffin III; that is, if everything had gone well. He was That Guy the previous season. They went 10-6. He wasn’t that guy this season. They went 3-13.

There were other reasons for the drop-off, but his performance -- blame it on the knee surgery, his lack of an offseason, need to develop, whatever -- certainly didn’t help.

But there was an MVP, whether overlooked or not, in receiver Pierre Garcon. Running back Alfred Morris had a strong season, but some of his fumbles cost them in games. Garcon was steady and productive throughout the season, with an NFL-best 113 receptions. He caught at least five passes in every game and blocked his you know what off; he was the only high-profile Redskin you could count on each week to produce at a certain level.

Fortunately for Washington, Garcon is signed through the 2016 season, though a re-working of his contract might be necessary before that point. But as the Redskins saw in 2012, they don’t have good options when Garcon is not around. They were 9-1 with him playing in 2012 and 1-5 when he did not. (Of course, they were 3-13 with him healthy in 2013). Without him, they not only lose catches but attitude; he plays angry and with an urgency few on the roster possess.

They still don’t have a strong No. 2 option and that must be addressed at some point in the offseason (it’s a good draft for receivers and a shaky free-agent group). For now, Aldrick Robinson is Garcon’s backup, but in his first two seasons he caught a combined 29 passes. He improved late last season, but he’s nowhere close to Garcon’s level. Leonard Hankerson could play Garcon’s X spot in a pinch, but he’s not a threat after the catch and, besides, might be out until mid-August because of ACL surgery.

Josh Morgan did not produce and was eventually benched. He will be a free agent March 11. Even if he’s re-signed, the Redskins need to find a No. 2 receiver. Fortunately, they have a promising young tight end in Jordan Reed. But they need more than one good pass-catching tight end. That’s why, if the Redskins don’t address this position and something happens to Garcon next fall, they will struggle in the pass game.

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MVP replacements: Chicago Bears 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Tillman

Two things designate Jay Cutler as Chicago’s MVP: his $22.5 million base salary for 2014, and the fact that the team doesn’t have any other experienced quarterbacks currently under contract.

Obviously, long-time defensive stalwart Charles Tillman qualifies as a secondary MVP candidate given his leadership, production and ability to force the turnovers which have been a hallmark of Chicago’s defense over the years.

But Tillman, who earned $7.95 million in 2013, is set to become a free agent and will also be 32 once the 2014 season gets underway, which means he could be on the way out of Chicago. So at the moment the Bears have only one bona fide starter at corner on the roster (recently re-signed Tim Jennings) as potential backups such as Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden are also set to hit free agency.

As for Cutler, his contract runs through 2020. But because of the way the deal is structured the Bears are stuck with him for a least three more years (base salaries over the next three years of $22.5 million, $15.5 million and $16 million). Cutler’s passer rating of 89.2 in 2013 was surprisingly a career best. But he also missed five games due to injury. In fact, Cutler hasn’t played all 16 games of a season since 2009, which means the Bears need to protect themselves with a solid backup in case he’s forced to miss time.

The Bears did that last offseason by signing Josh McCown, who will be 35 next season and set to hit free agency at a time when the organization is tight against the cap. Even if the Bears bring back McCown, it will likely be a one-year deal at the veteran minimum.

So although Bears general manager Phil Emery said the club plans to target defense in the draft to infuse youth on that side of the ball, they also need to address quarterback at some point.

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MVP replacements: Minnesota Vikings 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Peterson
Peterson
There is little question who the Vikings’ MVP is: It’s Adrian Peterson, who won league MVP honors last year and who has been the focal point of the team’s offense since he was drafted in 2007. Peterson is a dominant running back on a team that hasn’t been able to give defenses much else to think about, and he’s managed to be the best in the league anyway.

Lately, however, the idea of the Vikings losing Peterson has been more than a nebulous concept. The running back had surgery for the third consecutive offseason this week, and will be 29 in March. He’s wondered aloud on several occasions about the possibility of playing for another team if the Vikings can’t compete for a championship, and he said after the team hired Mike Zimmer that he’s watching the Vikings’ other moves closely.

Toby Gerhart has proven himself to be a reliable backup for Peterson, but he too could be gone soon; Gerhart will hit free agency in March, so the Vikings might need to draft a young running back who can spell Peterson from time to time.

A better strategy -- and probably a more important one -- is getting the Vikings’ passing game to a point where they’re not relying solely on Peterson. The running back himself has said that needs to happen, and the Vikings helped by signing Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson before last season. They’ll likely add a young quarterback to their roster this spring, either through the draft or a trade. They could also bring Matt Cassel back, but the Vikings need long-term stability, not a short-term fix, if they’re going to get their offense to a point where it’s not tethered to Peterson.

Having the No. 8 pick in the draft could give the Vikings a chance to address their quarterback problem and try to reduce their reliance on Peterson that way.

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MVP replacements: Detroit Lions 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Johnson
While he had more drops than any other season in his career, there is little doubt Calvin Johnson is the most valuable player on the Detroit Lions. The evidence was especially there this season, when the team couldn’t do much on offense in the games he was out or was limited.

A rising MVP, though, would be on defense, where linebacker DeAndre Levy has turned into an emerging playmaker.

The good thing for Detroit is both of these players are locked up for at least a little while. Johnson is under contract until 2019 and Levy until 2015.

But Detroit also knows it needs to use this year’s draft to build depth behind Johnson and Levy and, in Johnson’s case, to find someone to complement him on the opposite side.

In doing so, that will help open up defenses more, potentially meaning less double teams for Johnson in future seasons. It also gives quarterback Matthew Stafford another target on offense, something that became an obvious need once Johnson went down.

In Levy’s case, he’s still young at 26 years old and is coming off a season where he had 118 tackles and intercepted six passes -- second-most in the NFL. And while the Lions have positions of bigger need, notably in the secondary and at wide receiver, linebacker is a spot Detroit could end up addressing somewhat early in the draft.

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