The times, they are a-changin' in the NFL.
And so are the quarterbacks.
With three more changes in lineups leaguewide for this upcoming weekend's game -- A.J. Feeley (again) in Miami, Patrick Ramsey for Washington and Eli Manning for the New York Giants -- the number of different starters used this season will rise to 45. Based on the previous five seasons, when franchises consistently used 55-60 different starters, that number is hardly alarming.
But what is notable, as manifested in all three of this week's depth chart alterations, is the increasing trend toward making changes because of performance and not attrition. Time was when most coaches eschewed replacing their starting quarterback, unless the change was dictated by injury, but that is no longer the case in many precincts.
It is hardly to the point yet where quarterbacks are as disposable as Kleenex, but the 2004 season is becoming one in which the long-term vision of some frustrated coaches doesn't extend much beyond the tip of their nose. At a position that once defined stability around the NFL, things are shakier than at any point in recent memory, and quarterbacks are now being viewed with transient perspective.
"We haven't gotten to a 'what have you done for me lately' mentality," said one general manager whose team has started the same quarterback in each of its nine games. "But we are definitely seeing guys get the hook quicker now than I can remember. It's definitely notable how many changes there have been that weren't injury related."
Counting the changes already announced for this weekend, there have been 17 starting quarterback switches in 2004, including multiple ones for teams like Miami, where Jay Fiedler has now gotten the hook for a second time. Of those 17 changes, eight were based on performance, and not attrition.
There were only 10 non-injury related changes for all of 2003 and just eight the season before that. To have eight performance-based benchings, and be barely beyond the mid-point of the season, is reflective of a rising impatience around the league. Coaches are less inclined now to allow a quarterback to play his way out of a slump and are more convinced now that changing quarterbacks could change their teams' fortunes.
Even the intransigent Joe Gibbs, who stuck with Mark Brunell though his starter was the NFL's most inaccurate passer in an offense that has yet to score 20 points in any outing, finally conceded the obvious this week. Ramsey will return to the starting job with which he opened the 2003 season under then-Redskins coach Steve Spurrier.
The litany of quarterbacks benched for incompetence and not injury -- a group including former Super Bowl winner Brad Johnson, two-time league most valuable player Kurt Warner, and onetime AFC passing leader Brunell -- is growing. And, with seven weeks remaining on the schedule, there are apt to be some additions.
Drew Bledsoe of Buffalo, Detroit's Joey Harrington, Dallas' Vinny Testaverde and Jeff Garcia of Cleveland could all be benched for the end of the season. Lions coach Steve Mariucci, in fact, acknowledged the disappointing Harrington is being closely scrutinized and that backup Mike McMahon will get increased practice snaps.
Quarterbacks used to move into the lineup and sink their roots as deep as a redwood. This season, as evidenced by the first 10 weeks, security at the position is as shallow-rooted as a pine tree.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.