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The Dallas Cowboys were the only Team to Benefit by Switching Quarterbacks in 2016

By Chris Malumphy

Nine NFL franchises had different quarterbacks lead their team in pass attempts in 2015 and 2016. While nine quarterback changes is more than 28% of the league's teams, 2016 was tied for the fewest number of such changes this century.

Results were mixed, but overall for the worse. The Dallas Cowboys improved dramatically. The Houston Texans and the Philadelphia Eagles each finished with the same record both seasons. The Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and Cleveland Browns all fared worse than the year before.

Primary Quarterback Changes from 2015 to 2016
20152016Rating
Difference
TeamNameAttYdsAvgPctTDIntRatingNameAttYdsAvgPctTDIntRating
CowboysMatt Cassel20412766.358.35770.6Dak Prescott45936678.067.8234104.934.3
BroncosPeyton Manning33122496.859.891767.9Trevor Siemian48634017.059.5181084.616.7
VikingsTeddy Bridgewater44732317.265.314988.7Sam Bradford55238777.071.620599.310.6
RamsNick Foles33720526.156.471069.0Case Keenum32222016.860.991176.47.4
49ersBlaine Gabbert28220317.263.110786.2Colin Kaepernick33122416.859.216490.74.5
BrownsJosh McCown29221097.263.712493.3Cody Kessler19513807.165.66292.3-1.0
EaglesSam Bradford53237257.065.0191486.4Carson Wentz60737826.262.4161479.3-7.1
TexansBrian Hoyer36926067.160.719791.4Brock Osweiler51029575.859.0151672.2-19.2
BearsJay Cutler48336597.664.4211192.3Matt Barkley21616117.559.781468.3-24.0

Broncos: The Denver Broncos replaced the retired Peyton Manning and went from a 12-4 Super Bowl Championship season in 2015 to a 9-7 record in 2016. Even though Trevor Siemian clearly passed better in 2016 than the aged and injured Peyton Manning did a year earlier, he failed to lead the Broncos backed to the playoffs. Now Siemien will have to battle Paxton Lynch, and perhaps others, to hold onto his job in 2017.

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys benefitted the most from a change in quarterbacks. Dallas had hoped that Tony Romo would return to action in 2016 after missing most of 2015 due to injury. The Cowboys wishes did not come true as Romo was injured yet again. Nevertheless, Dallas improved from 4-12 to 13-3 behind the strong performance of rookies Ezekiel Elliot and Dak Prescott. In 2015, Matt Cassel threw the most passes for Dallas after Romo was injured and Brandon Weeden was found wanting. Cassel's miserable rating of 70.6 belied the fact that he once had a legitimate Pro Bowl season in 2010. Prescott's stellar 2016 rookie campaign resulted in a passing rating of 104.9, over 34 points better than the Cassel of 2015, and led the Cowboys into the playoffs. Now that Tony Romo has retired, the Cowboys' offense is firmly in Prescott's hands. Only a severe sophomore slump could dampen the bright future prospects of Prescott and Dallas.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings season appeared to go down the drain during the preseason when Teddy Bridgewater suffered his devastating injury. The Vikings had high hopes coming off an 11-5 season that had been thwarted by a missed chip shot field goal attempt that could have beaten the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. Minnesota responded quickly to the injury, however, by obtaining Sam Bradford from the Eagles. Bradford actually out-passed Bridgewater's 2015 performance, but he failed to get the team into the playoffs as Bridgewater had done in 2015. Riddled by injuries at several positions, the Vikings fell from 11-5 to 8-8. The price for Bradford was steep and his ceiling seems to be fixed and well known. While he is an adequate quarterback, he is not of the game-changing franchise variety. But perhaps Bridgewater isn't either. It will be interesting to see which direction the Vikings take if Bridgewater is ever able to get back on the field.

Houston Texans: The Texans have been one of those teams that has been on and off the cusp of greatness for several years with undoubtedly their biggest weakness being at quarterback. Brian Hoyer played relatively decent football for the Texans in 2015 until suffering a severe melt down in the playoffs that resulted in a 30-0 shellacking by the Kansas City Chiefs. Having lost confidence in Hoyer, Houston overpaid wildly for Brock Osweiler. Osweiler was a disaster finishing with a passing rating that was nearly 20 points lower than what Hoyer had achieved a year earlier. Nevertheless, the team finished 9-7 both seasons and the Texans once again made the playoffs, this time with a first round victory. During the off-season, the Texans essentially paid the Browns a second round draft choice to take Osweiler's contract off their hands. Now, their starting quarterback is seemingly Tom Savage. We have some doubts about that. Like the Browns, the Texans are seeking to draft or trade for a reasonable facsimile of a franchise quarterback. It is difficult to imagine the New England Patriots trading quarterback Jimmy Garappolo to a potential AFC playoff rival, so the Texans will either need to look to the draft for a quarterback or sign someone like Jay Cutler to fill their needs. DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are counting on the team being successful in that pursuit before the Texans' window of opportunity closes.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles made the bold decision to replace 2015 starter Sam Bradford even though he had led them to a respectable 9-7 season by trading up with the Browns to take a potential franchise quarterback Carson Wentz with the second pick in the 2016 draft. Bradford has been a decent, but oft injured, quarterback who has never lived up to being the first choice in the 2010 draft. The move neither helped nor hurt the teams' record as the Eagles once again finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Wentz got off to a great start in 2016 but soon faltered. Overall, he played worse than Sam Bradford had in 2015 by 7.1 rating points. Wentz wasn't as accurate, didn't get the ball downfield as far, and had more trouble getting it into the endzone. Yet his ceiling remains high whereas Bradford's was known and found wanting. The Eagles are still happy with the trade, but Wentz definitely needs further development.

Los Angeles Rams: The Rams obtained the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and drafted Jared Goff with the intent of developing him into a franchise quarterback. They knew it might take some time. Coach Jeff Fisher turned to Case Keenum as the placeholder for Goff and the replacement for Nick Foles who led the team in attempts in 2015. Although Keenum improved upon Foles' passing rating by 7.4 points, the results on the field were actually worse and the Rams went from 7-9 to 4-12. Goff took over towards the latter portion of the season and even though he didn't play well, absent injury, the job is his. Keenum is now with the Vikings and it is unlikely that he will ever again get as much playing time as he did in 2016. Foles played for the Chiefs in 2016 and has since rejoined the Eagles, where he once had some success, to serve as a backup in 2017.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers switched quarterbacks midseason in 2016 due to lackluster play. The move didn't help as the 49ers fell from 5-11 in 2015 to 2-14 in 2016. In 2015, Blaine Gabbert wrested the starting quarterback job from an injury-riddled Colin Kaepernick and continued in the starting role for the first several weeks of the 2016 season. Then Kaepernick overcame his injuries and won the job back. By some measures, Kaepernick did a decent job, throwing 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions and earning a 90.7 rating. But that wasn't really much of an improvement over Gabbert's 2015 rating of 86.2 and the 49ers remained a woeful team in need of a dramatic overhaul to overcome the downward spiral that began just a few short years ago after former coach Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick had taken the team to a Super Bowl. Last year's quarterbacks are now gone and the team will start over with Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and, presumably, a 2017 draft choice to be developed by new head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Chicago Bears: Sour puss Jay Cutler led the Bears at quarterback in 2015 just as he had done since 2009. Injury caused him to miss a sizable portion of 2016. His initial replacement was backup Brian Hoyer who threw 200 passes without an interception. But Hoyer's efforts didn't lead to many victories and then he was injured too. Ultimately, Matt Barkley ended up with the most pass attempts for the team with 216. Heading into 2016, Barkley had only 40 career attempts with 39 in 2013, one in 2014 and none in 2015. While he had a few promising moments on the field, Barkley did not protect the ball well, throwing 14 interceptions to just 8 touchdowns. Compare that to Hoyer who did not throw even one interception in just 16 fewer attempts. Barkley finished with a rating of 68.2, which was 24 points below what Cutler had achieved in 2015. That was the biggest rating drop off of any team. Chicago released Cutler and both Hoyer and Barkley signed with the 49ers. The Bears will now turn the reigns over to former Buccaneer starter Mike Glennon. They are also likely to draft another quarterback. Unless you stretch and count Jim McMahon, Cutler, or Billy Wade, the Bears haven't had a truly praiseworthy quarterback for more than a year or two in decades. Sid Luckman, from the 1940s, might still be the best Bears quarterback ever.

Cleveland Browns: The Cleveland planned to switch quarterbacks in 2016 from the very beginning, only they didn't foresee third round rookie Cody Kessler getting on the field, let alone leading the team in pass attempts. The plan had been for Robert Griffin to replace 2015 starter Josh McCown. But Griffin was injured in the season opener and McCown followed him to the infirmary after game two. Kessler was thrown into action by default and his performance was surprisingly good. Kessler finished with a 92.3 rating, nearly matching the 93.3 mark McCown had in 2015. Unfortunately for Kessler, the Browns woeful offensive line, which allowed 64 sacks during the season, couldn't protect Kessler either and he went down with two concussions causing him to miss a few starts as well. Retread Charlie Whitehurst was brought in for one game but he succumbed to injury as well. Even fourth string rookie backup Kevin Hogan was thrown into action, gaining 104 yards rushing against the Bengals compared to 100 through the air. The Browns record dipped from 3-13 to 1-15. McCown, Griffin and Whitehurst are no longer with Cleveland, but Brock Osweiler is, at least for the moment. Neither Kessler or Osweiler appear to be the solution the Browns are looking for. The Browns are intent on finding a quarterback somehow, somewhere, in the draft or via trade. In the 2016 draft, the Eagles paid the Browns a ransom to select quarterback Carson Wentz, he of little experience at a small college. Browns' fans were furious that the team had traded down once again, bypassing the opportunity to select a potential franchise quarterback. And rightfully so. Continuing their search for a quarterback in the draft, Cleveland is now considering taking Mitchell Trubisky, who played at a college better known for basketball and who has even less experience than Wentz had. Exacerbating the issue is that the consensus is that the Browns should select defensive end Myles Garrett with the number one pick in the draft. Fortunately, Cleveland also has the 12th choice in the first round. But in the quarterback needy NFL, even in a supposedly bad year for quarterbacks coming out of college, Trubisky and other top quarterback choices like Deshaun Watson may be gone by then. The Browns could reverse there usual strategy and actually trade up but the cost of doing so may be even greater than the booty Cleveland received from the Eagles last year. Tne New England Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals continue to tell the Browns that Jimmy Garappolo and AJ McCarron are unavailable. Whether that is true or just a ploy to jack up the price is unknown. If only there was a stock boy working in the back of some grocery like Kurt Warner to put an end to the Cleveland fans' pain.

Looking forward to the 2017 season it is already evident that the Rams, 49ers, Bears, Texans and likely the Browns will once again have changes at quarterback with new leaders in pass attempts. The New York Jets will also join that group as may some other teams whose quarterbacks may be felled either by injury or sub par play.

For teams seeking a quarterback, there is always the hope of the draft. Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes and David Webb are currently considered the cream of the 2017 quarterback draft crop, although the group is said to be weaker than usual. 2016 opening day starters Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Robert Griffin are also looking for work, as is Colin Kaepernick.

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