Will Quarterbacks Be Back?

While Denver waits on aging Peyton Manning, Chicago's new regime ponders what to do with Jay Cutler. And those aren't the only teams facing big questions with veteran quarterbacks. (Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY)

The Denver Broncos don’t know what Peyton Manning’s going to do.

The Chicago Bears don’t know what they’re going to do with Jay Cutler.

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In a quarterback-driven league, the position is never far from the minds of those teams without an established, in-his-prime quarterback capable of leading his team to the Promised Land.

The record-setting Manning had another huge season, with 4,727 yards, 39 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passer rating of 101.5. However, he showed diminished skills during the second half of the season. After throwing 22 touchdowns and three picks in the first seven games, Manning threw 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in the final 10 (including playoffs). He had a passer rating of less than 76 four times in that span.

Manning is expected to return but, with his 39th birthday a little more than a month away, his future isn’t certain.

“I don’t think there have been any assurances or anything,” new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said at the Scouting Combine on Wednesday. “It’s been about a process that he and John (Elway) have been working through the course of the last month. When I came in -- I think it will be a month tomorrow that I’ve been in town -- I knew all along they we were going to take some time, that Peyton was going to take some time away.”

Kubiak said he’s met with Manning “quite often” during the past month but football has not been part of their conversations.

“No doubt I want him to be,” Kubiak said when asked if he believed Manning would be his quarterback in 2015. “I think all indications are that he feels good. He’s had his self-assessment or however you want to label that, and he feels good about moving forward. So, we’ll just continue with the process.”

While Kubiak wants Manning back, new Bears coach John Fox said nothing of the sort about Cutler. Just 13 months ago, the Bears signed Cutler to a seven-year, $126.7 million deal that includes $54 million guaranteed. Since then, Cutler was benched for a game and coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were fired after the Bears plunged to 5-11.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there’s ability and talent there but there’s a lot more that goes into it, and we’re evaluating that as we speak,” Fox said.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace used similar lukewarm words later in the day: “Cutler has outstanding physical talent, there’s no denying that. It’s just getting to know the individual and all of the other intangibles that make a great quarterback. That’s what we’re doing now. That really takes getting to know the person, right? So that’s the process we’re going through. Me and John have both been around all different kinds of quarterbacks, it’s just figuring out him as a person.”

For Buffalo (E.J. Manuel, first round, 2013) and Tennessee (Zach Mettenerger, sixth round, 2014), they have to decide if their young quarterbacks are the answer.

“Obviously, this league’s proven when you’ve got a great quarterback, it’s rare that you don’t go to the playoffs with a great quarterback,” new Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “Obviously, that’s the priority, not just for our team but any team in this league. But it’s a lot easier said than done. It would be nice to get somebody like that. I’m not saying that we have that situation right now. I’m excited about E.J. Manuel, though. He’s a young man that has some potential.”

The Titans hold the No. 2 pick so will have an opportunity to draft Florida State’s Jameis Winston and/or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Before making that decision, they must to determine if they can hitch their wagon to Mettenberger, a talented player who saw his draft stock take a big hit because of an ACL injury sustained late in his final season at LSU. Jake Locker, a first-round pick in 2011, is a free agent who is rehabbing a dislocated left shoulder. Titans GM Ruston Webster said he could not commit to Mettenberger being his starter.

“We’re going to compare where he ended the season with these young guys in the draft,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Zach did a lot of good things for us last year. With the way the year went and where we are in the draft, you have to put the time in on the guys that are coming out.”

New Washington coach Jay Gruden said Robert Griffin III would be his quarterback – pending Griffin’s development and maturation “as a quarterback and as a person.”

St. Louis general manager Les Snead is committed to Sam Bradford, despite Bradford missing the past 25 regular-season games due to ACL injuries.

“(The red flag’s) flying high. It’s definitely a red flag,” Snead said. “So, let's don't delete him. I don't think that's the answer. I think the answer is providing insurance in case we do go through more bad luck. Let's rehab (Bradford). Let's see if he can reach his potential. But let's do insure the position.”

Snead said there’s no timetable on Bradford’s return, but with the injury happening on Aug. 23, he should be ready for the season. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has an aggressive timetable. Palmer, injured on Nov. 9, might be ready for OTAs in May, GM Steve Keim said.

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