Tarvaris Jackson could very well remain the Vikings' starting quarterback in 2008, whether that is because he has earned that right or because the alternatives aren't much better.
Jackson will be entering the third season of his four-year contract with the Vikings after becoming the final pick in the second round of the 2006 draft. He finished his first season as a full-time starter with the 28th best passer rating among quarterbacks who averaged 14 passes or more per game. That put Jackson ahead of earlier 2006 draft selections Brodie Croyle of the Kansas City Chiefs (31st) and Kellen Clemens of the New York Jets (33rd).
Jackson also finished ahead of more well-known quarterbacks like Rex Grossman of the Chicago Bears (32nd) and Marc Bulger of the St. Louis Rams (30th). Jackson's 70.8 passer rating this season was also within five rating points of Brian Griese (75.6), Kyle Boller (75.2), Eli Manning (73.9), Vince Young (71.1) and Cleo Lemon (71.0).
But if Vikings fans are looking for the team to make a big splash at the quarterback position in the offseason, that would likely have to happen via the trade route. That is probably the only way to find a veteran who has extensive starting experience and is either already supplanted as a starter or expected to be surpassed on his current team in the next year or two. That list includes Donovan McNabb, who has received public support in Philadelphia recently after it looking like a foregone conclusion that he would be overtaken by Kevin Kolb in 2008; Derek Anderson, who is expected to command at least a first-round pick and a big contract if Brady Quinn is advanced into a starting role in Cleveland; Chad Pennington, who appears to be giving way to Kellen Clemens with the New York Jets; and J.P. Losman, who is facing a similar situation in Buffalo with Trent Edwards now viewed as the quarterback of the future.
All of those players are either under contract or, in the case of Anderson, expected to be tendered at level where at least one first-round pick would have to be given up to obtain the player. That said, with the Vikings unlikely to get a player of immediate impact with the 17th pick in the draft the way Adrian Peterson took the league by storm in 2007, the team might be willing to part with a first-round pick to obtain a player like McNabb or Anderson (we'll preview those possibilities in the coming days).
On the free-agent market, the prospects aren't as tantalizing.
Quarterbacks scheduled for free agency are Tim Hasselbeck, Tim Rattay, Chris Redman, Rex Grossman, J.T. O'Sullivan, Craig Nall, Quinn Gray, Cleo Lemon, Jamie Martin, Marques Tuiasosopo, Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown, Brian St. Pierre, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke and Todd Collins – not exactly a who's-who list of great quarterbacks from this season.
In fact, none of them rank higher than Jackson among quarterbacks that averaged at least 14 passes a game. Only Grossman comes close, having a 66.4 rating while throwing four touchdowns and seven interceptions.
However, Collins, with his limited playing time in 2007, didn't qualify for the NFL's official list but did register a sterling 106.0 rating with five touchdowns and no interceptions for the Washington Redskins since taking over for the injured Jason Campbell, who had a 77.6 rating with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Hill, the former Viking, had a 101.3 passer rating with six touchdowns and one interception in limited action while relieving the injured Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer. But Hill's limited overall experience in game situations wouldn't make him a starter over Jackson.
Nall, a former target of Brad Childress and the Vikings in free agency in 2006, has had such limited experience (seven games in six years) that he probably falls into Hill's category. The Vikings actually brought Chris Weinke in for a workout during the 2007 season when Kelly Holcomb was injured, and the St. Paul native finished the season with an 86.2 rating in extremely limited action in San Francisco. Culpepper had a 78.0 rating in Oakland with five touchdowns and five interceptions, but there is little chance he would work his way back into the graces of Winter Park after the way he left. Rattay had a 71.1 rating in Arizona with three touchdowns and three interceptions, but he also probably falls into the category of too little experience to go confidently forward with him.
The rest of the possibilities on the free-agent market either fell behind Jackson's rating or didn't have any tangible opportunities in 2007.
Put succinctly, the Vikings, if they decide they need some real competition for Jackson, aren't likely to find it in free agency. They may have to settle for a trade if they looking for someone to compete for or outright take the starting job away from Jackson.
Quarterback Options Are Many, Not Great
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