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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

The hunt for the elusive franchise quarterback is on again

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws against the Houston

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo throws against the Houston Texans during the first half on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Houston. Credit: AP / David J. Phillip

There may be no better gauge for how desperate the search for the right quarterback has become than this: There is only one division in the NFL in which all four quarterbacks who started the season in 2017 will be under center for the same teams in 2018.

That’s right. Only the NFC South will see continuity at the most important position on any football team (we’re assuming Drew Brees re-ups in New Orleans, as he has previously indicated).

As for the other seven divisions, there will be at least one starter who wasn’t there at the beginning of last season. Among the teams that will enter next season with a different quarterback than at the start of 2017: San Francisco (Jimmy Garoppolo), Washington (Alex Smith), Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), Cleveland (Tyrod Taylor) and Chicago (Mitch Trubisky). There will be several more.

It’s a remarkable turnover rate that points to the league’s collective quest to find the answer. Get ready for a series of moves that will link new passers with new teams; the free-agency signing period begins on Wednesday, to be followed by next month’s quarterback-rich draft.

Here’s a look at the teams and the quarterbacks who will make this one of the most active markets you’ll ever see.

· Jets: The Jets are flush with salary-cap space, and general manager Mike Maccagnan is prepared to make a serious run at Kirk Cousins, offering perhaps as much as $30 million a season to make the free agent the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history. There will be plenty of competition, though, as the Vikings, Broncos and Cardinals are expected to compete for the 29-year-old quarterback. If the Jets strike out on Cousins, look for them to consider bringing back Josh McCown, who had his best season in 2017. Another potential veteran on their radar: Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, who should be affordable after coming off a severe knee injury. It’s even conceivable that they’d sign both and then draft a quarterback at No. 6 overall. The most likely passers available at that spot: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.

· Giants: There will be no change from Eli Manning just yet, but the Giants will seriously consider a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick — as well they should. There’s talk that they will take Penn State running back Saquon Barkley here (if Cleveland doesn’t take him first overall), but given the choice between a potential heir apparent to Manning and a big-time running back, there really is no choice: You take the quarterback, whether it’s USC’s Sam Darnold or UCLA’s Josh Rosen.

Browns: General manager John Dorsey has wasted no time in revamping his offense, trading for Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry and acquiring Bills quarterback Taylor. That means the Browns now could take Barkley with the top pick and still get a blue-chip quarterback at No. 4 overall. They also could trade down from No. 4 and still get a top quarterback. They’d be wise to take a young passer, though. Remember, this is the team that didn’t take Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson the last two years. Can’t afford to make that mistake a third time.

· Vikings: After reaching the NFC Championship Game last year, the Vikings are in excellent position to sign Cousins as long as they’re competitive financially — which we expect to be the case. This team has an excellent defense and is as close to being a Super Bowl contender as there is among the teams looking for a quarterback. It’s a perfect landing spot for Cousins, which is why the Jets need to have a backup plan. At this point, the Vikings aren’t inclined to bring back any of the three quarterbacks they had on last year’s roster: Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Bridgewater.

· Broncos: John Elway swung and missed with 2016 first-round quarterback Paxton Lynch, who will be lucky to stick as a backup this season. But as Elway said last week at the NFL Combine, he’s going to keep swinging. That means taking a shot at signing Cousins; if he does, it would mark his second successful attempt to lure the top free-agent quarterback on the market — see: Peyton Manning in 2012. The fallback plan centers on Keenum and then drafting a quarterback at No. 5 overall. With Darnold and Rosen gone by then, Elway can choose from Mayfield, Allen and Jackson. The feeling here is that Elway prefers Mayfield among those three.

· Cardinals: Carson Palmer’s retirement means the Cardinals need a reliable answer at quarterback, and they also will pursue Cousins. Right now, they appear to be a distant fourth, though. A veteran who could be in the mix: A.J. McCarron, who won the right to be an unrestricted free agent in an arbitration hearing last month. They’re in no-man’s land in the draft, picking 15th overall. Barring a dramatic trade up the board, they may be in good position to take Jackson after losing out last year on Watson, who went one spot ahead of the Cardinals after the Texans traded up.

Bills: The good news: The Bills made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999. The bad news: With the 21st and 22nd overall picks, they’re not in good position to land one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft. At least not yet. But trading Taylor to the Browns gives them additional firepower for a move up the board. If they stay put, they still might get a rookie quarterback if they settle on a passer such as Jackson or Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. And if they need a veteran presence, McCarron could be an alternative.


L BROWNS: $108,919,295

2. JETS: $92,083,128

3. BEARS: $77,532,002

4. COLTS: $73,878,001

5. BUCCANEERS: $73,095,826

6. 49ERS: $67,029,331

7. RAMS: $53,356,308

9. VIKINGS: $48,097,861

11. BENGALS: $35,404,193

12.REDSKINS: $31,632,697

13. SAINTS: $30,855,967

14. JAGUARS: $29,517,573

15. LIONS: $27,724,956

16. BILLS: $25,637,307

17. PANTHERS: $24,466,287

18. BRONCOS: $23,903,805

19. CHARGERS: $23,212,918

20. GIANTS: $22,882,780

21. CARDINALS: $20,419,161

22. CHIEFS: $20,071,333

23. RAIDERS: $19,133,959

24. PATRIOTS: $16,607,974

25. PACKERS: $16,497,123

26. FALCONS: $14,813,765

27. SEAHAWKS: $11,712,310

28. RAVENS: $9,009,589

29. STEELERS: $5,394,632

30. COWBOYS: $1,578,082

31. EAGLES: -$9,133,036

32. DOLPHINS: -$18,529,645

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