Changing face at QB in AFC North: Rookie uprising

Since Andy Dalton was drafted and inserted as the starter for the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie in 2011, there have been three constants in the AFC North at the game’s most important position.

Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have started 350 of a possible 381 games at quarterback through Sunday. Yes, there has been a revolving door in Cleveland, but it’s now the Browns who appear to have the brightest long-term future at QB in the division, thanks to No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield.

The Ravens appear to have moved on from Flacco and are going with their own 2018 first-round pick, Lamar Jackson.

Things are not up in the air in Pittsburgh, but Roethlisberger will be 37 when the 2019 season starts. He also is entering the final year of his contract. Dalton ended the season on injured reserve, but he’s expected to return given his team-friendly salary.

Here is a look at each AFC North team’s QB situation heading into the offseason:

Baltimore Ravens

Starter: Lamar Jackson

Age: 21

How acquired: Drafted in the first round in 2018 (No. 32 overall)

Contract status: Signed a four-year deal worth $9.47 million (including $4.97 million signing bonus) before the 2018 season. Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 season.

How he fared in 2018: He has a 5-1 record after replacing an injured Joe Flacco, putting the Ravens within one win of clinching their first AFC North title since 2012. He has completed 58.2 percent of his passes (85-of-145) for 1,022 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions (84.9 passer rating).

2019 outlook: Jackson was essentially crowned the Ravens’ next franchise quarterback two weeks ago when coach John Harbaugh stuck with him as starter after Flacco had fully recovered from a hip injury. In order for the offense to evolve, Jackson has to improve his accuracy and consistency in the passing game. It is expected that Baltimore will part ways with Flacco after the season. Given Flacco’s $18.5 million salary, the Ravens could look to trade the former Super Bowl MVP for a third- or fourth-round pick. Baltimore’s best option at backup is retaining Robert Griffin III. — Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Starter: Jeff Driskel

Age: 25

How acquired: Claimed off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 4, 2016

Contract status: Signed through the end of the 2019 season with a cap hit of just $720,000

How he fared in 2018: He won the backup job over Matt Barkley in training camp and became the starter when Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury. He has started four games, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns. He displayed rare athleticism and ability to extend plays with his feet (he’s rushed 23 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns this year), but his decision-making and performance have been inconsistent. Driskel has also been working with a depleted roster because of injuries to A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Boyd.

2019 outlook: Driskel almost certainly will revert to a backup next season when Dalton returns. Dalton has two years left on his contract and is poised to be the starter for at least the 2019 season, when he’ll cost the team $16.2 million against the salary cap. It wouldn’t be out of the question for the Bengals to look at a quarterback in the draft, but since they have a number of other needs, it seems more likely that would be put off until at least the 2020 draft. — Katherine Terrell

Cleveland Browns

Starter: Baker Mayfield

Age: 23

How acquired: Drafted first overall in 2018

Contract status: He is playing under his rookie contract, which is worth $32.68 million over four years. The Browns will be able to pick up his fifth-year option before the 2022 season, but if things continue going the way they have, Mayfield would figure to sign a contract extension by that point.

How he fared in 2018: Mayfield took the position, the team and the city by storm when he took over the job in the first half of Game 3. He led the Browns to a win over the the Jets and started the next 12 games (13 with the finale). Heading into the season finale, Mayfield has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 3,349 yards with 24 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.

2019 outlook: There is no longer doubt about the Browns’ quarterback position: Mayfield will be the starter in 2019. The team that has been on a fruitless search since 1999 can finally say it has its guy. The Browns don’t need to focus on drafting a quarterback and instead can look for a backup and allow Mayfield to grow in the offseason with his new coach and his teammates. Mayfield’s play and his approach bring a sense of calm to the position that has not been felt with the Browns in a long, long time. — Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

Starter: Ben Roethlisberger

Age: 36

How acquired: Drafted in the first round (11th overall) in 2004

Contract status: Signed a four-year extension worth $87.4 million in March 2015. The deal reworked the final year of his previous contract, so the four-year extension takes him through the 2019 season. He’ll be a free agent in March 2020.

How he fared in 2018: Roethlisberger has started every game and produced at a high level, leading the NFL in completions (421) and passing yards (4,842). He’s tied for fourth in touchdown passes with 33, his career high. His 15 interceptions kept the passer rating in the 90s for much of the year, but that doesn’t discount the raw production.

2019 outlook: The Steelers have selected developmental quarterbacks in back-to-back drafts (Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph), but this is still Roethlisberger’s show. The Steelers probably will negotiate with Roethlisberger this offseason on a deal that could pay out $30 million per year based on the ballooning quarterback market. A three-year deal taking Roethlisberger to age 39 might satisfy both parties. Roethlisberger doesn’t appear to be slowing down. He’s still making difficult throws, looked more mobile than in previous years and has thrown 630 passes in 2018, the most in his career. — Jeremy Fowler

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