If a starting quarterback is just that -- a quarterback who starts -- then yes, there are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL at any given time. But what benefit does the literal definition of "starter" give us? Starting does not denote "starting talent." It simply means you started a game, and we've seen hundreds of awful quarterbacks do that.
We see plenty more than we'd like to see every season -- just ask Browns or Texans fans. So if a starting quarterback is someone actually worthy of starting -- a quarterback who earned the job because of how good he is, not because of how bad his competition is -- then there are not 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, there may only be about 22. (Think of Sam Bradford or Joe Flacco as maybe the baseline bottom qualifier for being a "starter.") That leaves a ton of competition around the league each fall for the sport's most important position.
There are only a small handful of visibly open competitions this year as the preseason gets underway, but you can also count on a few more under-the-radar competitions where many people are actually hoping for a change. Which of these QB competitions are heating up and who will ultimately win the title -- and it's just a title -- of "starter" by September?
The Quarterbacks: Blake Bortles vs. Anyone Else
The Jaguars didn't draft or sign anyone to compete with Bortles for the job, but that doesn't mean he couldn't find a way to blow it and force the team's hand to do something. Whether that means giving Chad Henne yet another chance, finding out if Brandon Allen is a diamond in the rough or signing one of the controversial high-key free agents, Bortles could always find a way to beat himself in this non-competition competition. Some have said that Bortles is "The only thing holding the team back" and there could be some truth to that; they have talent all over the field, so if it looks like it's going to be another last-place season, it's time to go with "Anyone Else."
Winner: Bortles now, but Anyone Else by 2018
Kansas City Chiefs
The Quarterbacks: Alex Smith vs. Patrick Mahomes II
Mahomes probably can't do anything to "win the job" from Smith in the preseason -- Smith would have to visibly "lose" it, and that's really unlikely at this point. Still, how much longer are we really expecting Smith to be the starter when so many people agree that the Chiefs can't win a Super Bowl with him at quarterback? No team has the luxury to wait and see if they're still good in a couple of years, given the roster turnover and injury rate in the NFL, so KC has to be in win-now mode. Before too long, the Chiefs may decide that Mahomes gives them the chance to win now.
Winner: Smith now, but KC might not be able to win big games until it goes with the big arm
San Francisco 49ers
The Quarterbacks: Brian Hoyer vs. C.J. Beathard vs. Matt Barkley
I'm not willing to buy that Hoyer is a "lock" to start for any NFL team, no matter how bad the team or his backups may be. The Browns had him and didn't keep him. The Texans had him and didn't keep him. The Bears had him and didn't keep him. All of those teams were or are in QB hell, but Hoyer couldn't stay on the field or avoid horrid games. The Niners may have nothing to lose by going with Beathard, their third-round rookie, though he's considered third-string for now.
Winner: Hoyer by default, but the Niners will have a new starting QB by October
The Quarterbacks: Mike Glennon vs. Mitch Trubisky
Would you feel more comfortable in your role on a team if you were being paid $15 million or if you were the No. 2 overall pick? Where would the Seahawks be if they chose Matt Flynn over Russell Wilson just because they were paying Flynn a lot more money? Saying that Trubisky could beat out Glennon for the job by Week 1 is a very warm take, but nobody's pretending like Glennon is the guy that we all expect to be the starter for long. If Trubisky is a lot better than Glennon in the preseason, then what really is the point of starting Glennon?
Winner: The 6-foot-7 Mike Glennon … by an inch
The Quarterbacks: Tom Savage vs. Deshaun Watson
Savage had one good drive (and two bad ones) on Wednesday night, and there's a fair chance that he retains the starting job that Bill O'Brien refused to give him in the Ryan Fitzpatrick era, Case Keenum era, Ryan Mallett era and Brock Osweiler era. But the only guy that anyone wants to see starting for the Texans -- including Savage if he wants Houston to have its best chance to win -- is Watson. He looked very good in his preseason debut, and I believe he was the best quarterback in the draft.
Winner: Watson and it shouldn't be close
New York Jets
The Quarterbacks: Josh McCown vs. Bryce Petty vs. Christian Hackenberg
A year ago, McCown lost a training camp competition … and he lost to a guy who can't get any kind of NFL job right now, Robert Griffin III. When he replaced RGIII, McCown posted a passer rating of 72.3 and went 0-3. He's still somehow surviving on the back of his 2013 season with the Bears (13 TD, 1 INT) despite going 2-20 in his past 22 starts. There's nothing to gain from starting McCown. There's also probably nothing to gain from starting Hackenberg, but they might as well find out if there's anything of note in the arm of their 2016 second-round pick. Petty was even more awful than McCown last season.
Winner: Hackenberg, who everyone seems to be quietly rooting for
The Quarterbacks: Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch
Give Siemian credit for only being a little below average last season, given that he was a seventh-round pick in 2015 and that the Denver offense wasn't all that talented around him. The offensive line was bad, the running game was subpar and the tight ends were abysmal in a tight end-driven era. However, Lynch is very talented, probably underrated, and has the potential to make those around him play a lot better than they actually are. And that's what the Broncos need right now.
Winner: Paxton Lynch
The Quarterbacks: Brock Osweiler vs. DeShone Kizer vs. Cody Kessler
Props to Osweiler for surviving in Cleveland months longer than anyone expected after everyone speculated that the Browns would drop him immediately after they acquired him. He's now starting the preseason opener and could be Cleveland's Week 1 starter against the Steelers. Or he could be released because obviously Osweiler has always played terribly at the pro level. Kizer may be the rookie who has the most to benefit from taking a year on the bench. Kessler appears to be moving backward since opening camp as the starter and is now running with the threes. But Kessler is still the one who played better than Osweiler in 2016. He's also the only one who has more than six months of experience in Hue Jackson's offense. There's still potential in Kessler, but he'd also be the one you want out there to absorb the losses if Cleveland can't move in the right direction.
Winner: Kessler, in an upset