Another week in the NFL and, as has been the case lately, another week of quarterback roulette.
As anticipated, three-year veteran Chad Hutchinson will start Sunday for the Chicago Bears, as coach Lovie Smith attempts to locate someone who can provide consistent offense. In a more surprising move, frustrated Arizona coach Dennis Green will turn to rookie John Navarre, who has yet to play this season, in an effort to jump-start the Cardinals' moribund attack.
The two switches will bring to 51 the number of quarterbacks who have started in 2004. With five weeks remaining, this season, which enjoyed stability at quarterback over the first two months, could end up rivaling most recent campaigns. In the last five years, NFL teams used 55 to 60 different starters.
Barring further changes for next weekend, 17 franchises will have started the same quarterback in every game. Only five quarterbacks have taken every snap for their teams.
Navarre, 24, was the Cardinals' seventh-round choice in this year's draft, and the former University of Michigan standout replaces Shaun King, who had started, and lost, the last two outings. King replaced Josh McCown, who led Arizona to a 4-5 mark as the starter in the first nine contests.
While most league scouts panned Navarre's performances at the combine and in campus workouts last spring, the Cardinals liked his competitiveness, and Green lauded his football acumen in camp. Green acknowledged after Sunday's loss to the New York Jets that he would revisit the quarterback situation and that Navarre would be in the mix. Clearly, Green, who is accustomed to stewarding a high-octane offense, is frustrated by the lack of results in his first season with the Cardinals.
"I think John has some special qualities," said Green, who shocked many observers with his latest quarterback switch. "He's a smart quarterback, and he has had a chance to spend a lot of time in our system. He has worked hard and has gained my confidence. ... Shaun had his chance the last couple weeks. A quick hook? Yep. Tough business. And you don't ever have to apologize for it being a tough business."
A three-year starter in college, Navarre posted a 31-11 record with the Wolverines, completing 765 of 1,366 passes for 9,254 yards. He threw 72 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions and established six career and seven single-season school records.
Hutchinson will become the fourth different starter for the Bears, who lost their No. 1 quarterback, Rex Grossman, to a season-ending knee injury in the third game. Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel, in order, replaced Grossman, but both were ineffective. The switch to Hutchinson marks the 26th quarterback change in 87 games for the Bears. The team has used at least three different starters in five of the past six seasons.
A former Stanford star who left school early to pursue a baseball career, Hutchinson has nine starts, all with the Dallas Cowboys in 2002, on his résumé. He was 2-7 in the starts and has completed 128 of 252 passes for 1,563 yards in his career, with seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Signed by the Bears as a free agent after his release by the Cowboys this summer, Hutchinson has yet to play in a game this season. He acknowledged earlier in the year that he was having difficulty digesting the playbook of coordinator Terry Shea, but said over the weekend that he is prepared to play now.
"I haven't run any plays out there, but I feel good with it on paper," Hutchinson said. "I've had two months to look at it, and to take mental 'reps,' and now it's a matter of just taking the physical 'reps.' I'm ready."
Sounding ready to back up Hutchinson is newly signed Jeff George, who has not played since early in the 2001 season.
As ESPN.com reported Saturday, the free-agent quarterback has signed a one-year contract to return to the NFL. Financial details were not immediately available, but it is anticipated that the contract is for the league minimum of $760,000, prorated over the final five games of this season.
"I'm just excited to be back in it. It's a great opportunity for me, and I'm very thankful for them bringing me in," George said after his first practice with his new team. "Whatever role the Bears want me to do, I'm willing to do that. I can't say enough how happy I am and how thankful I am to be out here."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.