Few things generate more angst and crank up the hot-take machine like an NFL quarterback controversy. It turns what amount to, most often, truly local problems – like a bad team having a poor choice between middling-at-best passers – and makes it a national story.
At least it does for a few weeks, as we churn over when the likes of Sam Bradford, Blake Bortles, Nathan Peterman, Brock Osweiler, Tyrod Taylor or some other such journeyman or caretaker QB will lose his starting gig this time around. Generally, ultimately, it matters little, as the team’s season is already lost and the next man up almost always has a résumé inferior to the guy he is about to replace. Yet we opine and pontificate about when such changes should be made, because, well, it’s the NFL, and it’s the most high-profile pro sports job on the planet, and what else would you expect from fans and the media at this point?
Alas, as spring nears summer, we don’t have too many quarterback situations to obsess over. Boo-hoo.
Excluding cases where an obvious starter is returning from injury (Jimmy Garoppolo coming back in San Francisco, for instance), I really only see five QB markets that bear daily monitoring come training camp, and seven situations in all where I could see a performance-based changing of the guard under center. Of course, much of this has to do with the record-setting quarterback turnover that occurred in the 2018 offseason, coupled with a year in which five QBs were in essence selected within the first 62 picks of the 2019 draft (including the Dolphins trade for Josh Rosen in that mix). Thus, a lot of bad teams have already cast their lot for at least a few years at that position as they wait for the new QB to thrive or fail, leaving a void in the QB-drama vortex.
But that won’t stop me from taking a stab as to when things will hit critical mass in each of these cities regarding its quarterback situation, and trying to throw a dart as to when that change might take place. Because turnover is inevitable, and it is more imminent in some places than others. I’m keeping an eye on some obvious places – Arizona, Miami, New York (Giants), Washington and Denver – and a few others that might not be as overt just yet (Tennessee and Cincinnati) given that the anointed “QB of the future” may not already be on the roster, but things have a way of twisting through a 16-game season, nonetheless.
So here is my very-early look at these potential QB hotspots, listed in order of how quickly I expect the change to start to come into focus:
Kyler Murray has been the 2019 starting QB of the Cardinals since the day Kliff Kingsbury was hired to replace one-and-done Steve Wilks. It was the worst-kept secret in the NFL, and try as they might to spin and deceive, very few were buying what Arizona was selling this winter and spring. Murray was going first overall and he was viewed as a plug-and-play Day 1 starter and Rosen was going to be traded for pennies on the dollar and that was that. I am sure you will hear plenty from Cardinals coaches and execs and owners about no one being handed a job and how much competition there is, all the usual junk. Don’t buy that either. Brett Hundley is along for the ride. Kyler already is the franchise.
Key Date: Feb. 29. Yeah, it already happened. That’s the day Murray got measured at the NFL combine and didn’t come in at 5-9 or whatever. Cemented him as first-overall pick, and the Cards’ Week 1 starter, barring injury.
2. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins aren’t pretending they are going to be a factor this season, for once, and are finally taking the long-view to building a contender. That always put the 2019 starting QB in purgatory, no matter who he would be, and after acquiring Rosen I don’t see much reach to give games to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzmagic could end up being an interesting trade chip, should a contending team lose a QB before the midseason trade deadline, and the presence of Rosen at least gives the fanbase something to focus on while the losses invariably mount. I believe Rosen will flash enough to remain a part of the Dolphins’ QB room beyond 2019, and there’s no reason not to give him the largest sample size possible.
Key Date: Aug. 22. That’s when the Dolphins play their third preseason game, and I figure Rosen cements the job then, if he hasn’t already before then. They face a tough Jacksonville defense in the final real regular-season tune-up and if Rosen comes through that, might as well make him the guy.
Dwayne Haskins is still pretty raw — as I saw first-hand at OTAs last week — as one would expect from a one-year college starter. He also can do things no Skins QB has been able to do for a long, long time. Even some close to Haskins believe quietly that sitting for at least a few weeks into the season makes the most sense, and while he will undoubtedly flash at camp and in the preseason, after ruining so many QBs in the past the Skins must have learned something, right? No reason to rush him in any way, and the way the Skins are splitting the reps between him and Case Keenum sets a template for steady growth into September and October, building up Haskins while giving Keenum the lead spot. The handoff is gonna occur at some point this fall, regardless.
Key Date: Sept. 29. The Skins open with the Eagles, Cowboys and Bears, which means by Week 4 head coach Jay Gruden and his staff might already be getting hot under the collar. Owner Dan Snyder will be watching very closely, and he loves a good marketing ploy, and how about unleashing Haskins against the woeful Giants, who traded up for Daniel Jones over Haskins? The Giants hinted they thought the Skins were Team Jones, which is why they moved up for a QB no one else was thinking about with a top 10 pick. If not Sept. 29, then by a month later, when the 49ers come to town (Oct. 20) I would expect Haskins to be running the offense.
4. New York Giants
They love them some Eli Manning up there in the owner’s suite and in the GM’s office, eschewing a change at QB that rational folks would have made two years ago. Selecting what amounts to a half-brother of the Mannings in Jones (coached by Daniel Cutcliff) was an uber-Giants move, and while Dave Gettleman can ruminate about the rookie possibly sitting three years, the realities of the New York marketplace and this weak roster will force change much, much sooner than that. You can’t take a QB with poor college stats at No. 6 and then pretend he can redshirt for multiple years. It’s coming to a head in 2019, it’s just a matter of when.
Key Date: Oct. 20. By Week 7, any dreams of this being a season of any consequence for this operation will have been expunged. And a week prior to this the Giants travel to New England – the team Eli has owned when it matters most, but one I figure will put a total beatdown on the Giants this time around. They will have faced the physical Skins D and a tough Vikings D in the weeks before that, and I don’t see Eli getting past that gauntlet. So late October, hosting Arizona, the worst team in football from a year ago – yeah, you’d better start giving people a reason to go to your football games. Looks about right to me.
Marcus Mariota does not get through seasons intact, for the most part, and has been dogged by injuries since entering the league. He threw for a grand total of 11 touchdowns all of last season – in 14 games – and has run the gamut of coordinators who have been unable to unlock the potential that got him drafted second overall. In Ryan Tannehill, the Titans finally have some degree of real protection behind him now. Mariota is past the point of being a young QB and should be entering his prime. The Titans no longer have a contract hanging over their heads with him, and even getting back to the 9-7 mark they have attained each of the last three seasons looks difficult to me.
Key Date: Oct. 21. In the month of October, Mariota, assuming he’s still healthy and starting, will face the Bills, Broncos and Chargers defenses. If history holds, he will get throttled quite a bit in those games, and now with the health of former stud RT Jake Conklin in question, well, I have my concerns. Playing for future may bring out the best in Mariota … or it might cause him to force the issue even more and absorb severe contact for a body that has been brittle to this point. If he comes out of that Chargers game, against that pass rush, on his feet, more power to him.
6. Denver Broncos
Joe Flacco has not been very good since he won the Super Bowl. In the last four injury-riddled seasons, you could make a case he was the most overpaid player in the league. No one has thrown more road interceptions, no full-time starter has fewer yards per attempt and his QB rating has been Bortles-esque. After being impervious to injury and never missing a start most of his career, he has battled significant injuries three straight years and Denver’s OL has been PU for a long time. Even with a great defense and run game, Denver will be hard pressed to stay viable in a brutal AFC West and at some point John Elway is going to want to see Drew Lock fling it around in real games after gushing over him in months of practices.
Key Date: Nov. 17. The Broncos come off a late bye to play at Minnesota. Not ideal, but will Flacco hold up for 10 weeks, for starters? And will they really be in the hunt by then? If Flacco rediscovers his ability to gun it downfield in the altitude then maybe he holds Lock off longer, but that would take a real reversal in mentality and outcome. In the first nine weeks, Denver faces a bevy of top defenses (Bears, Jags, Chargers and Colts) and Packers and Browns units that should be much improved. A post-bye QB change wouldn’t be a shocker at all to me.
They are renting Andy Dalton at this point and don’t seem inclined to do much else, with an intriguing QB class looming in 2020 and a very young rookie head coach in the fold in Zac Taylor, who has a QB-developer reputation. They are probably the worst team in their division, the coach is going to have to learn a lot on the fly and more change seems to be in the air after finally parting with Marvin Lewis after the 2018 season. How much longer are guys like Dalton and Geno Atkins — with very team-friendly, trade-able contracts — going to be in Cincy? Might a more sweeping reboot make sense by 2020? And if so, why not get a look at fourth-round pick Ryan Lindley in the final quarter of the season to see what you have before wading into the draft waters, right?
Key Date: Dec. 8. If the Bengals don’t beat the Jets the previous week, my instincts tell me they are basically out of the race. And Mike Brown would have no reason not to start looking at the future (and protecting Dalton from injury so as to facilitate a trade in the offseason). The Bengals travel to the Browns Dec. 8 and then host the Patriots the following week. Might as week give Finley at least three or four games to show a little something. If the season has really gone off the tracks, maybe give Finley the entire month of December.