Yesterday, we learned the fate of Tony Romo. He is now an announcer and not a quarterback. As is often the case, the answer to one question creates new questions that need new answers. The answer to “Where will Tony Romo play football in 2017?” turned out to be “Nowhere,” and that generates quarterback questions for NFL teams.
By my count, there are 7 NFL teams that have serious problems at the quarterback position but it would be a mistake to lump all 7 into a single category. I think there are 3 teams that could be playoff caliber teams if they were able to upgrade the quarter back position and I think there are 4 teams that just need a decent quarterback to reach the level of “respectable”.
Tony Romo would have been a consideration for at least 2 of the 3 teams in the “might be a playoff team with a better QB” and now that he is off the market, it might cause other dominoes to fall involving teams in both categories. Let me go through my list of teams starting with the 3 teams that need upgraded QB play to be playoff contenders:
- Denver Broncos: They are in a tough division; the Raiders are very good; the Chiefs’ roster is loaded. The Broncos have a good defense – not as good as it was when they won the Super Bowl but still a good defense. At QB, they have no one on the roster who – at this time – causes defensive coordinators to stay awake at night. If the Broncos want to make the playoffs – and not “waste” a good defensive unit – they had to have an eye out for Tony Romo to hit the free agent market. Now that he will not do so, the Broncos should become players in the QB free agency market. Trevor Siemian was OK when he played last year and Paxton Lynch may have great “upside”, but there is plenty of room for an upgrade here in the 2017 season.
- Houston Texans: The Texans’ situation is the same as the Broncos only more so. The Texans’ defense is excellent; they led the NFL in yardage allowed last year; and they will get JJ Watt back in action next year. They play in a mediocre division so they got to the playoffs last year even with sub-standard play from the QB position. On the Texans’ roster this morning at QB are Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden. I have to think the Texans coveted Tony Romo and will now have to turn their covetous eyes elsewhere.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Yes, I know the Jags only won 3 games last year. The issue in Jax is simple. They have added talent to the roster via free agency and via the draft over the last several years; but last year, Blake Bortles was just plain bad. If that is what he is going to be as a QB down the line, then the Jags need to do something to change their situation. I do not know what Jags’ head coach Doug Marrone and/or Jags’ QB coach Scott Milanovich think of Blake Bortles. Here is what I am confident about:
- If they do not find a way to improve the QB play in Jax relatively soon, their tenure in Jax will not be a long one…
Certainly, the Broncos and the Texans will be scanning the free agent market to see if any of the QBs there make sense as acquisitions in terms of economics and in terms of fit with the offensive philosophy of the teams. Maybe the Jags also enter that marketplace but if they want to sell a veteran free agent on coming to Jax, they had best put together a solid economic offer because as noted above, the Jags won exactly 3 games in 2016. As these teams begin to move, the other 4 teams in need of QB help can begin to shop around.
- Chicago Bears: The fans in Chicago are probably happy to see that Jay Cutler is gone along with Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer. The Bears spent a lot of money to sign Mike Glennon and a little bit of money to add Mark Sanchez to the roster. Glennon gets $18.5M guaranteed and a total of $45M if he plays out his 3-year deal. But, what if he is not “the answer”? Surely, John Fox and QB coach, Dave Ragone, know that Mark Sanchez is not “the answer”. So, do the Bears go shopping in the free agency market yet again or do they go to the draft for a “development project”?
- Cleveland Browns: Well, they acquired Brock Osweiler as part of a salary dump and roster cleansing by the Texans. The Browns have 3 QBs on the roster as of this morning, Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. As has been the case since the Browns re-entered the league in 1999, they are in desperate need of an upgrade at the QB position. However, trying to shop in the free agent marketplace presents the Browns with a dilemma. The team is not any good now and is not likely to be good in the next few years. The Browns are a long-term development project as a team. Many of the free agent QBs are at stages of their career where they may not be of any value to the Browns by the time the team elevates to the status of “not awful”. If I assume that will take a minimum of 3 years, then which of the available QBs would I want to commit myself to for something longer than 3 years? My answer is: None of them.
- NY Jets: The Jets already dipped a toe in the QB free-agent market signing Josh McCown to a 1-year contract. Call this what it is; this is kicking the can down the road. The Jets may or may not have a serviceable QB for 2017; time will tell. The Jets are in the midst of a roster reboot that – like the Browns – will take several years; they will not have Josh McCown as their QB in 3 years when McCown will be 40 years old. Neither young QB on the Jets’ roster has shown he can play and the Jets may be in the position of drafting a QB yet one more time. When last season turned to a disaster and the Jets never allowed Christian Hackenberg to see the field just for the sake of experience, that tells me that Hackenberg cannot play dead in a “Spaghetti Western”. The Jets have to guess correctly about the QB position eventually; even the blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.
- SF 49ers: Somehow, the new folks in charge of football in SF decided that the Bears miserable showing in 2016 was not the result of poor QB play. The Niners have already signed Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley who made up the majority of the Bears’ QB cadre last year and produced a season record of 3-13 and scoring only 17.4 points per game. Once again, this is probably nothing more than a temporizing move since both contracts are 2-years in duration.
To have a market, one needs buyers and sellers. If you doubt that statement, ask any stock broker. If these are the teams who represent the buyers, let us now take a look at some of the sellers – the remaining free agent QBs themselves. Like the teams on the “buyer side”, I think the QBs fall into 2 categories – free agents who might go somewhere knowing that their job is backup QB and free agents who might go somewhere with the idea that they will be the starting QB. Let me start with eleven potential backup QBs and a brief comment on each:
- Austin Davis: He is 27 years old. He has been in the NFL since 2012. He started 10 games and his team record in those games is 3-7.
- David Fales: He is 26 years old. Last year was his rookie season in Chicago and he is already a free agent. Ka-beesh?
- Blaine Gabbert: He is 27 years old. In 6 seasons, he has started 40 games and the team record in those games is 9-31. Shudder …
- Bruce Gradkowski: He is 34 years old. His last start was in 2010; his last pass attempt in the NFL was in 2012. His arm should be well-rested…
- Shaun Hill: He is 37 years old. In 11 seasons, he has started 35 games and the team record in those games is 17-18.
- Thad Lewis: He is 29 years old. His last NFL action came in 2013 when he started 5 games for the Bills. Not a lot of mileage on those tires …
- Matt McGloin: He is 27 years old. He has been in the league 4 years and the team record in his starting assignments is 1-6. Hi-ho …
- Dan Orlovsky: He is 33 years old and I was not aware he was still in the NFL.
- Ryan Nassib: He is 27 years old. The Giants released him and then signed Geno Smith as their backup. ‘Nuff said…
- Christian Ponder: He is 29 years old. He has been in the NFL for 6 years but he has not seen the field since 2014. He has had time to ponder his future …
- TJ Yates: He is 29 years old. He has been in the NFL since 2011. In that time, he has started 7 games and his team record in those games is 4-3.
Candidly, there are slim pickings on that list above. That is not to say that the remaining list of 4 QBs represent the motherlode of quarterbacking excellence but there is something to think about with these four free agents:
- Jay Cutler: He is 33 years old. I have never been a huge fan of Cutler all the way back to his days at Vandy but when he gets protection and is in rhythm, he can throw a football as well as anyone. People complain about his “body language” and his “surly demeanor” and his “lack of leadership”. If I were a coach, I might worry about that stuff too unless my alternative was to take my chances with a Tom Savage (in Houston) or either young QB (in Denver). Even if Jay Cutler is truly as big a pain in the ass as he is often portrayed to be, he can still throw the ball better than any of those guys. I also think that Cutler would be a good fit for the offensive philosophy in Houston where the Texans have tried to use QBs in the pocket and not in “free-lance mode”. Now that Tony Romo is off the market, I think this is where the Texans ought to look.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick: He is 34 years old. He had a career year in 2015 starting all 16 games and leading the Jets to a 10-6 record; his performance in 2014 was pretty good too. However, he has been in the NFL since 2005 and those are the only two seasons where he has been “better than a journeyman”. Surely, he wants to have a shot at a starting job but at his age, it might be difficult to convince a “building team” to take him on and his résumé might be insufficient to tempt the really good teams who merely need a QB upgrade. If he has a landing spot, I think it would be Jax in the event that the new coaching staff there has a severe case of agita brought on by watching Blake Bortles botch a bunch of possessions in 2016. [Aside: Bortles has been in the NFL 3 years; his record in Jax is 11-34 as a starter; he has thrown 51 INTs in those 3 seasons. It is not as if the Jags are looking to replace Joe Montana here…]
- Robert Griffin III: He is 27 years old. I put him on this list as opposed to the list above because I believe that he only wants to be a starting QB and will likely make that clear in any interviews/negotiations. I do not think he is any prize as a starting QB even though he did have that one magical season in Washington in his rookie season. If indeed he “plays hardball” and signs with a team with the understanding that he will be the starter unless he completely screws the pooch in training camp, my guess is that he will not make it out of training camp.
- Colin Kaepernick: He is 29 years old. On one hand, Colin Kaepernick took the Niners to the Super Bowl and made a game of it. He also led the Niners to the playoffs in another season his record in playoff games is 4-2. That sort of “positive stuff” is not to be found on any other stat sheets here. Then comes the negative stuff… Last year – playing for a team short on talent around the roster – Kaepernick started 11 games; the Niners’ record in those games was 1-10. At the end of the season, the new football regime in SF decided to jettison Kaepernick – along with Blaine Gabbert – in order to make room to sign Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. As my mother used to say, “You are known by the company you keep.” A coach/GM who takes on Colin Kaepernick has to be convinced that he has been in a career slump for the last couple of seasons and that the “real Colin Kaepernick” is one we saw when Jim Harbaugh was the Niners’ coach. I am not sure where Kaepernick is a “great fit”, but when I look at the QBs on this list and then look at the QBs who are on rosters in the NFL as backups, I have to say that he has the skills to be somewhere.
And that last entry on the list brings me to the topic of “collusion” and/or “blackballing” because those terms have been tossed around by some folks who think Colin Kaepernick should have been signed by now. It seems to me that these two things are related but they are not the same thing. Blackballing is a way of “counting votes” in a secret ballot system whereby a single negative vote (a black ball) or a significant minority of negative votes can deny entry in to club or organization. In the extreme, if there are 100 members voting on 1 new member and there are 99 affirmative votes and 1 negative vote (the black ball), membership is denied.
Blackballing does not necessarily involve collusion because no collusion is necessary. If I belong to a club set up exclusively for right-handed people, then it is pretty obvious that someone in that club would vote against Steve Carlton or Phil Mickelson should that name come up for entry in the club. If I were a member of that club passionately devoted to “the right-handed cause”, I would blackball either of those two individuals despite any other qualifications they may have. I would open myself to criticism as a bigot and a royal doofus, but in the situation I just created, that is how I would behave.
Now, if my hypothetical club is a private club, I suspect that there is no legal reason that our bylaws and election procedures would be improper. Stupid, yes; illegal, no. I am not an NFL owner nor am I a GM, but I am confident that there is no such process among the owners with regard to who can and who cannot be a quarterback on any of the 32 NFL teams. It is lazy thinking to apply this label improperly and then stand back in some sort of righteous posture having proclaimed the source of Colin Kaepernick’s unemployed status.
At the same time, collusion has a legal meaning and a colloquial meaning. In a colloquial sense, consider that I and two neighbors own properties such that a developer needs an easement from one of us to allow him to develop some land near us; and also assume that we would prefer for that land to remain undeveloped. If we meet at my house one evening and we all “pinky-swear” that none of us will give that easement to the developer without the agreement of the other two of us, we have colloquially colluded to prevent the developer from doing what he wants to do. However, we are not depriving him of any of his rights and so our “pinky-swearing collusion” is not likely to be overturned by a court.
The rub in the Colin Kaepernick situation is that one of his rights would be affected by collusion among the NFL owners/GMs. The operative CBA provides Kaepernick with the contractual right to free agency status; the owners have agreed to this; if the owners – or the GMs as the agents of the owners – then collude to prevent Kaepernick from being a free agent in the same way all those other QBs are free agents, then a court might look very unkindly on that behavior.
Recall in the mid 1980s, that the MLB owners colluded among themselves not to bid to sign any free agents who were not from their own teams. That drove salaries down and that was an injury suffered by the players. Courts awarded players something like $300M in judgments and penalties in those cases. However, here is a key point:
- The MLB owners shared information among themselves about what salaries they were offering to various free agents so that other teams might know what the player had in front of him during negotiations. Even worse, they kept records of those interactions and those records were discovered.
About 20 years after those collusion findings, Barry Bonds sued MLB alleging collusion when he was a free agent – in his mid-40s – and got no offers from anyone. In his case, he lost because there was either no documentary evidence of a concerted effort by the teams or if there was some such evidence, it was insufficient. Just because a player is treated differently than other players of a similar stature, that does not prove collusion. So, even if Colin Kaepernick enjoyed on-field stature similar to Barry Bonds – he most assuredly does not – , his lack of contract offers does not mean the owners have colluded to keep him out of the NFL. Take a look at my list of 11 free agent QBs above and realize that some of them are not going to be signed this year – or maybe in any future years. No collusion involved there; 32 teams would have decided independently to sign someone else. If Kaepernick charges collusion, the burden of proof is on him and not on the teams.
I do not think that Kaepernick is being blackballed or colluded against due to his National Anthem protests any more than I believe that Thad Lewis is being blackballed or colluded against because he is African-American. I think both of them are free agents at the moment and circumstances other than skin color or social protest form the basis of their continued free agency. I would come to the same conclusion with regard to Adrian Peterson who remains unsigned as of this morning. Yes, he had those domestic violence issues he had to deal with a couple of years ago. I believe, however, his injury history over the past couple of years and the “high mileage” on his running back’s body coupled with reports that he wants $9M per year have more to do with his continued unemployment than collusion or blackballing over his legal issues.
I suspect that there will be only minor activity in the QB free agency marketplace. With the draft only a few weeks away, I think teams will be spending much more energy on their “draft boards” than on free agent quarterbacks – most of whom will still be in that status after the draft is over and teams can see what they were able to get in the draft both at the QB position and at other positions on the field. I suspect the next period of activity for free agent QBs will be in early May.
Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald about the virtue of NFL owners:
“NFL owners voted 31-1 to OK Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, with Dolphins’ Stephen Ross the lone dissenter. Ross has since been so heroically lauded in the media you’d think he’d rescued three nuns from a burning car.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………