With profound apologies to Charles Dickens, today’s rant is a tale of three quarterbacks. Two are at loose ends while the other one is technically still on the job – – but tenuously. Let me take them in alphabetical order so that no one may draw an inference here that is unintended; I will begin with Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick was last seen in an NFL game in 2016 and that season was not a good one for him or the Niners. He started 11 games; the Niners’ record in those games was 1-10-0. To be fair, the Niners stunk as a team in 2016 ending the season at 2-14-0. Nonetheless, coaches now looking at his “most recent game film” are not going to see high productivity. It is difficult to conjure up a situation where a team would sign him and name him the starter at the press conference called to announce the signing.
And there could be a rub – – for a few reasons:
- Kaepernick has been to the NFC Championship Game twice and the Super Bowl once. Is he content to be a back-up somewhere?
- More importantly, is he willing to sign for “back-up money”?
- Given Kaepernick’s off-field and sideline behaviors in the past, he will be the focus of media attention wherever he signs. Does a team want its back-up QB to be a center of attention/distraction?
Assuming he is in physical condition to play NFL football, there are lots of teams that could sign him and say legitimately that they had just upgraded their back-up QB situation by a lot. I would anticipate that teams who show interest in working him out and possibly signing him would be ones with established starters and realistic playoff aspirations who would want Kaepernick as an insurance policy. Two teams that fit that description are:
- Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson has started 143 consecutive games for the Seahawks and is clearly going to be the starter there. The backup is Geno Smith and Anthony Gordon is the other QB on the roster. Seattle has a legitimate shot at the playoffs and Kaepernick is an upgrade at “back-up QB”.
- LA Rams: Jared Goff is the starter for the Rams but there is not much “in the bullpen” in terms of reliable NFL talent. The #2 guy on the depth chart this morning is John Wolford whose most positive professional days were with the Arizona Hotshots in the late-but-not-lamented AAF. Also on the roster are two undrafted free agents, Bryce Perkins (UVa) and Josh Love (San Jose St.).
The second quarterback who is also at loose ends this morning is Cam Newton. Like Colin Kaepernick, Newton has been to the Super Bowl and Newton was the NFL MVP in 2015. The first two questions that are relevant to Colin Kaepernick above apply directly to Cam Newton as well. He has a third “issue” that teams have been unable to resolve for themselves due to the COVID-19 mess.
- Newton injured his shoulder in 2018 and it required surgery. He came back in 2019 and played 2 games before injuring a foot which also required surgery. With travel restrictions and team activity restrictions, coaches and GMs have not been able to get him examined by team physicians or to work him out. Obviously, no one wants to sign “damaged goods”.
On the assumption that Cam Newton is healthy and that he is willing to be a back-up QB somewhere, I think the team for him is:
- Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers’ starter, Ben Roethlisberger, also started only 2 games last year before suffering an elbow injury that required surgery. Roethlisberger will be 38 years old this season coming off that injury. The current QBs on the roster behind Roethlisberger are Mason Rudolph, “Duck” Hodges and Paxton Lynch. A healthy Cam Newton can beat out that trio and it is not axiomatic that Ben Roethlisberger will be able to start 16 games this year…
The third quarterback is on a roster; Josh Rosen has a job as of this morning. Right now, he is positioned behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa with the Dolphins. Assuming that Tua is healthy, he will be the guy to go in for starter Ryan Fitzpatrick if needed; Rosen will be the odd man out. And that is strange since he was taken as the overall #10 pick in 2018 and is only 23 years old. Yes, his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2018 was a hot mess; but the fact is that the Cards were also a hot mess in 2018.
Rosen does not bring a gaudy résumé with him to any job interview but I wonder why the Dolphins would want to keep him as the #3 guy when they should be able to trade Rosen for a contingent draft pick and then sign some guy who gets cut late in the Exhibition Season to fill the shoes of the “quarterback-never-to-be-seen-on-Sunday”. Here are two teams with playoff aspirations who might consider making a deal with the Dolphins for Rosen:
- Minnesota Vikings: The backup behind Kirk Cousins is Sean Manion who has been in the NFL for 5 seasons seeing sporadic action and – – get this – – has never thrown a TD pass in his career and whose average yards per pass attempt for his career is 3.4 yards. Behind him is Nate Stanley (Iowa) who was taken in the 7th round of this year’s NFL Draft and has never taken a snap with an NFL team.
- Tennessee Titans: The Titans make this listing because Marcus Mariota – last year’s back-up – signed on with the Raiders as a free agent. This morning, the Titans have Logan Woodside listed as the #2 QB. He was a 7th round pick in 2018 and had a brief showing with the San Antonio Commanders in the late-but-not-lamented AAF; he has been on the Titans’ practice squad, so he presumably “knows the system”. The other QB listed on the Titans’ depth chart is Cole McDonald who is also a 7th round pick (in 2020) out of Hawaii.
Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with a string of comparisons. One of them was:
“… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Back-up quarterbacks always provide hope for NFL fans; they are often the most popular player on a team if the team is not doing well. However, back-up quarterbacks usually see action on Sunday out of despair. Either the starter has to miss time with an injury, or the team is taking a nosedive and the coach is grasping for straws. There is an interesting parallel to Dickens’ description there.
Finally, here is a key observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:
“A 2-year-old colt named Fauci finished second at Belmont Park’s belated opening day of racing, by 4¾ lengths.
“Or for you social-distancing fans, roughly 38 feet.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………