Today, I want to analyze NFL teams that have “QB issues” to deal with in the off-season. At first glance, one might think that this list would duplicate the list of 6 teams out there looking for a new coach; and indeed, there is plenty of overlap. However, as one counterexample, the Chargers have Justin Herbert on their roster and their new coach – Brandon Staley – ought not to be kept awake at nights wondering what to do at that position. I think there are 13 NFL teams with “QB issues” and I want to divide them into 3 categories.
Category 1 are the teams that have a QB issue of their own making. I put 5 teams in Category 1:
- Eagles: The regression of Carson Wentz’ capacity to play QB has been stunning; the reports that he is disgruntled and would prefer to be out of Philly speaks to the way his regression was handled by the former coaching staff. People say his contract makes him untradeable; the new coach there had better arrive with a plan for team improvement and a bucket of salve for a huge case of the red ass.
- Jets: Sam Darnold has been in the NFL for 3 years and has started 38 games – – and the Jets still have no idea if he can be a franchise QB. He started his career with a defensive-minded coach followed by two years under Adam Gase’s random regime. The Jets do not know what Darnold can do and I doubt that Darnold knows either. Should the Jets be done with their upheaval with the hiring of Robert Saleh – – or do they need a new QB in this year’s draft too?
- Lions: Someone there allowed a rumor to start saying that the Lions might be looking to move on from Matthew Stafford. I am not here to suggest that Stafford will be in the HoF someday, but he is a more-then-adequate starting QB who will be 33 next season. If he leaves – or becomes less enthusiastic based on this rumor floating about, this is a self-inflicted wound by the Lions. And what else might one expect from the Lions…?
- Niners: Reports say that the Niners have an out for Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract this year and that they are considering exercising that out. Jimmy G. has had injury issues in two of the last three seasons in SF; but when he was healthy for an entire season in 2019, the Niners went to the Super Bowl. Garoppolo will be 30 years old next season.
- Texans: If reports are accurate, the Texans’ owner and Deshaun Watson have found a way to put a gap between themselves. Assuming that both parties have dispute resolution skills beyond that of third-grade playground adversaries, this is a spitting contest that needs to end immediately. If the Texans must “move on” from Deshaun Watson over this “feud”, the Texans’ ownership will descend in the NFL rankings down to “Danny Boy Snyder level”.
Might there be a solution to the “QB issue” for two teams here in Category 1? Carson Wentz and Jimmy G both have big contracts that make them – supposedly – untradeable; might an exchange of one for the other be feasible? Each player gets a new venue to show his talent.
Category 2 are the teams with a talent deficiency at the position simply because the QB decisions made by the franchise over the past five years or so have not panned out.
- Bears: Mitchell Trubisky lights things up occasionally; so do fireflies. He has been in the league 4 seasons and started 50 games; he is only 26 years old; he has not shown that he is “the guy”. Nick Foles is a great backup QB but never seems to work out as the “main man”. The other two QBs on the Bears’ roster today are Tyler Bray and Kyle Sloter. The Bears are between Scylla and Charybdis. (Hat Tip to Homer…) The Bears draft 20th in April; that does not seem to be the way they are going to resolve their issue.
- Broncos: John Elway was one of the great QBs of NFL history; nevertheless, he has been singularly unable to find a competent QB for his Broncos save for the time that Peyton Manning “fell into his lap”. Since Manning’s retirement 5 years ago, here are the 10 QBs that Elway has given his coach as a potential starter: Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemien, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Philip Lindsey and Drew Lock. Of that mélange, Driskel, Lock and Rypien are still on the roster. The Broncos draft 9th this year; will there be a QB available for them at that position?
- Jags: The Jags have had QB issues since the days when Mark Brunell and/or Byron Leftwich were playing; that was about 15 years ago. The current roster has Mike Glennon, Jake Luton and Gardner Minshew as the team QBs; perhaps you may think of all three as serviceable backups for a week or two but nothing more than that. The good news here is that the Jags draft first in April in a draft where there are several excellent talents to be had. We shall see…
Category 3 are the teams where the QB issue was created by – or at least exacerbated by – Father Time.
- Colts: The Colts rolled the dice with Philip Rivers last year and made the playoffs. If Rivers chooses to come back next year on another 1-year deal, the Colts QB issue devolves to “kicking the can down the road”. Other than Rivers, the Colts’ QBs are Jacoby Brissett and Jacob Eason. Brissett has been in the league 5 seasons and has 32 starts under his belt. Maybe he is a worthy heir apparent to Philip Rivers… Or not…
- Saints: Jay Glazer reports that Drew Brees is retiring now that the Saints’ playoff run in 2021 is over. Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemien and Jameis Winston are currently on the roster. None would appear to approach Brees in terms of productivity but – to be clear – the Saints’ QB issue is not nearly as dire a situation as exist for other teams on this list.
- Steelers: Yes, I know the Steelers won their first 11 games in 2020 and made the playoffs. Nevertheless, for the last month or so, Ben Roethlisberger looked like a shell of his HoF self. If he comes back, the Steelers have a QB issue of one kind – – namely a limited capability starter. If he retires, the Steelers have a QB issue of a different stripe – namely that neither Mason Rudolph nor Joshua Dobbs has shown a lot of evidence of being or becoming a franchise QB. Dobbs has been in the NFL for 4 years and Rudolph for 3 years…
- Patriots: Cam Newton is a shell of his former self; Brian Hoyer will be 36 years old next year; he has been in the NFL for 12 seasons and has shown that he is a journeyman backup QB over that lengthy period. To be fair, the Pats; pass-catching corps is also talent deficient to a similar degree; both parts of the offensive unit need serious reconstruction. However, there is no hiding the fact that the Pats’ need to effect a significant upgrade at QB.
- WTFs: Ron Rivera has shown that his system can produce some winning football with Alex Smith at QB, but Alex Smith checks every box imaginable when it comes to “Reasons Why He Is Not The Guy You Build Around”. In addition to his injury history, Smith will be 37 years old next season. Taylor Heinicke has appeared in 9 NFL games – starting 2 of them – in his 3 seasons in the NFL; he played exceptionally well in his playoff start this year – – but is that enough to tell the team that their QB issue is resolved? Fans in Washington need to hope for Smith’s health to hold up and/or for Heinicke to be a diamond in the rough because the WTFs do not draft until 20th this year and there will likely not be a gemstone quality QB available then.
These 13 teams with a “QB issue” exemplify how and why it is important for a coach and a GM to be able to work together constructively. Bill Belichick could not coach his way to the playoffs with Cam Newton as the QB; Mike Tomlin could not overcome Ben Roethlisberger’s diminished performances at the end of the 2020 season; Ron Rivera squeezed every drop of juice from the lemons he had at the QB position in 2020. Those are 3 top-shelf football coaches and their outcomes in 2020 demonstrate that a talent ceiling is something that cannot be overcome save for dumb luck. John Elway as a GM demonstrated over the past several seasons that the ability to find a franchise QB is critically important to watching your coach have success on the sidelines on Sunday afternoons.
This list comprises 40% of the NFL franchises. All of them need to address this issue directly; some will do so, and others will punt. Stay tuned…
Finally, fans and coaches and GMs – and maybe even owners – of these teams will approach the offseason with vigor and optimism that these issues may be resolved positively and rapidly. For that, let me provide this observation by Ambrose Bierce:
“Optimism: The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including that which is ugly.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………