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It will not be very long before the players start practising in pads and before you know it we’ll be though the summer and into the weekly grind of the full NFL season.
Quiet as I may have been during these off-season milestones, I was following along as ever and so whilst we wait for training camp and the start of something we can actually dig our teeth into, I thought I would write a series of deliberately partial articles about what has been going on. The NFL media and coverage continues to expand and my aim has never been to bring you breaking news, but there’s been some interesting developments over the last few months along with the usual flurry of coaching and player changes so I’ll be digging into these and maybe straying into such things as the new rule changes as well, although I might side step the anthem protest developments until we are closer to some games actually being played, but let’s say I’m not exactly impressed with the NFL’s new policy or Trump’s reaction.
Rest assured that deliberately partial is not code for a long series of articles on the Bengals, although I’m sure they will feature, but I’ll pick out some key points I want to write about and I’d welcome input from any of you if there is a topic you’d like me to take a look at. However, as much as I like to say they get overly praised when a team wins, and overly blamed for each loss, not only are quarterbacks a very important part of any team but they are the focus of an awful lot of fans’ hopes in the off-season.
It has been an interesting off-season for quarterbacks. The Minnesota Vikings started the off-season with three quarterbacks going out of contract and kicked off a larger than usual move round of signal callers when they opted not to renew the contracts of any of them but instead signed Washington player Kirk Cousins to a three year guaranteed contract after Washington allowed his to expire. It is rare for a starting quality quarterback to hit the market, yet alone one who has accrued three straight four thousand yard seasons and is still in his twenties. It is an interesting contract that Cousins signed as all three years are guaranteed, but whilst I could very much see this becoming a thing for quarterbacks given their importance to the team (which does grant them additional leverage) it is hard to see the rest of the NFL players getting such deals.
With this first free agency domino falling the Vikings’ old quarterbacks were soon signed to new teams. It appears that the Denver Broncos were unable to get seriously into the competition to sign Cousins and quickly switched to signing Case Keenum after his impressive run to the Conference Finals. He had an excellent season last year but the Minnesota offensive line was unable to protect him against the Eagles pass rush in the NFC Championship game and so the Broncos will be hoping he is able to recapture the form of the regular season for them. The Broncos have named Keenum their start and are looking to continue the development of Paxton Lynch behind him despite Lynch not being able to make use of his impressive arm talent since he was drafted back in 2016. Still, this signing did allow the Broncos to draft Bradley Chubb in round one who is reckoned to be the most rounded pass rusher in this draft class and with the players already available to the Broncos, he will likely be an excellent addition to the front seven of their defence.
While Keenum headed to the Broncos, the Vikings’ opening day starter, the oft injured Sam Bradford, signed yet another big contract, this time with the Arizona Cardinals. With the retirement of Carson Palmer the Cardinals went into the off-season with no real option for a starting quarterback yet as well as the signing of Bradford, the Cardinals traded up to the tenth pick to select Josh Rosen. We won’t know how this turns out until a few years down the road but the criticism of Rosen’s off field interests seemed overblown and given the position in which the Cardinals started the off-season, they have given themselves a shot this year with their two new quarterbacks and could be set for the future if their young QB can back up his claim that the teams who passed on him made a mistake.
The final Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater signed with the New York Jets, but given that the Jets resigned last year’s starter in Josh McCown and moved up to take a quarterback it still looks like a long road back to starting for Bridgewater having suffered a horrendous injury in preseason two years ago. The Philadelphia Eagles have demonstrated the benefit of having two quarterbacks on the roster with their Super Bowl win and with the dearth at the position if Bridgewater can demonstrate he’s on the way back to something like his previous form he should get a legit shot as a starter somewhere. The early buzz coming out of the Jets OTAs (organised team activities) were that Bridgewater looked like the best quarterback of the team, but I’m always wary of the buzz surrounding players until we start seeing them in pre-season games and for quarterbacks, even good play in pre-season doesn’t necessarily translate into the regular season. The Jets could be taking a leaf out of the Eagles recent roster moves and be driving interest for a trade, but I think a lot of the league and most neutrals will be hoping Bridgewater makes a full comeback.
Before I dig properly into the first round quarterbacks who were drafted I just want to cover the saga of Washington and Kirk Cousins briefly, As I said earlier, it is not often that a quarterback still in his twenties with three consecutive four thousand yard seasons hits the free agent market. Washington seemed to be unwilling to make the kind of deal that Cousins and most quarterbacks of his ability would expect and whilst there was some defending the first franchise tag given to him two seasons ago as he was a fourth round draft pick and had really broken through late, there is no real defence for Washington not committing to Cousins long term when he threw for four thousand yards a second time. It is pretty remarkable that he completed the feat for a third straight season given that Washington let both of their top two receivers leave before last season. What they did do this year as Cousins second one year franchise tag was nearly expired was trade for thirty-four year old veteran Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs, sending them a corner back as part of the trade, and signing Smith to a four year deal with fifty-five million dollars guaranteed at signing. If he makes it to the end of his contract he is guaranteed seventy-one million dollars, but whether he can make it to thirty-eight is a big question even with modern sports medicine and particularly as Smith is an underrated runner who doesn’t sit in the pocket and distribute the ball without getting hit like a Tom Brady or Drew Brees. I can’t pretend to know what lay behind these decisions, but I don’t like the process and it does not instill faith in the franchise.
So with the major quarterback moves wrapped up the NFL headed into the draft and I have already mentioned two teams that double dipped signing Vikings’ free agents and drafted quarterbacks in the first round but the first pick of the draft belonged to the Cleveland Browns and this time they did take a quarterback, but not the one everybody was expecting when they drafted Baker Mayfield. Now I’m interested in the draft and I do enjoy the analysis of players and even look up draft grades but I don’t take them seriously. We won’t know what players are going to work out or not, and so much is to do with scheme fit, changes in coaching staff, injury luck that whilst there are players you would feel more confident than others, no one can know. Hell, we’re still waiting for Andrew Luck to play again for the Indianapolis Colts having played through a shoulder injury and missed all of last season. You have to wonder at the medical advice the Colts young franchise quarterback received and why he was allowed to play for so long with what is clearly a serious issue during the 2016 season.
Getting back to the Browns, if this pick works out then great and what I do like is that they picked their player rather than the outside experts but we can’t know whether this was the right decision for a number of season. In fact we might never know as bad luck could scupper the pick or something else unforeseen. What I can question is what the New York Giants did with the second pick as whilst no one would question the talent or ability of running back Saquon Barkley, it is hard to argue that even as good as he can be that the Giants will get equivalent value out of a position that you are lucky to get through two contracts compared to having an entire career of a franchise quarterback. The Giants may well have not liked the quarterbacks in this year’s draft, but they refused to move down and even if Eli Manning regains some of the form that he has failed to display over the last two seasons, at thirty-seven he can’t have that long left in the league and when will the Giants be picking this high again?. Even if they have complete faith in the quarterback Davis Webb who didn’t see the field during a turbulent 2017 season that saw Geno Smith get a start, they could have likely traded the pick to one of the quarterback needy teams, got a big haul and still got a very good player.
What this did mean was the New York Jets who moved early to get up to the third pick took Sam Darnold who most people thought was the most ready quarterback of the draft. The Jets invested in three quarterbacks this off-season, but if Darnold can finally be the franchise quarterback the Jets have been missing for years if not decades then the cost would have been worth it. You can see the importance of the quarterback to teams who don’t have them in the moves of the Buffalo Bills, who having already traded up to the twelfth pick with the Bengals (only my second mention of them in this post) traded again with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get to seven so they could take Josh Allen. I have already mentioned the Cardinals trading up to take Josh Rosen at ten, but at the end of the first round with the Ravens having already picked and the Eagles coming off a Super Bowl win but short on draft picks haven given up a lot to draft Carson Wentz in 2016, the Eagles traded out the first round as the Raven’s Ozzie Newsome in his final draft as GM picked the fifth quarterback to go on day one in Lamar Jackson.
I still find it somewhat strange that the 2016 Heisman trophy winner had four quarterbacks selected ahead of him and that he slipped past the Saints and Patriots who both have ageing quarterbacks that could have taught Jackson a lot. As could the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger although he was not exactly enthusiastic about the selection of Mason Rudolph in the third round and claims to be planning to play for a number of years yet despite several years of off-season where Roethlisberger talked of retirement.
This leads me to where I’m going to finish off, with this thought:
With the hope given to franchises in recent years by quarterbacks like Carson Wentz, the LA Rams’ Jared Gough, or the flashes from Deshaun Watson in Houston, it has reinforced the theory that there is no price too high to pay for getting a franchise quarterback. However, you had better be certain about that player as if you get that call wrong, even if it isn’t entirely your fault, as the person who put your faith in the player you are going to get fired if things don’t work out.
It’s not exactly fair, but that is life in the NFL.