We are one week into NFL training camps and the most scrutinized position battles in camp are…? The Quarterbacks! It’s the time of year when pundits are making their predictions about who will be the winners and losers in the Quarterback competitions throughout the league. But, instead of going team by team and evaluating the Quarterbacks, let’s take a different approach. Let’s fantasize that you are an NFL Quarterback free agent looking for a team. Granted, you and your agent would have probably signed with a team months ago, but playing this out one week into training camp provides an even deeper perspective. Assumption: You are an NFL veteran with 2-6 years in the league as a backup. You have established you are worthy of making a roster, you may even have started a few games in relief, but you have not broken through to stardom. You are seeking the best possible opportunity to elevate your career. Let’s go hunting.

Who to avoid? The best of the best!

We know Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs), Joe Burrow (Bengals), and Josh Allen (Bills) are the creme de la creme. All you need to do is look up Mike Sando’s (The Athletic)  NFL Quarterback Tiers 2023. Mike has been generating his Tier 1-5 QB evaluation since 2014 and he calls on some 50 league “insiders” to vote and rank all 30 veteran starting QBs. The panel includes Personnel Directors, GMs, Head coaches, OCs, DCs, and others. Another star in Tier l is the “born-again” New York Jets QB Aaron Rodgers. With a new haircut and fresh attitude Rodgers has been described by head coach Robert Saleh as another coach on the field. It doesn’t hurt the comparison that Rodgers has been re-united with Nathaniel Hackett his former OC with the Packers. Not only is Rodgers helping install the new offense, but he is making a point to visit with players up and down the roster. If that’s not enough Aaron has restructured his contract in a way that signals he plans to play more than just one year in New York. “The team gave up significant pieces for it to just be a one-year deal,” said Rodgers, “I’m having a blast, so I don’t see this as a one-year and done thing.” Teammates and fans hope Rodgers’ leadership and performance will catapult the Jets to their first post-season appearance in 12 years, the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. So, we’re telling our agent to avoid Kansas City, Cincinnati (even with Burrow down with a strained calf), Buffalo and the Jets. Additionally, Carolina’s new coach, Frank Reich, just announced that The No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Bryce Young, will be the team’s starting QB in the Sept 10 opener vs the Atlanta Falcons. Given the Panthers traded four draft choices and WR D.J. Moore to the Bears to move up 8 spots in the draft, this comes as no surprise. Andy Dalton is relegated to the backup role and the 12 year veteran may be the best QB2 in the league. So cross Carolina off your list. We also know Justin Herbert (Chargers), Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Trevor Lawrence (Jags), Kirk Cousins (Vikings) , Russell Wilson (Broncos), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Jared Goff (Lions), and if healthy, Mathew Stafford (Rams) are locked in as starters. Every one of these Quarterbacks is capable of taking their teams to the playoffs. These QBs are all ranked in Tier 1 or high Tier 2 so why take on the elite? The special case here is Cleveland and Deshaun Watson. As we know, Watson was suspended for 11 games last season by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy after being accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Watson was fined $5 million and directed to mandatory therapy treatment. He was never charged with a crime, but two civil law suits are pending. This is a bizarre story surrounding the presumed leader of your team. But, given Watson has a guaranteed contract of $230 million plus the Browns gave up three 1st round draft picks to acquire Watson, I don’t like our chances of beating him out and relegating that asset (or is he a liability?) to the bench. We tell our agent to take a pass on Cleveland.

Where are the primetime opportunities for you to start as QB on an NFL team ?

Before we dive into continued analysis let me say this will not be a negative critique of any of the Quarterbacks in discussions below. Every NFL team has Quarterbacks with great college pedigrees. Some of these teams have Quarterbacks that have already performed admirably in the NFL. On any NFL team the Quarterback competition is intense. As an example, in my rookie season as a 3rd round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons, I found myself competing with Pat Sullivan, the Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn. The next year it was Steve Bartkowski, the # 1 pick in the draft from Cal. When I moved on to the Redskins in my 5th year, it was Joe Theismann, the Notre Dame great. Be assured that every starting NFL Quarterback has earned it. You cannot fake this interview. So let’s get to identifying your best chance to start at QB in the NFL!

Tampa Bay Bucs

Tom Brady is off buying soccer teams and the Bucs still believe they belong in the playoffs. The defense remains formidable and the receiving crew has talent. But, who’s going to step up to fill Brady’s spikes? It’s a tough challenge. That offense, like Aaron Rodgers’ Jets this year, had a coach on the field in Brady. Players’ expectations for the QB position are sky high. The current incumbents competing for the job are not in Brady’s class. But, who is? Baker Mayfield has those college credentials: Heismann Trophy in 2017 and the first selection (Cleveland) in the 2018 NFL Draft. With the Browns, Mayfield made great TV commercials and also took the team to the playoffs in 2020. But, inconsistent play led to a trade to the Panthers in 2022 and eventually being released by the end of the season. Baker did some nice work after being picked up by the Rams in 2022 but signed as a free agent with the Bucs this off season. I like rooting for Baker, I’m just not sure he can get it done. A bigger question mark for the Bucs is Kyle Trask. The 6’5” Trask was a second round pick out of Florida in 2021 and threw for 43 TD passes (vs 8 INTs) his senior year with Gators. But in 2022 Kyle saw action in only one game with no TDs and 43 yds. So, the Quarterback Room in Tampa is light on NFL production and consistency. I think I’d fit right in! How about you? If I were an NFL QB looking for a home I’d have my agent talking to the Bucs.

Washington Commanders

One reason to consider Washington? They finally have a new owner! When I played for the Redskins back in the day, we had Edward Bennett Williams as the Managing Partner. EBW, as he was called, was the classiest owner in the league. A renowned court room lawyer, he was humble and down to earth inside the Redskins locker-room. He also had cool friends, including Joe DiMaggio, who would visit our pregame lockeroom on Sundays. For the past 23 years Dan Snyder has been the guy who owned that locker-room and it’s been… well, let’s just say its not been an EBW type atmosphere. Finally, after being fined $60 million by the league (for not reporting all revenue to the league) and accused of sexually harassing an employee, Snyder has sold to a group led by Josh Harris. Eureka! There’s even hope they may change names (again). QB1 in Washington this week is 22 year old Sam Howell, the 5th round draft choice out of UNC in 2022. Howell has promise, but his resume is thin. As a rookie last season he started one game in week 18 vs the Cowboys. He completed 11 of 19 with 1 TD and 1 pick, but Wash won the game 26-6. Howell will get the first shot at the job, but right behind him is Jacoby Brissett. Brissett is a former 3rd round pick out of NC State (so these two really are rivals!) who has played and in some cases started with the Patriots, Colts, Dolphins, Browns and now the Commanders (I hate calling them that!). I like Brissett. He’s thrown for over 10,000 yards and 48 TDS (vs 23 Ints) in his career. I put Jacoby up there with Dalton as best backups in the league. But, he hasn’t been able to hang on to the QB1 position. At least not yet. I say get your agent on the phone to Josh Harris. And tell him to change the name!!!

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan is in the broadcast booth (for now) and Marcus Mariotta is an Eagle in Philly. That leaves Desmond Ridder as QB1. Ridder was a star at the University of Cincinnati and was drafted by the Falcons last year in the 3rd round. After benching Mariotta, the Falcons turned to Ridder for the final four games of their 7-10 season. The reviews weren’t bad, but they were not dazzling either. The concern is his accuracy, and therefore, decision making with the football. This critique goes back as far as his college days. I had the opportunity to attend the Falcons first practice in pads last week and the offense looked impressive. You can’t help but notice the athletes on offense. 6’6” Kyle Pitts (1st round) at TE, 6’4” WR Drake London (1st Round) and Bijan Robinson (1st round) the first team all-American RB from Texas to name a few. Second year coach Arthur Smith came to Atlanta from the Titans, where the winning formula was built around defense and Derek Henry running the ball on offense. It’s made a star out of Ryan Tannehill who at times struggled with the Dolphins. So, could a running game offense with a mix of Titan-type play action pass work for Ridder? Maybe. Visiting him in person was impressive. He’s almost 6’4” and runs a 4.5 forty. In the eleven on eleven drills he looked confident and the team seems to be accepting him as a leader. In speaking to Desmond I found him refreshing. A confident smile, poised, and willing to spend time talking football during a busy day. I’m pulling for him. The Falcons Quarterback room is also complimented by Taylor Heinicke. Taylor was a free agent out of Old Dominion (gotta love those 1-AA guys!) who has carved out a nice career as an NFL backup. In 2021-22 he started 14 games and even set an NFL record for most completions by a Quarterback in his first three starts. The perception is that Taylor lacks size and arm strength. The reality is he has delivered results when given an opportunity. Check our “Fast Facts” this week and you’ll see Taylor Heinicke owns the FCS (D1 -AA) record for most passing yards in a single game: 730 yards in a 64-61 win for his Old Dominion alma mater vs New Hampshire. Even given those flashy stats, the Falcons’ QB job is Desmond Ridder’s to lose. The Falcons need to be on your agent’s wish list, if only because there is no highly-rated nor experienced incumbent at quarterback in Atlanta. Plus, there are some great toys to play with on the offensive side of the ball.

Green Bay Packers

Talk about the hot seat? Say hello to Jordan Love, QB1 in Green Bay. The Packers franchise has enjoyed 31 straight years of production from two Hall of Fame Quarterbacks. Brett Favre first started in 1992 and delivered three MVP awards and a Super Bowl Championship following the 1996 season. He started 253 consecutive games for the Packers. Aaron Rodgers took over for Favre in 2008 and was awarded four NFL MVP awards and a Super Bowl Championship in 2010. Rodgers is considered one of the most accurate passers in the history of the NFL. So, Jordan Love, when are you going to Disney World? Jordan Love was drafted by the Packers in the first round (26th) of the 2020 draft. Much to the dismay of one Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was maybe hoping for a burner WR or perhaps a blindside OL? Rodgers expressed his disappointment by winning back-to-back MVP awards in 2020-21. He also orchestrated his exit from the Packers to the New York Jets this off-season. So Jordan Love is now QB1 in Green Bay. To date, Love has one start (a loss) and 9 mop-ups for the Packers over his two years in Green Bay. Jordan, ball is in your court! There is no denying Jordan Love’s potential. He is 6’4” 215 lbs and VERY athletic. He has had the benefit of sitting and watching and learning behind a HOF QB. Theoretically, this should produce dividends. But, if you are Jordan Love and reading the program and realizing this franchise has had 31 years of HOF performance at the QB position, you might… uh, get a bit tight? Plus remember, Rodgers operated in 2022 without a full compliment of weapons. The Packers’ offensive skill positions are not exactly stocked. OC Adam Stenavich says the playbook “will be wide open” for Love. Packers’ QB coach Tom Clements is one of the best in the business and he will be working overtime to get Love ready. When drafted out of Utah State after a mediocre senior season Love was thought to be a “project.” Well, he’s had 3 years behind one of the greatest and it’s time to step up. So, do we target the Packers for our QB career even with Jordan Love as the heir apparent? The answer is … YES! Jordan Love has an extremely small sample set of production and after Love, the Quarterback Room in Green Bay is lean. The backup appears to be rookie Sean Clifford, a 5th round pick out of Penn State, and behind him is Alex McGough, a former 7th rounder out of FIU. Most recently, McGough played for Birmingham in the new USFL. Did I mention I played in the original USFL? Never-mind, bygones! Frankly, I look for the Packers to pick up more experience at the QB position. Not for us, but …

Indianapolis Colts

Make no mistake, this is Anthony Richardson’s job to lose. He’s the #4 pick in the 2023 draft; he’s 6’4” 245 lbs and ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. OK, Tom Brady ran a 5.28 at the combine so maybe there are other considerations? Go back and read my story from May 2 on “Production vs Potential “ and you will see how high Richardson is on potential and how limited he’s been with production. In his college career at Florida Richardson started 13 games and he went 6-7 in those starts. He threw 24 TD passes and had 15 Ints. He also ran over a lot of linebackers. The Colts bet the farm on Anthony Richardson with the # 4 pick in the draft. But, the QB is a project. To wit, new head coach Shane Steichen has added Jim Bob Cooter to his staff as OC. Why is that relevant? Well, Jim Bob (I love that name, throw in Cooter and we have a Smokey and the Bandit movie!) is fresh off tutoring Trevor Lawrence as passing game co-ordinator with the Jaguars. His results were impressive as Jacksonville finished in the top 10 in yards per game, passing yards per game, fewest sacks allowed, third down percentage and points per game. All that did was put Jacksonville in the playoffs and Trevor Lawrence in his first Pro-Bowl. Anthony Richardson, meet your new best friend: Jim Bob Cooter. But if Anthony Richardson stumbles early the backup is veteran Gardner Minshew, he of the signature ’stash. Gardner has been productive in his 4 year career throwing for 44 TDs vs 15 Ints in stints with The Jags and Eagles prior to signing with the Colts. What I like best of Minshew is not the ’stash. No, it’s that he played for the legendary Mike Leach for one year at Washington State. Leach, who passed suddenly last winter of heart disease while still head coach at Mississippi State popularized the “Air Raid” offense. In one season under Leach, Minshew led the nation in passing and finished 5th in the Heisman vote. Minshew has learned from the best. Ok, so we’re not signing with Indianapolis, but I just wanted to share the story. I’ll be watching Anthony, Jim Bob and ’stash closely. It could be very interesting…

Final discussion with our agent in RE starting QB opportunities in the NFL

We have identified above the four best opportunities to fulfill our aspiration as a starting Quarterback in the NFL. All four teams have talented QBs, but none have established a track record of success or the ability to hold down the starting job. If we fail to sign with our top four, we want our agent to keep an eye on a few long shots:

Las Vegas Raiders

Jimmy Garoppolo is 40-17 as an NFL starter and that includes 4 playoff wins with Josh McDaniel when they were both in New England. Jimmy’s problem is injuries. Last year with the 49ers it was a broken foot that ended his season in early December. There’s more. Garoppolo has also missed games in his career from a shoulder sprain, torn thumb ligaments, calf strain, high ankle sprain, ACL tear, and an A/C joint shoulder sprain. Tough guy, he keeps coming back. This could be a team to stay in touch with throughout the season. Brian Hoyer, the backup and another former Patriot under McDaniel is in his 15th year.

Arizona Cardinals

Kyler Murray is now one of the highest paid Quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s also rehabbing from a torn ACL from week 14 vs Patriots last December. It is not yet clear when he will be game-ready for the Cards. His backup, Colt McCoy, went down in week 15 with a concussion. McCoy is 36 and in his 17th year in the NFL. He is a reliable backup (one of the best) but at this point probably not the QB of the future for the Cards if Murray does not bounce back. McCoy’s backup is rookie Clayton Tune, a 5th rounder out of Houston who was 7 when McCoy was an NFL rookie.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are giving Kenny Pickett every opportunity to be “The Guy” in Pittsburgh. But his ascension was also slowed last year by concussion. In fact, TWO concussions in 2022. It’s why the Steelers have a pretty crowded Quarterback Room. Mitch Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft has experience that includes a Pro Bowl year with the Bears in 2018. He’s passed for over 11,000 yards and 68 TDs. Behind him is Mason Rudolph, the Steelers’ 3rd round pick in 2018 and a former All-American at Oklahoma State. Pushing Rudolph in training camp is Tanner Morgan, a free agent out of Minnesota. Even though Pickett is not established, I’m telling our agent to forget about Pittsburgh as the QB Room is still pretty deep and fairly young.

Las Angeles Rams

Mathew Stafford is one of my favorite QBs. Former first pick in the draft out of UGA Stafford paid his dues and took his lumps for 12 years in Detroit. He did it with leadership, great performances, and class. No one deserved the opportunity to take the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2021 more than Stafford. Alas, 2022 was not kind to Matt nor the Rams. Stafford suffered a concussion early in the season and several weeks later the Rams announced Stafford had suffered a spinal cord contusion which ended his season. The good news from head coach Sean McVay is that Stafford is healthy and again making a big positive impact with the Rams. This off-season the Rams acquired Brett Rypien, a four year veteran who saw action in four games in 2022 for the Broncos. They also drafted the enigmatic Stetson Bennett lV in round four. Bennett, of course, is the diminutive former Georgia QB who delivered not one, but two consecutive national championships to the Bulldog Nation. Given Stafford’s own history as a Dawg, there is hope Bennett has found a mentor to help with his maturation process. I think Stafford still has something left in the tank so we’re also avoiding the Rams in our free agent negotiations.

The Toughest Job in Sports?

Playing Quarterback in the NFL is a tough job. Peyton Manning, in the opening of the Netflix series “Quarterback,” describes the position as the “hardest position in sports.” If you want to see real pain in the workplace watch episode 3. We can debate what the toughest position in sports is, of course, but what is not up for debate is the physical and mental toughness required to play the QB position in the NFL. In 2022 there were a record 64 Quarterbacks who started a regular season game. Only ten teams made it through the season with one starting Quarterback. No surprise most were Tier 1 ranked players. The current active leaders for consecutive starts as a QB in the NFL are Josh Allen (71), Justin Herbert (49), Trevor Lawrence (39) and Patrick Mahomes (34). That’s not a lot of games. It indicates most starting QBs do not make it through a season. It’s also enlightening as to why the ones that prevail get the really big bucks. They earn it. So, once you find your team, your opportunity to break through into that most select of clubs, give me a call. I’ll be happy to help you negotiate. For a fee of course!!!

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