Numerous quarterback battles raged throughout the summer in the NFL. As the third preseason games approach, however, many have settled down. Teams have started to cement who their starters will be, at least to open the season.
We looked at these battles in the spring before any of these questions were close to being answered. Now that they have, let’s see how we got here.
New York Jets
The New York Jets’ quarterback controversy abutted the start of the team’s training camp, thanks to the Jets’ brass and last year’s starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, continuing to clash over a 2016 contract agreeable to both sides. The deal was finally inked on July 27th with Fitzpatrick agreeing to a two-year deal that essentially is a one-year contract valued at $12 million total.
That entire value is guaranteed, with $10 million of it in signing bonus and $2 million in base salary, with 2017 a voidable year, meaning that if Fitzpatrick is on the Jets’ roster five days after the Super Bowl, it voids. Thus, Fitzpatrick is serving as a bridge quarterback for this season and we can assume that either Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg are the top two competitors to start next year.
The wild card in this situation is Geno Smith. Smith was penciled in as the No. 1 on the depth chart in Fitzpatrick’s absence but now his job in New York is anything but guaranteed. Head coach Todd Bowles would not commit to Smith as the No. 2 after the team’s second preseason game, only saying about his quarterbacks that “Right now, they’re all playing and we’re trying to see who sorts out what,” adding, “We’ve got a plan for the quarterbacks that we’re not revealing.”
Petty threw for 236 yards and two scores against Washington, the Jets’ second preseason opponent, while Smith completed just six of his 13 attempts in the game, for 47 yards and a pick-six. This is leading to intense speculation that whenever an official depth chart is released, it will be Petty and not Smith as Fitzpatrick’s primary backup. If the Jets are uncomfortable with the thought of waiving Hackenberg and hoping they can still retain him on the practice squad, it could be Smith who is the victim of roster cuts, which begin on August 30 and end on September 3, when teams must be reduced to 53 players.
Any thought that second-overall 2016 draft pick Carson Wentz could beat out Sam Bradford for the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback job were all but dashed during the team’s first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when it was revealed that Wentz suffered a hairline fracture to his ribs. He sat out of the team’s second preseason contest and appears on track to miss the third after a light throwing session earlier this week left him still feeling sore. Head coach Doug Pederson remains optimistic, however, that Wentz will appear against the New York Jets in the Eagles’ final preseason game.
Wentz’s only attainable goal between now and the start of the regular season is to leapfrog Chase Daniel as the team’s No. 2 on the depth chart and hope to get a chance at the starting job either later in the year or in 2017. As Bradford’s injury history is well-documented, there’s no guarantee that Bradford will be able to stay on the field for the entirety of the season. For now, the plan appears to be for Bradford to serve as the starter this season with the future still in TBD-mode.
The Denver Broncos’ quarterback situation is presently the most unsettled in the league. Mark Sanchez, traded for in March, is the position’s elder statesman, while Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch are both in the mix as well. Sanchez was the Broncos’ No. 1 quarterback for the team’s first preseason game and Siemian for the second; head coach Gary Kubiak intends for Siemian to reprise that starting role in the team’s third preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams but not without controversy.
Siemian is dealing with shoulder soreness after trying to make a tackle following an interception thrown in Preseason Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers and he did not throw in Tuesday’s practice. Sanchez worked with the first-team and Lynch with the second in Siemian’s absence. Depending on how the injury heals, this could throw a wrench in Kubiak’s plans for Saturday’s game.
Thus far, Sanchez has completed 20 of his 30 preseason pass attempts for 219 yards, one score, one interception and two lost fumbles. The latter two gaffes ocurred in Week 2. Siemian has completed 17 of his 26 attempts for 163 yards, no scores and one pick. Lynch has gone 21-of-33 for 187 yards, two scores and an interception. Granted Siemian’s shoulder can handle it, all three will play on Saturday and Kubiak will name his starter in the week that follows.
Los Angeles Rams
Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, may very well be the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback of the future. But it sure doesn’t look like he’ll be the quarterback of the immediate present as the much-liked Case Keenum all but solidifying the starting job for the upcoming season.
Keenum has attempted only 12 passes so far in the preseason—the kind of workload a presumed starter would be given in hopes to preserve his health for the games that really matter. Of those 12 passes, he’s completed 10 for 111 yards, one score and no interceptions thrown or sacks taken. Goff, meanwhile, has completed 12 of his 21 pass attempts for 120 yards, one touchdown and one interception while being sacked three times.
It may seem counterintuitive to draft a quarterback with the first-overall pick without the intent of starting him right away, but the Rams clearly were more than comfortable with this unorthodox approach. Keenum is a safe, steady quarterback who can handle the starting job as Goff learns the position. Granted, that means Goff learns the position from the bench, a slower process than just throwing him to the fire, but it also means a known quantity is working under center, which decreases risk and increases odds of winning immediately.
Goff’s NFL career will not be defined by his rookie season but rather what he does in the three or four years that follow. That the Rams thought highly enough of his skills to take him with the first-overall pick should say plenty about their belief in his abilities moving forward. For now, though, the top of the depth chart belongs to Keenum.
Though Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson went through the motions of a quarterback battle during the offseason, none of the on-field action ever truly suggested there was a battle taking place between Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Austin Davis and rookie Cody Kessler. Throughout OTAs, minicamp and the start of training camp, Griffin was firmly installed with the first-team and thus it came as no surprise that Griffin was named the Week 1 starter prior to the Browns playing a single preseason game.
Griffin has looked sharp so far in his new home. Through two preseason games, he’s completed 10 of his 16 passes for 163 yards, two scores and an interception, with another 36 rushing yards in the team’s second preseason contest against the Atlanta Falcons. He’s had two passes go for over 40 yards—a 49-yarder to Terrelle Pryor in the team’s first preseason game and another 50-yarder to Pryor for a score in the second—plus another 29-yard scoring play to tight end Gary Barnidge. He’s shown a newfound willingness to slide when scrambling and to throw the ball away when neither running nor attempting a pass is wise. It appears that only injury will unseat him, at least for the time being.
The real question now is how the Browns organize the rest of the quarterback depth chart behind Griffin. There is an asset in McCown worth keeping, given his recent starting experience and veteran status, but if he’s an attractive trade target for another needy team then Davis would likely be Cleveland’s No. 2. That leaves the Browns with figuring out what to do with Kessler, whether that means keeping him on the active roster or stashing him on the practice squad.
San Francisco 49ers
What could have been an entertaining back-and-forth between starting quarterback candidates Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert has so far only been The Gabbert Show for the San Francisco 49ers/ Kaepernick has missed five training camp practices and the first two preseason contests with fatigue in his throwing arm. The battle is still wide open between the two as Gabbert hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in his two chances to own the job.
Gabbert has completed 10 of his 19 pass attempts for 122 yards and one touchdown, with no interceptions thrown, fumbles lost or sacks taken. However, head coach Chip Kelly has described Gabbert’s play as “up and down,” and doesn’t think Gabbert has “a leg up,” on Kaepernick going into Friday’s third preseason game.
Kaepernick is back to throwing in practices and is expected to play against the Green Bay Packers, though the division of labor at the quarterback position has yet to be determined. With Gabbert handed the opportunity to win the starting responsibility and not doing enough to keep hold of it, Kaepernick can certainly step up over the final two exhibitions and reclaim what was once his.
It should be kept in mind, though, that Kaepernick is behind in his mastery of Kelly’s offense thanks to the shoulder injury as well as his offseason recovery from shoulder, knee and thumb surgeries. Further, the other backups, Jeff Driskel and Christian Ponder, have played well in the preseason. So nothing is guaranteed to Kaepernick, even if he is ready to play in live-game action this week.
There is zero question who is the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys—that’s firmly Tony Romo. But no talk of quarterbacks in the preseason is complete without mentioning Dallas backup, rookie Dak Prescott. Prescott has easily been the standout passer of the past two weeks, completing 22 of his 27 pass attempts, for 338 yards and four touchdowns. He’s thrown no picks, taken one sack and five of his completions have sailed for 20 yards or longer.
The most impressive part? That he’s done so not just against backup defenses but also starters, working with the first-team offense for a significant chunk of his playing time while Romo, with his history of multiple collarbone fractures, stays mostly preserved for the regular season.
Prescott intrigues because of Romo’s past injuries and the potential they become an issue again this year. Further, while Romo is under contract in Dallas through the 2019 season, his pricey contract becomes more affordable to walk away from beginning in 2018, when his total cap hit is $25.2 million but the dead money to release him is only $8.9 million. Romo will be 38 years old at that time, which could make pivoting to Prescott an enticing option for the Cowboys depending on what happens between now and then.
At the very least, Prescott has already solidified himself a spot in the Preseason Hall of Fame. Whether that ever translates to someday being the Cowboys’ starter and reprising these stellar performances in a regular-season setting, we won’t likely know anytime soon. It’s never not entertaining to see a rookie look so comfortable behind center, even in games that mean next-to-nothing.