Cover-Two: Debating futures for Geno Smith, Sam Bradford, Brandon Weeden, more
Each year, a number of NFL teams are faced with the reality that their quarterback situation isn’t what it needs to be, and it’s time for a change. For every team with a Manning, Brady, Rodgers, Luck or Wilson, there are two with an “Insert Franchise QB Here” spot that must be filled. That puts some quarterbacks in the lurch, and in the latest Cover-Two, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar examine the possible futures of eight quarterbacks with question marks surrounding them.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
Chris Burke: There is no easy answer here. Smith has been a mess, especially of late, without a touchdown pass since October and with less than 10 completions in each of his past four games. But the Jets also do not have much of a Plan B. Matt Simms? David Garrard? Hardly Super Bowl material there.
The Jets also have had enough success that they’re likely to fall somewhere in the middle of Round 1, meaning no dice on a guy like Teddy Bridgewater or even Derek Carr. So, instead, how about upgrading at WR so Smith has a legitimate chance next season?
The investment on Smith is not so great that the Jets should feel tied to him — like say, oh, Mark Sanchez. But simply changing course at QB again without bolstering other roster spots would be an ill-fated decision.
Doug Farrar: There’s no doubt that Smith’s rookie season has been a disaster — his horrific stats over the last few weeks are magnified when you watch the tape. He’s indecisive, slow to make the stick throw and he does appear overwhelmed more than you’d expect for the average rookie quarterback — especially when the NFL has adapted its playbooks for the most part to make life easier for young signal-callers.
That said, I wouldn’t put this on Smith alone by any means. The Jets have shown no ability whatsoever to develop quarterback talent during Rex Ryan’s time as their head coach — it’s been Ryan’s biggest failure. Mark Sanchez was a reasonable option when he was asked to be a “game manager,” but when the team asked him to do more and then crowbarred Tim Tebow into the equation, it effectively destroyed whatever potential either player had left.
Smith is in an impossible situation that can only be corrected with a more quarterback-friendly coaching staff and more time to develop. He’s not ready to handle an Andrew Luck-style workload, and he may never be, but he will not reach his apex under the current circumstances. Look at how the 49ers handled Colin Kaepernick; that should be the paradigm here — bring the smart but limited guy along, and build the offense around his strengths.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Burke: The Rams are going to have an opportunity to find a QB in the draft with one of their two picks (one possibly of the top-five variety).
But this one all comes down to health, in my mind. If Bradford makes it back from his knee injury, he should be the guy heading into 2014 after making noticeable strides in 2013. His offense has improved while he’s been out, with Tavon Austin and Zac Stacy emerging. A 100-percent healthy Bradford could be primed for a major breakout next year.
Farrar: Bradford seemed to finally become the player the Rams had hoped for before he suffered a torn ACL in the team’s Week 7 loss to the Panthers. He’d thrown 14 touchdown passes to just four picks, and one wonders what a Bradford-Tavon Austin combo would look like now that the Rams have figured out how to use Austin in their offense on a regular basis. The Rams could move on from Bradford, and they will have a very high pick courtesy of the Washington Redskins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they looked to re-structure his contract and see what he can do with one full season in a functional offense.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Burke: It’s over. And that may apply equally to Weeden’s time in Cleveland and his NFL career in general. At this point, having faltered repeatedly for the Browns, Weeden probably will have to settle for scrapping to make a roster somewhere else come the summer.
Farrar: Since he was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft (a move I still find puzzling as I had him pegged as a third–round prospect), Weeden has alternated the occasional ability to make shot plays with a disturbingly frequent proclivity for boneheaded passes. He still hasn’t developed past the one-read system he used at Oklahoma State, and he’s likely done with the Browns after this season — they want to move on past a quarterback they were saddled with. I could see Weeden doing OK as a backup in a system that played to his strengths and minimized his weaknesses (San Diego comes to mind), but I’d be shocked if he was a starting quarterback anywhere in 2014.
Terrelle Pryor, Oakland Raiders
Burke: This all will depend on what the Raiders do in the draft. If they chase after a franchise-QB type — I had them taking Johnny Manziel in Audibles’ latest Mock – then it might make sense to send Pryor packing and ride Matt McGloin as a backup.
Otherwise, Pryor showed enough promise in his eight starts to earn at least a look come the ’14 preseason. The Raiders are not in a rapid rebuild; this is a slow process that GM Reggie McKenzie only began prior to this season. There’s no need to bail on an intriguing 24-year-old QB unless a clear-cut answer arrives at the position.
Farrar: Pryor has been sidelined in the short term by Matt McGloin’s surprising efficiency, and the belief in some corners of the front office is that he’s not the guy. However, I have been very impressed with his development as a pure passer this season — he clearly puts in the work, and he has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. He’ll be a free agent in 2015. In the short term, I’d love to see the Raiders either give him half a shot to start or move him along. Pryor deserves a chance to continue his overall development.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Burke: Ponder still has one relatively cheap year ($1.76 million) left on his current contract. The writing on the wall suggests that he is done as the Vikings’ starter moving forward, but might he represent the best option to stick and back up/challenge an incoming rookie?
Sadly for Ponder, there simply has not been a whole lot to build on other than the overall team success last season. That Minnesota has given him more chances is more an indictment of Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel than a vote of confidence.
Farrar: There are few more egregious examples in recent years of a franchise being tied to an underachieving quarterback than what the Vikings have done to themselves with Ponder. Since he was taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, Ponder has rarely lived up to his 12th-overall status, and it’s possible that he’ll take head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman with him when he rolls out of town. In 2014, he’ll have a base salary of $1,760,277, and the last part of a $5.89 million signing bonus. Ponder has a future as a spot-starter in the Josh McCown mold, but any remnants of his first-round buzz are long gone.
Case Keenum, Houston Texans
Burke: Say hello to the Houston Texans’ backup quarterback for 2014. Houston owes Matt Schaub no more guaranteed money after this year, an obvious out for a franchise desperate to move in a different direction.
Keenum has not exactly lit the world afire as a starter, aside from a random glimpse here and there. That’s no surprise, as he was viewed as a project heading into this season — and remains in that same window, despite being bumped up to the starting job.
Houston ought to keep him around in hopes he continues to develop. But the Texans also should try to find an upgrade this offseason.
Farrar: Keenum has clearly displayed some of the characteristics that define a potential franchise quarterback — he’s mobile, tough, intelligent and he’s got a much better arm than people may think, especially when he’s on the run. The extent to which his teammates expressed belief in him even before Matt Schaub’s injuries and ineffectiveness made Keenum the starter has me thinking that he’s got a legitimate shot at that role in 2014. Of course, that depends on who the high-picking Texans take in the 2014 draft.
Brian Hoyer, Cleveland Browns
Burke: From the Browns’ QB jumble of 2013, Hoyer emerged briefly as a ray of light. Did he flip the switch as a legitimate NFL quarterback or did he just land in a right-place, right-time situation?
Either way, it would make sense for the Browns to retain him in 2014 (he’s signed through next season, with a roster bonus due).
Farrar: Hoyer had a brief run of interesting productivity before his torn ACL, and the current front office is as high on him as they are ready to move on from Weeden. Expect a healthy Hoyer to get every possible chance as the team’s starter in 2014.
Matt Flynn, Green Bay Packers
Burke: If the Packers offer to keep Flynn as their backup into 2014 and beyond, he should sign immediately. Without that comfort zone in Green Bay, it’s hard to say that Flynn even would find another job after bouncing from team to team in 2013.
Farrar: Flynn still has a lot of scratch from that three-year, $26 million deal the Seahawks signed him to for some reason in March 2012. He’s been through three different teams since he was traded out of Seattle (Oakland, Buffalo, Green Bay), and his physical limitations were never made more clear than they were during the Packers’ Thanksgiving Day loss to the Detroit Lions. Flynn is best as a backup, but as backups eventually have to get in the game and make things happen, even that seems a risky proposition at this point.