As team OTA’s come to a close and NFL mini-camps begin, seven NFL teams find themselves without a definitive signal caller.
As any coach will tell you, it is tough to win in the NFL. And the evidence shows that winning without an elite franchise quarterback is almost impossible. Some teams get lucky, and your franchise quarterback finds you (see Collin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson). Other teams are not so lucky, and that quarterback you drafted to lead you in to the future isn’t the guy you thought he was (see Matt Leinart, Jamarcus Russell). Since there are only so many franchise quarterbacks to go around, the unlucky teams are forced to figure it out as they go along. Below, we break down the seven quarterback competitions currently underway in the NFL.
1) The Oakland Raiders
For the second straight season, it appears that former Packers-backup Matt Flynn will have to stave off a rookie quarterback from taking his job. After losing last year’s battle in Seattle to Russell Wilson, Flynn is now competing with Raiders rookie Tyler Wilson. Flynn was undoubtedly brought in to be the starter, after former QB Carson Palmer left for greener pastures in Arizona, but so far in camp the organization does like what they see from Tyler Wilson. Too imagine that Matt Flynn may lose his job two consecutive years to rookies named ‘Wilson’ is more than incomprehensible – it’s downright comical. Fortunately for Flynn, he still seems to be the frontrunner in camp, meaning that right now its his job to lose.
2) The Tennessee Titans
The Titans have one of the more interesting battles of this year’s camps. Incumbent quarterback Jake Locker is entering his third NFL season, and very likely his second as an NFL starter. However, if we take a look at last year’s stats, Locker was less than impressive. He completed only 56.4 percent of his passes, and had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10). To be fair, Locker did later admit to playing most of last season’s games battling through injury. Locker received the majority of the starts last season over veteran Matt Hasselbeck. Much of this was due to Hasselbeck’s own poor performance.
But this year is different. Hasselbeck is gone, and the Titans have brought in a legitimate veteran quarterback who can challenge Locker for the staring job in former Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick, who started all 16 games last year for Buffalo, completed over 60 percent of his passes while throwing 24 touchdowns to only 16 interceptions. Both quarterback’s are very mobile, and are never hesitant to escape the pocket and pick up yards with their legs (although Locker has Fitzpatrick beat in the speed department). For now it looks like Locker is penciled in to be the week 1 starter, although with Fitzpatrick looming, it will be interesting to see what happens should Locker continue to struggle.
3) The Buffalo Bills
With Ryan Fitzpatrick gone to Tennessee, Buffalo made two different moves this offseason to try and replace him. The Bills have announced that there will be an open competition between rookie first round draft pick EJ Manuel, and free agent acquisition Kevin Kolb. The Bills also released QB Tavaris Jackson this offseason, narrowing the contest to two. So far Kolb and Manuel have split the first team reps in training camp, and it does not appear that the Bills are set to make a decision any time soon. The Bills competition is a common one: the unproven rookie vs. the underwhelming veteran.
4) The New York Jets
The Jets well-documented and well-dramatized quarterback competition seems to be a two horse race between four-year-starter Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith. This competition follows the same formula as the Buffalo Bills except with less talent. Geno Smith was the Jets second round pick, and draft experts do not expect him to be as good as Bills rookie EJ Manuel. Mark Sanchez preformed to almost unparalleled levels of ineptitude in 2012, so compared to Sanchez, even Kevin Kolb looks like a good option. What he lacks in NFL experience, Geno Smith does make up for in fan support, as nearly the entire New York Jets fan base has turned on Sanchez after two consecutive awful seasons under center. It seems Sanchez’s only ally is wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who has publicly lobbied for Sanchez to remain the starter more than once.
In Sanchez’s defense, the Jets offense has suffered from an incredibly poor offensive line and an embarrassingly thin receiving corps over the last two seasons. When Sanchez was given a consistent offensive line, and legitimate targets to throw at, like in 2009 and 2010, he did lead the Jets to back-to-back AFC championship games. What may be the most interesting part of the Jets quarterback competition is who isn’t in the race. At the end of last season, QB Greg McElroy was handed the starting job after the team had enough of Sanchez’s poor play. McElroy’s reign as starter was short-lived however, as a concussion quickly put an end to his season. Not only is McElroy not being considered for the starting job in 2013, he is fighting for his roster spot. Rookie QB Matt Simms (son of Giants hall-of-fame QB Phil Simms) has received most of the third team reps in training camp.
5) The Cleveland Browns
The Browns quarterback competition is a rather vanilla one; compared to some of the others we’ve seen this offseason. Second year pro, 30-year-old Brandon Weeden is expected to reclaim his starting role, although it is not a guarantee. Weeded showed flashes of greatness in 2012, but did not put together a consistent enough campaign to outright earn himself the starting job in 2013. Weeden is challenged by veteran QB Jason Campbell and career back-up Brian Hoyer. Campbell has the most experience of the three, but does not have a ton of success over his seven NFL seasons.
Campbell’s best year as a starter was an 8-8 record for the Redskins in 2008. Hoyer studied under Tom Brady for three year in New England, but its hard to know how much the future hall-of-famer has rubbed off on Hoyer, as he has never been given a shot at consistent playing time. Hoyer went 19 for 34, for 225 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a spot start for the Arizona Cardinals last season.
6) The Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have been put in an increasingly tough spot over the last two seasons about what to do with starting QB Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert who was drafted in 2011 to be the team’s franchise quarterback has been nothing but a disappointment since his arrival. Gabbert’s quarter-back-rating (QBR) in his two years as starter were 20.6 and 40.9 — both marks were last in the NFL. The Jaguars finished 5-11 in 2011, and 2-14 in 2012.
The Jaguars do have another option besides Gabbert at quarterback, should they decide to exercise them. The five-year pro Chad Henne is still on the roster and ready to earn the starting job. Henne was fairly impressive when he took over for Gabbert at the end of last season, which is what puts the Jaguars in such a tough spot: try and develop your “franchise quarterback”, or go with Henne and try to win now (meaning they would have to give up on Gabbert). The Jaguars are holding a “wide-open competition” according to general manager David Caldwell.
7) The Philadelphia Eagles
So far in Eagles camp, Michael Vick has split first team reps with last year’s surprise standout Nick Foles. The Eagles seem fairly skeptical about Vick who has experienced mixed results in his time in Philadelphia. Vick is of course the experienced choice, as Foles will be entering just his second NFL season after being drafted in the third round last year. Foles looked great last year after replacing the injured Michael Vick, and appears to be the early front-runner to earn the starting job. However, it is tough to deny that Michael Vick is, if nothing else, one of the most gifted athletes in the NFL, with a flare for the big play.
Rookie head coach Chip Kelly is looking for a quarterback who can read the defense, and make decisions quickly – neither of which has been a strong point for Vick. If Michael Vick can prove to Chip Kelly that he can make the adjustments necessary to become a more complete quarterback, than it will be tough to deny him the starting role, but for now it looks like Foles’ job to lose. It is worth noting that rookie QB Matt Barkley has been very impressive at camp, and although he is a long shot to be the week one starter, Barkley could easily factor in later this season, especially if Vick struggles.
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