Biggest Quarterback Battles Brewing in NFL Offseason Workouts
There are a lot of teams set at quarterback. Most of them are, not shockingly, the best and most successful teams.
We won’t be touching on them.
Again, not surprisingly, the teams whose quarterback issues are on display in this piece are ones that have struggled recently and are trying to right the ship.
Today we take a closer look at some of the quarterback battles brewing in OTAs and camps, and see who the victors might be—if there really is any competition at all.
All stats taken from NFL.com or ESPN.com unless otherwise stated.
New York Jets: Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick
While Vick isn’t the long-term answer for a lot of reasons (age, health, flaws), we don’t know Smith is, either. The Jets have invested in their offense and defense, and listening to head coach Rex Ryan getting back to his old proclaiming self, per NJ.com’s Dom Cosentino, it’s clear the team feels it can win now.
Which means Geno Smith has to put up or shut up—even in training camp.
Smith improved later in the season, but he still needs to make better decisions with the football and cut the turnovers down.
He knows the offense better than Vick—despite Vick’s prior history with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (they were together during Vick’s first four seasons in Philadelphia)—and is younger, less prone to injury and a recent relatively high draft pick.
Vick, meanwhile, does have that familiarity with Mornhinweg—crediting him as the reason he drove up to join the Jets in New Jersey, per a different NJ.com piece by Cosentino—and has far more pro experience and better instincts under center.
Ultimately, both have plenty of flaws, but Smith has the potential to be the future of the franchise. Vick, at best, will be a guy who could play for one or two years.
If it’s even close, this is Smith’s job and I fully expect that to be the outcome in training camp.
That said, Smith’s margin for error this season will be razor thin.
Houston Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Case Keenum vs. T.J. Yates vs. Tom Savage
It’s the steel cage match of quarterback battles. All we need is a mystery guest coming in with a folding chair, and we’ll be set.
That guy could be Tom Savage, by the way.
I wasn’t his biggest fan as an early-round pick, but on Day 3? That’s where he should have gone.
Savage needs work and has to prove he can thrive under pressure, but he has a nice arm and, when given time, throws a pretty good ball. His constant transfers were a concern, and at 24 years old he’s a bit old for a rookie, but he’s the dark horse here. Because he only started briefly, we’re not sure what he can do. There isn’t a ton of history.
Which makes him the wild card here because we’ve seen everyone else.
T.J. Yates turns the ball over too often, and as a more “classic” pocket passer, he could be the least attractive guy to keep in what should be more of a spread offense. Case Keenum is more mobile, but that got him into trouble, costing him an average of almost 11 yards on his 19 sacks—the highest of any quarterback with more than 200 passing attempts in 2013, per CSNHouston.com’s Dave Zangaro.
The more pressure, the less he seemed to know what to do.
You can say the same goes for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s had two decent seasons (not in a row) but thrown for almost as many interceptions (93) as he has touchdowns (106). His last season in Buffalo was mediocre, and his play in Tennessee last season wasn’t even that.
So who wins this?
As the most experienced veteran on the roster, it looks like Fitzpatrick will end up starting. It’s a “placeholder” move for sure, and one that buys them time to see if they can develop a guy like Savage over the season without having to put him into the firing line right away.
That said, don’t be surprised if Savage comes flying in with a folding chair at some point during the season.
Cleveland Browns: Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel
“Bring him on.”
That’s what Brian Hoyer told GM Ray Farmer after the latter reached out to him when the Browns picked Manziel, per ESPN.com’s Pat McManamon.
Of course, Hoyer has a year with the team, but it’s a new offense and staff. He’s had more time to acclimate himself to both, but it’s not a huge leg up. He’s also coming off an ACL tear and could struggle in this offense given that new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme seems to favor mobile quarterbacks more.
Several media types have called “shenanigans” on this, like MMQB.com’s Peter King, and given that the team sold 2,300 season tickets in less than 24 hours after Manziel was picked, there might be some pressure to get the rookie in sooner rather than later.
Head coach Mike Pettine told NFL Network (h/t CBS Sports): “We're not going to let jersey sales determine our depth chart," and they shouldn’t. As the saying goes, if you start listening to the fans, you’ll soon be sitting with them.
That said, fans (and let’s be honest, media) have expectations. When they aren’t met—with wins, in particular—teams tend to react in ways they probably shouldn’t.
On the surface it would seem as if Manziel’s mobility and arm are a much better fit for Shanahan’s offense than Hoyer is.
Additionally, Manziel’s mobility, playmaking ability and upside are all (on paper) a lot greater than Hoyer’s, and if the Browns didn’t agree, they wouldn’t have moved up in the draft to grab him. But they did, which says they know Hoyer isn’t a long-term solution.
By the way, some might throw in Tyler Thigpen or even undrafted free agent Connor Shaw, but it’s going to come down to Hoyer and Johnny Cleveland.
Despite all that, it seems very much as if Cleveland is bound and determined to make Manziel earn his keep. I’ve long thought part of a year on the bench would be good for him developmentally and believe the Browns feel the same.
At the end of camp, I expect Hoyer to be under center. At the end of the season?
That’s nowhere near as certain.
Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater vs. Matt Cassel vs. Christian Ponder
This shouldn’t be all that tough a race to analyze.
We know Christian Ponder isn’t the answer. We know this because the Vikings declined the fifth-year option on his contract. We know this because he often looked lost under pressure. We know this because he threw just 38 touchdowns compared to 34 interceptions in three seasons.
We know this because the team moved back into the first round for Teddy Bridgewater.
Which really just leaves Bridgewater to battle it out with Matt Cassel, who they brought back on a two-year contract. While Cassel isn’t the answer either (again, you don’t move back into the first if you have your long-term guy), he’s a solid backup who completed just over 60 percent of his passes last season.
Still, we know he’s just a backup.
What this comes down to is how fast Bridgewater picks up the playbook. He was easily the most “pro-ready” quarterback in the draft class and has been working hard already.
GM Rick Spielman was on ESPN just over a week ago saying (h/t Rotoworld) that Bridgewater is the “first one in the building and last one to leave,” and SI.com’s Doug Farrar recently broke down how good a fit Bridgewater is for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense.
With an offense filled with weapons and a defense that will surprise people this year, this is a perfect situation for a rookie quarterback to find himself in.
The Vikings may be looking to have an open competition, but it’s going to be a one-sided battle.
Expect Bridgewater under center come September.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh McCown vs. Mike Glennon
When the Bucs signed Josh McCown, new head coach Lovie Smith raised some eyebrows by declaring that McCown was his quarterback, per TampaBay.com’s Greg Auman.
Bucs GM Jason Licht tried to spin it as “someone has to take the first rep,” per ProFootballTalk.com’s Curtis Crabtree, but ESPN’s Chris Mortensen stated on NFL Live that "Josh McCown, no matter what Lovie says, was brought in to start” and you only really have to look at the two-year, $10 million contract to see a strong indicator that Mort could be right.
Of course, a lot of people are wondering why, after a decent rookie season, Mike Glennon is being quickly cast aside for a guy who prior to last year was average on his best day. There is a real possibility that he flourished under Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman but won’t replicate the success under Lovie Smith and company.
Licht said on Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Late Hits’’ show (h/t The Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings) that Glennon scores high in the three requirements of a franchise quarterback—“toughness, intelligence and accuracy”—and Smith has said that Glennon is the quarterback of the future.
Why bench your future after a decent season for a guy who is nothing but a placeholder?
If you’re a bit confused, join the club.
The only way this makes sense is if the Bucs are still hoping to shop Glennon. They build this “competition” and say all the right things but have no intention of starting Glennon. They’re fishing and hoping someone will bite and take him off their hands.
The sad truth is this is a huge mistake. I’m not Glennon’s biggest booster, but he’s better than McCown and has more upside. With Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson to throw to, a healthy Doug Martin in the backfield and a very good looking defense, this is the perfect time to find out if he’s the answer once and for all.
That’s not going to happen, though. Despite what they keep telling us, the fix is in. This is McCown’s job to lose, and Glennon is just going to have to hope someone else sees the potential and gives him a shot.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.