Leftover QBs Learning a Hard Lesson: The NFL Is Just Not That into Them

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Leftover QBs Learning a Hard Lesson: The NFL Is Just Not That into Them
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Poor Robert Griffin III. He was anointed a franchise savior, his face plastered on billboards and Metro buses. He was declared "superhuman" by medical experts and placed at the center of the NFL's marketing campaign. Even his socks were national news. But he crashed back to earth because—get this—he wasn't "humble" enough.

Now, the NFL is just not that into him.

Alas, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was the heir apparent to the Doug Flutie throne of middle-aged white guy wish-fulfillment quarterbacking. The mason-jar segment of the NFL fanbase admired his Ivy League gumption, television producers loved displaying cutesy graphics of his career journey across the NFL map, and he even delivered a genuinely impressive season in 2015.

But the flight of FitzMagic is indefinitely grounded, because the NFL is just not that into him.

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Woe to Colin Kaepernick, who came within five yards and some close calls of winning a Super Bowl four seasons ago. He should be dueling Russell Wilson and Cam Newton for the NFC crown the Seahawks barely wrestled from him in 2013. Instead, would-be trade suitors haggle over his dowry with little fear of losing a quiet and seemingly non-intense bidding war.

The NFL is just not that into him.

Johnny Manziel? He's in a separate category of his own making. When Jerry Jones starts spouting therapy-culture wisdom about someone's personal situation, it's time to really seek help. There's more at stake than just the NFL not being all that into you.

The Four Horsemen of the Unwanted Quarterback Apocalypse are unappealing leftovers, and they cannot afford to let their egos be bruised too deeply by their status. Still, it must be difficult.

A kid with seven career starts named Brock Osweiler was just handed $37 million guaranteed by the Texans (contract numbers per Spotrac). The Eagles gave perpetual prospect Sam Bradford $22 million guaranteed and Chase Daniel, the Beethoven of meaningless Week 17 starts, a deal that could grow to $36 million over three years if he ever starts playing regularly before Christmas. Kirk Cousins is on a one-year retainer for nearly $20 million. Yet guys who played in Super Bowls or threw 31 touchdowns last season go begging.

The gold rush is over; the money train left town. The Rams are now talking up Case Keenum as their starter, possibly trying to convince themselves as much as a new crop of season-ticket purchasers. The Broncos depth chart reads: 1. Mark Sanchez, 2. Trevor Siemian and 3. Don't Question John Elway, You Impudent Whelp. The Browns are rummaging through the discount bin, but they are only competing with themselves; to their credit, they actually seem to know it.

NFL coaches and front offices clearly consider the big-name leftovers to be closer to the Keenum-Sanchez category than the Cousins-Osweiler-Bradford category. The quarterbacks must adjust their expectations accordingly, and so should we.

Fitzpatrick is having the hardest time adjusting. According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, "the Jets have assigned a value to Fitzpatrick and, from all indications, it's in the range of $7 million to $8 million a year. Fitzpatrick is thought to be seeking twice that amount." They're offering mentor/custodian money, and he's looking for Bradford Bucks or more.

Maybe he mistook his press clippings for scouting reports. Some members of the New York media, as well as Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, are in "Pay the Man" mode. Shouting "pay the man" riles up the FitzMagic crowd, as does the fact that the Jets risk entering the season with Bryce Petty as their quarterback if Fitzpatrick leaves. Oddly enough, no one questions Fitzpatrick's humility.

Michael Perez/Associated Press

Griffin is faring much better. He has stopped just short of commissioning a spider to spin a web that reads "Humble" to get his message across. Hue Jackson sounded genuinely interested in signing Griffin at this week's owners' meetings, though the Browns haven't met a transaction lately that they couldn't slather in an extra layer of complications and intrigue. The road to enlightenment is tread on one's knees; apparently, so is the road to a Browns starting job.

Kaepernick has a ticking clock working both for and against him. Over $12 million in guarantees and bonuses kick in if he is on the 49ers roster on April 1. If the 49ers expect any compensation, they must trade him before then.

If they have any real interest in keeping him—Chip Kelly makes malfunctioning-robot noises whenever he tries to sound enthusiastic about Kaepernick—they can afford it; the team has nothing if not ample cap space. But the 49ers, like the Jets, are ambivalent about their quarterback. The feeling may be mutual, but a wishy-washy quarterback market gives the 49ers all the leverage.

Manziel? Drew Rosenhaus says there is interest, because he's an agent. Yet Jones, who is not exactly Dr. Phil, thinks Manziel needs help before he can even think about the stresses and demands of a training camp. Who else has to step forward? Charlie Sheen? Vladimir Putin? Take care of yourself, Johnny, and then we'll talk pigskin.

There's a wide gap between perception and reality for all of these quarterbacks. Fans see Griffin and Kaepernick (and Manziel) as main characters in some heroic epic. They are Chosen One types; this is just the dark second act in their trilogies. Fitzpatrick is Harvard hipster Gandalf. Writers like me extend the narrative for fun and profit; you would rather read tales of Griffin than Daniel, so here we are.

Teams see a pair of baggage-laden young veterans with shoddy fundamentals and damaged pocket coprocessors when they look at Griffin and Kaepernick. They see Fitzpatrick as a premium-priced Josh McCown who has his merits but might as well be spraying a garden hose when he throws more than 15 yards downfield. They see two fixer-uppers and one placeholder.

Reclamation projects rarely work at quarterback in the NFL, because assistant coaches have only so many hours in a day to remind veterans where their feet and eyes are supposed to be, so Griffin and Kaepernick must brace for short contracts with minimal guarantees. Placeholder quarterbacks earn a little more than the two-year, $10 million deal McCown received two years ago; Daniel's Eagles deal is really $12 million for two years unless he morphs into the next Brad Johnson.

So how does this quarterback clearance sale play out? The Browns almost have to acquire Griffin or Kaepernick soon, though Fitzpatrick (as a stabilizer and sensei for Carson Wentz or Jared Goff) would make more sense than either of them.

Fitzpatrick has talented teammates eager to welcome him back to Florham Park; a tail-tucked return to the Jets may always have been his best option.

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

Predicting what the 49ers will do is like trying to guess where a fly trapped in a screen porch will land. The Broncos nabbed their very own failed prospect (once removed) in Sanchez and are not inclined to be lured into making any sudden moves. The Rams just don't seem to like quarterbacks much. It's a brutal market for a quarterback to sell his services in.

What's certain is that all of these quarterbacks will generate a high attention-to-accomplishment ratio wherever they land, particularly if they change teams. Reporters will swarm. Fans will buy jerseys. Television talking heads will debate and speculate. You can hear the minicamp and training-camp questions now. What kind of teammate is RGIII? Has Kaep grown as a pocket passer? What kind of leadership does Fitzpatrick bring to the organization? Their fame will work against them.

Meanwhile, coaches will focus on the skills, fundamentals and work habits to determine whether these quarterbacks are really better options than a Wentz, Goff, Petty, Sanchez or even a Siemian or Sean Mannion who is honing his craft for minimum wage far from the eyes of the sports world.

The NFL just isn't that into storytelling. That's why teams aren't eager to go on new adventures with some of our favorite characters.

 

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at @miketanier.

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