How to Leave Yourself with a Bad Quarterback in Five Easy Steps

Mike TanierNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2017

Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor pauses after being sacked by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matt Judon in the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Gail Burton/Associated Press

Scott Tolzien faces off against Jared Goff in Colts vs. Rams on Sunday. You are forgiven if you decide that you would rather mow the lawn that afternoon than watch. 

Maybe Tom Savage versus Blake Bortles in Texans-Jaguars is more to your liking. But probably not. We narrowly escaped Josh McCown versus Nathan Peterman in Jets-Bills after Tyrod Taylor cleared concussion protocol just in time to make the worst matchup on the schedule a little less excruciating.

It only seems like half the teams in the league went out of their way to screw up their own quarterback situations. Really, only about one-quarter to one-third of the teams did, depending on how you feel about Week 1 starters Trevor Siemian (discount generic custodial quarterback on a return engagement), Mike Glennon (premium-priced Trevor Siemian), DeShone Kizer (who looks game-ready if you scout strictly from highlight montages), Joe Flacco (he's healthy...well, healthy-ish) and Brian Hoyer (the quarterback equivalent of a donut spare tire).

Most of the teams listed above made at least one of the following five tried-and-true mistakes that were guaranteed to sabotage their own quarterback depth charts. Think of them as the five stages of quarterback grief, an emotional roller coaster that leaves coaches muttering good things about Scott Tolzien in press conferences and fans with little else to do but wait, hope and grit their teeth through some barely watchable football.

   

Not really a stage: Starting the caretaker over the rookie

While most fans would rather see Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson than Glennon and Savage, keeping a top rookie prospect in dry dock doesn't really screw up a team's quarterback situation. It just delays gratification.

Chris Jackson/Associated Press

Savage is a low-cost pressure shield for Watson, who still looked shaky at times in the preseason. Trubisky will supplant Glennon as soon as John Fox reassures himself that he's still an old-school tough guy who doesn't trust rookies. The Browns could have used a stunt double for Kizer to get them past the Steelers and Ravens but had little more than human tax shelter Brock Osweiler instead.

These problems will solve themselves in a few weeks. The teams in the throes of the following stages of quarterback futility don't have an obvious solution warming up in their bullpens.

   

Stage 1: Draft poorly and be stubborn about it

If experts are saying things like "it's too soon to give up on Quarterback X," it means that it's probably the right time to give up on Quarterback X. Quarterback self-sabotage often starts by following a bad decision with years of "We meant to do that" and "Let's not be hasty." The Jaguars are a prime example, but they have grown so stubborn that they've moved on to further stages.

The Jets have been trying to outsmart the system by selecting backsliding prospects in middle rounds since Geno Smith. Fans eager for a rookie like Josh Rosen to arrive next year and rescue them from Hack 'n' Petty should be forewarned: If the Jets are following their typical M.O., they are rubbing their hands right now and saying, "A few more multi-interception debacles like the Iowa game and Josh Allen is OURS in the second round."

Meanwhile, the Broncos are giving Paxton Lynch another year on scholarship to determine whether he is the quarterback of the future or a quarterback who likes being on scholarship.

The Rams are not quite at Stage 1 yet, but the clock is ticking for them to figure out whether or not seven months of Jeff Fisher damage is reversible.

   

Stage 2: Do nothing and hope the problem solves itself

Don Wright/Associated Press

Believe it or not, the surest way to cause a quarterback quagmire is not to draft a dud, but to do nothing about it and hope that nothing works. 

The Colts, of course, spent the offseason (and most of 2016, and part of 2015) in nearly pathological denial about Andrew Luck's shoulder problems. We always suspected Chuck Pagano responds to mysterious engine noises by turning up the stereo and sticking electrical tape over his Service Engine Soon light. But new GM Chris Ballard is supposed to be better than that.

Tom Coughlin watched Bortles' 2016 film (which looks like a screen test for a sequel to The Waterboy) and decided, You know what? We're gonna focus on the running game! The Jaguars even drafted a fullback in the seventh round, which was Coughlin's way of jamming his fingers in his ears and singing "La la la, I can't hear you!"

The Texans are stuck with Savage until Watson is ready because they spent three years waiting for Bill O'Brien to cast a magical bibbity-bobbity-Brady spell on some Hoyer or Ryan Mallett the Patriots left at the curb.

   

Stage 3: Expose your quarterback to unnecessary preseason risks

This is a startling new development in foolish quarterback management: leave your opening day starter on a hillside like a Spartan baby and shrug your shoulders if he isn't tough enough to survive the ordeal.

The Bills subjected Taylor to a pummeling with a depleted supporting cast against the vicious Eagles defensive line, then repeated the performance against the equally vicious Ravens, who concussed both Taylor and T.J. Yates. Peterman was forced to play the whole first quarter of the fourth preseason game. Luckily, the Bills were facing the Lions backups in that final game, not the 1985 Bears backups, and Taylor cleared protocol on Tuesday. Otherwise, someone named Keith Wenning would have been preparing to back up Taylor this week.

Josh McCown stayed in the game after taking a hit against the Eagles last Thursday.
Josh McCown stayed in the game after taking a hit against the Eagles last Thursday.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

McCown started the fourth preseason game for the Jets against the Eagles, suffered a wicked hit that forced the trainers onto the field and then—get this—stayed in the game for the rest of the series. For the Jets, the lines between opening day starter, valued prospect and expendable crash-test dummy have been all but erased.

Stage 4: Confuse the issue by adding even more quarterbacks

Once the regular season rolls around, the best thing a team can do with a FUBAR quarterback situation is cope with it by focusing resources on the best available option. But some coaches and execs can't just lie down in the bed they made out of a blotchy mattress and grungy sheets without tossing an extra lumpy pillow on top of it.

The Colts acquired Jacoby Brissett in a last-second trade with the Patriots, which is exactly like Jar Jar Binks trying to save the galaxy by making a last-ditch deal with Emperor Palpatine.

John Elway cannot decide if he is a genius for drafting Lynch, a genius for showing patience with Siemian or a genius for reclaiming Osweiler. So darn it, he's gonna prove he's a genius for doing all three simultaneously!

The Browns will begin their season with four young quarterbacks on the active roster, which sounds ludicrous, except a) the Browns often need four quarterbacks to get through a season, and b) their combined salary is less than 25 percent of what the team is spending to put 1,300 miles between themselves and Osweiler.

   

Stage 5: Cut your best preseason quarterback before the season begins

This is another relatively recent phenomenon:

  • Team signs anonymous third-string rando and keeps him through minicamp and training camp.
  • Rando looks really impressive in lots of preseason mop-up action, but…
  • Rando gets released so the team can pick up some other team's just-released third-stringer.

Most of these August fourth-quarter highlight factories would wilt quickly against actual NFL starters, of course. But for teams that might very well need their third-stringer, it makes no sense to cut a guy who spent spring and summer in the system and did all that was asked of him in the preseason in favor of someone who just had the same experience on some unfamiliar roster.

Stephen Morris proved all summer, as noted by Josh Hudgens of the Colts blog Stampede Blue, that he was the only Colts quarterback healthy enough to throw a football and talented enough to make doing so worth the effort. Naturally, he was released.

Kyle Sloter (now in Minnesota) outperformed Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian in various preseason games and scrimmages but got caught in a third-string numbers crunch with a guy who lost two starting jobs in 12 months and the boss' buddy's nephew.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Brandon Allen (now with the Rams) outperformed Bortles and Chad Henne in the preseason, for whatever that's worth. But the Jaguars have opted to keep just two quarterbacks on the roster, practice squad included, so their Week 12 starter can be a surprise to even them.

The Ravens are also keeping just two quarterbacks: Joe Flacco, immobile and coming off a back injury that erased his entire camp, and Ryan Mallett, who fits their system because he plays like a severely injured Flacco. Speedy Josh Woodrum (now in Cleveland) looked like the perfect emergency quarterback/penny-stock prospect to keep around, as a Colin Kaepernick Criticism Deflector Shield if nothing else. But the Ravens opted for Stage 5 until such time that Flacco's deteriorating health and performance lands them at Stage 2.

Once a team finally cycles through all five stages, it can finally admit it has a problem and take meaningful steps to fix it. To make sure they don't draft a dud and end up right back at Stage 1, teams must address the root causes of the problem: the coaching staff, front office and decision-making process.

Every franchise owes it to itself and its fans to get off the quarterback self-sabotage merry-go-round. Bad quarterback situations don't just ruin opening day. They ruin whole seasons. If the opener already looks like a lost cause, your team may not just need a quarterback. It probably needs an intervention.

   

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @MikeTanier.