Will These Playoffs Change the Way NFL Teams Approach the QB Position?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 19, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 14:  Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up before the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on January 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jaguars defeat Pittsburgh 45-42.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Choker. Subpar. Trash.

All of that has been publicly said about Blake Bortles this season. Others privately are no kinder, painting the Jaguars quarterback as the NFL version of a dumpster fire. Case Keenum and Nick Foles haven't received a ton of verbal bouquets from players, either.

That sets up a nightmare possibility for the NFL: Bortles versus Keenum or Foles in the Super Bowl.

When the NFL sees those names, the football equivalent of Javanka, league executives are likely to get sick to their stomachs.

"I know this is what all you guys predicted back in the day, was a Foles versus Keenum NFC championship," Keenum told reporters. "So, good job to all you guys that predicted that."

No one predicted that.

"Blake Bortles is in the AFC championship," Patriots defensive back Eric Rowe told reporters. "There's no other way to put it. The media and all the other team guys can talk about how 'trash' he is, but he's beaten teams. Obviously he's a good scrambling quarterback, he has an arm, he has receivers and he's in the championship, so obviously he's a great player. You can't be 'trash' and be in the championship game."

With perhaps the least sexy quarterback matchups ever in the conference championship round, could these playoffs change the way NFL teams approach the position? Is the idea of the prototypical quarterback overblown? Are teams going to rethink what a franchise thrower means?

Eagles coach Doug Pederson was asked by reporters this week about the fact that three of the four remaining quarterbacks aren't exactly marquee names, and what that means for the game moving forward. His response mirrored the beliefs of an increasing number of teams—that they can win without big talent under center.

"Listen, and I've said this a lot of times and I'll say it again: It's not about one guy," Pederson said, according to a transcript provided by the Eagles. "Even Tom Brady has weapons on offense and playing good defense, and it's the same way with the other three teams. They have got weapons around the quarterback. They all play great defense. And listen, ultimately, bottom line, it comes down to who can take care of the football." 

Nick Foles didn't throw for any touchdowns in the Eagles' win over the Falcons last week, but he also didn't throw any interceptions.
Nick Foles didn't throw for any touchdowns in the Eagles' win over the Falcons last week, but he also didn't throw any interceptions.Al Bello/Getty Images

Jaguars coach Doug Marrone was asked if, indeed, teams have overstated the idea of a franchise quarterback.

"I only know two of the quarterbacks, you know what I'm saying?" he said. "I can't even talk about the other ones. I would not know. I know we're playing against Tom Brady and I know our quarterback. I don't even know anything else about those NFC teams at all. I would not be able to give you a good answer."

OK, well, let's try again. Does a team need a franchise quarterback? Is that a better way to put the question, Doug?

"I have no idea," Marrone said. "I have played with small quarterbacks, big quarterbacks. I was a college coach. I've played with them all. You just have to play with the best one. That's probably a better question for Tom [Coughlin] and Dave [Caldwell]. They are more the personnel guys. I'm more of just a football [coach]."

Deciphering the coachspeak, it's clear that, yes, of course you'd love to have a Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Matt Ryan.

Yet I can also tell you, in speaking with some teams around the sport, the fact the title games will be quarterbacked by some of the NFL's dregs is changing minds about the position.

As one general manager on a team potentially looking for a quarterback explained: "The Vikings, in particular, show how you can win with defense and running in today's football. That was unheard of just a few years ago."

Still, it has to be acknowledged that what we're seeingaverage quarterbacks reaching deep into the playoffs—is extraordinarily rare. The 2000 Ravens dominated the league and won Super Bowl XXXV with Trent Dilfer at quarterback. Kerry Collins and Jake Delhomme have each reached a Super Bowl.

But look at the list of quarterback Super Bowl MVPs. They are almost all franchise players. The most recent one who wasn't: Washington's Mark Rypien, who won in 1992.

Though he didn't begin the season as the Vikings starter, Case Keenum led them to an 11-3 record this season as the starting quarterback.
Though he didn't begin the season as the Vikings starter, Case Keenum led them to an 11-3 record this season as the starting quarterback.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This year's playoffs, however, have highlighted another path: you may not need a star signal-caller.

"You can win with two-and-a-half pillars, not three," said the GM.

One pillar is a great defense. Another is a strong running game. And the third is not a great quarterback—but an average, or barely average, one.

So it's possible we'll be seeing a lot more of Bortles, Keenum and their like in postseasons to come as teams look to build support structures around the QBs, instead of building their rosters down from them.

Bortles isn't trash. He's also not great.

But he might be the future.

          

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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