Predicting the Fate of the NFL's Young QBs in Prove-It Years
Usually, teams with solid quarterbacks have a chance to contend for a playoff spot. A top-notch signal-caller can push his squad to the Super Bowl. Conversely, general managers can lose their jobs if they choose an underachiever at the position.
In some situations, franchise quarterbacks stand out right away. Carson Wentz has already signed a four-year, $128 million extension after three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs signal-caller, will be eligible for an extension next offseason, and you should expect general manager Brett Veach to ink him to a record-setting deal.
On the other hand, some teams may hesitate before opening the checkbook for their young quarterback. Front-office executives will allow an inconsistent passer to play out a contract year and assess his worth during a crucial campaign.
Clubs may even have a backup signal-caller with starting potential. Team brass must decide to sell high in a trade or risk losing that player for nothing on the open market.
We'll take a look at seven quarterbacks younger than 30 years old who are in contract years or eligible for extensions next offseason. They must each prove themselves worthy of a new deal.
What's next for these young quarterbacks? Will they earn new contracts with their current teams, play out another season or land elsewhere as free agents in 2020?
Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans Saints
Once a starter, Teddy Bridgewater's career took an unfortunate turn after he suffered a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap in August 2016. Since then, he's appeared in six games, which included a run with the first unit for last year's regular-season finale.
Bridgewater chose to re-sign with the New Orleans Saints on a one-year deal instead of competing for a starting job elsewhere. He visited the Miami Dolphins—a team in his home state—but the 26-year-old prioritized development, per Luke Johnson of the Times-Picayune.
"This is an opportunity for me to grow, continue to learn and expand my mental capacity as a football player," he said.
Bridgewater will sit behind Drew Brees, who's going into his age-40 term on the last year of his deal. Assuming this season caps the 12-time Pro Bowler's career, the backup should become the starter next campaign.
In that scenario—assuming he's offered and signs a new multiyear deal—Bridgewater would take over an offense with two star playmakers: running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas. The Saints offensive line also features Ryan Ramczyk, a young and talented offensive tackle, and rookie second-rounder Erik McCoy, who will battle to start at center this offseason.
Bridgewater will have to prove he's ready to take over for Brees with his preparation during training camp and performances through the preseason. If he's solid throughout the summer, the Saints will have their next man up at quarterback.
Projection: Bridgewater re-signs with the Saints.
Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts don't have a quarterback controversy. As long as Andrew Luck remains healthy, he's the guy to lead the offense. Head coach Frank Reich values backup Jacoby Brissett, though. According to 1070 The Fan's Kevin Bowen, he expressed his desire to keep the No. 2 signal-caller on the roster.
"I tell Chris [Ballard] all the time, 'Please don't let him go. I don't care what anybody offers him. Don't let him go.' I love Jacoby," Reich said. "The problem is now I've gotten to know Jacoby and, at some point, I hope that it works out for Jacoby. But not now."
Reich and Ballard seem to agree on Brissett's value despite his status as a reserve. The Colts general manager would need a favorable deal for the player and organization to move him, per George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin.
"It would take somebody doing something that would blow me away, and it has to be the right thing for the kid, too," Ballard said.
According to Bowen, teams made offers for Brissett, but Ballard didn't budge on the proposals.
While Luck recovered from a shoulder injury during the 2017 campaign, Brissett played in all 16 contests and started in 15. Logging 3,098 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, he made the best out of a rough situation on a 4-12 squad.
The Colts offensive line ranked last in pass protection that year, per Football Outsiders. The defense placed 30th in scoring and yards allowed. The ground attack listed 22nd leaguewide.
This spring, Brissett ran the offense while Luck nursed a calf injury, and he'll have an opportunity to show off his arm during the preseason. His performances may drive up the asking price, but the Colts should keep their backup. Luck has missed 26 games since 2015. If he struggles with another injury, his backup could keep this squad in playoff contention.
Whether Brissett plays this season or not, he may cost too much to retain next year if teams remain interested in him.
Projection: Brissett tests free agency and signs with a new team.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
In 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles made Carson Wentz the No. 2 overall pick behind Jared Goff, who went to the Los Angeles Rams. The former's new contract won't affect the timeline of negotiations for the latter, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.
"They seem to be on a different timetable than we are," Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said. "I don't think we're naive enough to say that Carso's signing is not relevant. I just don't think it changes the timing."
Typically, teams extend deserving quarterbacks in the offseason before contract years, but front offices have paid a high price for starting signal-callers. In most cases, the last passer to sign a new deal becomes the highest-paid player, which likely explains why Philadelphia offered to pay Wentz now rather than later.
The Rams will probably stick to the norm, allowing Goff to play out a fourth term on an $8.89 million cap hit, per Spotrac. The front office has exercised his fifth-year option after two Pro Bowl campaigns.
Goff stumbled at the end of the 2018 term, throwing six touchdown passes and six interceptions in December. He threw for one score and two picks with a 55.7 completion rate through three playoff games.
Goff will likely carry more of the offensive load in the upcoming season because of running back Todd Gurley's arthritic knee and rookie tailback Darrell Henderson's need to learn on the job. The front office may use the year to evaluate how much the young signal-caller can handle with a talented wide receiver group that features Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, who's coming off a torn ACL.
If Goff matches his numbers from last year for a top-10 passing unit, he's a near-lock for a new deal next summer.
Projection: Goff signs a multiyear extension.
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Marcus Mariota's prove-it year comes with several moving parts.
For starters, Mariota must stay healthy. Although he's missed just eight games through four seasons, the team has seen him play through nagging injuries. Last year, the 25-year-old signal-caller sat out of the season finale with playoffs hopes on the line because of a stinger.
According to Midday 180's Paul Kuharsky, Mariota bulked up during the offseason.
"Mariota currently weighs in at 230. Throw away listed weights from the official team roster, which tend not to be particularly accurate," he wrote. "I'm told his current number is up 12 to 13 pounds from where he ended the 2018 season."
As a mobile quarterback, Mariota should be able to absorb more hits with the added weight. General manager Jon Robinson would prefer he avoids extra contact, per MMQB's Albert Breer:
"The thing I've stressed to him, and I know our coaches have stressed to him is, Let's live to play another play. Don't take that hit. If you feel the pocket coming down on you and you take off running, and the 'backer is coming off of coverage and he's coming screaming at you, throw the ball away. It's OK to punt, we'll get another crack at it. That's the main thing, it's stressing to him—to try as best as possible, like all quarterbacks do, to avoid getting hit."
Mariota must also establish a rapport with new wide receivers. The Titans signed Adam Humphries and selected A.J. Brown in the second round of this year's draft to bolster the unit. The young signal-caller should view those moves as a push for more production through the air. If he fails to deliver, the front office may look for another passer to optimize talent on the perimeter.
Finally, Mariota will run the offense under his fifth play-caller in five years. Coupled with significant body and roster adjustments, the constant transition in schemes doesn't bode well for him.
The Titans may find success running a power ground attack that features Derrick Henry behind solid veteran left guard Rodger Saffold in the trenches, but Mariota has a tough hill to climb in his push to earn a new deal in Tennessee. He's thrown fewer than 20 touchdown passes in three of four seasons, and he could miss that mark again in 2019.
Projection: Mariota tests free agency and signs with a new team.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys and Dak Prescott may not come to an agreement on a new pact before training camp, but he's not worried about a new deal going into a contract year. As he told reporters, "My only focus is within the locker room. … I want to be a Cowboy forever."
Unlike the other six quarterbacks on this list, Prescott's current body of work may determine his new contract. The Cowboys could allow him to play through the 2019 season. But realistically, they will probably aim to quiet the noise about his future and ease his mind before Week 1.
Prescott isn't an easy evaluation. He's not going to air it out and throw for 40 touchdowns in a single season. The third-year signal-caller has tossed 22 or 23 passes for scores in each of his three terms.
With a career average of just 1.4 touchdowns per contest, Prescott's production shouldn't warrant a mega-deal. Then again, he's consistent and doesn't turn the ball over through the air, logging just 25 interceptions in 48 starts.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott drives the offense. He's led the league in rushing yards (4,048) since his 2016 rookie season, which was the same year Prescott took over the starting job. The Cowboys signal-caller makes shrewd decisions with the ball, but a top-10 ground attack eases the pass rush and sometimes draws a safety out of coverage and into the box.
Don't confuse Prescott for a quarterback able to propel his team to victory with a pass-heavy attack, though a full season with wideout Amari Cooper should boost the signal-caller's numbers. Still, stability with a solid passer would keep the Cowboys in playoff contention.
Projection: Prescott signs a multiyear extension before training camp.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Among the quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2017 draft, Mitchell Trubisky is less accomplished than Deshaun Watson and reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Trubisky and Watson earned 2018 Pro Bowl spots, but the latter has better career numbers. His 45 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions outpace the 31 scores and 19 picks for the Chicago Bears signal-caller.
Because of Trubisky's inconsistent rookie campaign, during which he broke even with seven touchdown passes and interceptions, he has more to prove than Watson. The Houston Texans signal-caller flashed after taking over the huddle for Tom Savage in Week 2 of the 2017 term.
Bettors think Trubisky will take a giant leap in Year 2 under head coach Matt Nagy. According to Caesar's Palace, he's the most popular choice for 2019 league MVP.
Those making such a wager should feel good about Nagy's growing confidence in Trubisky following spring practices. The Bears head coach sees intangible growth in him under center, per Arthur Arkush of the Daily Herald:
"Accuracy-wise he's been more than fine. What I've taken away from OTAs just from all of us talking … where Mitch was at last year at this time fixing protections and seeing what the defense is doing ... I've been talking about coverages, well now talking about fronts and stunts and how they disguise different looks, and he's seeing that."
If Trubisky's understanding of protections and coverages carries over into the regular season, the Bears' search for a franchise centerpiece should end with their current quarterback. He may not win league MVP, but the 24-year-old could encourage the front office to follow the Philadelphia Eagles' plan with Carson Wentz and hand out an early extension.
Projection: Trubisky signs a multiyear extension.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In all likelihood, Bruce Arians wouldn't have accepted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coaching job if he didn't see Jameis Winston as a franchise centerpiece. Since coming out of retirement, the lead skipper has pumped up his quarterback with public praise.
"I think he can win it all. I mean, he has the intelligence, the toughness and obviously the arm ability to lead a team," Arians said on The Rich Eisen Show. "We got to put the right pieces around him."
Interestingly, the Buccaneers didn't make any major changes to the offensive personnel around Winston.
Arians couldn't convince wideout DeSean Jackson to stay, so the team picked up Breshad Perriman, who hasn't lived up to his 2015 first-round draft status, and selected wide receiver Scotty Miller in the sixth round of this year's draft. Alex Cappa should replace Caleb Benenoch at right guard.
Tampa Bay will attempt to take some pressure off Winston with a defense that allows fewer points. Since his 2015 rookie term, the defensive unit hasn't ranked higher than 15th in scoring.
This offseason, the front office selected linebacker Devin White with the No. 5 overall pick, added three defensive backs on Day 2 of the draft (Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards) and took defensive end Anthony Nelson in the fourth round.
Winston's willingness to push the ball downfield matches Arians' aggressive passing philosophy. The Buccaneers head coach will likely drill him on situational football, drawing a line between knowing when to gamble and throwing the ball away or taking a sack.
Winston has a talented pass-catching group that features wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin along with tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. With those targets in Arians' system, we should see the best out of the 25-year-old signal-caller.
If Winston puts together an impressive season, the front office should franchise-tag him for a year to ensure he's on the right track in consecutive campaigns under Arians.
Projection: Winston signs the franchise tag.