NFL Quarterbacks with Most to Prove Down the Stretch of 2020 Season
For better or worse, NFL quarterbacks generate the most headlines. General managers either have their franchise player at the position or spend an entire offseason looking for someone to fill the role.
As the 2020 season winds down, a handful of signal-callers have to make their case for an extension, string together quality performances to increase their free-agent market value or ward off in-house competition. Throughout a four-month campaign, a lasting impression can seal a player's fate.
Some quarterbacks started the season with a hot hand, but they must end on a strong note or else front-office executives may have second thoughts about the long-term outlook of the position. Other passers have put together a mixed bag of performances up until this point and need to turn their seasons around to solidify a spot on next year's roster.
Someone like Carson Wentz, who's played poorly through the 2020 campaign, wouldn't fit into this category as the primary starter for the Philadelphia Eagles in three consecutive trips to the playoffs. Although the team drafted Jalen Hurts in April, he's thrown just two passes as a non-threat to the starter position. Remember, the team just signed Wentz to an extension last year.
Going into Week 11, we'll look at five quarterbacks who aren't necessarily in danger of losing jobs this year but have something prove because of past shortcomings or uncertain futures on expiring contracts.
QB Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
When the Las Vegas Raiders signed quarterback Marcus Mariota last spring, it seemed as though Derek Carr might be on the hot seat going into the 2020 campaign.
Meanwhile, Carr looks comfortable in his third year under head coach Jon Gruden, throwing for 2,156 yards, 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions with a career-high 107.4 passer rating. He's also improved while on the fly, using his legs to make plays on the move.
However, Carr isn't in the clear from questions about his job security yet. Last season, the Raiders lost five of their last six games to fall out of the playoff race. During free agency, Vegas had some level of interest in Tom Brady, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Carr has a career record of 45-58 across seven seasons and has guided the Raiders to one playoff berth. The 29-year-old isn't solely responsible for the team's shortcomings, but he has carried the brunt of the blame as the centerpiece for an offense that's finished higher than 17th in scoring only once (2016) during his time under center.
This year, the 6-3 Raiders have the league's eighth-ranked scoring offense, and Carr is throwing touchdowns passes at a career-high rate (5.7 percent). If he has an underwhelming finish to the 2020 season, chatter about a quarterback competition with Mariota or an incoming rookie could become a topic of discussion in the offseason.
QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Baker Mayfield had a promising rookie campaign but took a significant step back as a sophomore, throwing for 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
This season, the Cleveland Browns have a 6-3 record through 10 weeks, but Mayfield seems more like a game manager than the driving force behind the team's victories.
Mayfield has thrown seven of his 15 touchdown passes in two games against the Cincinnati Bengals. Although inclement weather factored into his recent back-to-back scoreless outings, he's often going to play in those type of conditions late in seasons at home in Cleveland. For the year, he's averaging only 182.9 passing yards per game.
Mayfield can lean on the Browns' fourth-ranked ground attack to power the offense, but Cleveland will eventually need him to lead the offense with his arm. Although he's been efficient, he hasn't looked impressive throwing downfield, as the team ranks 30th in passing.
Cleveland still has to face the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers in its remaining seven contests, all of whom boast top-11 run defenses. Mayfield will have to force those three teams to respect the Browns' aerial attack.
If he's unable to do so, the Browns offense would have a one-dimensional offense. That's a disappointing reality with a No. 1 overall pick under center. Cleveland has to make a decision on Mayfield's fifth-year option in the offseason.
QB Cam Newton, New England Patriots
At the age of 31, Cam Newton should have more prime seasons left in his tank. However, he's taken a lot of hits, having logged 1,014 carries for 5,141 yards and 67 touchdowns on the ground throughout his 10-year NFL career.
The Carolina Panthers released Newton in March and moved on with Teddy Bridgewater, which complicated the former's free-agent landing spots with several veteran quarterbacks already on the market. Front-office executives likely had their eyes on available talent months before the new calendar year.
Newton's market shrank, and he settled for a modest one-year deal worth approximately $1.8 million with the New England Patriots in the hope of garnering some respect. Thus far, he's posed a bigger threat on the ground than with his arm, logging 80 carries for 335 yards and nine scores compared to 1,535 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions through the air.
Considering the wear and tear on his body, teams may hesitate to sign Newton to a long-term deal if he struggles as a passer through the remaining games. The Patriots have limited pass-catching playmakers with wideout Julian Edelman on injured reserve recovering from knee surgery. Nevertheless, the All-Pro quarterback's growing rapport with Jakobi Meyers could allow him to showcase his arm talent and efficiency.
Newton has completed a career-high 68.8 percent of his pass attempts, but he's yet to throw for multiple touchdowns in a single game this season. Without a boost in production through the air, the 10th-year veteran may have to ink another prove-it deal as his body rapidly ages in a dual-threat role.
QB Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts signed Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal in March, though head coach Frank Reich left the door open for an extension earlier this year.
"Reich believes Philip Rivers wants to play more than one season, and he's 'very optimistic' it will be more than a one-year relationship with the team," George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin tweeted in May. "Reich adds things still have to play out on the field."
Rivers could play his way into a new contract or find himself back on the free-agent market in 2021. In the worst-case scenario, his performances down the stretch could hurt his potential to land another starting job.
If that's the case, the 38-year-old may consider retirement.
According to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, ESPN showed interest in adding Rivers to the Monday Night Football broadcast last offseason. Rivers, who turns 39 years old in December, may have a potential career in sports media if he struggles to land a first-string position next season.
Thus far, Rivers has been efficient, completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 2,395 yards across nine games, but he's thrown for only 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions. The eight-time Pro Bowler still has to earn a spot on next year's roster.
As of right now, that decision remains inconclusive.
QB Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints beat the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, but it came at a hefty price.
According to ESPN's Ed Werder, Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been diagnosed with multiple rib fractures on both sides of his chest as well as a collapsed lung. It's unclear how much time he'll miss, per ESPN's Mike Triplett, but he isn't expected to play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Taysom Hill took first-team reps throughout the week, which suggests he'll take over as QB1, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Assuming that's the case, the versatile playmaker will make his first start as the primary signal-caller Sunday.
Last season, Teddy Bridgewater made the most of his five starts in place of Brees, who was sidelined after undergoing thumb surgery. He went on to sign a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers in March.
Hill can follow a similar path or potentially become the long-term solution for the Saints if Brees retires in the offseason.
For his career, Hill has completed just 10 of 18 passes for 205 yards and an interception during the regular season. Head coach Sean Payton has utilized him mostly as a ball-carrier, receiver and special teamer.
Yet during this past offseason, Jay Glazer of The Athletic reported that the Saints think Hill has a potential future at quarterback. New Orleans signed the 30-year-old to a two-year, $21 million extension in April. He'll have a chance to prove them right down the stretch.
If Hill struggles, Jameis Winston, a five-year starter, could take over while Brees recovers from injury.