The Morbid State of the NFL Quarterback Is Only Getting Worse

There’s been talk latelyNFL Quarterback about Matt Ryan’s job security. I guess people are just sick and tired of watching a guy be middle-of-the pack. The Falcons are a collective 14-27 SU in their last three seasons since losing in the 2012 NFC Championship game to San Francisco. They’ve missed the playoffs in all three of those years. You can probably point fingers at Ryan as much as the coaching, or the makeup of the team, or whatever else you want to. At some point, Ryan has to assume a stiff portion of the blame.

The Falcons would only consider cutting Matt Ryan if they thought he wasn’t worth the $50+ million they owe him over the next three years. The Dolphins could do the same with Tannehill at the end of 2016 to alleviate themselves of a quarterback who can’t seem to play consistently, and is owed nearly $30 million after next season.

How do you know when to cut the cord with a NFL Quarterback? Are our standards too high for them? Do we expect too much out of them?

More importantly, if you cut a guy like Matt Ryan to save $50 million down the road, who exactly are you going to replace him with?

To really understand how dire things have become, we need to backtrack to 2012, the year that everything changed for quarterbacks in the NFL. First overall pick, Andrew Luck, would go on to submit one of the greatest rookie years of any quarterback, passing for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns offset by 18 interceptions. This was the most passing yards ever thrown by a rookie quarterback. The Colts also skyrocketed from the gutter and in to the playoffs, and have been threats up until this season where injuries caught up with the former Stanford prodigy.

His rookie season was so empowering that everyone forgot about what Cam Newton had done the year before. Newton was – and still is – a human highlight reel, throwing for 4,051 yards and rushing for another 706 yards while amassing 35 touchdowns as a rookie in 2011. It was a record shattering campaign for Cam. He set the marks for most rushing touchdowns by any NFL Quarterback with 14, and became the first quarterback in history to throw for 400+ yards in his first two games.

These are the types of outbursts you expect from first overall picks. Well, you at least hope for them. The pinnacles that Luck and Newton both reached as true rookies hadn’t been achieved ever. And if it were just those two guys doing it, we wouldn’t have completely reset our standards for rookie quarterbacks. The major issue was that three other first-year slingers were just as incredible.

Colin Kaepernick, RG3 and Russell Wilson all led their teams to the playoffs by playing brilliantly. Yes, two of those guys are barely in the league now but Kaepernick led his team to a Super Bowl in his first year as a starter (second year overall), while Wilson has a ring and two visits to the Promised Land. For the sake of length (and the ultimate point of the article) I won’t divulge in to their careers too much.

What I will remind you of is how you felt in 2012 when three rookies and a second-year starter set the NFL on fire. Along with Cam Newton, those four players changed our expectations of quarterbacks for good.

At the very same time, Matthew Stafford was putting up 10,005 yards in two season from 2011 to 2012, which where his first seasons at full health.

It’s hard to really remember how incredible the horizon seemed in 2012 for young quarterbacks until you realize how dreadful the whole situation has become. And at the same time, all of us were saying, “I guess these kids don’t need to hold a clipboard anymore!” Why would you bother when 5 guys came out of nowhere and took over the whole goddamn league all at once?

It wasn’t long ago that rookie quarterbacks were given time to develop. Eli Manning could barely beat Kurt Warner for game time before the legend was shipped out of Manhattan. Phillip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers both studied under two of the greatest to every play their position for a couple seasons before their time came. Most of those quarterbacks are the elder standard bearers of what’s acceptable in the NFL these days at the position. And you can very much argue that watching someone else do the job for an extensive period of time was critical to developing their football IQ’s and turning them in to the current standard-bearers of NFL quarterbacks.

That trend is on its last legs. The 2015 products of that system are Tyrod Taylor and Brock Osweiler, who have each spent a ton of time on the sidelines waiting for a shot at stardom. Taylor, who was the backup on Baltimore during their recent Super Bowl run, has been adequate in Buffalo. Nothing special, but a nice surprise. I don’t foresee a long-term extension in his future, but he could float around the league as a mid-card player, like Brian Hoyer. Brock Osweiler has been so uninspiring despite wins over Chicago and New England that the team is actually trying to dig up Peyton Manning’s body from the grave to see if he can play in Week 14 or 15.

The problem is many, young quarterbacks aren’t given the chance to blossom at their own pace. They’re thrown in to the fire and immediately judged. It’s like everyone – fans, media, owners, general managers, and coaches – forgot that some of these guys don’t pop out of the oven as All-Pros.

The effect that the 2012 rookie class had on the league ran in to an immediate problem: the next few classes of quarterbacks couldn’t hope to compare to them in any way.

In 2013, with our blood boiling over the insane production of those five aforementioned, quarterbacks, the league slammed straight in to a brick wall in terms of talent. Only E.J. Manuel was drafted in the first round, and he probably shouldn’t have been. Geno Smith was taken in the second and Mike Glennon hoisted in the third. A handful of guys were taken in the fourth and seventh rounds, most notably Matt Barkley and Landry Jones who have both been brutal in the league.

(By the way, there was talk that Matt Barkley should’ve been the first overall pick in 2012, so don’t get me started on college quarterbacks stomping in to take over the NFL anymore. We don’t know a thing about these kids.)

Blake Bortles was the third overall pick in 2014, ahead of Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr. The book is still out on all of these guys though Bortles has turned in to a top-10 guy (he seriously ranks 9th in passing yards), and Carr has finally given Oakland a franchise quarterback they can hang their silver and black war helmets on. I’m still not completely sold on Bridgewater, and Manziel is on his way out of the league for more non-football related stuff than anything else.

The same goes for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. It’s too early to tell. Winston will try to avoid the same fate that Josh Freeman did (remember him?) in Tampa Bay, while Mariota just has to hope that his heart doesn’t melt while Tennessee figures out how to put a competent football program together.

The incoming rookie class isn’t anything special either. Paxton Lynch of Memphis has become a ridiculous hype train this year, playing in a weak conference, with surreal numbers…and this is the first year he’s even been mentioned as a possible first year draft pick. Nobody knew who this guy was until two months ago.

The only other college player of note is Jared Goff, a 6-foot-4, 205 pound quarterback out of UCLA who has never been seen as a top overall pick, but was generally perceived to go in the first round this year. It all depends on need. After those two, the drop off falls pretty fast.

Quarterbacks are undoubtedly the most important players on the football field regardless of salaries or anything else, and the league is running in to a critical bypass. Their older guys are getting older, and there isn’t an influx of real, tangible talent that is taking the mantle from them. There’s no other way to justify a player like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh McCown getting so many chances in the NFL over recent years.

Why else do you think guys like Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler hold their mark as the franchise quarterbacks of their teams? At some point, the owners know what fans refuse to admit. These guys are really good at their jobs despite the wins, losses, and lacking championships.

So if you do cut Matt Ryan, if you move on from a guy like Ryan Tannehill, if you give up on Brock Osweiler, or if you part ways with a player like Manziel…what’s your next move? This is truly one of those situations where the grass seems greener on the other side.

Yet if you simply look out in to the horizon of the quarterback position, it’s a bleak and desolate wasteland where a handful of oak trees stand firmly planted, and a cast of journeymen wander aimlessly trying to find a home. There are very few, new quarterbacks rising up to supplant the old regime.

So even if you look at the Week 13 NFL betting slate and see a matchup like Tampa-Atlanta, don’t act like Matt Ryan’s neck is in a guillotine. The only two quarterbacks who are probably in obvious risk of losing their jobs are the two that were traded for each other in the offseason: Sam Bradford and Nick Foles. That seems like a given. The rest are strangely safe.

Which means that for the next few years, we are in for more of the same with a bunch of familiar, frustrating faces. We always hope that things can get better with quarterbacks on hopeful contenders, but the truth is that we may have hit an apex a few years back. Instead of wishing that guys were better, we should just be thankful that the situation isn’t worse than it already is.

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December 5, 2015: posted in News And Reviews No Comments

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