Training Camp Roundup: QB Edition

By Aaron Weiss

With the NFL training camp season well underway, and our first preseason football game in the books, it seems apt to check in on several player situations across the league, and today we’re starting with the quarterback. We’re not going to look at all 32 teams, but rather focus on where there are developing stories, good, bad, or weird. So, without further ado:

Miami: Perhaps the hottest story in the NFL, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill injured his left knee on Thursday during a scrimmage, and is potentially looking at a season ending surgery. I say potentially, because nothing about his diagnosis is concrete; not his actual diagnosis, his plan of action, or his timetable.

What does seem to be the case is that he injured this knee back in December, and rather than go under the knife Tannehill opted to let the knee heal naturally, a decision that parallel’s baseball’s Masahiro Tanaka’s choice last year to let a partially torn UCL heal naturally, as opposed to undergoing Tommy John. This may have just come back to haunt Tannehill, but if he can let the knee heal naturally again he could be ready to go in 6-8 weeks, as opposed to missing the 2017 season.

Yet it isn’t the actual injury that makes this the hot story of the week, but rather Miami’s first and final target for a fill in: Jay Cutler. While Miami head coach Adam Gase originally downplayed the legitimacy of this option, saying “I don’t think it’s close to anything,” the final word came this afternoon, with Cutler coming out of retirement to sign a 1 year, $10 million dollar deal with the ‘Fins.

The number of ways in which this is distressing is hard to count. Gase will say that Cutler was the top choice due to his starting experience and his familiarity with the Dolphins’ system (Cutler played for Gase in both Denver and Chicago), but Cutler isn’t close to being a quality quarterback at this point in his career. Last year Cutler threw 1 more pick and 12 less touchdowns than fellow modicum of mediocrity, Colin Kaepernick, who was a hot name thrown into the conversation to cover for Tannehill (Cutler played 7 less games than Kaep in 2016, but depending on the stat that’s only more troubling).

While this signing continues Kaepernick’s apparent blacklisting from the NFL, the real victim here is the one who has been Miami’s Mr. Reliable for years: Matt Moore. Moore is one of the premier backup QBs in the league, and in a 4 game showing in 2016 he had a higher completion percentage (63.2%) and PFF grade (67.9) than either Kaepernick (59.2% and 61.6) or Cutler (59.1% and 41.9), not to mention Moore averaged 2 TDs per game, as opposed to Kaep’s 1.3 and Cutler’s 0.8 per game. Miami should never had gotten into the PR disaster of picking Cutler over Kaepernick when Moore is the obvious choice ahead of either of them.

Moore has the system familiarity that Cutler provides while, at a minimum, being Kaepernick’s equal in terms of skill (although their skill sets vary drastically; Kaep being more of a runner and a little more wild, and Moore is a more prototypical pocket passer), not to mention Moore counts $2.1 million against the cap, as opposed to Cutler’s $10 million, with another $3 mil in incentives.

But Adam Gase “simply would not take no for an answer,” from Jay Cutler, so here we are with the 2-month retiree taking the helm in Miami. Gase is known to be a QB whisperer, and Cutler’s transition to the Miami offense should be quick, but it still remains to be seen if this offense can get off the ground without Tannehill running the show.

Still, for the overlooked Matt Moore, this has to be beyond disheartening, and after being with Miami for 6 years, and gracefully accepting a demotion from the starting job during that time, don’t be surprised if Moore looks to get out of dodge, either this upcoming offseason, or with a midseason trade, particularly with starting opportunities with teams like the Jets, the 49ers, and the Browns

New England: The same day Tanny messed up his knee, division rival Tom Terrific entered his 4th decade on this earth. Not even 48 hours into the decade, and Brady already got himself into hot water, saying “I really don’t think that’s anybody’s business” when asked if he had a concussion in 2016. Now, granted, the question is hard to answer directly, when saying yes throws your team under the bus (and sets you or your team up for severe repercussions from the NFL), and saying no throws your wife under the bus, since she claimed he did have one.

His situation is such that you can almost sympathize for the world’s greatest quarterback. But the crassness of his response is surprising, confusing, and very disconcerting. Mere days after the release of a study on CTE (a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head) that left a slew of retirements in it’s wake (Andrew Hawkins, Chris Watt, John Urschel, Rob Ninkovich, Jadar Johnson, Tony Hills, and Ryan Clady have all retired in the 8 days since the study was released; that’s more retirements than in the entirely of May and June combined. It is worth caveating that only Urschel specifically mentioned the report as a factor for his retirement, so the timing could just be coincidence), the NFL’s poster boy is not only reluctant to talk about concussions, he is adamant that it isn’t anyone’s business to even ask. The staunchness of his statement both blows the door wide open that he probably did have a concussion in 2016, while also projecting a disregard for player health and safety that will impact anyone who either looks up to the greatest QB of all time, or anyone trying to make it in the NFL.

If Roger Goodell has any fight in him after effectively losing the battle over something as ridiculous as Deflategate, he should be gearing up to prepare a significant investigation into the Patriots’ reporting on player injuries, with the intention of punishing the Patriots to the fullest extent of the rules should any wrongdoing be found.

Houston: The QB battle between the NFL’s top player by name to skill disproportion, Tom Savage, and first round pick Deshaun Watson, was an easy pick for one of the top training camp battles to watch going into the season. Head Coach Bill O’Brien had stated that “Tom’s No. 1,” but even then he caveated that statement, saying “He knows, like I said from day one, he’s got to earn it every day.” Watson has recently been making strides in camp, and O’Brien praised him, saying that Watson “is really way ahead of any rookie quarterback I’ve been around.”

But the battle took an interesting twist when superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins took a side, saying “I put the stamp on Savage, and I think that’s all that needs to be said about that.” Reminiscent of when wide receiver Brandon Marshall was an avid defender of Harvard grad and semi-pro quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, this is another scenario where a playing created something out of nothing. Hopkins has to know that, whether this season or next, this team belongs to Watson, and putting his chips on Savage may end up alienating his future QB.

While Savage played respectably in his 3 games last season, he’s never shown that his hasn’t come close to his ceiling, whereas Watson’s ceiling is massive. Generally a star WR wants to back the franchise QB, not throw him under the bus. One has to wonder if Hopkins is backing Savage because he truly believes he’s the better quarterback, or because he averaged 84 yards per game with Savage at the helm in 2016, as opposed to 54 yards with Osweiler leading the offense.

The sad truth is that Savage probably will be the starting QB come week 1 no matter what, and so Hopkins’ endorsement did nothing to benefit anyone, while potentially tarnishing the relationship with what should be his QB for the foreseeable future. It’s this sort of action that makes you question Hopkins as a team player, and asks how invested he is in resigning with the team long term.

Indianapolis/Baltimore: Two scenarios where starting QBs are recovering from injury, neither Joe Flacco or Andrew Luck have any guarantee of necessarily being ready for week one of the regular season. The vibe out of Baltimore seems to be more optimistic, with doctors saying Flacco’s back injury is “minor”, but in the meantime the face taking the reins in practice, and potentially the preseason and regular season after that, is former Patriot heartthrob Ryan Mallett. So far his training camp has been a mixed bag, with some good performances at the end of last week that are juxtaposed by a 5 interception performance that prompted Terrell Suggs to question whether Mallett knew who he was supposed to throw to. The Ravens are one of the top names to potentially sign the aforementioned blacklisted Colin Kaepernick, and if nothing else he’d be a good camp body with Flacco on the shelf.

Meanwhile, the story in Indianapolis is slightly more grim. GM Chris Ballard insists Luck will be off of the PUP list by week 1, fully recovered from his shoulder surgery, but just three days prior Luck himself was noncommittal about playing by then (although he could be held out without being on the PUP list). Should he not be able to play to start the season, the Colts are looking to “not Aaron Rodgers”, aka Scott Tolzien, to push this team beyond .500 mediocrity. More grim than the Baltimore situation, and not remotely as entertaining, look to the Colts to try and find a higher upside QB should it seem that Luck may miss more than one game.

Arizona: Our final stop, we come not to look at a first string QB, nor a 2nd string QB. We’re hear to celebrate the beauty that is 3rd string QB Blaine Gabbert, who played the entire first half and schooled a Dallas team that spent a good chuck of that time playing 1st stringers. Gabbert went 11 for 14 with 185 yards and a Passer Rating of 118.8. Now, we grant that this was a preseason game, and even if it wasn’t, the Dallas defense is ridiculously porous (even more so when half the squad is suspended).

I don’t legitimately think that Blaine Gabbert is back. Then again, ask the team that drafted him if they’d swap their current disaster of a quarterback (Blake Bortles) for Yo Gabba Gabbert, and I bet that discussion takes well longer than it should. Realistically though, with a performance like this, the spot for backup QB should definitely be up in the air between Gabbert and the incumbent backup Drew Stanton. And with 1st stringer Carson Palmer being prone to injury (he’s 37, and he missed 1 game last year and 10 three years ago), there’s actually a legitimate path for former top 10 pick Blaine Gabbert to salvage his career. In the meantime, we’ll just have to celebrate that he’s escaped the disaster that is San Francisco.

So that’s the round up for now! There’s other interesting QB notes around the league, from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to New York, but perhaps we’ll cover those another time, or maybe another position! Let us know what we should cover next, and what you think of these stories across the league. Until next time, I’m signing off!

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