A cricket couldn’t fart at the Cleveland Browns’ OTAs without a stampede of reporters and bloggers rushing to tweet about it. We love football, and as much a non-story as the Colt McCoy vs. Brandon Weedon saga will become, deep down we love that mess too.
Our NFL appetite is insatiable, and nothing quenches our thirst like blood, and we’re not the only ones.
Here are five other quarterback controversies to keep your eye on this season:
1. New York: Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow
If quarterback controversies are part media creation, than Sanchez-Tebow is this summer’s Frankenstein.
After advancing to the AFC Championship Game two straight years, the Jets are coming off a disappointing 8-8 campaign. Couple that with the Giants stealing New York after their second Super Bowl in five years, and you get the desperate need for attention that leads to a trade for Tim Tebow.
But wait, if they wanted attention they would have signed up for Hard Knocks, right?
Sanchez has only been in the league three years, but the Jets are clearly announcing this is the season they expect him to take a step forward. Instead of bringing in an older veteran to support him, they bring in a superstar, wildcat backup to take away some of his snaps.
Sanchez will enter as the starter but he doesn’t have a lot of rope here and neither does head coach Rex Ryan. Because of his magnetism, the Jets seem to be employing Tebow as an internal pressure mechanism. Win now, or forever face the media and their darling Tim.
It’s a risky tactic but I agree – this is the year for Sanchez to swim. He’s developed behind good defenses for long enough. In 2009, the Jets led the NFL in points allowed. In 2010, they were down to sixth and last year they fell to 20th. That defense is on the decline and now it’s Sanchez’s turn to carry them…or else.
2. Seattle: Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson vs. Russell Wilson
All the other papers and blogs have this as a quarterback derby so I included it here. I even threw in developmental third-round pick Russell Wilson because head coach Pete Carroll inexplicably announced he would also be given a shot to compete for the starting job against incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and free agent acquisition Matt Flynn. It’s so absurd that I have a theory.
This really shouldn’t be a question. Everyone knows Tarvaris brings nothing to the table, and the Seahawks had him all last year so they know better than anyone. They just paid Matt Flynn a lot of money to come in and be their quarterback. I would bet my house Flynn starts. The fact they signed Flynn to a relatively reasonable deal (three years, $26 million) just means they got fair money for a guy with two career pro starts.
His cheapness doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to him, which is where everyone is going with this.
The trick to quarterback competition psychology is, you only come out and declare a guy your starter when you need to build him up (see Kevin Kolb). Otherwise, you say you want your guy to compete for his job, meaning he really is your guy, you just don’t want him to get fat.
Carroll is just tinkering with this formula by throwing in Wilson. He has declared a position battle without singling out Flynn, which I suppose keeps him from getting lazy while not heaping tons of pressure on the newly made millionaire. Kind of a brilliant tactic actually.
3. Tennessee: Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker
This is a quarterback competition in name but is actually a very civil and measured affair. Everyone knows Hasslebeck is 52 years old and everyone knows the job will eventually be Jake Locker’s. This is a pure and healthy developmental situation.
I bet Matt and Jake even take time to sit and have tea together, and read the funny papers before their OTAs. Here’s a photo of them hugging for proof.
The Titans are set up well here. They brought in a Super Bowl veteran not named Jake Delhomme, and with a decent team all around, can ride Hasselbeck if he wins, or move on to Locker if he starts to lose or gets injured.
If I had to guess I’d say Hasslebeck doesn’t make it past their Week 6 road game against the Steelers. The Titans’ early season schedule is not easy and James Harrison will be on national TV then, so, you know…
4. Minnesota: Joe Webb vs. Christian Ponder
Okay, a few of these are made up. This one isn’t a quarterback controversy yet, but it darn well should be. Anyone who gambles on football knows the Vikings are a much better team with Joe Webb on the field than Christian Ponder. The Vikings are just confused because Ponder was the guy they used to replace Donovan McNabb.
Admittedly, I have a giant crush on Joe Webb.
Everyone knows the Vikings reached for Ponder in the draft last year. He got ten starts and won two. I imagine the Vikings would like to give him all of this year as well, given the arc of their rebuild, but he’s never getting there. He looks too small and in that division against the Bears, Packers and Lions, I see him hobbling around, holding his shoulder the same way as last year.
4. Kansas City: Brady Quinn vs. Matt Cassel
This is another controversy I am predicting for later this season. Cassel has had two good pro years, one with the Patriots and one with the Chiefs, when he faced a charmingly easy NFL schedule against both the inferior NFC and AFC West divisions. He’s been a four-win guy otherwise, and the Chiefs were the first team out of the gate offering a contract to Peyton Manning. I’m not saying Brady Quinn is good, I’m saying this is the year the people in Kansas City call it off with Cassel.
And who will be the guy to make that difficult decision? Why, it’s their new coach, Romeo Crennel, the most indecisive, self-destructive quarterback controversy referee in the game. Crennel and Quinn were also together for two years with the Cleveland Browns, and you know Romeo has his soft spots.
Here’s the Chiefs’ schedule. My guess is the players enjoy their laziest, most unproductive training camp in recent memory, wheeze out of the gate against a fairly tough schedule, get to their bye week at 0-6, and decide they need to flip a coin on Quinn and Cassel moving forward.
5. Arizona: Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton
At the end of the day, this is the quarterback competition with real teeth. Ken Whisenhunt needs to get this one right.
Two years ago, Kurt Warner retired and the Cardinals attempted to get through the season with Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson as their quarterbacks. They got DA’d. Leinart couldn’t beat him out, and Anderson proceeded to play from uneven to awful that year, leading to a 4-12 season, and this infamous Monday Night meltdown.
Last season, with star receiver Larry Fitzgerald entering a contact year, the Cardinals and Whisenhunt panicked. They bought high on Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, trading away a starting cornerback and a second-round pick for him. They then signed Kolb to a six-year, $65 million contract and named him the starter (how does that Matt Flynn deal look now?). Fitzgerald had seen enough, and signed an eight-year, $128 million deal to stay in Arizona.
For those of you counting at home, Larry Fitzgerald actually cost the Cardinals $193 million, a second-round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who was a former first-round pick.
As the story goes, Kolb then struggled to adjust from the West Coast offense he learned in Philadelphia to the Pittsburgh Steelers-esque roll out and bombs away attack Whisenhunt took to Arizona. Kolb also missed time to injuries, and in his place fifth-round pick John Skelton has shined. On tape, he has that Ben Roethlisberger feel. He went 5-2 as a starter while Kolb finished only 3-6.
The Cardinals are in a tough spot. They overpaid for Kolb and now they know it. Skelton is threatening to gain the support of the locker room, but as Browns fans know all too well, late-round quarterbacks can easily come in and make some noise. The question is, can they do it consistently?
Do the Cardinals have enough time to find out if Skelton is just a flash in the pan, or do they give Kolb the time he needs to succeed without yanking him in and out of the lineup?