Generally speaking, holding a quarterback competition in August is a bad place for an NFL team to be. There are some exceptions to the rule, like if said team is gauging a rookie’s progress or—very rare—two excellent QBs are fighting for one spot.
The majority of the league’s starting quarterbacks appear to be settled, with the preseason set to begin in full next week, but a few jobs remain open.
A primer on 10 potential battles for training camp, and beyond:
Denver: Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch
The Broncos’ first padded practice last week led to this QB review from new coach Vance Joseph: “Did I like what I saw? Not really. Both guys had issues today.”
A hiccup here or there in late July (up against the Broncos’ vaunted defense, no less) hardly is reason to push the panic button. However, with both Siemian and Lynch enduring their ups and downs, this battle is set up to drag deep into August.
Siemian was a 14-game starter for the Broncos last season, following a Super Bowl 50 win and Peyton Manning’s retirement. He threw for 3,801 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while the Denver offense struggled to shift out of neutral. In his two starts, Lynch completed 59.3% of his passes, for 327 yards, one TD and one INT.
Cleveland: Cody Kessler vs. DeShone Kizer vs. Brock Osweiler
Assuming Osweiler has not made significant improvements to his game since OTAs last month, him claiming the starting gig would mean both Kessler and Kizer scuffled through a disappointing August. The Browns have maintained that Osweiler is part of the competition (and he’s starting the first preseason game), but it seems clear that the preference is either for Kessler to hold onto his No. 1 job or for the rookie Kizer to go steal it.
“[Kessler’s] still the guy who demonstrates knowing the offense the best,’’ Cleveland coach Hue Jackson in late July, per Cleveland.com. “He’s the guy that has played the most football for us in that group, and I think he deserves a chance to walk out there first.”
Kizer did work his way into first-team reps during OTAs, and he has done so again early in camp. It’s a safe bet, for the moment, that Kessler gets the starting nod when Cleveland begins its preseason schedule on Aug. 10, but the rotation on Aug. 21 (Giants) and Aug. 26 (Bucs) will clear up the picture further.
Houston: Tom Savage vs. Deshaun Watson
“Deshaun is ahead of any rookie quarterback I’ve been around,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday.
Skeptics might note that the rookie QBs O’Brien has worked with in the past do not exactly qualify as Hall of Fame-caliber: Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, Tom Savage and a handful of others with even fewer career accomplishments.
Still, O’Brien’s praise for Watson is noteworthy, and it should come as no real surprise to anyone if the Clemson rookie leapfrogs Savage before long. Aside from his three years spent under O’Brien’s watch, and the two starts he made last season, there are not a whole lot of areas in which Savage stands superior to Watson.
The experience Savage has in O’Brien’s system will keep him atop the depth chart for now. But this is a team with playoff aspirations. If Watson’s momentum carries through August, Savage may have the shortest leash of any starter in the league.
Jacksonville: Blake Bortles vs. ... himself?
The Jaguars remain pot committed on Bortles, at least for one more season. His backup heading into camp, 32-year-old Chad Henne, has not thrown a regular-season pass since 2014. Behind him sits 2016 sixth-rounder Brandon Allen, who, unless he is the league’s best-kept secret, is little more than minor competition for Henne this year.
So, it’s Bortles, for better or worse. Jacksonville did pick up the fifth-year option on Bortles’s contract, which would pay the QB $19 million next season, but that is guaranteed for injury only. Whether or not Bortles is still the Jaguars’ quarterback in 2018 depends on how he fares this year.
He spent the off-season working on his mechanics, an effort that new Jacksonville executive VP Tom Coughlin declared a success. He also, according to ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, just tossed five interceptions during “one of the worst practices of his career” last weekend, so the pendulum swings on.
Chicago: Mike Glennon vs. Mitchell Trubisky
Officially, there is no battle here—yet.
“Glennon’s our starter and we’re confident with that,” Bears GM Ryan Pace said during a press conference at the start of training camp. “This thing is going to have to play out. But Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback, and I don’t think now is the time to deal in hypotheticals going forward.”
If Pace does not want to touch those “hypotheticals,” he can leave it to the rest of us. What if Trubisky lights it up during the preseason? What if Glennon flops, and the Bears have the look of a team that will struggle to compete? The media will surely remind the front office that Glennon’s three-year, $45 million contract can be shed with minimal cap penalties after the 2017 season.
The Bears’ preference, obviously, is that he earns the $18.5 million he’ll be making in 2017. Glennon has starting experience in the league, which is why Chicago brought him over in the first place. Trubisky ... well ...
Kansas City: Alex Smith vs. Patrick Mahomes
This is not meant to be a competition, at least not in 2017. Mahomes arrives with immeasureable upside, but the Chiefs have no plans to rush him into action. Smith thrice has helped Kansas City into the postseason.
In fact, the actual battle is likely to take place behind Smith, with Mahomes and Tyler Bray duking it out for the backup role.
New York Jets: Josh McCown vs. whatever the Jets’ plan is
The MMQB’s Tim Rohan stopped by Jets camp this week to examine the all-important question: Are the Jets tanking? The company line, as one would expect, is that they are not and that people are underestimating them and that every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings but ... come on. They’re tanking.
As such, overly committing to the 37-year-old Josh McCown does little to help anyone. (Counterpoint: McCown is 2–20 as a starter since 2014, so maybe he’s perfect for Operation No. 1 Draft Pick.) Instead, a trial by fire for 2016 draft pick Christian Hackenberg or ’15 draft pick Bryce Petty would give the Jets a better idea where they stand at QB headed into next off-season.
Is either Hackenberg or Petty capable of doing enough this preseason to win the job? If not, it will be McCown by default.
San Francisco: Brian Hoyer vs. Matt Barkley vs. C.J. Beathard
The 49ers signed Hoyer first, then Barkley, then drafted Beathard. Despite working from limited QB options, new coach Kyle Shanahan could have swung open the door to a true competition under center, if he’d wanted to.
To date, he does not. Hoyer has been the No. 1 all summer, and he remains there as August rolls in.
The only caveats: First, this is a new regime, from top to bottom, so Shanahan and GM John Lynch are leaning hard into the “competition at every position” trope; second, Hoyer’s contract is for two years and just $12 million ($9.85 million guaranteed, via OvertheCap.com), relative bare bones for a starting QB deal. The front office has no reasons, financial or sentimental, to stick with Hoyer if he is in over his head.
Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff vs. Sean Mannion
Rookie Rams coach Sean McVay added intrigue here earlier in the off-season, when he refused to make an unequivocal declaration that Goff was his starter. Goff clearly is the No. 1 option, though, as the preseason approaches. Nothing has happened thus far to alter that outlook.
McVay, and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, were not part of the organization when Goff was taken at No. 1 overall, but they will face pressure to maximize Goff’s abilities after a disastrous rookie season. At the least, the Rams need their quarterback play to be inoffensive, which it was not last year.
The only other quarterback on the roster is journeyman Dan Orlovsky. If he wins the starting job, cancel the franchise.
Minnesota: Sam Bradford vs. Teddy Bridgewater
Put a pin in this discussion. For as impressive as Bridgewater’s recovery from last August’s horrific knee injury has been, he is not ready to push for any sort of playing time.
The Vikings still do have to address their quarterbacking future in the coming months. Bradford’s contract is set to expire after the 2017 season, and Bridgewater’s could—the Vikings declined Bridgewater’s fifth-year option, but his presence on the PUP list stands to extend his deal an extra year. (Explanation provided here, by Mike Florio.)
“For Sam to do what he did last year, that was impressive,” Bridgewater said during a press conference last month. “I’m glad to be in the same room with him. I get to pick his brain, and he gets to pick my brain, and we get to challenge each other.”
Ex-Rams starter Case Keenum and Taylor Heinecke also occupy the Vikings’ QB room, so there are fail safes in place to backup Bradford.