Mailbag: Which Quarterbacks Are Under the Radar Heading Into 2020?

The two QBs most under the radar might just be veterans we all know can perform at a high level. Plus, will Stidham play 16 games, who signs first between Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, and when will the Dolphins be good?
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You had questions. I had answers. Let’s go …

From Tim Williams (@timwilliamsart): In your opinion, is there an NFL quarterback flying under the radar who might have a breakout season this year?

Tim, I’ll give you a couple (and this is with the feeling that Kyler Murray really isn’t under the radar anymore, since predictions of a Year 2 breakout for the Cardinals’ QB have become pretty common; Ditto for Baker Mayfield in Year 3).

First, I feel like the return of Ben Roethlisberger, strangely, hasn’t been discussed much, as compared with how other quarterbacks’ prospects for 2020 have been dissected, and I actually think he’s set up nicely going into the fall. The Steelers learned to win without him last year, after having become more reliant on him over the years, and the defense he’ll play with in ’20 figures to be the best he’s had with him in almost a decade. That’ll make it easier for the Steelers to control the pace of games, and ask less of their 38-year-old leader.

I also believe the group around him on offense figures to have pretty good balance. James Conner can be a workhorse, and has a couple good young prospects (Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland) behind him, JuJu Smith-Schuster should be motivated post-Year 3 swoon, and Diontae Johnson can roll and is next on the assembly line of young receivers developed in Pittsburgh. Plus, the line’s still really good. So Ben should be really good, too.

In the NFC, give me a nice bounceback year for Matt Ryan. And it’s the same thing here, I’m picking him because I like the circumstances around him. He’s been able to navigate this offseason better than maybe any other quarterback, in part because of his experience during the 2011 lockout. Calvin Ridley is set to breakout. And the line in front of him should improve, with Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary going into Year 2, and rookie Matt Hennessy giving the team yet another option up front.

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From Ecstasy Sports (@EcstasySports): Will Stidham be the Patriots’ starter for all 16 games next year?

Ecstacy, I’d say yes. He has very little injury history. And I do think when the chips are down, the Patriots are going to want to see what they have in their 23-year-old quarterback, because they do feel like there’s something to work with there from a talent standpoint. Now, maybe it’s a trainwreck in camp, and Bill Belichick looks for reinforcements in August. But I think it’s more likely they ride out whatever bumps lay ahead with Jarrett Stidham.

Why? Well, because this is sort of a year to reset in New England. They’re carrying dead money. They’re resetting financials. They’ll be relying on some younger players than they’re accustomed to leaning on in some key spots (particularly at linebacker, receiver and tight end). And so it makes sense that, as part of that, they give Stidham a great shot at developing and proving he’s worthy of being Tom Brady’s successor.

One way or the other, they should have a better handle on whether or not Stidham’s the guy for the team going forward, come January.

From Ray; @Blackbaud Community Manager (@BBRayRay1): Most likely to get signed by an NFL team first—Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton?

Great question, Ray. And it’s a tough one to answer, mainly because I think it will ride on what each guy is looking for.

For what it’s worth, Newton has told people that he’s not looking to go to a place as a firm No. 2 or in a mentoring type of role for a younger quarterback—and for obvious reasons. He still believes he can play, and that he is a starter. And as such, he’s willing to wait for the right opportunity, which makes his signing date pretty unpredictable. Given the landscape across the NFL right now, the most likely path to finding that shot is through something going haywire (via injury or a QB not developing as expected) somewhere else.

That means the chances that Newton chooses to remain untethered through the start of camp are actually fairly good.

Kaepernick’s situation is pretty different. For him, I think much will come down to how an opportunity is presented to him. If the league office works to generate an opportunity for him somewhere, will he see that as patronizing and be turned off? Is he willing to go somewhere on low money and fight for a roster spot (which, realistically, is where he would’ve been three years ago)? Those are questions I don’t have answers for.

But I would say that if Kaepernick is willing to take a swing at fighting for a roster spot somewhere, and a team gives him that chance, it’d probably happen ahead of the start of training camp. So I guess my answer would be … Kaepernick. And maybe I’m crazy to say that. We’ll see.

From Casey Louis (@CaseyLouis31): Will the NFL shorten preseason to 2 games because of the #CoronaVirus?

Hey Casey, a lot of this will simply boil down to two things—the camp report date, and the date of season openers. If neither change, my belief is a week or two of preseason games (plus the Hall of Fame game) will have to be called off, because the information the league and union are getting from their joint committee on health and safety would basically dictate that.

In fact, that joint committee has recommended a testing/re-acclimation period of three weeks before players even put helmets on. Given that, for most teams, the prescribed report date (47 days before the opener) is July 28, that timeline would mean hitting would start on Aug. 18, which is the Tuesday before the second full week of preseason games. So even if they cut the acclimation period to two weeks—which I think is possible—you’d almost certainly have to lose at least the first full week of preseason games.

That, of course, is why the league has discussed an early report date for the players. If the guys are reporting a week or two early, then you have a shot at preserving the preseason, and all the revenue that comes with it. Likewise, that’s part of why some teams are in favor of pushing the start of the season back—because it makes sense for everyone to give themselves time to re-acclimate to playing football, and for the league to study what happens in all the other sports.

We’ll see what happens. But, again, what seems certain is that it’d be tough to leave the report date, the season start date, and the preseason schedule the same. Or it would be, unless the league and union want to ignore what their experts are telling them.

From Michael S. Hallock (@mike1015): Do Dak and Dallas get a deal done before the July 15th deadline?

Michael’s bringing back our weekly Dak Prescott question, and I’m still saying yes. Prescott’s decision to sign his $31.4 million tender Monday doesn’t have much to do it with that, either. All that really means is that he plans to show up at camp on time in Frisco. The franchised guys who haven’t signed—Shaq Barrett A.J. Green, Chris Jones, Yannick Ngaukoe, Justin Simmons—don’t have to until they do sign.

So what gives me confidence that the Cowboys will get it done? Their history, the fact that failing to do so would gum up their ability to do any other business, and the ramifications that not doing it now could bring. They’ve always signed the guys they want to sign, and they want to sign Prescott. And lowering his cap number, and knowing what his future numbers would be, would help too.

That last part is interesting, too. If Dallas doesn’t get Prescott done now, then they could be dealing with a new financial reality at the position, with Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson potentially getting new deals, and Lamar Jackson eligible for one starting in January. Plus, next, they’d be working off a tag number of $37.7 million, rather than $31.4 million, which would give the quarterback a lot more leverage.

The fact is, there are plenty of reason for the Cowboys not to wait. And their track record suggests they won’t.

From Al (@dolphinman47): Will my Dolphins ever not suck??

Al, I’d trust the current group in charge—but as you well know, the result of this massive undertaking by GM Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores will come down to the job they do flipping all the assets they’ve built up into the right kind of core for the team.

I’d say 2021 would be when to be on the lookout for a breakthrough, because you’d hope for jumps from guys like quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, left tackle Austin Jackson, guard/tackle Robert Hunt, corner Noah Igbinoghene, and D-lineman Raekwon Davis then, and you’ll have another full offseason of acquisitions on board. Now, do I know how many of those guys are actually going to make it? I don’t.

But what I do know is Grier and Flores have built the team in a very logical way, and that much is encouraging. I remember saying this to someone last year when the Ravens caught fire—I felt like, based on my knowledge of the team’s moves to build its 2019 roster, I could explain what GM Eric DeCosta was doing all the way through to a third-grader. And I feel the same way with how Miami has built up assets and drafted the last two years.

And yes, that’s a compliment. To me, it means you’re employing simple common sense in how you’re putting together your team.

From Nick Dorsey (@Dorsey_Montana): Over/Under Week 7 first Start date for Tua?

Nick, I gonna say over—in that I think it happens shortly after that. Based on Tagovailoa coming back off the injury, and my belief that Flores is going to do everything he can to win this year (rather than shift focus just to developing young guys), my sense is that Ryan Fitzpatrick will win the job in camp, and then hold on to it until, say, November or so. After that, I think Tagovailoa gets the game reps he needs to build toward next year.

As I see it, Miami will be competitive this year. But I do think there’ll come a point, based on their youth, where they’ll hit a swoon. My guess would be that’s when Tagovailoa starts playing.

From Chris Siegel (@RealChrisSiegel): Who is the most fun player you’ve ever interviewed?

Chris, I have Donte’ Stallworth on my podcast a bunch, and that’s because he’s definitely in the running for this—I got to know him after he signed in New England in 2007. And back then, he had an alter ego named Nico. If I recall correctly, Nico was from Mars. I also would put much of the Legion of Boom defense in the mix. Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Bobby Wagner, among others, are really good guys. And ex-Panther Steve Smith, ex-Jet Braylon Edwards and ex-Giant Brandon Jacobs gave me memorable postgame, on-field interviews.

And I could go on and on. J.J. Watt. Shady McCoy. Bart Scott. Terrell Suggs. Malcolm Jenkins. Justin Tuck. Lots and lots of offensive linemen (Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, Andrew Whitworth, Dan Koppen, Willie Colon) were always great. That’s without even getting to the quarterbacks, so many of whom are a lot of fun to talk to.

Here’s thing: Football players sometimes get a bad rap. Some of the criminal issues play into stereotypes that have dogged guys in the sport for years. But the truth is, for the most part, NFL players are really good, likeable people who are pretty easy to get along with. You see it in a lot of them when they leave the sport, too.

From 1970AJBpt3 (@1970AJBpt3): How long do you reckon the current Packer HC will last? I'll put the over/under at 3 years?

I’m guessing A.J. here is a disgruntled Packer fan, worried that, on the doorstep of Aaron Rodgers’ 37th birthday, the team is blowing the twilight of its future Hall of Famer’s career and that we’ve already see the best of Matt LaFleur. Let me say, first, I understand the angst of losing valuable time with a generational quarterback (I’m starting to get a little concerned that the current situation is going cost Ohio State its last season with Justin Fields), and that part is totally reasonable. And maybe that leads to further uneasiness.

But that spilling over into displeasure with a head coach who went 13-3 and won a playoff game in Year 1, after just two years as a coordinator and one as a play caller, in the year he turned 40? That seems a little rash to me. Honestly, if you have a huge problem with that result, I’m not sure what to tell you—and that’s not even to say that you should suspend all criticism of LaFleur and his staff.

It just seems to me like, after a few years of stagnating, the Packers are on the right track. The team’s got a bunch of promising young talent from GM Brian Gutekunst’s first two drafts (Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Elgton Jenkins, Rashan Gary), Green Bay’s done well in free agency over that time (Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith) and the Packers got a seven-win jump in their new coach’s first year.

You could do a lot worse than that.

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