Mailbag: Which NFL Teams Have the Best Backup Quarterback Situations?

Which five teams have the best situations behind their starting QB? Plus, what would happen if Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson switched places, will Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon catch on anywhere, how will the Aaron Rodgers situation play out and more.
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Lots of mail this week. Let’s dive in …

From BIG ZTLB (@ZTL3B): Who do you think is getting DROY?

Big! If you read my June 4 GamePlan, you’d know—and I’m not being a Buckeye homer in taking Chase Young.

There are a few reasons why. First, Washington has a pair of defensive guys atop the coaching flow chart, in Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio, with great history of getting the most out of young pass-rushers. Second, the D-line group around him is stocked with former first-rounders (Ryan Kerrigan, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat), and that’s without even getting to solid cogs like Matt Ioannidis and Ryan Anderson. As the performance of Young’s ex-teammate Nick Bosa shows, that can really help.

Third, Young’s a monster of a football player. He dominated as a 20-year-old college junior with every team Ohio State faced game-planning to stop him—and he’s polished and ready for the pros. So, honestly, answering your question, Big, wasn’t that tough.

Want some other names? I really like Chargers MLB Kenneth Murray’s makeup and athleticism, and he’s going to be surrounded by the sort of talent that could make him a triple-digit tackle guy on a top defense. And Ravens LB Patrick Queen bears watching too for many of the same reasons, plus Baltimore’s history of developing stars at the position, and DC Wink Martindale’s creativity deploying great athletes.

From A. Walker (@A_Walk145): Is it worth starting fantasy this year?

Sure, Walker! I mean, how long does a fantasy draft take? Two or three hours? I usually forget about the one I’ve done with my college friends the last 20 years, then remember with like 90 minutes left before the draft (usually thanks to a “you coming on tonight, jackass?” text), and scramble to the store to pick up a magazine to draft off of. Then, I get off to a rough start and stop setting my lineup by mid-October.

After that, I get made fun of for being horrible at fantasy despite covering the NFL for a living, at which point I start calling my friends losers for caring so much about it.

So … yeah, just do it. Can’t hurt.

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From Steve Lisk (@Stevelisk35): Rank backup quarterback situations across the league.

Steve, I don’t have the time to list them (plus, we’d probably want to make that a story of its own), but I can give you a list of five quarterback depth situations across the NFL that I really like. Here goes …

Indianapolis: The backup, Jacoby Brissett, has started 31 games as a pro, 30 games for the franchise, and 15 for the current coaching staff, and is still just 27 years old. The third-stringer, Jacob Eason, is a rookie who was a bit of a gamble as a fourth-round pick, but who throws the ball like a first-rounder. So while the long-term answer for Indy may not be on the roster, the depth at the position in healthy.

New Orleans: This is probably the most interesting one. The Saints paid Taysom Hill this offseason in a way that seemed to earmark him as Drew Brees’s successor and signed former first overall pick Jameis Winston to a one-year deal. And this, to me, makes a ton of sense. You’re giving yourself one option with experience in your offense, and another with a lot of game experience, all while throwing two viable darts at finding the next long-termer.

New England: Surprised to see them here? Don’t be. I think, if most coaches could draw up a template for a quarterback depth chart, it’d look like this—experienced starter, veteran backup with background in the offense, developmental player. That’s Cam Newton, Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham. The team liked Stidham enough to leave itself without a safety net, and Hoyer (if he makes the team) should be a really good resource for the other QBs.

San Francisco: C.J. Beathard is 26, has 10 NFL starts and three years with Kyle Shanahan under his belt. Nick Mullens is 25, has eight NFL starts and has had three years with Kyle Shanahan, too. So there’s upside and institutional knowledge there. And the financial part of this is pretty good too—combined, the two cost less than $2 million against the salary cap, which certainly helps in keeping a roster like the Niners’ together.

Washington: Didn’t expect them here? Well, again, consider that they’re getting two guys, in Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen, under 25 years old with game experience, the former a first-round pick and the latter having played for new OC Scott Turner. Then, you have Alex Smith, who brings great value to the room even if he physically can’t go, and has a ton of experience working through relationships that could have potentially been awkward with young QBs (Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, Patrick Mahomes in K.C.) in the past.

From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): What will it take for Adam Gase to keep his job beyond this season?

Craig, I think a lot of that will relate to how the Jets do in November and December, and more specifically how Sam Darnold is coming along—a huge part of Gase landing the job last year related to his experience working with quarterbacks. I don’t think the expectation of ownership is that the team will contend in 2020. I do think the expectation is that there’ll be noticeable leaps made by Darnold, and a team that’s better late in the year.

The wild card, of course, is Woody Johnson’s impending return from the U.K. Johnson’s brother Christopher, the team’s acting owner, hired Gase. Will the elder Johnson want to bring in his own guy? Or let GM Joe Douglas make the call? Or in a year where a revenue shortfall is a certainty, would the Jets even be willing to eat the two years left on Gase’s contract after this one to move on?

Gase, of course, can render all these questions moot. And, again, I think the way to do it is not necessarily reaching the playoffs this year, but showing ownership that the future is bright.

From Burner McBurnface (@randomdogname): Imagine if the Chiefs took Watson and the Texans drafted Mahomes. Who is winning more Super Bowls in their career, Deshaun or Patrick?

Burner, I love questions like this. Let’s do it …

If the Chiefs take Watson, he’s not getting the game experience he did in Houston in Year 1. But he is getting to play for Andy Reid, and behind a better offensive line than he did his first two years in the league (the Texans’ OL improved last year), with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins to throw to. Also, his defensive support early on wouldn’t have been what it was for him in Houston, so he’d probably be playing a different game.

If the Texans took Mahomes, he plays earlier, and takes more hits, and you have to wonder if that would’ve affected the technical development he got during his first year in K.C. Still, he’d be throwing to DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller (when healthy), and wouldn’t need to score 30 or 40 points a week (like he did early in his time as the Chiefs’ starter) to win, and that I think would’ve helped Bill O’Brien protect him a little better.

So … I have a hard time answering this. If Reid could get Watson to the AFC title game and Super Bowl stages, I have no doubt, based on his big-game history, he’d be equal to the moment. Could Mahomes have gotten there this quick in Houston? Probably not. But I do think Mahomes eventually would’ve figured it out, so I’ll go Mahomes by a nose. It’s a tough call though.

From Moose Block (@moose_block): Which team will sign Antonio Brown? Will Josh Gordon end up on a roster this season?

Moose, I still think Seattle’s most likely to wind up with Antonio Brown. The Seahawks have done their homework on him for the better part of a year, and Pete Carroll’s not adverse to taking risks. The upshot here is that you get a top-five receiver for the stretch run. The downside is that Brown is who he was in Oakland and New England last year, and you have to cut him loose—which will be much easier to do on a discounted contract.

With Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf in the fold, and tight end Will Dissly on the mend, adding Brown into the mix could give Russell Wilson the best group of weapons he’s had since the Golden Tate/Doug Baldwin days. So if you can get past the morality of the situation—and each team is going to approach that differently—there would be plenty of football reasons to do it.

As for Josh Gordon, I do think the league will clear him to play at some point, because Roger Goodell has taken a much more rehabilitative tact in such cases of late. Whether or not he lands on a roster is less certain.

From Chase™ (@ChaseOk42): How does the signing of LeSean McCoy impact the productivity of Ronald Jones for the Bucs?

That sounds like a fantasy question, Chase! I think signing McCoy puts pressure on Jones to be up on the mental side of the game—the way Tom Brady wants an offense run is pretty detailed, and he’s not been shy in the past about freezing out young guys who can’t keep up. Jones, admittedly, took time to acclimate to the NFL, and had confidence issues as a rookie, and there won’t be a ton of patience for those sorts of things with 12 running the show.

McCoy’s addition, by the way, is indicative of that. Brady loves having veteran guys who know what they’re doing. Shady can be that guy for him. Which means Jones will have to be too.

From Scott Riley (@uncheel1987): Given what’s going on with Pats and Jets, do Dolphins have a chance in AFC East this year? Without a normal offseason program, how difficult will it be to assimilate the 20+ draft and free agent additions?

Scott, I think the Dolphins will be a very competitive six- or seven-win team this year. They’re gonna be very young on the offensive line (you very well could have two rookies starting), on defense (particularly up front) and potentially at quarterback too. To me, that means it’ll probably look a little uneven in the beginning. And it means there’s potential for the team to be a tough out later in the year.

What you mentioned there—the lack of offseason work, and shortened training camp—is in play also as a factor, especially at the lines of scrimmage.

Ultimately, I think that makes 2021 the target for the Dolphins to get into the playoff mix. As for the rest of the AFC East? There’s a lot of pressure on Buffalo to deliver now, given everything else that’s happened. I don’t know how they wouldn’t be the favorite to win the division going in.

From Gerry Levine (@gerrylev): Crazy idea. With the reduced rosters and shortened evaluation time would it make sense for a GM with a weak roster and many holes to reload with the waiver wire?

Gerry, this is something I covered extensively in the MMQB column, which I’d encourage you to check out—we had GMs in there explaining the challenges they’ll all face in roster-building under these circumstances. Sure enough, one of those challenges will be seen on the waiver wire, where teams routinely pluck young guys that others are trying to sneak through to their practice squads.

What changes is this year is that GMs and their personnel departments won’t have four games of preseason tape on all those young guys, which heightens the importance of the college scouts and the work they’ve already done—if someone whacks their seventh-round pick in April, those are going to be the guys who’ll have the most extensive information on them.

And as you’re saying, if you’re a rebuilding team in need of young talent, with a strong college scouting department, that could really benefit you.

“You really do have to trust your college guys, and the reports they wrote,” Raiders GM Mike Mayock said. “If you’re talking about a rookie, it’s the reports they wrote throughout the year. And if you’re talking about a guy with one or two years of experience, a bottom-of-the-roster guy, you gotta trust your pro and college guys. So this is a year where I think teams with deep and trusted scouting departments will end up doing the best job.”

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): How do you think the Aaron Rodgers situation ultimately plays out in Green Bay?

This is a good place to close it out, Matt. I think Aaron Rodgers will be the Packers quarterback for the next two years, minimum. He turns 37 in December, so there’s definitely tread left on the tire (by 2020 quarterback math), and he’s under contract through 2023, which means there’s no decision point coming. Also, Jordan Love is in need of a lot of development, and I know Green Bay wants to give him time for that.

I also take at face value what Rodgers has said about not taking any of his edginess over what happened in April out on Love. He remembers how frosty things were with Brett Favre over his first three years, and I do think he’ll be a good dude to his heir apparent. And yeah, he may be pissed at the team for how Love’s drafting went down.

But guess what? Brady wasn’t exactly pumped with the Patriots drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 either. The result was New England got an insanely-driven version of the already-insanely-driven Brady, and went to the Super Bowl four times in the five years to follow, winning three of those.

My guess is the Packers would take that result, even if it meant eventually losing Love like the Patriots did Garoppolo. Otherwise, barring something crazy happening, I don’t think Love Watch starts until 2022, at the earliest.

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