Considering the Annual Debate About When to Start Rookie Quarterbacks

A recent conversation may have shifted Albert Breer’s thinking about the value of naming your player the starter early. Plus, answering your questions on Brandon Aiyuk, Maxx Crosby, the NFC South and more.
Caleb Williams was named starter well before Bears OTAs.
Caleb Williams was named starter well before Bears OTAs. / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll start with this: Thank you. That you’re firing off so many questions to me in mid-June shows your passion for the sport, and I love seeing that. Here are some answers for you …

From Michael Crane (@MikeJCzapla): Do you think that the Green Bay Packers sitting their QB behind a veteran winner for several years is a move more teams should do? Why can’t the Bears figure it out?

Michael, you may have seen my chart before on when first-round quarterbacks make their first start. Things really turned in this regard after Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led playoff teams as rookies in 2008. Including that year, and running up to last year’s rookie class, there were 48 first-round quarterbacks taken over 16 draft cycles.

Only two of those 48—Jordan Love and Jake Locker—didn’t start games as rookies. Another, Patrick Mahomes, had to wait until the final week of the regular season. And those three had a couple of things in common. One, they all played for contending teams and, two, each had an accomplished vet (Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Hasselbeck and Alex Smith, respectively) as the starter in front of him. Which obviously made it easier for the teams to justify sitting a guy.

And, yes, I do think that more guys should sit. It’s an idea that Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur cemented for me last summer.

“I think the league would benefit if more guys took that approach,” LaFleur said. “What happens is these guys, in a lot of situations, get thrust into situations where there’s not a lot of talent around them, and they lose confidence. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and it’s hard to recover from that. I do think that we would be able to develop more quarterbacks if guys were given a couple of years to sit and learn the game, and then go out to play.”

That said, sitting with and listening to Tennessee Titans coach Brian Callahan on this topic a few weeks ago might’ve moved me off my spot a little. His perspective, that a young quarterback can benefit developmentally from being anointed starter, was fascinating to me.

“I think you do a disservice to guys, particularly if you’re drafting them, and you make them compete for a job. Guys need to play,” Callahan said. “They need to be put in a position where they are the quarterback. There’s something about that that matters to a team and a locker room. If you’re going to do it, do it. It all sounds good—he should sit. That’s not the reality. That’s not the financial reality of the NFL, either. You’re trying to take advantage of a young quarterback on a rookie contract; that’s the other part of it.

“There’s something about being the quarterback and knowing … when you walk into the building and walk onto the field, you know that you’re the quarterback and you know that everyone around you knows that you’re the quarterback. It allows you some freedom. Especially when you’re a young player, there’s no growth unless you make mistakes.

“The problem is, if you’re competing for a job, you’re not going to be willing to make the mistakes you need to make in order to improve at a rapid rate. You’re more worried about the perception of the mistake than actually learning from the mistake. I think that does guys a disservice, and I think it stunts growth when you have to be constantly worried about it. If I know I can make this throw, but it’s going to be kind of hairy, and I probably shouldn’t, but I’m going to do it anyway. Maybe it takes a hell of a throw, but I can coach off that.”

So … now I’m not sure there’s a real right or wrong answer, and feel like it really is more of a case-by-case thing.

From Sean Matteson (@seanmatteson): Does an Aiyuk deal get done?

I think so. My buddy Mike Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle has the San Francisco 49ers’ offer at a new-money average of $26 million per year. My sense is that’s getting in the neighborhood of where they’ll have to lock up Brandon Aiyuk, whom they really do value and love.

I think the final number, if I had to guess, will wind up being $29 million per year, which would put Aiyuk past the Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle and Detroit Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown, and still behind the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson by quite a bit (which would be understandable).

The interesting thing from there would be how the Niners react when calls start coming in on Deebo Samuel.

From Jmoran29 (@joshbucs1229): Who will win the NFC South?

Josh, when we did our podcast, I went with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I’m going to stick with that. There’s too much history there, where they won with different quarterbacks, different coaches, different offenses—and they’ve continued to stock the roster as stars have aged off the team over the past couple of years.

I think they’ve gotten a different version of Baker Mayfield than we’d previously seen, one who’s grown through the experiences and lumps he took in Cleveland and Carolina. He’s also getting a coordinator, in Liam Coen, who’s returning to the NFL with something to prove, came up under Sean McVay and was the OC for Mayfield’s fire drill of a finish to the 2022 season with the Rams.

Are the Bucs perfect? No. They’ll have to show they can get by at corner after trading Carlton Davis III, and they’ll need their young pass rushers to take another step. But the other teams in the division are flawed, so I'll take Tampa to make it four in a row.

Crosby finished fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Fron Hermy (@Hermaphro): What’s up with Maxx Crosby in LV? One week he threatens to demand a trade, then he says he wants to be a lifetime Raider. If Vegas is stumbling before the trade deadline don’t they have to listen to offers?

Through all the Raiders tumult of the past couple of years, one thing I do know is that the team has pivoted to a more player-centric model since Antonio Pierce took over on Halloween, and the support of guys such as Crosby, Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs (who’s now gone) was a big reason why Mark Davis made the decision to roll with Pierce last year, and then hire him full-time after the season.

So I think Pierce will have Crosby’s support. Whether guys like him or Adams or Kolton Miller could become trade bait by the deadline in late October is another question.

The question on that front is, in a competitive AFC West, how long the Raiders can stay in the race. Yes, they went 5–4 in nine games under Pierce last year. It’s a reason why he got the job. But doing that (and you can argue they got a bunch of teams at just the right time), and extending it over a full calendar are two very different things.

I also believe that the roster is a ways off, and the long-term quarterback for Pierce and first-year GM Tom Telesco isn’t on the roster, so there’s a pretty logical scenario out there where they become sellers at the deadline. They would, at the very least, get calls on Crosby. Which doesn’t mean they would trade him—he’s still just 26, so it’d be different than dealing Adams or even Miller—but they would get to see his value to other teams.

From Cliff Nash (@cliffnash23): Will the Bears bring in help on the edge?

Cliff, you have your normal assortment of aging pass rushers out there—Emmanuel Ogbah, Yannick Ngakoue, Carl Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson and so forth. Right now, the Bears have Montez Sweat and “we’ll see” on the edge. DeMarcus Walker is back after coming over from the Titans before the 2023 season and having a so-so first year with Chicago. If there’s an upside guy, it might be fifth-round pick Austin Booker, who has ability, but probably could’ve used another year or two in college.

All of it points to adding a vet such as Ngakoue, who signed in Chicago on Aug. 3 of last summer after the Bears determined they needed more help at the position. I’d forecast something similar, maybe right to the timing, coming this year, with the team continuing to monitor the trade market leading right up to the October deadline.

From Jake (@JB_353): When do you believe the Bengals will extend Chase?

Jake, I think it’ll happen close to the opener. I actually don’t think the money is too complicated—Cincinnati should just give him a little more than Justin Jefferson got in Minnesota (especially with an extra year left on his rookie contract to manage the damage).

What is a little tricky, if you’re willing to go there, to around $36 million or $37 million per year, is how you structure the deal and its guarantees. So that’ll take some time. Then, there’s the reality that Tee Higgins’s situation has to be considered here, too, and that you’d probably want that settled before getting around to Chase (so as not to send Higgins’s ask any further north). And I think getting that taken care of any earlier than Week 1 will take giving the big man some contractual sweeteners on top of his existing franchise tender.

But in the end, Chase isn’t going anywhere.

From Tom S. (@UATubaTom): Is Tua getting a $50 mil/year deal?

Tom, I think he will. The bigger, more relevant question in my mind is how much will be guaranteed. If I had to guess, I’d say that almost has to be the holdup.

Let’s say he’s getting a five-year, $250 million extension. For argument’s sake, let’s put $95 million in the first two years, and $140 million in the first three (with the $23.17 million and existing year folded in, Tagovailoa would be making $45.5 million in total money). So, based on the market, you’d say the first $95 million would have to be fully guaranteed. How much of the third year is guaranteed? Is there any money in the fourth year guaranteed against injury? Does that money vest as fully guaranteed a year early?

That, I think, is what this comes down to. Now, if you’re Tagovailoa, and you’ve gone through everything you did in college (including the major hip injury that ended your time at Alabama) and the pros (including the concussion-filled season of 2022), the idea of giving the team escape hatches might seem borderline insulting. On the other hand, if you’re the Miami Dolphins, based on all of that, are you O.K. betting that he’ll stay healthy?

You can see where both sides would have their heels dug in.

From Ed Helinski (@MrEd315): So when might we see a 18-game NFL regular season?

Ed, there's an opt-out in the current television deals after 2029, so I’d say the owners will want to get this done before then. I think, preferably, they’d like it well before that, and it’ll be up to the players to be resistant to it—they do have veto power in the ’20 CBA.

It’s important to remember, too, that the NFL’s wanted 18 games for over a decade. Going to 17 was a compromise, and was done with the plan to get to the original number all along,

From $$$ (@tuf58072240): When will Kenny Pickett take the starting QB spot?

Dollar signs, I don’t think Kenny Pickett will start for the Philadelpia Eagles.

But it’s at least interesting that they’d go this route. You can use the seats in your quarterback room for a couple of different purposes. One would be to have a veteran who’s there to be a resource, not a threat, to the starter, with the ability to come in and help a team tread water for a month or so if there’s any injury situation. The other is to have it be a developmental guy who can challenge/push your starter.

They went with the former route with Gardner Minshew II and Marcus Mariota for Jalen Hurts’s first two years as starter. This time, they’re going the latter route.

It’s at least notable. But, for now, I don’t see Pickett as a real threat.

From John Walje (@jwalje4): Rashee Rice is suspended how many games? Guess?

I’d say three games. Marcus Maye, who was with the New Orleans Saints last year, got that much for a DUI charge he settled 10 months ago. This feels like it probably fits into that category.

We’ll see whether the subsequent assault charge has any impact on the severity of the penalty.

From Josh Cook (@Life_0f_Josh): What is your realistic thought of a division of international teams? Surely it would be Europe right? What do you think they would be? London, Berlin, Dublin and Madrid are my picks.

Josh, I think we’re a ways off from that, though I like the idea. I’m sure the league does, too.

The first problem is it’d probably take expansion to get there, and I don’t sense the other owners have an appetite for cutting up the current revenue pie 36 ways instead of just 32, without real evidence that shows it will benefit them financially (which would mean 12.5% growth in national revenue, above what’s already expected).

The second issue is logistics. This one’s obvious. You could probably make the regular season work. How about the playoffs, though, if the Seattle Seahawks have to go to London in the wild-card round? Would the teams over there be exempt from Thursday and Monday games? How would you manage the normal in-season roster churn with those teams? I don’t know that there are satisfactory answers for those questions right now.

The league did actually have a goal, for years, to put a team in London by 2022, which was the 15th anniversary of the league’s International Series. But the problems with doing it outweighed the benefits then and still do now. We’ll see whether that eventually changes.

Lawrence is eligible for an extension after an eventful first three seasons in the NFL. / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA

From Nic Bakker (@nicbakker_): Trevor Lawrence is the perfect example of why people need to watch games instead of box scores, and he is underrated. Agree or disagree?

Nic, I like Trevor a lot, and he’s had a lot of moving parts to his three-year career.

I’d say that, yes, he’s probably underappreciated by people who haven’t paid close attention. I also would absolutely extend him if I were the Jacksonville Jaguars, and I expect they will.

That said, he hasn’t lived up to his billing as a generational prospect, to this point. He was, coming out of Clemson, on the pedestal reserved for prospects such as John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck—all guys who proved, as pros, they could overcome their surroundings when things were bad, and thrive when things were good. Lawrence, and this isn’t a shot, has shown that he’s more like a lot of other quarterback prospects, which is to say that through his first three years his game has ebbed and flowed with his environment.

There’s still time for him to show he’ll be more than that. And Jacksonville should give him plenty of it.

From Ian (@cin4ylou): Which teams currently have the best chance to be a long-term contender, based on their front offices, coaching staffs and their roster strengths?

Ian, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, the two Super Bowl teams, stick out as easy picks. I still love where the Cincinnati Bengals are, so long as Joe Burrow’s injury luck turns. The Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles have all earned the benefit of the doubt over the years. Jim Harbaugh’s track record and Justin Herbert’s talent would earn the Los Angeles Chargers a spot on the list. The Houston Texans are there for me, too, given the acumen of C.J. Stroud, DeMeco Ryans and Nick Caserio. And if you want one curveball, I really like how the Minnesota Vikings are positioned moving forward.

From Bernie Bahrmasel (@BernieBahrmasel): How much of Dallas not extending Dak, CeeDee and Micah comes down to the waiting game the agents are playing? Does this all fall on the Cowboys?

Bernie, I think it’s a matter of the Dallas Cowboys being less aggressive ahead of time. Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott were all more expensive the last time around than they had to be because the Cowboys waited. And so, too, will CeeDee Lamb, Micah Parsons and Prescott (again), presuming they stick around.

Albert Breer