Top 5 NFL QB Controversies in 2012
Top 5 NFL QB Controversies of 2012
The most important position in the NFL doesn’t come without its share of controversy.
Now, more than ever, a team lives and dies by its quarterback, and the days of Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson winning Super Bowls have fallen by the wayside.
The lucky teams have locked in on their franchise quarterbacks, and their only concern at the position is which has-been or one-day-could-be should hold the clipboard. The rest of the league has to deal with the pressure of finding Their Guy through the draft or free agency.
This year - more so than others, it seemed - began with a huge numbers of teams caught between two contenders for the starting spot. Free agents like Matt Flynn and some guy named Peyton Manning managed to stir up the mix quite a bit.
Manning had interest from nearly every team, but the most obvious suitors were the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins>, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers.
Having a four-time MVP quarterback speed-dating made for one of the most fun offseasons, filled with wild, groundless speculation and fascinating What If scenarios. Manning, as we all know, landed in Denver, displacing resident resented hero Tim Tebow. But that still left plenty of quarterback controversy in all the places that didn't catch Peyton.
Just because we’re heading into Week 13 in the 2012 season does not mean those controversies have subsided. There are still several teams with questions at quarterback.
I’m automatically eliminating Seattle from this discussion because, although they had one of the most interesting competitions, it was decided before the regular season and the Seahawks haven’t looked back.
I’m also discounting teams like Kansas City (Matt Cassel vs. Brady Quinn) and Arizona (Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton vs. Ryan Lindley vs. Anyone off the street) because it doesn’t count as a controversy when all your options suck.
That said, here are the top five quarterback controversies of 2012:
This wasn’t really a true quarterback controversy, but I’m including it because it should have been. Second-year Blaine Gabbert’s recent season-ending injury has made way for veteran Chad Henne, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason.
I’ve never had anything against Gabbert except his hideous long hair, but now that he’s cut it, I don’t mind him. In fact, I can’t help but feel bad for him. He was drafted by a terrible franchise that started him almost immediately despite the fact that (a) he had no offseason team training due to the lockout, (b) the team has a bad offensive line that would pretty much make success impossible, and (c) the team had absolutely no receivers. Unsurprisingly, Gabbert struggled under such circumstances.
Henne hasn’t had the greatest track record, but he put on strong performance two weeks ago in an overtime loss to the vastly superior Houston Texans. Henne did not complete even half his passes, but he did throw for 354 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Head coach Mike Mularkey has tried to head off any controversy talk in the offseason, declaring that the starting position was Gabbert’s and Henne was brought in as a backup, not to compete. As Gabbert has struggled with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder throughout most of the season, Mularkey has again reiterated that, if Gabbert’s healthy, the starting spot belongs to him.
Following Henne’s performance against the Texans, however, Mularkey named him the starter due to how well he had played and not due to Gabbert’s injury. (Though the point was kind of moot when Gabbert was placed on the IR the same week.) In his first start in almost two years on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, Henne led the Jacksonville Jaguars to only their second win of the season, despite being sacked seven times in the game.
After the win, Mularkey changed his tune, saying Henne would have a shot at the starting job next year if he finished off the season strong.
Verdict: They should have gone with Henne much sooner. Gabbert has never been given a fair chance to succeed and I think his short time with Jacksonville has seriously damaged his chances of ever being an elite quarterback. I think Gabbert’s too shell-shocked from the beating he’s taken over the last year and a half. Henne’s not going to light up the scoreboard, but his veteran status at least gives him a bit of mental toughness that Gabbert hasn’t really had a chance to develop.
The Tennessee Titans are in a somewhat similar spot as the Jaguars with a young, talented but inexperienced player and an aging veteran competing for the top spot.
Unlike Gabbert, Jake Locker was able to take a year to sit on the bench and learn the game from veteran Matt Hasselbeck. This year, Locker won the starting job in training camp, but was promptly injured in the season opener. Locker came back to start the next three weeks, but was again injured in Week 4, dislocating his non-throwing shoulder. Hasselbeck stepped in for the next five games, until Locker was healthy enough to start in Week 10, where he has continued to be the starter.
Head coach Mike Munchak has done his best to prevent any talk of a quarterback controversy, noting that Hasselbeck’s starting gig was due to Locker’s injury and not performance.
The two quarterbacks' statistics are comparable. Locker has completed 59% of his passes for 1,164 yards, seven touchdowns, and four picks in 167 throwing attempts. Hasselbeck has a 62% completion rate, along with 1,367 yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions in 221 attempts.
Verdict: The Titans have to love their situation. It’s the best kind of controversy to have. They have two good quarterbacks, but you have to go with Locker here because, with 37-year-old Hasselbeck, Locker’s the quarterback of the future. They need to see what he has to offer long-term, but get the comfort of knowing they have a solid, dependable backup.
Oh boy, where to start here? The Philadelphia Eagles made huge mistake signing Michael Vick to a $100 million contract that he was never going to survive. Vick had one season in which he demonstrated that he could pass decently from the pocket, and the Eagles thought that worth $100 million. The problem is that Philadelphia doesn’t know how to use Vick with the weak offensive line that they have. When your quarterback can’t make it through a drive without breaking a rib, maybe you should lay off on the seven-step dropback calls. The guy pretty much has a standing Monday morning appointment for an MRI.
Currently, Vick has not yet passed the final tests needed for clearance from the concussion he suffered three weeks ago against the Dallas Cowboys. I’m curious as to what exactly Andy Reid was going to do if Vick didn’t get injured, considering how poorly he has played. On the season, Vick has thrown 11 touchdowns, rushed for one, thrown nine interceptions, and fumbled the ball 10 times!
The question is: is rookie Nick Foles the answer? In two and a half games, Foles has completed 60% of his passes, notched one touchdown, three interceptions, and five fumbles. Not a glowing start to a career.
Verdict: At 3-9, you can stick a fork in the Eagles. They should be looking to next season, which means evaluating their options at quarterback. They should stay with Foles through the rest of this season. The most intriguing part of this mess of a season will be when it’s over and the team has to decide what to do with their $100 million man.
New York Jets
Is there another team in the league that the world so thoroughly enjoys watching fall flat on its face? I can only laugh at this quarterback controversy because they totally set themselves up for this and can hardly be surprised that this has worked out exactly how everyone thought it would.
The New York Jets have paid lip service to Mark Sanchez, lukewarmly standing by their man, but the fact that they went out of their way to acquire perhaps the most famous quarterback in the world says a lot more than the contract extension they gave Sanchez in the offseason.
The fact is that the Jets realize what the rest of the world realizes: Sanchez is just not that good a quarterback. His stats this season - 55% completion rate, 12 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 10 fumbles - are pretty much exactly in line with his career stats.
The problem is that the Jets have made such a ridiculous show of pretending that Sanchez was, is, and forever will be their starter, they cannot bench him without the internet exploding, despite his predictably terrible play.
The Jets are a mess at a somehow-even-worse-than-it-looks 4-7, and have to start thinking about next season. But they don’t know what they want to do next season. They’re prohibited from even testing out Tim Tebow on the field to see if he could work some of his ol’ magic because of the absolutely absurd circus they’ve caused themselves.
Verdict: Does it matter? Both quarterbacks have had dismal performances. The Jets have to start figuring out what they’re going to do with their quarterbacks in the offseason. They can’t endure another season with the league’s most famous backup. They’ve barely used Tebow at all, and Tebow has to want out. He’s an expensive second-stringer who’s caused nothing but headaches for them, though they are not of his own making.
Someone somewhere in that organization has to make tough decisions. Tebow either is traded or starts. Sanchez either improves or they start looking elsewhere for QB Number One. Forgive me if I have absolutely no faith in this organization to handle this dilemma.
San Francisco 49ers
This is the toughest controversy to call because the team was a major Super Bowl contender with the guy who’s currently riding the bench.
I don’t have any feelings towards Alex Smith one way or the other, but, man, it must suck to be him. The former number-one pick suffered under a merry-go-round of coaches and offensive coordinators his first six years - struggling constantly to keep the term “bust” at bay - before finally getting a real coach and an offensive coordinator who understands his skill set. He responded by taking his team to the NFC Championship game, only to watch his team court Peyton Manning in the offseason.
But Alex let that go and started the season by understanding his role in the offense and completing 70% of his passes.
Then he suffers a concussion in Week 10 and is replaced by Colin Kaepernick. Failing to pass all the necessary tests, Smith sat in Week 11 before being a healthy scratch in Week 12, and now Kaepernick has been declared the starter for next Sunday.
Smith has fought off the “game manager” label his whole career. It’s a label which coach Jim Harbaugh has defended him from, but his “evaluating” of Peyton Manning in the offseason speaks volumes of his real opinion of Smith. Now, Harbaugh has been using the rhetoric of “playing the hot hand” to defend his choice of starters.
Kaepernick, on the other hand, was drafted by Harbaugh. He brings a skill set - the ability to run - that Smith lacks. Kaepernick is Harbuagh’s guy, and this “playing the hot hand” thing is bogus. Harbaugh wants Kaepernick but doesn’t know what to do with Smith. As Harbaugh has admitted, he has two quarterbacks with “hot hands” and so the choice is not due to performance, but is Harbaugh’s own.
I just wonder what exactly Harbaugh is doing. Does he really think this week-to-week thing is good for the team? Harbaugh needs to just bite the bullet and name Kaepernick as his starting quarterback for the rest of the season if that’s what he really wants.
San Francisco is a great team. They rank in the top four in rushing yards, opponent passing yards, and opponent rushing yards. Their biggest weakness is in their passing game, where they rank 27th in the league in yards per game. Harbaugh’s not wrong in salivating at the chance to complete the last piece of what could be the most dominant team in football.
The danger is the potential negative effect on team chemistry. How will the team react to shoving aside the guy who has played so well and taken them so far? They could have a disaster on their hands if Kaepernick fails to pan out and the team has alienated Smith.
Verdict: Go with Kaepernick. The Niners have a chance to improve on what is already one of the most complete teams in the league. With Kaepernick, they have a chance to have an offense that isn’t living off the defense’s strength.
(Even though I still feel really bad for Alex Smith.)