When former Tennessee Titans quarterback, and now San Diego Chargers quarterback, Zack Mettenberger was released, fans on BTSC went nuts. Many of the Steeler faithful were hoping that there would be a waiver claim and the Pittsburgh Steelers could snatch up the former sixth-rounder out of LSU. The desire to find a diamond in the rough who could be groomed to become Ben Roethlisberger's replacement burns brightly. Steeler fanatics are aware that their gallant warrior may not be playing when the next decade starts, and his departure may come sooner than later. The willingness to reach for a player who may or may not have long-term potential is enough to make loyal Steeler Nation fans want to take chances.
The frenzy over Mettenberger leads me to expand on this topic that is going to have a larger and larger impact on not just the Steelers, but entire the NFL in the not-too-distant future. Quarterbacks are the heart and soul of NFL teams, and in the next five seasons the NFL is going to enter an extremely volatile situation.
A growing number of aging vets will hang up their cleats, and a number of teams currently are using stop-gap players who are more suited to being backups. This allows the teams time to groom young QBs or wait their turn to (they hope) draft their next face of the franchise. The issue is, that the college ranks are filled with programs that churn out top prospects that run spread offenses or other offenses that clash with current NFL coaching philosophy. This is creating what may become a perfect storm in the NFL. College QBs with solid athleticism and great stats, who have never spent a snap under center or are not taught proper terminology are being looked at as the future of the NFL.
Former Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said the new crop of college quarterbacks were flummoxed by a simple question about an "under" front, one of the most common defensive alignments. "Whoa, no one’s ever told me ‘front’ before," he remembers one prospect saying. "No one’s ever talked to me about reading these defenses."
As the aging signal callers head into the twilight of their careers, an uncertain future is dawning.
This two-part series will examine where NFL teams sit with their prospective signal callers. For today we will look at the AFC situations.
Tyrod Taylor had a decent year in 2015, when he was healthy. Many fans view him as a one-year wonder. First-round bust, E.J. Manual was declined his fifth-year option and may not make the 53-man roster in 2016. Rookie Cardale Jones is as raw as they come. Hopes for a long NFL career have to be viewed with skepticism.
Ageless Tom Brady will turn 39 before the season starts. Is backup Jimmy Garoppolo the answer? While Brady might sit the first four games of 2016 over Inflategate, Garoppolo could be given the chance to shine and show the Pats that he is indeed their next franchise QB.
Gang Green is desperately trying to bring 33-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick back into the fold. Eventually the two sides should work something out, and Fitz should be under center for 2016. Fitzpatrick has never been viewed as a franchise QB though. Currently former first-round bust, Geno Smith sits atop the depth chart. Will he keep his jaw healthy this year? Second-round pick, Christian Hackenberg needs time to refine his craft and should ride the pine in his rookie season.
Ryan Tannihill is the most solid long-term QB in the AFC East. He must answer many questions that still linger about his viability as a franchise QB, though. Tannihill can go stretches where he looks to be a star, but other times he just looks mediocre. Backup Matt Moore, one of the more capable backups in the NFL, has not started a game in four-years and is best suited to clipboard duties.
Joe Flacco is spry for a 31 year-old, and he is entrenched for the next five years, at least. While he's not mentioned in the same sentence as the aging superstars, he does still have that Super Bowl ring. Coming off an ACL tear that helped decimate the Ravens season, Flacco looks to rebound. Keeping inept turnover-machine, Matt Schaub off the field is a priority for Baltimore.
Andy Dalton has not been a darling of the NFL. Many view him as overrated and not living up to his potential. But Dalton, coming off a broken thumb, is 28 and still has plenty of years ahead, even if they are only average ones. A.J. McCarron, 25, filled in well in Dalton's absence in 2015. Some believe he has NFL starter ability.
Robert Griffin III is trying to resurrect his once promising career, but he still plays for the dumpster franchise known as the Browns. Immensely talented, RG3 has the chance to salvage his career. A career marred by injuries and also questionable coaching decisions. Josh McCown's 12 TDs and 4 INTs in 2015 were more of an aberration than the norm, for the 36 year-old journeyman. Rookie, Cody Kessler is an intriguing long shot with solid accuracy, but with a limited skill set, he needs a lot of time to sit and learn.
Ben Rothlisberger leads all current active NFL QBs in being sacked at 439. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility with Big Ben, but it is hard to imagine a QB who has missed parts of seven different seasons, will play five more seasons. Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones are the other two QBs on the Steelers roster, and neither can be viewed as franchise QBs. Jones struggling more then shining last season. Gradkowski not only his age, but lack of playing in the past five-years.
Brock Osweller signed a rather large contract, but it's only for a team-friendly two-years. So far, there is not much faith in a QB who has started only 15 games. Opinions vary on his long-term viability. Failed first-rounder, Brandon Weedon's only shot for staying in the NFL is sitting on the bench.
Andrew Luck could be playing until 2030. His shoddy start to the 2015 season, was more a result of the lack of talent solidifying around him, then his own talent level. Scott Tolzein is second-string for a reason; he is not good enough to start and definitely not franchise QB material.
Is Blake Bortles the next budding super star? I believe so. Backup Chad Henne had his time in the league as a starter, but failed to grow and blossom under the pressure.
Marcus Moriota showed why he was the second overall pick in 2015. The Titans just need to keep the face of the franchise healthy, to ensure a very long career. At age-34, veteran Matt Cassel's time of being viewed as a starter, has passed.
Mark Sanchez should be under center for the Super Bowl champs. The 29 year-old retread is so turnover prone, he could force the Broncos to turn to Paxton Lynch earlier than they want to. Lynch, Denver's 2016 first-round pick, needs time to be groomed. Gary Kubiak may feel pressure to give Lynch his shot if the Broncos season appears in jeopardy under Sanchez.
Alex Smith is one of those QBs who was tossed onto the scrap heap and has resurrected his career, but at 31, it'd be a stretch to see him starting in 2021. Smith is viewed as a game manager, not a game breaker. KC currently does not have other viable long term options on its roster besides Smith.
Derek Carr is looking way better than his brother. (OK, that's not saying much). Carr's ability to grow and learn, are his only limitations – well besides having to play for the Raiders. The winner of the battle between Matt McGloin and rookie Connor Cook will determine who backs up the 2015 Pro Bowler.
San Diego Chargers
While Phillip Rivers has started every game for the Bolts since 2008, the fact remains that he will turn 35 during the season. Most fans just can not envision SD's franchise QB playing until he is 40 Zack Mettenberger waits in the wings though, ready at a moments notice to lead the Chargers. OK OK, I could not help but take a dig at a player who will have a hard time beating out Kellen Clemens.