Training camps are open, more will open this week and still we have lingering quarterback drama across the league.
It’s not rampant, mind you. Not widespread. But the hotspots we have been talking about all winter, spring and summer long remain very much unresolved and tension remains as high as ever in places like Green Bay and Houston. It’s rare to have quarterbacks who have accomplished as much as Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson remaining essentially in limbo this time of year, albeit in one case (Rodgers) by their own choosing, and with Watson, a combination of his trade demands, anger at the organization and his own personal issues as he remains under investigation for sexual misconduct by the league and authorities with his civil process playing out.
I told you guys back at the start of the July that none of these issues would be wrapped up by this time, and that we’d still be wondering precisely what Rodgers will do, and what Watson’s playing status will be, on the eve of camps opening everywhere. And, thus, here we are.
Those are not the only quarterback situations that are percolating, however, as there are most definitely other teams monitoring what is going on with these two passers, with an eye to landing them, which would create obvious ripples should Rodgers or Watson change addresses in the coming days or weeks. Add in the annual intrigue about rookie quarterbacks and how their development plays out in August, and you have a solid handful of quarterback scenarios worth watching very closely.
As a preamble, I am excluding some teams that you might believe should apply to this criteria. Whatever we may think of the Bears preferring Andy Dalton to Justin Fields, and who would actually win a quarterback competition should one be staged, the larger reality is that Dalton has the job for Week 1 unless he gets hurt. Similarly, I don’t know how Tua Tagovailoa is going to look as the season goes on, or how long Big Ben holds up or whether Jimmy G will be the guy by Week 6 … but those are your Week 1 starters. Trey Lance will have a role and get some snaps in the opener, I am sure, but as the sidekick (think Taysom Hill to Drew Brees). Could Kirk Cousins be looking over his shoulder by midseason? Perhaps, but I don’t see any immediate threat this summer.
I’m looking at quarterback landscapes where the immediate future is far more uncertain and where any number of events or outcomes could swing things fairly wildly. Here’s where I am focused most:
Aaron Rodgers could send out a direct tweet (“I’m back for one more year”) and this saga would be over. But that’s not his style. His foot remains squarely on de facto owner Mark Murphy’s neck as August approaches (as we told you it would be) and he prefers the passive-aggressive approach with comments and social media posts that require analysis, conjecture and stir mystery more than finality. As is his right and want. The Packers still have a mess on their hands. I have been reporting all along that Rodgers has told those he trusts most that he is done with this organization. Could that change once real football is being practiced, or played? Certainly. But Vegas certainly seemed to believe a retirement statement might be coming – which should surprise no one if it does, given how this offseason played out – and Packers brass is still in the dark. The biggest story in the NFL in 2021 rages on.
Watson wants to protect his money, so he reports to the team he vowed never to play for again. But the “hold-in” has become a thing in recent years and brace for one here. Watson is around, but not doing much. He believes he has no future in that organization and the Texans are going to be terrible with or without him. The NFL is in no hurry to weigh in with any discipline, and while some execs believe Watson will end up on the commissioner’s Exempt List until there is more closure about his civil and legal status, there is certainly at least a possibility of a trade if Watson is eligible to play football regularly this season. Regardless, the Texans will have to find their Week 1 starter elsewhere; the bond between this player and franchise is irreplaceably fractured.
Replacing Drew Brees was always going to be a challenge, even as he slowed and suffered through injury late in his career. They extended Taysom Hill because Sean Payton believes he can be a winning starting quarterback for them — but they did so at far from big QB money. They also brought Jameis Winston back because Payton believes he can win plenty of games with the turnover-prone, former No. 1 overall pick. My money is on Winston, but this will play out over the coming weeks and I’m not sure we’re going to get any proclamations right away. Hill will see plenty of the field in his hybrid role, as always.
I am a believer in Jalen Hurts, and the Eagles really like him too, but this is as aggressive of a front office as you will find, and a very involved owner and the prospect of landing a star QB has been talked about within that organization since things began falling apart with Carson Wentz. They have been watching this Watson thing for months and many execs believe they would be front-runners to land him, should a trade materialize. They’d love Rodgers, too, I am sure, though I don’t see him being someone who is bound for Philly (and he will be able to control where he lands should trade talks commence). Could Jimmy G become available at some point? All I know is the Eagles are not afraid to ask about anything and willing to think big and make a blockbuster if need be.
Teddy Bridgewater is the starter, but should this Rodgers situation go sideways to the point that a trade heats up, the Broncos would be in prime position to pounce. Rodgers loves the defense and some of the offensive personnel in place, the offensive line made some strides last year and Denver is very much his kind of city. John Elway is uniquely positioned to make something like this happen, relating to the player (Elway is a Hall of Famer who dug in before his career began to force a trade out of Baltimore to Denver) and having just wooed Peyton Manning to Colorado not all that long ago (where Manning continues to live and raise his family). Heck, Bridgewater might even make sense in Green Bay, as he is already accustomed to being a bridge QB (excuse the pun). That just feels like a fit.