Taxi for... Eight starting NFL Quarterbacks who may be axed in 2013

Blaine Gabbert

There are question marks about the futures of quarterbacks in Philadelphia, Oakland, New York, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and even Dallas and Buffalo after disappointing 2012 seasons. Richard Moore assesses the future options of each player and franchise concerned.

‘Taxi for….?

With the business end of the regular season rapidly approaching, I wanted to run the rule over Quarterbacks who may well wind up in the back of a cab heading for a new destination come 2013, and to look at possible replacements.

First in line

1. Michael Vick – Philadelphia Eagles

Along with the ‘Dream Team’, another dream has surely died in the ‘City of Brotherly love’ - ‘Project Vick’.

Many were stunned when Andy Reid took a chance on a man fresh from a 21 month jail sentence, following his part in the atrocities of ‘Bad Newz Kennel’s, but in 2010 a reformed Vick had turned the Eagles offense into one the most dynamic in the league.

An offense that produced one of the most devastating displays ever seen on national television, when Vick and his Eagles travelled to the capital, subjecting the Washington Redskins to what was essentially a public execution on ‘Monday Night Football’ by pummelling the Skins to the tune of a 59 - 28 hammering.

Vick was simply inspired, throwing for 333 - yards, 4 touchdowns, and becoming the first NFL player in history to throw for 300 - yards and rush for 50 in the same game; the highlight being the first play from scrimmage, where Vick threw an absolute bomb to DeSean Jackson from 88 - yards.

Since that point, ‘Miracle at the New Meadowlands’ (the Eagles putting up 28 unanswered points in 7:28 seconds to stun the Giants 38 - 31) aside, the Vick Highlight reel has been somewhat lacking.

Since that 2010 season where Vick, (though his impressive 100.2 passer rating) led the Eagles to a 10 - 6 record and a play - off appearance, things have taken a turn for the worse.

Sadly the man responsible for his resurrection must also share the blame for his decline - Andy Reid. Over his 34 starts as an Eagle, Reid has placed the ball in Vicks hands 70% of the time (including post season games).

The problems really came to the fore in 2011, as Vick attempted more passes (423 compared to 372 in 2010) and threw just about more than double the amount of interceptions (14 compared to 6 in 2010).

Statistical proof that did little to detract from the notion that we were essentially witnessing an athlete playing Quarterback, as opposed an athletic Quarterback. In this case, one totally ill - equipped to lead a passing attack, especially when factoring in the declining accuracy.

The trend carried itself into 2012, as through 9 games (prior to being concussed against the Cowboys in week 10) Vick has had thrown 9 picks to 11 touchdowns, completed just over 50% of his passes (58.5 to be exact) and achieved a passer rating representing a significant decline on not only 2010 (100.2) but 2011, (84.9), chalking up a less than modest 79.2.

Ironically, Reid’s attempts to mould Vick into a pocket passer may have come about due to concerns about Vick’s health when breaking out into the open field; concerns well founded as according to ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, Vick has been hit 139 times - a deeply alarming statistic. Even in trying to save Vick, Reid has killed him.

Mind you, whether throwing or running it, Vick’s cause has hardly been helped by a 27th ranked offensive line that’s allowed 35 sacks, and by an offense that in its six losses, has limited LeSean McCoy’s carries to less than 20, (harming his chances of replicating his 17 touchdown season of 2011), undermining any chance of establishing a balanced offense.

Regardless, Vick’s tenure, despite the highlights documented earlier, will ultimately be construed as nothing more than a hundred million dollar failure, a failure that has Vick at a 10-12 record over the last two years of Reid’s reign. Though unlike Vick, the Eagles won’t take anywhere near as bad a hit, only losing three million of the aforementioned figure if he remains on the roster 3 days after the Superbowl.

Vick stands to lose much more - his job, potential reduction in longevity, and a reputation for the spectacular, and the man who’s made it all possible will do doubt be following no.7 out the door, replaced in all probability by Oregon’s Chip Kelly.

What this means as far as the Quarterback position goes, that’s anyone’s guess. Although, if Kelly, or whoever else takes the job, decides against addressing the dilemma at Quarterback in the upcoming draft, they may end up building the offense around current incumbent Nick Foles and a running game that’s been criminally underused at times this season. We will wait and see…

2. Carson Palmer – Oakland Raiders

His arrival in 2011 was heralded by then coach Hue Jackson as ‘the greatest trade in football’ - a 7 - 15 record as starter says otherwise.

Palmer may be ranked as 7th most productive Quarterback in the National Football League with a 84.4 passer rating, and a 60.6 completion percentage, but the fact that he’s completed one more pass than Peyton Manning on 56 more attempts only serves to illustrate still further why Palmer may not be the man to lead Oakland from a malaise that currently stands at a 3 - 9 record, and second last in last one of the league’s weakest divisions – the AFC West.

According to current head coach Dennis Allen, there have been “discussions” about turning to second year Quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Despite the lack of progress under Palmer, I would urge caution on following San Francisco’s lead by turning to a second year back - up, especially one, in the case of Pryor, that’s not played a single game. Although with Oakland’s season over, you can understand the logic.

However, if it transpires that Allen and the Raiders organisation want to move in a completely different direction, they could start by drafting Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, whose career as a ‘Sooner’ has produced a career 100 touchdowns and a healthy completion percentage of 63.3. Geno Smith of West Virginia is an attractive alternative.

3. Tim Tebow - New York Jets

“All he’ll do is win games” boomed Skip Bayless of ESPN’s First Take upon Tebow’s trade to the Jets - He did…..in Denver.

He may have taken a Kyle Orton Lead Broncos outfit languishing at 1 - 4, to the AFC West title (despite dropping three straight to finish at 8 - 8) and the Divisional round of the play - offs, beating a highly favoured (albeit it, banged up) Pittsburgh Steelers outfit along the way, but that was about as good as it got for this most polarizing of players, as his season met a brutal end at the hands of a rampant New England, who sacked him 5 times, and allowed him to complete only 9 of 25 for a completion percentage of 25.

Tebow ended the season as the 31st rated Quarterback with a paltry overall completion percentage of 46.5, despite throwing 12 touchdowns to 6 interceptions.

Things haven’t got any better in the Big Apple, as if John Elway and John Fox had concerns about placing the fate of the team in Tebow’s hands, what must Rex Ryan offensive coordinator Tony Sparano have? So far Tebow’s much hyped arrival in New York has amounted to nothing more than minor insignificance, certainly as far as on field action goes.

Woody Johnson has said “You can never have too much Tebow”...6 of 7 for 39 - yards, resulting in a completion percentage of 85.7 (no great surprise given volume of attempts) 0 touchdowns through the air, and 29 rushes for a grand total of 87 - yards over the ground suggests Sparano and Ryan think otherwise, despite the assertion Tebow would assume the focal point of a Sparano influenced ‘Wild Cat’ offense.

Instead Tebow has very much become the square peg in round holes, as he doesn’t appear to fit any scheme, irrespective of who designs it, and surely as a result, his time in New York must surely be coming to an end; even more so when it seems he has scant support in the locker room, certainly if the ‘He’s terrible’ headline in the New York Daily News is anything to go by.

So, what to do? If the Jets were to drop a highly winnable remaining schedule featuring Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo, they may wind up with a high draft pick, and with it the chance to draft a possible solution to their problem at Quarterback, but then Ryan maintains that Sanchez is very much the man to take the Jets forward, regardless of his current travails, thus clouding the matter still further.

As alluded to previously, it’s fairly safe to assume Tebow won’t be a Jet next year, but where will he end up?

The general consensus points at a return to his home town of Jacksonville, but NFL analyst Gill Brandt isn’t sure he has a future in his current position, never mind home ‘Tim Tebow has a history of winning, great work ethic, and a highly competitive nature.

He just doesn’t stack up as an NFL signal caller. If he’s going to remain in the league, I think he’ll have to find another position’.

An assertion that seems to carry significant weight, as even before he entered the league, former Ravens coach and now NFL analyst Brian Billick opined ‘I have concerns. Obviously he’s a phenomenally dynamic player. I’ve said before either the leagues going to adapt to Tim Tebow, or Tim Tebow’s going to adapt to the NFL. His throwing style and the way he performs is a concern for me in terms of his ability to be productive in the NFL’.

He went on to say ‘Who, in the history of the game, reminds you of Tim Tebow that’s been successful at Quarterback in the NFL? And I can’t make that match up’ - Seems he’s not the only one…

4. Matt Cassel – Kansas City Chiefs

After signing the franchise tag in February 2009, extending him to a one year contract worth 14 million (the largest one year contract for an offensive player in NFL history), Cassel was traded by New England to the Chiefs in a deal reportedly worth 62.7 million over 6 years.

Despite finishing 2 - 14 in his first season at Arrowhead, Cassel would go onto lead the Chiefs to a 10 - 6 record and the AFC West title in 2010, although they were to go out at the first hurdle, losing 30 -7 to Baltimore.

Unfortunately, Cassel has been unable to live up to standards that produced 27 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, and a 93.0 passer rating. As in 2011, apart from a 138.9 passer rating accumulated in a 28 -24 triumph over a Peyton Manning - less Colts outfit, Cassel like Michael Vick has been in gradual decline, throwing 10 touchdowns to 9 interceptions, an unfortunate pattern that’s carried itself over into 2012.

So far, through 9 games played this season Cassel has been a turnover machine, plundering 12 interceptions to 6 touchdowns, and a less than impressive passer rating of 66.7 To make matters worse for the Chiefs, in his 6 games as Cassel’s replacement, back up Brady Quinn has doubled his volume of touchdowns in picks (4 - 2), amassing a passer rating little better than Cassel’s at 70.3, and ranks 38th in the league.

Sky pundit and NFL analyst Neil Reynolds once said ‘If Brady Quinn’s the answer, there shouldn’t be a question’, but could the solution lie in the form of either USC’s Matt Barkley, or West Virginia’s Geno Smith?

At one stage it appeared one number 7 would replace another, as Barkley seemed a dead cert to replace Cassel at Arrowhead, only his draft stock has plummeted during the last few weeks of the season, as he’s turned the ball over 15 times, rather worrying when you consider during his junior year he only had one multi - turnover game.

As a senior he’s had six, and as a direct consequence the Trojans now head into December 31st’s ‘Sun Bowl’ at 7-5, after going 1-3 over their last 4 games.

Virginia triggerman Smith on the other hand, has been lights out throughout 2012 so far, completing 350 of 490 passes for a completion percentage of 71.4, throwing an astonishing 40 touchdown passes to only 6 interceptions, all combining to establish a passer rating of 164.6.

If taken first in the draft, it’s possible he could have a similar impact to another first round pick - Washington’s Robert Griffin the 3rd, as both operate out of the pistol formation, can extend plays with their legs, and boast good arm strength, though there are some slight concerns over his capacity to consistently throw the deep pass.

Regardless, if the Chiefs do draft a Quarterback, and they acquire Smith, he could form a devastating partnership with Jamaal Charles, similar to the one being created in D.C between RG3 and Alfred Morris. Whoever’s drafted would surely give Kansas a better shot at winning than either Brady Quinn or Matt Cassel that much is obvious.

5. Blaine Gabbert – Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach Mike Malarkey’s decision to name Chad Henne as the starter going to next season says everything about how highly he rates Gabbert, despite the second year starter showing signs of improvement that’s brought an increase in completion percentage from 50.8 to 53.8, and a QB rating that’s risen from 65.4 to 77.4.

Despite this progression in 2012, his record as starter makes for quite depressing reading as over 24 starts he’s won just 5 games.

Despite throwing 8 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions, achieving a passer rating of 87.2, and going for an impressive 261 - yards in the Jaguars victory over Tennessee in week 12, Henne, like Gabbert (out following a combination of torn labrum in his left shoulder and an injury to his right forearm, sustained in Jacksonville’s 43 - 37 loss at Houston) hardly represents the franchise Quarterback, certainly not of the calibre needed to drag the Jags from the basement of the AFC South.

The romantic in Jacksonville would no doubt like a reunion with hometown hero Tim Tebow, but the footballing pragmatist says that if Gabbert and Henne not of the quality to improve fortunes in Northeast Florida, what chance of Tebow being that; especially given evident concerns about his capacity to be productive in the NFL?

With a combination of emerging talent at receiver in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, Marcedes Lewis at Tight End and a sound running game spearheaded by Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jags are a Quarterback away from being a serious team, and Jacksonville could certainly do worse than North Carolina States Mike Glennon, who despite being sacked 64 times and throwing 14 picks, is far better than his record suggests, at least as far as the scouting reports are concerned.

Next Up?

6. Mark Sanchez – New York Jets

Ryan maintains that he has faith in Sanchez, but will be he around in 2013? More to the point will Mark Sanchez? Logic would dictate that with Sanchez owed 8.5 million in 2013; he won’t be going anywhere, despite a woeful campaign that’s seen him throw 13 interceptions to 12 touchdowns, complete 204 of 371 passes for a completion percentage of 55.0, and a passer rating of 71.4; all of which combining to rank Sanchez as the 29th ranked passer in the National Football League.

Sanchez made himself look more of a bum deal, excuse the pun, as prior to his 10 of 21 for 97 - yards and three interceptions (prompting the introduction of 3 rd choice Greg McElroy) against Arizona this past week, unwittingly acquainted himself with the considerable backside of Patriots Right - Guard Brandon Moore on Thanksgiving, reducing Patriots fans to hysterics, and leaving Rex Ryan looking, well, bummed out…

Despite the smart money being on Sanchez remaining a Jet for the upcoming season, the longer he struggles continue to abate, the louder the whispers will grow, especially when you look at the fact that he’s turned the ball over 39 times over the past two seasons.

However, some will argue that with a genuine lack of depth at receiver, Sanchez’s cause has hardly been helped. Notably though the departure of Plaxico Burress, who despite representing a rather aged performer, had the height to cause match up issues in the red-zone, and an existing cast comprising of Chaz Schilens, Jason Hill, Clyde Gates, and Jeremy Kerley.

Drafting USC’s Marquise Lee, who’s genuinely considered to be the best pass catcher in college football with 1,680 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns to date, (making him an almost dead cert for the coveted Heisman Trophy), would go some way to bolstering the depth of talent around Sanchez.

However, given the fact that he’s ineligible for the 2013, it throws a considerable spanner in the works as far as that ideas concerned, therefore the Jets need to widen the net, and in doing so, could draft Baylor’s Terrence Williams, who despite scoring less touchdowns (12 to Lee’s 14) than Lee, has had a hugely impressive campaign for the ‘Bears’ chalking up 1,693 - yards, including a massive 314 - yard performance against West Virginia, and his long frame makes him the deep threat that would make New York considerably more dangerous; especially in the red - zone.

If however, New York does decide to part ways with Sanchez, taking a considerable hit financially in the process, former Saint and now NFL analyst Heath Evans feels Sanchez would be a good fit in New England.

A strange choice you may say, especially with Tom Brady as imperious as ever and an heir apparent in Ryan Mallett, but placing Sanchez in a New England’s ‘Erhardt - Perkins’ style offense utilized by Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel’s, could pay dividends.

For example by using a running scheme like the ‘Zero, Ride, Thirty - Six’ to create a run that sets up the pass via a ‘play action’ Sanchez could get the ball downfield to an array of targets, an effective ploy especially when you look at the depth of talent New England has in Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez…the list is endless.

As for the Jets, they’d be doing themselves no harm by drafting Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who has proven to be an elite proposition at collegic level; especially in a conference (Southeastern) featuring the most potent player and defenses in the country.

Murray saw out his 2012 collegiate junior season completing 231 of 353 attempted passes for 3466 yards, 31 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions, and a 65.4 completion percentage.

Murray's considerable arm strength and quick release will only serve to enhance his NFL longevity.

7. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys

Romo will be entering the final year of his contract next year, and it seems fans and former players alike are growing increasingly frustrated with boarding the ‘Ground Hog Day’ like ‘Romocoaster’.

A notion emphatically summed by former Cowboy Deion Sanders in the aftermath of Romo’s second half melt down against the Lions last season ‘We’re tired of the same old story, I live in the Dallas Metroplex, so do Mike Irvin, were sick and tired of being sick and tired of trying to explain (him). Yeah, he is going to be alright statistically, one of the best Quarterbacks statistically to ever play the game, but getting us over the hump, winning the big one? Never been done. He’s not that kind of guy’.

What ‘it’ is has led the Cowboys to what many would see as a reflection of Romo – a half and half, an even .500 (6 - 6 record), seemingly re – affirming his status ‘as not that kind of guy’, despite the erratic Romo being the third most productive Quarterback in the league at the time of writing.

So, how do you solve a problem like Romo? Do you go in a different direction and draft someone else? Do you promote back up Kyle Orton?

Frankly for all his faults, the pros far outweigh the cons. In any case, were Jerry Jones to draw a line under his tenure in ‘Big D’ you can guarantee there would be a stream of suitors, particularly those of a struggling variety, that would be more than happy to take a former undrafted free agent that recently (In Dallas’s 38 - 31 win over Philadelphia) became the franchise leader in touchdowns, breaking the record of 165 held by Troy Aikman.

Regardless of a propensity for big game meltdowns, like the previously mentioned Lions debacle, and recently, the capitulation to the Bears at ‘Jerry World’ where Romo committed 5 turnovers, he showed tremendous poise and no shortage of skill in getting the Cowboys within a score of what was, at one point, a substantial 28 - 3 deficit in Dallas thanksgiving defeat to the Redskins.

Despite personal bests for both career (441) and individual passing yards (an 85 - yarder to Dez Bryant late in the third quarter), Romo could only look on as RG3 with his Skins at 35 -28 ahead, drove Washington team downfield to kick the game winning field goal, putting the lid on Dallas’s hopes of pulling off a most miraculous of comebacks.

Dallas may have lost the game with Romo, due in no small part to interceptions that came about in trying to force the issue, but they’d have been wiped off the map without him.

With all things being considered, Jones would be well advised to keep faith with no.9, as with a solid running game to offset a dangerous passing attack, Dallas could finally get that money off the back and ‘win the big one’.

Though, we’ve been here before…

8. Ryan Fitzpatrick – Buffalo Bills

Guaranteed dollars doesn’t guarantee production - as evidenced by Mario Williams standing as the 38th ranked defensive end (despite 9.5 sacks, and 34 tackles 28 individual, and 6 assists) following the signing of a contract worth a staggering 100 million over 6 years. 

Another Bill, this time Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, has become the latest to support the notion that handsome remuneration is no gateway to consistently good production. After putting pen to paper on a whopping 59 million dollar deal in October 2011, Fitzpatrick finished the season with 24 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, and led the Bills to a disappointing 6 - 10 record.

With Buffalo sitting joint bottom of the AFC East with a 5 - 7 record, at present, Fitzpatrick has short changed his Franchise still further, as despite throwing 20 touchdown passes, and less picks though 2012 so far, is hardly playing at a level to worthy of such extravagant outlay.

‘Bills Bills Bills’ may have been a huge hit for the now defunct group Destiny’s Child, but come 2013, it may wind up being another huge hit - to the pockets of the Buffalo Bills organisation, who could be forced to pay plenty of their own if they were to wave goodbye to an investment that has proven to be anything but ‘Fitzmagic’…

Though for the sake of the Franchise it may be worth it, especially given the depth of talent that’s sure to reveal itself in April's draft.

image: © pdaphoto