Twitter seems to have a lot of quarterback debates these days. So to add to the fun, I decided to type up this article in the wee hours of the morning (after celebrating in downtown Cleveland after the Cavs made it back to the NBA Finals).
No franchise wants to deal with the “make it or break it” rational when it comes to quarterbacks. However, there comes a time where teams have to put the smack down if their QB just isn’t cutting it. The QB has the task of playing the most valuable position in football, and if progression/signs of strong play aren’t there, then it’s time to move on.
That’s where this list comes in. So who do I consider “make it or break it” quarterbacks? Simple; eliminate guys that are rookies or entering their 2nd season. We don’t need any of that noise (sorry, Johnny Manziel). Otherwise, we’re dealing with guys that have showed zero consistency, seem to be holding their team back, aren’t getting enough done, etc.
Now obviously, we’re not dealing with guys like Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, top 10 active signal callers who have played really well on teams with bad records. We’re not dealing with journeymen guys, backups or legends that are retiring before our eyes sooner than later. We’re not dealing with guys that used to be good (Matt Schaub) before going down the toilet.
We’re dealing with active starters that are given an ultimatum; get better, or get cut.
I’ve divided this section into 2 separate tiers; The Dealbreakers, and Starting To Become Concerned. These are my opinions, not the ones of the coaches, analysts, or media, so don’t get too crazy about this list. I also have no idea if guys like E.J. Manuel or Nick Foles will start in 2015, so they’re not on here either.
With that being said, let’s get things started.
- Jay Cutler (Chicago Bears)
The obvious first choice. Where do I begin with this? How about that this guy is entering his 10th season in the NFL, or that he’s coming off one of his worst seasons as a starter? Or that he was given an elite quarterback’s contract, and after a season is put in doubt by his own team?
For the longest time, I couldn’t give a full opinion on Jay Cutler. I’ve spent most of the past trying to vouch for him, that he was very good in 2013, and that he had a shot to start an MVP caliber season in 2014. I’ve also taken note in his inconsistencies, as well as some of the bad luck he’s experienced on some of his turnovers.
To be quite frank, I still have doubts on my final opinion, as the entire 2014 Chicago Bears roster was a mess from start to finish. However, I don’t think Jay is cutting it (no pun intended).
Like a lot of other people, I’m getting tired of seeing the same results from him year after year, and then seeing articles claiming he’ll improve the next year. 2008 was 7 years ago, and that was Cutler’s best season. Needless to say, expectations were huge when Chicago traded for him the year after, and it’s been mostly a disappointment.
I don’t think Cutler sucks like a lot of people seem to, but he’s right at average. My reasons for it are the usual; he’s inconsistent, has shown little progression, and apparently has a reputation for “not being a leader.” Under Marc Trestman’s offense in 2013, he had his best season since 2008, but the following year surprisingly regressed.
Sadly, the whole Bears roster looks to need a few years of rebuilding before they can ever say they can make it back to the playoffs. It is possible Cutler can have a great season on a bad team that doesn’t clinch a postseason spot.
But knowing what I know, I have to believe it to see it. It’s clear the Bears will move on from the Vandy alumni if 2015 is a failure.
- Sam Bradford (Philadelphia Eagles)
Sam Bradford is an interesting case. He has a terrible reputation, but isn’t nearly as bad as others have suggested.
It just seems like his constant injuries are holding him back.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly clearly saw that Sam Bradford had the potential to become a big success in his revolutionary offense (or because he couldn’t trade him for Marcus Mariota), ultimately deciding to trade Nick Foles to the Rams in exchange for him. Now behind a guy that excelled the play of Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and Mark Sanchez, Bradford has a scheme better than anything he had in St. Louis.
Philadelphia took a risky trade, but Bradford’s arm strength and surprising accuracy on downfield passing (you know, considering his raw stats) are a huge plus. He’s also got a backfield with 2014 All-Pro DeMarco Murray, as well as former Chargers back Ryan Matthews. Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz are a promising young duo of WR/TE, and the offensive line appears decent enough for Sam to stay alive.
At long last, we can finally see what Sam Bradford can accomplish under an actual coaching scheme. If he can stay healthy, expectations are that he’ll bring the Eagles back to the playoffs and return the NFC East crown to Philly.
If not, he may have to move elsewhere.
- Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins)
Staying in the NFC East, the 2012 QB class is full of guys who have had Pro Bowl worthy seasons (and Brandon Weeden).
Robert Griffin III is one of those guys, but his 2012 rookie season seems like forever ago as time passes by. Ever since his Offensive Rookie of the Year winning debut, RGIII has become an injury plagued, inconsistent, and downright at times terrible quarterback. It’s gotten so bad that even former Redskins players are ripping apart his defensive reads.
Seems like a fun locker room culture.
Anyway, something’s got to give in 2015. RGIII has shown little signs of becoming a pocket passer, and this is alarming when his peers such as Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Ryan Tannehill have all shown more promise/results. At times it seems like RGIII is afraid to hit an open man or run out of the pocket due to his health.
It also doesn’t help that the Redskins passing game actually got better results whenever Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy started last year.
Now, I’m not saying Cousins and McCoy were better in 2014, though they probably were. I’m simply saying Washington seemed to get better results from them than they did RGIII. Also, who cares about rushing stats?
Nevertheless, RGIII is entering the 2015 season as the Skins’ starter. It may also be the last chance he has as DC’s starting QB. Time is money.
- Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals)
One word comes to mind whenever I sit down and watch Andy Dalton; Ugh.
What was once a QB coming off a very promising rookie season has turned into a QB that has shown an extreme lack of progression and consistency. Every moment is Russian Roulette for the Bengals; you never know if you’ll avoid the bullet (good Dalton) or get the bullet (bad Dalton).
After receiving a huge contract extension thanks to a career high in touchdowns and passing yards (2013), Dalton somehow managed to get a bit worse in 2014, despite having less attempts.
Take a look below to see why the Red Rifle is known for having a roller coaster career.
It’s baffling how Dalton threw for the same amount of passing yards in 2011 as he did in 2014. That just about sums up his career so far.
Every year for Cincinnati it’s the same thing; get to the playoffs in spite of Dalton, lose a playoff game because Dalton either sucked or didn’t do enough. It’s true that last season his receivers seemed to have health issues or consistency problems, but it’s not too much that an above average guy would put up good numbers on. Cincinnati’s pass protection and run game are both solid, so you’d think the QB wouldn’t have an issue succeeding.
In a sense, Dalton has succeeded, if by that you mean “he’s won a lot of games and made the playoffs in each of his first 4 seasons.” But when it comes to actual play, he’s the Bengals’ biggest problem that has to get fixed.
There must be a fire lit inside Andy Dalton’s hair, begging to show any signs of improvement. Otherwise, it’s bye bye for him and Marvin Lewis.
Then again, Mike Brown is the owner, so maybe they’ll be back in 2016.
- Geno Smith (New York Jets)
This is a guy I have more sympathy for than most of the other guys on this list. Geno Smith is a ridiculously talented quarterback, has gifted arm strength and mobility that would suggest a great young QB has these skills.
Unfortunately, Geno had the task of being the starter for a Rex Ryan coached offense, which is to say, doesn’t exist. Enter Todd Bowles, another known defensive coordinator.
This doesn’t seem to add up.
On the flip side, the Jets made some moves (mostly on defense) in the offseason. They got WR Brandon Marshall and RB Zac Stacy from trades, and drafted WR Devin Smith from Ohio State, among others.
Rex probably ruined Mark Sanchez, but Geno is a young QB (24 years old as of this writing) with loads more talent. I have a feeling that with the right mind, we can finally see that released. If not, the Jets will likely move on and either get a new QB or have Bryce Petty take over. God forbid Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow becomes the future.
The offense is a bit better than the 2013 and 2014 squads, however, and I have high hopes for Geno as the starter.
- Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs)
You can spell Alex Smith without “average”, but you know you really want to.
On one hand, the Chiefs have played better with Smith as the QB since 2013, though it helps when Andy Reid is your coach. On the other, it’s amazing how anti-risk he can be. It’s gotten to the point where any risk Alex takes looks like an accident.
I’ve already ranted about Smith’s play in this article, so I’ll show some mercy here and keep this short and simple. The 10-year veteran has to change things in some way. More risk taking would be a terrific start.
Let’s get a move on.
Starting To Become Concerned
- Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers)
Arguably one of the most hyped quarterbacks in recent memory, Colin Kaepernick just about dazzled everyone when he burst onto the scene in 2012, and 2013 is underrated in a lot of different little ways.
In 2014, however, Kap showed significant regression, and this, along with a few other obvious signs, contributed to the 49ers missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Concerns of him as a pocket passer have risen as a result.
So why aren’t we worrying about him as much as the 6 guys above? Because Kaepernick has a brand new list of coaches to work with. His impressive play from 2013-14 has bought him an extra year in my mind, not to mention San Francisco is coming off an atrocious offseason that seems to be getting worse every second.
Keep your fingers crossed, and your Dolphins hat off your head.
- Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)
When you’re the best Lions QB since Bobby Layne, what does it say about how bad your franchise is at the position? Enter Matthew Stafford. He means a lot to the city of Detroit for what he’s done, helping turn the team from a bunch of losers to contenders with higher expectations.
The problem? I fear Stafford may soon enter the same realm as Jay Cutler; plenty of talent, but little progression.
Despite boasting arm talent, the 27-year old signal caller also has the incredible gift of throwing 50/50 deep balls to Calvin Johnson. In layman’s terms, he’s inaccurate as hell. It seems like the excuses for the fantasy god keep coming in too; “He needs a better OL!” “The running game wasn’t great!” “He’s still young!”
It’s becoming apparent that we should start becoming concerned, but the quotes listed above are valid enough that Detroit shouldn’t be that concerned.
- Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)
The undeniable starter in 2015, Carson Palmer is coming of a stretch of games in which he played really well in. We haven’t seen anything like this from him since the days when he was the face of the Cincinnati Bengals back in the 2000s’.
It’s obvious why concerns are there for him; health. Palmer has proven that he can still be a very good starter in this league, and with everything going right, has a shot to make the Cardinals contenders for the first time since 2008.
Adios, amigos. Remember in life to make or break it.
(I’m going to bed after that awful pun.)
(Main photo via Philly.com)