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NFL AM: Which QB Competitions Are Legit?

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Each year there are a few quarterback competitions around the league.  They are often won by the younger guy, especially if the team doesn’t figure to be a real contender.  We’re going to look at and determine whether the current quarterback quandaries are legit, or if coaches and general managers are just saying “the right things.”

Legit Competitions

Denver Broncos: Mark Sanchez vs. Paxton Lynch (vs. Trevor Siemien?)

The Denver Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champs and they have a defense that is built to contend as long as the quarterback position “doesn’t screw it up.”  If this were a team that was expected to go nowhere, it would be Lynch’s job from opening day on.

Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is toeing the company line.

“”We don’t really know who is going to be that guy,” Thomas told reporters. “Whoever it is, they’ve been looking good. I’ve been going with every quarterback during OTAs. Everybody has their own ways. We’ve been making completions here and there. I’ve been getting more reps with Mark right now. We’ll see what goes on.”

With a veteran locker room, it makes sense that they would support the veteran Sanchez, who has experienced some success early on in his career.  All they really need is a “hand-off machine” who can end drives in kicks- whether it be extra points, field goals or punts- and not turnovers.

Over the past three years, Sanchez has thrown 31 touchdowns and 33 interceptions while playing for the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles (both teams that are featured in this piece).

New York Jets: Geno Smith vs. Christian Hackenberg vs. Bryce Petty

Like the Broncos, the Jets are a team with playoff aspirations, after all they did win 10 games last year.  Those 10 wins were with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is still a free agent.  If he were under contract, there would be no competition.

“With all due respect, I’m through talking about Fitz. I’m going to worry about the guys I have on the team,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said defiantly after Thursday’s OTA session.  “I think I’ve expressed and said everything about the quarterbacks that I’m going to say at this standpoint. And until I get to training camp and see what happens, I’m pretty much done talking about it.”

Geno Smith seems to be the front-runner for the job, as he has some starting experience and he would be the No. 1 if the season were to begin today.

With that said, the team would probably prefer that Christian Hackenberg won the job, as he is a rookie that they could potentially build around.

The Jets head coach was asked what the rookie signal caller could do over the next five weeks before they begin training camp.

“Just continue to study and get better at the system so (he is ready) when he comes into training camp,” said Bowles. “He was hit with a lot in phase one, two, three, then OTAs and minicamp. So I expect him to have a better grasp of it come training camp.”

As for Petty, Bowles said that he would be the No. 2 if camp opened today, but the selection of Hackenberg speaks volumes about what the organization thinks of the 2015 fifth-round draft choice.

Cleveland Browns: Robert Griffin, III vs. Josh McCown

Sure, there are other quarterbacks on the Cleveland roster (Cody Kessler, Austin Davis and Connor Shaw), but the real competition is between RG3 and McCown.  At this point it would appear as if Griffin would have a leg up due to his nearly $7 million guaranteed and new head coach Hue Jackson.

Griffin has No. 2 overall draft pick pedigree and Jackson has worked well with mobile quarterbacks before.  The Browns head coach was a driving force behind the decision to sign RG3 when he was released from the Washington Redskins.

As for McCown, he’s probably a better quarterback at this point in his career and he was fairly productive last season.  Even though he has his salary ($4.375 million) and age (36 years old) working against him, he’s not exactly competing against a rookie and if he’s head and shoulders above Griffin, it’s likely he would get the nod.

San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick vs. Blaine Gabbert

It is truly anyone’s guess how this quarterback competition is going to play out.  Gabbert, the former failed Top-10 draft pick replaced Kaepernick last season and performed a little better than the incumbent in what was a horrible situation with a de facto lame duck head coach.

Kaepernick expressed his displeasure with the organization, and they tried to acquiesce his trade demand, but they couldn’t execute a deal with the Denver Broncos.

Enter Chip Kelly, who hasn’t tipped his hand on anything quarterback related.

“I think first and foremost he’s got to be a great decision maker,” Kelly said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “That’s the most critical factor in everything he does. And I think the ones that are best in this game all come in different shapes and sizes. You can look at Russell Wilson or Tom Brady – one’s 5-10 and the other’s 6-5. (Brady is listed as 6-4). But they’re both outstanding decision makers. They don’t put the ball in harm’s way.”

Neither Kaepernick nor Gabbert would be considered by many (or any) as great decision makers. They have both shown a tendency to throw the ball into harms way and be overall inaccurate in their young careers.

On the surface it would seem as if Kaepernick would fit Kelly’s system better due to his great mobility, but the 49ers new head coach hasn’t said anything to show much confidence in the former NFC champion quarterback.

Just For Show

Los Angeles Rams: Case Keenum vs. Jared Goff

The Rams moved heaven and Earth to acquire the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and used it on former California quarterback Jared Goff.  The rookie might not be the training camp or even the opening day starter, but it will be his job at some point during the 2016 season.

For now, the Rams are trying to relieve Goff of any pressure and even named Case Keenum the starter entering camp.

“We’ll start him when he’s ready,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said of Goff. “I didn’t say that to imply he was going to start the opener. I said we have options. He could start anywhere from the opener to whenever. We haven’t changed our philosophy on that. We’re gonna coach him to be successful and not going to put him in with a chance to fail.”

As or Keenum, he’s played fairly well in his limited opportunities, but he lacks arm strength and if the team thought he was capable, they would have never traded up to select Goff.

Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Bradford vs. Carson Wentz

Normally the younger guy has a huge advantage in any quarterback competition.  Especially when the younger guy, in this case Wentz, is also the second-overall pick in the draft that Philly traded up to get.

This is not a normal situation.

The Eagles spent upwards of $40 million on the quarterback position this offseason and guaranteed money says that they’re married to Sam Bradford for the 2016 season.  They even gave backup quarterback Chase Daniel $12 million in guaranteed money and he will be the guy who gets the ball if Bradford falters this year.

Every team usually uses some sort of rhetoric that they want their rookie quarterback to sit for a year, but the money in Philadelphia states that will indeed be the case.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.