QUESTIONS UNDER CENTER
A.J. Hoffman: Ranking the AFC South quarterback situations
The season is over, at least for the teams in the AFC South. So I thought it would be worth a look at the quarterback situations for each team, and rank them from least ideal to most ideal, although I am not sure that any of them are “ideal.”
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Blake Bortles wasn’t the reason the Jaguars lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but it is hard to say he was the reason they got there in the first place. Having signed Bortles to a fifth year option for 2018, they have time to make a decision. Bortles will get $19.05 million next season, which is a big number, but manageable when you know it could be his last with the team, and even less daunting than the numbers that would have been facing Jacksonville with an extension. The question is where do they go for insurance? The in-house approach was tried this season, when Doug Marrone opened up the job in the preseason to competition. Chad Henne is a respectable backup in the NFL, but he is a 32-year-old journeyman who isn’t going to be relied upon to lead such a strong squad. This offseason is atypical, given that there will likely be several veteran QB options available. Some, like Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins will almost certainly be available. Some, like Eli Manning and Case Keenum are still a coin flip. Some, like Drew Brees, are almost certainly staying put. Would Alex Smith or Kirk Cousins make Jacksonville an even better football team in 2018? Probably. Would they be enticed by a Jaguar roster that includes a blossoming defense and run game and seems ready-made for a playoff run? I would guess so. Will Jacksonville be willing to find out? That is to be determined. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Jags draft a quarterback in the first couple of rounds, and let Bortles determine his own fate next season. Any way you look at it, at least for now, Jacksonville has the least desirable QB situation in the division.
3. Tennessee Titans
Last offseason, the Titans would have been second, and maybe even first in this conversation. Marcus Mariota looked poised to break out and become not just a good NFL quarterback, but a star NFL quarterback. Despite the Titans making the playoffs (and winning a playoff game) for the first time in Mariota’s career, statistically he was a disaster. He finished 26th in the league in touchdown passes with only 13, and only 2 players threw more interceptions than his 15. The only qualified players with a worse passer rating than Mariota (79.3) this season sounds like a who’s who of disappointment- Mitch Trubisky, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley, CJ Beathard and Deshone Kizer. Then the Titans fired head coach Mike Mularkey, and instead of replacing him with an offensive-minded coach who could fix Mariota’s problems, decided to hire a defensive guy with a questionable resume in Mike Vrabel. The Titans have plenty of experience on the roster as backups with Matt Cassell and Brandon Weeden, but neither is a viable starting option. Mariota appears locked in as the future for the Titans. There was speculation this time last year that the Titans would give him a Derek Carr-esque extension this offseason, but Carr’s performance this season has to give them pause. Tennessee has a while to figure things out. They can control him without the franchise tag through the 2020 season, so the approach will likely be a patient one, but Mariota needs to start showing that the flashes of brilliance we saw in his first two seasons weren’t a mirage.
2. Houston Texans
This time a year ago, the Texans not only had the worst quarterbacking situation in the division, but quite possibly the entire league. They had an albatross contract with Brock Osweiler and an unproven but (at least at the time) highly thought of backup in Tom Savage. The Texans mortgaged a chunk of their future to get out from under the Osweiler deal, and mortgaged an even bigger chunk of their future to move up and get Deshaun Watson with the 12th pick in the draft. Both of these moves turned out to be brilliant for the Texans. It only took a disastrous first half against Jacksonville for the Texans to sit Savage and give their rookie a chance. He shined in his 6.5 games, putting up nearly 2,000 yards of total offense and accounting for 21 touchdowns. Over the course of a full season, that could have translated into MVP-caliber numbers. Unfortunately, a torn ACL in practice ended his season there. The Texans went on to go 1-8 in the remaining games. While there are obvious reasons to be thrilled about the future of the position in Houston, this is the second ACL tear for Watson, who will have to be mobile behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. If Watson returns to health, and returns to form, the Texans will have a 22 year old with unlimited potential as the face of their franchise. If he can’t regain that magic, or comes back as a watered-down version of himself, it could be more frustration for Texans fans who have longed for a true franchise quarterback since the inception of the team.
1. Indianapolis Colts
No, their situation is far from perfect, but on this list no team’s is. The Colts have far and away the most proven commodity at the position in Andrew Luck. The former 1st overall pick has been hobbled by shoulder injuries over the last 3 full seasons, after his first 3 seasons had him looking like a future league MVP. He only played seven games in 2015. In 2016 he played in 15 games. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, as well as posting a career high 71.2 QBR, but he clearly was struggling with his mechanics and his health. Offseason surgery left him as a question mark going into the 2017 season, and after an attempt to get back into game shape, the Colts decided to take the cautious approach and shut him down. Luck is only 28 years old, but his injury is clearly one that has lingered and it is impossible to say whether or not he will ever return to the form of his early career. The Colts were wise to trade for Jacoby Brissett during the season, and he did an admirable job keeping the ship somewhat afloat. If Luck is healthy going into next season, the Colts may have a decent trade chip in Brissett to try and build on what is currently a pretty weak roster. Placing the Colts atop this list is risky given Luck’s current status, which is a complete unknown. If the next time we see Luck, he is the 2016 version of himself, I will feel OK about his placement. If he is the 2015 or even worse the 2017 version of himself, I am going to look foolish. If he somehow returns to 2014 form, I am sure that the Colts have the best QB in the division, at least in the short-term.