If you do not have a quarterback, you don’t have anything in the NFL. Like any other year, quarterback battles are sprinkled throughout training camps. Here is a look at the top battles to keep an eye on during the preseason.
The players: Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson
Context: These first two situations are different from most quarterback battles. Whoever wins them will be inheriting a team that has realistic aspirations of playing meaningful games when the weather gets cold.
Houston’s top-ranked defense carried them to the playoffs last year, but quarterback play was perhaps the only real weakness all year long. Brock Osweiler was the main source of that and is now in Cleveland.
Tom Savage was pretty ordinary in spot duty last year. In three games played, he completed just 46 of 73 passes while not throwing a touchdown. He was forced back to the bench for the playoffs due to injury.
Meanwhile, Watson comes in with all the hype and the glitzy college numbers. The first-round pick led Clemson to consecutive national title games and was named the MVP of last year’s comeback win over Alabama.
While back to back seasons of double digit interceptions scare me, the winning is hard to ignore. Throw in his mobility and the recent success we have seen by other NFL rookie quarterbacks, and his upside becomes very intriguing. The roster in Houston is loaded with talent. Thus, Watson presents the highest risk, but also the highest reward and may be able to take this team to the next level.
The players: Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch
Context: Even though the players themselves are saying as much, the notion that the Broncos had some kind of massive Super Bowl hangover last year is simply not accurate. They went 9-7, meaning a couple different bounces of the ball would have resulted in at least a return to the playoffs.
Surprise starter Trevor Siemian was by no means a disappointment in 2016. Throwing for 3,400 yards and eight more touchdowns than interceptions is nothing to sneeze at. Siemian also dealt with a shoulder injury for most of the year that required offseason surgery.
Despite winning one, Lynch was pretty bad as he started two games for an injured Siemian. He posted just 327 combined passing yards and struggled to complete half his throws. His numbers are somewhat skewed due to playing well in garbage time.
Lynch was drafted in the first round to be the franchise quarterback, but it is no secret that he was a project coming out of Memphis where he simply let it fly and never lined up under center.
Quite frankly, the project is probably coming along slower than the Broncos would like. Even so, whoever wins the job will have the benefit of playing behind a revamped offensive line, two top-notch wide receivers, a crowded but talented backfield and a defense that remains one of the best in football.
New head coach Vance Joseph has spoken very highly of Lynch this offseason, but Siemian has done nothing to lose the job. Until that happens, he is the present, even if Lynch or late-round draft pick Chad Kelly end up being the future.
New York Jets
The players: Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg
Context: The Jets seemingly endless search for a franchise quarterback rolls on. McCown is what he is. That is a 38-year-old journeyman who has never been healthy (or good) enough to start for an entire 16-game season. He was clearly brought in to be a one-year bridge to one of the younger guys.
A brief late-season glimpse of Bryce Petty last year was nothing to write home about. Hackenberg is where all the intrigue lies here. The former Penn State star did not see the field in his rookie year. However, he is the only guy on the current roster who could be the future at quarterback.
No matter how little offensive talent they have around him, the Jets have to explore that possibility.
The players: Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer
Context: Hue Jackson and company have done an outstanding job adding talent to a roster that won just a single game last year. Additions like Kenny Britt, Kevin Zietler and Myles Garrett, among others have set the table for vast improvement in 2017.
Quarterback remains a major question mark though. Cody Kessler went winless in eight starts last year. DeShone Kizer was given the project label coming out of Notre Dame. The Browns say he is ahead of schedule, but it would be a surprise for him to start a game this year. Even so, his long-term upside has some folks salivating.
Despite posting a winning record as a starter in Houston, Brock Osweiler struggled in a big way after signing the big contract last year, completing just 59 percent of his throws and accounting for more turnovers than touchdowns.
Osweiler was just a bad fit from the start in Houston. He spent most of his time in the shotgun, which was not a strong point when he held down the fort quite well for the 2015 Broncos.
It has never been a work of art, but there is something to be said for going 13-8 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Supporting casts are not created equal, but no other quarterback in this competition has ever won an NFL game. If Osweiler has anything to give, Jackson is the kind of offensive mind that will get it out of him.
Chicago and San Francisco
Two other shaky quarterback situations reside in Chicago and San Francisco. However, those organizations continue to articulate their commitment to Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer respectively. As much as we all like to speculate this time of year, a quarterback competition can only exist if management says there is one.