April is a fascinating month on the 2019 calendar. Not only do football fans get the NFL draft, the yearly event that gives supporters of every organization the chance to bet on the future — and hope — but fans of the HBO saga "Game of Thrones" will be treated to the premier of the eighth and final season a few weeks before the draft.
In honor of that event, let’s take a spin through each division and analyze their quarterback situations, looking at teams that might need to address the position (whether for an immediate starter or an upgrade at the backup spot) with me serving as the Maester for each organization, offering my wise and sage counsel that is sure to be ignored, and likely to get me killed in the end.
We’ll do one division at a time, starting with the NFC East:
For two teams, there is some stability at the starting spot but perhaps some questions behind those players. For the other two organizations, questions abound.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
It is hard to have a discussion about quarterback situations in the NFC East without it devolving into another version of what I lovingly refer to as “The Wentz Wars.” Two quarterbacks from the same draft class playing for bitter rivals tends to result in heated debates over “Dak versus Wentz.” Though my thoughts on that debate are best shared at another time, there is a case to be made that the Cowboys have the most stable quarterback situation of all of the NFC East teams.
The biggest decision Dallas has at the quarterback position in the next year is whether to give Prescott the big money deal that he may have earned by this point in his career. For the 2019 season, Prescott is due his biggest payday yet as a professional, as he is set to earn over $2M in base salary, surpassing the first three years of his career combined.
Then he is due to hit free agency.
According to salary analysis website Spotrac.com, an extension for Prescott could push the $150M range. Spotrac estimates that Prescott could command a six-year extension worth roughly $23.6M per season, putting the full value of his contract just north of $140M. Now, with the Collective Bargaining Agreement nearing the end of its shelf life, the franchise tag number may change, so the calculus regarding a Prescott extension could look much different in a year or so.
Now, is Prescott worth that kind of money in terms of an extension? In all likelihood, yes. The Cowboys are approaching that moment when they need to decide whether to sail or cut bait with their QB on a rookie deal. Given what Prescott has delivered so far as a starter (two playoff appearances loom large), the team should look to extend him. However, Stephen Jones just indicated that the contract would need to be “team friendly,” so he is trying to frame the discussion in terms of keeping the ability to put pieces around Prescott.
After this decision, the Cowboys could look to extend backup Cooper Rush, who also will hit free agency after this season. That might depend on how they feel about third-string QB Mike White, out of Western Kentucky. But with three solid options at the position for the 2019 season, it is unlikely that the Cowboys would entertain drafting a quarterback from this class.
Maester’s Counsel: The biggest decisions the Cowboys face at the quarterback position are not immediate. They need to decide whether to give Prescott an extension, and whether to re-sign (or at least seek to re-sign) Rush. Prescott has likely earned the long-term deal, so the organization should seek to get such a deal done, and they should seek to at least explore re-signing Rush, as a team always needs a solid backup option. In the alternative the 2020 free agent market might have some interesting backup options, such as the Eagles' Nate Sudfeld.
New York Giants
Rostered Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Alex Tanney, Kyle Lauletta
If you can tell me what Dave Gettleman’s plan is at the quarterback position, please, please do so. I’ve been trying to come up with the answer to that riddle for the better part of two months now.
So far this offseason the Giants have not only paid Eli Manning a $5M roster bonus (on March 17th) but have also intimated that Manning could be in their plans for the 2020 season. He is currently in the final year of a contract extension that he signed back in September of 2015, and is due a base salary of $11.5M ($5M of which is guaranteed) and his contract contains bonuses that in all likelihood push his contract north of $23M for the 2019 season.
Behind Manning lie Tanney and a darling of last year’s draft cycle, Lauletta. The Giants actually recently signed Tanney to a new contract, keeping him in New York this season with a team option for the 2020 campaign. Lauletta is entering the second year of a four-year deal.
Now, if I were in charge in the Big Apple, I would be looking to address the quarterback position in this offseason, whether drafting a quarterback with one of their first round selections, or trading one of those picks (or their second-rounder) to Arizona for the rights to Josh Rosen. Yes, Manning has delivered two Super Bowl titles to the Giants, and there were moments last season when he looked like he still had something left in the tank. But when the end comes for older quarterbacks, it can come fast. This is something Manning witnessed firsthand with his own brother’s career.
Smart teams plan for the future a year or two ahead of schedule. Consider New England. During the Tom Brady era, Bill Belichick has drafted a quarterback roughly every other season. He drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014, and then two years later drafted Jacoby Brissett. Last year he drafted Danny Etling in the seventh round, and indications are that New England will address the position at some point this year with one of their 12 draft picks. The Giants need to plan for a post-Eli world, and that starts in this offseason by getting a true replacement for #10.
Maester’s Counsel: Perhaps some Milk of the Poppy for everyone? Honestly, if it were me I would be pushing the Rosen option hard, if the Cardinals are indeed drafting Kyler Murray with the first overall selection. Otherwise, draft your next best quarterback option with that sixth selection and prepare for the future. Winter is coming.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Luis Perez
The exodus of Nick Foles from Philadelphia is just one aspect bringing some uncertainty to the quarterback room at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles enter the 2019 campaign with two rostered vet quarterbacks, both of whom could be entering the final year of their current deals.
Let’s start at the backup spot, with Sudfeld. It is clear that the Eagles value the quarterback out of Indiana University, as they placed a second-round tender on him this offseason, which he entered as a Restricted Free Agent (RFA). That is enough to perhaps scare some teams away from signing Sudfeld, as a new team would need to hand over a second-round pick to the Eagles if Philadelphia did not match a contract offer for him. So, it is clear that the Eagles do value him as their backup, with Foles now in the sunny environs of Jacksonville. But Sudfeld will be an unrestricted free agent in the 2020 season, and could be one of the more enticing free agent options in that quarterback class.
That brings us to Wentz. The Eagles have one more year with Wentz fully under contract, with the team having the fifth-year option for him on the 2020 season. What makes the Wentz decision a bit trickier is that he has spent the ending of the past two seasons on the sidelines, first with his ACL injury that cut short what was an MVP-type 2017 season, and last year with a back injury that sent him to the bench and gave Foles another shot at playing into the postseason.
Now, with Foles out of town, Wentz enters this season looking to solidify himself as the Eagles’ long-term plan at the quarterback position. Again, if it were me, I would look to sign Wentz to a long-term extension, perhaps during this season. Yes, at the end of last season he turned in a horrific performance against New Orleans in a nationally-televised game that was as close to a must-win as can be. But after that dreadful performance Wentz posted three of his better games of the season, all of which came against NFC East foes in games that the Eagles needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The week after the loss to the Saints, Wentz went 20-of-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown in a victory against the Giants. The next week Wentz went 27-of-39 for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns (and one interception) in a win over Washington. In that game in particular, Wentz seemed to be getting back to normal, and looked much more confident in his lower body and made some impressive throws on the move and outside of the pocket. Finally, in his last game of the year, Wentz completed 22-of-32 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns in an overtime loss to the Cowboys. Had the Eagles received an offensive possession in that extra period, there is a chance we are talking about Wentz leading the Eagles to three straight divisional wins in the wake of that debacle in New Orleans. So, in short, I remain optimistic on Wentz and expect him to go out and earn that big extension.
Now, with two quarterbacks rostered, the Eagles need to address a QB3 spot. While they are a team I would expect to see dip into this quarterback class late in the draft, they did sign Luis Perez, formerly of the Birmingham Iron of the now-defunct AAF. Perez showed some talent coming out of Division II, but he struggled at times with the Iron.
If the Eagles do look to the draft as well, a player to watch is Gardner Minshew II, out of Washington State. His traits and experience would be a good schematic fit for what the Eagles are running now under Doug Pederson.
Maester’s Counsel: The Eagles should look to ink Wentz to an extension in the near term. In addition, while Perez is an intriguing option at the third spot, with the uncertainty around Sudfeld’s long-term status in Philadelphia, the Eagles should look to at least a Day Three selection at the quarterback position to give them some options for the future behind Wentz.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Alex Smith, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy
While the Giants draw the headlines when it comes to offseason questions at the quarterback position in the NFC East, Washington should not be ignored. It faces its fair share of questions as well, starting with the injury status of last offseason’s big acquisition, Alex Smith, whose career is in serious jeopardy after last year's gruesome leg injury. That means Washington has to at least consider a quarterback at some point this offseason.
Now, you might consider Case Keenum to be the player to fit that position, but given how his season played out last year, Keenum might not be the answer. Keenum’s time in Denver came to an end when it seemed he was too conservative to deliver for the Broncos, and that organization decided to acquire Joe Flacco as their new starter. Best-case scenario for Keenum is that Jay Gruden can tap into some of what led to Keenum’s success in Minnesota, designing a play-action heavy offense, and the return of Derrius Guice could make that a more probable proposition.
Behind those two players? Colt McCoy. McCoy is perhaps the standard comparison for every late-round draft prospect who might not become a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he has enough traits and wisdom to seem like a long-term backup. (Think Ryan Finley and Brett Rypien out of this class).
Now, with all these questions, it would make sense for the team to try and provide some long term stability to the position. Keenum could serve as the next long-term backup for the organization, and if Smith truly cannot play again, it is time to address the next starting quarterback. So, if the rumors are to be believed, Rosen would make a great deal of sense for Washington. Keenum behind Rosen, with the Smith situation yet to be resolved, is a solid plan. Keenum is on just a one-year deal in Washington, and McCoy’s contract is up at the end of this season. So if the organization acquires Rosen, it can cut McCoy before June 1 and be saddled with a cap hit of $2M dollars, with $1.375M in cap savings.
Conversely, if the Rosen rumors are just smoke and there is no fire, then the organization should at least entertain the idea of drafting a quarterback early on Day 2. As previously argued, Will Grier from West Virginia would be a good schematic fit for the organization.
Maester’s Counsel: Similar to the Giants situation, Washington should consider addressing the quarterback position early in this draft, or by acquiring Rosen via a trade. If the deal for the former first-round pick cannot get done, then Grier is a suitable option early in the second round.