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 were 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 in the draft (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.
Having looked at the NFC's other three divisions, it's time now to turn our eyes to the West. As always, Maester Schofield is here to provide his learned counsel, based on his knowledge and everything his little birds are telling him in exchange for those sweet-candied plums from Dorne...
From the Cardinals to the Seahawks, and the two teams in between, this division contains some question marks for each organization to answer when it comes to the quarterback position.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Josh Rosen, Brett Hundley, Chad Kanoff
Well this is probably the biggest question since Jon Snow’s parentage: Who will be the quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals next season, Josh Rosen or Kyler Murray?
After trading up to select Rosen in the first round of last year's draft, and failing to build around him, the Cardinals fired their head coach and hired Kliff Kingsbury from Texas Tech, stealing him away from an offensive coordinator position at the University of Southern California. Kingsbury brings a modern offensive approach to the Cardinals, and the expectations are that he will be running that kind of offense in Arizona.
It follows that Murray, who Kingsbury tried to recruit to Texas Tech, might be the quarterback to run Kingsbury’s vision of a modern NFL offense.
Despite the rumors, Rosen’s season in Arizona last year was arguably much better than remembered. Yes, statistically, Rosen was a bottom of the league passer last year, but when you look at games such as his first start, which came against the Seattle Seahawks, plus his victory on the road against the Green Bay Packers — a win resulting in Miike McCarthy’s firing — Rosen’s rookie year had moments when you saw glimpses of the passer he can become in the NFL. In addition, his contract is incredibly inexpensive: Rosen is due just over $6M over the next three years, making it fairly easy to build around him.
Behind Rosen on the depth chart, the Cardinals have two young and intriguing backup options. Hundley was an interesting prospect coming out of UCLA who struggled a bit when thrust into action early in his career after Aaron Rodgers suffered an injury. Kanoff, from Princeton University, does some things well in the timing and rhythm game and is a nice developmental piece. But none of this might matter if Murray is indeed the pick at 1.01.
Maester’s Counsel: I may have only recently earned my chains, so perhaps my counsel is to be taken with a grain of salt, but in my learned opinion the wise course of action is to keep Rosen and build around him. His rookie season certainly contained some struggles, but no more than some of the other recent rookies who grew into better passers once an offensive-minded head coach was hired to help their development — including two such passers we will be breaking down in this installment. Keep Rosen and grow with him. Cersei? Are you even listening to me? Oh, you’ve already left the Small Council chamber. I guess your mind's made up to go in another direction…
Los Angeles Rams
Rostered Quarterbacks: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles, Brandon Allen
Coming off a run to Super Bowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams have a decision about the quarterback position looming in the near future, but not an immediate decision. With Jared Goff under contract for 2019 with a team option for the 2020 season, you can expect the organization to exercise that option by the May 2nd deadline.
However, the decision to give Goff a long-term extension is one that has generated a bit of discussion in the football media world.
Given the economics of today’s NFL, and how rookie quarterback contracts are such an easy and attractive way to build a team around an inexpensive quarterback, we might be seeing a club cut bait on its previous rookie and build around a new rookie quarterback — rather than sign the former to a large money deal — sooner rather than later. After Goff struggled a bit in Super Bowl LIII, there was a debate over whether the Rams might be the first team to move in such a direction. Would they entertain moving off from Goff, rather than signing him to an extension, and become the first team to try this rookie to rookie approach?
Signing Bortles in the offseason potentially clouds that question. Bortles is a solid backup option behind Goff, but he could also be in place to help transition to another rookie should the organization move on. Yes, Bortles has some limitations as a passer, but for a two- or three- game stretch, he could step in and keep a team on schedule. He could also be that veteran presence on the sideline to help a young quarterback develop ... be it Goff or someone from the 2020 class.
Allen, the third passer on the roster, flashed at times during preseason action for the Jacksonville Jaguars his rookie season but failed to make the roster. He has bounced between IR and the practice squad for the Rams since then. At his best he is a low-end backup quarterback in the NFL.
Maester’s Counsel: The Rams and Sean McVay have thought outside of the box before, but the hypothetical decision to move on from Goff at the end of his rookie deal and look to replace him with another rookie quarterback would be a very bold move. Goff is a good enough quarterback to merit the long-term extension, and while it is an interesting theoretical debate, the wise course of action for the organization is to reach an extension with Goff, rather than moving on from him.
San Francisco 49ers
Rostered Quarterbacks: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens
The 49ers might have one of the more interesting quarterback rooms in the entire league. Up first is Garoppolo, acquired from the New England Patriots in a surprising October trade during the 2017-18 season. Garoppolo looks the part of a franchise quarterback, and played incredibly well at the end of his first season in San Francisco, leading the team to five wins in his five starts and completing 67.4 percent of his passes for over 1,500 yards,with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. However, his first full year as a starter in San Francisco was cut short in Week 2 due to a knee injury.
That opened the door for Beathard and Mullens to see time as the starter for the 49ers. When Garoppolo went down with his ACL injury, Beathard stepped in and performed admirably, completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards and eight touchdowns, against seven interceptions. During his time as the starter San Francisco, however, the team lost all five games.
Unfortunately for Beathard, he suffered a wrist injury that ended his season. Enter Mullens. The Southern Mississippi product started the final eight games of the season — with the team winning three times — and made a strong case for the backup spot behind Garoppolo. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,277 yards and 13 touchdowns, against 10 interceptions. In addition, he showed the ability to move defenders with his eyes as well as displaying solid ball placement in the short and intermediate areas of the field.
So while the Niners have some great talent in the QB room, each player has some questions to answer. Can Garoppolo stay healthy? After all, last year was not the only season of his where he missed time due to injury. Garoppolo’s 2016 stint as the starter during Tom Brady’s suspension was cut short due to injury.
Who is the backup? Is it Beathard, or Mullens? Is the loser of that battle suddenly expendable, an intriguing trade option at the end of training camp, or does the team hold onto the loser as a viable third-string quarterback just in case something happens to one or both of the other two?
Maester’s Counsel: Obviously, Garoppolo is the starter for this team while healthy. The first question centers on the backup spot. From studying both Beathard and Mullens last season, I would give the Southern Mississippi product the backup spot, and look to potentially move Beathard in a deal. Mullens is just under contract for the 2019 season, while Beathard is under contract through 2020, which might make him more desirable in a trade situation. If the organization drafts a quarterback on Day 3, this might be a window into the team looking to take such an approach and have a QB in place behind Garoppolo/Mullens.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Paxton Lynch
Let’s get the big one out of the way: That man earned his money. Wilson made some waves in the past few weeks, imposing an arbitrary deadline of April 15 to come to an agreement on a long-term contract extension. Then he made history, signing a four-year, $140 million extension placing him first in AAV ($35 M), signing bonus ($65 M) and total guarantees ($107 M).
Wilson’s demands had touched off a fierce debate on Football Twitter over his worth as a passer. On one hand some were arguing that he would be worth two or even three first-round picks in a trade, with the other end of the spectrum saying they would rather have a rookie quarterback in place.
Wilson might have served as patient zero for the new economics of the NFL, and building around a rookie quarterback, but he reached that point in his career where his organization needed to pay him and hope he could carry the team to wins. When thinking about quarterbacks, there is often two categories of player: Players you win with, and players you win because of. At the start of his career Wilson was a QB the Seahawks won with. But now, he is a player they win games because of.
That's why the Seahawks were wise to pay the man.
Behind Wilson, however, sits two big question marks. First, is Lynch suitable to handle the backup job? His time in Denver indicates that he might not be. And he is the only quarterback on the roster. Someone in place to push him for the job might make sense.
Maester’s Counsel: After finding a way to get the Wilson deal done, the Seahawks need to at least draft a quarterback on Day Three to push Lynch for that second job. That might be a difficult task, given that Seattle has just four picks in the upcoming draft. Now, they are rumored to be interested in trading down and acquiring additional picks, so moving down from 21 (perhaps to 32 in a trade with New England so the Patriots could move up and draft a tight end) and getting an additional later-round pick to draft a quarterback makes a great deal of sense. Some quarterbacks that would fit as a late round pick to push for the backup job include Brett Rypien and Easton Stick, both coming from pro-style offenses and very adept at running the play-action type of designs that the Seahawks implement with Wilson.
Previous Divisional QB counsels from Maester: