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.
Our attention turns now to the AFC, a conference that sports a bevy of aging stars with some younger arms looking to write their own stories. What decisions do these teams have to make in the weeks and months ahead, and how many Ravens do we need to send to King’s Landing?
Two of these teams seem to have figured out their next starters, having hit on rookie draft picks last year. The Dolphins might still have some work to do, and then of course there’s that guy in New England.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Derek Anderson
While many in the #DraftTwitter world disagreed with the selection, the Bills traded up in the first round of the 2018 draft to select Josh Allen out of Wyoming. Allen’s blend of arm strength and athleticism is enticing, and it provided some impressive moments during his rookie season. From his hurdle against the Minnesota Vikings in a surprising early season win to the number of throws he made throughout the year, Allen seems to be living up to the hype.
Now the team needs to add some weapons around him.
Behind Allen, the organization has added two veteran quarterbacks in Anderson and Barkley, both of whom seem to have provided some experienced advice for the young quarterback. Especially Barkley, who seems to have taken the young gunslinger under his wing, if his Instagram feed is to be believed. The organization seems to feel the same way, as Barkley signed a two-year extension in December of 2018 to stay with the Bills and continue to mentor Allen.
Maester’s Counsel: The Bills might have turned some heads in the #DraftTwitter world with the Allen selection, but their usage of the quarterback as well as their insistence on having veteran players in the QB room with him seems to be paying off. Now they need to take advantage of this window, and build around him to make some noise in the AFC East. This room seems set for the near and distant future.
Rostered Quarterbacks: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Luke Falk and Jake Rudock
The Dolphins seem to be a team in transition. Adam Gase is out as the head coach, with the organization staying in the division and calling upon Brian Flores, formerly the linebackers coach and defensive playcaller for the New England Patriots, as their new head coach. Flores brings wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea south with him as the new offensive coordinator, and you can anticipate the Dolphins’ offense mirroring what we have seen from New England over the past decade: A reliance on the short and intermediate areas of the field in the passing game, with timing and rhythm throws and designs seeking to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly.
Whose hands those will be might be a question, at least after the 2019 season.
The Dolphins parted ways with Ryan Tannehill, trading him to the Tennessee Titans. They signed two quarterbacks this offseason, first Ryan Fitzpatrick and then Jake Rudock. The veteran Fitzpatrick is expected to be the starting quarterback, fresh off an interesting year in Tampa Bay when he lit the world on fire early in the season when Jameis WInston was suspended, then came back to earth a bit and bounced in and out of the lineup down the stretch.
Behind Fitzpatrick are two younger quarterbacks, both of whom were question marks during their draft seasons. Falk was an intriguing option from Washington State, running Mike Leach’s Air Raid, and a steady performance at the Senior Bowl a year ago generated some buzz with many going as far as to declare him a potential late-round diamond in the rough. He was drafted in the sixth round by Tennessee, but eventually he was waived by the Titans and signed prior to the 2018 season by Miami. He has the potential to develop into a mid-tier backup option for the organization.
The same could be said for Rudock. He was viewed as a later-round prospect at best coming out of Michigan, and the Detroit Lions picked him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. He eventually won the backup job prior to the 2017 season over Brad Kaaya, but the Lions waived him prior to the 2018 year and after he cleared waivers, they signed him to the practice squad. Miami signed him to a futures/reserve contract prior to this season. As with Falk, he is viewed as a mid-tier backup at best, and not a long-term answer at the position.
Maester’s Counsel: After trading Tannehill, the window opened for the Dolphins to perhaps address quarterback early in this draft. However, with Fitzpatrick in place, the Dolphins bought themselves at least a season to play with. They could address quarterback with their selection in the first round, if a player like Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock falls to them, or they could continue to build in the trenches and keep an eye toward the 2020 class. With winter coming, a wise house would plan for the future now and try and get a quarterback in this draft, to get the transition plan in place. Development is not linear, and though the 2020 quarterback class looks strong on paper now, a lot can change in nearly a full calendar year.
New England Patriots
Rostered Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
As long as Tom Brady remains on this roster, he is this team’s starting quarterback. Not sure much more can be said about him that has not been written already. Though he had some late-season struggles at the end of 2018, causing some to question whether he could deliver the kind of passing performance the Patriots might need to win a big playoff game, he delivered in the AFC Championship Game to lead New England to a road win in overtime over the Kansas City Chiefs, converting multiple third-down chances on the game-winning drive.
Behind him are two backups of completely different sorts. Hoyer is the veteran presence, who the Patriots likely view as the one- or two-game stopgap should Brady suffer a short-term injury. Then there is Etling, whom the Patriots drafted in the seventh round last season. Out of LSU, Etling directed a run-heavy offense and showed an ability to execute on play-action designs, a critical component of the Patriots’ offense. But his ceiling is likely that of a backup, and neither Hoyer nor Etling is considered the heir apparent behind Brady.
Maester’s Counsel: Bill Belichick knows what he is doing, and what he has done during the Brady Era is select nine different quarterbacks in the 19 drafts since finding Brady out of Michigan. With Brady north of 42, the time is now to plan for a life after TB12. Yes, the veteran passer insists he can play until he is 45, but the organization needs to be ready for his retirement. Drafting a quarterback at 32 might not be in their plans unless a player like Daniel Jones falls to them, but they would be wise to consider quarterbacks starting with their second pick in the draft — their selection at 56, one of two second-rounders they hold in this draft. Players to watch include Jarrett Stidham and WIll Grier early, Ryan Finley and Brett Rypien late.
New York Jets
Rostered Quarterbacks: Sam Darnold, Trevor Siemian, Davis Webb
Similar to the Bills, the Jets found their quarterback in last year’s draft, selecting Sam Darnold No. 3 overall. Darnold had an inauspicious start, throwing a pick-six on his first NFL passing attempt, but he rebounded to lead the Jets to a victory over the Detroit Lions in his first NFL start. He also dealt with a bit of an injury, getting sidelined midway through the season with a sore foot. But down the stretch Darnold seemed every bit of a top-five draft pick, closing out his rookie season with impressive performances against both the Houston Texans and the Green Bay Packers, throwing for seven touchdowns in that two-game stretch in Weeks 15 and 16, with no interceptions. Despite the fact the Jets lost both games, Darnold seems to have arrived.
Behind Darnold, the Jets have two interesting options in Siemian and Webb. Webb was drafted by the previous regime in charge of the New York Giants, and was a somewhat surprising cut last year by that organization. He’s found a home with the Jets, where he is in strong position to win the backup job behind Darnold.
He’ll need to fend off Siemian, who is a few years removed from being the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos after taking over from Peyton Manning following his retirement. Siemian struggled in that role, ultimately losing his job in 2017 to Brock Osweiler. He was eventually traded to the Minnesota Vikings prior to last season, and he spent the 2018 campaign backing up Kirk Cousins.
Maester’s Counsel: The Jets seem to be set at this position for the near and long term, with Darnold in place and two intriguing backup options behind him. Depending on who wins the second spot in camp, the team might be wise to explore trading the loser of that competition to a quarterback-needy team at the end of training camp. But the main issue for this organization now is building around Darnold, and the future of the QB position seems bright for the Jets.
Previous Divisional QB counsels from Maester Schofield: