On Thursday night in Las Vegas against the division rival Chargers, the starting quarterback of the Raiders, Derek Carr, left the game with a groin injury early in the game, paving the way for backup, Marcus Mariota, to take the field for the first time in the silver and black.
Mariota, a former Heisman-winner in college and #2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, lost his job in Tennessee last season to Ryan Tannehill after underperforming on a playoff-ready team.
Although the Chargers ended up coming out with the victory over Mariota in his debut back on the field, he still looked like a solid, capable starting quarterback! He posted a line of 17-28 with 228 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 88, and scored with his legs. It’ll be interesting to see how the Raiders perform during the remaining stretch because Carr could potentially be done for the year, meaning we’ll see some more of Marcus, who will want a starting gig somewhere.
Tannehill has been incredible in Tennessee as Mariota’s successor, but Mariota has generally just been left for dead.
During his time there, he suffered 4 leg injuries (including a broken fibula), recurring arm issues, and multiple neck stingers, on top of having to learn from THREE different head coaches and FOUR offensive coordinators. There was no stability within the entirety of his rookie contract, and he became a backup in the league now in Las Vegas largely due to extenuating circumstances.
The opportunity stemming from this Carr injury may have given him a second life as a starter eventually. Still, it just goes to show how quickly quarterbacks are expected to perform at a Super-Bowl-contending level. Many guys in the league could conceivably be solid starters if you put a competent team around them that are stuck holding a clipboard as a high-quality “break glass in case of emergency” role player. Tyrod Taylor on the Chargers lost his starting job in LA when the team doctor punctured his lung, and Justin Herbert came in absolutely slinging it despite being a rookie they were setting up to be “groomed.” Ryan Fitzpatrick is in a similar spot in Miami with Tua. Jameis Winston, the pick taken before Mariota in the draft, is stuck in “quarterback school” behind Drew Brees until he retires.
We’re approaching a year where there could be the most quarterback movement and changing of the guard than ever; it’s expected to be a loaded quarterback class with Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Trey Lance Zach Wilson, all expected to be top-tier draft picks.
The pool of quarterback options is only going to get deeper, which leads us to this question: is the quarterback position over-saturated?
The answer can be tied back to two championship-winning rosters.
The first is the 2014 Seattle Seahawks, who one could argue was the team that defined the decade. Russell Wilson wasn’t expected to be their starter when they drafted him 75th overall in 2012 after shelling out a 3-year deal to Matt Flynn worth $19 million, but Wilson beat him out in an old-fashioned QB competition. Being a rookie quarterback selected in the third round on his first contract, he played for absolute pennies on the dollar as the lowest-paid starter in the league when they won the Super Bowl in 2014 at just $619K guaranteed annually.
With a superstar quarterback playing on a rookie deal so cheap, it gave the Seahawks financial flexibility to build around him and allocate their money elsewhere, like having the highest-paid offensive line in the league that season to protect the man.
Suddenly, the teams that thought they had to pay their gunslinger a $100 million deal to win a Super Bowl had to do some re-evaluating. If guys like Wilson can come into the league in their early twenties on rookie deals and immediately have their team in contention with a well-built roster and proper coaching, then why invest so much of your resources into one position?
Yes, the quarterback position is the single-most-important position arguably in all professional sports. Still, Russell Wilson winning that title at so cheap a deal from the very beginning of his career has made teams build their rosters differently ever since and has put an even higher value on nailing a quarterback pick in the draft. However, it goes both ways: for the quarterback, you’re now expected to play at a contending-level on that early contract to prove you can eventually earn that superstar payday and keep your job; there is an accelerated clock to prove you’re the guy because teams are rebuilding at a rate so fast that they don’t have the time for a “work-in-progress” product.
Josh Rosen was selected 10th in 2018 by the Cardinals and was dealt for essentially nothing after just one year because they thought higher of Kyler Murray in the following draft. Now, Rosen might not have a career.
We’ve seen in other sports like baseball and basketball where young prodigies’ grooming has brought superstardom to athletes younger than ever before, and it’s no different in football. These quarterbacks seem to be more talented than ever, coming straight out of college.
Therefore, for the Josh Rosen’s, the Mariota’s, and now potentially guys like Sam Darnold or Daniel Jones, you can go from starter to solid backup in the blink of an eye.
The second championship team shaping the league is the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles, who had a Disney-like story arc when the backup quarterback Nick Foles came in and magically won a Super Bowl when the probable-MVP, Carson Wentz, tore his ACL. Under the initial circumstances, if a team’s quarterback suffered a major injury, it would’ve been likely that their chances of competing would be no more given the importance of the position; people assumed the Eagles were no different, especially given how high of a level Wentz was playing at the time. However, Nick Foles wasn’t just a guy holding a clipboard and had been a starter before in St. Louis. Philadelphia built a roster that was so well-run on both sides of the ball and had such a great staff of coaches that as long as they could plug-in a solid player like Foles, the team would still have life and refuse to crumble.
Foles’s success in the wake of the Wentz injury was a tell-tale sign to the league that your second-most important player is your backup quarterback. Those who didn’t normally feel the need to have a plan B now will throw money at former starters or high-floor game-managers to be prepared in case of an emergency.
We may have an over-saturated quarterback market at the moment, but there certainly will never be a shortage of jobs given the importance and value now placed on the backup position in Foles.
The “Island of Misfit Toy” quarterbacks who lose their starting position will always have the opportunity to be employed, but proving you deserve to be the franchise starter for the long haul has never been more difficult to retain.
Featured Image: ---