Last week, the Indianapolis Colts announced that their turn to sophomore quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, who was the third string on the roster initially, would be the permanent replacement of Matt Ryan. The Colts gave up a third-round pick for Ryan this offseason, and while Indianapolis was sitting at 3-3-1, they generated the third-fewest points in the league at that point, Ryan looked like the 37-year-old stone age immovable stallion that threw some of the most inexcusable interceptions due to his lack of mobility, and owner Jim Irsay had seen enough of their lack of creativity on offense. The Colts have gone all-in on short-term replacements following the Andrew Luck catastrophe that shocked the organization- going from Jacoby Brissett, to Philip Rivers, to Carson Wentz, and now the failed Ryan experiment. Because of how shocking the Luck decision was and how well the team has built an infrastructure that would be perfect for a young, dynamic quarterback (hitting on draft picks Jonathon Taylor, Quenton Nelson, Shaq Leonard, and finding Kenny Moore II), the front office and coaching staff had been given a pass at not going after “their guy” for the time being to compete with their ready-made roster.
It feels like their grace period has run out, and the organization has overlooked the importance of a long-term solution with consistency, even if the ceiling may not be as high in the short-term. Players have become vocal about their frustration in having a new face of the franchise every single year. For a team that has been lauded as one of the smartest-run organizations in the sport in their reaction to a tragedy, it now feels like their lack of aggression that we once thought was smart was short-sighted.
Having “the guy” in the NFL goes further than merely winning games- it leads to a consistency in the locker room as there exists a known identity and mission in backing arguably the man who plays the most-important single position in sports. That being said, with many organizations capable of winning this season without “elite” play at the position, there comes a time where you wonder if he is the long-term solution that you want to invest in due to allocation of cap, and the reality that a successful quarterback on a cheap contract is the most-valuable commodity.
There will come a time where certain organizations will have to ask themselves: “Is he the guy?” While it may be early, let’s examine a few teams that haven’t fully gone all-in on their man yet to determine their long-term plans.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: The Guy
Lamar is solely on this list because the Ravens continue to sign Lamar to the contract that a former MVP-winner deserves. Yes, he relies on electrifying run plays that will eventually diminish over time, but he also has only improved his passing game season after season when healthy despite his lack of weapons or a scheme to unlock his arm talent. He remains top-10 in passing this season and is in an Aaron Judge-esque situation where his price is only going up with his play.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts: The Guy
The longest-tenured undefeated team in the league is quarterbacked by the personification of the city he plays for: Jalen Hurts and the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles. Hurts underwent a benching in the National Championship for Tua and had been seen as a quarterback with limitations due to relying more on his dual-threat capabilities that can only take you so far, but his leadership, his demeanor, and his work ethic rallies the team around him to where the entirety of a roster buys in, and his arm talent has only improved ever since. His grit and perseverance that have proved the doubters wrong is perfect for Philly. It appeared that he was initially only drafted as Carson Wentz insurance in the second-round, and his complete absence in their playoff drubbing to Tampa Bay last season made you wonder if he had what it takes to be the person to lead a team that otherwise was built to win now; the Eagles also had a plethora of draft capital that would make it so easy to make a move for a veteran arm. However, Hurts has one of the smartest quarterback IQs ever, 13th in NFL HISTORY in the fewest interception ratio, and has proven that Philly has their guy.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: NOT The Guy
The 49ers have already decided that they wanted to move on from Jimmy G. this offseason when they started Trey Lance ahead of him before Lance broke his ankle; they merely extended Jimmy as the stable insurance backup and overpaid given the defense and offensive weapons were Super Bowl-ready, and it paid off given the Lance injury.
However, they still want nothing more than to hide his limitations despite being a quarterback who has made a Super Bowl before! They traded for Christian McCaffrey to go all-in, and he’s just another pair of hands to take the ball away from Jimmy. The way that the coaching staff and organization treats him at the position truly tells you that it’s only a matter of time for him to be on another roster in the future.
Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa: NOT The Guy
Tua may arguably be the most-divisive quarterback in football- his devout defenders see the man from Alabama before his injury that teams were tanking for in 2019, telling you he unlocks Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and has a 17-9 record, and his truthers will tell you that he is often injured, is a product of his scheme and weapons this season, has around five throws per game that SHOULD be intercepted, and has only one pitch: a short RPO dump-off to a speedy receiver or running back.
The debate will continue to roll on as long as new coach Mike McDaniel makes Tyreek and Waddle look good and the defense continues to play as well as it has, but the sheer reality of the situation is that Tua has been a quarterback that you can win WITH, meaning the Dolphins, yes, can be successful and make a deep playoff run with Tua at the helm, but they can’t win BECAUSE of Tua, which is the ultimate test of being “the guy” and signing a lucrative contract that would prevent you from signing a Hill or Waddle. When judgment day comes to offer Tua his new deal that will likely be hefty should he believe he deserves credit on a solid Dolphins team, the odds are that they would rather save the money and keep their defensive identity and storage of offensive weapons with someone who could perform at a similar pace for a cheaper contract. If they stick it out with Tua, we’re merely looking at just more and more years of underthrowing bombs to their dynamic receiving duo in stride when someone else could deliver them the ball even further down the field.
New York Giants QB Daniel Jones: The Guy… for a discounted price
The Giants have been possibly the most-pleasant surprise of the season for a team that we thought could have potentially been shopping for quarterbacks to draft by December. They chose not to pick up Daniel Jones’s option and did nothing to provide him weapons this offseason, which right off the bat showed nothing but a lack of belief in him; with a new regime coming in, they could easily bring in their new, shiny rookie next offseason.
Then this year happened.
There was a cesspool of speculation about new head coach Brian Daboll being able to do to Daniel Jones what he did when unlocking Josh Allen in Buffalo as his OC, and while Jones is by no means Josh Allen, he’s made strides that have finally given him a fair shot and a level playing field of evaluation. Even having probably a bottom-five receiving corps in terms of talent, it’s truly amazing what a competent defense, a stout offensive line, a healthy Saquon Barkley, and a team identity can do for the confidence of a quarterback. He’s lead five game-winning drives, has been incredible in the fourth quarter of each game, and has even been able to unlock his dual-threat capability with designed runs this year.
If Jones continues this season playing like this, as if Daboll has “fixed” the man who hasn’t been given a good shot until now, he absolutely deserves to be brought back by the Giants. However, does he deserve a deal of the likes of other young quarterbacks his caliber? Absolutely not. It’s been too much of a small sample size thus far, and coming into this season with 36 fumbles in 37 starts is NOT inspiring and sustainable in the long term. Jones could be locked up for the sheer safety of his rapport and familiarity with Daboll and the roster, but not because he’s an outlook-changing player worth unloading your salary cap for.
New York Jets QB Zach Wilson: NOT The Guy
Yes, the Jets took the league by storm to start the year because they weren’t a disaster like many had expected. They had inspiring wins against the Browns, the Steelers’ backup, a thumping of the Dolphins, a Lambeau stunner, and against the Broncos’ backup in Mile High. It may be enough to take them to the postseason as a wild card if all shakes out their way as the rest of the AFC has gotten off to a slower start!
However, all of it has been in spite of Zach Wilson’s play rather than because of it. The Browns win came because of Joe Flacco slinging the ball over 50 times, and the team’s success was in due part to the versatility of offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker being capable of playing at an elite level at multiple positions on the line and the electrifying back field of Breece Hall (now injured) and Michael Carter. That duo made it possible for Wilson to be able to have so much success in the play action game thus far- and to his credit, Wilson has played well with play action and with everything going according to plan with a clean pocket! But Wilson was lauded out of the draft for his improvisational skills reminiscent of Mahomes creating magic out of thin air. We have seen nothing of that so far.
The net positive of the year so far if you’re the Jets is that you’ve been able to develop the surrounding talent, and if you have to take your lumps with another top pick spent on a failed quarterback investment, the replacement can fill in smoothly once you find the guy.