As a head coach, a general manager, or an owner in the NFL, the quarterback is your reason to think happy thoughts. For coach and GM he’s where those dreams of championships start and end, or at the very least he’s where they’re anchored. For others in the front office more concerned with staying comfortably in the black, he moves that merch. No one is buying Matt McGloin jerseys.
Every offseason around this time as free agency fizzles and the focus turns to the draft, we’re reminded that the search for even just stability at the quarterback position makes teams do things which quickly become regrettable. As week became weekend this past Friday afternoon — the industry standard time to announce transactions which prompt yelling — we saw two such moves that will soon be mistakes for different reasons.
The root cause in each case was the worst kind of motivation for any roster decision, but especially at quarterback. The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders are scared. Petrified even.
Michael Vick and his short-term comfort
After a weekend of reflection, let’s begin with the more justifiable move, at least in the short term. When the Jets finally signed Michael Vick to a one-year contract worth $5 million, they ended the Mark Sanchez era shortly thereafter, one with its promise trumped by sputtering disappointment. Both moves (especially the Sanchez axe) have felt inevitable for some time.
Enter Vick then, he of the soon-to-be 34-year-old body. Any Vick analysis throughout free agency has come attached with a qualifier which begins something like this: “if he stays healthy…”. Often it sounds as if for some reason we’ve entered a world where those two things — Vick, and injury — can exist separately. They can’t, and although age certainly isn’t helping, Vick’s injury problems are far more strongly tied to his body type and playing style, and their incompatibility.
This fall Vick will enter his 12th NFL year, and even if we go back to his much younger days in Atlanta he’s played only one full 16-game season. The rise of Nick Foles this past season happened after Vick was on the injury report for six games with a hamstring injury before he was officially benched. In 2012 he missed five games with a concussion, and he sat three times in 2011 with a rib injury. That’s nearly a full season of down time (14 games) over a three-year period.
But just for kicks, let’s entertain those health “what ifs”.
- If Michael Vick stays healthy, he’ll undoubtedly beat Geno Smith in a fair and balanced offseason quarterback competition.
- If Michael Vick stays healthy, he may scatter only slightly fewer balls than Smith with his completion percentage of 54.6 last season, but even at his advanced age he’s still explosive as a runner and he brings a far more dynamic presence.
- If Michael Vick stays healthy, he’ll therefore lead a more effective offense. His booming arm will click much better with Eric Decker, and especially possible future acquisition DeSean Jackson.
- If Michael Vick stays healthy and if the Jets remain even remotely in playoff contention, he’ll keep Smith on the bench for the entirety of his sophomore season. Rex Ryan still needs to win and do it now to save his job, and the growth of a second-year quarterback will be deemed a worthy sacrifice.
So if Michael Vick stays healthy, the short term will be prioritized far ahead of the long term for a team that could maybe, possibly cling to playoff contention if they somehow get a cornerback, but one that certainly won’t be in the championship conversation. Then a year from now Vick will still be a brittle mess and an impending free agent, only now he’ll also be 35 years old and Smith will be much further along on his journey to busting as a wasted second-round pick.
But Ryan will have a job. Maybe.
Matt Schaub: why?
At least the Vick signing could lead to short-term success if we set aside that whole health deal. When the Raiders finalized their trade with the Houston Texans to acquire Matt Schaub for a sixth-round pick, little was accomplished outside of possibly prolonging the pursuit of a real solution.
Not exactly young himself at 33 years old before next season, Schaub is coming off a year when he was benched in favor of Case Keenum. That’s undrafted Case Keenum, and the benching happened after Schaub threw nine interceptions over the first five games of the season, which infamously included setting a record by tossing pick sixes in four straight games. Later in the season when he started again with Keenum mysteriously benched and then injured, it was more of the same with five interceptions to only one touchdown pass.
His final TD:INT ratio? 10:14, which came with a quarterback rating of 73.0, just 6.5 yards per pass attempt, and only 231.0 passing yards per game. The latter two numbers were career lows as a starter, and remarkably despite appearing in only 10 games (eight of which were starts) Schaub was still sacked 21 times.
Those aren’t the digits of a quarterback who’s worth any sort of trade compensation whatsoever, even a sixth-round pick (reminder: just last spring gems like Andre Ellington and Ryan Griffin were selected in the sixth round). They’re certainly not the numbers of a long-term solution, and now that he’s been plucked from an offense with Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Arian Foster, they aren’t the framework for even a short-term bridge to something better.
I suppose there’s hope that in a new and far less predictable offense, Schaub can regain his Pro Bowl form from a year ago. But clinging to that leads to massive job losses. At best Schaub has descended to replacement level, yet when Raiders head coach Dennis Allen talked about him being the starter for several seasons, and worse, that he now gives the franchise draft flexibility with their fifth overall pick (when one of the top three quarterbacks could be available), he’s saying the words of a scared man.
If it’s a short-term fix or bridge he sought, then Vick had far more appeal, as did Josh McCown, or even a much younger Josh Freeman in an offense he knows well. But Allen and general manger Reggie McKenzie instead opted to go with a descending commodity they’re familiar with, just as they did with Matt Flynn, and just as they former regime did with Carson Palmer. Same problem, same non-solution.
Worst PFF Grade on passes between 1-10 yards: Schaub, Geno Smith, Keenum, Dalton, McGloin, Pryor
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 24, 2014