TAMPA — In the right circumstance, any free-agent quarterback can be a star.
Of course, that circumstance might involve playing with the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL, so let’s not get too excited about, oh, Taylor Heinicke’s intangibles.
Just understand, these are important considerations in Tampa Bay this month. Tom Brady’s retirement means the Bucs are on the prowl for a new quarterback, and that means every one of us is unofficially promoted to personnel guru for the next few weeks.
We will analyze Mason Rudolph’s game tapes, we will recite Cooper Rush’s combine scores, we will recall Case Keenum’s brush with competence back in 2017. Mostly we will look at any mediocre quarterback without a contract and envision him playing deep into next January.
That’s the thrill of the offseason. It’s heaven sent for dreamers. It’s that rare time when the laws of physics and logic go out the window and everyone is certain about things no one can be certain about.
And, trust me, there are no absolutes when it comes to the current crop of available quarterbacks. Brady and Matthew Stafford may have walked off the street and into Super Bowl huddles in recent years, but those were anomalies not likely to be repeated.
There’s a reason Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr are mentioned in trade rumors. There’s a reason Aaron Rodgers may be done in Green Bay. There’s a reason Baker Mayfield, Andy Dalton and Teddy Bridgewater are wearing a different uniform every time you see them.
Great quarterbacks rarely come available, and when they do it’s usually because they annoyed the heck out of somebody in their last stop.
So in the interest of expediency, let’s try grouping these quarterbacks into easily identifiable subcategories. For instance, there are the …
This is typically everyone’s favorite group. We imagine there is an on/off switch in the brain of every draft bust and the right coach can flip the switch and come up with a franchise quarterback on the cheap.
Mayfield would fit in this group. So would Sam Darnold. Both were chosen within the first three picks of the 2018 draft, and both have shown just enough promise to still make them intriguing.
History, however, says this is fool’s gold. Jim Plunkett is the fairy tale general managers tell their owners while coming off a five-win season. It’s far more common to find a Sam Bradford or David Carr or Jeff George who bounces from team to team leaving a trail of broken hearts.
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Just for giggles, I could also point out that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota might find their way into this group. Winston is under contract in New Orleans and Mariota is still Atlanta’s property, but both could end up on the street after losing starting jobs in 2022.
One last gasp
These are quarterbacks who can still hear the echo of applause, but it fades a little more every season. Think Joe Flacco. And Dalton. And Bridgewater. Flacco won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, Dalton has three Pro Bowls on his resume and Bridgewater took Minnesota to a division title at age 23.
But does anyone seriously think this is the quickest path to the playoffs?
Nah, not me brah
I wouldn’t expect them to admit it, but I think there’s an entire social class of quarterbacks who have no desire to be starters. They’re better off as the No. 2 quarterback making millions and living the good life because they never play enough to get exposed.
Blaine Gabbert has thrown 35 passes in four years. Chad Henne has started one game in seven years. Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2010 and has five career starts.
You want to know what happens to these guys when they’re forced to play?
They look like Josh Johnson did when he came off the bench for San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.
These are the pie-in-the-sky plans to acquire the 2023 version Brady.
Like Rodgers. Or Lamar Jackson. Or Carr. Or even Daniel Jones. Would they make Tampa Bay a better team next year? Absolutely. But the cost in salary — and in the case of Rodgers — trade compensation makes them dicey for the salary cap-hindered Bucs to consider.
Twenty guys named Kyle
Hang around outside an NFL stadium long enough and you’ll run into one of these guys. The high-end version is Garoppolo. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl just a few years ago and has a 40-17 record as a starter. His stats look great and, at 31, he’s theoretically near his prime.
And yet they always seem eager to replace him in San Francisco.
Lesser versions of Garoppolo include Geno Smith or Heinicke or Gardner Minshew. Even further down the food chain are Kyle Allen, Cooper Rush, Mike White or C.J. Beathard.
Maybe they’re an upgrade over Kyle Trask. Maybe not.
The point is there is only one Tom Brady. That type of quarterback is not walking through the doors again. Maybe there’s another Stafford hanging around, but it’s not apparent from this list.
So lower your expectations, fill up your mug and dream about the draft.
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