State of the Quarterback – Introduction and AFC East

I’ve been using my modified quarterback metric for several years now. It is an index of quarterback performance that’s a little like the quarterback rating, only it’s correlated to winning performances every year.

Because the metric changes each year and uses a series of five-year averages for several categories, it can be used to compare players going back to the beginning of the modern era (1978). It’s also very useful in tracking quarterbacks across their careers.

For instance, the data shows quite clearly that most excellent quarterbacks don’t fade away with gradually poorer performances. They either have one bad year and retire, or they stop getting playing time immediately upon no longer being a good starter. Unlike most sports and maybe even unlike many positions in football, if a quarterback can’t get the job done, he loses his starting job.

The average score for a quarterback in 2014 was 51. To qualify for a season score, a quarterback must have at least eight pass attempts in six different games during a season. Thirty-nine different quarterbacks reached that threshold in 2014.

For each quarterback mentioned, the numbers in parentheses indicate their scores from the last three seasons, beginning with 2014. A dash indicates no score for that season. An x indicates the player was not yet in the league. Ages are a quarterback’s age as of September 1, 2015.

AFC East

Buffalo: Kyle Orton (50, -, -) is retiring. E.J. Manuel (-, 46, x) is returning for his third season. This is generally the season after which GMs either sign a quarterback to his big money-making franchise-guy contract, or they let him go. There’s going to be a new coach in Buffalo. Doug Marrone had given up on Manuel. But Manuel, after a somewhat average rookie season, had scores of 58 and 60 to lead off the season with wins, then 41 and finally 21 in week four at New England. Then Marrone went with Orton the rest of the season. Will Rex Ryan give Manuel another look? He probably should. Otherwise, Manuel is playing out his option next year and if he does well, he’ll be a free agent.

Miami: Ryan Tannehill (53, 45, 46) took a step up as a third-year player, but the Dolphins didn’t. As of now, Tannehill will be playing out his option this year. But since he was a first-rounder, the Dolphins have a very expensive option they can use before this season that would extend the contract into 2016. As I wrote with Buffalo, generally it doesn’t get this far. Tannehill had a rough start to 2014, but played like a third-year quarterback who’s starting to get it. It’s a rough spot for Miami, but this might be a rare case where signing the expensive option-year contract is a good idea, then try and work on a long-term deal during 2015 if he continues to improve.

New England: Tom Brady (54, 47, 61) is a legend. He and Joe Montana have three Super Bowl MVPs. Nobody else. When do legends retire? Brady will be 38 in August. That’s the problem. Since 1973, there have been 1,501 quarterback seasons. Forty by 36-year-olds, 30 by 37-year-olds, 20 by 38-year-olds and only seven by 39-year-olds. Brett Favre is unique in terms of having seasons, at 36 and 37, that looked like end-of-the-road seasons. He was then very productive for three years before falling off the cliff at 41. Generally, top quarterbacks retire at about 36-38. I think we can trust Bill Belichick, however, to know what he’s dealing with. If Brady falls off that cliff, the Patriots are a different team. But for now, he’s their guy.

New York Jets: Geno Smith (42, 39, x) has been well below average his first two seasons. He’s looking like a bust, though for a guy drafted in the second round and thrust into the starting role, it’s not a huge bust. Just that he’s had his chance and it didn’t work very well. Todd Bowles is the new coach in New York, and he’s a defense guy. The Jets draft sixth. If Marcus Mariotta is still around, it seems like a good fit. Personally, I don’t think he lasts that long and I don’t think a defense-minded coach will be happy if his GM tries to trade up to grab a quarterback in his first draft. It may not be up to Bowles, but I see the Jets trying to solve this problem through free agency, as meager as free agency looks right now.

So, I’ll take this time to list the free agent quarterbacks currently available… Jake Locker (43, 47, 46) – a lot of talent, but also injury issues and performance issues. A scenery change could be all he needs to break out and justify that number-eight pick in 2011. Mark Sanchez (52, -, 39) – but even with new blood in New York, Jets fans would never accept this and the decent performances this past season could be just the result of a good scheme for him in Philadelphia. Brian Hoyer (49, -. -). Hoyer, 29, will get an opportunity somewhere. Josh McCown (37, 67, -). McCown, 36, might get another starting look. He was dreadful in Tampa Bay after looking like a world-beater in relief of Jay Cutler in Chicago the year before. I don’t see a new head coach investing in a journeyman, though. Colt McCoy (-, 40, 51). McCoy showed some promise for Cleveland before struggling in 2013. Then he went to Washington where he performed decently last year in a limited role, but was buried on the depth chart. The problem here is that short quarterbacks with small hands don’t get handed franchises. He will get a backup role somewhere. That leaves Matt Flynn (age 30), Matt Moore (age 31), Dan Orlovsky (age 32), Tarvaris Jackson (age 32), Jason Campbell (age 33), Michael Vick (age 35) and Shaun Hill (age 35) amongst the journeymen with some experience. And Blaine Gabbert (-, 45, 32) and Christian Ponder (-, 47, 46) as younger guys who looked pretty bad but might get another chance to move up a depth chart.

Yes, free agency looks miserable when it comes to quarterbacks. Offhand, I’d say Hoyer and Locker will get first-team looks somewhere and the others will sign as backups or retire.

Author: Jim Gindin

Founder and Lead Developer, Solecismic Software