In a way, the predictable whirlwind involving the 2019 NFL free agency window just began.
General managers who spent the past few weeks scrambling to find players to fill out their teams begin the process over again Sunday with the unofficial start of signing period. And with that, comes the fallout for the players who left camp without a destination.
My email mailbox is full of notes from first-time fans excited to see the team they’ve seen on TV this summer get a legitimate shot to go all the way. For less frequent visitors, the tumultuous quarterback situations in Cleveland and Baltimore provide a cautionary tale about what can happen when you cut ties with an overmatched starter and replace him with an inexperienced player who stands no chance against a better team’s top defenders.
Those are the most recent examples from Cleveland and Baltimore. But the reality is that Kaepernick, a smart, passionate player who kept his hold on the headlines with a national anthem protest that got the NFL riled up but backfired when people started rallying against his protests rather than celebrating them, might not be around long.
Those who criticized Kaepernick’s activism in recent years recognize there’s a chance his next team could be in a contract dispute with him. In a league where only one team has benched a starting quarterback since Brady Quinn (the Cleveland Browns of 2009) for reasons other than injury, the idea of Kaepernick still being viewed as a troublesome player appears unrealistic. At this point, he’s just another player who can hit a market that is waiting for him to become available.
Now for the bad news. If a team decides to go the Kaepernick route, they should be careful. His limited ability as a passer has become clear when all the offenses he’s played in look at the numbers of quarterbacks he has worked with.
Look at Manning, whom plenty of NFL veterans could have taken over for in Denver, in 2013, or 2017, or when the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXVVII. They have at least a reasonable chance to get Kaepernick in 2019, but they should be prepared for the opposite, which is difficult to predict.
When Jackson and the Ravens had a bye week, an NFL Network story wondered if Jackson might be ready to start “for at least a couple more games.” Based on his last game, it’s hard to imagine Jackson winning in a crunch against the Bills or Jets or, say, the Seahawks in the early part of the season, or anytime soon. A lot can change in three games of training camp, but Jackson isn’t yet a top-tier signal caller, so a chance to show he can’t do the job, or maybe even make it worse, is what the Ravens got. The Bears can’t settle for anything less than a fantastic chance to win the Super Bowl from their best QB in years, but their target will almost certainly be somebody else: Tyrod Taylor of the Bills, a proven veteran who is due a big pay raise, will be available.
The Browns will have to make a choice:
Would Jackson be worth $60 million or $80 million in four years?
Would that be enough to pass up the opportunity to sign, say, Joe Flacco or Russell Wilson, at a lesser price?
Would they take the former, assuming Jackson can’t beat out the latter? (Flacco had a decent season in 2017, while Wilson has made stellar decisions as the Seattle starter since 2012.)
The Ravens can use another talented receiver who might give Jackson some help as a receiver. When a team can bring in talent that other teams think is inferior to that of their starter, you have to consider it.
The Browns’ and Ravens’ quarterback situations, as with Kaepernick’s earlier in his career, show that no team is infallible and that less experienced players will get great chances, but by no means are they guaranteed.