Five Quarterbacks that Have to Prove It

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Dec 23, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) looks to throw from the pocket in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

You The biggest mistake that many GMs make in this age of the NFL is investing a lot money into mediocre quarterbacks. It has been happening a lot lately, as any semblance of elite play earns mid-range passers lucrative deals. Look no further than a couple of 2017 playoff teams: Minnesota may be in an untenable situation with Kirk Cousins, Jacksonville with Nick Foles due to the desperation for winning now.

Some teams are on the ledge of making similar moves. They could move forward with their guy and ride the quarterback wave so many teams do. Or they could cut bait before the contract cripples the entire roster. Here are five teams that have to learn what they have at quarterback in 2019.

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Josh Rosen, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are in a rare situation with their quarterback. They stumbled into the 2018 10th overall pick, giving up one of the last picks of the second round to acquire Rosen. But they are also a strong candidate for the top pick in 2020. While their division rival Jets and Bills both saw a lot of encouraging things from their rookie signal callers last year, Rosen provided considerably less in the way of optimism. At this point, there is almost no way to know whether or not he is an NFL starter moving forward.

Miami seemed to be full speed ahead with Ryan Fitzpatrick a few months ago, indicating that they were pushing towards a tank season and a top pick. Things have changed, however. They have to find out this year if Rosen is the guy they want to move forward with, or pull an Arizona and go after a top quarterback in the draft. That means playing the second-year passer, and playing him start to finish. Granted, Miami’s situation is not that much better than Arizona’s last year in terms of supporting cast. The Dolphins have a better offensive line, and thus a stronger running game, which should take pressure off Rosen. But they also “boast” a limited arsenal of weapons, a brand new head coach and a brand new offensive coordinator. Rosen is not in the best place to succeed out of the gate, but succeed he must. Otherwise, he could be scheduled for a repeat of his 2018-19 experience. 

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Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

This one is simple. The Titans exercised the fifth-year option on Mariota’s rookie deal, but have made no commitments to him past 2019. And the wait-and-see approach is understandable. No quarterback with as much NFL experience as Mariota carries as much mystery. There is enough great film to suggest he could still be a top shelf quarterback. But due to a combination of a revolving door of play callers, a dearth of weapons and his own inability to consistently stay on the field, Mariota’s career has yet to take off. He has one playoff appearance in four seasons, 2017, which was also the worst season of his career, statistically. 

In some ways, things have not really changed in Tennessee. Mariota will again have a new offensive coordinator, former tight ends coach Arthur Smith, as Matt LaFleur was named Packers head coach. But Tennessee has given Mariota a few weapons to work with, a decent offensive line and a solid running game. He has the tools around him to be at least closer to what he was in 2016. If he approaches that level this year, Tennessee may be inclined to extend him, but they have to find out if that Marcus Mariota is ever going to appear again.

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Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Turnovers, poor decisions and a fountain of unharnessed talent. That is a basic summary of the Jameis Winston experience thus far. Like Mariota, he has no ties to the team that drafted him past 2019, so this season is clearly his make-or-break time. Unlike Mariota, Winston does not have many excuses for his boom-or-bust play. He has spent much of his career with a solid offensive line, a couple dynamic playmakers (including an arguably top-five receiver) and a play caller that hitched his wagon to Winston’s right arm. And yet, Winston has led Tampa to one above-.500 season and many turnover-stalled drives despite two seasons of 4,000-plus yards. 

Winston and Tampa have one very compelling laurel to rest on, in terms of season optimism. That is the development guru that is Bruce Arians. Arians’ entire career has been a testament to getting the best out of talented quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer all flourished with Arians and led playoff offenses. If anyone can corral all that explosive Winston arm talent into an efficient, effective passer, Arians is that guy. And if he cannot, the Buccaneers will likely have to start from scratch. 

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Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

For all the grief the early days of the Gruden era have gotten, it looks like Oakland has a solid plan moving forward. So much of it, however, comes down to Derek Carr. For whatever reason, the last two years have seen a completely different quarterback from the 2016 MVP candidate, or even the exciting upstart from 2015. Oakland paid him a few years back to reward him for his rapid ascent. But since then, every other glimpse of Carr has been pedestrian, to say the least.  

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Carr has no guaranteed money beyond 2019, so this could be looked at as his prove-it year. Oakland has built some strong infrastructure around him, most notably with the acquisitions of Antonio Brown and Trent Brown this offseason. Many of the pieces are in place for Carr to access that 2016 version of himself that earned him the massive contract. If last season is any indication of his beliefs, Gruden is comfortable letting Carr walk if Carr fails to prove himself this year, so the pressure is on.

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Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco offered Garoppolo the keys to their franchise essentially after seeing six quarters of real game action from him. Since then, he has played nine games in two seasons for them, posting a passer rating of 94.1 in those nine games. It is certainly not enough sample size to decide either way on Garoppolo, but sooner or later, the 49ers have to figure out if they have the right guy.

John Lynch is apparently taking the Kansas City route with regard to roster construction. That is, with the talented passer, the brilliant play caller, an elite pass catching tight end and a host of movable receivers, all the while severely neglecting aspects of the defense. In other words, they are putting all their eggs into the Jimmy Garoppolo basket. While the 49ers do not necessarily have to make a roster decision with Garoppolo this year, they have to get some semblance of consistency from him before they commit to the full length of his exorbitant contract. And that starts with him consistently staying on the field.

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Fortunately, it seems Garoppolo’s ACL injury will not cause him to miss games, so barring further injury, Kyle Shanahan will get a full season to work with him. Hopefully, that means Garoppolo brings more than just the briefest of flashes in 2019.

–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.

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