Let’s overreact to Week 17: Which starting QBs are moving on?

HOUSTON — Blake Bortles‘ final pass of Sunday’s game was an interception, which would be a fitting way for his Jacksonville Jaguars career to end. Since Bortles entered the NFL in 2014, no quarterback in the league has thrown more interceptions than he has.

The question in Jacksonville is whether that pass, intercepted by Texans safety Andre Hal at the end of a game in which the Jaguars put up 119 total yards of offense, was the last one Bortles will throw for the Jaguars. He indicated after the game that he believed it might have been, and there’s little question the Jaguars have a decision to make at the quarterback position this offseason.

But they aren’t alone.

Decisions loom on veterans like Eli Manning in New York and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. On young quarterbacks like Jameis Winston in Tampa, Derek Carr in Oakland and Marcus Mariota in Tennessee. Ryan Tannehill‘s career could be at a crossroads in Miami, and Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles may be looking for places they can be guaranteed to start.

So, since quarterback is the position to which we most intensely overreact, even in the overreacty world of the NFL, we’ve decided to focus this week’s overreaction column entirely on quarterbacks. We’ve picked five QB situations that could, for one reason or another, be in flux, and we’ll tell you whether expectation of change is an overreaction or not.

Let’s get to it.

Blake Bortles has thrown his last pass for the Jaguars

Bortles was the third overall pick in the 2014 draft and has had his moments. Had enough of them last year that they gave him a contract extension that included $6.5 million of guaranteed money next season. But the Jaguars are this NFL season’s most disappointing team — an AFC Championship Game participant a year ago that slipped right back to their old 5-11 ways. Bortles contributed 13 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions to the effort, and late in the season was benched for Cody Kessler.

Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. It seems pretty clear it’s time for a change. Bortles was far from the only problem this year in Jacksonville, but to bring him back with a $21 million cap charge in 2019 is a lot more upsetting an idea than eating that $6.5 million guarantee. The Jaguars will have a high draft pick and can address their long-term future at the position there, or they could dip into the trade/free-agent waters for someone such as Foles, Bridgewater or even Eli, Tom Coughlin’s old pal.

Eli Manning has thrown his last pass for the Giants

Manning turns 38 on Thursday and is scheduled to count $23.2 million against the Giants’ salary cap in 2019. He’s scheduled to earn $11.5 million in (non-guaranteed) salary, plus a $5 million roster bonus the Giants have to decide on by the third day of the league year. Manning threw 21 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions this season, both of which are modest improvements over last year but don’t inspire a lot of confidence that he can get the most out of a dynamic offense that features star wideout Odell Beckham and star running back Saquon Barkley. The Giants will be picking high in the draft again this year, though not as high as last year, and could draft Manning’s successor if they think they see him there. Bridgewater makes a bunch of sense here too.

Graziano’s verdict: OVERREACTION. The Giants are as stubborn as water is wet. They should commit to the rebuild and find a quarterback who’ll get their young core excited and energized. But they have so much (completely understandable) respect for Manning and what he’s accomplished for them that they (A) seem unable to come up with an exit strategy and (B) have consistently been able to convince themselves he has better than their other options. I know no decision has been made yet on Manning for 2019, but don’t be totally surprised if they decide to bring him back, even if they do draft a rookie QB in the top 10.

Ryan Tannehill has thrown his last pass for the Dolphins

Lots of changes could be coming in Miami, and if that’s the case, quarterback could be among them. It’s not that Tannehill has been terrible, but in seven years he has yet to prove he’s the kind of quarterback who can lift the team around him to great things. Factor in the health issues he has had the past couple of years, and a 2019 cap cost in excess of $26 million, and you can find a few reasons why the Dolphins might want to move on from Tannehill and try someone new.

Graziano’s verdict: OVERREACTION. If Adam Gase returns as Dolphins head coach, there’s a strong chance Tannehill is on the 2019 team. If Gase loses his job, all bets are off. But as long as he’s making the calls, Tannehill’s going to have a chance to be the starting quarterback job in Miami. That’s not to say they don’t try to draft a guy, or sign a quarterback to compete with Tannehill. But as of now, with no real alternative on the roster and not knowing for sure whether Gase is out, we have to leave open the possibility that Tannehill returns.

Teddy Bridgewater has thrown his last pass for the Saints

A little bit different than the others on this list, because Bridgewater has thrown only 23 passes for the Saints. But as he’s still only 26, Bridgewater could be the most intriguing quarterback on the market this offseason. A team could view him as their potential QB of the future, their one- or two-year stopgap, or a viable veteran backup, as the Jets and Saints did last offseason. He has yet to prove that he’s a viable long-term starter, but his talent and his potential should offer him opportunities (and dollars) that exceed what the Saints are likely to find in their budget for him.

Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Saints love Bridgewater and would love to bring him back — as the starter if Drew Brees retires (which doesn’t seem likely) or the backup if he doesn’t. But think about him as the bridge guy for, say, the Giants, who could offer him a chance to play with Beckham and Barkley and pile up numbers to maybe get a big long-term deal elsewhere in a year or two when their (hypothetical) draft pick is ready.

Case Keenum has thrown his last pass for the Denver Broncos

Wait. Didn’t they give him a two-year deal? Why, yes. Yes, they did. But as you likely know, if you follow this league closely, that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the NFL. Keenum’s contract included $25 million in guaranteed money, but $18 million of that has already been paid. Moving on from Keenum would cost the Broncos only $7 million in cash and about $10 million against the cap, and it’s not out of the question they could do it after Keenum’s disappointing first season in Denver. John Elway seems perpetually unable to find a long-term quarterback solution for the Broncos, but what you know for sure is that he’s not going to stop trying.

Graziano’s verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. As with a few of these situations, it’s entirely possible the Broncos settle on a devil-you-know solution and just roll with Keenum for continuity’s sake. But as with a few of these situations, there are other changes potentially afoot in Denver. They could have a new head coach, new offensive coordinator or both. They’re transitioning to younger players at receiver and running back. The Broncos will be on the lookout for their QB of the future whether Keenum is back or not. If it’s someone they feel comfortable playing right away, Keenum could be out after one year in Denver.

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