I can’t remember a season where there were so many surprise starters at quarterback and permanent quarterback changes during the season. There have really only been a few, but it is still unusual to see such significant changes by multiple teams during the season. Here I talk about three of the more intriguing ones.
Tennessee Titans: Kerry Collins Replaces Vince Young
The first game of the season for the Titans saw a very bizarre outing by Vince Young. Based on press accounts, Young was booed by Titans fans and sat on the sideline despondent and sulking. He was so despondent that when the Titans were back on offense Jeff Fisher had to force Young to go back into the game! Later he injured his knee running the ball, but it doesn’t sound like the injury was something that would keep him out the following week, but not much information was provided about the injury.
In an even more bizarre twist, the following evening Young disappeared from his home and the Titans sent police to look for him because he was supposedly emotionally downtrodden about Sunday’s events. It turns out he was at a friend’s house watching the Monday Night Football game. The Titans said the whole situation was blown out of proportion by the press, but you don’t send police to look for someone just because they aren’t at home unless something unusual prompted it. Something is clearly awry in the psyche of Vince Young. Just imagine if he played in New York or Philadelphia where the fans are even less forgiving.
Jeff Fisher made a very gutsy call at this point naming Kerry Collins as the starter and he has remained the starter since. Thus, the highly touted first round draft pick who is supposed to be the future of the franchise was replaced by a 15-year veteran. It was clearly the right call by Fisher as Kerry Collins has played extremely well and the Titans are sitting at 11-1 with the best record in the NFL.
Kerry Collins, now in his 15th season, is clearly not the future of the Titans franchise. But he certainly is the savior of this season, which could have unraveled quickly after such an unusual set of circumstances surrounding the starting quarterback. Collins has had his own demons during his up and down career but he is the steady hand at the wheel for the Titans in 2008.
Will Vince Young get another chance to redeem himself as a starter for the Titans? Undoubtedly he will. Jeff Fisher has already proclaimed that Young is the future of the franchise and he wants him to sit and learn this year. You can’t give up on a promising first round draft pick at quarterback so quickly who you have invested a lot of time and money in.
Will Vince Young ever be an elite quarterback in the NFL? He has all the physical attributes to be one. He is big, has a strong arm, and can run the ball well. What he doesn’t seem to have is the decision making ability and emotional make up it takes to be an elite quarterback. I’ve seen a lot of Vince Young the past few years and I have never been impressed with his play on the field and his decision making. My prediction is that Young, at best, will be an average quarterback in the NFL. I would not be surprised if he washes out in the next few years, and he definitely will if he doesn’t get his head in the right place.
Minnesota Vikings: Gus Frerotte Replaces Tarvaris Jackson
The only ingredient the Vikings are missing in having a Super Bowl contending team is a decent quarterback. That is why they tried to trade for Brett Favre when he came out of retirement, but there was no way the division rival Green Bay Packers were going to let that happen. Tarvaris Jackson was a terrible quarterback last year and he was even more abysmal at the start of this season. Every time I see Jackson play I wonder why he is even in an NFL uniform. He is a terrible decision maker in the pocket and I have seen absolutely nothing to make me believe he is a viable starter in the NFL. Thus, after a few awful performances by Jackson, Brad Childress called on another old quarterback, Gus Frerotte, now in his 16th season. Childress made the move after talking with Jackson, who reportedly said he was playing not to lose.
I have a soft spot for Gus Frerotte. I saw a lot of him his first few years in the league when he started for the Washington Redskins replacing the bust of a first round draft pick Heath Shuler. Here is a late round draft pick that has had a solid, if somewhat unspectacular professional career. After starting for the Redskins for a few years he has bounced around the league as a backup except for a stint as a starter for the woeful Dolphins in 2005.
A lot of people questioned the move to name Gus Frerotte the starter but it was clearly the right decision for this year. With Jackson playing there is no way the Vikings win a shootout with the Saints, or any other team where the game is tight. And in any game where there is a lot of scoring Frerotte gives the Vikings a much better chance to win with his calm demeanor and strong arm. His interceptions this year have been a problem but one the Vikings can live with given what he has been able to do with the offense.
Gus Frerotte is clearly not the future of the Minnesota Vikings at the quarterback position. He is an average NFL starter, at best, who is inconsistent week to week. He can play great on some days, while on others he stinks the joint up. The advantage the Vikings have with Frerotte is twofold. First, he can throw the deep ball very well and as mentioned above, in an offensive shootout he gives the Vikings the best chance to win. Second, and probably more importantly, when the chips are down he has a very even keel and still fights to win. He almost single handedly lost a game against the Green Bay Packers with some really dumb interceptions. But he kept going back into the game and doing his best and not getting down on himself, even when it looked like his teammates were starting to get down on him. Jackson is just the opposite. A few bad plays and he clearly would sulk and start playing even worse. You have to love Gus’s guts. Young and Jackson don’t have any.
Will Tarvaris Jackson get another shot at starting for the Vikings? I suspect he will. But as I said before, I think he will never be a decent starting quarterback in the NFL. He doesn’t seem to have the confidence, the leadership qualities, or the ability to make quick decision on the field, all of which are necessary to be a decent starting quarterback in the NFL. The Vikings really need to find a solution at the quarterback position in the future if they want to move one step closer to contending for a championship.
Arizona Cardinals: Kurt Warner Named Starter Over Matt Leinart
Before the season even started Cardinals’ head coach Ken Whisenhunt
named Kurt Warner the starting quarterback over Matt Leinart. So we have another older, veteran quarterback taking over a team loaded on the offensive side of the ball for an immature, underperforming, young quarterback.
At this point in the season it is definitely clear that this was the right move. Warner is playing extremely well this year. He has the fourth highest quarterback rating in the league and is a front runner for the NFL MVP award. While Warner has days when he turns the ball over too many times, for most of the season he was played exceptionally well. With Warner at the helm the Cardinals have put themselves in position to make the playoffs and possibly, dare we say, get to the Super Bowl? Probably not given they can’t win on the road, but this year has brought a lot of positive attention to the Cardinals and turned a moribund franchise into one that is interesting, entertaining, and competitive.
Like Collins and Frerotte, Warner is not the long term solution at quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. Of the three discussed in this article, if he doesn’t retire, Warner has the better chance to remain a starter for a few more seasons before hanging up the cleats, but that’s about it. Matt Leinart is the future and he will undoubtedly be given a chance to prove that eventually.
Leinart seems to be on the immature side and from what I have read, he has not had the work ethic necessary to improve and become a solid starter in the NFL. It would probably do him good to sit and learn a few years behind a possible Hall of Famer like Kurt Warner.
Will Leinart ever develop into an elite quarterback in the league? I think the jury is out on Leinart but if he puts the work in I think he could be a top tier starter in the NFL. I don’t think he’ll ever be an exceptional quarterback, but I do think he can be good enough to lead a playoff caliber team.