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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Quarterback controversies are the fuel that drives the NFL‘s summer engine and, more often than not, that process continues into the regular season.
NFL fans have seen a bewildering amount of change under center across the league lately. The 2018 draft saw four quarterbacks come off the board in the top 10 and five in the first round, while the 2019 class followed up with three more in the first 15 selections.
Yet, rookies aren’t even part of the equation in some locales where starters might lose their jobs soon. A few teams have multiple veterans at the position or simply a short leash on a player who’s had a number of chances. The latter are always threats to make sure the 2020 class has plenty of passers coming off the board in the first round.
Below, let’s take a look at quarterbacks who are in danger of losing their starting gig in 2019.
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Ryan Fitzpatrick has a lot of experience with lists like this.
A year ago, Fitzpatrick downright shocked fans in Tampa Bay, throwing eight touchdowns and one interception over the season’s first two games—both wins over respected contenders Philadelphia and New Orleans. He lost the job during a six-game skid, though, culminating in no touchdowns and five interceptions over his last two appearances.
Now in Miami with the Dolphins, the 36-year-old is primed to do much of the same. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Fitzpatrick has been getting first-team reps over Josh Rosen and looks better in all instances.
But there’s always an expiration date on Fitzpatrick. The veteran figures to go into the season as the starter for the rebuilding AFC East club, but his play will likely again dip at the same time Rosen’s grasp on his new surroundings peaks.
Onlookers can expect a change by midseason at the latest—especially if Fitzpatrick isn’t winning. The Miami brass will want to get a look at Rosen, one of those top-10 picks from 2018, to see if they should focus on the top of the 2019 draft for a new potential franchise passer.
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Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press
Case Keenum doesn’t put up eye-popping stat lines before fizzling like Fitzpatrick.
Still, he could end up annually losing jobs right after he seizes them. The 31-year-old passer had a breakout 2017 in Minnesota before he regressed in Denver last year, completing 62.3 percent of his passes with 3,890 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Denver was so unimpressed that it traded for Joe Flacco, drafted Drew Lock and dealt Keenum to Washington.
There, the Redskins selected Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins 15th overall—though for now, first-team reps are going to Keenum, according to Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post.
Keenum seems like a sponge to absorb punishment before the franchise gets its true choice under center. The veteran will likely “win” the starting gig, but the offensive line has suffered a rash of injuries two seasons in a row, and the wideout depth chart continues to underwhelm, so the circumstances aren’t great.
As is the case elsewhere, it seems a matter of time before the coaches get their high-profile investment in games for some real-time experience.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Marcus Mariota’s tale is unfortunate.
The Tennessee Titans quarterback seemed to have best-in-league potential at one point, yet nagging injuries and a smattering of coaching changes have dampened his development.
Mariota is still only 25 years old, yet he managed just 11 touchdowns last year in 14 games while playing hurt. The front office felt strongly enough about the situation to grab Ryan Tannehill via trade this offseason.
On paper, everything seems great for Mariota. He’ll play heavier next season, and the cast of weapons is superb. He’s got receivers Adam Humphries and Corey Davis in the passing game, and Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis in the backfield—not to mention tight end Delanie Walker.
Still, the front office will probably keep in mind Mariota is in a contract year as he works through the 2019 season. If he’s not back to 2016 form (26 touchdowns, nine interceptions) given the weapons around him, the franchise could balk at the idea of a market-resetting extension and give Tannehill some run—not to mention think about drafting a passer.
While Mariota has far more upside and ability to rebound than most players on this list, the clock is ticking on his chances to get and stay on the field with effective play.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Rewind eight or so months, and it seemed there was a good chance Jameis Winston would be a bit of veteran competition for a high-profile rookie under the guidance of a new head coach in 2019.
Only one of those things happened.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers indeed have a new head coach in Bruce Arians, but the team used the fifth overall pick on linebacker Devin White and didn’t add a passer in the draft, meaning only Blaine Gabbert will provide serious competition for Winston.
Still, it’s easy to see why Winston appeared to be on his way out. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2016 and over 11 games last year mustered just 2,992 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Arians has remained adamant that Winston’s problems largely stem from a poor supporting cast, as he told the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Stroud: “Give him a running game. Give him a defense and see how good he can be. I think we can limit (turnovers). Never get rid of them. There’s nobody that ever does it. But you can limit turnovers. And you talk about it. You talk a bunch about it on the practice field. That’s when it gets ugly. ‘What the (expletive) was that?’”
The clock is ticking in Tampa Bay, though, with Winston on the fifth year of his rookie deal and a tag or bidding war on the open market awaiting if he plays well. If Winston doesn’t make a leap under Arians’ supervision, Gabbert could get playing time before the Buccaneers start over with a rookie QB.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Joe Flacco is the latest experiment for the Denver Broncos and a front office that can’t seem to get the position right.
Flacco, 34, arrived via trade with the Baltimore Ravens and will take over for Keenum. The idea seems to be that solid receiving weapons Emmanuel Sanders and first-round tight end Noah Fant, as well as blossoming running back Phillip Lindsay, can prod Flacco into a great season and playoff run.
If only it were so simple. The Ravens drafted QB Lamar Jackson in the first round before last season for a reason.
In 2017, Flacco managed just 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions over 16 games, sputtering to a 5.7 yards-per-attempt average. He struggled through nine games before losing his job to a playoff-bound Jackson in 2018, going for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.
The reality is simple: If Flacco doesn’t take the Broncos to the playoffs, his cap hits of $20 million in 2020 and $24 million in 2021 don’t look appealing, especially with second-round pick Drew Lock waiting.
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Nobody stands out more on a list of hot-seat candidates than Eli Manning.
He watched as the New York Giants took Daniel Jones sixth overall this year in a clear-cut plan of succession. GM Dave Gettleman previously referenced both the “Green Bay model” and “Kansas City model” with regard to how soon Jones could play. But his timetable could end up accelerated should Manning stumble—coaches have been impatient in the past already and fans in the Big Apple are even more anxious.
It wasn’t too long ago that Manning was benched and it seemed like a transition could happen in 2017. But he was out there for 16 games in 2018, completing 66 percent of his passes with 4,299 yards but just 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Manning was far from the only problem, but things have to get worse before they can get better—Saquon Barkley is the centerpiece of the offense with Odell Beckham Jr. gone.
The Giants doubled down and kept Manning and his $21 million cap hit this season, so he’ll start. But the early-June returns favor Jones. It is fair to think even a string of mistakes from Manning over the first month of the season could mean the veteran takes a seat.
Cap numbers via Spotrac.