Analysis  

 

Kolb-Skelton, Hasselbeck-Locker headline QB battles for 2012

Matt York/Associated Press
When Kevin Kolb (left) went down last year, John Skelton took advantage of the opportunity, going 5-2 as a starter.

It's May. Not even late May. It's slooooow time in the NFL. After minicamps wrap up, it will be off time for everybody. That is, unless you're a quarterback fighting for an NFL livelihood.

There are at least six teams that will have full-on battles at the quarterback position this summer. If guys like Kevin Kolb take off too much time, the John Skeltons of the world will be more than happy to work their butts off to earn the starting nod. Much like taking a vacation to Mexico the week before a playoff game -- gratuitous Romo shot ... too soon? -- it's relax at your own risk for the "incumbent" starters in six NFL towns.

So, let us kick back our own feet and crack open a six pack of budding QB controversies, with a bonus "battle" thrown in at the end, just to keep it real ...

Kevin Kolb vs. John Skelton

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A desert heat -- that's what this is. The Arizona Cardinals signed Kolb to a six-year, $65 million deal last offseason only to see it result in Kolb going 3-6 as a starter. And really, one of those wins belonged to John Skelton, who relieved Kolb after an early injury.

Meanwhile, Skelton -- just a fifth-round pick out of Fordham in 2010 and a man making less than 1/20th of Kolb's contract -- went 5-2 as The Guy, in addition to the aforementioned relief win. Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn't have any clear favoritism toward Kolb, saying he foresees "an open competition" between the two signal callers.

Either way, let's not forget the Cardinals went after Peyton Manning back in early March. Though GM Rod Graves' hands were tied in this pursuit, as he had to make a decision on Kolb's $7 million bonus by March 17. That timetable was far too quick for Manning's decision-making process. Thus, the Cards were, for lack of a better word, "stuck" with Kolb.

After all that, watch 2012 sixth-rounder Ryan Lindley win the job in camp ...

... or not.

Advantage: Skelton. The team rallied around him, and he has just as much upside (and is three years younger) as Kolb.

Matt Flynn vs. Tarvaris Jackson

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Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll recently said Jackson is "really on the brink of becoming something special." Really? Because, to this point, T-Jax's career has left a lot to be desired, unless you consider a 59.4 career completion percentage or a 77.7 passer rating to be special.

Seattle signed Matt Flynn to three-year deal in March that includes $10 million guaranteed. Considering Jackson is due to make $4 million this season, which is non-guaranteed, you can see where this might be headed, unless Jackson plays out of his freaking mind. The odds-on favorite appears to be the former Green Bay Packers backup, who has thrown nine touchdowns and compiled a 123.0 passer rating in two career starts.

The other possibility would be to keep them both with the expectation that this is a playoff team in need of two vets. It's just going to cost GM John Schneider a healthy chunk of change. Don't forget third-round pick Russell Wilson, who the Seahawks reportedly think can compete, too. The smart money says that's a year away.

Advantage: Flynn. You don't guarantee a guy $10 million and sit him for a player of Tarvaris Jackson's ilk.

Matt Moore vs. Ryan Tannehill

Another team that came up empty in the Peyton Manning bromance was the Miami Dolphins, although their rejection was more public than Arizona's. GM Jeff Ireland also lost Flynn to the Seahawks, leaving the club with seemingly no choice but to draft Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall pick in April.

It's doubtful Tannehill is ready to start now, as he's far from a finished product. While his athleticism gives him a leg up so to speak, consider last year's starter (Matt Moore) the favorite. The former Carolina Panther is a much better player than fans give him credit for, as reflected by his 16-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2011.

The wild card here is David Garrard, he of 76 NFL starts. NFL Digital Media colleague Jeff Darlington was told by a team source that Garrard would get a chance to compete "if he's healthy and gets full offseason program under his belt." The former Jaguars quarterback has a chronic back issue and is on a one-year deal, so consider him behind the 8-ball from the start.

Advantage: Moore. Moore was not the problem in Miami last season. Tannehill's green. Garrard is Garrard.

Blaine Gabbert vs. Chad Henne

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By all counts, this should be Gabbert's job to lose, with Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey recently saying just that. After all, the organization invested a top-10 pick in the former Missouri standout. But after a tumultuous rookie campaign, where his toughness in the face of the rush was questioned, Gabbert has something to prove -- especially considering that Mularkey was not part of the staff when Gabbert was drafted. In other words, his coaching tenure is not tied to a potential bust.

To Gabbert's credit, teammates have defended him on the "toughness" front, but that doesn't give him the job over veteran Chad Henne by default. Henne missed the majority of last season and has been inconsistent in his four-year career. While showing flashes of brilliance at times, he's still thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (37 to 31) and is what he is at this point.

Mularkey seems to have settled any debate, telling colleague Albert Breer, "No, it's not (a competition). Blaine's our starting quarterback." Expect that to be the case, unless Gabbert falters badly early in camp. He might be a high pick, but he hasn't done anything other than have a lackluster rookie campaign where he barely completed half his passes (50.8).

Still ...

Advantage: Gabbert. This is a big, fat for now. Gabbert was the worst quarterback in the league last season, so his grip on the job is as tight as the opening scene in "Cliffhanger."

Colt McCoy vs. Brandon Weeden

Much has been made of this position battle. Weeden says he's ready to start, and Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren added his two cents: "We drafted a young quarterback that we think can come in and play right away, but we're not just going to hand him the football."

That means he'll have to beat out McCoy, who's taken a lot of abuse for the Browns' poor showing the past two seasons. While Cleveland went 4-12 in 2011, it's important to note that the team went 4-9 with McCoy under center and 0-3 without him. While everyone stroked the greatness of Andy Dalton, the Bengals rookie had A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson, Jermaine Gresham and Cedric Benson to work with. McCoy? How do Chris Ogbonnaya, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and Evan Moore strike you? Clearly, not the same supporting cast, and perhaps a big reason for McCoy's struggles.

This will all be a moot point, though, if Weeden continues to struggle taking snaps from under center, an issue in rookie minicamp.

Advantage: Weeden. The Browns want Weeden to start, and Holmgren gave McCoy the ultimate kiss of death: "I still love Colt ..." Translation: He's done.

Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jake Locker

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Some who cover the Tennessee Titans feel this is Hasselbeck's job to lose. Seems odd, seeing that the veteran struggled down the stretch in 2011, throwing five touchdowns to eight interceptions over the final eight games. In fact, only once in that stretch did Hasselbeck have an in-game passer rating over 90.

For his part, Locker played very well in three relief outings, throwing four touchdowns with no picks, while compiling an in-game rating over 90 every time. His performance at home against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14 was particularly encouraging, as the rookie threw for 282 yards in relief and made plays Hasselbeck can't make. Usually, in these cases, a tie goes to the guy with the upside, which is certainly the 23-year old Locker. After speaking with Mike Munchak, Breer feels a tie would go to the second-year quarterback, as well.

This is likely the closest quarterback competition in the NFL, but ...

Advantage: Hasselbeck. Tennessee considers itself a playoff-caliber team. A prolonged battle doesn't do favors for a locker room with postseason aspirations. A vet like Hasselbeck serves a team that wants to win now.

Mark Sanchez vs. Tim Tebow?

In the interest of full disclosure, this Sanchez-Tebow stuff probably does not constitute a quarterback battle per se -- at least not yet. Controversy? Yes. Fight for the top of the depth chart? No.

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Yet, head coach Rex Ryan's man crush on Tebow carries a 20-play attachment, at least that's the word emanating from the New York Jets. Basically, the club plans to use Tebow's versatility 1/3 of the time the offense is on the field.

If New York -- team and city -- wants Sanchez to climb the next rung in his development as a quarterback, it's going to be a bit more challenging with 20 plays going Tebowmania's way. This quarterback drama will play out well into the season, but for now, Sanchez is the clear No. 1 on the depth chart.

Advantage: Overblown media circus.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL

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