Keith Strudler: The Disappearing Quarterback
You can almost look at starting quarterbacks in the NFL like you look at the weather in Florida. If you don’t like it, just wait 15 minutes, because it’s going to change. That’s nearly the pattern for quite a few NFL teams right now, where the head coach might need to buy a program to find out who’s behind center next week. In most cases, this is because of a slate of early season injuries. Take the New York Jets, who are playing some of the worst professional football north of Miami. In Monday night’s game, their second string quarterback Trevor Siemian left the game with ligament damage in his ankle, pushing third string QB Luke Falk into the game. Mind you, most football fans couldn’t tell the difference between Luke Falk and Luke Skywalker, the former of which did not have the benefit of the force in route to a 23-3 loss to an average Cleveland Browns squad. Falk will remain the Jets starter until their original QB1 Sam Darnold recovers from mono, which Jets fans would assert could only happen to the Jets.
The other New York football club the Giants are also in something of QB flux, as they’ve just announced rookie Daniel Jones will take over for long time starter Eli Manning, a decision motivated both by Eli’s age and the team’s lopsided 0-2 start. Whether Jones changes that trajectory or even stays healthy remains to be seen, but for the Giants, the future is now. New York isn’t the only NFL city with early season quarterback drama, typically because of injury. In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season with an elbow injury, handing second year understudy Mason Rudolph the starring role. In New Orleans, aging superstar Drew Brees is headed to LA to get hand surgery, which pushed Teddy Bridgewater to the top role. There’s a few other teams still trying out new leading men, in some cases because no one seems capable of completing a pass.
The QB revolving door isn’t limited to the pros. The Florida Gators lost their starter Feleipe Franks for the season after his ankle was dislocated and fractured in a gruesome tackle at Kentucky Saturday night. Of course, Kentucky knows all about that, since they just found out their starter Terry Wilson would be out the rest of the season after tearing his patellar tendon. Not far away, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley is heading for season ending foot surgery. This is all just in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference. And remember, unlike the pros, these quarterbacks have never earned a dime for their services.
Of course, injuries are part of football. Which is why decent number of kids don’t want to play. Or maybe their parents don’t want to let them. To be fair, injuries are part of pretty much any sport that requires even a semblance of movement. As a former track and cross-country runner, I pretty much walked a fine line between being sore and being out. And those injuries had a tendency to linger, making a full season somewhat aspirational. But unlike most other sports, football injuries tend to be more, well, catastrophic. Outside of perhaps auto racing and maybe downhill cycling, few sports bring the risk of having body parts mangled through high speed collision, an inherent and legal part of the game.
The problem is, especially for anyone vested in the business of pro football, it’s really hard to maintain an industry when your most valuable commodity comes and goes like a summer breeze. A significant number of pro teams are starting quarterbacks most sports fans couldn’t pick out of a lineup. And an equal number of household names are either in rehab or holding a clipboard on the sidelines. That’s not a great strategy for a sport that increasingly needs household names to stay ahead of star driven sports commodities like the NBA. Not to mention how much going from an all-pro QB to a fresh-faced kid damages the psyche of the team’s fan base, some of whom might just lose interest and spend their Sunday leisure time doing something other than watching a game. In other words, the NFL would do well to make sure their most valuable commodities – star quarterbacks – can keep playing quarterback.
So what’s the answer? There’s already a ton of rules to protect QB’s from getting hit too much. I can’t imagine any more padding, assuming quarterbacks actually want to move and throw. Maybe they move to two-hand touch or flags? Or perhaps one quarterback for both teams, so everyone has vested interest in his well-being. Somehow, football has make sure it’s most notable players can, well, play. At least for more than 15 minutes.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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