AMERICA’S ENDLESS OBSESSION WITH QUARTERBACKS: FUN OR UNHEALTHY?
Should Rodgers remain in the darkness? Time to trade Lamar? Is Bryce really shorter than Mina Kimes? Is Fields just a track star? Shouldn’t the Bears draft Stroud? So many questions — and it’s March
The NFL season ended only 19 nights ago. The next one doesn’t start for real until September. Rihanna has just now stopped touching herself.
We should be immersed in March Madness, the Boston Bruins, Patrick Kane, Kevin Durant’s latest attempt to hitch-hike a title, and the adventures of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. We should embrace the lead-up to Augusta National, mock the LIV-and-Let-Die golf tour and curse President Joe Biden if he allows Novak Djokovic onto our shores and, thus, opens doors for more unvaccinated internationals to spread Covid-19.
Instead, we are obsessed with quarterbacks.
Aaron and Lamar and Derek and Jimmy G and Bryce and C.J. and Justin and, don’t forget, the G.O.A.T. and his inevitable six-step intervention when autumn approaches without football.
I understand this is the most important position in team sports. I understand our preoccupation with QBs begins when they walk the high-school hallways like kings and get the cheerleaders while everyone else gets acne. But this is not a healthy exercise, folks. A delirious America is drooling and hyperventilating. Questions are being asked that won’t be answered, at least on the field, for months. But they are asked anyway, incessantly, every minute of every day.
1. Should Aaron Rodgers stay in the darkness forever or try the ayahuasca options in the Bay Area?
A lot of us wished his four-day isolation retreat would have been permanent, especially when he returned, hit up a trendy Colorado bar, ordered champagne with a dozen friends and played Pop-A-Shot. The most annoying man in sports now has crashed the barrier into vomit-inducing obnoxiousness. What we want is finality — is he retiring, returning to Green Bay or demanding another trade? — but he chooses to regale us with tales about bowel movements in the dark. “I was grubbing on these big salads that they had for us. Yeah, my dumps were super smooth. In my mind, they were all two wipers and done,” he said on the podcast of Aubrey Marcus, another holistic dude who calls himself “an experimentalist and human optimizer.”
If I’m tired of being jacked around by Rodgers, imagine if you’re his boss, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, who finally is ready to trade him and his psychedelics to a contender prepared to put up with it all. The 49ers make some sense for the short term, given the impending elbow surgery of Brock Purdy and raw inexperience of Trey Lance, but anyone forecasting a glorious return to Rodgers’ native northern California should realize he could quit or shuffle off to the Peruvian woods at any moment.
“I think as much as anything, before it felt like one scary option and one unknown. That's what the two felt like,” he said. “The scary was retirement and the unknown was going back and playing and what does that mean? Is that Green Bay? Is that somewhere else? If that's somewhere else what is it like being somewhere else? … What I saw in both the third and fourth days, I saw myself, my full self at the end of that journey on the one side — and I saw my full self at the end of that journey on the other side. I was fully myself in both those timelines. And those are really sweet, sweet things to experience.”
At this point, retirement is best for his tortured soul. He doesn’t sound fully committed to helping the 49ers or Jets or anyone else win a Super Bowl. It’s good to know that he “had very, very smooth … smooth number twos” in the darkness of southern Oregon, but, as we know, he’s still full of crap. Has a Hall of Fame career ever ended more weirdly?
2. Why doesn’t Lamar Jackson have an agent and isn’t a trade the answer for everyone involved?
Speaking of hazes, Eric DeCosta admits to one. Unable to strike a long-term deal with a quarterback who has won only one postseason game yet thinks he deserves the NFL’s biggest-ever guaranteed contract, the Ravens’ general manager is more than dropping trade hints. The locker room is mutinous, with teammates outraged Jackson hasn’t been paid, and using a franchise tag and keeping him around at $45 million only will exacerbate tensions. Just as owner Jimmy Haslam wrecked the Cleveland Browns by signing Deshaun Watson to a fully guaranteed $230 million, he has wrecked the Ravens. Jackson has enjoyed a better career than Watson — and much cleaner life — and does own some leverage in demanding a richer deal.
“It’s a wrench in the plans,” DeCosta said of the impasse. “It does create a little bit of a haze as to what the future is going to look like with your roster.”
Whatever Jackson gains in not paying a commission to an agent, he’s losing in the negotiating game with owner Steve Bisciotti. Unless the Ravens bend soon, they should cut their losses and trade Jackson to Atlanta for a talent haul. Out of his haze, DeCosta can focus on using his new assets and trading up in the draft for his next quarterback, while Falcons owner Arthur Blank uses his Home Depot fortunes to pay Jackson more than Watson, including the 3 percent he saves for representing himself.
3. Isn’t Derek Carr the most logical choice for the Jets?
Unlike Rodgers and Jackson, whose current franchises would demand sizable compensation in trades, Carr already is a free agent. He has well-chronicled flaws but perhaps nothing a change of scenery wouldn’t resolve. Jets coach Robert Saleh is sold, praising Carr’s “elite, elite mental makeup’’ and his arm strength and accuracy. Is he the next Matthew Stafford, ready to win big after leaving a train-wreck organization in Las Vegas?
“I think he’s more in line with what Stafford’s career has been,” Saleh said. “If you can just get him to a place that can surround him with all the pieces to just allow him to play quarterback 10-15 times a game, it would be pretty cool. He’s a solid young man.”
The Jets have been trying to locate a marquee quarterback since Broadway Joe Namath. Say hello to Florham Park Derek at $35 million a year. Problem is, they’ll need him more than 10-15 times a game, coach.
4. If Bryce Young is barely taller than Mina Kimes, why would anyone take him first or second in next month’s draft?
The ESPN analyst, who has fun with her slight build, said she was wearing four-inch heels in a recent photo where she’s almost as tall as Young. What we know, for sure, is that he’s under 6 feet — 5-10 1/2, in one reliable measurement — and that his durability and ability to see over NFL lines of scrimmage (hello, Kyler Murray) will be a constant talking point unless he’s some sort of magician. His numerous supporters say that’s exactly what he is, and though C.J. Stroud probably is a smarter idea, Young still is expected to be the first QB taken — with Houston, Indianapolis and possible trade-up teams amenable to the risks.
“I've been this size, respectfully, my whole life,” Young said Friday at the league’s scouting combine. “I know who I am, I know what I can do. For me, it's fair, everyone can speculate, ask me every question. I'm going to continue to control what I can control, continue to keep working my hardest. I'm confident in myself. I know what I can do.”
So, how tall is he? He won’t be officially measured until Saturday, though he says he has bulked up to “the 200-pound range.” He is undeterred by doubters, saying, “To be honest, I don't really know too much about what's said about me. I’m grateful for everyone's opinion. I respect everyone's opinion, but I focus on what I can control. I take the advice and direction of the people that I trust.”
Nick Saban, his coach at Alabama, is one of them. He produced Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. He also produced Mac Jones and AJ McCarron.
5. When Stroud is 6-3 and a proven passer in a sport where Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are pass-first quarterbacks, why aren’t teams clamoring?
He threw four touchdown passes against a Georgia defense in the national semifinals. Against major competition at Ohio State, he completed almost 70 percent of his career attempts for 8,123 yards and threw 85 touchdown passes with only 12 interceptions. He has the prototype body and look. “For me, if you put on my film, I think I’ve been the best player in college football two years in a row,” Stroud said. “Honestly, I haven’t touched my potential yet.”
So what’s the hangup? He’s not a runner in the modern mold, having rushed for only 136 yards on 80 collegiate carries. This is the age of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts — except, Mahomes just won a Super Bowl while his running was diminished for a month on a bum ankle. “If you turn on the film and really watch what I do and you really look at film game to game, I have used my athleticism,'' Stroud said. "Not just in the Georgia game, where I did it a lot, but I've done it in every other game. I've had tough third-down runs. I've had tough fourth-down runs. But there were times where I didn't run the ball or maybe I should have. That's something I learned. That's what football is all about. It's about stepping back up to the plate and fixing those problems.”
In some eyes, that makes him a work in progress. But aren’t they all? Will Levis has flaws. Anthony Richardson has flaws. All four quarterbacks will go before the 10th pick, nonetheless, if not higher, with the Texans (No. 2), Colts (No. 4), Raiders (No. 7), Falcons (No. 8) and Panthers (No. 9) all needing help. Not every team will end up with a rookie. Wouldn’t Josh McDaniels, who helped develop Jimmy Garoppolo in New England, make a run at him in Vegas?
6. If the Bears haven’t had a franchise QB since Sid Luckman and are blessed with the No. 1 pick, shouldn’t they, um, select a QB?
Because the good people of Chicago have no idea what a great quarterback looks like, they watch Justin Fields rocket for long scoring bursts and think they’ve finally been rewarded. Do they not realize he has yet to prove he can be a polished NFL passer? Can the Bears, who have won one championship in the 57-year Super Bowl era, really afford to gamble when Fields might not be more than a U.S. Olympic sprinter? What if he has an erratic season and isn’t worthy of a big-money commitment next winter? What if Stroud and/or Young go on to spectacular careers? By trading Fields and drafting a QB, they’d reset the position financially to a rookie-contract level and cash in with more draft assets than might be available by trading the No. 1 pick.
Wouldn’t Stroud look good in Chicago? He didn’t want to hear it. “I mean, no. I don’t want to go there. That’s his team,’’ he said of Fields, his Ohio State predecessor. Praising Fields as a multi-skilled player, he said, “He ain’t no damn running back. He’s a quarterback. He can sling that rock.” But can he make the nuanced throws that separate elite quarterbacks from the middle of the pack? I don’t want to say GM Ryan Poles is under substantial pressure. But if he screws up this No. 1 pick, this gift from football heaven, he’ll be less popular in that city than the deposed mayor, Lori Lightfoot. If Fields stays and becomes a superstar, Poles will be the mayor.
7. On the seventh night of September, the champion Chiefs will host the NFL Kickoff Game. How many days and nights are left until then? I don’t know, but I am going to take two Advil and seek my own darkness retreat.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.