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WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN THE NFL: THE 2022 QB DRAMA RANKINGS
Our national obsession with quarterbacks never has been more intense, with soap-opera narratives engulfing a league — Brady, Lamar, Jimmy G, Ayahuasca Aaron — and driving the daily conversation
The fascination with The Great American Quarterback begins in high school, where you either cheer him, date him, scribble nasty things about him on bathroom walls or, these days, help cut him an NIL deal. At the most glamorous and vital position in sports, there’s a disproportionate amount of drama that borders on hysterical obsession. The spectacle only intensifies, of course, in the NFL.
I swear, the second-most popular sport in the land is the quarterbacking carousel. The day is coming when ESPN dumps all its TV studio shows and flips over to 24/7/365 QB talk. Chatter about the approaching regular season doesn’t involve the teams as much as narratives surrounding the men under center, including the all-time king, who’s going through “a lot of shit” at 45 despite his seven Super Bowl championships; another great who’s pushing 40 and still hoping for a second ring, a pursuit that may or may not be aided by trips to ancient Peruvian ruins where he downs hallucinogenic drinks; and a bad boy who is suspended until early December, exiled because he wanted more than back rubs from the massage therapists who sued him.
So it’s time to introduce the QB Drama Meter, a 1-through-32 ranking not of anticipated performances this season but projected levels of noise and buzz. Sometimes the commotion seems bigger than football, such as when race becomes the conversation, and other times, when we devolve into the importance of hand size, it’s just silly.
1. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay — Suddenly, the envied life of every millennial male doesn’t look so perfect. When he returned from his mysterious 11-day camp absence, Brady looked different, sounded different — OK, I’m putting it out there, what did the cosmetic nurses do to his face and hair? — while acknowledging he’s dealing with the same life stuff as the rest of us. Shared Brady: “Everyone has different situations they're dealing with and we all have unique challenges to our lives. I’m 45 years old, man. There’s a lot of shit going on, so you just have to try and figure out life the best you can. You know, it’s a continuous process.” I won’t engage in TMZ speculation, but remember that his wife, Gisele, wanted him to stop playing years ago. It’s safe to say Brady, still a prisoner to his competitive inferno, wouldn’t have returned from his brief retirement had he known the Buccaneers’ offensive line would crack like Florida stone crabs. He can get rid of passes at 2.4 seconds, but with three new interior linemen, he’s still in for weekly poundings that could end his career rudely and improperly. Who wants to see the master ride an ambulance into retirement, limp into the Fox booth? Maybe his gloomy comment was designed to manage expectations. Rather than envy him, it might be time to pray for him.
2. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore — Still unsigned and without an agent, the former MVP is pulling a power play, betting on himself and squeezing the Ravens. He knows he can name his record-breaking price as an impending free agent if he resumes his dual-threat thrill ride. He still hasn’t been to a Super Bowl, but neither has Deshaun Watson, who was handed a guaranteed $230 million in Cleveland while carrying the baggage of sexual misconduct. You can’t blame Jackson for demanding a bigger deal, but the Ravens aren’t budging and appear ready to call his bluff. When a Twitter twit wrote they offered him a guaranteed $250 million, he shot back, “No they didn’t.” Asked if he would consider Miami next offseason, Jackson said he was a Dolphins fan as a kid. Seems Lamar is facing two opponents every week: the other team and the Ravens.
3. Trey Lance/Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco — The Garoppolypse is upon us. Much as the 49ers tried to trade the maddening veteran, who is capable of getting them to a Super Bowl but just as capable of sabotaging them, they couldn’t find a taker at their price after his offseason shoulder surgery. So they signed Garoppolo to a one-year deal as the No. 2 QB, which could backfire if his presence in a pro-Jimmy G locker room causes a still-embryonic Lance to press and struggle as the first-year starter. Just the same, maybe Garoppolo comes off the bench and saves the season. Kyle Shanahan is hailed for his coaching creativity, but this isn’t innovation. It’s borderline insanity to manufacture a combustible QB controversy — new school vs. old school, unproven project vs. popular standby and, yes, Black vs. White — that could shake Levi’s Stadium like an earthquake. “We feel very strongly about giving the keys to Trey,” said Shanahan, not mentioning he could total the car.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay — There’s only one way this long-haired hippie freak relieves us of A-Rod Fatigue: Win another Super Bowl already. We’re tired of his anti-vaccine crusades, his Joe Rogan and Pat McAfee appearances, his Ayahuasca journeys and Panchakarma cleanses. It’s a good thing he concurs, knowing his 39th birthday is nearing and his only championship came 12 seasons ago. “I don’t say this as a cliche, I say this as heartfelt as I can. I want to win the championship,” Rodgers said. “I’ve had all the individual success I could possibly ever have dreamed of accomplishing. I’ve got 4 MVPs. I’m an honorary blackbelt. I’d like to win another Super Bowl.” We wish him luck doing so without his favorite target, Davante Adams, who fled to Las Vegas.
5. Josh Allen, Buffalo — A beleaguered city has endured three decades of despair since the MiseraBills lost four straight Super Bowls. The redemptive godsend is Allen, who is supplanting Patrick Mahomes as the prototypical playmaker at the position. He dares to be audacious: “We’re here for one goal and that’s to win a world championship.” Oddsmakers have the Bills winning Super Bowl LVII and Allen as the favorite to win league MVP. Gulp.
6. Russell Wilson, Denver — Imagine if Wilson rediscovers his mojo while resurrecting a franchise that lost its way. Surrounded by new ownership and multiple weapons, Russ could be cooking quickly after forcing his way out of Seattle. “My goal is to play 10 or 12 more years and hopefully win three or four more Super Bowls. That’s the plan. That’s the mindset,” he said. “That’s why I came here, to hopefully be able to finish my career here, and to finish on top as a champion and do it multiple times. That’s my mindset.” I know weed is very big in Colorado, but Wilson seems Rocky Mountain high. He can fantasize.
7. Dak Prescott, Dallas — Am I the only one who wonders what the fuss is about? An elite quarterback gets off the final play before letting the clock run out on a season, as it did on the Cowboys in the wild-card round. It’s time to prove his worth beyond the personal-brand-inflating bubble of the world’s highest-valued sports franchise. Besides, his owner is talking like a desperate man who turns 80 in October and knows he hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1996. “I need to win it. I need to win it,” Jerry Jones said. “I told (the players) that I’ve got a birthday coming up here real quick and I don’t want to have a bad time.”
8. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City — No longer the golden child destined for multiple titles and MVP awards, Mahomes has something to prove after postseason slip-ups. He’s still the sport’s most dazzling entertainer, but he’ll dearly miss Tyreek Hill, whose gamebreaking skills won’t be matched by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or any other hyphenated pass-catcher. Can he reopen his team’s closing championship window?
9. Kyler Murray, Arizona — Why agree to a new $230 million deal — $160 million guaranteed — with a quarterback who doesn’t do enough homework? The Cardinals inserted an “independent study” addendum, requiring Murray to turn off his video games, put away his Twitch headset and spend at least four extra hours a week on game film — or they’d void the contract. Amid public outcry, team owner Michael Bidwill pulled the prenup clause, and Murray immediately sat in his ergonomic gaming chair for an evening of NBA 2K22. His every mistake will be followed by a question: DId he blow off study hall again?
10. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers — They’re already asking for his Hall of Fame speech, but if quarterbacks are judged by team success, it’s time to at least make his first postseason appearance. His arm strength could whip a ball through a tsunami, and once coach Brandon Staley stops undermining the cause with needless dare-deviling calculus on fourth down, expect Herbert’s Hollywood-averse equilibrium to point the Chargers toward glory. First, he must navigate past the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders in a monstrous AFC West.
11. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams — If you thought his eyewink in the AT&T commercial was a one-off, guess again: In a lukewarm NFC, where Tampa Bay and Green Bay face significant issues, Stafford and the Rams are in the Super Bowl hunt again. Will his right elbow, plagued by tendinitis, make it through a season without barking?
12. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati — He had his appendix removed last month, and he’s lucky his body didn’t break in half after the 70 sacks he absorbed last season. Will an improved offensive line keep him upright? Hope so, because Burrow’s persona is good for the league.
13. Jacoby Brissett/Deshaun Watson, Cleveland — As a career castoff, Brissett has little chance of keeping the Browns in playoff position for three months. Not that owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam deserve anything but a 2-9 start when Watson’s suspension ends Dec. 4; he’ll take over the starting reins for the season’s final six games. Extra security should be in place for Watson’s four road tests in that span — at Houston, Cincinnati, Washington and Pittsburgh — as America continues to ask why the Haslams risked permanent reputational damage by trading for Watson, then rewarding him with more guaranteed money than any player in NFL history.
14. Baker Mayfield, Carolina — “I’m going to f— them up,” vowed Baker The Turnover Maker when asked about his delicious debut assignment for his new team — at home against Cleveland! The Browns decided Mayfield was the source of their woes, and while he never lived up to his top-overall-pick billing, he wasn’t the only problem. He wants to make the Haslams hurt and prove he’s worthy of all his TV commercials, assuming companies still have interest in his endorsement services. His wife was cool, though.
15. Tua Tagovailoa, Miami — His timetable is off, as he continues to think the Dolphins pursued Brady only in 2019 — Tua wasn’t on the roster yet — when the truth is this: Convicted tamperer/owner Stephen Ross also had impermissible communications with Brady (and Sean Payton) last year, through team vice chairman Bruce Beal. So, with Jackson already hinting about Miami as a destination, Tagovailoa is at a crossroads. “I eliminate all of that. I don’t hear it, don’t see it,” he said. With Hill in the house, he can’t say he doesn’t have a nuclear option.
16. Derek Carr, Las Vegas — If it’s true Brady was headed to the Raiders with Rob Gronkowski, before Jon Gruden nixed it between incendiary e-mail exchanges, Carr is a more accomplished version of Tagovailoa. It’s another ego blow, and with new coach/QB whisperer Josh McDaniels providing Carr’s best passing tutelage to date, there’s room to justify a new three-year, $121.5 million extension.
17. Matt Ryan, Indianapolis — Having purged Carson Wentz, the Colts are a peripheral AFC title contender. Ryan has been to a Super Bowl, but he’s 37 and now with a franchise whose impatient owner, Jim Irsay, still dreams of wooing Andrew Luck out of retirement. Another late-season letdown could lead Irsay to seek another QB, if not a straitjacket.
18. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville — Without Urban Meyer to blame, it’s worth remembering how Lawrence was hailed as the best QB prospect in a decade. The pressure is on to prove it with a new coaching regime, led by Doug Pederson, and a new system. “I think this season is going to be a lot different, just because we have from myself better leadership, but also around the team,” he said. The operative word is breakout.
19. Mac Jones, New England — You wouldn’t want to be Jones walking down a Back Bay street if he struggles in 2022. As it is, Brady has won the holy war over Bill Belichick, establishing he could win a Super Bowl without his coach of 20 years. If Brady’s successor flops, we’ll wonder how many fewer championships Belichick would have without Brady.
20. Mitchell Trubisky/Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh — It’s only a matter of time, or a few inevitable Trubisky interceptions, before the homegrown lad takes over the starting gig. So much for the bunk that Pickett’s hand size — small by NFL standards at 8 1/2 inches, with Wilson’s at 10 1/4 inches — would limit his pro potential. Pickett’s fiancee seconds the motion.
21. Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia — The Super Bowl hype express has begun in an unrealistic city that ignores the obvious: Hurts might never develop as a passer with reliable accuracy. But with the addition of gamebreaker A.J. Brown, let them dream. “Oh, man. We all feel like we’re on an all-star team,” running back Miles Sanders said. Hurts so good? Or will Philly just hurt?
22. Jameis Winston, New Orleans — After surgery to repair a torn ACL and damaged MCL, and without Payton to educate him, Winston doesn’t strike me as someone who will change his career rap: He might throw five touchdown passes and five picks in the same game. Would Drew Brees consider … never mind.
23. Zach Wilson, New York Jets — His offseason was filled with romance drama — did his ex-girlfriend actually claim on Instagram that he cheated on her with his mother’s best friend? — but his recent knee surgery is a bigger concern. The Jets didn’t draft him No. 2 overall in 2021 so Joe Flacco could be the starter.
24. Justin Fields, Chicago — Every time he titillates the QB-starved natives with hot flashes, I must issue a warning. With apologies to Carl Sandburg, Chicago is the City of Weak Shoulders. Unless you’re old enough to remember Sid Luckman in the leather-helmet days — he retired in 1950 — that city has no idea what an elite quarterback looks like.
25. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee — He was wise to amend his original thoughts about his potential successor, rookie Malik Willis: “I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him.” Tannehill has played decently in Nashville, with a 30-13 record as a starter. But his 21 scoring passes last year were dragged down by 14 interceptions. At 33, with an out in his contract at season’s end, he’s a sad country song waiting for the violin.
26. Daniel Jones, New York Giants — And to think they were calling him Danny Dimes as a rookie. If a dime is a perfect pass, Jones hasn’t thrown nearly enough of them. Would Eli Manning consider … never mind.
27. Carson Wentz, Washington — When the team president is chastising a local TV reporter for a “pompous, unprofessional” interview — basically, Scott Abraham asked Wentz why he has been so inconsistent — it doesn’t bode well for a career comeback in D.C.
28. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota — Still unvaccinated, of course, Cousins was a COVID-19 casualty in training camp. Is he the problem or the solution in the Twin Cities? With the hiring of another branch from Sean McVay’s tree, Kevin O’Connell, it’s time to shine or shuffle off.
29. Jared Goff, Detroit — Generally, he has been downplayed by HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series. Which makes sense because he’s the forgotten man of pro football, with the Rams finally winning a championship after he left and Stafford arrived.
30. Marcus Mariota, Atlanta — He has looked good in Arthur Smith’s scheme, but when no one cares in Georgia, why should we?
31. Geno Smith/Drew Lock, Seattle — Smith prevailed in the most insignificant QB camp duel ever because, well, Lock got COVID.
32. Davis Mills, Houston — The new tanking rally cry: Play Like Dung for Young. As in Bryce Young, who joins C.J. Stroud atop the list of first-round draft projections, giving us new fodder for the 2023 QB Drama Meter.
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.