Commentary

Youth movement continues at QB

Mailbag: Is Felix Jones' time up? Are Texans a Super Bowl contender?

Originally Published: September 3, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The youth movement at quarterback continues to dominate the news.

Not only are five rookie quarterbacks starting, but several others are in key backup rules. Undrafted Austin Davis is backing up Sam Bradford in St. Louis for the moment. Nick Foles beat out Mike Kafka for the backup job in Philadelphia. The Broncos kept Caleb Hanie, but it wouldn't surprise anyone if Brock Osweiler gets the nod.

Quarterback decisions were some of the most interesting aspects of the league's cutdown to 53. As was proven in free agency, teams are downsizing their investments in backups. What was becoming a $4 million to $5 million position is heading toward the $2 million or below range.

And teams aren't afraid to go young. The Patriots let go of Brian Hoyer and his $1.927 million salary and moved Ryan Mallett into the backup role. One interesting decision still remains in Buffalo. Do the Bills keep Tarvaris Jackson as the backup or Tyler Thigpen or both? Thigpen makes $2.5 million. Jackson agreed to a pay cut that gives him a $1.75 million salary and a weekly roster bonus that could add up to another $250,000.

Jackson ended up costing about the same as Vince Young, so you figure Jackson has the edge.

As important as the quarterback position is, it amazes me that so many teams kept only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. More than a dozen teams did it this year. But it's a gamble. What if two quarterbacks get hurt in a game? Coaches can talk about having a player designated as an emergency quarterback, but to use him in game conditions could be costly.

I still give credit to the Cowboys and Bears for trying to maintain experienced backups. After Jon Kitna retired, the Cowboys signed Kyle Orton, who is good enough to start. After Hanie's failures in Chicago, the Bears signed Jason Campbell, who has been spectacular in practice and games.

From the inbox

Q: The NFL and the referees' union still have not agreed on terms. The NFL during the interim is willing to use replacement referees. Recently there have been a couple of high-profile lawsuits from former players regarding how the NFL is responsible for players' mental health. You have mentioned that with the new referees the games might not be at a standard that we are accustomed. Why is the NFL willing to lower the standard we have come to enjoy over a small amount of money? Also, with the replacement referees, do you believe injuries will rise?

Edward in New York

A: It's debatable whether the replacement officials will have an impact on injuries, but the topic is on the table as long as the real officials are locked out. The bigger problem is the efficiency of the game. The replacement officials continue to have problems placing the ball at the right spot. They need too many conferences to get calls correct. As expected, they aren't up to the right standards. The NFL needs to get a deal done. The stakes are too important.

Q: Although Jerry Jones has proclaimed his roster spot safe, do you think it's time Jerry starts exploring trade options for Felix Jones? He's in a contract year, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner performed well in back-to-back training camps and lit it up in the preseason, and the Lions are in desperate need of running back help. Could we get a mid-to-late-round pick for him?

Naad in Los Angeles

A: A mid-to-late-round pick would do nothing for the Cowboys. The clock is ticking on this team. They need to win now and they need to have as much talent as possible on the team now. They don't need to worry about getting lower draft picks. Jones may be disappointing but he's talented. In this league, you need two or three good backs. Look at the Lions -- they used two high draft choices on running backs and now are in the market to make moves to fix the position.

Q: I keep hearing all this hype about the Texans and I'm not getting it or buying it. They lost their two best defenders in DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams. Generally when you subtract the two best players from one side of the ball, you don't get better. Their offense is based around two good RBs but an aging (31) and fragile No. 1 WR with no legitimate No. 2 WR, no consistent production at TE and a QB coming off an injury. This is the makings of what some have projected as possibly the best team in the AFC?

Steve in Charlotte, N.C.

A: With Williams missing a majority of the season the Texans were one of the best defenses in football last year. The move to the 3-4 defense devalued Williams, and you could say the same for Ryans. But look at the division -- the AFC South has three young quarterbacks starting. The Texans are solid in every area. They run the ball well. They have an accurate quarterback (Matt Schaub). I haven't bought into the notion they are the best team in the AFC, but they are the best team in the AFC South and should make the playoffs.

Q: I'm confused. What's the difference between the new IR rule and the PUP list?

Jon G. in Washington, D.C.

A: The physically unable to perform list is established at the beginning of training camp. You have to pass the team physical to be able to practice. If a player hasn't passed that physical, the team has the option of putting him on PUP-reserve list and then bringing him back at least six weeks into the regular season. The new injured reserve rule gives a team a chance to designate one player who has a serious injury and bring him back after about eight weeks. When you think PUP, think about passing the physical.

Q: Why do quarterbacks always get credited with wins? I understand that in this age of the NFL the quarterback is the most important position, but he does not always win the game for the team. For example, Alex Smith won 13 games last year. But really, the 49ers won 12 games with an outstanding defense, good running game and offensive system designed to cut down on turnovers. Really, Smith was just a glorified game manager.

Austin in Chapel, Fla.

A: It's the fourth quarter that is now defining the game and that's when the great quarterbacks control the game. That's when a quarterback can start running a two-minute, no-huddle offense and win games. Eli Manning is the classic example of that. Only six quarterbacks have won Super Bowl rings since 2003. That should say something to back up that point. The Jets had a good two-year run with Mark Sanchez, who did a decent job of managing the game. The Jets had great defense and a good running game. The Jets didn't win, and so far, Smith hasn't won that Super Bowl ring, either.

Q: Are you aware of any "dictates" from the league to the replacement officials as to the preferred way to judge certain types of (close) plays? I watch every preseason game I can find and have convinced myself that the replacement officials are allowing DBs to get away with more bumping and grabbing of WRs than the real officials have in years. And you know what? I like it. Particularly on one-on-one deep balls, the DBs are being given the opportunity to go after the ball as aggressively as the WRs (which technically is permissible but has rarely been called that way recently) without drawing a flag. Thoughts?

Michael in Indianapolis

A: I don't think there are any "dictates." The surprising news is that there were more penalties this summer with the replacement officials than there were with the regulars. My initial thought was that the replacement officials wouldn't throw many flags, but they have surprised with how many they have thrown. The reason you are seeing more contact is because more teams are using man-to-man press. I like that, too. It will be interesting to see what is called during the regular season.

Q: How concerned should the Dolphins be about Jake Long's knee injury? He never missed a start in his first three seasons, but last year he had back and biceps injuries and now a knee injury. He's a free agent next year and the Dolphins drafted Jonathan Martin, who was a left tackle at Stanford. What should the organization do?

Eric in Virginia Beach, Va.

A: I don't think they are too worried. The plan is for him to play in Week 1. He's on a week-by-week basis. As an organization, the Dolphins need to sign him to a long-term contract. He's arguably their best player. This team already has traded Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis. They had corners to cover for Davis, but no one to cover for Marshall. Getting the draft choices is one thing, but if the team doesn't start building talent, there will be a new front office in place to make those picks. The Dolphins drafted Martin to be a right tackle.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer