Lawrence: Next Man Up

As midseason approaches, half of the league has made a quarterback change due to injury or ineptitude

Amy Lawrence
October 29, 2019 - 10:41 pm
Andy Dalton Bengals

USA Today Images


We ask the question all the time in sports: should an athlete lose his job because of injury? In the NFL, when a player gets hurt, should he automatically reclaim his position when he's healthy again? Or should he be forced to compete with the guy who filled his spot, even if he was knocked out through no fault of his own? Nowhere is the debate more magnified or more intense than the quarterback position.
As we approach the midway point of the regular season, HALF of the teams in the league have made quarterback changes because of injuries or ineptitude. The latest is the winless Cincinnati Bengals as they bench Andy Dalton in favor of rookie Ryan Finley. The Denver Broncos will also start a novice QB in their next game. Brandon Allen will take his very first NFL snaps in Week 9 against Cleveland because Joe Flacco is dealing with a neck issue. As these two franchises struggle for victories and shreds of hope, they will join what has become a crowded carousel at the sport's most impactful position. A handful of teams hopped on the QB carousel early in the season. Some have been riding so long they're dizzy and desperate to stop spinning. But not every situation is as simple as the New Orleans Saints.
Despite five consecutive wins with Teddy Bridgewater under center, there was never ANY doubt Drew Brees would be back on the field as soon as he could "grip and rip" the football. (Those are his words!) Reinserting Brees is not an indictment of Bridgewater; the Saints made him the NFL's highest-paid backup QB because they were confident he could step in and manage the role if necessary. But everyone in the building, including Bridgewater, knew the switch was imminent. The offense is built around Brees and his skillset: his deadly accuracy; his quick release; his ability to stretch the field; his wisdom and experience; his leadership and intensity; his relationship with Sean Payton; his rapport with Michael Thomas and the receiving corps. Bridgewater couldn't have handled the opportunity any better. No doubt, the rest of the league took notice. However, Brees gives the Saints the best chance to return to the NFC Championship.
New Orleans offers a best case scenario when it comes to the question of injuries affecting job status. For the Panthers and Jaguars, the solutions aren't so cut and dried. While Carolina took a major punch to the gut in the Bay Area, head coach Ron Rivera is sticking with his young QB Kyle Allen for now. He says Cam Newton is still progressing through rehab, though the veteran traveled with the team for the first time since he reaggravated his sprained foot. He even worked out on the field before kickoff, so Cam is definitely closer to being cleared. But should he be the automatic choice as soon as he's fully healthy? Allen has remained effective and steady by managing the game, limiting turnovers, letting Christian McCaffrey serve as the tip of the spear. In his first six career starts, he didn't throw an interception; against the Niners, everything changed. Not only did Allen get picked off three times, but he was under pressure mercilessly. The offensive line held up so poorly in front of him that he was sacked seven times and posted a career low passer rating.
There was plenty of blame to go around as San Francisco embarrassed the Panthers and posted 51 points! Rivera admitted Allen was rushing at times, speeding up when he didn't have to. Thus his accuracy was way off. With the lack of protection and a dominant Niners' rushing attack, the results likely wouldn't have been much different with Cam on the field. But when healthy, he gives the Panthers a better chance to win each weekend. Cam is a world-class athlete with size and strength that make him unique. His aggressiveness and confidence have given him an edge in the past. His ability to run and extend plays (when healthy) are another wrinkle. Cam's brand of football is higher risk, but it's also higher reward. If Carolina wants to make a serious run at the playoffs in the second half, Cam should start when he's able.
The QB situation is even murkier in Jacksonville where Nick Foles is practicing and set to come off IR in mid-November. He didn't even survive the opening half of his debut with the Jaguars. As he lobbed his very first touchdown pass, he took a monster hit and landed on his left side where his collarbone cracked as it absorbed the brunt of the impact. Talk about unfair! Foles finally gets the chance to start and lead an offense designed to his strengths, but through absolutely no fault of his own, the opportunity is ripped away before the paint is dry on the field. Enter rookie Gardner Minshew who brings a moxie and attitude that belies his lack of experience. By attacking the assignment with gusto, by using his mobility and elusiveness to stay out of trouble and extend plays, he's fit in seamlessly. When the Jags run the ball, the offense is productive. But is it better equipped with the experience of Foles or the versatility of Minshew?
Jacksonville sits at .500 at the midway point, lurking just two games back of AFC South leader Indianapolis in the loss column. It's tough to make a change at quarterback when a team is competing and contending, especially when head coach Doug Marrone doesn't have extended history with Foles. That removes loyalty from the equation. It's not fair that Foles got hurt before he had a chance to prove his worth with the Jags; however, we all know life and sports are anything but fair.
Can an athlete lose his job because of injury? Yes, he absolutely CAN. We see it every week in the NFL. Should he?? That's a different question with no black and white answer, one that will surely be debated until the end of time.

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.