- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2020

There might not be live sports right now, but at least the quarterback carousel continues to turn.

When the 2020 NFL season commences, the list of the league’s starting quarterbacks is unlikely to include Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Joe Flacco, all of whom have been mainstays for years.

Winston and Dalton found new jobs as No. 2 quarterbacks in New Orleans and Dallas, respectively, while Newton and Flacco remain unsigned as May has begun. As teams trend toward younger quarterbacks that symbolize promise for the future, the churn is sympathetic to no veteran, no matter if you were a former No. 1 overall draft pick or have a Super Bowl on your resume.

Hey, even the likes of Aaron Rodgers are starting to feel the heat. But put aside the Green Bay Packers’ case, which is different from the recent quarterback shuffling.

An analysis of probable starting quarterbacks — which assumed that top six draft picks Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert get the nod with the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers, respectively, this September — shows that 20 of the league’s 32 starters will be 27 years old or younger when the season begins. Nineteen of the 32 were selected in the last five drafts.



Cincinnati’s quarterback change was dictated by a league-worst 2-14 record last year and the opportunity to select Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, first overall. The Bengals, clearly planning to rebuild around Burrow moving forward, released Dalton Thursday.

He signed with the Cowboys just two days later. Dalton grew up in Texas and went to college in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at Texas Christian, so his one-year Cowboys deal is a bit of a homecoming for him. He’s behind starter Dak Prescott, who is likely to play 2020 on the franchise tag as long-term negotiations have been fruitless.

Winston, on the other hand, was not replaced by a younger, cheaper option — it’s not every year that Tom Brady becomes a free agent, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to go all-in on the aging star quarterback. After Winston became the first quarterback in league history to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season, Tampa Bay went for the clear short-term upgrade rather than justifying drafting a replacement for the talented but maddeningly inconsistent Winston.

So following last month’s NFL draft, Winston signed with the Saints to pursue the Teddy Bridgewater route. After a bad injury interrupted his tenure with his first team, the Minnesota Vikings, Bridgewater signed with the New York Jets in 2018 and soon was traded to the Saints, where he spent two years backing up Drew Brees. He had to step in for Brees last year and led the Saints to a 5-0 record in those games. Now, Bridgewater is preparing to take the starting reins in Carolina.

“When you see what happened last year with the amount of play time Taysom (Hill) and Teddy got — I’m not saying I’m going to expect that this year, but those guys were prepared and that’s what I’m going to be,” Winston told reporters last week.

Winston could follow the same path of a mid-career blossoming. If he has a good showing behind Brees, he could sign back as Brees’ replacement if the 41-year-old retires or find a starting job somewhere else in 2021.

With 26-year-old Winston as an exception, the list of former starters on the outs mostly features 30-somethings. Dalton is 32, Flacco is 35 and the injury-hampered Newton turns 31 this month. Not long ago, Newton was one of the NFL’s preeminent stars and the 2015 MVP, but if this were a game of musical chairs, it’s hard to see where there’s a seat left for him.

Newton is completing his recovery from a Lisfranc foot fracture just one season after his throwing shoulder was his main problem. The New England Patriots look like an option on paper, but multiple beat writers have reported they have no interest in Newton. Their presumptive starter post-Brady is their 2019 fourth-round pick, the untested Jarrett Stidham.

Could one of the best quarterbacks in the league be on this list in a year or two? Rodgers has led the Packers since he took the reins from Brett Favre in 2008, but the 36-year-old’s eventual replacement may now be waiting in the wings after Green Bay traded up in the first round to select Utah State’s Jordan Love.

Some hysterical takes poured in, as expected: Rodgers should feel shafted! He should force his way out with a trade demand! But it isn’t all overreaction. ESPN front office analyst Louis Riddick argued the Love selection was less like when Rodgers tumbled in the 2005 draft and gave Green Bay a chance at drafting Favre’s successor — in fact, it was more like the Kansas City Chiefs trading up to draft Patrick Mahomes when Alex Smith was still on the roster.

“I will say this: They could eat (Rodgers’) $31 million cap charge in 2021 given how small Jordan Love’s cap charge will be in that year, if they get rid of him before his roster bonus comes due the third day of the new league year,” Riddick said on ESPN’s “Get Up” last week. “They could do it if it became something that they just could not stomach anymore. But it just makes sense: In 2022, you would assume Aaron Rodgers is going to be somewhere else and they better have Jordan Love ready to go.”

It’s the way of the NFL: younger means cheaper, and it usually comes with the promise of stability for years to come. (Until the next generation of quarterbacks comes along.)

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