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NFL is doing the quarterback shuffle

Tom Brady looks to pass against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Mass.
Tom Brady looks to pass against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Mass. Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday.
(Maddie Meyer/ Getty Images)

Real games aren’t slated to start for another six months, and already the 2020 NFL season is all about the turnovers.

Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay. Philip Rivers is in Indianapolis. Teddy Bridgewater is in Carolina. Nick Foles is in Chicago.

On and on, quarterbacks are changing teams the way Patrick Mahomes changes directions.

And these aren’t below-the-radar players either. Free agency is two days old, and already teams have bid farewell to three Super Bowl most valuable players — Brady, Foles, and Joe Flacco, who was released by Denver on Thursday — and have pointed former No. 1 picks Cam Newton and Jameis Winston toward the exit.

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With all signs pointing to Cincinnati drafting Louisiana State’s Joe Burrow with the first pick, the Bengals might as well pack Andy Dalton’s bags for him.

Tough business. And even harder to decide the right moves.

The opportunity for redemption stories is ripe.

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“No doubt about it, that’s what it’s all about,” said retired quarterback Brad Johnson, who did his share of bouncing around before helping the Buccaneers win their only Super Bowl. “Don’t count Jameis out. Don’t count Andy Dalton out. Don’t do it. They’re hungry too, now.”

Those players might be hungry, but lots of teams are quarterback famished — Cincinnati, Miami, Washington, and the Chargers among them — looking for that most important piece to their offensive puzzle.

“I look at it in thirds,” said Rich Gannon, a former league MVP quarterback and now a CBS analyst. “You’ve got 10 teams that are really healthy at that position. You’ve got 10 teams that are keeping their fingers crossed. Then you’ve got 10 that are just hoping they can draft a quarterback.

“With quarterbacks, either you have one or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re better off selling life insurance.”

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For years, it looked as if the Patriots had a whole-life policy in Brady, who in 20 years got them to nine Super Bowls, winning six. But even that ended, with the two sides officially parting ways this week.

Like the first domino to fall, Brady set off a chain reaction of moves, some as a response, some already in the pipeline. Marcus Mariota, benched in Tennessee last season, signed with Las Vegas and gives Jon Gruden a quarterback who can make off-schedule plays better than Derek Carr. They will compete for the starting job.

Foles heads to the Bears, where he’ll have a chance to nudge aside the beleaguered Mitch Trubisky, just three years removed from being the No. 2 overall pick.

All this jockeying, and there’s still a cluster of talented young prospects who will be taken at or near the top of next month’s draft —Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailova, Utah State’s Jordan Love, and Oregon’s Justin Herbert among them.

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But rare are the rookies who can both make an initial splash and follow it up with a consistently solid first season. College football and the NFL are still too different.

“History tells us that none of these kids that come out in the draft are really ready to play,” Gannon said. “None of them can stand in the huddle and call a play. They’re not calling the plays in the huddle in college. They don’t even call a snap count.

“So you have to bring them in from day one and teach them how to stand in the huddle, how to call the plays, how to do the cadence, how to audible. It’s a lot of work, and none of them are ready.”

The season doesn’t wait, however, so ready or not, here they come.

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And now the Patriots, Plymouth Rock solid at the position for so long, are among the have-nots.

New England coach Bill Belichick has proven he can win games without Brady. The Patriots won 11 games in 2008 with Matt Cassel, who didn’t even start at USC, when the team lost Brady to a devastating knee injury in the opener. Then, when Brady served a four-game suspension for Deflategate, the team went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at the helm.

Joe Namath switched teams much like Tom Brady will have to do, and he isn’t the only quarterback that understands transitioning to a different team is not easy.

But is Belichick really ready to move forward with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who threw four passes last season — one of them a pick-six?

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“I think they keep the Stidham kid and sign somebody like Dalton,” Gannon said. “Someone who can come in and function and be a system guy, take care of the football, understand how they’re going to win … see if that’s good enough to win them 11 or 12 games and get to the playoffs.”

By Gannon’s thinking, the NFL is a league of impatience, both with young players and with the coaches calling the plays.

“We fire a coordinator every couple of years,” he said. “So when a young guy is learning a system and finally making some progress, now he has to learn a completely new system. So it’s like learning Spanish one year. Next year, you come back and learn German. Next year you learn French.”

And, in some cases, that’s helpful.

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Helps those young players translate bon voyage.


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