Quick thought experiment; how is it that 25 year old Brock Osweiler despite 7 career starts received a $72 million dollar contract from the Texans while 26 year old Blaine Gabbert, who is eerily similar to Osweiler, remains mired in a QB battle on the 49ers?
Sure, you're answer might include how Osweiler is younger (albeit not by much) has far more upside (highly questionable) and is more physically gifted (yes, but not by that wide of a margin). But a quick peek at both players numbers in their 8 games played last year reveal that there isn't as much of a statistical gap between the two as many would think.
Gabbert vs. Osweiler (2015)
(Just as a note, Osweiler is listed as a 5-2 record because he started, but did not finish, his eighth game against the Chargers; that game was eventually won)
Let me point out a couple of things. Number one is the record. This number is basically irrelevant. Osweiler won five games on a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl (without him playing a single game in the playoffs mind you) and that would lead the league in virtually every defensive metric there is. Osweiler's Broncos allowed 5.7 points less per game during the regular season than Gabbert's 49ers. Osweiler won five games on a team that won twelve total, with seven of those going to Peyton Manning, who threw just nine touchdowns to seventeen interceptions during that period. Gabbert, meanwhile, won 3 of his teams 5 total wins despite an offensive line that ranked 31st according to footballoutsiders, a defense that allowed the fourth most total yards, and an offense that faced the league's third hardest schedule according to DVOA compared to Denver's sixteenth easiest schedule.
Another thing worth mentioning is the surrounding talent on this offense. With Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush already down with injuries, rushing duties were left to a combination of subpar replacements like Shaun Draughn, Mike Davis, and DuJuan Harris, none of whom managed a single hundred yard performance during this time. Gabbert's receivers included veterans Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, who managed to both place outside the top 30 in DYAR (defensive adjusted yards above replacement). TE and career 49er Vernon Davis was traded ironically to the Broncos before Gabbert took over. Brock Osweiller meanwhile had a dearth of talented players on his offense. They included one of the league's most efficient rushers after Week 8 in C.J. Anderson (6.35 yards per carry), two receivers who would go on to post over 1100 yards and 6 touchdowns a piece in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. And by the time Osweiller took over, Denver's offensive line had significantly improved it's chemistry and play to the point that it ranked in the top half of the league in run blocking and pass protection by season's end.
But in the end, what does all of this mean? Almost nobody is expecting even a top 15 year from Brock Osweiler, so even if Gabbert is better, what exactly would be a "successful" year for him?
First, let's understand a little bit about Gabbert and break some assumptions about him.
Gabbert was widely regarded as one of the top passers in the 2011 draft class, a class that was loaded with premiere passing talents and thought to be one of the deepest classes in recent memory. An undercurrent in the draft community believed that teams desperate for passers would reach in the first round for a quarterback, and while they proved to be correct, the prevailing feeling at the time was that most passers had solid potential to become good players in the league. Gabbert was one of four passers taken in the first round: top choice Cam Newton of Auburn, Jake Locker of Washington, and Christian Ponder of Florida State. Newton went to Carolina, where he'd make a Pro-Bowl and win RotY, Locker flamed out after just three injury riddled seasons in Tennessee, and Ponder would flop after just one season as the full time starter and be replaced by Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.
Coming out of Missouri, Gabbert had a lot of support to be the top choice in the draft. He was a 6'5, 234lbs passer who had terrific arm talent and athleticism for the position, flashing mobility and impressive accuracy on short and intermediate passes. He was a tad raw, however, and most expected him to take some time to accustom to the speed of the NFL coming from a spread offense in Missouri that didn't require him to go through progressions or read defenses pre-snap. The Jaguars took him tenth, and he proceeded to start 14 games for the Jags that year despite being just 22. He was sacked the third most times in the league, and struggled with a weak receiving corps and tough schedule. He improved slightly the next season, but was injured, and after an 0-3 start in 2013, Gabbert was replaced, released, and found a role as a backup to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco. Most never expected to hear from him again.
Which leaves us here. Gabbert is back atop the quarterback depth chart, albeit now in a new city, and will begin the season as the starter for the first time since 2013. He's performed modestly so far this preseason, and will once again deal with a weak defense, thin offensive line, and inexperienced and talentless receiving corps. The only notable upgrades for Gabbert come in the form of 25 year old rusher Carlos Hyde, who looks poised for a breakout year himself, and a new coach: Chip Kelly. Here's where things get interesting.
After three years in Philadelphia, it's pretty clear to me that Kelly does a nice job turning down on their luck former first and second rounders into consistent weekly starters at quarterback. Say what you will about his abilities as a talent evaluator, but Kelly clearly knows a thing or two about actual coaching. He managed to make Nick Foles into a Pro-Bowler, Sam Bradford into a reliable starter, and Mark Sanchez into a valuable trade asset.
While it's a fairly small sample size, I decided to make a table showing the difference in play between Foles, Bradford, and Sanchez under Kelly and their stats without Kelly. Because all have varying years of experience without them, I add their totals and extrapolated them onto a per game basis. Here's what it looks like.
With Kelly vs. Without Kelly
Foles (PHI, '13-'14)
Foles (STL, '15)
Bradford (PHI, '15)
Bradford (STL, '10-'14)
Sanchez (PHI, '14-'15)
Sanchez (NYJ, '09-'12)
Let me address a couple of things first. In no way am I saying that Chip Kelly has instantly made these players better. Far from it. Obviously, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez might have turned a leaf because they had been stuck in run heavy offenses in their early years and transitioned to more pass happy attacks in their more mature, later years. Nick Foles might have seen a boost in his numbers because he took the league by surprise in 2013 and was promptly dissected by defensive coordinators in the years to follow. Any one or combination of these possibilities could explain the boost that quarterbacks under Chip Kelly have seen.
But to my point, why can't Blaine Gabbert do exactly what the other passers have done? Like Sanchez and Bradford, Gabbert was once a highly touted top ten selection in the prime of his career. He was mired in run heavy attacks early in his career and was forced to play almost immediately out of college. He still has all the physical tools draft experts drooled over coming out of Missouri. And now, like Sanchez and Bradford, he finds himself in a spread offense that will create space in open field and take advantage of his superior mobility and decisive short passes.
It won't be all roses. Bradford struggled early in the year in Kelly's offense and Foles fell off a cliff following his spectacular Pro-Bowl performance. But history and the numbers tell us that Blaine Gabbert will have every opportunity to finally prove he's a starting quarterback in this league and will have the chance to surpass the fairly low expectations that experts and analysts have set for him.
It's always important to take every preseason performance with a grain of salt. Most teams, the Jets included, don't go into most preseason games with a definitive gameplan or strategy for their starting units, and almost never is a set plan established for the second and third stringers. In addition to which, as last nights performance proves, most players are looking to escape the preseason and training camp without sustaining an injury, because, as many a player will tell you, you can't make the club in the tub.
But putting all that aside for a little while, last night's performance by Bryce Petty against a fairly pedestrian Washington Redskins defense was nothing short of an excellent performance by the 25 year old. Petty found open receivers, threw some nice passes, and, most importantly, looked like a marked improvement over incumbent backup Geno Smith. We'll have to wait a few days to see what the ultimate impact of Petty's performance has on his spot on the roster, but it was a clear step in the right direction for a player with a lot of talent and little experience.
But, suppose Petty does make the roster and the Jets do keep four quarterbacks on the team for the 2016 season. What is Petty's role with the organization this season? And what's his role on this team going forward?
Right now, all we know about Petty definitively is that he's not nearly experienced enough to be the starting quarterback for this team, or any team. Coming out of the 2015 draft, Petty was similar to a lot of passers who were taken in the middle to late rounds; blessed with a lot of talent and ability, but with little familiarity calling plays in a huddle or running a pro-style offense. Petty joined a class of quarterbacks that, aside from top pick Jameis Winston, included almost no true pro-ready passers, including #2 overall pick Marcus Mariota (just two career snaps under center at Oregon), 3rd rounders Garrett Grayson and Sean Mannion, 5th rounder Brett Hundley, and 7th rounder Trevor Siemian. Petty was productive in two seasons as a starter at Baylor, showing impressive arm talent and playmaking skills, but was universally regarded as a project 24 year old who had no experience calling plays, truly breaking down defenses, or going through proper progressions. Mike Maccagnan knew this, took a fourth round flyer on Petty, gave him 45 preseason pass attempts, sat him the whole regular season, and basically gave the message that the team would be comfortable waiting at least another year before making a proper evaluation.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
So, with all that in mind, let's get back to the first question: what is Bryce Petty's role in the organization right now? Well, here's my take.
Despite last night's impressive performance, it really isn't going to change much as far the depth chart is concerned. No doubt, last night showed that Petty has probably earned a roster spot. The Jets clearly just don't know enough about Petty to accurately evaluate him right now, considering he's spent his entire professional career throwing passings against second and third team defenses in the preseason. Because of the unknowns surrounding Petty, the Jets will likely reserve him a spot on the team this year. But while some might think that the knowns about Geno Smith are what's going to lead to his eventual replacement by Petty, it's actually the knowns that are going to help him hang on to that backup job. Smith has thrown 852 more times than Petty has, logged over 5836 more yards than Petty has, and scored 27 more touchdowns than Petty has. Most importantly, Smith has 31 more games under his belt than Petty. All of these are true because Petty has yet to record a stat of any kind in the regular season. Smith has the experience. Smith is going to retain the backup job, at least this season, because the Jets aren't comfortable giving a spread-offense quarterback with just one full season holding clipboards on his resume any kind of legitimate responsibilities. It would take probably a four interception performance for Smith to lose the backup job, and on top of that, it's important to take Petty and Smith's performance with a grain of salt. Petty, despite being a third stringer himself, is playing against practice squad and bubble players for the most part. He had a nice performance in week two of the preseason last year as well if you can remember against the Atlanta Falcons, and while yesterday's performance is a positive sign, it's important to remember this is still the same quarterback who has had just about as lukewarm an offseason as you could imagine. Nothing against Petty, but even after a year in the NFL, he's probably just not ready to handle the best defenses the NFL has to offer.
Well, if he isn't ready to backup Ryan Fitzpatrick this year, what is his place going forward for next year? The answer to that question is far less certain. Petty is not expected to start this year, and probably won't even be expected to start next year if Ryan Fitzpatrick remains with the team. The pressure will really be amped up on Petty if he hasn't secured the backup position over second rounder Christian Hackenberg by the beginning of next season, but with Geno Smith's contract expired, there shouldn't be much reason why Petty can't lock down the backup job by then. In 2018, unless the team signs Fitzpatrick to a long term extension (unlikely given he'll be 35 by that point), that would mean Petty, after his fourth offseason of work at age 27 would finally have the opportunity he so desperately wants to finally compete for the starting job with the only other quarterback still under contract by that point, Christian Hackenberg, who, now 23, will sadly be the favorite to take over the job if Mike Maccagnan is still around. Long term, Petty projects nothing more as a career backup for the Jets, because Mike Maccagnan clearly invested far too much draft capital and personal credibility into Hackenberg for him not to want him to start over a 27 year old former fourth rounder. Sorry Bryce, but it would take a spectacular offseason next year or some brilliant performances as a spot starter for him to have any kind of future as a starter in New York.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
But perhaps we are reading too much into this. And perhaps it's just too early to tell for Petty, who has only played in parts of five preseason games in his career. But what is clear for now is that Petty's roster spot is at least somewhat secure, and he certainly will get another shot to takeover the backup job and run with it.
Today we're going to take a quick break from Jets talk to look at the Knicks recent trade for Derrick Rose. Hopefully it'll be a nice change of pace.
Last week the New York Knicks completed a trade with the Chicago Bulls to bring Derrick Rose and Justin Holliday along with a 2017 second round pick to the Big Apple in exchange for veterans Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez, rookie Jerian Grant. The move cleared more than $13 million in cap space for the Knicks in the summer of 2017, while Rose's $21.3 salary comes off books at the end of the year. All in all, the trade feels like a win win for both teams. The Bulls bring in a solid veteran center to likely replace Joakim Noah while adding two nice role players at guard, while the Knicks get a former MVP and All-Star in Rose who is no doubt far more talented than any guard on the team last season.
But while pundits and analysts loved the move for the Knicks, describing it as a low-risk, high reward move for Phil Jackson and co., the trade actually has all of the hall-marks of a classic New York failure.
Of course, die-hard Knicks fans will say this feels like a familiar story. The organization has routinely acquired veteran point guards with big names exiting their prime, guards like Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups, Steve Francis, and Stephon Marbury. Rose, while just 27 years old, has missed significant time over the past four seasons thanks to series of debilitating knee injuries. His play last season was lukewarm until March, when his play picked up significantly until the conclusion of the season.
But while the addition of Rose might not destroy the Knicks future like the Marbury or Billups trade did (Billups was a part of the trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York), it's certainly one with dubious upside at best. At their crudest, there are two possible scenarios here, neither of them good for the franchise.
1. Rose doesn't play enough because of injuries or performs poorly in the games he does play. In this instance, which is supposed to be the "worst case scenario", Derrick Rose doesn't deliver as a Knicks on the floor. His play is bad or only marginally better than the trio of Galloway-Calderon-Grant, and the Knicks get no closer to playoff contention with Rose than they were without Rose. This scenario is bad because not only do the Knicks not get the improvement at point guard that they so desperately needed, but in addition, they lose a solid young guy in Jerian Grant who showed promise as a serviceable starter down the stretch last season. Rose's contract comes off the books next season, leaving the Knicks once again flush with cap space and devoid of talent. Even if Holliday is a solid contributor for this unit, and even if the Knicks hang on to the second round pick they acquired, neither are going to be big enough factors in the Knicks turn around to make the trade worthwhile.
2. Rose plays well for most of the season and the Knicks are forced to consider him as a long term option. This scenario seems like where the upside kicks in for the Knicks. Phil Jackson brings in a player who shows glimpses of his MVP self and brings solid, consistent play at the position for the majority of the season. If we are really feeling confident, the Knicks even become a fringe playoff team with Rose, and the team finally shows the ability to turn the corner with Rose solidifying a new big three of him, Carmelo Anthony, and second year forward Kristaps Porzingis. So what's wrong with this scenario? Well, let's go ahead and assume that this Knicks team, no matter how much they improve with Rose, don't win the championship like they hope, and they enter the offseason with tons of cap room and a potential franchise centerpiece in Derrick Rose. What then? Here's where the disaster lies for Phil Jackson.
If Rose plays well enough for the Knicks to consider giving him an encore, we'll have to assume Rose will be looking for a nice payday, and with the cap increasing to over $108 million in 2017, we'll have to also assume that payday is somewhere around $17-20 million per year over four years (remember, a max contract by 2017 will be somewhere around $38 million per year). Should the Knicks really be comfortable giving Rose, a massive injury risk who has yet to play ten consecutive games of over 30 minutes since 2011, an elite level contract? They'd be sinking a lot of faith and money into a relatively older player with significant knee damage. Certainly not the low-risk deal that people are talking about. And what if the Knicks actually have the foresight to avoid signing Rose to a long term extension? Well then they made this trade for basically no reason other than to clear cap space, as they traded away the only promising young talent on this team aside from Porzingis for a one year experiment that didn't bring New York a championship. And we're right back to where we started.
The fact of the matter is that this is a riskless trade for Phil Jackson, not the New York Knicks. Knicks fans have been almost unanimously unhappy with his reign as President of the organization, and this trade epitomizes that feeling. Jackson has almost nothing to lose from this trade. If it works out and the Knicks somehow magically pull out a championship or a deep playoff push, he'll add another notch to his belt as an NBA icon. And if it doesn't work out, Phil will only be in New York another year before his five year contract expires. In a worst case scenario for the franchise, Jackson could sign Rose to a long term extension and then bolt for the door the very next season, as his five year, $60 million contract expires in 2018, leaving Dolan and whoever else is left in New York's front office to deal with the ramifications. Either way, the move is high upside for Phil Jackson, and high risk for the New York Knicks.
This trade initially feels like the kind of trade that could catapult the Knicks into the playoffs. They get a former MVP on their roster for the first time in almost 40 years, and they cleared a ton of cap room in the process. But at it's core, this is the type of move that in a year will be revealed as a shortsighted and a reach, and one that we should have known was going to implode.