With the Ryan Fitzpatrick dance continuing, the names of Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III keep on surfacing for the New York Jets.
By Robby Sabo
Rewind the clocks three to four years, to the NFL season of 2012.
Crazy things were happening.
No longer was the norm for teams in the NFL to run a pro (or what we used to know as pro) offense. Five and seven step drops were becoming less of a factor while being replaced by zone-reads and the pistol.
On the heels of the Wildcat taking the league by storm, the offense featuring the mobile-quarterback was the new hot thing – and defenses were scrambling to catch up.
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was magical during his rookie season of 2012. He threw for 3,200, 20 TD, and just 5 INT in 15 games started under center. RGIII also ran for 815 yards and 7 TD en route to winning NFL Rookie of the Year.
In conjunction with Griffin’s performance, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith and led his squad to the Super Bowl.
Three years later, the oft-injured Griffin is a free agent looking for an organization to sign on with after being inactive the entire 2015 season, and Kaepernick needs to bolt town because Blaine Gabbert has assumed the starting role.
Things have took a turn for the worse for both guys.
Just as they caught up to the wildcat, NFL defenses have, indeed, caught up to the NFL’s version of the mobile-quarterback heavy offense.
This is where the New York Jets enter the discussion.
There’s a very familiar saying that goes around NFL circles. It’s one that’s been over emphasized over the last decade-plus thanks to the increased offensive ways of the league.
“Either you have a franchise QB or not, and unless you have a franchise quarterback, you do everything in your power to obtain one.”
The Jets fall into the latter category of looking for one. This is the case even with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing for nearly 4,000 yards with a TD-INT ratio of 31-15. A franchise QB the 33-year old Harvard is not. A serviceable guy who can be a part of the building future, he is.
This is why Mike Maccagnan is playing things so well right now. He understands the landscape for Fitzpatrick is so desperate. He also understands the Jets don’t possess a franchise guy even in Fitz.
Hopefully, he realizes Kaepernick and Griffin aren’t viable options, as both are looking to sign on with a team and become the guy, once again.
The problem with them becoming the guy is quite simple: They aren’t good enough NFL quarterbacks to become the guy, ever again.
Playing this game of chicken with Fitz and ultimately welcoming him back until the day comes they do find their franchise guy is the only way to play things right now.
First off, incredible consideration must be given to two guys in regards to how well both Kaepernick and Griffin played at the beginning of their careers. Those two guys are Jim Harbaugh and Mike Shanahan.
Prior to both mobile QBs assuming the starting role, the 49ers and Reskins offenses were completely different. Harbuagh ran an incredibly heavy run-smashing offense with a pro-style set (2WR, 2RB, 1TE, or even 1WR, 2RB, 2TE). He relied on Alex Smith’s caretaker attitude and Frank Gore‘s trucking ability, eventually helping them get to the 2011 NFL Championship game (only to fall in defeat to the Giants).
Shanahan brought his familiar zone running, bootleg system over from Denver with him.
Once Kap and RGIII both came into the picture, everything changed. The read option was being run at an incredible rate, and the pistol (which had only been seen in college), was an instantaneous hit.
This led to outrageous success for not only those two guys, but others as well.
Even somebody who can’t even throw the ball better than my 10-year old nephew, Tim Tebow, led the Denver Broncos to an AFC Wild Card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011 – thanks to John Fox allowing his guys to completely change the offense. In nine games (three started), Tebow threw for 1,729 yards, 12 TD, and 6 INT. He also ran for 660 yards and 6 TD.
Then, suddenly, he couldn’t play in the league anymore.
Why? Well, it’s easy: Tebow must be in an offense that has some sort of gimmick behind it.
Coaches in the NFL simply cannot run two or three completely different offenses depending on the quarterback who is in the game. With Tebow, wide receivers suddenly become irrelevant. Heavy run packages are needed and there just isn’t enough personnel to go around and make it work.
This is part of the reason guys like Kaepernick and Griffin have also took that familiar mobile-QB nosedive over the last three seasons. The offense they need around them in order to get the most productivity is too tough to run on a consistent basis.
Not only that, but NFL defenses are too smart and athletic.
This league is a copycat place in which teams go to school on what works and what doesn’t. Just as the wildcat ran it’s course in the NFL for a season, and then promptly got shut down, so did the mobile-quarterback heavy offense.
This isn’t to say mobile quarterbacks can’t find success in the NFL. They certainly can. What this point illustrates is how difficult it is to keep a gimmick going. The zone-read play can only be a compliment to the entire offense. It can’t be a feature, like it was from 2012-13. Because of the rules in place, this league is so passing heavy that constructing a mobile-QB heavy offense just doesn’t make sense.
Once defenses fully had an offseason to catch up to it, that was it. Back to the pro-personnel offenses most team went.
Furthermore, just take a look at the quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls in the last two decades:
- 2016: Peyton Manning
- 2015: Tom Brady
- 2014: Russell Wilson
- 2013: Joe Flacco
- 2012: Eli Manning
- 2011: Aaron Rodgers
- 2010: Drew Brees
- 2009: Ben Roethlisberger
- 2008: Eli Manning
- 2007: Peyton Manning
- 2006: Ben Roethlisberger
- 2005: Tom Brady
- 2004: Tom Brady
- 2003: Brad Johnson
- 2002: Tom Brady
- 2001: Trent Dilfer
- 2000: Kurt Warner
- 1999: John Elway
- 1998: John Elway
- 1997: Brett Favre
What jumps out at me is how pocket-passing heavy this list is. The only true mobile-QB of the bunch is Russell Wilson, and he can throw it from the pocket with the best of them.
Some of the Super Bowl losers who can be considered mobile guys were Cam Newtwon from this past season, and the aforementioned Kaepernick.
Employing two tremendous targets in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, the last thing these Jets need is a mobile-QB who has trouble progressing through reads. And for anybody that has watched Kaepernick or Griffin look to purely pass the ball from the pocket the last couple seasons, you quick come away realizing they just don’t have it between the ears.
Without the presence of Harbaugh, Shanahan, the the ultimate threat of rushing the ball during the very unique read-option crazed era of the NFL, both Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III are below average quarterbacks.
None of those amazing highlights from the years 2012 and 2013 can mask that reality.
Hopefully, Mike Maccagnan knows this, and he’s playing the right game with Ryan Fitzpatrick.