Cutting Ties

By Alen Dumonjic
May 12, 2013

It's never easy to part ways with your starting quarterback. Alen Dumonjic takes a look at when you have to pull the trigger.

The one conundrum that isn't discussed enough in the NFL, and which personnel men routinely fail at, is when it is the right time to give up on quarterbacks. In truth, most general managers don't sit in the front office long enough to see their struggling “franchise” quarterbacks develop, let alone make the decision to get rid of them or not.

Recent GM's such as Gene Smith and Mike Tannebaum, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, haven't seen their respected selections play out. Smith is watching 2011 first rounder Blaine Gabbert from afar, and so is Tannebaum, who selected Mark Sanchez No. 5 overall in 2009. Neither has lived up to expectations but both remain on their original team roster for now.

Smith and Tannebaum, and all others, can learn from their mistakes and figure out how long their quarterbacks will take to develop.

People have written that the Jaguars should cut ties with Gabbert, but for all of his mistakes, he showed improvement last season. Granted, his improvement is unlikely to lead to him becoming an upper-echelon passer, but there are few of those as it is. New GM David Caldwell seems to understand that and has let Gabbert compete for a starting job. John Idzik, the new GM of the Jets, is also letting Sanchez compete. However, the two passers' situations are different.

Gabbert is entering his third year at the helm while Sanchez is going into his fifth. Caldwell has limited tape on Gabbert and a new offensive coordinator for the third year in a row, while Idzik is going into the season with his third play caller – but has plenty of tape to decide whether Sanchez is worthy of a roster spot or not.

In the end, the big question is if either – and any others in similar situations – will make it in the pros. The best way to decide is to scout them as if they're coming out of college and into the draft again. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do they have the vitals of accuracy, vision, intelligence, mental toughness and pocket presence? And the biggest question: What can they do for our system?

When Jim Harbaugh was hired by the San Francisco 49ers to be their head coach in 2011, he asked all of those questions when he was handed the task of rekindling the career of Alex Smith. He understood what Smith, who was something akin to a bust in his first six years after being selected No. 1 overall in 2005, could do in his system and used him accordingly. Harbaugh went on to get two very good years of play from Smith and has reignited the quarterback's career, although it's now being played out in Kansas City with a new team, new staff, and new scheme.

In the right system and coaching, others can have the same fortune that Smith had in San Francisco. They'll need to be reevaluated for the new system and be given a fair chance to compete. Once that happens, the team could essentially have a new, serviceable quarterback on their hands.

Conversely, if they fail to figure it out after additional coaching and patience, then – and only then – is it the right time to cut ties with the passer. Any earlier and the front office is risking losing out on a quality player at the league's most important position.

It's a tough call to make but if the coaches and scouts assess their signal-callers following each year, it'll minimize the risk they run of cutting them loose too early like teams have done in years past.