Now that the Hall of Fame Game is over, it’s finally NFL preview season. The Ringer NFL Show is kicking things off by answering 33 big-picture questions throughout the next month to get you ready for Week 1. This week, Robert Mays and Kevin Clark gave their predictions about which starting quarterback will be the first to get benched in 2017. Their choices are below (sorry in advance, Texans and Jags fans):
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Tom Savage, Houston Texans
Mays: [My choice] I would say is a little bit cheap, because he's not supposed to be somebody that sticks around for a [long time], but I think it's Tom Savage. I just don't see Tom Savage starting more than a couple games, even if he is the starter by the time the season [begins]. And based on everything that's come out of Texans camp so far, it looks like Deshaun Watson should be the quarterback there.
Clark: I was at Texans camp a couple of days ago—I agree Watson will be the starter at some point. … I think they have a very smart plan for him, sort of working him in. They're certainly not giving him a ton of reps with the first team. It's Savage's job to lose for the beginning of the season. I don't think it's going to be a situation where [Savage is] the first guy benched, because I think we're looking at October or November for Savage. ...They're going to really, really bring Watson up to a point where he's absolutely ready for that job, because the stakes are going to be high because that defense is going to be so good. They're going to be in every game. You don't want [Watson] out there making rookie mistakes in September, and all of a sudden they lose two games. That could shoot [down] his confidence.
Remember, at one point [Texans coach] Bill O'Brien made Christian Hackenberg look like an NFL prospect, and we know that's pretty hard to do. So I still believe in Bill O'Brien as a quarterback guru. I know what happened with [Brock] Osweiler last year, but I understand that [O’Brien’s] going to bring Watson to a point where he's not going to make those sort of backbreaking mistakes. There's no suggestion he would, but I'm just saying you don't want to risk it with that defense, because ... they could win a lot of games just with Savage being a "game manager," and then all of a sudden their defense scores a touchdown a game, and they win every game 14-10. That could get them three wins in September.
Mays: I'm going the other way on that. I think the defense is going to be so good that it's on [the Texans] to get the most they can out of this roster. I don't necessarily think Bill O'Brien is this entrenched coach that can afford to start the season 2-4. I don't see them that way. I feel like they need to get everything they can out of that incredible defense, and if you're throwing games away because Tom Savage is the quarterback, that doesn't make sense to me. I think you should put the best players on the field.
Clark: Well, it comes down to a value thing. I mean, is Deshaun Watson going to play mistake-free football? I don't know the answer to that.
Mays: I don't think Tom Savage is, either.
Clark: No, I'm not saying that, but he's at least played in the NFL and has a little bit of experience. ...The transition from college to pro is still significant, and I think it takes a little while. I mean ... Derek Carr came into a [Raiders] team with no expectations when he was a rookie; Matt Schaub was supposed to start for that team … [but] Carr won in training camp. But it was a very different team. That team did not make the playoffs the year before with only their defense. I'm saying the expectations are totally different.
Mays: I'd rather throw the guy into the fire, man, especially if he's the better player. I would much rather just have him get the reps from the start, because I think that what they did in Oakland, even if the stakes were different, mattered. The fact that from Week 1, as soon as Monday of the first week of the season started, Derek Carr was the man—everybody in the building knew he was the man. And I think that that should be how they treat Deshaun Watson, especially because of what this team could accomplish if he turns into a reasonable NFL quarterback this year.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Clark: You called the Tom Savage pick cheap—I'm going real cheap. I'm going dollar-store, baby. Blake Bortles. So, there was a report earlier this week that Blake Bortles threw five interceptions in practice that was...not a surprise. We've heard so much about Bortles's mechanics [issue]—two years ago it was allegedly fixed; I don't think we've seen it [changed] yet. ...Two years ago, [he] had an above-average season. He's put up pretty good numbers in his career—some of the garbage-time stats he's put up have really been commendable—but we already heard the reports that [new Jaguars executive vice president] Tom Coughlin wasn't a huge Bortles fan.
One of the things I always go back to is—I had a team executive tell me a couple years ago that essentially anybody [in the NFL] who [comes to] a new team, they want to be like a plumber. When a plumber comes to your house, they look at your pipes and they say, "Wow, man, the last guy really screwed this up. I'm the only guy who's able to fix these pipes, right?" And I think there's going to be some of that with Coughlin—he doesn't care. What does he care about Blake Bortles? You’ve got Chad Henne—Chad Henne's going to at least be competent. [They] can't have Bortles out there just making tons of mistakes anymore because the Jaguars have so many pieces, to the point that maybe they'll be competitive in more games than we think. The defense does have the pieces, the receivers are obviously very good, and so I think that if we go back to [the] mistake-free football [concept], I'm not saying Chad Henne's going to play mistake-free football, but he's certainly not going to throw five interceptions in practice. ...
Mays: I think Bortles is a good pick for two reasons: 1) What you said—Coughlin has no loyalty to him. Why does Coughlin give a shit if Blake Bortles goes to the bench? He doesn't care. And the other is that, I think quarterbacks can hit a point of no return, and it feels like Blake Bortles is starting to get there.
In a way, I feel bad for the guy. I mean ... it's just one of those things where he has to be so in his head right now because you can't exist in the world that we do and be as bad as he's been and not hear some of this stuff. I'm sure that it's started to creep in, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's just gotten to a point where [his performance] falls off a cliff. And that's tough, but … [he could get to the point] that there aren't even moments of competence like we've seen over the last couple years. Last year was particularly bad, [but] two years ago he threw a lot of touchdowns. [Then] you could argue and you could talk yourself into the fact that maybe Blake Bortles [could] be saved. I don't think he can anymore, but it could get really ugly here if he starts the season the way that we've heard he looks in camp. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he were gone, and I think that with the changes that Jacksonville's made, with some of the moves, how good the defense can be, the leash on him is shorter than it would have been in the past couple years.