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Just How Committed Is Your Team to Its Quarterback?

Plenty of franchises are saying the right things when it comes to their signal-callers, but can we trust them? How should Eli Manning, Josh Rosen, and other embattled QBs feel about what they’re hearing from the combine this week?

Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning, Derek Carr, and Josh Rosen Getty Images/Ringer illustration

March is here, spring is around the corner, and cuffing season has come and gone. But in the NFL, cuffing season is about to begin. Free agency starts in two weeks, the draft is in two months, and the biggest question is which teams will cuff themselves to which quarterbacks. But before that can get going, first comes a proud tradition: the fauxmitments.

General managers and coaches are bombarded with questions about their teams’ offseason plans at NFL combine press conferences. For roughly a quarter of the league every year, that means saying how committed they are to their current quarterbacks. Whether it’s because of the QB’s age (the Giants), a more desirable person becoming available (the Cardinals), or screaming in public (the Raiders), some front offices will inevitably want to dump their quarterback. Of course, coaches and general managers can’t say that, so when asked, they must offer half-hearted half-truths. It’s a similar dance to when relatives ask about a rocky relationship at Thanksgiving dinner. Too much commitment sounds delusional; too little telegraphs that feelings have faded. For the teams truly looking to move on from their QB without tipping their hand, the fauxmitments can work well enough in the moment to sound like a commitment, but if the situation changes, no one would consider it a lie in retrospect.

Below we have listed five relationships that teams have with quarterbacks who are on thin ice, along with a verdict on whether the quarterback has been given a commitment or a fauxmitment.

We’re Staying Together for the Kids but Starting to See Other People: Eli Manning and the New York Giants

Eli and the Giants have been together for nearly 15 years. When you’ve been together that long, ending things is hard. The team first floated a divorce to fans in 2017 by benching Manning for Geno Smith, and it ended with a lot of screaming, Eli’s crying, and his eventual return to the lineup, which restored normalcy—though everyone knew things would never be the same. The team has spent much of the last 15 months trying to correct that mistake. On Wednesday, head coach Pat Shurmur endorsed Manning, 38, as the starter for 2019.

“I think Eli can help us win games, and he proved when the players around him started playing better he can play at a very high level and help us win games,” Shurmur said. “So at this point I want Eli back, he’s back, and get ready to go with him.”

Anybody who watches Giants games knows that was polite truth-fudging. Eli and the team are staying together to keep the peace, but a separation has been openly discussed.

“There’s a million different models. There’s a million different ways to do this,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman said Thursday. “You can cite a number of models where they had a veteran guy and they drafted a young guy and some point in time the torch got passed and away everybody went, and it was a happier way everybody went. So there’s a lot of time to make these decisions.”

At first it seemed that benching Manning was the end of the world. But fans realize now that might have been better than watching it happen in slow motion.

Verdict: Commitment—for now.

I think They’re Seeing Someone Else: Josh Rosen and the Arizona Cardinals

We all have a friend who has been in Rosen’s shoes. You know the one. They get into a relationship with someone that surprises you. (Arizona? Really?) Though you don’t see how it can work, you’re not in a position to say anything. Eventually, you hear through the grapevine that it’s not working out. In fact, it’s one of the worst relationships ever. Your suspicions finally spill into public view when someone digs up an old post on social media where your friend’s significant other was super into someone else.

No biggie! We all have pasts, amirite? But this new person is younger and sexier, and they are suddenly single. Not to mention, they are traveling to Indianapolis the same weekend as the team, and you think they might be communicating through a mutual friend. When questioned about it, the significant other posts on social media about how committed they are.

It backfires. Now we’re even more curious about what’s happening.

“Our feelings toward Josh haven’t waned or change or anything,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. His words say one thing, but the lack of fire in his tone sends a louder, thirstier message.

This was the prologue to Cardinals general manager Steve Keim’s press conference Wednesday.

Asked about taking another quarterback at no. 1 overall, Keim said, “It’s early in the process.” Hardly a commitment to Josh. When Keim was asked a follow-up, question—“Is Josh Rosen your quarterback?”—Keim responded, “Right now, for sure.”

Within a day, all of Rosen’s pictures related to the Cardinals were deleted from his Instagram page. He said he was hacked days earlier. Perhaps it was a coincidence. It’s a tough situation for Josh. It’s one thing to be in a relationship with someone who you suspect isn’t being faithful, but it’s even harder when you’re going through it publicly.

Verdict: Fauxmitment.

The Friend Zone: Colt McCoy and Washington

For five years, McCoy has been Washington’s backup. Given how popular he was in college, a lot of people thought he could be in a stable, long-term role with someone by now, but he’s invested so much of his time into Washington that it’s hard to accept that it’s not going to happen—even though they decided on that guy Kirk over you in 2015. When an opening finally appeared last season, McCoy’s audition lasted only two games before he got injured and lost what might have been his best chance yet.

Entering the offseason, everyone assumed Washington would pass over McCoy as they always have and add to its rotating collection of quarterbacks, but head coach Jay Gruden indicated Thursday that the team might be ready to pull McCoy out of the friend zone this year.

“He’s been fired up to get an opportunity,” Gruden told reporters Thursday. “He finally got one; it’s like letting an animal out of a cage. Ran right into the wall, got hurt. He’s gotta slow down, process.

Gruden lauded McCoy’s qualities, but acknowledged the odds are against him.

“He’s been hurt, and he hasn’t done it.”

NFL Network Insider’s Ian Rapoport reported that while Washington isn’t looking for a big-money free agent, they are interested in bringing in competition for McCoy. We all know what that means.

Verdict: Fauxmitment.

We’re Thinking About Taking a Break: Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers

With the first pick in the draft, the Panthers could have had anyone they wanted in 2011, and they chose Cam Newton. They’ve been together ever since, and they took their relationship to the next level with in 2015 with a five-year, $104 million extension. They know they’ll be together for the long haul, and so does everyone who knows them. But when Newton injured his shoulder at the tail end of the 2018 season, people started whispering. Was Cam trying to do too much?

To be clear, nobody is saying the Panthers and Cam should separate. They’re perfect for each other, and I can’t imagine either of them with anyone else. But when Panthers owner David Tepper was asked in January about the possibility of Newton needing to sit out 2019 to heal properly from his offseason shoulder surgery, as Andrew Luck did in 2017, Tepper did not rule it out.

On Thursday, ESPN’s Josina Anderson asked head coach Ron Rivera whether the team would add a quarterback in free agency, and he told reporter no. In other words, there will be no Ross and Rachel B.S. going on in Carolina.

Verdict: Commitment.

Yes, We Hit a Rough Patch, but We’re Sticking It Out: Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders

It’s a funny story how Jon Gruden and Derek Carr met. It was 2014. Gruden was an ESPN analyst. Carr was a draft prospect at Fresno State and one of Gruden’s Grinders. They fell for each other, and while they continued on different paths, they admired each other from afar. Four years later, Gruden was hired to lead Carr and the Raiders, and soon the two were paired at the hip.

“Whenever we’re not doing something, we’re together,” Carr told the Associated Press before the 2018 season. “If we’re in an offensive meeting. If we’re not in an offensive meeting, I’m sitting right next to him in the quarterback room. If I’m not in on a rep, I’m standing right by him. He’s [saying,] ‘Hey, what do you think? What would you get to here? What would you do? What would you do?’ That’s the way it should be. He challenges me. He pushes me. He wants the best for me.”

Their relationship quickly hit some speed bumps, and then some guardrails. Gruden didn’t think Carr’s friends were good influences, so he traded them away. There was a debate over whether Derek cried during a game. Then–general manager Reggie McKenzie said before the trade deadline that everyone on the team was tradable. Gruden shouted at Carr in public.

“I’m a big cheerleader sometimes,” Gruden told reporters in a press conference in November. “I’m very positive a lot of the time. Every once in awhile, I think you have to make your points in some different ways. Sometimes raising your voice. ... I look ridiculous to some people, but I want urgency. I want to have some urgency to get things right. It doesn’t mean I’m always right, either. Derek pointed that out to me yesterday. So be it.”

Despite speculation that they were going to break up (and Carr would go, since Gruden’s name is on the lease) the two seem to have worked through their disagreements.

“Our quarterback played well in spite what all the geniuses say,” Gruden told Sirius XM on Thursday. “He threw for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career. He completed almost 70 percent of his passes, so we’re really confident in Carr and what he can do in our system.”

He was even clearer at his press conference.

“He’s our franchise quarterback,” Gruden said. “Let me make that clear.”

Maybe I’m a sap, but I believe in seeing a relationship through.

Verdict: Commitment.

We’re Not Happy, but We Can’t Do Better Than Each Other: Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins

After seven years, it’s unclear where the Dolphins and Tannehill are going. He’s a nice guy, but he’s 30 years old, and it’s getting harder to believe that the growth and maturation promised for years will ever come. By playing just 11 games in the last two seasons, he can’t even be counted on to show up anymore.

On paper, breaking up with Ryan wouldn’t be too bad. Only about $19 million of the nearly $40 million remaining on his contract is guaranteed. But breaking up with him is easier said than done. He’d rebound with someone else within the week—maybe even with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only could the Dolphins be alone, but if Ryan does well with someone else, people will say it was their fault things didn’t work out.

There is something pushing this move, however. New coach Brian Flores has come from New England with the fire of a Super Bowl champion, and he isn’t making promises to anybody.

“We haven’t made any final decisions,” Flores said Wednesday. “Everything is on the table.”

Perhaps the Dolphins will break up with Tannehill, quit their job, and backpack for a few months to find themselves.

Verdict: No commitment at all.