One team is benching a capable veteran quarterback who has led his team to a surprising 3-3 record thanks in large part to his own production — which has been good enough to rank him No. 7 this season in Total QBR. They are doing so because they drafted their QB of the future in the first round of the 2020 draft and believe it is time to take an extended look at what he can do.
That team is the Miami Dolphins.
Another team is riding things out with a struggling veteran quarterback who has led his team to a disappointing 1-5 record thanks in large part to his own lack of production — which has been bad enough to rank him No. 28 (out of 30) this season in Total QBR. They are doing so because they have invested heavily in him and really have no options behind him that are worth an extended look.
That team is the Minnesota Vikings.
Circumstances, to be sure, are different for both franchises. The Dolphins are mired in a several-years rut, including an 18-30 record and zero playoff appearances from 2017-19. Their veteran quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was brought in last season ostensibly as a bridge to something better — not as someone who was going to turn things around and stay for the long haul (though perhaps he deserves better than that, as some numbers will show).
That heavier lift belongs to Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in the draft who reportedly will start Miami’s next game.
Fitzpatrick is also almost 38 years old, presumably nearing the end of a career that is best described as “journeyman” (though again, perhaps he deserves better than that).
The Vikings reached the NFC title game in 2017 thanks to a career year from a similar type of QB: Case Keenum. Their QB now, of course, is Kirk Cousins — signed to a lucrative contract before the 2018 season and to an extension before this year.
Cousins had a 19-13-1 record (including one playoff win) in his two seasons as a starter before this season. He’s 32, an age where quarterbacks should have several years of peak or near-peak production left in them. The Vikings rightfully should have expected more from him this season.
But: The Vikings have been overpaying for a vision of what Cousins can be at his best pretty much from the outset of his contract, which will amount to roughly five years and $150 million total if he plays it out in full through 2022.
If you are devoting that much of your cap to a quarterback, he really shouldn’t be capable of producing the kind of stretch Cousins has gone through this season — and his ceiling should probably be higher even than what he showed last year.
Fitzpatrick, by contrast, is playing on the second year of a modest two-year, $11 million (total) deal. If we again rely on Total QBR — a good metric that takes into account all of a quarterback’s contributions — Fitzpatrick outplayed Cousins in 2019 as well, finishing No. 8 in Total QBR to Cousins’ No. 13 even during Kirk’s best year so far in purple. Fitzpatrick has posted top-half Total QBRs with the Jets (No. 10 in 2015) and Houston (No. 13 in 2014) in recent seasons as well.
But this is not a referendum on Cousins vs. Fitzpatrick, which again is an imperfect comparison. Rather, it’s about gauging situations.
Would you rather: be the Vikings, who have QB stability in part because of commitment and track record but in part because of a lack of options and roster inflexibility … or the Dolphins, who have the luxury of making the switch to exciting prospect Tagovailoa even as they ditch the production of a capable veteran?
I have to say, that sort of succession plan is enough to make a Vikings fan jealous at this moment.