By Jake Arians
The 2020 NFL offseason was unprecedented when it came to quarterback movement, particularly big-name veteran quarterbacks. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, and Teddy Bridgewater are all with new teams this season. Younger players like Baker Mayfield, Dwayne Haskins, and Daniel Jones stayed put but got new head coaches and new offensive coordinators. Of all the players listed, veteran or up-and-comer, only Haskins and Newton won their debuts in their new situations.
So, what does this mean?
It means that exceptional quarterback play and great offensive execution takes time.
Continuity is so important in the NFL in a normal year, but we all know that 2020 is anything but normal. With the abridged offseason of no mini camps, OTAs, and a new training camp schedule, these quarterbacks will take more time to get going at full speed than you might think. Don’t forget about the fact that four preseason games went to zero. Preseason games have very valuable “game-like” situational reps these guys all could’ve used.
I’ve been told these quarterbacks could have as many as 400-1,000 fewer reps with their new coaches and teammates than in a normal offseason. To say that is significant would be a massive understatement. It’s one thing to learn the playbook, verbiage, and basic concepts of an offense, but it is an entirely different animal to master the nuances that make up game plan football. You have to walk before you run, just as you must have a great understanding of the concepts before you can be fully ready for the adjustments that are made each week to those concepts to fit into a specific game plan. They also have to perfect the timing of these plays and adjustments every week with the new teammates you have had limited reps with.
Communication with the coaching staff is also vital and often overlooked. The coaches must have a phenomenal feel for what their quarterbacks like, dislike, and feel the most comfortable with. Then they have to make that fit into the game plan with what the rest of the players are also best at. Offseason practices are one thing, training camp practices are another but, regular-season game plan practices are uniquely different. It takes time to build chemistry and timing with the players and it takes time to build trust and understanding with the play-caller. Some guys will get it faster than others, but all of them will take more time to get up to speed than the teams that already have this chemistry and continuity.
Playing fast is so crucial to having success offensively, but playing fast doesn’t become second nature overnight—it takes time and practice. Teams will simplify game plans to ensure everyone is on the same page in order to play as fast as possible and then expand on them every week.
Does this mean these teams with new quarterbacks and/or coaches won’t win? No, not necessarily. What it does mean is it will take them more time to be fully on par with other offenses in the NFL. This doesn’t mean there won’t be successes early for these teams, they’ll just be harder to come by.
Experience matters immensely in this situation—both the experience of the coaching staff and the experience of the quarterback. This experience can be a huge factor in accelerating this process (as well as the obvious, how talented the team is). But, there is no way around the fact that these teams will be better later in the season than early.
The Lombardi Trophy isn’t won in the spring or summer or even in Weeks 1-4, but they can be lost. With the lack of reps of this offseason, these teams with new quarterbacks and coaches have to figure out what they do well and build on it—and build on it fast. Regardless of their resume and experience, there will be a learning curve and it will take these quarterbacks some time to master their new offenses. So don’t panic if things don’t look perfect in September.