For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Normally Newton’s third law of motion only applies to football as a result of the physical nature of the game. Linemen push against one another and defenders tackle ball carriers. Equal and opposite.
The 2012 offseason has provided examples of equal and opposite reactions outside of the collision-centric play that take place on the field. This offseason the third law of motion has been propelling the NFL’s quarterback carousel on a whirlwind ride that has seen some of the game’s biggest names switch uniforms.
Action/Reaction Number One: Andrew Luck (or Robert Griffin) in, Peyton Manning out
The questions surrounding the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback position have been swirling for months, even eclipsing the excitement over hosting Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. In the 1998 draft the Colts took Manning with the first overall pick, and thanks to a neck injury the 2011 season opener was the first time since that draft that Manning wasn’t under center for Indy. In his time with the Colts, Peyton won a Super Bowl and a record four MVP awards, but the NFL is a business, and the team decided to cash in on their first number one pick since 1998 by taking either Andrew Luck, regarded as one of the best quarterbacking prospects of this generation, or Robert Griffin, the exciting dual-threat from Baylor.
The emergence of Luck or Griffin as the Colts QB of the future put Manning, and a soon to be vesting roster bonus, in the lurch, and Indianapolis decided to cut ties with the future Hall of Famer on March 7, kicking off a flurry of speculation, trades and signings that resulted in changes under center for a number of teams.
Action/Reaction Number Two: Packers let Matt Flynn go, he signs with Seattle
Flynn spent the first four seasons of his career backing up reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, impressing many in limited action. In a 2010 game against New England he almost led Green Bay to a surprise victory, and in the final game of the 2011 season he started against Detroit, putting up one of the best performances in the history of the storied Packers franchise, setting team records for passing yards and touchdowns in a game.
Despite the small sample size, Flynn’s expiring contract made him a hot commodity on the free agent market, as teams like Miami and Seattle saw him as the answer to their QB woes. Despite former Packer’s offensive coordinator Joe Philbin being named Miami’s head coach, Flynn chose the Seahawks on March 18, the first whiff of the offseason for the Dolphins.
Action/Reaction Number Three: San Francisco openly pursues Manning, Alex Smith pursues other options
Despite leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game (and coming within an ill-timed muffed punt of going to the Super Bowl), San Francisco showed little faith in Alex Smith by publicly wooing Peyton Manning. This led the free agent and former first-overall pick to look elsewhere for a job, including Miami.
Action/Reaction Number Four: Manning lands in Denver, Tim Tebow’s future in question
March 20 saw plenty of actions and reactions in the crazy carousel ride of the NFL offseason. Peyton Manning officially chose his playing destination, signing with John Elway’s squad in Denver. Immediately questions began swirling about what Manning’s signing would mean for Tim Tebow’s future at center. Despite leading the Broncos to the playoffs and defeating the Steelers, many, including Elway, continue to question Tebow’s ability to play the quarterback position in the NFL. Manning’s signing seemed to signal the end of his tenure in Denver, and potential trade destinations began surfacing in the media.
Action/Reaction Number Five: Smith re-ups in San Fran, Miami settles for David Garrard
Alex Smith declined Miami’s overtures and decided to re-sign with the 49ers once it became known that Manning was not going to end up in San Francisco. Smith’s return to the 49ers came on March 20, while a day earlier the Miami Dolphins signed ex-Jaguar quarterback David Garrard after missing out on Flynn and Smith. Barring developments in the draft, Miami will enter 2012 with either Garrard or Matt Moore as the starter.
Action/Reaction Number Six: Tebow traded to Jets, QB controversy emerges in New York
One day after Manning signed with the Broncos, Denver traded Tebow and a seventh round pick to the New York Jets for fourth and sixth round picks. As it stands, Tebow is set to be the backup to Mark Sanchez, but already some are calling for Tebow to take over, a subplot that looks to follow the Jets throughout the season.
So where are we?
In the span of three weeks, one team has parted ways with their franchise player of over a decade, three teams signed new starting quarterbacks, one team barely re-signed the QB that took them to within a game of the Super Bowl, and one of the most popular and polarizing players in the NFL was sent to the biggest media market in the country to be, for now, a backup.
At the moment the carousel ride is over; set for one tinier twirl come the draft.
The quarterback landscape has changed more dramatically than any other offseason in recent memory, and with that change come questions.
Will Matt Flynn succeed as a starter for a full season? How will the Colts adjust without Peyton for the first time since 1998? How will Manning play in Denver? Who will end the season as the starter for the Jets? How will Alex Smith rebound from the perceived slight from 49ers management? Will the Dolphins ever find the answer at QB they’ve been searching for since Dan Marino left?
Three weeks into March produced those questions, all of which will be running subplots throughout the 2012 NFL season. Those three weeks in March gave us one of the craziest carousel rides ever.
After such an exciting trip through the offseason, it’s going to be interesting to see what the roller coaster of the 2012 season will bring.