Mahomes, Burrow among QBs with new chips on their shoulders

from Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

While every other quarterback in the league wanted to be in the same position as Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes and Jimmy Garoppolo during the closing weekend in January, with the NFC and AFC championship games looming, there’s likely to be a lot less envy in the weeks leading up to this new season.

A combination of mystery injuries, capsule injuries (yeah, I don’t know what that means either), unexpected surgeries, receiver uncertainty, job uncertainty, trade uncertainty, plus a few more hiccups along the way cast a small shadow over guys who were , well, “the boys” just a few months ago.

This past week brought some better news for all four. Yet each of them, for different reasons, may still feel the need to prove themselves again once the real battle begins again in September.

It’s that hot time of year when we all want to feel like experts, but deep down we know we have no damn idea how things will shake out in the winter.

Favor and fate are unpredictable tools in the toughest team sport of all. Elite quarterbacks naturally get more attention than any other position, so all kinds of ups and downs, doubts and quirks are magnified.

Garoppolo is clearly in the most difficult spot of not knowing where or even if he’ll be the starting QB when the season begins, as the San Francisco 49ers have him firmly in the rearview mirror even while he’s still employed by them — for now.

‘Jimmy G is so tough … I see him as a Pittsburgh Steeler’ – Terry Bradshaw on Garoppolo’s uncertain future with 49ers I NFL on FOX

'Jimmy G is so tough ... I see him as a Pittsburgh Steeler' - Terry Bradshaw on Garoppolo's uncertain future with 49ers I NFL on FOX

Terry Bradshaw talks about Jimmy Garoppolo’s leadership before the San Francisco 49ers’ game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Stafford’s excitement about starting the season with the defending champion Los Angeles Rams has been somewhat dampened by a nagging development in his right elbow, a concern described as “abnormal” by head coach Sean McVay that has dampened his training camp results.

Burrow’s summer plans were affected by problems with his appendix, which required surgery and delayed his participation in Cincinnati Bengals camp, ahead of a season in which he hopes to firmly establish himself in the NFL’s upper echelon of pitchers.

As for Mahomes, the feel of this offseason is subtly but unmistakably different. While still one of the best in the league, there has never been more doubt in the direction of the Kansas City star. With speedster Tyreek Hill gone to Miami, not everyone is sold on Mahomes’ ability to dominate like he has in recent seasons.

Part of this is our collective fault. Because football is so much more interesting when there are multiple contenders, it’s easier to take in the positives of an up-and-coming team or QB and hone in on the first signs of trouble for those in the established order.

Was Stafford really that good last season or did he benefit greatly from receiver Cooper Kupp having a campaign for the ages? Can Burrow keep his progress going, or was his playoff breakout too big of a sample size? Is Mahomes about to suffer a decline as teams constantly develop new methods to deal with his cannon of a weapon and aerial threat? And is this about Garoppolo’s days leading a contending team — albeit with question marks attached?

Much of the talk, as always with these things, is overreaction. Those who love sports do so for the unpredictability, so there’s a natural extra fondness for storylines and opportunities that would give us something new.

This leads to a premature warping of the narrative at times, and it happened with Stafford, Mahomes, Burrow and Garoppolo. Even in the last few days, we’ve seen things take a more positive tone for everyone.

Does Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs deserve more respect? | THE HERD

Does Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs deserve more respect?  |  THE HERD

Nick Wright joins Colin Cowherd on THE HERD to discuss the latest in the world of sport. Nick talks about the NFL, addressing Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes behind the back pass and his lack of respect in the NFL.

Mahomes looked spectacular in his fleeting burst of preseason game action and even more animated with an outrageous circus throw in practice that had social media blinking in disbelief. Both snippets should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s clear he’s much more relaxed about how his prospects look heading into the season than some outside rumblings suggest.

Stafford has been more active and involved with the Rams, and that is expected to continue. Such QB injury talk never ceases to cause panic, but unless and until it starts to affect playing time or performance, it should rank low on the worry meter.

Burrow appears to have recovered well, and his practice throws Sunday’s adoring wide receiver and friend Tyler Boyd, trying to ease the stress of nervous Bengals fans.

“He made good runs, improved the defense,” Boyd said. “He’s the same Joe Burrow that took us to the Super Bowl.”

And then there’s Garoppolo, stuck in one of the most curious personnel situations in the league. Things have been confusing with Garoppolo, and there have been some strange stories about his apparent lack of text availability to team personnel in recent summers, but it does seem like a deal could be nearing.

Someone will take a chance on him sooner or later, whether it’s the Cleveland Browns looking for relief during Deshaun Watson’s layoff or another team in need of a temporary QB fix. The New York Jets looked like an option for a while, and while Zach Wilson may not be hurt as badly as feared, it was a reminder that opportunities invariably arise for any QB at the top of the “available” list.

Nobody ever said being a QB was easy. Not everyone can be Tom Brady and get to the point where no one questions you anymore. Heck, Brady didn’t even reach that stage until his seventh ring and well past his 40th birthday.

The faster you rise, the more obstacles stand in your way, each season is full of pitfalls. The four men who survived the longest last season want to find some way to get there again, just as everyone else wants to take their place.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and contributor to the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Yyou can subscribe to the daily newsletter here.

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