Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Josh McCown and the NFL’s tough quarterback decisions

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 23: Quarterback Eli Manning
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 23: Quarterback Eli Manning /

Head coaches all around the NFL are making difficult decisions about who remains or who is removed from the starting quarterback position.

If one were to rank the list of concerns among those living in Chiefs Kingdom these days, there would be an undoubtable No. 1 up top and then a mish-mash of inconsequential subjects that make up the rest of the list just because there has to be more than one entry in a list, by definition.

That’s how overshadowing the quarterback controversy is these days for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Patrick Mahomes or Alex Smith is the debate everyone is having. In our own recent poll, well over 80 percent of Chiefs fans on Twitter from Sunday said they wanted Mahomes to start over Smith at this stage. It’s time for one era to end and another to begin. However, the powers-that-be aren’t quite ready to make that happen.

What’s obvious to fans isn’t so clear for those whose jobs are on the line, and if that reality makes you wince because you just can’t stomach another Alex Smith start, I can’t help you. That’s just the way it is.

If the move were that obvious, if it was as clear as substituting one spot for another, like moving pegs around on the Cracker Barrel wooden triangle game, then the Chiefs would have already made the move. Serious money is on the line for every Chiefs win or loss. Jobs are at stake based on the Chiefs performance year after year in a sport that only gives teams 16 total tries in a given season. This isn’t Major League Baseball where a four-game losing streak is just one series out of 40 or 50. A four-game losing streak will typically tank a season in the National Football League.

So if your head coach isn’t pulling the plug when you think he should, it’s likely because he’s familiar with things that you are not. And if you can’t deal with that, you likely have bigger problems when it comes to humility.

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For some perspective, look at how difficult things appear for more coaches than just Andy Reid. The New York Jets, the very team the Chiefs play this week, have zero to play for at this point. In fact, losing would bring a better offseason yield due to a stronger draft position. That said, head coach Todd Bowles isn’t content to let the season slip away because the playoffs are no longer an option.

Is that outright crazy? Is Bowles a lunatic? In the NFL, you’re either a have or have-not, correct? If there isn’t a single possibility of making the playoffs, then from that point forward, should that team not lose as much as possible to put themselves in the best possible position next season?

That seems an obvious statement, yet Bowles is sticking with his veteran starter in Josh McCown. Why would he do that? He has untested draft picks sitting on the bench, e.g. Christian Hackenberg, behind McCown, yet in a lost season, the Jets don’t want to at least see what they might have in house before another offseason of change?

It looks like another obvious scenario, a la the Chiefs, in which a head coach is making a silly decision to go with the veteran when the situation should call for a move. Either Bowles and Reid are idiots or there is some level of understanding, wisdom and perspective that fans do not have.

On the flip side, Ben McAdoo, that great Sphinx of football coaching, has decided to do what fans are calling for their own head coaches to do with the Jets and Chiefs. McAdoo announced that Eli Manning will no longer be the starting quarterback for the New York Giants. Instead, Manning will give way to Geno Smith and Davis Webb.

For a franchise going nowhere this year, this seems like the obvious choice. The Giants know that Manning is getting older. They have Geno Smith on the roster, a quarterback who might have success in the right scenario, and Davis Webb, a shiny third-round choice who needs to show what he can do as well. Given five games left on the schedule, it makes sense that the Giants would make the switch.

Or does it? What feels like the right move for the Jets and Chiefs is somehow being lambasted by anyone and everyone for playing out in New York. Instead of being applauded for the move, McAdoo and the rest of the Giants leadership are under fire. Former players don’t agree with it. Former coaches don’t agree with it. New York media is taking McAdoo to task. The entire scenario is a dumpster fire.

What’s a coach to do? If he makes a move, he gets blasted. If he stands by his veteran, he’s doubted and ridiculed. And the cheers and jeers both come from those in the stands, those farthest away from the situation.

Making such hard decisions are why head coaches are trusted in the positions that they are—to make the hard calls when armchair quarterbacks are pushing and pulling in every direction. Only time will tell if any or all of these were the right moves. By that time, fans will remain just as they are while the men who made these calls will likely find themselves richer or looking for work.