The best 2016 quarterback battle is in Los Angeles.
Case Keenum is the projected starter. Nick Foles, who received a $6 million roster bonus earlier this year, is still on the roster, but the Rams might not keep him around much longer. No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff is the future and could be the present. Goff versus Keenum should be the most interesting battle to follow this spring and summer.
I can't remember a year in which there were so many strange battles. You have starting jobs assigned to quarterbacks who might not even want to be on their teams. In a league that loves to rush QBs into starting jobs before they are ready, Goff might be the only rookie starter in Week 1.
The NFL is feeling the effects of the rise of spread and Air Raid offenses in colleges. Quarterbacks from those offenses enter the NFL needing to learn how to run a huddle, take snaps from center, read defenses and get play calls from a listening device in their helmets. Because of this, more teams are advised to sit these quarterbacks until they are ready.
Over the next two drafts, there might be as few as two or three highly rated quarterbacks coming from schools that run pro-set offenses. This QB-driven league is moving into a challenging era.
Here's a look at the best quarterback battles headed into the 2016 season:
Jared Goff's transition from an Air Raid offense into a pro-style, run-first offense with the Rams should be fun to watch. Case Keenum, who is on a one-year deal, is theoretically the bridge quarterback until Goff is ready. Los Angeles is shopping Foles in trade talks. The team that trades for Foles would get him with only a $1.75 million salary, a pretty good bargain. But if Foles stays and has a good training camp, the Rams' battle will be even more fascinating to watch.
Coach Jeff Fisher isn't one to rush a rookie quarterback. He has one of the best young running backs in football, Todd Gurley, to take the pressure off. The Rams plan to run. It's up to Goff to catch up quickly, learn the offense and see whether he can win the job. What adds to the entertainment is the Rams being on HBO's "Hard Knocks" during the preseason. This battle will play out on the field and on television screens.
Advantage: Keenum gets the first chance but Goff is likely in charge no later than October.
Don't jump to the conclusion that this is Colin Kaepernick's job to lose. In fact, this could end up being one of the best battles of the summer. Kaepernick is coming off three surgeries and is just beginning to throw. Blaine Gabbert is in charge at the moment. Despite his failures in Jacksonville, he has resurrected his career in San Francisco. Tight end Garrett Celek said this week that Gabbert is doing a good job of taking control of the offense.
Kaepernick's first battle was with management. He wanted out in a trade, even though Chip Kelly wanted to work with him. The trade push failed. What adds further intrigue is Kaepernick's standing in the locker room; he lost the support of some of the players last year. He probably needed to get a fresh start someplace else.
Advantage: Gabbert has the early lead, but Kaepernick can come back.
The stakes are huge. The Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champs. They probably have to put their faith in Mark Sanchez, whom they acquired from the Eagles in a cheap trade.
Broncos fans might be uncomfortable with Sanchez having the keys to this high-priced car, so they will watch and hope Paxton Lynch develops quickly. Denver traded up five spots in the first round to grab Lynch, who might have the highest upside of any quarterback in the draft. But he is raw and might have to sit the season. A sleeper in the mix is Trevor Siemian, a former seventh-round pick who has a strong arm.
John Elway and Gary Kubiak seem to have confidence in Sanchez. The team is built around a great defense, so the Broncos ask less from a quarterback than most teams. Sanchez's biggest battle is winning over the fan base.
Advantage: Sanchez. He's the only true option at the moment.
The Eagles have more than $30 million per season tied up in three QBs; they could sell this soap opera to Netflix. Sam Bradford is making $18 million a year and wants out because the Eagles traded up to draft Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall. Even though Wentz came from a pro-set offense at North Dakota State and might have a quicker conversion than Goff, the plan is to sit him this year.
The Eagles already said Bradford is the starter, but the battle there is more focused on Bradford versus the organization. He has no plans to show up until the June minicamp, when he would be subject to fine if absent. That means he isn't learning Doug Pederson's West Coast offense. Chase Daniel, making $7 million a year, will get first-team reps until Bradford shows up.
Bradford is unlikely to be traded -- he makes too much money. He felt betrayed with the arrival of Wentz because he is in a one-year situation and will be shipped out after the season. Too bad the "Hard Knocks" crew can't get its cameras in those meeting rooms when Bradford returns to the team.
Advantage: For now, Bradford has the edge because the money is too good for him to miss more than OTAs.
The Browns gave Robert Griffin III a two-year, $15 million deal to presumably be the starter. But this might be the sleeper battle. New Cleveland coach Hue Jackson loves third-round pick Cody Kessler. He sees a lot of Andy Dalton in Kessler, and Jackson had great success with Dalton in Cincinnati.
RG III is in the driver's seat to be the starter, but Kessler did come out of a pro-set offense at USC, which could speed up his learning curve. This could turn into the unpredictable battle witnessed in Seattle in 2012. The Seahawks gave Matt Flynn $6.5 million to be their starter. Russell Wilson fell to them in the third round. Wilson adapted to the NFL so quickly, Pete Carroll scrapped thoughts of handing the job to Flynn and turned it into an open competition won by Wilson.
Advantage: RG III, but he has to keep looking over his shoulder. He didn't do that in Washington and Kirk Cousins passed him.
Here is another scenario in which the battle is between the player and management. The Jets want Ryan Fitzpatrick to be their starter. Jets players are ready to hold rallies to get management to bring back Fitzpatrick, who had a solid season in 2015. But he says he'd rather retire than play for $8 million a year. Most outsiders believe something will be worked out between both sides, but until that happens, the Jets' situation is in flux.
The next option is Geno Smith, who is in the final year of his contract and probably doesn't have a future with the Jets after this season. Behind him are Bryce Petty, a spread quarterback still in the developmental stage, and Christian Hackenberg, a second-round pick who might need the entire season to work on his mechanics. A Fitzpatrick signing would remove the Jets from the quarterback battle list, but the drama is there while he is out.
Advantage: My money is on Fitzpatrick, but he has to accept the deal. If not, oh no, it's Geno.