There are so many questions facing the 2020 NFL season.
As the league works through what a return to football might look like given the continued growth of COVID-19, the NFL season may look very different than those of recent past.
If, however, the league can return to a somewhat normal setting, there are tremendous storylines in place throughout the league. Obviously seeing Tom Brady in a different uniform is a big one, but questions about whether the Kansas City Chiefs could repeat, or if Lamar Jackson can win a playoff game, or if the incoming rookie class lives up to expectations, are just some of the topics that await the league and its fans.
One of the storylines that is well below the radar, but worth paying attention to, is the New York Giants’ quarterback room. Sure, Daniel Jones is entrenched as the starter, but how do the rest of the spots play out? With five quarterbacks vying for three spots - or more accurately four quarterbacks fighting for two - how will this room look when training camp ends?
Here is how I would handicap the various battles. The working assumption is that the Giants keep two on the active roster, and a third on the practice squad. Obviously things may change if the NFL allows for expanded roster sizes given COVID-19.
Position: Backup quarterback
Behind Jones, who can the Giants look to as QB2?
The Favorite: Colt McCoy
The Giants added a number of new faces this offseason, one of them being former Washington quarterback Colt McCoy. Given his years of experience in the league, coupled with his years of experience in downfield passing systems such as the one we expect the Giants to run in 2020, McCoy looks to have the inside track.
There is also another reason why McCoy is considered the favorite. If the believe is that the Giants are going to do everything to get Jones better, given his status as the potential face of the franchise, then having McCoy and his veteran presence on the sidelines could be a huge part of that plan. We have seen this model play out with other teams recently, such as Josh McCown with Sam Darnold, Chase Daniel with Mitchell Trubisky, and Blake Bortles with Jared Goff. Having a veteran quarterback in place to mentor a young passer is a benefit, and it is something the Cleveland Browns are doing this season with Case Keenum’s reunion with Kevin Stefanski.
McCoy’s potential as a mentor, coupled with his experience, gives him the inside track here.
The Underdog: Cooper Rush
As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend.”
McCoy might have an inside track on the backup job given his experience, as well as his ability to mentor Jones, but Cooper Rush has a trump card of his own. There is more to being a mentor than experience, as knowledge plays a part. Between McCoy and Rush, who might have the benefit of knowledge? Maybe the one who has more experience with the playbook.
McCoy might have more years in the league, but Rush has more years of experience with new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s playbook. In an era when training camp, mini camp and OTAs are going to look different - or flat-out non-existent - that knowledge is going to be critical. That might give Rush a leg up when training camp actually does open.
The Longshot: Alex Tanney
In all likelihood the Giants pick between one of the two previously mentioned QBs as the backup. But as the longest-tenured Giant of the group, Tanney could make a case for himself during training camp. There is a reason the previous group kept Tanney around, moving on from other players such as Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta, and other that Jones he is the only quarterback of the bunch to complete a regular season pass in a Giants’ uniform.
Tanney also played a role in helping Jones a season ago. Jones spoke to that a season ago, when Tanney returned to the quarterback room after clearing waivers. “Alex has been a huge help for me. He’s obviously been in the NFL for a while and knows the game really well. He’s a super smart guy, someone I have a great relationship with and have leaned on to prepare and to get ready to play. With him and Eli in there, I think we have a special room, a special group and I really appreciate all the help from those two guys.”
It would be hard to imagine the team giving Jones input on any roster decisions, but if his existing relationship with Tanney is factored into the equation, Tanney might gain an advantage.
Position: Third quarterback/practice squad
There are multiple factors to consider with a third quartertback. Sure, the ability to handle snaps for the Giants due to injury - or a positive COVID-19 test - is one. But beyond that, who can best prepare the Giants’ defense for the week ahead is a major factor.
The Favorite: Alex Tanney
While Tanney might be a longshot to secure the backup job, this might be how he can best contribute to the team in 2020. His ability to remain on the roster in some capacity and mentor Jones would play a part, as would his level of experience. He can give the Giants’ defense quality looks during practice, and his experience in a variety of different offense puts him in a position to do just that. Tanney might give the Giants the best combination of traits and abilities in that third quarterback spot out of any of the options.
The Underdog: Case Cookus
There is something about this FCS talent that merits consideration as the practice squad player. As previously broken down, Cookus brings arm talent, aggression as a passer and even some athleticism to the table as a prospect. He does have an injury history, but there is a path to him becoming a long-time backup/spot-starter type in the NFL. The organization saw something in him when they made him a free agent signing after the draft, and there certainly is some potential. Why not try and tap into that by signing him to the roster and seeing how he develops?
Of course, the injury history is a concern. Couple that with the annual life cycle of media members talking themselves into small school UDFA types, and you can see how Cookus is an underdog at best.
The Longshot: Cooper Rush
I include Rush as a “longshot” here because he might not be the best of the bunch when it comes to giving a defense the best look each day in practice. I’m writing this piece on the day that EA Sports is releasing their quarterback ratings for the upcoming version of “Madden,” and my Twitter timeline is currently in a uproar over Throw Power ratings.
Let’s just say no one is clamoring for Rush to be in the top 10 in that category.
But keeping Rush as QB3 gives the Giants perhaps the best of both worlds. They can have McCoy in place as the veteran option, and Rush stays in the quarterback room as well to provide his insight into the playbook and how Garrett wants his offense to flow conceptually. That might give Jones all the information he needs to raise his level of play in 2020.
When I sat down to map out this piece and its format, my heart was leaning towards McCoy and Cookus being the two quarterbacks against whose names I’d lay down my markers. But over the course of putting this article together, I’ve changed my tune a bit. As much as Cookus is enticing, in this current era having the two solid options makes the most sense. McCoy and Rush are the bets.