Football Fever

Replacement refs and rookie QBs

By Eric Wilkins, Staff Writer

We’ve finally hit that glorious month of September, and you know what that means: NFL football. I’m a diehard CFL fan (after all, our balls are bigger), but the masochist in me needs to see my beloved Rams get crushed on a yearly basis. So, yay!

Heading into the season, there are two main storylines worth writing home about: the replacement referees and the ridiculous number of starting QBs who are rookies. Referees have always been ragged upon for their constant errors in, well, any sport really. Football is no exception. Therefore, when you throw a bunch of fresh zebras into the spotlight, there’s bound to be some hiccups. The pre-season showed just that. Overwhelmed officials bumbled about the field, stuttered and stammered through penalty calls, made multiple trips to the video review booths, and managed to do an overall shoddy job.

With the question of whether there would be a noticeable difference with replacement officials as answered, the only question that remains is: how long will it be before either the league or the refs cave? Neither side stands to benefit much from this impasse. Referees aren’t players. They aren’t paid exorbitant amounts. Regardless of the new deal, it’s unlikely that they will ever recoup the earnings that they have lost. Should this dispute carry on longer, there is a remote chance that the replacements will find some degree of competency and render the official officials unnecessary.

From the NFL’s side of things, it just isn’t good publicity. Touting itself as the top football league in the world—as evidenced by Super Bowl champions often being referred to as World Champions—and then failing to provide top quality officiating, doesn’t quite jive. The on-field blunders by the replacements have already become an amusing talking point among fans. However, while the mistakes are funny and laughed at in the pre-season, it’s difficult to imagine a fan taking it very well when the real games kick into gear. That call that was unbelievably overturned, giving the other team the ball? For some reason, it’s not as hysterical in the regular season.

Neither side is benefitting in the least. Settle up and move on, before it’s too late.

There seems to be a new fad in the NFL: starting rookie QBs. An unprecedented five rookie QBs are starting this year: Andrew Luck with the Colts, Robert Griffin III in Washington, Ryan Tannehill in Miami, Brandon Weeden for the Browns, and Russell Wilson at the helm for Seattle. Tradition is being shattered. Gone are the days when quarterbacks would ride the pine for a few years before finally taking to the field. These teams who drafted fresh signal callers in the spring clearly envisioned the future now rather than later.

But why is this? It’s not as if these passers are really coming out of college any more pro-ready than their predecessors (see: Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder). Is it really just to make a buck in the short term? A new, promising name behind centre is a sure-fire way to sell some jerseys, but is that such a wise idea in the long run? Or perhaps these teams need to play these rookies simply because they’re the best men for the job?

Both points hold some weight. What owner doesn’t enjoy an influx of cash, for however brief a time? And as for the rookies being the better option, all one needs to do is take a peek at the depth chart. Matt Moore? Colt McCoy? Rex Grossman? Drew Stanton? Matt Flynn? While a case can be made for Flynn, none of these passers are quarterbacks you look at, slowly nod your head, and say, “Yeah, that’s my guy.” Wilson was the only one of the group who actually won the job. The rest of them, no matter what you read in the paper about how it was an open competition, had the job wrapped up the day they were drafted. The real reason all these rookies are starting is because of the remarkable seasons by a certain Cam Newton and Andy Dalton last year.

With Dalton finishing just shy of 3,400 yards passing while leading the Bengals to the playoffs, and Newton eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark to go along with over 700 yards on the ground, the perception of rookies has changed. If those two could perform so well, then why not this year’s class? What’s to stop this from being not just a temporary fad, but a growing trend?

The simple answer? Newton and Dalton were the exception and not the rule. Rookies struggle. That’s how it is, and that’s how it always has been. Yes, there are standouts along the way, but, for the most part, throwing a first-year gunslinger into the fire is asking for trouble. Even the great John Elway had a miserable introduction to the NFL (11 games, 1,663 yards passing, 47.5 completion percentage, seven touchdowns, 14 interceptions). This class is laden with talent and may do quite well this year (several of my fantasy teams are counting on it), but talent has never been a guarantee for success, and that’s not about to change now. Just because RGIII is fast and has a cannon for an arm doesn’t mean he’ll put up Newton-like numbers, and just because Andrew Luck is the second coming of Peyton Manning, doesn’t mean he’ll rise on the first day.

Now go forth, grab a beer, throw some chips in a bowl, and resume your position as an armchair quarterback.