It has been said that if a team can’t decide who to start at quarterback, they probably don’t have a guy that deserves to be the starter. This school of thought often holds true.
Situations like the Browns had for a couple of seasons when then head coach Romeo Crennel said he would “Flip a coin” to decide who to start between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn (and for a time Charlie Frye as well). None of whom are still with the team. But the Raiders have two quarterbacks, either of whom could start because they both have earned the right to do so.
Bruce Gradkowski proved last year that he could be the guy that leads this Raider offense to wins. And he did just that in two of his first three starts last season against quality opponents in the Steelers and Bengals. He was unable to sustain it because he went down with an injury but those first three games as the starter more than proved he is worthy of a shot.
The Raiders attempted to acquire Donovan McNabb prior to the draft but after McNabb chose the Redskins, the Raiders wisely swiped up the ‘Skins former starter, Jason Campbell. Campbell is thought to have the starting quarterback job in hand in Oakland. Most quarterbacks would at least require a little time to acclimate to a new offensive coordinator and scheme. But after Campbell had gone through a similar change every year the past 5 seasons, he is plenty used to it. His rocky transition period was over by the end of Mini camps in May. He has dazzled his teammates and coaches ever since.
Sure both players have overall losing records over their NFL careers but they have played for teams that were constantly in flux and turmoil. In Campbell’s case, it was clearly not his fault as he saw his numbers get better in every category each of his four NFL seasons. Gradkowski has had to fight and claw his way to earn every moment in the NFL. And much like other NFL QBs of his ilk (Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon), those intangible qualities are beginning to show. He is the quality of quarterback that any team in the league would love to have right now.
What most teams in the league currently have is a choice of either the lesser of two evils, or a clear-cut starter with a backup that they pray will not actually have to take the field. The problem is a dearth of quality backups in the NFL as pointed out by ESPN’s John Clayton.
Consider that the Eagles are holding onto Michael Vick(at least for now) because they know that he is one of the very few quality backups in the NFL. Even with all the issues he is having right now, they are still set to pay him $5 million a season just to add a few wrinkles to the offense and to be ready in case new starter Kevin Kolb goes down. Not money well spent.
Other teams like the Colts and Patriots have superstar quarterbacks with no one worth mentioning behind them. The Patriots have Brian Hoyer backing up Tom Brady and the Colts have Curtis Painter. Need I say more? Sure, the Patriots fared well when Tom Brady went down with injury two seasons ago(see Matt Cassel), but that is heck of a risk to take. And the Colts have Mr reliable Peyton Manning running the show. Their thinking must simply be that they live and die by Manning anyway, so it wouldn’t really matter who they trot out there if he gets injured, they are screwed regardless.
The Raiders don’t have a Peyton Manning and they don’t have any plans to employ a Curtis Painter either. And I guarantee you, Tom Cable and Hue Jackson sleep a lot better at night too.
Let’s say Jason Campbell wins the starting job in Oakland and Gradkowski is the backup (because that is how I think it will shake out). Gradkowski has started 16 games in his four seasons in the NFL. The only other teams in the NFL (outside of the Eagles with Vick) that have a decent backup quarterback situations are the Titans with Kerry Collins, The Ravens with newly acquired Marc Bulger, and the Cowboys with Jon Kitna.
The Dolphins and Steelers could possibly be ok at quarterback, but both situations remain to be seen at the moment. The Dolphins don’t know how it will shake out between Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen and Pat White. And the Steelers will have to rely on Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch until Ben Roethlisberger comes back from his 4 to 6 game suspension. And with the suspect offensive line in Pittsburgh, Leftwich is most likely not going to fare well as a stand-still pocket passer.
So that just leaves the Raiders with two good, young arms (and legs) in Campbell and Gradkowski. Not to mention a nice competition for the third string job between two former starters– Charlie Frye and Kyle Boller.
So far Tom Cable is mum on who will be the starter. Choosing instead to keep a sense of competition among the quarterbacks in camp. And at this point it doesn’t even matter. Campbell and Gradkowski have both proven they can win. Gradkowski has proven it with this Raider team and Campbell has proven it every year since back when he played at Auburn.
If one goes down, the other can enter the game without the offense missing a beat. Something few other teams can claim.