Superstars Make Free-Agent Headlines, but Journeymen Play a Waiting Game

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Matt Moore had no shortage of role models when he arrived in the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2007.

Jake Delhomme, 32 years old and just a few seasons removed from the Super Bowl, was the Panthers’ starting quarterback. David Carr, the former first overall draft pick who was in mid-transition to clipboard sage, was the primary backup.

When injuries claimed Delhomme and Carr before Moore was ready to take the field, the Panthers signed Vinny Testaverde, old enough at 44 to be Moore’s father or anyone’s offensive coordinator. Testaverdetaught Moore the finer points of film study and note-taking and took the rookie aside between drives, analyzed the last set of downs and talked through his approach for the next series like an old golfer reading a familiar fairway.

The tutoring paid off when Moore won two of three starts late in the 2007 season. A few seasons later, Delhomme, Testaverde, Carr and eternal journeyman backup Josh McCown were all gone, leaving Moore to play dorm adviser for Jimmy Clausen and the rebuilding Panthers.hi-res-aae1225e1843823411549d9d8b123697_crop_exact

“I was always the youngest guy in the room until 2010, when at 25 I became the oldest guy in the room,” Moore said. “Which was a trip.”

Now 30 and an unrestricted free agent, Moore plays the role-model-for-hire in a league that desperately needs mentors. This year’s rookies will need veteran counsel. Last year’s rookies still need someone to share wisdom on the field—and perhaps a life lesson or two off it. Even contenders with franchise quarterbacks may be in the market for a combination insurance policy/confidante.

Lots of NFL teams need journeyman quarterbacks, but there are quite a few journeyman quarterbacks to go around. For Moore and many of his veteran peers, free agency is not about legal tampering, premature speculation or eight-figure headlines. It’s about waiting and wondering.

 

Chasing Ghosts

Moore is not twiddling his thumbs on the couch, waiting for a team to call.

He’s not frantically reading blogs or clicking refresh on some Internet free-agent tracker. When Moore’s name surfaced on Pro Football Talklast week—Mike Florio speculated that Moore would be a perfect fit with the Jets, who had just traded for former Dolphins teammateBrandon Marshall—he found out via a text from a friend. “I guess it’s a good thing that my name is getting circulated,” he said.

He is not loading game film of the quarterback-needy Jets or Browns. He’s not studying cutups of Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, top prospects in likely need of guidance. “I think you can chase a lot of ghosts that way,” he said.

Moore is working out and throwing several times per week. He’s also golfing, cycling and doing all the things he would normally do at this point in the offseason, including spending time with his family in Southern California. “I’ve been chasing my kids around, which is a workout in itself.”

Moore is paying slightly more attention to the NFL transaction wire than usual; in recent years, he only focused on Dolphins transactions. “In an offseason when I’m not up

[for free agency], I really don’t pay attention,” he said. He also kept an eye on the coaching carousel: An old coach or coordinator in a new location can provide the “in” that leads to a job opportunity.

But Moore is not glued to the transaction wire. His agent keeps him abreast of developments on the quarterback market. Golf buddies tease him about blog speculation that he has not read.

Moore saw two potential “mentor” jobs filled when the Browns signed Josh McCown and the Bills traded for Matt Cassel. Because of the vagaries of NFL transaction rules, McCown could be freely signed while Moore was forced to wait for Tuesday’s official start of free agency; sometimes, it’s better to be cut than to be kept.

“Credit those guys for getting things done before free agency started,” Moore said. “If I was in that situation, I would have done the same thing.”

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The McCown and Cassel deals were a good-news, bad-news situation.

The Bills and Browns are no longer in the veteran-quarterback market, but the Buccaneers and Vikings may be. McCown‘s reported$14 million contract shows that teams are willing to pay a premium for a stabilizer at the most critical position in all of sports. Still, there are only so many jobs to go around for quarterbacks in Moore’s tier; every time Mark Sanchez or Jimmy Clausen signs an extension, another potential door closes.

Moore owns his California home and has rented for four years in Florida. Unlike some free agents, he will not have to pick up roots, put a house on the market and upend his family if he changes teams. Moore’s children are not yet school age, eliminating another worry for a veteran who may have to move for work. But a new city may still mean a new rental home and a new routine for the young family. “Wherever I’m going, we’ll figure it out,” he said.

Moore loved playing for the Dolphins and could still return; Miami has had bigger things on its plate lately than the backup quarterback position. But Moore, the Dolphins’ team MVP in 2011, has barely played since durable Ryan Tannehill took over in 2012.

Moore has attempted just 29 passes in three years. McCown and Cassel, both of whom are a few years older than Moore, have often looked rickety and over the hill when they have taken the field, but at least coaches and general managers have seen them play.

Moore admits that a few more recent pass attempts might have improved his marketability. But he wouldn’t want those attempts to have come at Tannehill‘s expense. “Before that, I had plenty of tape, and plenty of throws to be analyzed by teams,” he said. “It’s not a huge deal.”

In fact, it was not long ago that Moore, not McCown, was the NFL’s most eligible mentor.

 

Leading Without Lecturing

Jake Delhomme returned to play 16 games in 2008 and led the Panthers to the playoffs after Moore’s cup of coffee in 2007. When Delhomme played poorly in the 2009 season-opener and McCownsuffered a season-ending knee injury in relief, Moore earned a promotion to the second string. By season’s end, Moore was the starter, throwing eight touchdowns and just one interception in five starts while leading the Panthers to a 4-1 late-season record.

Moore entered the 2010 season as the starter, though second-round pick Clausen waited in the wings. Early ineffectiveness and a midseason injury that sent him to the IR kept Moore from being much help to the Panthers or Clausen. Moore signed with the Dolphins in 2011, replaced injured Chad Henne in Week 4 and earned team MVP honors by throwing for 2,497 yards and 16 touchdowns, helping a team that started the season 0-4 go .500 the rest of the way.

The Dolphins drafted Tannehill eighth overall in 2012. Moore and the rookie developed a close friendship on and off the field. Moore became a free agent in 2013, and he was talked about everywhere quarterback depth charts were unsettled and rookie arrivals were anticipated. When the Dolphins offered Moore a two-year, $3 million contract that March, it was strictly to resume his role as Tannehill‘s backup and confidante.

“Signing to be the backup, your role is obviously very different,” Moore said. “But as far as preparation and the working relationship I had with teammates, none of that really changed.”

“Ultimately, I’m a guy on a team trying to win a ballgame. I have always done everything I could to help that team win, playing or not playing.”

Moore accepts the “mentor” label, though he is quick to point out that he does not give what he called “lectures” to rookies. “It’s more of a conversation,” he said. For three years, Moore and Tannehill pushed each other on the field and studied each other’s practice tape, sharing observations during the season and fishing trips in the offseason.

“What makes it easy is that we like each other. We’re friends. We have a common goal, and that’s the way we did our business.”

Year Team G GS W-L Cmp-Att Yds TD-INT Rating
2007 Panthers 10 3 2-1 63-of-111 730 3-5 67.0
2009 Panthers 7 5 4-1 85-of-138 1,053 8-2 98.5
2010 Panthers 6 5 1-4 79-of-143 857 5-10 55.6
2011 Dolphins 13 12 4-6 210-of-347 2,497 16-9 87.1
2012 Dolphins 10 0 0-0 11-of-19 131 1-0 96.6
2013 Dolphins 1 0 0-0 2-of-6 53 0-2 27.1
2014 Dolphins 2 0 0-0 2-of-4 21 0-0 65.6

 

Remaining Ready

Testaverde‘s in-game tutorials continued after Moore took over as the Panthers starter in 2007. In the final game of the season, Testaverdenoticed that a Buccaneers safety was getting a little sloppy when covering deep routes. He clued in Moore on the sideline.

“When we call this again, look for the outside guy on the ‘go,'” Moore recalled Testaverde telling him. “Trust me: They are shading toward the inside guy. Look at the safety, then throw it to the outside guy.”

“Sure enough, bam! We hit it for a 60-yard gain. I remember looking at Vinny and he was looking at me like, ‘I told ya!'”

A so-called “mentor” quarterback can do a lot for an organization. Some, like Testaverde, could see things that even coaches might miss and deliver in-game insights, with instant results. Others simply provide friendly competition and a role model of professionalism. They must all be ready to play at a moment’s notice, as Moore has been several times during his career.

Jameis Winston will need some big-brother treatment. MarcusMariota may need a play-calling tutor. Teams with established starters, like the Cowboys, may need an ever-ready backup to get them through a game. And Ryan Tannehill may need his friend and longtime teammate at his back during this high-stakes Dolphins season.

Free agency has officially begun. Dozens of players have changed hands after days of trades, re-signings and unofficial announcements. The early hours of free agency are for the big fish. Everyone else waits until general managers take a deep breath, study the salary-cap ledger and decide what to do at positions like backup quarterback. When I spoke to Moore this weekend, all that was certain was uncertainty.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Moore said. “Is it going to be good? Is it going to be bad? Is it going to work out? I don’t know. It’s a little bit nerve-wracking that way. But I try to make the best of any situation that I’m in.”

Moore has made a career out of waiting and being ready for the unexpected, so he’s not going to let free agency get him down. “I’m excited for what’s next.”

 

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

By | 2018-03-11T12:48:03-07:00 March 12th, 2015|Comments Off on Superstars Make Free-Agent Headlines, but Journeymen Play a Waiting Game