In football, two years can be a lifetime, and for Clausen it only took 10 starts for the Carolina Panthers to give up on their 2010 2nd round pick. Cam Newton, Carolina’s 2011 first round draft choice, is more than just the quarterback of the future in Carolina, he’s the identity the franchise had been searching for since their inaugural season in 1995. He’s what some in Carolina had hoped Jimmy Clausen could be.
But thus far Jimmy Clausen has been nothing but a powder keg of potential. Countless reports have been written about how good Jimmy Clausen was going to be since his junior year of high school in 2005. He was called the “LeBron James of football,” and every big name school from USC, near his home in Thousand Oaks, California, to Tennessee, where his brother Casey lead the the Volunteers to three winning seasons, tried to recruit Clausen. Clausen opted for the glory of Notre Dame, where then head coach Charlie Weis salivated over the opportunity to inject Clausen into his pro-style offense.
But the Clausen/Weis era was a disaster for Notre Dame, leading to Weis’ firing after the 2009 season, which lead Clausen to declare himself eligible for the 2010 NFL draft. Early projections saw Clausen going in the early first round, but draft day 2010 was less kind. Teams such as Buffalo, Jacksonville, San Francisco, and Cleveland, all seemingly needing quarterbacks, passed on Clausen until he ended up in Carolina, a situation that looked excellent for the young passer, given that long time Panthers starter Jake Delhomme was moving on, and the Panthers were a team only a year removed from the two seed in the NFC.
But 2010 was such a disaster in Carolina that John Fox, the head coach who drafted Clausen, lost his job. Wide receiver Steve Smith publicly griped about Clausen’s poor play, and it was even rumored that Clausen’s teammates vehemently disliked him, a reputation that had been following the young passer since high school.
But Clausen is still young, and at age 24 he’s played in a lot of games, seen a lot of adversity, and has played for some excellent coaches to potentially learn from. In the long run, his awful rookie campaign and this year on the bench could supplement his three years as a starter at Notre Dame towards developing Clausen into a better NFL player. Perhaps he learned from his shortcomings as a leader in Carolina and can one day become a captain elsewhere.
But right now there’s nothing Jimmy Clausen can do. Barring a major injury to Cam Newton, Clausen will not see the field the rest of the 2011 season. Odds are that Carolina will fully endorse Newton at the end of the year and part ways with Clausen’s salary, allowing Clausen and his agent to decide where the best place for Jimmy Clausen to continue his NFL career will be.
But there’s one problem: teams traditionally don’t invest their future in other teams damaged goods. Clausen will also hit a market that includes Kyle Orton, David Garrard, Vince Young, Brady Quinn, Chad Pennington, Matt Flynn, and potentially Peyton Manning. Though Clausen is likely viewed as having more upside than those players (based entirely on age), odds are that at least some of those players are going to inherit the open starting jobs, forcing Clausen to follow Matt Leinart and the aforementioned Young in taking backup jobs in situations they seem as potentially fruitful.
Or maybe Clausen won’t be so lucky. Maybe teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland, St. Louis, Minnesota, Seattle, or Arizona won’t want him. Maybe Clausen will be forced to sign on as a backup to a well-engraved starter such as Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Matthew Stafford. But Clausen doesn’t deserve that, not yet.
But for Jimmy Clausen it’s never been about learning, growing, and developing. Dating back to his days in high school he’s been expected to be great, resulting in a sense of entitlement. And while the LeBron James comparisons have become laughable, Jimmy Clausen should get another shot to be an NFL starter. Clausen has potential and he has talent, what he didn't have were the intangibles, but this summer some NFL team will buy into what the scouts have written one more time, and give Jimmy Clausen one last chance to prove they're right.