Sam Bradford was drafted first overall in the 2010 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Since that selection, 67 quarterbacks have been drafted, and a handful of others have been signed, and re-signed, as undrafted free agents.
The Rams traded Bradford to the Eagles for Nick Foles last off-season—one of those 67.
Both pinned their clubs’ franchise quarterback hopes on Bradford, and (to a lesser degree) Foles. And yet both the Rams and the Eagles sit atop the NFL Draft this year because of franchise-defining trades, primed to draft quarterbacks, again.
There are 32 teams in the National Football League. Not all have a franchise quarterback. Well, that depends on how each defines “franchise.”
Finding the right quarterback for a team should be more important than finding a “franchise” quarterback, but coaches and general managers are obsessed—jobs are earned, and lost, on this obsession every year—with finding that elite, franchise, potential hall-of-fame-caliber guy. Even at the expense of building depth at other positions.
After the Eagles pulled off the blockbuster trade to move to No. 2 in next week’s draft, re-installed general manager Howie Roseman told reporters, via NFL.com, the Eagles plan to focus heavily on the quarterback position.
“We’re going to invest in quarterbacks.” Roseman said. “We had time as an organization to study: What are the keys to winning? What are the keys to being a championship caliber over a long period of time? … It’s quarterbacks.
“… If you commit that you’re going to invest in quarterbacks and you have people here who we think can teach quarterbacks as well as any in the National Football League, sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is.”
A high pick or middle-of-the pack?
Often, drafting a quarterback in the middle rounds of a draft can reap benefits. Russell Wilson was a third-round pick in 2012. Kirk Cousins, now the starter in Washington, was a fourth-round pick the same year. Landry Jones, a fourth-round pick in Pittsburgh, could end up being the best quarterback taken in the horribly-thin quarterback draft of 2013. At worst, Pittsburgh found a decent backup for the oft-injured Ben Roethlisberger. At best, they can trade Jones for more than they got him for.
The Eagles have done it too. In 2001 the Birds selected AJ Feeley in the fifth round. Three years later they traded him for a second round pick. That is investing in quarterbacks. That is smart drafting.
Reading between the lines of Roseman’s statement, though, this investment in quarterbacks feels different. The Eagles paid (some say overpaid) to retain Bradford for two years, then gave a longer deal to Doug Pederson’s protégé Chase Daniel to be his backup. Now, with an opportunity to draft what they think is a “franchise” quarterback, Roseman and Pederson have given up a lot to get Carson Wentz should the Rams, who gave up even more, select Jared Goff. (Or vice versa.)
All this, because teams get obsessed with finding a franchise quarterback. Only, what the hell does that even mean?
Defining the ‘franchise quarterback’
Is a franchise quarterback defined by where he was drafted? Is a player taken with one of the top five picks automatically considered a franchise quarterback, no matter how good he might be?
Since 2000, there have been 19 quarterbacks taken in the first five picks of the draft. Maybe half of them are, were or will be considered “franchise” quarterbacks. Maybe half.
Is a franchise quarterback defined by his stats and individual accolades? Cam Newton won the 2015 MVP and was taken first overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Peyton Manning won five MVPs in his career, and he was taken first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. The only other quarterbacks to win NFL MVP in the last 20 years have been Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Rich Gannon, Steve McNair, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Only McNair and Rodgers were first round picks in that group, and only McNair was taken in the first five picks of the draft.
Drew Brees has led the NFL in passing yards six times in his career. He was a second-round pick, then left the team that drafted him to star for another franchise, where he won a Super Bowl. And yet, guys like Brees don’t grow on trees, so finding and signing the next Brees is far more difficult than trading a bunch of picks and rolling the dice on a guy at the top of the draft.
In the search for a franchise quarterback, where does winning come in? And no, this isn’t about QBWINZ, the most flawed stat in all of sports, but in this case—the case of the franchise quarterback—the notion of quarterback wins is relevant.
Andrew Luck, taken first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, is without question a “franchise” quarterback, but in four seasons, Luck has played in six playoff games, losing three including a terrible loss in the AFC title game.
Everyone expects Luck to get himself and the Colts back to the AFC title game again, and surely to at least a Super Bowl or two in his career, but that all depends on the team around him, and how the rest of the offense fits his skill set.
Is Wilson a franchise quarterback in Seattle? Moreover, would he be a franchise quarterback in a place like Philadelphia? Wilson was taken 13 picks before Foles in the third round of the 2012 draft. If Wilson dropped to the Birds that year, or if Roseman had this quarterback investment philosophy then like he suddenly has now, would Wilson be a franchise quarterback in the Eagles’ system?
Would Philly have won a Super Bowl? Would Chip Kelly still be here? Would Andy Reid?
What about Matt Ryan? Falcons fans love him, but is he a franchise quarterback in the way Roseman and Pederson are suggesting Wentz and Goff will be? Ryan was taken third overall in 2008 by the Atlanta Falcons—the replacement for Michael Vick—and while his numbers have been good, he hasn’t played in a playoff game since 2012, winning once in five career postseason games.
That’s the issue the Eagles face this year. Does the term “franchise” quarterback really mean “winning” quarterback? Would Eagles fans rather have Andrew Luck or Matt Ryan—a can’t-miss, top of the draft stud—or would they rather have a guy who is one piece of a smartly-drafted and well-balanced team that wins Super Bowls?
Can we have both? Sure. Maybe Luck will be both at some point. Manning proved he could be both in Indianapolis. Newton proved that this year, albeit in a Super Bowl loss.
‘Franchise’ vs. ‘Elite’
But how many teams have a “franchise quarterback”; a term as over-used as “elite” at this point.
There are, what, maybe eight players who are absolute no-questions-asked “franchise” quarterbacks in the NFL right now. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Luck and Wilson.
Some may put Philip Rivers in that category, perhaps over Wilson, but considering he’s won a whole heap of nothing, let’s put him in the tier just below. We would love for Wentz to turn out as good as any of those eight, but would we be happy in Philly if Wentz is the next Rivers?
What about the next Joe Flacco—he’s actually won something—or Ryan, or Matthew Stafford or Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler who have won, collectively, nothing? They have all at one point or another been considered franchise quarterbacks. Just for mediocre franchises that don’t win Super Bowls.
The rest of the starting quarterbacks in the league are stop-gap solutions, retread veterans, or stars too young to know what to make of yet.
We really nave no idea what Teddy Bridgewater, Cousins, Derek Carr or Blake Bortles will be. We have some idea what Ryan Tannehill is, and we think we know what Jameis Winston will become, but we really have no clue what someone like Marcus Mariota will be.
How many of those players are franchise guys now? How many will become franchise guys? And how many would you rather have over Goff or Wentz?
The answer is you have no idea. None of us do.
The new great hope
We’re talking about the Eagles drafting a guy who started two years at a second-flight football school that none of us saw play. Even the scouts really have no idea what he’ll become, but his upside is tantalizing enough that the Eagles are willing to roll the dice in hopes they find that “franchise” guy. Whatever the hell that means.
Maybe it means this. Since 1983—the best quarterback draft class in history—there have been 33 Super Bowls played. Twenty-two different first round quarterbacks have taken a snap in those Super Bowls, with five starring in multiple games.
Only once since 1983 has a quarterback picked second in the draft led his team to the Super Bowl. That was Donovan McNabb. (The quarterbacks taken second overall since ’83 are Rick Mirer, Ryan Leaf, McNabb, Robert Griffin III and Marcus Mariota.)
Since ’83, nine men taken with one of the top two picks have quarterbacked their team to the big game, going to a combined 19 Super Bowls between them. But only seven of those 19 times did they take the team that drafted him there.
That begs the question: does a team’s franchise quarterback even have to be drafted by that franchise? And if the answer is no…
Really, what the hell are the Eagles and Rams thinking?