First round quarterbacks do not sit. It doesn’t happen. Not in today’s NFL.
Since 2007, 23 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round of the NFL Draft and just five started fewer than half the games in their rookie seasons:
JaMarcus Russell. Brady Quinn. Tim Tebow. Jake Locker. Johnny Manziel.
Every other first-round quarterback taken in the last 10 years has started at least nine games as a rookie. Those five waited. Those five learned from the bench. Those five had time to develop.
Those five are all out of the league.
It’s fine to believe the Eagles when they say they are drafting a quarterback for the future, and it’s okay to agree that the best plan for 2016 is installing Sam Bradford as the starter, but to suggest the Eagles are going to stash the No. 2 pick while Bradford plays the entire season is illogical. It’s a decade-old model that is no longer in practice in today’s NFL. It’s, simply, un-believable.
On March 10, When Doug Pederson said Bradford was the starting quarterback, it stands to reason he was telling the truth. The Eagles brought in Pederson’s right-hand man Chase Daniel when free agency began, but Pederson was clear Daniel was going to be the backup.
“We’re working on the No. 3,” Pederson said at the time. The Eagles have also been clear they were going to look to draft a quarterback of the future this year. When the Eagles moved up from No. 13 to No. 8, there was some speculation they could get either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz at that point, but as the frenzy for a franchise signal caller became more fervent thanks to the Los Angeles Rams moving up to No. 1, the Eagles felt they had to make another move to ensure they got one of the two top quarterbacks in the draft.
So when Howie Roseman told reporters Bradford was the starting quarterback on April 20, the day the Eagles announced a trade to move up to No. 2, it stands to reason he was just trying to keep his incumbent happy.
“Let me be clear, Sam Bradford is our starting quarterback,” Roseman said Wednesday. “We told Sam that. We intend to support him and the moves we made this offseason we believe will give us a chance to compete this season.”
Roseman wasn’t lying. Bradford is the starting quarterback, because at this point the Eagles still don’t know who they’re taking in the NFL Draft on Thursday. Sure, all signs point to the Rams drafting California-bred Goff to be the face of their new LA-based franchise, leaving Wentz for Philadelphia. But many analysts rate Wentz higher, and his pre-draft public relations tour might just be an introduction to Los Angeles if the Rams feel he’s the better fit in the 11th hour.
Either way, Roseman is telling the truth that Bradford is the guy. Right now. But to think he’ll be the guy by the end of the 2016 is foolish. To believe Roseman when he said the “benefit of time” will help the new quarterback develop is, well, historically untrue. Via NFL.com:
“We saw that with Doug (Pederson) here, with Donovan (McNabb),” Roseman said. “You saw that in Green Bay (with Aaron Rodgers), you saw that in San Diego with Philip Rivers, you certainly saw that in New England with Tom Brady. The benefit of sitting and watching and observing.
“These are young guys. The National Football League is a big jump from any level and I think that is one of the things we also looked at, that we’re not in a position where anyone has to come in and play this year and conceivable next year.”
Roseman is right that time has benefited some quarterbacks, but many, historically, have benefited from playing right away. Jameis Winston made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year. Teddy Bridgewater, who started 12 games as rookie, made it in his second year. Andrew Luck made the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons. Robert Griffin made it as a rookie too. So did Cam Newton, who has been to two more since.
Moreover, while it may benefit the player to sit and learn, it doesn’t always benefit the team. It rarely benefits a coach or general manager looking for job security. This, via The Cauldron at SI.com:
Since the 2005 offseason, there have been 75 new coaches hired in the NFL. Of those, 49 (65 percent) already have been fired. Of course, 10 seasons is a lot to expect from any new coaching hire, but the majority of coaches hired every season from 2005–12 have since been canned. The 49 that were fired lasted fewer than three years on average.
Pederson must feel he has some uncharacteristic NFL job security, because if Roseman using 10-year old examples of patience, Pederson may not even be around by the time the Eagles new quarterback takes over.
That, or the franchise isn’t being honest with us, or with Bradford.
A quarterback is not a fine wine or wheel of Italian cheese. Yet the narrative of letting a quarterback improve by sitting on the shelf has stayed with the NFL over the last decade because of two players: Aaron Rodgers, and Philip Rivers.
Rodgers sat for three years behind Brett Favre, and while the narrative is wonderful that Rodgers benefitted from learning the game by backing up a Hall of Famer, the Packers went 4-12 in Rodgers’ first year on the bench, and 8-8 the next before a bounce-back year of 13-3 and a trip to the NFC title game in Favre’s last season. Per many reports over the years, Favre and Rodgers didn’t have a great relationship, so it’s hard to know how much Rodgers actually learned by sitting behind Favre.
Rivers sat for two years behind Drew Brees, and while Brees wasn’t the player in San Diego he has been in New Orleans, the future Hall of Famer was pretty good for the Chargers. Certainly Brees was better then than Bradford is now, making the case that Rivers sat solely because of a glut at the position, not any philosophical model for him to develop.
The recent trend to play rookies right away hasn’t been limited to just first-round picks. Derek Carr, drafted by Oakland in the 2014 second round, has been the starter from day one. Russell Wilson, taken in the third round in 2012, has started every game for Seattle. Andy Dalton, taken in the second round in 2011, started right away for Cincinnati.
Good quarterbacks start early, as the only reason for a first-round pick not to play in his rookie season—other than those who were total busts—the aforementioned glut at the position. The Eagles have created a glut, so if Wentz doesn’t start, that will be the reason. While a rookie learning from the sidelines may become a luxury for the Eagles this season, it’s inconsistent with NFL trends, no matter what Roseman and Pederson say.
There is no recent precedent for sitting a quarterback drafted this high. Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports wrote about this last week and tried to find positive reasons for sitting Wentz, but even in that defense, the best he could come up with is this:
Maybe the presence of those quarterbacks on the roster is what will allow Wentz to gradually develop into the kind of quarterback some envision him becoming. I have no idea if that’s going to happen, but I believe that’s the vision. I believe Roseman when he says Bradford is his starter.
The narrative continued when NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that sitting could be good for Wentz. Via USA Today:
“I think it’s always a benefit to sit a little while. I mean it helps you to acclimate to the football side of things, the game and what it takes. You are going to have some struggles, if you’re thrown in there. We don’t see any young guy come right in and tear it up from the get do.”
Again, that’s the narrative, but the actual facts have proven Warner wrong. Winston. Marcus Mariota. Bridgewater. Carr. Blake Bortles. Ryan Tannehill. Newton. Matt Ryan. Joe Flacco. Ben Roethlisberger. All of them have benefitted from early playing time. Starting quarterbacks sometimes sit to develop. First-round picks do not.
Sure, there have been some early-playing busts. Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel, Blaine Gabbert; but maybe they were just bad picks, and maybe time on the bench had nothing to do with their NFL success or, so far, lack thereof.
Rivers has had a fine career, but it’s not as if he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber, Super Bowl-winning stud and became that way only because he held a clipboard for two years.
Rodgers is all of those things, but again, who’s to say the Packers wouldn’t have won another Super Bowl with him instead of Favre under center?
And how are two guys drafted a decade ago proof the model still works in today’s NFL?
Teams are not hip to this. If anything, every team that took a quarterback in the first round in the last 10 years is hip to the exact opposite…other than, it seems, Cleveland. Should we be doing what Cleveland does?
Bradford is the starter, but if history is a predictor, he won’t be. No matter what the Eagles are telling us now.