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Where are franchise quarterbacks found? If a NFL team thinks they have the answer, they’re wrong. That’s a question that the entire NFL can’t answer, because no team knows. If you want to know what is a “franchise” quarterback, that’s an easier question. If you’re the Chicago Bears, apparently it’s Jay Cutler and his seven-year, $126M contract. If you’re the Falcons, It’s Matt Ryan and his $23.75M cap hit the next several seasons. Many NFL teams have paid good but not great QBs to be their franchise quarterback, and I’m looking right at the Lions, Ravens, Chiefs and 49ers.
Both the Rams and Eagles recently traded up into the top two of this year’s NFL draft to snag their franchise quarterback. If they’re wrong, they gave up a lot in the process, as both teams lost out on tremendous value by making these moves. That said, many NFL analysts have opined that was the right move. It’s been called “the only move to make” for a team in search of a franchise QB. Because it’s unlikely you’ll find a franchise QB unless you’re at the very top of the NFL draft.
Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman made it quite clear in his press conference that based on all of their analysis, they felt like moving up from #8 to #2 was where they needed to be to draft their next franchise QB. We’ve also heard stories that in today’s pass-heavy era, every team knows it “needs” a QB to win games, so franchise QBs don’t last on the board. The most important position in the NFL is the quarterback, as everyone knows, and the best players won’t make it out of the first few picks.
Here’s the problem with that mindset: bad teams usually draft high, bad teams usually are managed poorly, bad teams usually are poor talent evaluators, and thus, good NFL QBs, even franchise QBs, can be found outside the top few picks in the draft.
We’ve been told good QBs can’t be found anymore outside the top of the NFL draft. Howie Roseman mortgaged much of his draft on that belief. “It’s nearly impossible to draft a franchise quarterback unless you’re at the top of the draft”, they said. Especially in the 5 years since the NFL changed the hit rules (mid-season 2010).
But just because teams know they need a decent QB to have a shot does not mean the first couple QBs off the board in the first round will be the answer. In fact, it should be universal truth that the following six 2nd round-or-later QBs from the last 5 years will have better NFL careers than these six 1st round QBs drafted over the same span:
- 2nd Round or later: Andy Dalton (2), Tyrod Taylor (6), Russell Wilson (3), Brock Osweiler (2), Kirk Cousins (4) and Derek Carr (2)
- 1st Round: Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, EJ Manuel and Johnny Manziel
And these are just the last 5 years, when the NFL turned its focus to the pass game in part due to rule changes. What about prior to the rule changes? How about since 2000? The below graphic lists a variety of “franchise QBs” and where they were drafted, using the following simplistic and extremely loose definition:
- Lasting long enough (tenure) to start 50 games and
- Compiling a passer rating of over 80.
This certainly isn’t the best way to measure if a quarterback is a “franchise QB,” but typically to earn the money of a franchise QB (which varies based on era), there is an element of longevity and durability coupled with some baseline level of performance. And while a passer rating of 80 doesn’t sound spectacular, the last 10 years, exactly 200 QBs produced seasons where they averaged ratings over 80 (in at least 10 starts), and collectively they won 60% of their games (between 9-7 and 10-6 on the season). Several QBs below I personally would not define as “franchise” though they met the criteria.
Included are QBs who started 50+ games any time after 2000, even if they were drafted previously. The darker the green circle, the better the career passer rating (though keep in mind only QBs who recorded at least an 80 rating appear on the graphic).
In the mid-2000s, the argument was that Tom Brady, a compensatory selection and 199th overall, was a rare gem and no other QB would be mis-evaluated as poorly again. There would be no more late round talents. A few years later, Tony Romo went undrafted, and while certainly not Tom Brady, he has put up numbers certainly worthy of the label “franchise quarterback.” More recently, Russell Wilson came along in 2012 in the 3rd round, to post solid numbers, win a Super Bowl, and earn a huge payday in his 2nd deal. Still we hear: “that won’t ever happen again.” Time will tell.
The point is, you don’t have to be a top pick to be a franchise quarterback. Drew Brees and Andy Dalton went in the 2nd round. Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers were drafted outside the top 10. And of course, other quarterbacks drafted lower have outperformed their first round competition, such as:
- 2011 – Tyrod Taylor was drafted in the 6th round, as the 11th QB off the board) well after #8 overall Jake Locker, #10 overall Blaine Gabbert, and #12 overall Christian Ponder. Andy Dalton was drafted in the 2nd round that year as well. Is Tyrod Taylor a franchise QB? Probably not. Andy Dalton is being paid as one, and both are far better than any of those mentioned who were drafted inside the 12th overall.
- 2012 – A slew of potential or definite franchise QBs were drafted late in this draft, including Russell Wilson in the 3rd round and Kirk Cousins in the 4th round. Even Brock Osweiler was drafted late in the 2nd round, ahead of 1st rounder Brandon Weeden.
- 2013 – Unlike 2012, there were no QBs in this draft. EJ Manuel was the only QB drafted in the first round, followed by Geno Smith as the only QB in the second round.
- 2014/2015 – A total of 14 QBs were drafted in 2014 and 7 more were drafted in 2015. It’s entirely too early to say which of these QBs will become franchise QBs or not. Certainly Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the only two QBs who started games from the 2015 class, look on their way. One of three first round QBs from 2014, Johnny Manziel, is without a team and saw multiple agents terminate him. We may get to see if Jimmy Garoppolo is the heir apparent to Tom Brady’s throne this year, and A.J. McCarron and his 6:2 TD:INT in 3 starts last year was impressive. But potentially the best of the 2014 class was drafted in the 2nd round: Derek Carr.
Where are franchise quarterbacks found? I’d argue they are found just as much as they are bred. You certainly must have the talent, but you also need the coaching to refine and perfect the mechanics. You need the hours and hours of work in the film room. You need the support system. You need the right play caller and right schemes. You need teammates on both offense and defense. You could move a young Tom Brady to the 2002 David Carr led Houston Texans, with a ridiculously bad offensive line (76 sacks taken by Carr his rookie year), and while Brady would be better than Carr, he won’t be the Brady we know now.
Franchise quarterbacks may be difficult to find, but one certainty exists in the above data. Absolutely nothing indicates the only place to find a franchise quarterback is in the top couple of draft picks each year. The misconstrued notion that teams should willingly mortgage much of their draft class to move up the draft board to draft (what they think will be) a franchise quarterback needs to stop. If those teams put just as much emphasis on surrounding a drafted quarterback (both on and off the field) with the most optimal means for success that they do giving out draft picks to move up the board, we’d likely see even more 2nd and 3rd round quarterbacks evolve into franchise quarterbacks.
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