"If you change your mind, I'm the first in line. Honey, I'm still free, take a chance on me."
That classic philosophical quote was brought to you by the brilliant Swedish minds of ABBA. It was from then on that we knew that if you needed them, to let them know and that they were going to be around if we had no place to go. If only we had returned the favor to ABBA, if only we had given them a place to go after 1979.
But the basic principle still holds true today with friendship, with business, and with the NFL. Because when you're all alone at quarterback when the pretty birds have flown, it might be time to take a chance on another quarterback or six.
Here's another little diddy:
I want my quarterback quarterback quarterback quarterback quarterback quarterback
I want my quarterback quarterback quarterback quarterback quarterback quarterback
Kennyyyyyyyy's quarterback kids. Kenny's quarterback kids.
As I wrote last week, there is no other position that is more important or harder to fill than finding a better-than-average quarterback. Teams will also have an incredibly-difficult time finding this player in free agency, maybe you'll get lucky with one every three or four years (total in the NFL), so the best way to do this is through the draft and through trade.
It's the second part of that equation, trading for another team's backup, that becomes so interesting when evaluating the value of drafting a quarterback; even when you have already found a franchise QB. It's something that good teams have been able to take advantage of against lesser teams. Because while the Bills and Jaguars have drafted three quarterbacks each this century, the Patriots have drafted seven and six of those came after they knew Tom Brady was the guy.
Or that the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers when they had Brett Favre, and have drafted four quarterbacks since Rodgers and that doesn't even include current backup UDFA Graham Harrell. The Packers have drafted as many quarterbacks since 2005 as the Jaguars have drafted, ever.
It's still a conundrum for Jacksonville as they enter the 2013 NFL Draft with the number two pick; Should they take the conceivable best player available, which is probably not a quarterback, or should they take a chance on Geno Smith or Matt Barkley? The Jags (which I think should be your AFC team considering that our coaching tree never branches out) currently have Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne and could probably get away with not taking a quarterback. After all, Gabbert is a 23-year-old physical specimen that was just drafted 10th overall in 2011 and if you look at his numbers, they wouldn't be as bad you might have expected:
58.3%, 9 TD, 6 INT, 6.0 YPA.
Nobody is claiming that he was great, but is it bad enough to start moving onto the next phase? Not to mention that Chad Henne is a whopping 27-years-old and seemed capable of not shitting the bed, at least from an outsiders perspective. If you bring in a third guy now, a young guy that's clearly the option that these two are not if you take him, does that screw up your future? Well, not necessarily. I asked Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country his opinion on the number two pick, and here's what he had to say:
Personally, if I were the Jaguars I would draft Geno Smith at second overall. The Jaguars need pass rushing help, but with moving to the hybrid style of defense that Seattle used with Gus Bradley, I think you can find those "LEO" guys littered all over the draft. I think Geno is dinged more than he typically would be because of the draft class he's following with Luck, RG3 and Wilson having so much success. He showed some inconsistency at West Virginia, but he also showed plenty of NFL traits for a quarterback and I think he's picked apart because he's not "perfect" like Luck and RG3 were.
Alfie is correct that a LEO at the top of round one this year may not be any better than a LEO prospect found at the top of round two. Let's not forget that Chris Clemons as A) Undrafted and B) Acquired for Daryl Tapp. It would be a lot easier if Ezekiel Ansah or anyone were popping off tape better than the rest of the world, but it's not the case. So this might be the year that you take a chance on a QB when you might not if, say, Jadeveon Clowney were on the board. However, it doesn't necessarily have to be "the year" to take a QB when you're still searching for one. As we keep saying, it's very hard to find a quarterback and even if you have a "maybe' and a "could be", it doesn't necessarily you pass on a better "maybe".
The Chargers drafted Philip Rivers when they had Drew Brees. They were sitting in a position where they wanted maximum value for the number one pick, even if Eli Manning refused to go to San Diego, but they could have just drafted Larry Fitzgerald or Robert Gallery, or taken anyone besides a quarterback if they had felt confidence in Brees. The result instead was that when Brees got hurt and became a free agent, they eased right into Rivers, a franchise quarterback in his own right even if it's not the same as what Brees has become.
The Packers didn't need Rodgers by any means but they were appalled that a quarterback of that caliber was being passed on by so many teams that really should have drafted Aaron Rodgers. Okay, the 49ers decided on Alex Smith which was probably fair at the time. A lot of people were undecided about who was better and the Niners took Smith. But what about the Dolphins? The Browns? The Cardinals? The Chiefs?
Kansas City did have Trent Green at the time, but he was 35. He was only one year younger than Brett Favre. And yet the Packers took Rodgers and found a guy that could arguably become the greatest quarterback of all-time when he retires. The Chiefs have drafted three quarterbacks this century: James Killian (7th Rd), Brodie Croyle (3rd Rd), and Ricky Stanzi (5th Rd). This is the difference between a consistently-good franchise and an inconsistent franchise that just spent great value to trade for Alex Smith. It really isn't that hard to see why some franchises struggle for long periods of all-time, whereas the Patriots have had Brady but also found Matt Cassel. (Funny enough, Cassel was taken one pick after the Chiefs drafted Killian and then later the Patriots were able to trade him to the Chiefs for a good draft pick.)
You have to keep looking for quarterbacks, even when you have one.
You also have to be willing to spend good draft capital. The Browns, arguably the hardest-to-watch franchise of the century, have drafted six quarterbacks since 2000. Now, they did draft Tim Couch first overall in 1999, but we knew very early that it wasn't going to work and really by 2003 they should have been looking to draft his replacement. They have drafted a QB in the first round twice since, Brady Quinn at 22nd overall and Brandon Weeden at 22nd overall. Why never anything higher than that?
In 2004, the Browns took Luke McCown in the fourth round and in 2005, they took Charlie Frye in the third. Well, in 2004 some people considered Ben Roethlisberger to be on the same level as Eli Manning and Philip Rivers but the Browns obviously weren't one of them. They took Kellen Winslow, Jr., a tight end, a few picks ahead of Roethlisberger. Is it ever worth it to pass on a potential franchise quarterback for a potential franchise tight end? I go back to the Packers, a team that did not pass on a franchise quarterback even when they didn't need one imminently.
Other teams that passed on Ben that year: Raiders, Cardinals, Redskins, Lions, Falcons, Jaguars, and Texans. The Giants passed but traded for Manning, the Chargers passed but traded for Rivers. Those teams did okay. The Texans were still happy with David Carr, of course. And so were the Lions with Joey Harrington, the Jaguars with Byron Leftwich, and the Falcons with Michael Vick. But the Raiders were going with 39-year-old Rich Gannon and 32-year-old Kerry Collins. The Cardinals had Josh McCown.
In 2005, despite Aaron Rodgers being a consideration for the number one pick, was passed on by 22 teams after the 49ers went with Alex Smith. Why? The Browns have now drafted Winslow in 2004 and Braylon Edwards in 2005, but Trent Dilfer was the guy throwing to them. What was so wrong with Rodgers that the Browns would not take a chance on him when they were pathetic at the position? The Cardinals passed on Roethlisberger in 2004 for Larry Fitzgerald, an elite player, but still he is not a quarterback. Arizona went to a Super Bowl only after they had a quarterback. It's a familiar trend you'll see that even when a team takes the better player, it often won't matter until you find a capable QB.
Of course, keep going and you'll see in 2006 when it doesn't matter if you draft a quarterback. The Titans drafted Vince Young, while the Texans and Saints passed on the quarterback for players at other positions they just considered to be better with Mario Williams and Reggie Bush. The Texans and Saints made the right decision, right?
Well for New Orleans, that was the year that they signed Brees in free agency, so it was an easy choice for them and they were very fortunate to land an actual elite quarterback in free agency. However, had Brees signed with Miami, then it's conceivable that they take Young over Bush.
Let's not forget that the Titans went 8-5 under Young as a rookie, and 9-6 with him in his second year. Overall, the Titans went 30-17 with Vince Young as a starter. "Quarterback record" isn't much of a stat, but drafting Young did not crush the franchise in the way that taking a tight end over a potential franchise quarterback can crush a franchise, you know what I mean?
Later in that same draft, the Cardinals took Matt Leinart tenth overall. He turned out to be a bad pick, but the Cards were smart and signed Kurt Warner to handle the ropes for awhile. Warner obviously did more than just that, and again, the Cards were not crushed by taking a chance on a franchise quarterback and neither were the Broncos for taking Jay Cutler right after Leinart was drafted. The Titans, Cardinals, and Broncos have made the playoffs since 2006. The Raiders and Bills, teams that took defensive backs seventh and eighth overall that year, have not.
Oakland would go on to a 2-14 record the next year and they parlayed that awful season into JaMarcus Russell. Now you're probably saying to yourself "See it doesn't always work out to take a quarterback!" and indeed the Raiders conceivably "should" have picked Calvin Johnson or Joe Thomas but you know what else also works? Not going 2-14 to begin with because you thought Andrew Walter was capable of starting in a professional football league. And it was still possibly the right choice to take a chance on a quarterback rather than believe you could turn around a franchise with a receiver. The Lions didn't make the playoffs with Johnson until they got Matthew Stafford. The Browns still haven't made the playoffs with an elite Joe Thomas, because what's the point of protecting Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, and Brandon Weeden?
Indeed, the Browns drafted Quinn 22nd overall in 2007, the same year they got Thomas, and then actually went 10-6 with the surprising Derek Anderson. But by the next year, everything had fallen apart and starts were made by Anderson, Quinn, Ken Dorsey, and Bruce Gradkowksi. They still wouldn't be ready to give up on Quinn, they went with low-risk moves like McCoy and Weeden, and the Browns are still a bad team without a quarterback.
Another example being the 2008 draft, when the Dolphins and Rams took elite players at non-quarterback positions: Jake Long and Chris Long. Nobody would be mad about having those guys on your team, unless of course it came at the expense of having Matt Ryan, which it did. The Dolphins made the playoffs under Long but their success was short. The Rams went 2-14 with Marc Bulger and then decided to take Sam Bradford. Unlike Russell, Bradford is good, but much like the Raiders, how do you just avoid 2-14 in the first place?
Take a look in 2009 when the Lions drafted Stafford over Jason Smith, who appeared to be an elite franchise left tackle. The Lions have struggled in three of the last four years, but they did make the playoffs in 2010 and they don't have to worry about finding a quarterback right now (even though they should always be capable of drafting a QB if a good one falls to them, if I'm keeping focus on the point of this article.) Meanwhile, Jason Smith sucks.
Mark Sanchez also sucks, but did it hurt the Jets or did they make the AFC Championship twice in a row? Also that year, 16 teams passed on Josh Freeman, which means that the Chiefs, Seahawks, Bengals, Raiders, Jaguars, 49ers, Bills, Broncos, and Redskins passed on Freeman. The Seahawks, Bengals, 49ers, Broncos, and Redskins didn't settle into becoming good teams until they got quarterbacks and at the time they could have easily justified drafting a quarterback. But they didn't. Maybe that eventually works out for some of them, but it didn't work out as well for Kansas City, Oakland, Jacksonville, and Buffalo.
You could look at 2011 and say that Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder could all become failed draft picks, and all three of those teams might take quarterbacks in the 2013 draft, but what was the alternative? JJ Watt (sandwiched between Gabbert and Ponder) is a phenomenal player, but the Texans have Matt Schaub. The Broncos took Von Miller second overall, but they have Peyton Manning. The Bengals took A.J. Green fourth overall, but they grabbed Andy Dalton in the second round. The Falcons traded up for Julio Jones, we know they're set at quarterback. The 49ers took Aldon Smith, but they took Colin Kaepernick in the second. The question you should ask instead is, the Cardinals took Patrick Peterson fifth overall...
Right now, even teams that don't need quarterbacks, like the Steelers, Packers, and Patriots, are probably all kicking themselves for not taking Kaepernick. Instead the Steelers got Cam Heyward (never played), the Packers took Derek Sherrod (five games) and the Patriots took Ras-I Dowling (eight games). Could've had a great backup, future franchise QB, or trade piece instead. Of course you need to fill needs, but nothing is as valuable as a starting quarterback and any good team knows they might be able to turn a preseason and fill-in starter for either a whole lot of needs-filling or the next in-line to be the starter. How did it work out for the 49ers to have Steve Young as a transition from Joe Montana? Or Rodgers from Favre? The Pats took Dowling over Kaepernick but still drafted Ryan Mallett in the third round and "trade chip" talks have been floating for awhile.
The Redskins drafted their franchise quarterback last year at the top of the draft, and then took Kirk Cousins in the fourth. So every team should be on the lookout for drafting a quarterback, no matter where you stand. We've seen certain teams struggle for years to find a capable player, but we have to also question how hard they've tried while the "fortunate" teams like New England have simply put in a better effort and understood the value of find a good quarterback. Even when you already have a great one.