With their victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers and rookie quarterback Brock Purdy punched their ticket to the NFC Championship. They will face the Philadelphia Eagles, and while Jalen Hurts is no longer a rookie, he is still on his first contract after being drafted in 2020. Hurts was drafted the same year as Joe Burrow, who is leading the Cincinnati Bengals to their second consecutive Conference Championship. Sixth year signal caller Patrick Mahomes is the relative veteran of the group, as he has led his team to five consecutive AFC Championships.
Of the four, Mahomes is the only one who has already re-signed, though it should obviously be noted that he won his first Super Bowl in his third year as a pro, and he was still technically on the fourth year of his rookie deal when he agreed to tack a sizeable extension. We are essentially guaranteed to see at least one guy on a rookie contract in the Super Bowl this year, which has actually been a very common situation over the last decade.
Every Super Bowl starting QB for the last decade. 13 different passers, 6 of them still on their rookie contract. They went 3-4. Burrow, Hurts, and Purdy are still in it, so these numbers will change pretty soon. Thanks for the data @Stathead pic.twitter.com/pVaMWj98UV— Diane Taylor ️⚧️ (@SeaDeeTaylor) January 23, 2023
Obviously, we all remember the fabled story of Russell Wilson, so we don’t need to revisit that here. But as far as the two other guys who won on their rookie contract, Joe Flacco entered the 2012 season on year five of his rookie contract; this was prior to the Collective Bargaining Agreement that established the rookie wage scale. Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens engaged in contract talks prior to the season, but couldn’t reach a deal, so Flacco famously bet on himself and won big. In theory, this could be seen as similar to playing out a fifth year option under the current CBA, but it isn’t a direct comparison. Patrick Mahomes is another interesting case, as he led the Chiefs to victory in Super Bowl LIV, following which the team exercised his fifth year option; he would, however, re-sign before the season started to a substantial 10-year extension, meaning that the cap hit wouldn’t jump significantly until 2022.
Mahomes is interesting (contractually speaking) since he signed an extension in 2020 after the team picked up his 5th year option, so his cap hit didn't jump until 2022. pic.twitter.com/BFM81cS5sV— Diane Taylor ️⚧️ (@SeaDeeTaylor) January 24, 2023
Clearly, the 49ers are a bit of an outlier; Joe Burrow was the top overall pick, and Jalen Hurts was selected in the second round. Trey Lance is a a confound here; it is impossible to ascertain where this team would be had he not suffered a season ending injury so early in the year, and they also turned to Jimmy G before rolling with Purdy. Still, the obvious fact remains that Mr. Irrelevant, and not Lance or Garoppolo, started for this team during the final stretch of the season and has yet to lose a game. He has given the organization a lot to think about, particularly depending on how the rest of the playoffs shake out. Now, this situation is not entirely* without precedent.
Trey Lance isn't forgotten. It will be an interesting decision for 2023 if the 49ers get to or win the Super Bowl with Brock Purdy at QB. Once upon a time, Kirk Cousins (a Day 3 pick) was a starting QB over 2nd overall pick RG3 when both were on rookie contracts. https://t.co/iR9bg9mRkS— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) December 29, 2022
*I say ‘entirely’ because there is a sizeable discrepancy between being a fourth round pick and being the final pick of the draft. Still, the point stands that draft pedigree doesn’t always outweigh raw performance.
A great case can be made for going after a young passer early in the draft, but we also need to remember that 34 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round during this time frame listed above; this number jumps up to 43 if you include the second round, and 59 including the third round, according to StatHead. Six players out of these 59 have made it to a Super Bowl, and only three have won. Youth at critical positions is important in building a competitive roster, but so many factors go into how players develop as a pro. For a position as important as quarterback, evaluation and situation can be the difference between ending up with Patrick Mahomes instead of Zach Wilson. The latter has sunk so low in such a short amount of time that even Ryan Leaf is taking shots at him, and Wilson was the 2nd overall pick. Trey Lance followed him, but there is no guarantee he will even be the starter in San Francisco next season. In the end, on field performance speaks for itself.
With so many needs across their roster, will the Seattle Seahawks take a chance on a guy like C.J. Stroud or Will Levis if they get the opportunity? Something can be said for Pete Carroll and quarterback development, as seemingly every passer who has started during his tenure in Seattle has outperformed expectations. Geno Smith is just the most recent success story. You can take this as a reason to roll with him in 2023, but you could make a similar case for why this would be a great reason to draft a quarterback as well.
These are not mutually exclusive — Patrick Mahomes sat for a year behind Alex Smith, and that worked out pretty well. Could this be the role that Geno Smith plays in 2023? Possibly, but at this point we don’t even know if he will be on the team next year, as contract conversations have yet to commence. Even then, we still won’t really know their plan until the draft comes to pass. Clearly, this could be a pretty critical juncture for the franchise; now, we simply have to exercise patience while we wait to see how Pete Carroll and John Schneider choose to proceed in 2023.