The Franchise Quarterback Myth

Dan Marcus on the franchise quarterback myth

Over the last decade the NFL has experienced a perfect storm of factors that have transformed the league into a passing/quarterback-driven league. With the advent of rule changes designed to make the game “safer,” coupled with the rise of fantasy football, the playing field has been slanted and skewed towards the offensive side of the ball, so that it is virtually impossible to win without a top-tier AKA “Franchise Quarterback.”

When it comes to the prototype of what such a player should look like people will point to the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Mannings of the world without acknowledging that such players are the proverbial exception as opposed to the rule. The truth is that these players are statistical anomalies, “outliers” on the quarterbacking talent pool axis. Since the 2004 Draft, there have been 123 QBs drafted by NFL teams and of those 123 players there are at most 12 for which you can make the argument that they can be considered in that rarefied of air of “Franchise Quarterbacks,” including several of which the jury is still definitively out on. Granted this is just one man’s liberal characterization of who is considered a “Franchise QB” but the names include: Luck, Wilson, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Eli Manning, Stafford, Ryan, Flacco, Kaepernick, and Foles. Take the list for what it is because you can make arguments on both sides but for the sake of this article, if you operate under the assumption that all 12 are “Franchise-caliber” players then that comes out to roughly 9%.

That means that over the last 10 years teams across the NFL have spent 123 draft picks on quarterbacks and only 9% of those picks turned out to be the vaunted “Franchise players” that every team seeks. As a fan whose team has been searching for that proverbial player since the days of “Broadway Joe”, it doesn’t inspire much hope when effectively 90% of quarterbacks that get drafted effectively fail to take the reigns of an organization like the Mannings, Bradys, and Rodgers of the world. Statistically you probably have a better shot of contracting Ebola than you do of finding the next Andrew Luck because the game has changed to a point where very few QBs coming out of college can do everything that the position demands in the modern day NFL.

As I see it, teams like the Jets have only a few viable options when it comes to addressing their troubles. The first such option is attrition, play the numbers game and draft a QB every year for the next 10 years and hope one develops into the “guy” or at least someone that you can win with as opposed to someone that just loses you games as the Jets have had for the past four years. However, that doesn’t seem like the most tenable situation for a team that despite all outward appearances is primed to win soon.

This brings me to the next/more immediate option, the “Veteran Route;” quite simply, if you can’t draft one, buy one. The odds you’re going to find a “franchise” Quarterback via free agency is slim to none but if you’re the Jets, that’s not what you need, what you need is someone that can manage the game and not turn the ball over. In order to be competitive and win games, the Jets need to find a signal caller capable of limiting turnovers and converting first downs, basically the bare minimum. Over the last four years of Rex Ryan’s tenure as Head Coach, if he even had a half-way competent QB that turned the ball over only 16 teams as opposed to 24 times, the Jets probably find themselves in the playoffs at least three times.

However, you can always combine the best of both worlds the way the Jets did during the Vinny Testaverde era where they drafted Chad Pennington to sit, learn, and develop behind the veteran while he captained a win-now team to several winning season including an appearance in the AFC Championship game. Bringing in a crafty veteran capable of managing the game not only makes you competitive in the short term but also buys you time to spend on those coveted draft picks on several Quarterbacks as they learn and develop by watching instead of “trial by fire” as has become the trend in recent years. Since the institution of the rookie salary cap, it has become way more cost efficient to “waste” draft picks on QBs but what is not efficient is having him learn on the job on a win-now team.

The addition of Percy Harvin coupled with the weapons the Jets already have in Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Chris Ivory, and an emerging Jace Amaro, the Jets’ offense appears to be in the best shape to “win now” since the days of the “Flight Boys” in 2010. Considering the debacle this season has become, there is sure to be some upheaval come “Black Monday” but this is not a complete “tear down.” Whoever the Head Coach and General Manager turn out to be, they need to realize that this team from a personnel standpoint is not a rebuilding project but one that can be turned around by making a few key additions in the secondary via free agency and by finding a QB that can do the bare minimum. Obviously it’s not the “sexy” way to win but you see it being done across the league. You need not look beyond Arizona and Kansas City where both Carson Palmer and Alex Smith have helped make those teams relevant by turning in efficient performances and limiting turnovers.

Sure, there other issues to be worked out and that things aren’t as simple as I may have made them out to be but there are ways to turn around what feels like a rapidly sinking ship and it all starts with the QB position. Who will be making those decisions is still in flux but looking at this debacle through an objective lens, this is a team that can be fixed but the constant search for a quarterbacking messiah is not the way. Joe Namath is not walking through those doors and players like Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning are “once in a generation” type players.

At this point what Jets fans want isn’t a Super Bowl, they would just like to watch a competitive product on the field that can actually contend in their division for a change. Teams put too much emphasis and spend too much time and effort chasing that “white whale” that is the Franchise Quarterback but when it comes down to it, teams have to ask themselves what they want in a quarterback. Teams chase a player that wins games for your team as opposed to a QB  you have to win games in spite of but there is a third option: a Quarterback you can win with. If you ask me a franchise quarterback, is a Quarterback you can win with because at the end of the day the only stat that matters is your record.