All through Mini-Camps and OTA’s all I’ve heard from the media covering the Buffalo Bills is, which QB is going to win the starting job? All three QB’s in this race have just as good a chance to be the starter but no one thinks they are franchise quarterbacks. But then I got to thinking, what is a franchise quarterback?
There is no right or wrong definition of what a franchise QB is, a guy that wins games, a guy that is associated with one franchise, a guy that wins championships. It’s such a vague term to use in today’s NFL. Franchise QB’s are so rare, those teams lucky enough to have them are spoiled and don’t know what it is like to struggle to find one. Although, with all the media attention surrounding the game today it seems like it is more of a man made myth that you have to have a franchise QB to win games in the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees, but is it really necessary to have them to win?
You see in the NFL that a team can just sputter along until one day they find a QB that just gels with the rest of the team and just like that, fortunes change. When Big Ben Roethlisberger replaced Tommy Maddox the Steelers rolled to 15-1 that year. Andrew Luck got the Colts to the playoffs year 1. Colin Kaepernick got the 49ers to a Superbowl. With my personal feelings aside for Kaepernick, these guys are considered franchise QB’s. Tom Brady only got into a game because of injury but he was the poster child for finding a franchise QB because of where he was drafted and the success he ultimately had (cheating aside). Aaron Rodgers sat the bench for 4 years before taking over in Green Bay and it worked out very well for him. Philip Rivers can sling it with the best of them, he hasn’t made it to a Superbowl yet, but is still considered a franchise guy. Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, and Cam Newton all franchise QB’s, all have gotten big paydays but they haven’t seen a Superbowl, Stafford hasn’t won a playoff game yet.
Tony Romo, the most scrutinized franchise QB, who is basically a poor man’s Tom Brady considering his journey to the NFL, is the face of “America’s Team” and he hasn’t been to the conference finals. Jay Cutler, has the arm and the look of a franchise guy, but he was shipped out of Denver because of his attitude and Chicago gave him a monster contract that only resulted in him getting to the NFC Championship game once. He is still considered a franchise QB. Russell Wilson got the Seahawks to back to back Superbowl appearances. He is the franchise QB, but then you ask the question is he an elite QB?
This is where it gets tricky. When you classify a guy a “Franchise QB” then you have to ask is he elite? It’s not enough to have your franchise be built around one guy but is he now better than everyone else? Being a franchise QB and an elite QB seemingly mean the same thing. But when you say franchise QB what comes to mind? Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco. All franchise QB’s, but how many are elite? Probably Manning, Brady, Brees, and Rodgers. Andrew Luck is not very far behind. So where do we draw the line?
Joe Flacco won a Superbowl, he’s a solid QB, Ravens franchise QB, but no one talks about him being elite. Ryan Tannehill has a career record below .500, just got a monster contract extension, he’s never seen the playoffs, no one has mentioned him as elite but he is the unquestioned face of the Dolphins franchise. Remember when Eli Manning was the center of attention for the debate of being elite or not? He’s a 2 time Superbowl MVP, but you see him throw more interceptions than touchdowns now a days. But Eli is the franchise QB of the Giants, has the credentials of being elite, but no one thinks he’s in the category of Peyton, Rodgers, Brady, or Brees. It’s a lot of teams buying into the notion that you have to have a great QB to win. Sure it helps, but there are those instances where if you build up the team around you an average QB can win you games (see: Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypen, Brad Johnson).
The 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers had stellar and historic defenses, both won Superbowls. The Steelers always had a top 5 defense when they won Superbowls. The 2001, 2003, and 2004 Patriots had top tier defenses. What I’m getting at is to have a “franchise QB” or an “elite QB” is nice but historically defenses win championships. Another thing that is going to hurt teams in the long run is the rookie pay scale. Financially it’s great for teams, but because there is such a cap on how much rookies get paid, you can now draft a QB, dub him the future of the franchise and if after 1 or 2 years he fails, you dump him and draft someone else. This makes it more of a revolving door for franchises and the perception is that these players couldn’t handle the transition to the NFL. That may be true but whatever happened to giving a young QB time to develop? Back before the turn of the century the debate was do you give your rookie QB 3 years to develop? Usually you sit them year 1, take their licks year 2, and take the leap year 3. Andrew Luck’s don’t grow on trees, sometimes you need to give your QB time to learn and grow before kicking him to the curb in favor of a 4th round pick you stole in the draft. If playing quarterback in the NFL is the hardest position to learn and play, why is it assumed that it should take you the preseason to learn it?
As all of you know, I’m a Bills fan. I still believe that EJ Manuel is the best option for this team at QB. I know that’s not saying much, but he doesn’t have to throw 50 times a game, he has to make the throws an NFL QB can make and protect the ball. On a Rex Ryan run team that proved to be an AFC Championship Game formula. And Rex did that twice with Mark Sanchez. If EJ is incapable of hitting an open receiver or putting touch on a dump pass then it’s time to move on, but EJ has only played 14 career games, not even a full season! He needs time to properly develop. The other debate I can make is that now the college game is dominated by spread offenses. QB’s don’t have to make many progressions and read defenses they just put up video game numbers, elevate draft stock, get drafted high, and fail to live up to the hype because they have to learn a complicated offense. So it is going to take longer than 1 season to grow into a “franchise QB” and even longer to be “elite”.
Whether you have a franchise QB or not, the modern day NFL almost requires you to have one or die trying to get one. Because money drives the machine that is the NFL and it’s easier to market the quarterback to fans than any other position, but I’m a firm believer that an “elite” QB is more of a luxury than a necessity. If you can find a good QB that doesn’t make mistakes you can win games. If you have a good QB with a great defense you can do more than win games, but in order to win championships you need your team to be elite.