Quarterbacks are king in the NFL. They drive storylines, create headlines, lead teams, and give fan bases hope.
It's no secret that they fill the most important position in the game and without a good one, its extremely difficult to sustain success in the league.
This year's draft crop offers NFL teams with five viable options to have a potential franchise quarterback as well as a handful of players who could be developed into staples in the pro ranks. Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield all appear heavy favorites to go in the first round while Mason Rudolph is reportedly in the mix to sneak into the top 32 as well.
This abundance of talent doesn't come around very often. Over the past 25 drafts, just five quarterbacks have been taken in the first round twice with six going off the board just once (five in 1999, six in 1983). Opportunities to acquire franchise quarterbacks have been a great mystery of the NFL - everyone wants one, but no one has a fool-proof strategy to find one.
The draft has been the best bet.
Trading for a franchise passer close to their prime has rarely worked out quite simply because if that player was actually going to be successful, they wouldn't have been traded in the first place. Sam Bradford's trade to the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, Carson Palmer being dealt to the Oakland Raiders in 2011, and Jay Cutler's move to the Chicago Bears in 2009 all resulted in a team giving up at least one first-round pick and regretting it. For every Jimmy Garoppolo out there looking like a franchise passer after seven starts, there are 10 Mike Glennon's who've flashed false hope as a potential starter.
Free agency is an option, but not a reliable one. Only three times in the last 15 years of the free-agency era has a quarterback widely considered to be a franchise changer hit the market.
Drew Brees was let free go by the then-San Diego Chargers after they wanted Philip Rivers under center in 2006 and landed with the New Orleans Saints. The Indianapolis Colts saw the opportunity to get Andrew Luck and took it in 2012, letting Peyton Manning move on to the Denver Broncos. And just this spring, Kirk Cousins leveraged two seasons on the franchise tag with the Washington Redskins into a move to the Minnesota Vikings on a fully-guaranteed contract.
Notice any similarities between the three situations?
All three quarterbacks found themselves in unique situations with the teams they were drafted to that forced them out despite having proven to have talent. The teams that got them had ideal situations to attract a quarterback to come win right away. While we haven't seen Cousins on the field in purple and gold yet, Brees and Manning both won multiple individual accolades as well as Super Bowls with the Saints and Broncos, respectively. In short, when one of these guys does become available (assuming that ever happens again), the struggling teams of the league don't have much chance to win the sweepstakes.
So for teams in search of that elusive franchise quarterback like the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and New York Giants, it's back to the draft. This draft, not the next one or the one after that.
While Darnold and Rosen have had NFL scouts slobbering over them for well over a year, the 2019 and 2020 quarterback classes don't have any slam-dunk first-round picks at this point in time. Missouri's Drew Lock looks like the best option for next spring after a breakout 44-touchdown season right now, but he could easily see his stock fall down again if it turns out SEC defenses weren't taking him as seriously as they should have been.
This only puts more pressure on the teams who need a new quarterback to slide in under center soon to grab a passer early in the draft or risk leaving the rest of the roster out to dry. Without a quarterback to give a team hope, the rest of the locker room can't help but begin to question the decisions of the coaches and front office. Players aren't naive enough to think quarterbacks are equally important as everyone else, and they don't want to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears if they don't think they have a chance to win.
Even if there aren't enough potential franchise passers to go around, quarterback-hungry teams need to be aggressive in assuring themselves of landing one of their guys. With teams like the Saints, New England Patriots, and Chargers also threatening to swoop in and grab a quarterback for two or three seasons down the road, the risk of walking away empty handed is great. Last draft, the Cardinals were left holding the bag after boasting about how much they liked multiple quarterbacks, only to see the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs jump ahead of them to pick Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, respectively.
The NFL is not only a dog-eat-dog world, but a copy-cat league as well. The Chiefs' and Texans' jumps appear to have worked out for both organizations, which certainly caught the eye of the rest of the league. Teams can hope to land a Russell Wilson in the third round or a Dak Prescott in the fourth, but that's like counting on the lottery for your retirement funds. If winning games and championships are in a team's plans, it needs to be aggressive and impatient to get its franchise quarterback.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)