What is the most overpaid and valuable position in professional sports? Simple, the NFL quarterback. Do you recognize these names? Scott Mitchell, Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallett, or Rob Johnson? If you don’t know these names, you aren’t missing anything. These guys are NFL quarterbacks who cashed in on a few flashes of quarterback ability.
Mitchell and Johnson no longer play in the NFL. But both men had minor success as backups and then cashed in with other teams as starters. Cassel and Mallett are both former New England Patriots quarterbacks who backed up Tom Brady, whose talent clearly didn’t rub off on either of these men.
In the NFL, starting quarterbacks and backup quarterbacks are a world apart. And there is a reason why backup quarterbacks aren’t starters. Trying to convert a backup into a starter is a high risk move. When a backup enters a game, he has nothing to lose because no one expects him to win. He is only on the field to keep the ship afloat until the starter returns.
In the NFL, general managers and head coaches live and die by their quarterbacks. When a team drafts a quarterback, they place all their hopes on him. They expect him to win immediately because patience isn’t an NFL virtue. For instance, the Cleveland Browns have the worst luck in drafting quarterbacks. Here are a few obscure names drafted by the Browns: Spurgeon Wynn, Charlie Frye, Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, and Johnny Manziel. None of these men won a Super Bowl or even contended for one. But they got several coaches fired.
But drafting a quarterback isn’t an exact science or even a simple process. The title of franchise quarterback is reserved for a player who can become a dependable quarterback for a decade or longer. Here are a few franchise names: Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, and Andy Dalton. Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t have enough stability at this position which explains why these guys are so valuable.
Many teams never find one. The Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets are still looking for a franchise quarterback. The NFL is driven by the quarterback position. If your team has a good one, they have a chance to make it to the Super Bowl. If not, they have no chance of success.
It’s also been said the quarterback must be the smartest person in the room. This is true. Quarterbacks have to read defenses and know where there playmakers are at all times. They also have to make key decisions in seconds. Think that’s easy? Try doing it while a 300 pound defensive player is trying to separate your head from your shoulders.
Of all professional sports, no single person’s judgement is more critical than the NFL quarterback. What’s even more challenging for scouts and general managers is assessing how a college player will do in the NFL. Compare the career of Ryan Leaf to Tom Brady. Leaf was a coveted quarterback from Washington State University. He was a strong guy with a big arm. NFL experts sang his praise and considered him NFL ready. Leaf was the second overall pick in the 1998 draft behind Peyton Manning. The Chargers expected greatness from Leaf. Instead, they drafted the worst draft bust in history.
And then consider Tom Brady, a sixth round draft pick in 2000. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Only the Patriots wanted him. Brady went from obscurity at the University of Michigan to the greatest quarterback in history. However, finding the next great quarterback is like finding a Van Gogh painting at Goodwill. Yes, the quarterback position is serious business. Draft the right one and you are a genius. Choose the wrong one and you will be an unemployed NFL general manager.