Once upon a time, quarterbacks acquired with a high pick in the draft got several years to figure out how to play in the NFL. For most, that included a year or more of learning without playing.
Now, quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft quickly get thrust into the fray. And if they don’t quickly figure out how to play at the NFL level, they’re quickly cast aside.
From a five-year plan to a three-year plan to what may now be a one-year mandate, the reduced cost of young talent under the rookie wage scale has created, in some cities, an up-or-out mentality, regardless of the magnitude of the pick invested in the quarterback.
Last year, some thought Jets G.M. John Idzik wanted Geno Smith, the 39th overall pick in the draft and second quarterback taken, to start from Week One so that the Jets would know what they have in Smith, in the event they land at the top of round one in the 2014 draft.
The possibility of a high second-round pick being on a one-year arrangement seemed bizarre. But it now appears to be a reality.
Mike Vick, at this point in his career, plays the position (if healthy) better than Smith. Smith’s high-road welcome of Vick to New York could be viewed as a concession of that fact.
Actually, Smith’s words read a bit like he’s relieved.
Maybe the Jets are putting a new twist on the modern NFL. Maybe the rookie quarterback can start for a year, be supplanted by a veteran if the rookie doesn’t instantly become a star, and then reclaim the job after the veteran’s one-year contract expires.
Instead of having the rookie take a seat for a year or more, maybe today’s NFL will from time to time entail a rookie who fails the baptism by fire, takes a year to heal his wounds, and then gives it another try.
Either way, it’s a strange new dynamic in the win-now NFL, where teams truly are constructed on a year-to-year basis — and where young players don’t get as much leeway as they used to when trying to figure out how to thrive.