Given the importance of having a great quarterback — and in light of the absence of truly great quarterbacks for every team — there’s a temptation to draft quarterbacks higher than they should be drafted, relative to the available players at other positions.
This year, it’s unclear whether the urgency to find a great quarterback will get teams like the Panthers at No. 6 or the Falcons at No. 8, or someone else, to pull the trigger on a signal-caller in the first dozen or so picks.
Recently, Seahawks G.M. John Schneider was asked to assess this year’s quarterback class, which is perceived to be less talented than the quarterback classes from recent drafts.
“I would say there’s a quietness about it that can make people feel either anxious or extremely calm,” Schneider told reporters. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of buzz right now. That’s happened in the past, too, where all of a sudden, I think it was the year that Jake Locker and [Christian] Ponder, and that whole group of guys went, or it was pretty quiet, and then they all went really high.”
That was 2011, the year of the lockout. With no prior opportunity to address the quarterback position that year via trade or free agency, quarterback-needy teams overdrafted them.
Each of those three quarterbacks became busts, but the rookie wage scale (which was expected as of April and which became a reality in August) reduced the cash-and-cap consequences of swinging and missing. Indeed, thanks to the reduced financial commitment made to a highly-drafted quarterback, teams can now roll the dice with the knowledge that, if it doesn’t work out, they’ll be able to roll the dice again in a few years. (Or, as in the case of the 2018 Cardinals, the very next year.)
While it’s far from ideal to take a chance on a top quarterback and fail, there’s a worse fate. Just ask the 49ers, Jaguars, Titans, Jets, Chargers, Panthers, and Bengals. Each could have had Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft. Each passed on him.
The Bears got the worst of it. They traded up one spot that year and picked a quarterback not named Patrick Mahomes. Five years later, the Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, the player taken at No. 2, are still trying to live that down.
But think of how different each of those teams would be, if they had Mahomes. The 49ers were waiting for Kirk Cousins in free agency a year later (they instead traded for Jimmy Garoppolo). The Jaguars still believed in Blake Bortles, for some reason. The Jets went with Josh McCown in 2017. The Chargers were actively considering a future without Philip Rivers, but apparently not actively enough. That Panthers, who did well for themselves with Christian McCaffrey, were in the final years of their relationship with Cam Newton. The Bengals had Andy Dalton, and three years later they’d get Joe Burrow. (All of this assumes that Mahomes would have become great with a team other than the Chiefs. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that some other coaching staff would have developed him the way Andy Reid did.)
It’s arguably better to swing and miss than to get caught looking with a fastball in the wheelhouse. The bust eventually will be forgotten. The failure to snatch up the future Hall of Famer will leave a much bigger scar.
The worst scar, of the course, is the one the Bears endured in 2017. Trade up. Take a quarterback who busts. Pass on a quarterback who booms like few ever have.
That’s the other angle for teams considering quarterbacks in the upper half of round one to consider, this and every year. If you’re going to take one, you’d better take the right one.
Look at the 2018 Browns (who took Baker Mayfield instead of Allen or Lamar Jackson), the 2018 Jets (who took Sam Darnold instead of Allen or Jackson), and the 2018 Cardinals (who took Josh Rosen instead of Jackson) can also relate to. And don’t forget the 2020 Dolphins, who left Justin Herbert on the board.
Are the teams that need a quarterback upgrade willing to take a chance on a quarterback who may fail? Are they willing to pass on a quarterback who may thrive? And are they confident that, if they take a quarterback, they’ll take the right one?
These are important questions to consider during every draft. They become even more important this year, when the prevailing vibe is that the quarterbacks aren’t great. Of the names floating around at the top of the class, the chances are that at least one of them will work out, for someone.