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Where Do Quarterbacks Come From?

Part 1 - Good Teams

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but the Washington Football Team (WFT) has found itself in need of a starting quarterback this offseason. This has never happened before, so I am sure that most of you will be as shocked as I was when you find out.

But seriously now, like many of the other worst teams of the salary cap era, the WFT has struggled to find quality starting QBs for decades. As the new leadership attempts to do what few Redskins’ front offices of the past have managed since Bobby Beathard picked Mark Rypien in the sixth round of the 1986 draft (#146 overall), I thought it might be instructive to have a look at how other teams with differing levels of success have approached the problem.

I believe that, if you want to know how to do something well, it is worthwhile looking at how the best in the business do it. So, in keeping with a theme I developed last offseason, in the first article of this two-part series, I will take a look at how the best teams in the NFL over the last decade (2011-2020) acquired their franchise QBs. Then, in the second article I will examine the other side of the equation by looking at how the decade’s worst teams have found their starting QBs to see if there is anything different about their approach.


Methodology

Team Rankings: To identify the six best and worst NFL teams over the last decade, I used a slightly more elaborate methodology than last year. The ranking focused on two areas of team performance, regular season and playoffs, and for each of those I chose a measure of overall performance and consistency of winning. The metrics I settled on were: regular season wins, number of winning seasons, number of seasons with a playoff win and overall playoff performance (playoff points).

The only one of these metrics which requires explanation is overall playoff performance, measured as playoff points. To derive that metric, I assigned points to each team’s playoff finish, each of the last ten years as follows: wildcard win 1, divisional win 2, conference champion 4, Superbowl champion 8. Zero points were assigned for a one and out playoff appearance. Then I summed each team’s numbers across the decade to give total playoff points as a measure of overall playoff performance.

I then ranked the teams based on these four metrics and picked the teams that finished in the top and bottom quartiles of the league in the most categories. Fewer than six teams finished in either the top or bottom eight in all four categories, so to make up the numbers I picked the teams that finished in the top or bottom quartile of three categories and had the best or worst ranking in the remaining category. The best teams sorted themselves out quite easily, while there was stiff competition for the last few places on the worst-teams list.

Finally to determine the rank order of teams within the top and bottom sixes, I simply summed the four individual metric ranks. A lower rank sum indicates a better team and a higher rank sum a worse one.

Starting QBs: It can get very complicated to keep track of all the QBs that started at least one game for any particular team during the course of 10 seasons, as Redskins/WFT fans who watched the 2018 and 2020 seasons can attest. To simplify things, and keep the listings to manageable lengths, I decided to just list the primary starters (QB who started the most games) for each team-season, as listed on Pro Football Reference. I made one exception. Since Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins split starts equally in 2020, I listed both, whereas PFR just listed Smith as the starter.

Draft Capital Expenditure: Draft capital expenditure in trades and draft player selections was calculated using the Rich Hill trade value chart, available on DraftTek, which is said to better reflect the trade value chart used by current NFL teams than the older and more familiar Jimmy Johnson chart. Draft capital expenditure and net trade value were calculated as follows:

Draft Capital Expenditure in trades for QBs on contract – Net trade value of all draft picks exchanged, ignoring any players included in the deal. I realize that ignoring player values could be contentious with some readers, but I could not think of a justifiable method to equate NFL veterans to draft capital value. In case any readers would like to argue this point in the comments, there was only one affected trade within the ten-year analysis window: 2018 Redskins receive Alex Smith from KC for pick #78 + CB Kendall Fuller. Two other starting QBs on best/worst teams were acquired in trades involving players and draft picks prior to 2011: 2009 KC trade with NE for Matt Cassel (this article), 2009 Bears trade with Broncos for Jay Cutler (next article).

Draft Capital Expenditure in trade ups – Total trade value of picks given away to secure the pick used to select the QB, minus any picks given back other than the pick used to select the QB. This gives the total amount of draft capital given away to secure the rights to select the QB.

Draft Capital Expenditure in draft selections (other than trade-ups) – Trade value of the draft pick.

Net Trade Value – The sum of draft pick trade values received minus the sum of draft pick trade values given away in a trade. Note: net trade value is equal to the draft capital expenditure in a player trade, but it is different to draft capital expenditure in a draft trade-up, because the draft pick received and used to select the QB is not counted.


Decade’s Best Teams

Super Bowl XLVIII - Seattle Seahawks v Denver Broncos

Shifting to a 10-year window resulted in a slight reshuffling of the leader board from last year’s 20-year view. It came as no surprise that the Patriots were the top team of the decade, ranking first in each of the four categories. The Seahawks were also a clear consensus number two, tying NE for first in winning seasons, and ranking second in every other category. After those two, the Packers, Chiefs and Ravens were more tightly bunched to fill out the remaining teams that ranked in the top quarter of the NFL in all four categories. The last team in the top tier, New Orleans, ranked in the top 8 in regular season wins, winning seasons, and seasons with a playoff win, but lagged in overall playoff performance.

The biggest surprise compared to last season’s best-team ranking was that Pittsburgh dropped out of the top six. While the Steelers have continued to be amongst the top regular season performers throughout the teens, their playoff performance has dropped off considerably from the previous decade. The Steelers have been pretty similar to most of the top-six teams in their approach to the QB position, so their omission doesn’t really change the narrative.

The detailed rankings are as follows:

1. New England Patriots (rank sum 4)

Regular Season Wins: 118, rank 1

Winning Seasons: 9, rank 1

Playoff Points: 38, rank 1 (3 SB, 2 Conf, 3 Div)

Playoff-Win Seasons: 8, rank 1

2. Seattle Seahawks (rank sum 7)

Regular Season Wins: 105, rank 2

Winning Seasons: 9, rank 1

Playoff Points: 17, rank 2 (1 SB, 1 Conf, 1 Div, 3 WC)

Playoff-Win Seasons: 6, rank 2

3. Green Bay Packers (rank sum 14)

Regular Season Wins: 105, rank 2

Winning Seasons: 7, rank 3

Playoff Points: 10, rank 7 (4 Div, 2 WC)

Playoff-Win Seasons: 6, rank 2

4. Kansas City Chiefs (rank sum 16)

Regular Season Wins: 100, rank 6

Winning Seasons: 8, rank 2

Playoff Points: 15, rank 3 (1 SB, 1 Conf, 1 Div, 1 WC)

Playoff-Win Seasons: 4, rank 5

5. Baltimore Ravens (rank sum 20)

Regular Season Wins: 97, rank 7

Winning Seasons: 7, rank 3

Playoff Points: 12, rank 5 (1 SB, 1 Div, 2 WC)

Playoff-Win Seasons: 4, rank 5

6. New Orleans Saints (rank sum 29)

Regular Season Wins: 101, rank 5

Winning Seasons: 6, rank 8

Playoff Points: 6, rank 12 (1 Div, 4 WC)

Playoff-Win Seasons: 5, rank 4


Best Teams’ Quarterbacks

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

To examine how the best teams acquired their starting QBs, I compiled data on their starters over the last decade and method of acquisition. I also compiled data on total draft capital expenditure since 2010, to have a look at how teams invested that crucial team-building resource on the QB position.

I did not make any attempt to track UDFAs coming and going from rosters, because no QB worked his way from UDFA signing to become the primary starter for any of the best or worst teams this decade. For those interested, three former UDFA were acquired through trades or FA signings and became starters for some of the worst teams: Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, Matt Moore.

I also made no attempt to value players involved in trades, salary cap resources devoted to the QB position, FA signings that did not become starters (e.g. Matt Flynn/Seattle 2012), or trades of QBs for more draft picks. This is not a comprehensive evaluation of how teams have managed the QB position. Rather, it is a focused examination of how teams acquired their starting QBs and draft resources expended on the position.

1. New England Patriots

Starting QBs (2):

Tom Brady 2001 to 2019 – drafted 2000, round 6 pick 199

Cam Newton 2020 - FA signing 2020 1 year $1.05m (up to $7.5m with incentives and bonuses)

Drafted QBs since 2010 (5):

Jarrett Stidham 2019, round 4 pick 133

Danny Etling 2018, round 7 pick 219

Jacoby Brissett 2016, round 3 pick 91

Jimmy Garoppolo 2014, round 2 pick 62

Ryan Mallett 2011, round 3 pick 74

Draft capital expended since 2010: 212

2. Seattle Seahawks

Starting QBs (2):

Tavaris Jackson 2011 - FA signing 2011, 3 years $3.59m

Russell Wilson 2012 to 2020 - drafted 2012, round 3 pick 75

Drafted QBs since 2010 (2):

Alex McGough 2018, round 7 pick 220

Russell Wilson 2012, round 3 pick 75

Draft capital expended since 2010: 66

3. Green Bay Packers

Starting QBs (2):

Aaron Rodgers 2008 to 2020 – drafted 2005, round 1 pick 24

Brett Hundley 2017 - drafted 2015, round 5 pick 147

Drafted QBs since 2010 (3):

Jordan Love 2020, round 1 pick 26

Brett Hundley 2015, round 5 pick 147

BJ Coleman 2012, round 7 pick 243

Draft capital expended since 2010: 239

4. Kansas City Chiefs

Starting QBs (3):

Matt Cassell 2009 to 2012 – trade, Patriots receive 2009 pick 34 for Cassell + LB Mike Vrabel, net trade value -175

Alex Smith 2013 to 2017 - trade SF receives 2013 pick 34, 2014 pick 56, net trade value -273

Patrick Mahomes 2018 to 2020 - drafted round 1 pick 10 (trade up, Bills receive 2017 picks 27, 91 & 2018 pick 22, net trade value -144)

Drafted QBs since 2010 (4):

Patrick Mahomes 2017, round 1 pick 10

Kevin Hogan 2016, round 5 pick 162

Aaron Murray 2014, round 5 pick 163

Ricky Stanzi 2011, round 5 pick 135

Draft capital expended since 2010: 821

5. Baltimore Ravens

Starting QBs (2):

Joe Flacco 2008 to 2018 - drafted 2008, round 1 pick 18

Lamar Jackson 2019 to 2020 - drafted 2018, round 1 pick 32 (trade up, Eagles receive 2019 picks 52, 125 & 2020 pick 53 for 2019 picks 32 & 132, net trade value -34)

Drafted QBs since 2010 (4):

Trace McSorley 2019, round 6 pick 197

Lamar Jackson 2018, round 1 pick 32

Keith Wenning 2014, round 6 pick 194

Tyrod Taylor 2011, round 6 pick 180

Draft capital expended since 2010: 232

6. New Orleans Saints

Starting QBs (1):

Drew Brees 2006 to 2020 - FA signing, 2006 5 year $60m

Drafted QBs since 2011(2):

Tommy Stevens 2020, round 7 pick 240

Garrett Grayson 2015, round 3 pick 75

Draft capital expended since 2010: 66

The first thing that stands out about the top six teams is that most of them have had one or two true franchise quarterbacks for most or all of the last decade. By franchise quarterback, I mean an above average to elite quarterback that the team was happy to stick with for multiple years. The six elite teams in my ranking averaged exactly two quarterbacks apiece over the last decade, but that figure is a little misleading, because five of the six started one quarterback for at least eight years during that period. Four of those five quarterbacks are unquestionably elite (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees). Joe Flacco might be closer to the average starting QB, but was good enough to lead the Ravens to a Superbowl championship. Three-time Pro Bowler Alex Smith is somewhere between Flacco and the elite pack.

The second thing that stands out is that, for the most part, these teams have been very economical in their approaches to finding their franchise quarterbacks. Focusing on the longest tenured starting QB of each of these teams we see that four of the six were drafted by the team, two in the second half of the first round (Flacco pick 18, Rodgers pick 24) and two in later rounds (Wilson 3rd, Brady 6th).

Drew Brees was acquired by the Saints as an exceptionally good value FA signing, due to lingering concerns about a shoulder surgery. His $6m cap hit on signing in 2006 made the future Hall of Famer the 12th highest paid QB in the NFL that year, behind Chad Pennington, David Carr, and Jake Plummer, among others. In terms of draft capital, the second most costly QB acquisition in this group, after Flacco, was Alex Smith, whose net trade value was equivalent to slightly less than giving up the 19th overall pick.

Two of these longest-serving franchise QBs were replaced by elite upgrades in recent drafts. Patrick Mahomes was acquired in a bold, but not outrageous, draft-day trade up from 27 to 10, with net trade value equivalent to giving away the 41st to 42nd overall pick. While Lamar Jackson was drafted by Baltimore in an even more modest trade up from pick 52 to 32 with a net trade value equivalent to giving away the 102nd overall pick.

Interestingly, having an elite starting QB doesn’t stop most of the top teams from continuing to draft them. The best team in the NFL, with the winningest QB in NFL history as its starter, drafted the most QBs of the group. But the five QBs Bill Belichick drafted since 2011 (Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Danny Etling, Jarrett Stidham) cost the Patriots a modest 212 points of draft capital, equivalent to slightly less than the 27th overall pick. Three of the drafted QBs were traded for additional players and draft picks. And the costliest drafted QB, Jimmy Garoppolo (round 2, pick 62, 84 trade value pts) was eventually traded to the 49ers for a second round pick which Belichick parlayed into around nine new players, making it about break even overall.

Overall, the six top teams drafted an average of 3.33 QBs each over the last decade (low NO & SEA with 2; high NE with 5), but only expended an average of 273 pts of draft capital apiece, approximately equivalent to a single 19th overall draft pick. The latter figure is skewed by outlier Kansas City, which spent 821 points of draft capital on QBs (equivalent to a 1st to 2nd overall pick). The other five top teams spent an even more modest 163 pts average draft capital chasing quarterbacks over the last decade, equivalent to a single 37th overall pick.

A few things that are notably absent in the NFL’s elite tier are high value trade-ups, and splashy FA signings. None of these teams reset the market to land their QB of the future. Although a few of them might have done so or come close to retain them (Seahawks/Wilson 2019, Packers/Rodgers 2018).

Finally, perhaps the most remarkable thing about how the league’s elite teams acquired their franchise QBs, given the importance placed on picking high in draft discussions, is that none of these teams acquired their franchise quarterbacks by picking in the top 9 selections of the draft. And only one team drafted its franchise QB before pick 18. The only QB in the group who was drafted in the top five, Alex Smith (#1 overall, 2005), joins Joe Flacco as one of the two non-elite franchise QBs to play for the elite teams. Another former first overall draft pick, Cam Newton joined the Patriots as a short term fix for the departure of Tom Brady in 2020.

Acknowledgements

This article benefited from expert editing by James Dorsett, who needs to write more articles for Hogs Haven. Draft and other player data were taken from Pro Football Reference, and contract data from Over the Cap.


Poll

Which QB move makes the most sense for the WFT in the 2021 draft?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Trade up for Zach Wilson, Trey Lance or Justin Fields
    (40 votes)
  • 12%
    Best QB available at 19
    (53 votes)
  • 29%
    Trade back for Mac Jones/target Kyle Trask in round 2
    (128 votes)
  • 40%
    Kellen Mond or Jamie Newman in the middle rounds
    (173 votes)
  • 8%
    We won’t have any draft picks after the Deshaun Watson trade
    (37 votes)
431 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How should the WFT address the absence of an established vet QB?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Trade for an elite starter: Deshaun Watson/Russell Wilson
    (27 votes)
  • 34%
    Moderate to low value FA signing: Fitzmagic, Mariota, Brissett, Newton etc.
    (136 votes)
  • 21%
    Find a QB we can fix: Winston, Darnold, Trubisky
    (86 votes)
  • 9%
    Trade for Gardner Minshew
    (39 votes)
  • 27%
    Heinicke and Allen are vets. We are set.
    (110 votes)
398 votes total Vote Now