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Why the Washington Commanders Should Draft a Quarterback at Pick #11, Part 1

Why not try what the best teams do for a change?

The Washington Redskins defeat the Detroit Lions 41 - 10 in the NFC finals at RFK Stadium in Washington DC Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

I’ll get straight to the point:

The Washington Commanders should draft a quarterback at Pick #11.

Is there an echo in here? Actually, it bears repeating, because there is a lot to unpack in that sentence. Let’s take it a few keywords at a time.

The Washington Commanders…

Seriously? The consultation with fans revealed a strong preference for Red Wolves. Probably should have gone with that instead of rolling out an obviously phony excuse about trademark barriers and running with the owner’s choice. “Fans will like it if we win” has obvious limitations as a marketing strategy for a team with two winning seasons and no playoff wins in the last decade.

Sell the team, Dan. You have no idea what you are doing and are an embarrassment to the fanbase. And please take Jason Wright with you.

Sammy Baugh - Washington Redskins

Washington… Draft a Quarterback…

With that out of the way, it’s time get on with what this article is really about, what to do with the 11th pick in the draft this April. For the benefit of anyone just emerging from a coma or returning from a desert island, it has been suggested that the team might be interested in drafting a quarterback this offseason.

Historically, the Washington NFL franchise has had an abysmal record of drafting QBs. This problem predates Dan Snyder’s tenure as owner, the Super Bowl era, and even color television. Some have suggested this has to do with some kind of curse, or maybe something in the water at team headquarters. I believe there is a more rational explanation which I will get to a little later.

The Redskins got off to a great start, drafting one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history with their first pick in the first NFL draft, when they selected Sammy Baugh 6th overall in the 1937 draft. Baugh became a pioneer of the passing offense and went on to win two NFL championships in Washington. He received four All-Pro selections as a quarterback, defensive back and punter, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 1963. It was pretty much downhill since then.

Other than Baugh, the notable starting quarterbacks drafted by the Redskins include:

  • Eddie “The Little General” LeBaron, starter 1952-1963, 10th round 1950
  • Norm Snead, starter 1961-1963, 2nd overall 1961
  • Mark Rypien, starter 1989-1993, 6th round 1986
  • Kirk Cousins, starter 2015-2017, 4th round 2012

That equates to one franchise QB drafted every 17 years throughout the team’s history. I haven’t done the numbers for the rest of the league, but I would be shocked if any team has done worse.

One major reason for the low rate of drafted QBs is that, for very long periods the team has primarily looked to the veteran market to find its starters. Aside from Rypien, the Redskins’ best starting QBs in the Super Bowl era were all acquired as veterans:

  • Sonny Jurgensen
  • Billy Kilmer
  • Joe Theismann
  • Doug Williams
Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Washington… Should Draft a Quarterback...

You might have noticed some discussion on Hogs Haven about how Rivera should address the quarterback position. A vocal minority of fans feel that Tyler Heinicke earned the starting job in 2021. However, it is fair to say that the majority of fans are split between signing a veteran starter or drafting the quarterback of the future. Many in the latter camp would pair the rookie with a veteran acquired on a team-friendly contract to serve as a bridge until the young gun is ready to start.

Returning to that list of the Redskins’ best starting QBs in the Super Bowl era, the thing that stands out is that the last Super Bowl winning vet-acquired QB to play for Washington hung up his cleats in 1989. During the 1980s, building around veteran QBs was clearly a viable strategy to achieve sustained success. However, a lot has changed since then, with the introduction of the salary cap in 1994, and more recently with the acceleration of starting QB salaries up to and beyond 20% of total salary cap.

It is fair to ask whether pursuing a top-tier veteran QB is still a viable strategy to build a championship contender. I can’t say what the future will bring, and economics of the QB position are clearly rapidly evolving, so instead I’ll look to the recent past for clues. Proponents of the team pursuing Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson can point to the fact that the last two Super Bowls were won by quarterbacks acquired as veterans. On the other hand, 14 of the last 20 Super Bowls were won by teams starting QBs that they drafted.

To get a better handle on that question I took a deeper look at the QBs starting for the NFL’s best teams over the last decade. There are a variety of ways to define the league’s best teams. To keep it simple, I chose two complementary measures: championships and sustained success.

AMFOOT-NFL-SUPER BOWL Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Championship Winning QBs

One obvious measure of success in the NFL is championship trophies. For my first stab at the question, I had a look at all the quarterbacks who led their teams to Super Bowl and conference championships over the last decade, from 2012 to 2021. In the that period, six of ten (60%) Super Bowls were won by QBs drafted by the winning team, and four of ten (40%) were won by QBs acquired as veterans. Expanding the sample to conference championship winners tilts the balance even more in favor of drafting QBs, as 14 of 20 (70%) championships were won by drafted QBs, and only 6 of 20 (30%) were won by veteran signees.

Some might argue, with merit, that these stats are skewed by the ultimate outlying QB, Tom Brady, who spent most of the last decade winning championships for the team that drafted him. There is some truth to that, since removing Brady from the sample evens the balance of Super Bowl winners at three drafted QBs to three vets. However, at the conference championship level, drafted QBs still hold a commanding lead with ten championships to the veterans’ five.

Personally, I think it skews the results to take Brady and the Patriots out of the mix, since they are the team that has set the standard. If we are looking for clues about how to build a winner we should study them, not dismiss them as an outlier.

Apologies for getting side-tracked. My conclusion from the review of championship winning QBs is that it is possible to win a championship with a veteran or a drafted QB, but it is much more common with drafted QBs than those acquired as veterans.

Sustained Success

For Washington Football fans under 35, simply making it to the conference championship round of the playoffs would be quantum leap from where the team has been in their lifetimes. Those of us in the older generations still remember what it is was like for the team to be a playoff contender for a decade. For fans who would have preferred the name to be The Hogs, the team won’t really return to former glory until it becomes a threat to make a deep playoff run year in and year out.

I have argued previously that a handful of teams have worked out how to achieve sustained competitiveness in the salary cap era. The majority of teams of fall into a middle category that experience success from time to time, interspersed with losing seasons. Washington, I am sad to say, is one of the handful of teams at the bottom of the league table, that have never managed to achieve any real success in the cap era, despite the competition rules being set to keep teams in the middle category.

To revive that concept, I used two different measures to identify the NFL’s most consistent winners over the last decade: number of seasons with a playoff win and number of winning seasons.

NFL: APR 27 2017 NFL Draft Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Consistent Playoff Contenders

The NFL’s most consistent winners over the decade from 2012 to 2021, as judged by seasons with a playoff win are as follows:

1. New England Patriots - 7 seasons

  • Starting QB 2001-2019: Tom Brady, drafted 199th overall, 6th round, 2000 NFL draft
  • Starting QB 2020: Cam Newton, veteran acquisition
  • Starting QB 2021: Mac Jones, drafted 15th overall, 2021 draft

T2. Seattle Seahawks - 6 seasons

  • Starting QB 2012 to present: Russell Wilson, drafted 75th overall, 3rd round, 2012 draft

T2. Green Bay Packers - 6 seasons

  • Starting QB 2008 to present: Aaron Rodgers, drafted 24th overall, 2005 draft

4. Kansas City Chiefs - 5 seasons

  • Starting QB 2009-2012: Matt Cassel, veteran acquisition in 2009
  • Starting QB 2013-2017: Alex Smith, veteran acquisition in 2013
  • Starting QB 2018-2021: Patrick Mahomes, drafted 10th overall, 2017 draft

The acquisition of Alex Smith in 2013 was associated with a jump in team performance from seven and two wins in the two previous seasons with Cassel at starter to five consecutive winning seasons with only one season below 10 wins. Four of the five playoff winning seasons contributing to the Chiefs’ 4th place ranking in this list were accrued after the switch to Mahomes. The only playoff win with Smith at QB was the 2015 wildcard game.

T5. San Francisco 49ers – 4 seasons

  • Starting QB 2012-2016 Colin Kaepernick (2015 injury replacement Blaine Gabbert): drafted 36th overall, 2nd round, 2011 draft
  • Starting QBs 2017-2021: Jimmy Garoppolo (2017, 2019, 2021), veteran acquisition 2017; Nick Mullens (2018, 2020), UDFA signing 2017

T5. New Orleans Saints – 4 seasons

  • Starting QB 2006-2020: Drew Brees, veteran acquisition 2005
  • Starting QB 2021: Jameis Winston, veteran acquisition 2020

The three most consistent playoff contenders over the last decade (Patriots, Seahawks, Packers) achieved their success with QBs that they drafted. This group is highlighted by the most successful QB/team duo in NFL history, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

The next two teams on the list (Chiefs, 49ers) achieved their success with a combination of vet-acquired and drafted QBs. The Chiefs transformed from a losing to winning team with the acquisition of veteran Alex Smith, but did not achieve much playoff success until switching to drafted QB Patrick Mahomes. By contrast, the 49ers split their playoff seasons evenly between drafted QB Colin Kaepernick and veteran acquisition Jimmy Garoppolo.

The only team on this list to achieve long term playoff contention exclusively with a vet-acquired QB are the New Orleans Saints. If I were looking for ways to argue that Saints/Brees is an exceptional case, I would point to the fact that New Orleans was the lucky beneficiary of one of the greatest value free agent acquisitions in NFL history.

In summary, the three most consistent playoff contenders over the last decade got where they are with drafted QBs, and five of the six most consistent contenders did so with a combination of drafted QBs and vet acquisitions. Only the 6th ranked New Orleans Saints managed to build a consistent contender around a QB acquired in free agency.

After these teams there was a five-way tie for 7th place between Baltimore (drafted QBs), Atlanta (drafted), LA Rams (mixed), Indianapolis (mixed, all playoff wins with drafted QB Andrew Luck) and Houston (mixed). I’ll count that as three out of five more cases favoring drafted QBs. But now we’re looking at good teams, rather than the best in the league.

FBN-SUPER BOWL-BRADY-WARNER TALK Photo by JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images

Consistent Regular Season Winners

To get an alternative view on who are the most consistent winners are amongst NFL franchises, I also ranked teams by number of winning seasons over the last decade. This approach gives a fairly similar view of the top of the league rankings with just a little bit of shuffling at the bottom of the leaders’ board. In this case there were only five clear-cut leaders, with seven or more winning seasons apiece:

T1. New England Patriots – 9 winning seasons

T1. Seattle Seahawks – 9 winning seasons

T1. Kansas City Chiefs – 9 winning seasons

T4. Green Bay Packers – 7 winning seasons

T4. Pittsburgh Steelers – 7 winning seasons

Since we’ve already seen the QB histories of the four of the five teams, we only need to cover the Steelers here.

Pittsburgh Steelers starting QB 2004-2021: Ben Roethlisberger, drafted 11th overall, 2004.

Four of the five most consistent regular season winners over the last decade built their success around drafted quarterbacks. The odd team out, Kansas City, transformed from a losing franchise to a consistent winner with veteran acquisition Alex Smith under center before taking the next step to being a playoff contender when they drafted Patrick Mahomes. I’ll count that as 4.5/5 cases favoring drafting QBs.

After the top five, there was a six-way tie for 6th place between the following teams with 6 winning seasons apiece: Baltimore (drafted QBs), New Orleans (vet), Indianapolis (mixed, favoring drafted), Houston (mixed), Philadelphia (mixed), Tennessee (mixed). Once again, it’s interesting to see what the better than average teams do, but I’d like to keep the focus on the best teams.

Carolina Panthers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Summary and Conclusions

If Ron Rivera is to build a competitive football team he needs to find a starting-quality quarterback. He doesn’t currently have one on the current roster, nor does he have a developmental prospect with that potential. He knows it. The media knows it. And, with the exception of a few diehards with “Heinicke Hive” tattoos, the fans know it.

Over the years, the Redskins and their later incarnations have taken a variety of different approaches to finding a franchise quarterback, with little to show for it. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I had a look at how the best teams in the league over the last decade have acquired their quarterbacks, focusing on the question of whether Rivera’s Commandos should seek out a veteran starting quarterback via trade or free agency, or whether it might be better to try to draft the Quarterback of the Future.

What I have shown in Part 1 of 2 is that, over the past decade:

  • Championship teams starting drafted QBs outnumbered those starting vets by 14/6.
  • The three most consistent playoff contenders (Patriots, Seahawks, Packers) were all built around drafted QBs. Amongst the six most consistent playoff contenders (three above plus Chiefs, 49ers, Saints), only the Saints were entirely built around a QB acquired as veteran, and that was a highly unusual situation.
  • The five teams with seven or more winning seasons were all built around drafted QBs.

In the second and final part of the series I will explain why Rivera’s Commandos should select a quarterback at Pick #11. I will also answer the longstanding mystery of why the team has had so little success at drafting QBs throughout its recent history. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say the answer is so simple and obvious that it’s stupid.

Acknowledgement: as always thanks for expert editorial assistance by James Dorsett


Poll

Which would you rather see the Washington Comancheros do over the next decade and how old are you?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Win one Super Bowl in one playoff appearance (I am under 36)
    (79 votes)
  • 23%
    Win one Super Bowl in one playoff appearance (I am over 35)
    (196 votes)
  • 8%
    6 playoff wins in 8 winning seasons, 2 divisional round playoff wins, 2 NFC championships (I am under 36)
    (73 votes)
  • 58%
    6 playoff wins in 8 winning seasons, 2 divisional round playoff wins, 2 NFC championships (I am over 35)
    (492 votes)
840 votes total Vote Now