In the NFL, the quarterback is the most important position. Have one of the best in the league and you are in contention to win a Super Bowl. If your team isn’t lucky enough to have one of the few top guys, your chances of winning it all with few exceptions (2000 Baltimore Ravens) are virtually zero. That’s why coming in the 2016 season, six NFL franchises have taken large gambles in attempting to find their man.
The most conventional way for NFL teams to find their starting quarterback is by drafting them. Eighteen of the 32 teams will be starting a player they drafted (as of August 28). The Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos have each invested draft capital into finding their starter.
The Rams and Eagles both traded up to select quarterbacks first and second overall in the draft. Both teams are gambling that Jared Goff or Carson Wentz turn into long term starters for their teams. But taking a quarterback at the top of the draft does not guarantee success. For every Peyton Manning drafted first overall in 1999, there is a Ryan Leaf who famously flamed out of the league. If either quarterback hits, it will be easier to justify trading most of their draft picks in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. If one of both of the quarterbacks turns out to be Ryan Leaf-like busts, both franchises will be set back three seasons and the coaches and general managers who drafted them will be out of work. While the Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch with the 25th pick overall.
For the Eagles and Broncos, it’s a little more complicated than the Rams situation. Before trading up in the draft the Eagles gave starter Sam Bradford a mediocre first overall pick for his entire 6-year career, a $36 million extension. In addition to signing Bradford, the Eagles gave $21 million to backup Chase Daniel. Add in the Carson Wentz contract and the Eagles will be spending over $30 million on quarterbacks next season.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are gambling that they made the right decision by refusing to pay former starter Brock Osweiler. The Houston Texans are gambling on Osweiler, by giving him a $72 million contract. Osweiler started seven games in the middle of last season for the Broncos. He showed some ability, but limited mobility in the pocket. By no means did Osweiler blow anyone away, and that was largely the reason the Broncos replaced him with Manning in the playoffs. The Texans are gambling $18 million a year for the next four years that Denver made a mistake letting Osweiler leave town.
In response to losing Osweiler, the Broncos traded virtually nothing to the Eagles for Mark Sanchez. Sanchez, once a sixth overall pick is most famous for running into the butt of his offensive lineman and fumbling. Prior to the trade, the Broncos had only one quarterback left on the roster, former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian, who had almost no experience. With the lack of quarterback options, the Broncos draft Lynch in the first round. Regarded as a talent project, Lynch could ultimately be the best quarterback drafted in the first round. But Lynch and his raw athletic ability are not expected to play much in 2016. Leaving the Broncos to rely on Sanchez, which the New York Jets and Eagles have learned, is not something you want to do.
The final two teams taking gambles on quarterbacks are the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. Last season Tyrod Taylor was a revelation in Buffalo. A late round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, Taylor sat on the bench for four seasons. Buffalo gave him a small contract and the opportunity to win the starter’s job. Taylor won the quarterback job and performed as a top ten quarterback. The Bills in response are making a $92 million gamble that Taylor is the long-term answer in Buffalo.
Perhaps the most interesting and smartest gamble was made by the Browns. The Browns signed former rookie-of-the-year Robert Griffin III to a two-year contract worth $15 million. In 2012, Griffin was one of the league’s best and most exciting players. But after tearing his ACL and dislocating his ankle, Griffin is damaged goods. In addition to injuries, Griffin has clashed with two different head coaches while with the Washington Redskins. While the Browns are betting on Griffin this season, they have their bet hedged next season thanks to the Eagles. When the Eagles traded up to second overall they sent a 2017 first round pick to Cleveland. What makes the trade more interesting is, that Cleveland made the trade because they did not believe that Wentz was a quarterback worth taking second overall. The Eagles disagreed and made the large gamble. For the Browns, should Griffin not work out for the Browns they can draft next year’s quarterback prize, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.