On Sunday, I wrote about some players entering “prove it” seasons in 2020 and while discussion in the comments turned to some of those who I did not name (worthy of their own separate posts eventually) there was also some discussion about “What is a franchise QB?” because I opened the article talking about Sam Darnold and the New York Jets.
Specifically, I said that the media wants to make you believe that there are “3-4 franchise QBs” in every draft and that I don’t believe that is realistic. That is based on the definition of “franchise QB” that I had in my head though and others have different definitions, so of course they’d disagree with that premise.
In having this discussion with other SB Nation editors, it became apparent that the term itself — if not the job security of a “franchise QB” itself — is quite fluid. Among the responses were these:
“This seems like more of a fluid, feely type question, like an ace starting pitcher in baseball. I want to say it has to be a QB in the top third at the position, but there probably has to be room to grow into that. Thinking Burrow is thought of as a franchise QB now even if it might not mean much for 2020.”
“I think in simple terms, any quarterback whose team commits a huge second contract to.”
“I define any franchise QB as a starter who doesn’t lose his job through struggles and who management goes to bat for.”
Eventually we settled on the idea that there had to be different tiers within “franchise QB.” It is true that by many definitions of the phrase, Joe Burrow is the Cincinnati Bengals’ franchise quarterback even before he’s taken a snap in practice with them. And yet, how can we put Burrow in the same category as Patrick Mahomes?
How can I even justify putting Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford and even Dak Prescott in the same category as Mahomes? Something must separate what Patrick Mahomes means to his franchise and what Kirk Cousins means to his franchise. All 32 teams would be OK with Mahomes as their starter but not all 32 teams would agree on Cousins, which we know for a fact because Washington made it emphatically clear he’s not for them.
Responses on Twitter were similar in this line of thinking:
Consistently above average, is a team player, great locker room presence, leadership skills— Kushmeiser (@ckush003) June 22, 2020
Someone to take the Team/Franchise to a consistent realm of winning no matter who is added or subtracted from the team.— KeefDiesel (@KeefDiesel17) June 22, 2020
Someone who is consistently good for a long period of time, someone who can win you games completely by himself at times— Todd Ash Duah (@ToddAsh09) June 22, 2020
Doesn’t miss games, wins you more games then they lose.— Juan Snow (@RickyJustinian2) June 22, 2020
Gets a second long term contract— Chris B (@BiggameCB) June 22, 2020
Definitions can range from “gets a second contract” (which would EXCLUDE Patrick Mahomes for now, not to mention Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, and other starters) to basically carrying his team to Super Bowl contention regardless of the personnel around him. I think you could argue that Tom Brady has lived life both as a franchise QB in a fortunate situation (2001-2004 Super Bowls) and as the reason his team was even in the Super Bowl (2007-2018).
And in other definitions, “franchise QB” could mean the same as “Hall of Famer.” I say this because to me, a lot of people may believe that the only franchise quarterbacks of the ‘80s and ‘90s were guys like John Elway, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, and perhaps a handful of others that I’m glossing over as I get to the rest of this article but you get the point.
That there is no clear definition of a “franchise QB” and what it really means to have one. If Jared Goff is a franchise QB and Patrick Mahomes is a franchise QB and Joe Burrow is a franchise QB and Ryan Tannehill is a franchise QB then how does that tell us anything about the 2020 season and beyond? I don’t think it really does.
Tiers within that and tiers below that would be more helpful. Here’s one possibility:
Rather than “franchise QB,” these players are basically “The franchise.” Their presence on the roster means that you’re settling in for a long haul of building around this player, cowtow to their needs, playing into their strengths, hiring coaches who can elevate their talents rather than asking the player to play to what the coach wants to do, and finding personnel who can fall in line behind them.
Even within this, there should be some division:
Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Deshaun Watson are five players who fall into this category for me and are in the beginning or middle stages of their careers. Though Rodgers is 36, the modern game has shown us that QBs may be protected enough now to play until they are in their early 40s. If a QB can give you four more years of play at this level — or is expected to — that’s more than enough for me to say that he is someone the team can continue to build around.
Even if the Green Bay Packers did draft Jordan Love, there are plenty of teams ready to hand the franchise over to Rodgers if he becomes available. Brett Favre played six more seasons after the Packers drafted Rodgers.
I’m also fine with people who point out that Rodgers has been less than his dominant self over the last five seasons, but that would not stop a team from calling him “the franchise.” That’s simply not an opinion that I think “the league” agrees with.
The name I’m least comfortable with here is Watson. He’s only played 2.5 seasons as a starter, he takes a lot of sacks, and he’s now entering the post-DeAndre Hopkins era. But Watson has also been so good, getting overshadowed by the fact that Mahomes is maybe the best QB to enter the league in two decades.
Amazing Deshaun Watson plays not involving Nukpic.twitter.com/VzoD8YoYCZ— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 22, 2020
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are four quarterbacks who I’d also put into “The Franchise” category but if they were out of the league in 2021, it shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. They’ve spent their careers in this category but now they’re carefully toeing the line between leading their teams to a championship and getting retired. Or in the case of 2015 Peyton Manning, both.
That gives me nine players in “The Franchise” category but I’d say four of them are dangerously close to not being here. It leaves room for other QBs to elevate themselves from the next category.
Here are the quarterbacks that teams have designated as the right ones for their team right now. This could lead to them being ones you “build around” or ones who you trust to lead around the teams you build. This can’t simply include both Josh Allen and Dak Prescott. That would be misleading.
Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Kyler Murray
I think these eight quarterbacks have all proven, in one way or another, that if the team had to use the franchise tag to keep them rather than risk losing them, they’d do so. They don’t just want any quarterback, they want this quarterback. They’d perhaps take a QB in the “The Franchise” category but they fear the unknown of not having this QB now. Or in some cases, these guys have shown us a reason to believe they could move up to the next category with a really strong campaign or two.
Prescott has literally received the franchise tag and the Dallas Cowboys are debating if he’s going to be “the” franchise or not. Tannehill may have gotten the franchise tag if the Tennessee Titans didn’t need it for Derrick Henry. Cousins wasn’t “franchise” for Washington, but the Minnesota Vikings keep tying themselves to him, guaranteed.
Most 40+ yard passing TDs last season— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 19, 2020
Patrick Mahomes - 9
Dak Prescott - 7
Nobody else had more than 5 pic.twitter.com/BsIuoRoNPr
I’m sure there could be some controversy with Lamar Jackson here and while I do see Baltimore building “around” his skillset, I’ve yet to be convinced after 1.5 seasons that he’s going to be a viable option five years down the line. Consider this: from 2016, only four seasons ago, only 14 starting quarterbacks remain starters and only 11 of those remain starters with the team they were with in 2016.
Gone (as starters, at least) are players such as Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor, Carson Palmer (who is the same age as Brees), Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, and a few others.
It seems obvious to us now, but in 2016, Flacco was a 31-year-old former Super Bowl champion on a lucrative pact with plenty of guarantees. Bortles was 24 and still a year away from his best statistical season. Newton was a year removed from MVP and the Super Bowl appearance. Mariota and Winston, rookies showing a ton of promise. I mean at that time, Taylor was even the same age as Luck and the results in Buffalo were about the same as the results in Indianapolis.
I never felt comfortable with Cam Newton as a long-term franchise quarterback. His passing stats have never been that good. For long-term success, we’ve yet to see any QB get by without being a pretty good passer. Lamar Jackson deserved to win MVP in 2019 and few people argue with Cam’s 2015 MVP award either. That’s only one season though. Jackson buried bad defenses, which is great (I went into the season with the Ravens as my two seed in the AFC mostly because of Jackson!), but he also struggled significantly against good pass defenses.
.@ShannonSharpe on Lamar Jackson saying they overlooked the Titans in the playoffs:— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) June 17, 2020
"It's the wrong thing to say. You can think that, but don't say it. Never underestimate anybody in the game of football, because it's only one game and especially in the playoffs." pic.twitter.com/oIux1V3FdP
This is important for one reason: Baltimore scored 12 points in their playoff loss to the Titans. A year earlier, they scored 17 points in a playoff loss to the LA Chargers. These are the two lowest-scoring games of Jackson’s career as a starter and before he gets into “the Franchise” category, something has to change in the playoffs against good defenses.
I think Murray belongs here because he isn’t getting enough credit for the rookie season he just had and I would actually rate him above Jackson because Murray seems to be the superior passer. The fact that he’ll have superior weapons at wide receiver is also interesting, though the Ravens have better pass protection.
Jared Goff, he of the massive contract and salary cap commitment to the Rams, must also belong here. He is a franchise QB — two really good seasons and an unbreakable financial attachment through at least 2021 — but many may fear at this point that he’ll never be a “The Franchise” type of quarterback. Almost nobody expects that ceiling from Kirk Cousins, but they could see it with Dak Prescott. What about Goff? He still needs to elevate his games in ways not yet seen, in my opinion, and he’s got to shake off plenty about 2019 if he’s even going to stay in this tier.
If you can move UP a level (as Mahomes and Watson did in 2019, or as Tannehill did to get into this category), then certainly you can move DOWN a level too. That’s where Jackson, Murray, Wentz, Goff, and so on are looking to avoid the next tier down, but first there has to be a sub-”Franchise QB” category:
“Franchise QB Hopeful”
It’s QB purgatory: Too early in your career to make a decision one way or the other but the franchise is willing to proceed as if you are the answer because that’s the only way to find out if you are. In other words, young players who we have reason to suspect will be elevated a tier.
Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock, Justin Herbert, Daniel Jones, Jordan Love
There are two interesting things about the names I’ve chosen: Only two NFC QBs. One of them is a backup.
Burrow, Tagovailoa, Herbert, and Love belong here because historically speaking, NFL teams have given first round picks multiple opportunities to win franchise jobs. This sometimes happens to second round picks but rarely happens with picks later than that unless they absolutely force the issue or are forced into it, such as Wilson, Prescott, or Minshew.
QBs with a better rating than Patrick Mahomes when throwing deep in 2019 (20+ yards downfield, PFF):— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 22, 2020
Allen, Darnold, Mayfield, and Jones belong here because they were recent first round picks (all very high) and they’ve yet to give a reason to move in another direction.
Lock and Minshew belong here because they showed enough promise as rookies to deserve further looks without serious competition. That’s why the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars purged the veteran options.
Out of those 10 names, I’d be surprised if more than half were still starting in three years and if at least two of them didn’t become really great.
These guys are starting. Maybe.
Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr/Marcus Mariota, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo
Taylor and Fitzpatrick are just holding places for Herbert and Tagovailoa. The jobs in Las Vegas and Chicago are up for grabs between players who were high draft picks or who’ve had enough success to warrant consideration. There’s little thought that any of those guys could move up a tier, though Tannehill proved it is possible.
Bridgewater is good to many people but he’s no more than “fine” to me. He was in a perfect situation with the New Orleans Saints and he’s going to an offense that may have a lot less to offer him. Garoppolo may have just gone to the Super Bowl and has a lucrative deal but is there really enough evidence at this point to believe he’s a better option than someone like Carr? Remember, Jimmy Garoppolo has still only had one season as an NFL player with more than five starts — and the San Francisco 49ers were entertaining Tom Brady this offseason.
The Rams will entertain other options if Jared Goff gives them good reason to in 2020.
Jarrett Stidham. Dwayne Haskins.
Is this actually the Patriots starting QB? Even if it is, I have absolutely nothing to go off of that should lead me to believe that he’ll even retain that job for longer than a week. I’d like to see something first.
Jarrett Stidham’s 2019 preseason highlights pic.twitter.com/qTgZupYYsV— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) June 18, 2020
Haskins was also only a rookie in 2019, but man was he terrible. With Ron Rivera securing Kyle Allen, his starter for most of last season in Carolina, I can’t imagine that Haskins is secure in his seat.
Finally, some other names to throw in the discussion for whatever reason could be Jalen Hurts, Josh Rosen, Mason Rudolph, Jacoby Brissett, and Winston.
One thing I found very interesting about Jameis Winston is that he led the NFL in passing yards in 2019. He also led the league in attempts, but that wasn’t the only reason he had so many yards: Winston’s 8.2 yards per attempt is a great number and he’s consistently been around 8 yards per attempt. The only real difference between him and Dak: 11 interceptions vs 30 interceptions.
It’s a HUGE difference and at the same time, it’s 19 throws (out of 626) that didn’t go well. Given that Winston was more consistently around 15 interception per season, we shouldn’t expect him to throw 30 every year. We should expect him to be around 15. if he maintained his other stats, Winston would be much closer to a franchise QB. Sometimes the difference between being a backup and being a franchise QB can be that small. 15 throws.
But those can be 15 pretty important mistakes. That can be one mistake per game. The definition of “franchise QB” may be fluid because results are so fluid. Mistakes so costly. Explosive moments, so important.
Goff’s place after next season will maybe depend on just a handful of plays. Whether those plays are bad or good may tell the story of how Goff is treated in a year. Goff started his career as more of a Haskins, honestly, then transformed into a bit of a current Prescott in years two and three. In year four, too dangerously close to being a Carr. That doesn’t stop him from solidifying himself as a franchise QB necessarily, but he’s got to change the direction of the trend and avoid a repeat.
Is Jared Goff a "Franchise QB"?
This poll is closed
Yes, but that could end this year
Not yet, needs a great season in 2020
No, he’s a "THE Franchise" QB
No, he’s a "starter"