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The value of a good NFL quarterback just went up again

Teams attempted to play it fast and loose with the rising cost of quarterbacks — and it’s coming back to bite them

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, a lot of NFL general managers tried to get cute with the quarterback position.

Oops.

There have only been a few teams that have gone above and beyond to acquire a marquee quarterback in the last few years, including the LA Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but believing that you can build a team that can carry a mediocre-or-worse QB to a Super Bowl championship is fading faster than the belief in cryptocurrency.

In 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers threw more than a “bag” at Tom Brady, they also gave him practical carte blanche with the roster. Then later, they threw the Lombardi Trophy at him. There were other teams in the running for Brady, the San Francisco 49ers basically turned him down, and more than a year later they’re still figuring out the quarterback situation.

In 2021, the Los Angeles Rams paid two first round picks for the right to acquire Matthew Stafford while unloading Jared Goff, and while it is too early to call a “grade” on this move, confidence at the position hasn’t been this high since ... well, let’s just say “a while.”

The early results through three games this season show that, as you would expect, poor quarterback play has plagued most of the league’s teams that currently stand at 0-3 or 1-2.

That includes the Indianapolis Colts, a team that most likely could have traded for Matthew Stafford if they had been willing to sacrifice this year’s first round pick, but instead general manager Chris Ballard traded a conditional first round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Carson Wentz, probably at the request of Frank Reich. Though it is understandable what people admire in Wentz’s abilities, the cost difference between him at a conditional first or Stafford for perhaps a first and a second, is what I would call... hmmm, maybe “the bargain of the century”?

All due respect, Wentz had injury issues in nearly every season of his career and led the NFL in both sacks and interceptions in 2020 even though he only played in 12 games. The Colts were most likely Stafford’s first choice, probably just because they were looking like an obvious contender while LA still had Goff, but they back out much like the 49ers did a year earlier with Brady.

Other quarterbacks who have suffered through 0-3 starts include rookies Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence, plus Daniel Jones, and Goff.

At least in the case of the Jets, Jaguars, or Lions, I don’t believe they were concerned with winning this season.

The Giants are in a market where you’d think they could attract all kinds of quarterbacks who would have more than two touchdowns in three games, but they’ve batted those options down like a Daniel Jones pass.

Every rookie quarterback who started in Week 3 struggled beyond the measures of what we’ve come to expect from QBs at a time when passing stats are through the roof. It could just be that outside of phenoms like Justin Herbert, no, most quarterbacks still can’t handle the speed and intricacies of the NFL level within their first couple of seasons in the league.

Justin Fields went 6-of-20 for 68 yards and was sacked nine times in his first start for the Bears. Mac Jones threw three interceptions in his second loss with the Patriots. Zach Wilson has thrown two touchdowns against seven interceptions and been sacked 15 times with the Jets. Trevor Lawrence has only been a hair better than Zach Wilson.

But I have to say, Lawrence’s confidence about improving and leadership in in the post-game interview is exactly why I think he is the epitome of a “franchise quarterback” and Jacksonville had to lose damn near every game to acquire him with the first overall pick.

The “cost” to acquire the number one pick is high, just like the cost of the number one free agent or the number one quarterback on the trading block.

For another example of the value of the first overall pick, look to a Cardinals team that drafted a franchise quarterback in 2018, then probably needed all of about three minutes at the podium with Josh Rosen before deciding that maybe they had made a mistake. Arizona took a massive risk by drafting Kyler Murray the year after taking Rosen, but they are 3-0 and feeling good about that decision.

The New York Giants drafted Daniel Jones five picks after Murray went to Arizona. Maybe Jones wasn’t bad enough as a rookie — he had the same QBR as Tom Brady that season — but so did Jameis Winston when he threw 30 interceptions that season. Both the Patriots and Buccaneers decided to move on from those veterans, while the Giants picked tackle Andrew Thomas over Justin Herbert.

Elsewhere in the league, the Dolphins with Jacoby Brissett by way of Tua Tagovailoa, the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger, the Texans with Davis Mills via Tyrod Taylor, the WFT with Taylor Heinicke by way of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Eagles with Jalen Hurts; all of these teams seemingly had good opportunities to address their issues at quarterback in the last year or two and chose “safer” or “cheaper” routes at the position.

They are also all 1-2 with at least one clear problem right now: quarterback.

There are, of course, exceptions. But most of those can be explained.

The Denver Broncos are 3-0 with Teddy Bridgewater. They also have posted the number one scoring defense and faced the Giants (Jones), Jaguars (Lawrence), and Jets (Wilson). Denver next faces the Ravens, Steelers, Raiders, and Browns.

The Carolina Panthers are 3-0 with Sam Darnold. While I think we should remain open to the possibility that Darnold is good, Carolina’s defense has been at least as good as Denver’s (first in yards, second in points) and faced the Jets (Wilson), Saints (Winston), and Texans (Mills).

Las Vegas stayed the course with Derek Carr and they’re 3-0 for the first time in two decades. Carr is more than adequate at the position, but the Raiders have needed overtime to beat both the Ravens and Dolphins at Allegiant Stadium this year, with the other win coming against Pittsburgh’s waning offense.

If people think I’m being too harsh on those teams, that’s fine. We can make a bet about which undefeated team will remain a contender the latest into the season and playoffs. I’ll take the 3-0 LA Rams. You can have the other four teams, which isn’t that bad of a deal, because at least you’ve got the Cardinals.

I’m not so sure about the Broncos, Panthers, and Raiders.

This season, 15 teams entered the year with new starting quarterbacks as compared to Week 1 of 2020. We’ve already seen four teams need to call on the backup, and all of those teams (Houston, Miami, Chicago, Washington) entered the season with QB QMs (Question Marks).

There have also been 12 quarterbacks who have thrown at least six touchdown passes through the first three weeks, and 10 of those quarterbacks were already entrenched as their team’s starter the year before. That’s where you’ll find Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Murray, Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Herbert, and Carr. The two exceptions are Jameis Winston, an inconsistent concern at the position for Sean Payton even though he had five (relatively short) touchdown passes in Week 1.

The other exception is Stafford.

In 2019, the Cardinals were in a position to keep faith in a process that we’ve all been told will work if you whittle any prospect down to being Josh Allen, but instead decided to take a risk that might have made them the laughingstock in the league. They didn’t rest on their bad quarterback and now Murray might be early-season favorite for MVP.

In 2020, the Buccaneers were in a position to retain Winston — he did lead the NFL in passing yards the year before — as so many teams had done before with failed starting QBs. Instead, they turned more than they keys over to Brady and now Tampa Bay is seeking its second straight Super Bowl title. If not for a loss in Week 3, Brady could too be an early season favorite for MVP.

In 2021, the Rams were in a position to keep selling Jared Goff to the fanbase as a high-priced former number one pick who was like a poor man’s Aaron Rodgers — “He just needs more help!” Instead, they found a guy who doesn’t need more help, even if it cost LA first round picks in 2022 and 2023. Picks they would have had to use to help Goff anyway, so why not just go get the first overall pick who panned out instead of the one who was panned? Stafford as an early-season favorite for MVP? You bet.

Who will be the team that takes the biggest risk at the position in 2022?