The quarterback position has always been the most glamorous in football. From the days of Namath and Unitas to the present, the quarterback has always been the erstwhile face of the franchise, the leader of the team, the guy who takes credit when the team does well and also the guy who suffers the majority of the blame when the team struggles. In the modern NFL game, with its added emphasis on passing (and, it must be said, the rule changes that have furthered this development), having a capable quarterback truly does make or break your team, more so than it did 10 years ago.
The saying goes that you either have your franchise quarterback or you don’t — unfortunately, the saying doesn’t offer any sage advice of how you are supposed to acquire said franchise quarterback. More pungently, that saying doesn’t explain what price you should pay for the chance to snag your franchise quarterback — and that lack of price point, and the infeasibility of finding diamonds in the rough in the NFL Draft, is what forces teams like the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles to pay a king’s ransom in draft picks to move up in the draft for the chance to draft quarterbacks-of-the-future for their respective franchises. In a year when the top two quarterbacks are far from can’t-miss prospects, two teams felt it was worth mortgaging much of their draft capital to move up and take these QBs.
It is altogether ironic that it’s the Rams, of all teams, that went all in to acquire the No. 1 pick. Fans of football will recall that just a few seasons ago, the then-St. Louis Rams held the second pick in a draft that featured Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III — with the Indianapolis Colts basically locked into Luck, the Rams held the pick that would become RGIII, either for them or for another franchise with the guts to trade up.
As we all know, that franchise ended up being the Washington Redskins, who gave up the No. 6 pick and No. 39 picks in that year’s draft as well as their first-round picks in the next two years in order to move up four spots to take Griffin. After a stellar first year, RGIII suffered a tough injury on the god-awful turf at Fedex Field and was basically never the same again — this last season, he lost his job to Kirk Cousins and is currently competing for the starting quarterback role with the Cleveland Browns (shudder), who we will return to in a bit.
For their part, the Rams mostly capitalized on all the picks they received. After a flurry of trades, spanning a few years of the draft process, they came away with Alec Ogletree, Michael Brockers, Stedman Bailey, Zac Stacy, Isaiah Pead and Rokevious Watkins — none of these players are superstars, but they are, at the very least, valuable contributors and much-needed depth for a team that sorely lacked it. They have also assembled quite a snarling defense and at least a few playmakers on offense, with vaunted RB Todd Gurley the centerpiece. However, the Rams still lack a franchise quarterback, despite experiments the past few seasons involving Sam Bradford (now with the Eagles), Nick Foles, Case Keenum and Austin Davis.
While I am not suggesting that any of those quarterbacks are worth very much, I am a little befuddled by the Rams’ insistence to move up in this draft. They have seen firsthand how badly you can set back your franchise by making a bad move on a quarterback, and in a division with Seattle and Arizona, you’re not really going to compete for a Super Bowl title immediately, barring something catastrophic and unpredictable happening to the other two franchises.
Moreover, the top two quarterbacks in this draft are Carson Wentz and Jared Goff — fine players in college, but each with significant question marks. I personally have my doubts as to their superstar potential, and that’s the rub here — the compensation involved in acquiring the No. 1 pick is reasonable if, and only if, the quarterback taken there blossoms into a superstar. I can’t help but wonder if the franchise, now on the move to Los Angeles, made a splashy move to get fans excited about the team’s future.
While I can nitpick about the Rams, at least there appears to be some sense in their move (chance to acquire a franchise QB; chance to win some fans in the LA area; the rest of the team is fairly strong). On the other hand, I have no clue what the heck the Eagles are doing moving up. Right after the Rams made their move, pundits predicted that it would become impossible for the Cleveland Browns, who held the No. 2 pick, to trade down for fair value, since the team that moved into the spot wouldn’t know which quarterback would be left on the board. Well, the Eagles publicly declared that Sam Bradford would be their starter, paid Chase Daniel a princely sum to be his backup … and then made a megabucks move and mortgaged a bunch of current and future draft picks to pry the No. 2 pick away from Cleveland.
There are a lot of things I don’t like about this move. Firstly, the cupboard in Philadelphia is quite bare, a function of Chip Kelly’s short-lived reign of terror in command. You could really use all those picks to restock and recover from that disaster.
Second, amazingly, the jury is still out on Bradford and Daniel. Either of the two could feasibly develop into a quality quarterback — even though it feels like he’s been around forever, Bradford is still theoretically in the midst of his prime, and injury concerns and deep-ball accuracy aside, he is a productive starting quarterback to have. Give him a season under a non-mad football scientist, and then decide whether to axe him or not.
Finally, and most concerningly, no one knows what the Rams are going to do. Rumors say that they are intrigued by Goff — what if they take Wentz instead? What if they go an entirely different route and leave both quarterbacks on the board? The amount of uncertainty in that No. 2 pick is too much, especially for the price that Philadelphia ended up paying.
It says a lot that Cleveland walks away the clear winner from this move — having sunk money into RGIII, they were more than happy to sit out the QB-roulette game that has developed, and they will hopefully use the boatload of picks that the Eagles shipped their way to spruce up a roster decimated by departures and the antics of Johnny Football.
QB-needy teams tend to flock together — look at the common parties in this entire sordid affair. The Rams moved down a few years back so the Redskins could take RGIII, as the Rams already had Bradford. Bradford wore out his welcome in St. Louis and was swapped to the Eagles for Foles, who had worn out his welcome in the City of Brotherly Love. Meanwhile, RGIII lost his own job and ended up in Cleveland, allowing the Browns to fleece the Eagles this year. The Rams, still needing a quarterback after all of their moves, swapped with Tennessee, which didn’t need a quarterback since it took one just last season.
Year after year, a subset of teams gamble heavily on the quarterback market, and most end up losing. I don’t think that is going to change very much this year. Good luck to the Rams and Eagles — they’re going to need it.
Ask Vignesh Venkataraman about what it was like to write a column about something other than the Warriors at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.