Bridge vs Buy; Resetting the Market or Rebuilding Your Roster?

Last offseason, we saw the Detroit Lions and longtime starter Matthew Stafford mutually part ways.  Stafford went on to have a huge season that ultimately ended in a Super Bowl victory, while the Lions transformed into a full-fledged rebuild that ended with a 3-13-1 season and the 2nd Overall pick. It is no mystery that Quarterback is one of the most impactful positions in sports, which is why organizations must keep the job competitive to sustain long-term success. Similar to the Lions, the New England Patriots also mutually parted ways with Tom Brady the season before. This certainly costed them in the short run, but also locked down a developing QB to pair with their semi-rebuilding roster. What do these two scenarios, as well as many others in the same boat, have in common? Their franchise Quarterback’s developmental and competitive level was far removed from the team’s. These are two examples where the move was beneficial to both parties and the transition was handled in the best possible way and at the best possible time. The teams accepted the fate of their near-term outlook and made the moves they needed to make. Unfortunately, as this study will uncover, most of these transitions are not as smooth, which is why many teams and front offices find themselves in ever-evolving dumpster fires.

We took a deep dive and analyzed the numbers of all intended starting QBs that parted ways with their teams since 2018. The average QBR was 47.5I for the 32 QBs that switched teams or lost their job in the last 5 years. The study found that the variable of draft capital had a stronger correlation than QBR.

The 1st Round Picks

Since 2018, there have been 17 Quarterbacks selected in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft. (For the purposes of this study, I have excluded three QBs that didn’t meet the threshold of game experience, which were Kenny Pickett, Dwayne Haskins and Trey Lance.) The average QBR of their rookie seasons came in at 44.4, which was just under the cutline referenced above. Obviously, most 1st round rookies retain their jobs for at least another season since the franchises have already spent the capital and made the investment on the young player’s future development in the league. Just one of the 17 QBs was moved following just one season, which was Josh Rosen, who finished dead last in the group with a QBR of 24.1.

*Designates player is currently on new team, ^Designates Contract Extension, Excludes Trey Lance and Dwayne Haskins due to GP min.

Deciding on a franchise QB is not a black and white decision and relies on three things. First, has the QB shown you a glimpse of what he can become? Secondly, is he a guy in the building that has shown he can do it mentally and off the field? Lastly, is your team and roster aligned with the developmental stage that he currently resides in (ie, the Stafford/Brady realization above). The second contract for a QB is a gigantic decision that franchises must make, both financially and in terms of success. Most extensions are record breaking and place the QB near the top of history in terms of guaranteed money, which is the ultimate vote of confidence from a franchise. A team cannot go halfway in this decision. However, on the flip side, certain franchise find themselves with a revolving door of mediocre QBs when they let their guy walk.

2nd Chance QBs

Things really get spinning when you analyze the number of players who were given a second chance. Of the 32 QBs who lost their job since 2018, 16 of them were given a starting job elsewhereII. Of those 16 second chances, ONLY Super Bowl Champions Russell Wilson and Tom Brady were not drafted in the 1st round. Several were even given third opportunities, including Carson Wentz, Teddy Bridgewater and potentially Sam Darnold (who finds himself in a competition). The average QBR of the quarterbacks who weren’t given another opportunity was 46.7, compared to the 47.4 of players who were given another shot. Lower, but certainly not enough to justify a second chance. 70%III of the 1st round picks were given second and third opportunities while just 9%IV of the non-1st rounders were given a shot.

There are many other factors that can lead to a lack of success, such as the roster, coaching staff and schematic fit. Many of these players are drafted into terrible situations with little chance to live. However, some of these 1st round picks somehow keep getting opportunities undeservedly. Of the 17 1st round picks since 1018, just Kyler Murray and Josh Allen have received longterm deals (with Lamar Jackson likely to join them soon). The classes of 2021 and 2022 have a while to go before any decisions are made, but the time is now for 2018, 2019 and 2020 and this season will be massive for the remaining starters out of those classes. Finding your franchise QB is not an easy decision but is one that must be made at the drop of the hat. This is why most FAIL to properly make that decision, which results in a revolving door of QBs that we call the Quarterback Carousel (see Miami, Cleveland, Washington, Carolina, etc). Let’s dig into my analysis on the guys who have yet to be extended and what I predict for the upcoming year.

Baker Mayfield | Carolina Panthers – Class of 2018 (1st Overall)

Baker Mayfield had a big rookie season but has faced inconsistencies throughout his career. Teams must be patient when dealing with these young, blossoming QBs, but they also must know exactly when to move on. Holding onto or overpaying an undeserved, but once lauded prospect at QB can lead a team into a deep dark hole. The Browns took a high-risk, high-reward shot on replacing Baker, but also may have screwed their franchise back into the depths of darkness that it belongs in and frequently has found itself.

Baker joins the few his age with a playoff win, which is a tall task in Cleveland. If Baker blows the brakes off the NFC South and has a huge comeback season, Carolina will do whatever it takes to bring him back. Matt Rhule has been in a constant search for a QB since he got to Carolina and if Baker is the first to bring him success, then they will spend whatever it takes. If Baker has a rough season, he is a big enough name with enough former success to land a role as a bridge QB elsewhere. Baker has done enough in this league to stick around for a long time…as long as he doesn’t burn too many more bridges.

2023 Prediction: Signs 4 Yr Extension with Carolina

Sam Darnold | Carolina Panthers – Class of 2018 (3rd Overall)

Sam Darnold pieced together two of the three worst seasons in our dataset. In 2020, he recorded a 32.9 QBR, went 2-10 while throwing just 9 TDs but was traded to Carolina for a 2nd, 4th AND 6th round pick. Highway robbery. To add even more insult to injury, Darnold followed up that season with a QBR of 33.2, a 4-7 record while again just throwing 9 TDs. Once again, Sam Darnold, who is unanimously the worst starting QB in the NFL, has been discussed in trade talks as a possible filler for a team in need at the position. Matt Rhule has yet to name a starter, but the writing on the wall suggests it will be Baker Mayfield.

2023 Prediction: not retained by Carolina, signs elsewhere to become a backup and competes for a roster spot.

Daniel Jones | New York Giants – Class of 2019 (6th Overall)

Naturally, the media has been hyper-critical on Daniel Jones, but his rookie season was the third most efficient of the group, trailing just Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray. He is typically an easy target, being both in New York and a former Dukie. His upside has been inconsistently appearing as quickly as it has disappeared throughout his career, but his rookie season coupled with the recent front office dumpster fire has given him a well-deserved make-or-break opportunity. This season points upwards, as a seemingly competent crew is running the show for the first time in his career. Now as the Giants team seems to be making that next step in development, Daniel Jones must make his.

I feel that Daniel Jones is in a great spot. He knows what he can do and has always checked the boxes physically. Joe Judge, Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens took Jones a clear step backwards in his development, which is why I am giving Jones the benefit of the doubt. The last two seasons were a clown show in New York. 2022 is not about unlocking Daniel Jones’s potential, it is about finally giving him a realistic chance at success and consistency. He has faced nothing but adversity in his career, but now is his chance to get back to that level he showed us as a rookie. He has consistently cleaned up his turnovers year-over-year, but now he must maximize his big time plays in big time moments.

With Jones, we have seen the GREAT, the bad and the ugly. He’s a multi-time NFC Player of the Week who has taken over games. Last year against the Saints, Jones had 400+ passing yards and mounted a come-from-behind OT win. If Jones can find that success on a relatively frequent basis, then the Giants potentially will either slap the franchise tag on him or bring him back with a team friendly deal. If the Judge years were not a fluke, then I predict the team to move on and bring in a highly touted draft pick while Jones will face the market and likely land another gig to compete, similar to Trubisky.

2023 Prediction: The Giants franchise tag Jones after a much improved season

Joe Burrow | Cincinnati Bengals – Class of 2020 (1st Overall)

This contract extension will come in a matter of time. It is too early for the Bengals to start offering, but they will be looking very closely at the timing of this in the 2023 offseason. Burrow and Herbert are both locks in my book to get huge, record-setting extensions.

2023 Prediction: 5 yr extension with Cincinnati Bengals regardless of how their season finishes.

Tua Tagovailoa | Miami Dolphins – Class of 2020 (5th Overall)

I’ll preface this with the fact that I have never been a Tua fan. I didn’t love the pick…better yet, I hated it. To add more insult to injury, the guy I loved to Miami was Justin Herbert, who indeed would have undoubtably been the better decision. However, Tua has a huge 2022 season ahead of him and a chance to prove me wrong in a major way. The Dolphins had a rocky offseason, but did a phenomenal job in the personnel department, most notably bringing in top 5 WR Tyreek Hill.

Now that all the chips are seemingly in the right spot, Tua must show that he is worth keeping the job. Unlike most on this list, he has shown very little evidence on film that he belongs in the NFL. Through 2 season, he has thrown just 27 TDs and frequently found himself injured following routine hits for a QB. The Dolphins have also been heavily invested in bringing in veteran QBs to replace him, such as Deshaun Watson and even tampering for Tom Brady. Rookie HC Mike McDaniel also has a clear relationship with potential soon-to-be free agent Jimmy G. It is very clear…Tua has a short leash in the building and the Dolphins’ roster is ready to compete. If Tua begins to struggle early in the season, don’t be surprised if he is replaced.

2023 Prediction: Team retains Tua for another season, but does not give the 5th year option. Dolphins also bring in Jimmy G.

Justin Herbert | LA Chargers – Class of 2020 (6th Overall)

Just like Burrow, this is just a technicality with Herbert. Through 2 seasons, he has already amassed 77 TDs, 9,800 yards and nearly a trip to the playoffs that was ruined by his Head Coach. He’s locked into to reset the market along with Burrow.

2023 Prediction: 5 yr extension with LA Chargers regardless of how their season finishes.


FOOTNOTES

I – any QB that parted ways with their team (including trade, cut, bench, etc.) is included as “being replaced” for the purpose of this study. This includes both when it was the players decision, teams decision or mutual.

II – Of the 32 QBs who lost their job since 2018, 16 of them were given a starting job elsewhere. Any QB that started at least 3 games the season following is considered as “given a second chance”.

III – Some players counted multiple times for multiple “second chances”.

IV – meaning not extended

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