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Waiting on Quarterbacks – More Than a Fantasy Strategy?

russellwilson

Over the weekend, Fantasy Douche wrote an article about a team approaching the draft with the mindset to run a complete option style offense with multiple quarterbacks as insurance. That post was probably treated by most as satire rather than actually viable, but I wanted to expound on the thought a little further. Not so much on the option side and if that’s feasible, but is it possible that a better strategy today is to just keep churning over the quarterback spot entirely, similar to how fantasy players treat the position in fantasy football, with the late(r) round quarterback approach?

That too will be treated as satire I’m sure, because it’s counter intuitive to everything we’ve ever been taught about football: that quarterbacks win Super Bowls and good quarterbacks are early round draft selections. I would say that I agree that above average quarterback play does in fact play an important factor in closing out a championship run, but from the business end of things, would you rather win one Super Bowl or reel off a decade straight (or longer) run of winning seasons?

The second point I would make is that the latest collective bargaining agreement kicked the money that rookies were making into the veteran quarterback pool. Not the veterans as a whole, but mostly quarterbacks.  No longer do teams need to invest cap equity into their draft picks. At the quarterback position, having a cheap, adequate player may actually be friendlier to maintaining success than paying on extensions. I may be crazy, but the opportunity cost of veteran quarterback contracts could possibly have created an opening to exploit the market on the remaining positions, whether that is through the draft, extending your own talent or signing free agents.

The first instance would be the current Seattle Seahawk team. They likely had more fortune fall their way in recent drafts than anyone will fully acknowledge, but the brass tacks are still the same in the end. Russell Wilson made up less than one percent of their entire salary in 2013 and will again in 2014 (he’ll have the 51st ranked cap hit out of all quarterbacks this year). I’m not going to say that Seattle could’ve won the Super Bowl without him, although I think it is a fair question to ask. But his minuscule salary did afford them the opportunity to build their team in such a fashion that Wilson didn’t need to win playoff games on his own. See for yourself in his playoff performances.

Opp

Comp/Att

Cmp%

Yds

TD/INT

Rate

Y/A

AY/A

Att

Yds

TD

NOR

9/18

50.00%

103

0/0

67.6

5.7

5.72

3

16

0

SFO

16/25

64.00%

215

1/0

105

8.6

9.4

5

0

0

DEN

18/25

72.00%

206

2/0

123

8.2

9.8

3

26

0

Total

43/68

63.2%

524

3/0

102

7.7

8.6

11

42

0

 

I’m fully aware that just being active affected game plans and everything that came along with that, but anyone that watched any of those games could also see that he didn’t play great football aesthetically for stretches. His best game was the Super Bowl, and he didn’t even throw a touchdown until the Seahawks were up 29-0.

The Bears played their best football when Josh McCown came in late last season and kept their season afloat. Do I think McCown is a better quarterback than starter Jay Cutler, who just signed an extension for $54M guaranteed? No. I don’t. Do I think that having McCown at 3.5 percent of the cap (his hit after his new deal in Tampa Bay) would be a better investment than Cutler at 13.9 percent because of what it allows them to do with the rest of their team? I would be inclined to say yes.

Two other teams find themselves in very similar situations right now. The Bengals have to make a decision as to whether or not Andy Dalton is a franchise quarterback. One of the biggest sticking points in the crux of this deal happening is that the Bengals have made the playoffs every season with Dalton. Dalton’s camp will be selling that fact and the Bengals themselves may even be scared to move on from him because of it. The question to ask is whether or not they’ve been more successful because of Dalton, or that Dalton’s adequate play at such a low salary has afforded them the luxury of building strengths in both trenches, and will sinking 10 to 13 percent of their cap space annually into him give the franchise successful longevity?

The 49ers also have to decide the same thing with Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco and the blueprint they have had in place has not only been successful with Kaepernick, but also with Alex Smith in 2011, another player that we all would likely say is not an upper echelon player. Unlike Dalton, the agents representing Kaepernick will indeed point to him having his best performances in postseason play, but the same luxuries in team building that Seattle has had, have existed in San Francisco. The 49ers current window for a big run are already closing. With Kaepernick making just a 1.2 percent dent on their 2014 cap, would paying him ultimately close the window rather than further opening it?

There’s really no clear answer, but eventually there’s going to be a team that blinks and takes on the vulnerability that accompanies moving on from a scenario such as these. There’s been a lot of talk amongst the RotoViz crew about the impact of quarterbacks drafted early on, but there’s been a recent shift to that approach since the new CBA was implemented in 2011. It’s still a small sample, but non first round selections are making impacts and missing on them does little damage financially. This is what makes the selection of Geno Smith a smart tactical move a year ago, even if he doesn’t improve. The Bucs moved on from extending Josh Freeman by selecting Mike Glennon in the third round a year ago. He didn’t work out, but would they be in an different spot today if they had stuck with Freeman? Then they also didn’t panic this offseason and signed a veteran in McCown for peanuts to keep on-field stability and now are in the drivers seat to select another impact player at number seven overall. Can this become the norm?

Probably not since football is largely run by ancient philosophies, but if I’m someone like the Cleveland Browns with three picks inside the top 35 this year, I’d probably look at 26 or 35 to add a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer because I can add another player at four that will be cheaper than a quarterback at that pick and then add a quarterback later who will be cheap as well.

Below I included a table of the past 11 big quarterback extensions or free agent signings, some non-first rounders since the new CBA, a top one overall pick since then, and the last number one overall pick that was a quarterback under the old CBA and their salary cap numbers and 2014 effect on the cap. If you want more contract information, check out Spotrac or Over the Cap, which are fantastic and accessible sites.

Combined, the teams that make up the group of 11 that were extended or signed have gone 195-140-1 since those contracts. Only the Steelers and Giants have won a Super Bowl post extension, and those deals were in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Of the six teams that made extensions in 2013, their total record was 47-48-1 a year ago, and only Green Bay and New England made the postseason.

PlayerYearSign BonusGuaranteedAnnual2014 Cap Hit2014 Cap %
Joe Flacco201329,000,00029,000,00020,100,00014,800,00011.1%
Tom Brady201330,000,00033,000,00014,120,00014,800,00011.1%
Eli Manning200913,000,00035,000,00016,250,00020,400,00015.3%
Jay Cutler2014054,000,00018,100,00018,500,00013.9%
Peyton Manning2012058,000,00019,200,00017,500,00013.2%
Matt Stafford201327,500,00041,500,00017,666,66715,820,00011.9%
Tony Romo201325,000,00040,000,00018,000,00011,773,0008.9%
Aaron Rodgers201335,000,00054,000,00022,000,00017,550,00013.2%
Matt Ryan201328,000,00042,000,00020,750,00017,500,00013.2%
Drew Brees201237,000,00040,000,00020,000,00018,400,00013.8%
Ben Roethlisberger200825,200,00033,200,00014,664,41718,895,00014.2%
Andy Dalton20112,292,1444,028,1711,303,5501,659,0631.2%
Colin Kaepernick20112,226,7523,800,0001,281,0711,630,4541.2%
Rusell Wilson2012619,4002,996,774749,176953,5190.7%
Nick Foles2012543,250543,250692,130815,8800.6%
Andrew Luck201214,518,54422,107,9985,527,0006,029,4544.5%
Sam Bradford201017,975,00050,000,00013,000,00017,610,00013.2%

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