This feels like an insane statement to make. The common wisdom is that franchise quarterbacks are extremely rare, impossible to find, a glug of water in a desert of talent. But that is not really the case anymore. Nowadays, it’s become trendy to say that it’s a foolish errand to pay running backs a big contract, and why is that? Well, it’s because there is a glut of running back talent. To replace a top-10 running back with a young guy means getting 85% of the production for pennies on the dollar. I believe we really saw the end of the overvaluing of running backs in 1989 when Cowboys running back (and physical freak), Herschel Walker, was traded from the Cowboys to the Vikings for a slew of picks. Did the Cowboys suffer for trading their most talented player? No.
So, what does the running back market have to do with quarterbacks? Well, like running backs, the NFL is beginning to see an increase in supply of QB talent coming into the league. We have reached, in my opinion, the greatest influx of quarterback talent into the NFL in its history. Teams are beginning to devalue talented names like Watson, Wilson, Ryan, Stafford, Goff, and Newton. The idea of getting rid of one of these guys just ten years ago was unthinkable, but the NFL is changing, and we are coming to a time when QBs might be considered much more replaceable than at any time. Here’s why.
Schemes are fit to QB skillsets
It used to be that QBs were found to fit a system, not the other way around. Coaches and coordinators were stubborn in this regard, and when a scheme needed to change, coaches got fired. Not so today. From what we’ve seen in the last five years, teams are increasingly willing to create an offensive scheme to fit the particular talents and strengths of a QB. What are some examples, you ask?
Well, the obvious one is Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. Everything on offense was overhauled to match Jackson, and when you think of the LA Chargers last season, think about how different the offensive scheme was with Tyrod vs. Herbert. Coaches are learning to adapt to their QBs, which is smart. Counterintuitively, this helps to lengthen a coaching career, and if this philosophy is adapted wholesale, it means QBs can be replaced like a running back or any other skill position, as the offense is built to adapt to whoever is behind center.
QBs are ready to start
When Peyton Manning entered the NFL, he wasn’t ready to start. We can see that. He was a transcendent player, but he still set the rookie record for interceptions and struggled his first year. We expect so much more from QBs drafted today, and even third-round finds like Wilson and Prescott come ready to plug and play.
Whether this is because of simplified play calling, more seven on seven growing up, or the NFL trying to adapt to the college style of play, the young guys coming in today come ready to play, and they do so at a greater ratio than we used to see. While it took Josh Allen a few years to get his feet underneath him, players like Jackson, Mayfield, Herbert, and Burrow all hit the ground running and ended their first season as a quality starter.
And QB stats are verging on insane, even for these young guys. We call John Elway one of the greatest QBs of all time, but in the past three seasons, known-bust Mitchell Trubisky has had a higher completion percentage than Elway ever had, and his yards per game are similar to Elway in his peak. In fact, strip the names away, and you might choose Trubisky based on the numbers over Elway (who only eclipsed 4,000 passing yards once in his career).
But we expect more, and yes, the game has changed to favor the offense. Now, we expect something approaching a 70% completion rate from these young QBs, when that was an extreme rarity in the not-too-distant past:
NFL Greats Career Completion Percentage:
- John Elway: 56.9%
- Dan Marino: 59.4%
- Joe Montana: 63.2
- Joe Namath: 50.1%
- Michael Vick: 56.2%
- Brett Favre: 62%
Current Young QB Career Completion Percentage:
- (Inaccurate) Josh Allen: 61.8%
- Baker Mayfield: 61.9%
- Lamar Jackson: 64%
- Deshaun Watson: 67.8%
- Patrick Mahomes: 66%
- Justin Herbert: 66.6%
And that is just one data point. Touchdowns, rushing yards, etc. are up, and turnovers are down. The fact is, the young quarterbacks going into the game today are much more ready to play than they used to be, and with this glut of quarterback talent banging down the NFL’s door, what does that mean for the future of the game?
How the NFL will change
One of the things most affected by the lack of quarterback talent in the league was the ability for the NFL to expand. If this trend continues, and there are more great QBs than there are teams, the NFL will, for sure, expand the league to something like 40 teams. Mark my words.
Also, as quarterbacks are looking to get paid, they may find that their value isn’t what it used to be. Patrick Mahomes just got paid a king’s ransom, but other young guns might find that teams are unwilling to pay such prices, especially as we’ve just seen the first shrinking salary cap in a long time. Why pay a “mediocre” QB like Wentz and Goff going forward when we can see the pipeline of talent coming into the league? As QB saturation continues, QB dollar value will drop, and draft capital will also drop, as when most teams have a capable guy, the urge to trade up will decrease.
We are right now in a period where some team is going to see this coming and trade a talented young QB for an insane haul of picks. Jimmy Johnson might have done that if we was still making decisions. Team-building is going to change in the coming years with these developments if this trend continues, and I would not be surprised if we see more and more solid QBs not getting a second contract when they would have in the past.
Well, a bunch of young quarterbacks are getting set to get that first big contract. No one is going to argue with the Chiefs offering half of the city to Mahomes because of his one-of-a-kind play, but what about the next tier of guys? Who is replaceable with some of this young talent? And while it’s not easy to find the next Herbert or Mahomes or even Allen … it’s a lot easier than it used to be.
How do you think this development will play out? Do you think we might see a decrease in QB pay and value, or do you think we will continue as we have for the last while and pay the QB at the expense of team-building?