Replacing Veterans on Big Contracts
The second concept that prevents the drafting of the rookie QB is the current investment in the position. Generally the thought we hear this year about the Dallas Cowboys is they cant spend the top pick on a quarterback because they already have Tony Romo on the roster. If anything they should spend a late pick on a guy who might be able to replace Romo down the line.
There are two things we need to explore if we are a team like the Cowboys. One is the general futures expectations with Romo. While his contract may be a bit of a salary cap mess (hes virtually guaranteed to be QB through 2017 and possibly 2018) that should not cloud the judgement of the fact that he is 36 years old. Here is a look at how many players since 2000 have started more than 8 games in a season grouped by age:
Usually the league carries around 1.5 starters per year who are 37 and older.Though last season was an oddball year in which we had multiple older quarterbacks (Brady, Manning, Hasselbeck, Palmer, Brees, etc…) that likely wont continue as historically there comes a point where those players just simply can’t go anymore. Manning and Hasselbeck have already dropped out and McCown is likely to as well. There is a strong argument to be made that Romo is probably on his last hurrah. Wouldn’t it be better to have someone to hand the ball off to next year or the year after once Romo is officially done rather than being like the Jets desperately trying to find a quarterback in free agency, where they don’t exist?
The second thing is how often we get the opportunity to draft highly. Since 2000 the most a team has been able to pick in the top 5, either because of record or ability to move up, is 6 times, nearly 38%. Two teams did that. Two teams also have had no picks in the top 5. The average is just 16.7% and half the league has two tries or less in 16 seasons.
The rate of quarterbacks being drafted that highly is also a factor. About 16% of the time there is no QB deemed worthy of a top 5 pick. Often there is only one player and he will be gone within the first two picks. So its possible you can be in the top of the draft and not have a chance at a QB.
Dallas has the 4th pick in the draft. There may be a quarterback worthy of a top 5 pick (obviously there has to be a QB graded highly enough to consider the pick) who will be there for Dallas to take. They may even be able to trade up without too much of a cost since they are already sitting at 4. This may be Dallas’ only chance to avoid becoming the QB purgatory teams chasing the likes of Josh McCown, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Schaub types every year as Romo falters.
This is the best insurance policy Dallas could have both now and in the future. And again the cost is not a significant factor. Romo makes $18 million a year. They will add another few million to that. It will make them close to being the highest spender in the NFL on the position, but when you factor in the odds of Romo being a Cowboy beyond 2017 its only a one or two year trip into that territory.
These numbers change if we are looking at opportunities to pick top 10 or top 15, but the general logic behind it should remain. Don’t get blinded by a contract and performances of the past. The future in the NFL should always be looked at with a pessimistic view.
The Other Value of the Draft Pick
One other thing to consider when we use a strategy like this is the value of the asset we are now placing on the team. QB’s in the NFL are scarce. You can’t find one in free agency. Guys like Brock Osweiler, who have only started a handful of games in their careers, are fetching $18 million a season if they get to free agency. So if you have a player that has potential on the roster you have an incredibly valuable trade asset.
The Rams just traded two number 1 picks, two number 2’s, and a few other picks for the rights to select and pay the full price for a quarterback that they have never seen play. As discussed above it’s a 50-50 proposition for them. If we actually drafted a QB, and paid the signing bonus, how high would that trade value be in the future? If anything it might improve.
Going back to the Titans example let’s say they drafted a QB but as things turn out Mariota has a great season. Maybe they even see two great seasons from him with one of these rookies riding the bench, similar to a Philip Rivers/Drew Brees scenario. That rookie who has never played only has about $6M in total remaining to be paid in the next two years. There is also going to be an option season that can be picked up for a higher number. For most teams the option is to pay through the nose for an Osweiler or chase a Hoyer in free agency. Some like the Rams can make the leap up and assume full financial responsibility.
Here we have taken that responsibility out and effectively paid for the draft pick. I cant see why that would be worth less than the Rams package they just paid and you may be able to get some other veteran players in return as well. So there should be value in this asset just like there is on draft day it’s just that we delay the return on it and are paying a premium to hope we land a QB.
When to Strike on the Quarterback
Again the first thing we need to reiterate here is that just picking a quarterback high doesn’t magically make him better. All that happens when we “reach” for a quarterback is take an unworthy player and move him up a tier. Teams have to rely on their scouts for good assessments of a players potential. Everything here is based on the concept of a viable draft pick.
I think I would have two criteria to look at when judging the need for a quarterback. If I have an entrenched veteran I want age to be an overriding factor with draft slots kind of giving me the round to strike. In general a QB age 35 at most probably gives me 3 years. Anyone 37 or over is just waiting to be replaced and every year you survive with that player you are lucky. Here are the teams last season with QBs now over that 35 age group, their AV, and where that team picks this season: