The life of a New York Jets’ fan is that of many ups and downs. For nearly my entire lifetime, the trend has been mostly filled with downs, aside from a few fleeting moments of happiness in 2009 and 2010. Perhaps the two most notable struggles in my history as a Jets’ fan are the consistent success of the archrival New England Patriots, led by the legendary quarterback Tom Brady, and the consistent lack of success by the Jets, with no legendary quarterback to speak of.
In the National Football League, few things matter more to a team’s success than having a franchise quarterback. Having a stout defense, good linemen and a workhorse at running back can all help, but if a team wants to be successful year after year, they need to have a franchise quarterback, and more often than not, the quarterback must come from the draft.
Sure, you can point to none other than last year’s Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who won the title despite the legendary, albeit underperforming, Peyton Manning under center. Yes, their defense, led by linebacker Von Miller, was unbelievable. However, Manning’s steady play and supreme knowledge of the game was vital to the team’s success come January.
Of course, the Broncos got Manning through free agency in 2012 following his series of neck surgeries towards the end of his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning was drafted first overall by the Colts way back in 1998 and it was there in Indianapolis where he became one of the most elite quarterbacks of all time. Manning’s arm led the Colts to the playoffs year after year, and eventually to a Lombardi trophy in 2007.
And the Manning-led Colts are not the only example of a team who got their franchise quarterback through the draft. The aforementioned Brady was taken by the Patriots in the sixth round in the 2000 NFL Draft. Brady, of course, led the Patriots to four Super Bowl rings along with head coach Bill Belichick. I say this quite begrudgingly as a Jets fan who can only point to Broadway Joe Namath and the 1969 Jets for the franchise’s lone Super Bowl win.
Then, there is Manning’s younger brother Eli, who has won two Super Bowls of his own with the New York Giants, defeating the Patriots for the title in 2008 and 2012, respectively. He, too, became a household name and a franchise quarterback for the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2004 draft.
Andrew Luck, the heir apparent to Peyton Manning drafted first overall by the Colts in 2012, has all the physical talent, but his injuries have been the only thing keeping the Colts from making deeper playoff runs. The Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson in the third round that same year and he has turned out to be a steal given his draft position. Wilson led Seattle to their first ever Super Bowl win and was one fateful play away from back-to-back titles.
Then there is Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins. He was drafted in the same year as Luck and Wilson, but in the fourth round and initially as a backup to Robert Griffin III, who was drafted second overall in the same class. Griffin ultimately gave way to Cousins after a number of injuries and, although it took some time, Cousins has really emerged as a true talent at QB over the last two years.
Washington’s strategy in 2012 is a great example that teams currently with or without a franchise quarterback should follow: draft one until you have one. And when you have one, make sure you have another one waiting. After Griffin’s rookie season, everyone praised Washington for making a great decision to trade up in the first round and get their franchise quarterback. But truthfully, their best decision was drafting their backup franchise QB in Cousins later in the draft.
In the current landscape of the NFL, where injuries can derail anyone’s career (see: Romo, Tony), it is vital to have that potential quarterback of the future always at the ready. A prime example: the current Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback is rookie Dak Prescott, drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft and he has been fantastic. Despite the initial impression that he would give the spot back to usual starter Romo once healthy, Prescott quickly became the face of the franchise, along with fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, and could lead the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl.
Of course, sometimes you don’t get so lucky with the draft. The Cleveland Browns have gone through so many starting quarterbacks over the last 17 years and haven’t really hit the bullseye on any of them. The truth is, even with some of the best talent scouts in the world, a team won’t know if they’ve found their franchise quarterback until he hits the field. Even then, they might not know if he’s their guy until he plays for a few years.
But until then, teams without a franchise quarterback need to keep drafting one until they have one. And teams with a franchise quarterback need to keep drafting their franchise QB of the future as an insurance plan. It is absolutely mandatory in the NFL’s current climate. I just hope the New York Jets take my advice and find theirs soon.