The belief that an NFL team can groom future stars of the sport behind aging pillars of the franchise has taken a hit over the last decade. Yes, Aaron Rodgers did take up the mantle when Brett Farve retired (the first time) as planned. Adrian Peterson supplanted Chester Taylor as the Vikings running back fairly quickly. But are those situations outliers? How many times have the Patriots and Saints tried and failed to find a successor for their hall-of-fame quarterbacks? Despite past failures, now more than ever NFL teams need a succession plan at the game’s most important position — quarterback.
Unlike most of the other positions on the roster, quarterback requires significant resources and time to develop. They take on the most responsibility on a team and command the highest percentage of a team’s salary cap — if they’re worth their weight in salt. But no amount of money can prevent the inevitable roster changes that time causes. Tom Brady will eventually retire. As will Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. We’ve already witnessed the early retirement of up-and-coming star QB Andrew Luck, who opted to leave the game after enduring multiple significant injuries over six seasons. Having a franchise quarterback is the dream. However, given the nature of the game, it’s always good to have an insurance policy.
That’s likely the main reason why the Green Bay Packers took a shot on Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Packers already have an All-Pro pivot in Aaron Rodgers, but used first round capital to add some depth behind him. It shouldn’t be that unfamiliar to Rodgers, because he too was a late first-round selection of the Packers, entering a stable QB situation with Brett Farve at the helm in 2005. After being Farve’s quiet understudy for years, Rodgers became a sensation as a starter, proving Green Bay’s ‘05 draft gamble a success.
The New Orleans Saints opted not to address their quarterback contingency plan through the draft this year, however. Head coach Sean Peyton convinced future Hall of Famer Drew Brees to return to Crescent City. Brees, the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader (77,416), will try to win his second Lombardi Trophy. With their franchise QB taking one last shot at Super Bowl glory, the Saints continue to search for the next face of their franchise. They’ll have to do it without last season’s backup QB, Teddy Bridgewater, who is set to become the new starting QB for division rival Carolina Panthers. New Orleans opted to re-sign utility quarterback Taysom Hill to a staggering $4.6 million one-year deal. The team then signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Jameis Winston to a one-year $1.1 million deal… before bonus incentives. Instead of looking for the next new thing in the draft, New Orleans chose to stick with the commodities they know in protecting their QB investment.
Andrew Luck’s retirement left the Indianapolis Colts scrabbling to find a new signal caller. Their initial search, just weeks away from the season, found them leaning on Jacoby Brissett. After stringing together a 7-8 record as a starter, the Colts felt the need to upgrade the position this offseason. Enter former Los Angeles Chargers’ pivot Phillip Rivers. Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard summarized the addition of the 16-year veteran by appreciating his “presence and experience and things you don’t always see on the field that he’s going to bring to our organization.” The 38-year-old will try to put Indy over the hump in an AFC South division still up for grabs. Brissett remains on the Colts’ roster, but it appears he will have competition for team backup in 2020. Indianapolis drafted Jacob Eason in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The Colts have the best of all the available options. The established — yet aging — vet, a young prospect with starting potential, and, of course, the reliable understudy that is Brissett. While there’s no guarantee that the answer at QB is on the roster, the Colts have certainly hedged their bets for the 2020 season.
There’s no right or wrong answers to finding a franchise quarterback in the NFL. The league simply boils down to the haves or have nots in the category. Without a top-10 pick, draft capital or an attractive offense, it can be hard to lure a franchise quarterback to your friendly confines. Super Bowl LIV between the Chiefs and 49ers illustrated the outcome of rival recruiting tactics. The Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select their franchise star. The Patriots signal caller was acquired via trade, with a second-round pick heading back the other way. The succession plan paid off for both clubs in a trip for a Super Bowl title in Miami. That’s two situations that can qualify as successful cases. However, given the volatility within the sport, every play — off the field as well as on it — goes exactly as imagined. The personnel you put on the field will always be important, but in the game of football, the next man up can be the difference between franchise savior and the unemployment line at the end of the season.