While NFL and player leadership are (hopefully) continuing to work diligently to finish a new CBA, some "details" have been leaked. No hard details have been released, but one thing that could greatly affect the draft and draft strategy is the rookie wage scale. This could go as far as to change how teams acquire and develop the most important employee on the football field: the franchise quarterback. We'll take a look at how the rookie wage scale could affect how teams acquire and develop quarterback talent and the risks involved.Its well known just how important quarterback play is to being a consistent winner and champion. Quarterback value in the draft reflects this as no position as been picked first overall more often than quarterback. But it goes farther than that too.
In 2010, 56 percent of starting QB were drafted in the first round. The next highest percentage was 12.5 percent out of the second round. That is just the starters. Since 1967, 17 first round quarterbacks have won Super Bowls, many winning multiple times. Of the 45 Super Bowls that have been played, 25 have been won by first round quarterbacks (55.6 percent). The next closest is sixth round and later at 13.3 percent, but that is made up mostly from Tom Brady (6th), Roger Staubach (10th) and Bart Starr (17th). However, over the past 15 years, quarterbacks drafted in the first round have also had a 50 percent bust rate. So while drafting a quarterback in the first gives you the best chance to be a championship contender, that best chance is still only 50 percent and exponentially worse as the draft goes on.
An ancillary reason to why so many first round quarterbacks have had so much success is because of how much has been invested in them. The amount invested in finding franchise quarterbacks and developing them over the last two collective bargaining agreements has risen to disabling levels, highlighted recently by JaMarcus Russell in Oakland, Joey Harrington in Detroit and Ryan Leaf in San Diego. The most recent first overall quarterback, Sam Bradford of St. Louis, received $50 million in guarantees. It's a number that goes directly against the salary cap and thus affects how teams build the rest of their roster.
Here is where finding the franchise QB and the rookie wage scale come together. Teams want to find the most talented QBs and they are at the top of the draft. Teams have had to invest an absorbent amount on these quarterbacks which bust at a rate of 50 percent. No hard numbers have been given for any rookie wage scale, but it isn't much of a stretch to think that the guarantees could be cut in half. Which means instead of getting Bradford at $50 million guaranteed, Carolina and the team with the first overall pick in 2012 could get Cam Newton and Andrew Luck for $25 million each. So if you can get a talent the likes of Newton and Luck for what used to cost Bradford money and develop them side by side, why wouldn't you?
This brings us to the crux of this strategy debate: Knowing what we know about winning percentages, bust percentages, and the reduction in risk financially of drafting first round quarterbacks under a rookie wage scale, is it a good strategy for a team with no franchise QB to take a QB early in consecutive drafts?
The rookie wage scale allows teams flexibility they didn't have before. With a 50 percent bust rate, if a team's scouts and GM are good at their job, drafting consecutive QBs early should at least yield one franchise caliber quarterback. Because the contracts these quarterbacks signed would be under a rookie wage scale, the one QB that doesn't work out also doesn't have a contract that prevents the team from building at other positions and could be in a position to get cut without many repercussions. Most likely though, the QB that doesn't win this hypothetical situation is at least good enough to be a high level backup and his contract can be renegotiated in free agency or he becomes a valuable player on the trade market.
This is not a completely new strategy. Former Packer GM Ron Wolf's first move when hired in 1991 was to get Brett Farve. Even with a future Hall of Famer under center, Wolf drafted seven quarterbacks in nine years as GM. Wolf was generally able to get more than what he spent on them when he later dealt each away. While Wolf drafted quarterbacks from a variety of rounds, he was still about getting value. An important component of draft value is the contract required for that draft position. A wage scale mitigates that and paves the way to take the risk of drafting a valuable asset, such as a quarterback, early in consecutive drafts.
Of course, there are downsides to any strategy. There is always the chance that neither QB drafted pans out, drafting the same position in consecutive years means you're ignoring a need at another position, and having multiple QBs can affect team chemistry. But you can never completely eliminate the risk from drafting a QB early and its arguable that a good QB can cover up deficiencies at other positions. Positions that can be build up once the most important position, quarterback, is taken care of.
Quarterbacks drafted this past draft will most likely be under a rookie wage scale, so if you were the GM of the Panthers, Titans, Jaguars, or Vikings, would you draft a QB early in 2012? Would having Christian Ponder and, say, Landry Jones battle for a starting job be a good idea? Gabbert and Barkley? Is drafting consecutive first round quarterbacks a good strategy to find a franchise quarterback? Please feel free to debate your own strategies for building quarterback depth and how much a rookie wage scale could affect that process.