Every NFL Draft pick is precious, but none are more precious than a potential franchise quarterback. It has been proven that trading away draft picks is a bad idea, yet every year teams gamble their futures away for what they hope will be a star passer.
Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the two passers expected to go No. 1 and No. 2 overall this week, will have to be better than several men. The Los Angeles Rams traded two first-round picks, two second-round picks and two third-round picks to move to the top of the draft. The Philadelphia Eagles gave up just slightly less — two first-round picks, and second-, third- and fourth-round picks. Goff and Wentz step into the league on wobbly, unsure legs. The consensus is that both are good quarterbacks, but if they don't spark deep playoff runs, they could get ran out of town.
NFL quarterbacks generally suck — which isn't to say that they aren't good at football, but this golden age of quarterbacks has set an unrealistic standard of what "good" is. Too often, young quarterbacks are pushed into starting roles before they're ready because there is pressure on teams to justify their investment. When that quarterback plays like a replacement-level starter and not Turbo Tom Brady, he is shunned for his front office's mistake.
Human beings suck at life
It's in our blood to covet our neighbors' goods, to be anxious, to be ambitious to the point of folly. The stakes are high, but they're not high enough. A handful of general managers are fired every year, but they always land on their feet with just a few fewer comforts. To be ambitious is a luxury. If lives depended on their decisions, GMs would be much less cavalier.
Nature shows us the proper way to raise a fragile creature like a rookie quarterback. Take birds for instance. They hatch as bald, blind, useless little mouths and grow to become soaring bald eagles, wizened owls and majestic toucans. They have survived — nay, thrived — because they are nurtured in a sturdy nest by patient caretakers. If NFL teams treated their quarterbacks like the fragile baby birds that they are, maybe we'd see fewer passers hitting the ground before they learn to fly.
I read several articles about birds to find out what these creatures could teach dear, sweet, naive general managers. This one was particularly good.
Throughout the year, most birds use day length to tell what season it is. When the number of hours of daylight exceeds a certain critical level, physiological changes are triggered in birds which prepare them to breed.
First, let's start with the assumption that we aren't all that different from birds or any animals. Humans live by a routine just like every other living thing on Earth. GMs, too. If they've survived the winter, they will promptly start putting together their draft boards in preparation for what is hopefully a fertile spring.
In most species, females choose males based on an assessment of their overall quality and vigor. Males advertise their suitability as a mate by exhibiting bright breeding plumage during courtship displays, by bringing food to females, by demonstrating their nest-building abilities, and by singing, drumming, or calling.
Humans also have the terrible habit of liking other members of their species in intrinsic, non-objective ways, which has helped create things like culture but at the detriment of our primitive survival skills. Selecting the person to put together your franchise shouldn't be a favor, and charisma should only be a small part of the criteria. It may sound nice to have a "football guy" in the front office, but if that football guy has never demonstrated that he has the overall skill set to build and protect a nest then his eggs are likely to break. Or worse, he'll draft Joey Harrington.
Some birds do not make nests at all and instead lay their eggs in a simple scrape in the ground. Other birds construct nests from natural materials, such as grass, leaves, mud, lichen, and fur, or from man-made materials like paper, plastic, and yarn.
It's natural to wonder how so many teams are so wildly bad, yet a few teams — the Patriots and Seahawks, lately — are able to win consistently. The best piece of advice would seem to be "do what the good teams do," but that's not so simple when good teams never do things quite the same way. The Patriots have been a constantly evolving offensive team under Bill Belichick. They won a Super Bowl as a power-running team in 2004, then went 18-1 with an unprecedented aerial assault in 2007. They made tight ends en vogue at the turn of the decade, then leaned on the running game in recent seasons while mixing in up-tempo play calling.
Quarterback Tom Brady has been the only consistent thing about the Pats offense, and he has been so successful in part because the Patriots can get the most out of every scrap of talent they find. It's not that the Pats find the best material, they simply use what they find to its full potential. They can then invest more heavily in the defense, something they, and lot of the league's best teams, have consistently done.
Birds incubate their eggs to keep them at the proper temperature to ensure normal development.
It's OK to let your baby bird sit! Quarterbacks, even first rounders, are rarely ready to play as rookies. We've seen exceptions, but those exceptions often prove the rule. Andrew Luck was regarded as one of the most surefire, pro-ready quarterbacks in a long time, but he was relatively pedestrian as a rookie, finishing 22nd in passer rating behind Blaine Gabbert and just ahead of Ryan Tannehill and Jake Locker. Russell Wilson had one of the best seasons ever by a rookie quarterback, but he was insulated by an otherworldly defense that made sure he was never asked to do too much.
Incubation periods are important. Not every quarterback will be ready to fly at the same time, especially if he isn't properly supported.
For the first week of life, most altricial birds cannot control their own body temperature and must be constantly brooded (kept warm) by their parents. By the end of the first week, their eyes are usually open and their feathers are beginning to emerge. During this period, nestlings can experience remarkable growth by doubling their body weight several times!
When everything clicks for your fledgling quarterback, the growth will be remarkable! Patience is the key. Don't be concerned if he stumbles to start, even if you've incubated him long enough. And don't give him more than he can handle. Alex Smith is not a Throw God, which took the 49ers hiring Jim Harbaugh to realize in Year 7 of Smith's career. As a Guy Who Can Complete Passes Up To 15 Yards Away, Smith has been a better than average quarterback. He may not have fulfilled his promise as a No. 1 overall pick, but he did eventually find his ceiling.
To keep up with the food demands of nestlings, their parents continuously forage for food. This is an extremely dangerous time for both the adult and young birds ...
The livelihoods of GMs and coaches are often tied to the development of their quarterbacks. They must cater to him, or else they too may perish. Again, take Alex Smith as an example. The 49ers went through two full-time head coaches and six offensive coordinators before settling on Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman. They finished 11th in points scored three years in a row after finishing no better than 18th in the previous seven. Smith stayed healthy but he also played better, setting then-career bests in completion percentage, quarterback rating and touchdown:interception ratio.
After leaving the nest (fledgling) young birds typically remain close to their parents for a short period. During this time, young birds must learn to survive on their own and are very vulnerable to predators and starvation.
It's tempting and all-too common for GMs to distance themselves from struggling quarterbacks in a vain attempt to save themselves — as if they don't bear any responsibility for their malfunctioning passers.
The relationship between Robert Griffin III and his guiding figures in Washington, D.C., is one of the great stories of self sabotage of our time. Griffin was brilliant as a rookie, but at a cost as he racked up rushing yards without learning how to avoid hits. His season ended with a torn ACL on a bad knee he likely should not have been playing on. Mike Shanahan, coming off two losing seasons as head coach and de-facto GM, left Griffin in against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs and the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year was never the same.
When Griffin was at his most vulnerable, Shanahan let his quarterback founder. The two sides traded veiled barbs until Shanahan was out of a job and Griffin was on the bench. Neither was able to work with the other long enough to survive the elements.
The first year is the toughest; in nearly all bird species, more than half of the first-year birds perish. For birds that do make it to adulthood however, the odds of surviving another year improve greatly.
Nature is cruel. Even the best of nurturers will lose their young. The only proven way to combat nature is to play the numbers game and overwhelm its ruthless and random morality. In football, every rookie is an egg, and the more you have the more likely at least some of them will survive the seasons long enough to become the soaring, full-feathered creatures we love to behold.
To believe you can keep one precious egg from cracking is to think you know better than nature. You don't, and no one ever has. Years of mistakes by purportedly smart GMs is proof of that. If Carson Wentz or Jared Goff one day live up to what was invested in them before the NFL Draft, it will be a happy miracle as precious as life itself.