Choosing The Right Succession Plan At The Quarterback Position

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One of the most important roles for an NFL General Manager is maintaining an effective championship roster in the present, whilst ensuring that their franchises’ long-term roster security is maintained. The most glaring issue is preparing for a transition at the quarterback position, and not leaving your franchise without at least a viable starter in the sport’s most important position.

There’re many differing examples as to how this process can develop, take for example, young Dak Prescott starting as a rookie, and the high level of his play essentially forcing an ageing and oft injured Tony Romo into retirement.

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Also, Indianapolis, when they elected to release Peyton Manning in 2012, already had their eyes firmly fixed on the highly touted Andrew Luck, with the first overall pick of the draft, after Manning missed the entire 2011 season following neck fusion surgery.

Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers as Brett Favre’s successor in 2005, with Rodgers spending three years as Favre’s backup, before the veteran was moved onto New York in acrimonious circumstances, that placed a sad bookend on Favre’s lengthy tenure in Wisconsin.

At this point, all three of the succession plans above have been mostly beneficial for all parties involved, Rodgers and the Packers won a Super Bowl, so did Manning after his move to Denver, the Colts made the playoffs the first three years of Luck’s tenure, and Tony Romo landed a job as the lead colour commentator for CBS in 2017.

However, not all successions plans (or lack of them) work out so swimmingly. When Dan Marino retired in 2000, the Dolphins were without a true franchise quarterback and that trend has followed them since the turn of the century, with the Dolphins only making the playoffs four times since, with only one playoff victory in the last seventeen years.

In contrast to Marino and the Dolphins was his great rival, Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. After four Super Bowl championships in the 1980’s, Montana graciously allowed himself to be traded to the Chiefs in 1993, with backup Steve Young winning a Super Bowl of his own, and earning a hall of fame career in the bay area.

Once a quarterback reaches his mid to late 30’s, the whispers, blog posts and editorial pieces start to appear online and in newspapers, questioning just what a franchises’ plans might be, either in the short or long term.

Right now, there’re six quarterbacks in the league, who are 35 years or older, Tom Brady (39), Drew Brees (38), Carson Palmer (37), Ben Roethlisberger (35), Eli Manning (36), and Philip Rivers (35).

Brady will turn 40 before the season starts, and right now the Patriots appear to be the only franchise of the six, with a guy they see that can take them into the future, with Jimmy Garoppolo. Luke McCown is Brees’ backup in New Orleans, and has been there for the past four seasons, but he’s certainly not the long-term successor.

With Big Ben missing time as the Steelers starter over the past few seasons, Landry Jones has been given every opportunity to impress, that hasn’t happened, which explains the Steelers drafting, Joshua Dobbs in the 4th round of the 2017 Draft.

The Chargers have been surrounded by trade talks regarding Philip Rivers for some time, that never eventuated, and Rivers appears to be set in position as starter, at least for the next few seasons. The backup, Kellen Clemons is just that, a backup.

The Giants and Cardinals are arguably in the deepest hole regarding long-term stability and transitioning at the quarterback position. Eli Manning really struggled last year, raising questions about his future beyond 2017-18, if his form and his arm struggles continue.

Carson Palmer has a chequered injury history and is a big concern in Arizona, after a down 2016 season. If that form continues into 2017, the Cardinals will have the option to release him, without too much dead cap space for 2018. Neither the Giants or Cardinals have anything in the way of capable backups, despite former first round pick Blaine Gabbert signing on in Arizona last week.

Reasonable thought indicated that these teams might’ve addressed this position in the draft, but a lack of perceived quality, and other teams (namely the Bears, Chiefs, Texans) aggressively trading up put paid to that possibility. Whispers indicated interest for Arizona, New Orleans and New York, but these teams are no longer looking for a number 2 quarterback, they are searching high and low for a future franchise passer.

The 2018 draft class figures to be far higher in quality and quantity than 2017 at the quarterback position, with USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen all exciting prospects with another year of college growth ahead of them. Of course, the Jets, Browns and 49ers are all expected to be in competition for these standout passers come next April.

The key for these franchises with strong, playoff calibre rosters is to not wait too long in moving for the future, so to ensure that the level of your quarterback’s play doesn’t dissipate too quickly. Nor can they jump too soon, closing a Super Bowl window by packing a franchise passer out of town, only to replace him with a raw rookie, and a roster that expects playoff success is a recipe for disaster.

The Patriots find themselves in the middle of a very intriguing, quarterback storyline. They have the peerless 39 year old Tom Brady, fresh off a fifth Super Bowl championship and his young backup, Jimmy Garoppolo who impressed in the two games he started this season, but is in the final year of his rookie contract. So what can the Patriots do?

There’s no doubt Bill Belichick likes what he see’s in Jimmy G, the decision to not trade him for substantial draft ammunition this offseason was proof of that. Now, assuming Brady plays on post-2017, the Patriots have several options available to them.

Firstly, they could simply let Garoppolo hit free agency, and sign wherever he wanted, which is unlikely considering they could’ve sent him away this offseason, for a probable first round pick.

Secondly, they could extend him on a new deal, but this would be a financial deal far short of what Garoppolo could receive on the free agent market, and Garoppolo would probably avoid signing it to chase $$ and a starting job elsewhere.

The most obvious solution would be the franchise tag, the Patriots have plenty of cap space, and they could play safe for 2018, then if Brady declines, they can replace him or trade Jimmy G if #12’s play is still of elite calibre.

Belichick has shown throughout his tenure in New England that he doesn’t suffer sentimentality, he ruthlessly trades popular veterans out of town before the obvious decline has begun, and it’s hard to believe Brady would be an exception to that rule. One can only imagine the backlash in New England however, if Brady is mailed out of town only for him continue to win elsewhere, whilst Garoppolo struggled back in Foxboro.

This storyline will be one to watch develop over the next 12 months, as the Patriots move closer and closer to one of the most important decisions in their history.