Commentary

Need a franchise QB? Draft one

Trades or free agency may seem less risky, but numbers tell another story

Originally Published: April 28, 2011
By Marty Callinan and Jason Starrett | ESPN Stats & Information

For the handful of teams entering the 2011 season looking for answers at quarterback as the lockout holds up free agency and player trades, planning for the future at the all-important position may never be more difficult.

Teams needing a signal-caller have three options: use a draft pick, trade for a quarterback or sign one in free agency. The labor situation has put a wrinkle in this year's draft because teams cannot trade picks for players, so if a team needing a quarterback passes in the draft, it must wait for league business to resume.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matt Schaub were acquired by their current teams in different ways: Rodgers as a draft choice by the Green Bay Packers in 2005, Brees as a free agent by the New Orleans Saints in 2006, and Schaub by the Houston Texas in a trade with Atlanta in 2007. Rodgers and Brees have won Super Bowl rings, and Schaub led the Texans to their first winning season in 2009.

Teams looking to go the trade route will probably start with Kevin Kolb, the Philadelphia Eagles' backup quarterback and insurance policy for 30-year-old scrambler Michael Vick.

The best comparison to the Eagles' quarterback situation is the 2006 Falcons and their backup quarterback, Schaub. Schaub attempted just 161 passes in three seasons with Atlanta before the Falcons decided to move their young passer before the 2007 draft. Similarly, Kolb has seen limited reps with mixed results in his short career.

The Texans gave up two second-round picks and moved back two spots in the first round to acquire Schaub in a trade based mostly on potential, not performance. Schaub has since led the Texans to three of their four best seasons, albeit with no playoff appearances to date.

Recent history shows us that Schaub's taking the Texans to the postseason would be a rare accomplishment.

Of the 60 teams that qualified for the postseason since 2006, two-thirds of them had a primary starting quarterback who was either drafted by or played his first NFL game with that franchise, including seven of the 12 playoff teams last season. Only 13.3 percent of playoff starters were acquired in a trade over the past five years.

The percentage of championship-winning quarterbacks acquired in trades is even lower. Since 1990, only two Super Bowl winners started a quarterback who was acquired in a post-draft trade. Fortunately for Schaub and the Texans, along with franchises hoping the Eagles are willing to part ways with Kolb, both quarterbacks in the trade category (Steve Young and Brett Favre) were acquired before starting an entire season in the NFL and went on to have stellar careers with their new teams.

Like Schaub -- and potentially Kolb -- other quarterbacks have seen their careers boosted by trades, notably former Packers backups Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck, who flourished after getting out of Favre's shadow in Green Bay.

Acquired by Jacksonville before the 1995 season, Brunell made three Pro Bowls, had four playoff appearances and led the NFL in passing yards in 1996 while with the Jaguars. Hasselbeck, who went to Seattle before the 2001 season, has led the Seahawks to five playoff appearances, the 2005 NFC championship and an improbable upset of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the 2010 wild-card round. Hasselbeck also has been to three Pro Bowls.

When organizations turn to free agency hoping to acquire a franchise quarterback, they aim for a successful outcome like the Arizona Cardinals achieved with Kurt Warner.

After signing with Arizona before the 2005 season, Warner went from being Matt Leinart's backup to starting in the franchise's lone Super Bowl appearance. Warner ranked among the top 10 in passer rating twice (2008, 2009) and made one trip to the Pro Bowl during his stint in the desert.

New Orleans turned a franchise around by signing Brees from the free-agent pool. In five seasons with the Saints, Brees has earned four trips to the Pro Bowl and made three postseason appearances, including a victory against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Brees also was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 after leading the league in completions, yards and touchdown passes.

Although possible, free-agent success stories like those in Arizona and New Orleans are uncommon and especially unlikely now given the labor dispute. Restricted free-agent tenders and franchise tags also make it easier for teams to hold onto quarterbacks.

It is much more common for organizations to acquire a franchise quarterback through the draft.

Sixteen of the past 21 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks played their first game for the team they helped win a ring. Since 2006, 12 of the 20 teams to receive a first-round bye in the postseason have started quarterbacks who were either drafted by or played their first professional game with that franchise.

This included the Pittsburgh Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger), New England Patriots (Tom Brady), San Diego Chargers (Philip Rivers) and Indianapolis Colts (Peyton Manning.)

Acquiring a quarterback via trade or free agency is less risky in theory than drafting a college player. However, NFL rules make drafting and developing a young quarterback the most practical and cost-effective method over the long haul.

Plenty of highly touted quarterbacks have flopped over the years, but NFL scouts seem to be on the right track.

Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow were the quarterbacks taken in the first round the past three seasons. Tebow seems to be the only wild card of the group (aside from Stafford's health), and even he showed potential in limited reps.

If a few more teams get things right in the draft this year, "The Year of the Quarterback" should live up to the hype.