For the first time since they drafted Drew Brees and Philip Rivers within four years of each other, the Chargers are expected to be on the lookout for the next franchise quarterback. With Rivers starting every game since 2006, the team hasn’t taken any QB above the fifth round since before that season — Charlie Whitehurst in the third round in ‘06 — and there hasn’t been a succession plan (that we know of) put in action because the need wasn’t there.
Finally in 2020 some plan likely has to be put into action, but despite LA holding the sixth overall pick, that’s not where the plan necessarily has to originate from and as we’re seeing in the playoffs once again, a team can actually manage to transition to another QBOTF rather quickly.
The Kansas City Chiefs have the best quarterback in the NFL by many measures and as you’re unfortunately aware, they never had to suck to be in position to grab Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs only had to really sacrifice a third round pick and a future first round pick in order to move up 17 spots for Mahomes in the 2017 draft. (I don’t count the 10th overall pick as something they had to sacrifice, as then we’d have to say that every team is always “sacrificing” their draft pick when they make a selection.)
And while Mahomes was an early draft pick, and calling the sixth overall pick different from the 10th overall pick would mostly be numerical semantics, Kansas City found an avenue towards a QBOTF (QB of the Future) without much hand wringing. Not only that, they may have found the QBOTF. After one more year of Alex Smith, one more year of decent success, the Mahomes plan was put in action in 2018 and has gone to back-to-back AFC Championships with a trip to the Super Bowl in two weeks.
Mahomes is proof of a couple things: one, that top-10 QBs can indeed be quite good right away, and two, that if you see the guy you love then you don’t have to be afraid to move heaven and earth for his hand.
On the other sideline will be a QBOTF that was a lot less costly in draft capital, even if he was a lot more costly in cost. The San Francisco 49ers acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots for a second round pick, then after only five starts gave him a $134.7 million contract. I thought that was too risky for my own tastes in roster building, and I think you can still make the argument that San Francisco didn’t necessarily need Garoppolo to get here, but given the troubles they had previously with that same Smith and then the fallout with Colin Kaepernick, at least the 49ers haven’t had to focus any attention on re-filling the QB position in the last three years.
(However, this is still the same team, GM, and coach that drafted Solomon Thomas over both Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.)
So both teams were able to satisfy their QBOTF needs with trades. They aren’t alone.
The Chiefs had to beat the Tennessee Titans in order to advance to the Super Bowl. The Titans went off as the third-best team in the AFC after they inserted Ryan Tannehill into the lineup in place of Marcus Mariota. Tannehill was acquired at the cost of a fourth round pick basically. The Titans must now make the decision of how much he’s worth to them — probably at least worth a franchise tag — because he’s a free agent, which is also a note that Tannehill might become a free agent. That’s another way to potentially acquire a QB right now.
The Niners had to beat the Green Bay Packers and while they didn’t trade up for Rodgers, they did draft him with only the 24th overall pick. As much as we make a big deal now in how “obvious” his fall was as a mistake, it wasn’t that obvious at the time. The cameras cut to the last people in the green room all the time and many of them do not go onto have great careers. Rodgers was drafted one spot ahead of Jason Campbell and at the time, surely there were plenty of people who preferred Campbell.
There’s speculation that there could be maybe a half-dozen good QB prospects in this draft, further highlighting that a mid-or-late first round pick could also help turn around a franchise. Even early. So trading back might not be a path towards failure for some team searching for a QBOTF.
Kansas City isn’t the only AFC powerhouse to get instantly better with a QB who won MVP in his second season after sitting for most of his rookie year: the Baltimore Ravens went 14-2 with MVP Lamar Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 draft. The Ravens also traded up for Jackson. They also got an MVP. They also didn’t need to use a top-6 draft pick.
I thought the New Orleans Saints would get further in the playoffs than they did obviously. As you’re well aware, they acquired Brees through free agency in 2006, largely available because of concerns around his shoulder. They also acquired Teddy Bridgewater through trade and have set themselves up potentially for a future with him. That’s two QBs that they didn’t need to use a high draft pick on. This upcoming free agent and trade market, which may even include Brees and/or Bridgewater, could also be interesting.
The Minnesota Vikings may have hit their ceiling with Kirk Cousins, but they did also get a pretty good ceiling with Cousins in free agency two years ago. The Houston Texans were the team that landed Watson in the 2017 draft, also sacrificing a future first round pick. Even the fact that the pick turned out to be fourth overall (used on Denzel Ward) probably didn’t do much to ease the Cleveland Browns on the fact that they could have had Deshaun Watson.
And this season’s results aren’t the only indicators that QBOTF players can be found in a variety of ways and often.
Last season’s Super Bowl didn’t just feature the greatest late round pick of all-time for the New England Patriots, but the LA Rams also traded up for a QB. The Rams moved all the way up from 15 to 1 for Jared Goff. I may not think that Goff is all that great and perhaps not actually a QBOTF, but it hasn’t hurt that much to try. (Not as much as the extension at least.)
The 2017 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles also moved up in that draft, from 13 to 8 and then from 8 to 2 for Carson Wentz. They won their playoff games with Nick Foles, a former third round pick who was then reacquired through free agency. Foles was in the same third round as Russell Wilson, who helped the Seattle Seahawks get into the 2012 playoffs as a rookie and then into a Super Bowl championship in year two.
Immediate success is also not impossible.
Mahomes won MVP in year two. Jackson won MVP in year two. Wilson won the Super Bowl in year two. Wentz won the Super Bowl in year two. Watson was the best player on the field immediately. Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford were top picks that had immediate success. Nick Foles posted a rating of 119.2 in his second NFL season. The Cincinnati Bengals went to the playoffs in each of Andy Dalton’s first four years. Dak Prescott led the Dallas Cowboys to a 13-3 record as a rookie and they haven’t posted a losing record with him. Even Gardner Minshew looked pretty decent in his first season, while Kyler Murray could be the next Jackson or Mahomes based on his first campaign in Arizona.
(Murray may have not lit the world on fire yet, but is the only one of those three to have to take on the responsibility of starting in Week 1 for a legitimately bad team.)
The Chargers have the sixth overall pick and they could use it on a QB and it could be the right choice. They also have the option to trade up or down, though Telesco has been very hesitant to move any picks since moving up for Gordon in 2015. But they could also take the best player available, regardless of position. There are many needs other than at quarterback. They could trust that a QBOTF can come in many forms, including the forms of trades, free agency, and midround picks.
If the foundation becomes as solid as it is for the Niners and the Rams, then the scope for what a QB of the Future even is gets much wider.