The days of grooming NFL quarterbacks are as dead as 25-cent hamburgers. The trend of throwing rookie quarterbacks into the competitive fire isn’t new, but the numbers are exploding. Five rookie QBs are scheduled to start this season. Four rookies started most of the 2011 season. The last four drafts, since 2008, have produced more than half of the starting QBs.
There are lots of reasons why quarterbacks are now rushed into action, but none is bigger than it is a way of sending a message of hope to a disgruntled and impatience fan base. Everyone agrees it’s now a quarterback league because of changing rules and attitudes. And the fact that offense sells makes the league’s sugar daddy, TV, happy.
Why plod along in mediocrity with a veteran quarterback? Really, is 8-8 all that different from 4-12? Does it matter if your team misses the playoffs?
Get the new kid on the field and hope he becomes the next Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Give your fans a reason to think/hope brighter days are just around the corner.
The league’s haves and have-nots can be determined solely on who their quarterbacks are. Admittedly, quarterbacks often get too much credit or too much blame, but facts are facts. Teams with the best quarterbacks make the playoffs. No other position is close in importance.
There are obvious reasons why young quarterbacks are ready to play earlier than ever. Most are being groomed physically and mentally to play the position by the time they become teenagers. Even though many are fine all-around athletes, most turn their year round athletic attention to playing quarterback. Notice I didn’t say football. The learning curve at every level has gotten shorter and shorter.
Still, there’s no doubt a lot of potentially fine NFL quarterbacks have had their pro careers short circuited by this rush to play them. The list of busts is a long one. Think of JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf and David Carr just to name a few of them in recent years. Whose next to join this list? The Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill? The Jaguars’ Blaine Gabbert?
But don’t expect the NFL to stop rushing them into action. Many are paid too much money up front to sit and learn. Owners and fans share in the blame because of their lack of patience. Coaches and general managers know building a team often benefits the coach and/or GM who replaces them.
Consider this theory: Jack Del Rio knew the Jaguars last year would be a better team with David Garrard at quarterback, but not that much better and he’d still get fired. So he gambled, released Garrard and rushed Gabbert onto the field, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle and uncover the next great NFL QB. What’d he have to lose? Starting Gabbert early did excite the fan base until he proved he was in over his head.
Some of the young quarterbacks rushed in starting in recent seasons already have lost some of their luster. Gabbert, for one. The Jets’ Mark Sanchez and the Bucs’ Josh Freeman are others. They could still prove to be successful if they don’t get benched for the “next big thing” at their position.
It isn’t a matter of right or wrong. It’s simply the way it is.