The NFL’s Quarterback Problem

So in old news,  NFL quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed a five-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers for $137.5 million, with about $74 million of that guaranteed.  In the quarterback “free agency” market, Garoppolo was the most attractive option (pun-intended) because of his age and ceiling.  The 49ers decided to tie up a big chunk of their money to the quarterback they believe is going to be the key to their success because that’s what you’re “supposed to do.”


Eh. Who knows really.  In the case of Garoppolo he went 5-0 in the five games he played.  He also threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions in those five games – but, for what it’s worth – the 49ers were convinced that was their guy to give this massive contract too.

For the record, I like Garoppolo and hold no ill-regard toward the 49ers organization. I really don’t care what they do, and if Garoppolo can get paid – props to him.  This isn’t even about Garoppolo, it’s about the quarterback position and how ridiculous the pay-grade is for that position.

Everyone will tell you until they are blue in the face – you need a quarterback in today’s league.  Sure. Who can argue that? The league has changed in ways that they want you to throw the ball more.  What has over-paying a quarterback really gotten anybody though?

Ask the Detroit Lions, who paid “their guy” Matthew Stafford a five year deal amounting up to about $27 million a year. That contract was given to him in August of 2017 and in July of 2017 Stafford’s record against winning teams was 5-46.  That’s not a typo – FIVE and FORTY-SIX.  Stafford has been the starting quarterback for the Lions since 2009 and they’ve had three playoff games with three playoff game losses.  Sure he puts up great garbage time stats for fantasy football geeks – but all in all, it hasn’t worked.

Ask the Seattle Seahawks, who were loving life when they found a diamond in the rough who they drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft.  Most teams don’t find their starting QB in the third round.  They did.  They rode it out – made him a star, he performed well and they even won a championship out of it.  After 2014 and a new contract the Seahawks realized they needed to trim corners.  They couldn’t keep offensive linemen, secondary players etc — and because of that the team has suffered.

Ask the Baltimore Ravens, who were the greatest victim of the “okie-doke” as Joe Flacco played the best stretch of games in his life when he was nearly perfect on the Ravens playoff / Super Bowl run in 2012.  Lucky for him he was in a contract year and the Ravens “HAD TO” keep their Super Bowl QB.  So they paid him $120 million over the next six years.  That $120 million has gotten them average to below average play from the QB position since then. (Side Note: It’s difficult to even watch Ravens games with him at quarterback).

There are a whole list of others – just look around the league.  Eli, Cutler, Romo, Cam, Luck, Matty Ice, Dalton – all aren’t terrible – some are actually the reason for any success that their team has had – BUT – was the money that was tied into that position really worth it for the teams mentioned?  Eli kept getting paid when he was passed his prime, Cam might’ve already peaked – as well as Matty Ice and Luck. . .

Folks, we just saw a back-up quarterback, who was nearly done with the game of football – win the Super Bowl.  And for all things considered – the injured starter, Carson Wentz, probably would’ve had the same results and he is in his second year of his rookie contract.

General managers have collectively shown that they do not care for long contracts with running backs. . . and often with wide-receivers and corner backs they tell the player “test the market and come back to us.”  With quarterbacks though, it’s always “What do you want?  Here it is.  Sign this.” (Unless you’re Kirk Cousins, of course)

Maybe I’m old fashioned but these games are always won in the trenches.  If you are not stocking up an above average offensive line, or an above average defensive line, then what are you – as a G.M. really doing?

Nick Foles showed in the Super Bowl, if you’re a competent quarterback who is comfortable with the system you’re in – you should be fine — especially if the pieces around the offense have bought into the system.  This is what you see every year from the Saints, Patriots, Kansas City and L.A. (Rams) – we also saw it for two of three years with Kirk Cousins in Washington.

The truth is, until a general manager and coach have the “you-know-whats” to tell a “star” quarterback “no” and that they believe in their system and finding a player who can run the system as effectively – these ridiculous contracts will never stop.  Fans will complain and you’ll get killed by the talking-heads on sports television but financially it’s a great move, if you really know you’re job.   Finding a starting quarterback is hard  – yes – but these quarterbacks have to realize how fortunate they are to find systems that are working for them.  Look at “great” wide receivers, corner backs, running backs – even line backers – who leave for a pay-day, find themselves in a system that doesn’t fit into their skill set and are released.  What usually happens to those players?  They look to find the system that got them that big money deal and try to prove they are still “great.”

Quarterbacks are special, but not special enough to hamper a team moving forward, financially.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Looking Passed Alex Smith

When people hear the name “Alex Smith,” there are usually two reactions: “game manager” and “meh.”   He is not the NFL quarterback who scares fans of opposing teams and when fans rank the top starting quarterbacks in the league, names like Stafford and (Eli) Manning come before his. . . and that’s just ridiculous.

Smith’s journey started at the University of Utah, while being coached by Urban Meyer – he put up impressive numbers after starting just two seasons: 66% completion percentage, 48 TDs, 8 Ints, 1072 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.   Those numbers make it obvious why he was taken first overall in the 2005 draft by the 49ers. . . at least at the time it was obvious.  Who knew that 23 picks later the Green Bay Packers would snatch up Aaron Rodgers?

For the rest of their careers, Smith and Rodgers have been linked and it’s not in the most complimentary of ways.  Football pundits scoff at the Niners – in hindsight – saying that the 49ers passed up on an all-time great and for who?  Alex Smith.

Never does anyone say “What if Aaron Rodgers got drafted by the 49ers?  Would he still be the Aaron Rodgers we all know now?”  The answer is: “Probably not.”  You see, Alex Smith was thrown into the fire – literally.  He was expected to pull off miracles with a below average roster, a clueless front office and had to deal with this stellar list of head coaches: Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and Jim Tomisula.   Aaron Rodgers?  He got to sit behind a hall of fame quarterback for three years and when his time came to start, he was the face of a franchise that is one of the best run in the league, with a mastermind of an offensive head coach in Mike McCarthy.

Fate was made so that Alex Smith would have to struggle.

As we all know, it wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh became the head coach of the 49ers that we finally saw  a coach build an offense around Smith’s strengths and we finally got to see what he could do. Nobody is saying that it was the most ridiculous season a quarterback could have, but what it did was give Smith back his confidence.  Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and became the NFL textbook definition of what a “game-manager” is.  Then something weird happened.  The phrase “game-manager” had been around for  awhile, but now that it was tied in with Alex Smith – it now gained a negative aura about it.   Being a quarterback who moved the chains and didn’t turn the ball over became seen as “meh.”

Fast forward and we come to Alex Smith getting injured and losing his starting job to the young quarterback with promise Colin Kaepernick.  After nine games, Smith threw for 13 touchdowns with 5 interceptions at 70% completion rate – but after seeing  how electric of a player Kaepernick was at the time – there was no going back.

Smith now found himself in Kansas City with Andy Reid.  For five years in Kansas City, Smith showed the best version of himself.  Smith threw for 102 touchdowns, 34 interceptions and posted an average of about 3400 yards a year.  Reid was not only able to use Smith’s accuracy (finished the five years with a completion percentage of 65%) he also made good use of his legs which opened up the Kansas City offense.  With Kansas City, Smith became a three time pro-bowler and had the highest passer rating in 2017 with a digit of 104.7.  What did all of that get him?  Traded at the end of 2017, to once again – make way for another young quarterback.

Fate now finds Alex Smith, who is now 33 years of age and will be 34 by the season opener, with a pretty good offensive coach in Jay Gruden, but with a team in the Redskins who are very. . . “meh.”  Washington is where Alex Smith’s career may very well end and although this franchise has historically been one to make questionable decisions on both sides of the roster and has an owner who sometimes gives the impression that he lives in another world – SOMEHOW – it will fall on what Alex Smith “failed to do.”  At this point, Alex Smith has heard it all – “draft bust” – “game manager” and now “passed his prime.”  A good chunk of Smith’s career hurt him and it’s due to nothing else but bad luck and situations that he could not control.

Would he be an all-time great if he had a better situation?  Nobody is saying that.  Smith definitely has his limitations. He just deserved better is all.