Why Quarterbacks Transcend Traditional Draft Logic

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissoner Roger Goodell poses for a photo with Blaine Gabbert, #11 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, holds up a jersey during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Over the past two years, eight quarterbacks have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Yet, you'd be hard pressed to find one talent evaluator who actually had a first-round grade on all eight prospects. 

So what causes teams to throw logic to the wind when drafting the likes of Blaine Gabbert in the early first round?

In short, it's all about the money.

While teams reaching for quarterbacks has been the theme of the past two drafts, how quickly we forget that the storyline in many preceding drafts was exactly the opposite. 

Prior to the latest collective bargaining agreement, which instituted a rookie wage scale, teams tended to shy away from quarterbacks early in the draft. 

The examples of signal-callers falling down the boards are plentiful.

In 2010, Jimmy Clausen—viewed as a top-five talent pick by some—fell all the way to the second round, where the Panthers finally ended his free fall at No. 48. 

In 2007, Brady Quinn was thought to be an option for the Browns at No. 3 and a virtual lock for the Dolphins at No. 9, but Quinn fell to No. 22 where the Browns finally grabbed him after trading back into the first round. 

In 2006, Matt Leinart slipped past Tennessee, Oakland and Buffalo before landing in Arizona with the 10th pick. 

In 2005, in perhaps the most memorable slide of all, Aaron Rodgers went from being a candidate to go No. 1 overall to falling to the Packers with the 24th selection. 

And the list goes on.

So what changed with the new CBA?

Prior to the 2011 draft, selecting a quarterback in the top 10 meant betting the next five years solely on the success of the quarterback.

While it often doesn't take five years to label a prospect as a bust, the money involved in selecting a quarterback first overall handicapped the franchise. 

For example, in 2010, top pick Sam Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million contract with the Rams, with $50 million guaranteed. If the Rams had decided Bradford was the next Joey Harrington after just two years, moving on would have been difficult. 

Bradford's lucrative contract guaranteed his full base salary through his fourth year in the league, in addition to a yearly "signing bonus" of $3.5 million. So regardless of Bradford's success, the Rams were locked into paying him a minimum of $9.5 million during his third year and $12.5 during his fourth year. 

Even if the Rams had decided to release Bradford, the guaranteed money he was due to earn would have made it virtually impossible for the Rams to acquire another franchise quarterback during those years. 

But in 2011, the money owed to a top-10 pick dropped dramatically. 

Just two years after the Rams gave Bradford $50 million guaranteed, the Colts were able to sign Andrew Luck for just $22.1 million over four years.

If the Colts were to decide to part ways with Luck after two years, they would owe him just $13 million over the final two years of his contract—nearly $10 million less than the minimum value the Rams would owe Bradford in the same scenario. 

Admitting a mistake on a top pick is never easy, but, due to the rookie wage scale, it's now financially feasible. 

So why is this causing a run of quarterbacks?

Essentially, teams now realize the reward for landing an elite quarterback far outweighs the risk associated with selecting a bust. 

Let's take the Minnesota Vikings as another example.

In 2011, the Vikings selected Christian Ponder with the 12th pick in the draft and signed him to a four-year contract worth $10 million

With a minimal financial commitment to their top draft pick, the Vikings were able to give Adrian Peterson a seven-year, $96 million contract just months after selecting Ponder. 

Two years later, Ponder is on the verge of being labeled a bust, but the Vikings have remained competitive due to their ability to spend on significant pieces around Ponder. 

While Ponder will presumably be given another year to prove himself in the 2013, the Vikings have the ability to move on whenever they feel the need. 

Ponder is due to earn just over $6 million over the next two years combined, less than many backup quarterbacks around the league, such as Matt Flynn and Kyle Orton. 

By selecting Ponder 12th overall, the Vikings gambled that he would develop into an elite quarterback and solidify the position for the next decade. But, unlike teams drafting quarterbacks prior to 2011, they weren't putting all their eggs in one basket. 

While making a mistake with an early draft pick clearly isn't ideal, it no longer sets a franchise back for years due to the financial commitment. If Ponder doesn't work out, the Vikings will be just fine.

With no sure things in the draft, teams have to weigh the risk and reward of every selection.

Now that money is no longer a deterring factor, whenever a quarterback is even in the discussion, teams are inclined to roll the dice.


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