Time to Eliminate the MVP for Quarterbacks and Create the Johnny Unitas Award

Noah JampolFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2014

Dec 28, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Jaguars 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers will win the MVP this year.

If there was any shred of doubt, it was removed when he showed his toughness and resilience by returning from injury in a pivotal Week 17 matchup vs. the Detroit Lions. Contest over—he’ll coast to the award.

Still, even if Rodgers had played merely mediocre, he was almost certainly winning that award. And if he stunk and the Lions won, maybe someone else had a chance. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo—it could have been one of those guys.

What do they all have in common? They’re quarterbacks—the position that will so thoroughly dominate the MVP award for years to come that it should be renamed to MVQ, Most Valuable Quarterback, so we can end the delusion for once and for all.

It makes sense to a point. That I won’t argue. A quarterback has the biggest effect on the field of any player. You can’t double- or triple-team a quarterback. You can’t put nine defenders in the box to stop a quarterback. You can’t avoid the side of a quarterback or scheme around his effect on the game. With the new rules, it’s hard to say you can really even hit a quarterback.

A quarterback’s value is striking because he will always touch the ball, and a defense can’t stifle the passing game merely by using all of its defensive firepower. QBs are protected from hits, and the passing game is encouraged more than ever before with the emphasis on illegal contact, holding and the frequency of defensive pass interference.

A great position player like J.J. Watt does not have these luxuries. Teams can commit two or three blockers to contain Watt. They can run away from his side and throw quick screens. His disruption can be limited in a more straightforward fashion than a quarterback’s. It’s impossible for him to affect every play or compile gaudy statistics every series.

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Now, most fans will cede J.J. Watt has had a phenomenal season and all that. But they’ll staunchly say he will never be more valuable than a QB. Two common arguments are the "take elite QB off team X and see what happens" or "swap places of elite QB and position player X and see who does worse." These are dumb arguments.

Most teams don’t have two quarterbacks who are starting-caliber, nor should they. Given the fact that quarterbacks are the highest-paid players in the league and there are only about 15 of them who can play, why would they?

You only get to play one, and Clipboard Joe isn’t winning games from the sidelines. So, no team will invest in having a Tony Romo AND a Tom Brady. Nor will teams invest in the position by drafting two QBs in the first round of the draft in close proximity, unless the first is a colossal bust (hello, Cleveland Browns).

This just flatly isn’t true with other positions. It’s great to have multiple elite or very good receivers, pass-rushers, running backs and so on. They can all play and contribute. Additionally, there are more average players at non-quarterback positions. That's just how it is. So if you have to swap out a J.J. Watt or Rob Gronkowski and put in a Joe Schmo, it will hurt a lot but not as harshly.

I can’t argue with the idea that there is a severe scarcity of competent QBs and that adds value to the position. Still, it shouldn’t make the MVP award a glorified quarterback contest. If you put Matt Ryan in New England, the team would not tank. Rather, Ryan would probably be good, lead the Patriots to some wins and get MVP buzz.

That’s what this award has come to. As a quarterback, if you lead your team to 10-plus wins and put up decent numbers, you’re more likely to win than a position player having a transcendent season and outpacing the rest of the league. Every single QB getting serious MVP buzz, besides maybe Romo, has had statistically superior seasons recently in his career.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to get quarterbacks from hogging even more spotlight by trading MVPs among each other for the next 1,000 years. Ban them. Give them their own award. The Cy Young Award for QBs. Call it the Johnny Unitas Award. Unlike baseball, don’t colossally screw it up by leaving them eligible for MVP. 

The system would be much-improved. We could evaluate the merits of elite receivers versus cornerbacks. Tight ends against pass-rushers. We could get some real arguments going.

Instead of having the Defensive Player of the Year as some consolation for ignoring defensive players, they could return to the mix. We could stop the madness of routinely saying an offensive player (a QB) is the MVP but yet not the Offensive Player of the Year. That makes no sense to anyone. By even having that, the voters seem to acknowledge this is a quarterback award with a more grandiose title.

It’s time to fix the MVP award and make it inclusive. Between the rules and football writers and the fans’ perspective, it’s too late to merely argue that a QB shouldn’t always be considered most valuable. That concept became clear when Andy Dalton had people heaping more credit on him for a decidedly mediocre outing in the Cincinnati Bengals’ win vs. the Denver Broncos than teammates like Adam Jones.

Let’s actually recognize the other 21 guys on a football team as not just side ornaments in some one-on-one QB duel. Let’s give the quarterback the Unitas Award and free the MVP.

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