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Prior to the draft, only four of the league’s 32 teams still had question marks at the quarterback position in 2016 (I’m excluding the Eagles from this group, who have the “too many quarterbacks” problem rather than the “not enough” version). Those four teams who might therefore have looked to add a quarterback during the Draft are the Broncos, the 49ers, the Browns, and the Jets.

  • The 49ers did not address the quarterback position in the Draft (unless you want to count selecting Jeff Driskel in the sixth round), which means it looks like Colin Kaepernick (or maybe Blaine Gabbert?) will be the starter come opening day.
  • The Browns did take a quarterback, USC’s Cody Kessler, in round three, leaving one of RG3, Josh McCown, or Kessler as the opening day starter.
  • The Broncos had Mark Sanchez, but made the bold move to trade up for Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch at the end of the first round. That puts Denver out of the veteran quarterback market.
  • That leaves the Jets, who look to be the last buyer standing. New York did draft Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg in the second round, but it seems unlikely that he will be the starter in 2016. The other quarterbacks on the roster, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty, would have a leg up on Hackenberg, but it is unlikely the Jets just stick with those three players.

From a demand side, there simply isn’t much there for veteran quarterbacks. The Jets are the only team truly left in this market. The 49ers could still trade Kaepernick, which would put San Francisco back in the game, but his only plausible suitor at this point would be the Jets.

The supply side? That’s a different story. The top remaining quarterback, of course, is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started and played well for the Jets last year. Brian Hoyer just signed with the Bears (after a workout with the Jets), but that still leaves Sam Bradford and Nick Foles, by virtue of what happened at the top of the Draft, along with Fitzpatrick (and perhaps Kaepernick) as 2015 starting quarterbacks now looking for a new home.

The quarterback market exploded this off-season, leaving no real middle class of quarterbacks. Brock Osweiler signed a four year contract with Houston Texans worth $72 million, including $37 million in fully guaranteed salary and a $12 million signing bonus. Washington gave Kirk Cousins the franchise tag, which puts him on a one-year deal worth $20 million. Even Bradford signed a large contract: a two year, $35 million deal which has $22 million fully guaranteed and another $4 million guaranteed for injury.

As of prior to the draft (i.e., so this number is only going up), the average team had $16.9M in salary cap dollars tied up at the quarterback position. Twenty-two teams have one quarterback who counts for at least $10M against the cap this year, with 18 of those counting for at least $14M. The Rams have $8.75 on the books for Foles, and will be now be paying Jared Goff, too. Of the other nine teams, over half have quarterbacks on a rookie contract (the Jaguars, Buccaneers, Titans, Vikings, and Raiders), which may be the best value in all of football when things work out.

That leaves four teams that are in more isolated situations. The Browns actually have $12.7M tied up at the position, as neither Griffin nor McCown came cheaply. The Bills hit a home run with Tyrod Taylor, allowing Buffalo (for now) to spend money elsewhere. And, of course, both Buffalo (EJ Manuel) and Cleveland (Johnny Manziel) both tried to be in the situation teams like Minnesota and Oakland are in now. The Broncos were paying at the top of the quarterback market until Peyton Manning retired; Denver has since retooled by going all-in on Lynch, making the Broncos similar now to the Jacksonvilles and Tampa Bays of the world.

And then you have the Jets. Before signing Hackenberg (or Fitzpatrick), the Jets have just $2.7M invested in the quarterback position as far as 2016 salary cap dollars go. That’s the fewest in the NFL, and 1.95 standard deviations below the league average. With quarterback salaries spiraling (some would say out of control), there’s an argument to be made that going cheap at quarterback could be the “Moneyball” move: if there’s a market inefficiency, zag instead of zig.

The Jets rank 5th in salary cap dollars spent on offense and defense, with most of that coming on defense where the team has spent more 2016 salary cap dollars than anyone else. That’s mostly due to the cornerback position, where the Jets lead the league by about $5M, and the defensive line, where the Jets rank 9th despite playing a 3-4. The Jets also rank 6th in WR salary cap dollars, 8th in OL salary cap dollars, and 13th in RB salary cap dollars. In other words, by going very cheap at quarterback, the Jets have been able to spend lots of money elsewhere. Here’s another way to think of it: the Jets have a league-high $152M in 2016 salary cap dollars not spent at quarterback; the only other teams above $140M in that area are Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Washington.

The ideal scenario is to hit on a rookie quarterback in the draft, a strategy the Jets have tried many times but which has yet to bring a success. The next-best option would be to pay for a great quarterback, but those don’t exactly grow on trees: you can’t go into free agency and choose to pay star quarterbacks top dollar, because they don’t hit.

That leaves teams with the decision of what’s the next best alternative. Is it to pay $12-20M to a middle-of-the-road starter? Is it to keep trying in the Draft until you hit? Or is it to go cheap at quarterback and build the rest of the roster? It looks like the Jets are going with a little of option 2 and a little of option 3, with the corollary that by waiting out the market, New York could still upgrade on Geno Smith due to supply and demand. The Jets are the only team playing this game right now, which makes it an interesting game regardless of whether it’s the right one.

  • Andrew Healy

    The only problem is that they have paid quite a lot in draft capital (last two years) for two quarterbacks very unlikely to succeed in the NFL. Not sure I see a plan.

    • McGeorge

      I think the Jets plan on drafting a QB each year, until they find one.
      I’m not thrilled with blowing a 2nd round pick on Hackenberg, but Petty (in 2015) was a 4th round pick.

      The problem I see with the approach is a team has a limited number of reps it can offer it’s developing QBs. When the Jets selected Bryce Petty, they expected it to take at least 2 years before he could attempt to start. They don’t have the ability to do that long term development if they draft a QB every year because they wont keep 4 QBs on the roster. And even 3QBs are squeezed for training reps.

      Offsetting this, it’s Geno Smiths last year under contract. I kind of hope Fitzpatrick retires, and Geno gets one last chance. He probably won’t amount to anything, but it’s still possible (I guess).

      • Michael Carlson

        Be nice to have NFL Europe back to give those QBs some reps. A spring league in Fla or the rest of the south wihtout workman’s comp laws (the NFL’s main concern) would be cheap and work well

    • Agreed. I hated the Hackenberg pick.

  • Alejandro

    I think that the strategy of going cheap on quarterback to build the rest of your roster is only a temporary fix in a pass-oriented league. Personally, I believe that a great quarterback can make his mediocre wide receivers and running backs much more effective than great wide receivers and running backs making a mediocre quarterback effective.

    • Sure, but how many great QBs are out there?

      • Michael Carlson

        Exactly. A great defense can win with a decent QB avoiding turnovers (or in the case of Denver, not) cf Super Bowls for Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer (less than great). A great O line can make an average QB look good and an avg RB look VG. Give an avg QB time and good receivers become VG. Building in the trenches can work….esp if you D leaves you needing <17ppg to win

        • sacramento gold miners

          I would put Brad Johnson in the good to very good range of QBs to have won a SB, along with Jim Plunkett and Phil Simms. In terms of going cheap with a mediocre QB, it’s not a winning strategy. The 2001 Ravens knew Trent Dilfer would be exposed as the journeyman he turned out to be, and they rightly jettisoned him.
          While Elvis Grbac didn’t pan out, I still think it was the right move at the time, Grbac was a promising talent, who unfortunately, lost his passion for the game.

          Denver is still a question mark to reach the playoffs in 2016. Paxton Lynch is a project, and Mark Sanchez has regressed from the QB who led the Jets to the AFC TG.

          • Going cheap with a mediocre QB isn’t a winning strategy relative to what, though? Is paying a decent QB 85% of what a top QB gets paid a winning strategy?

            • DragonPie

              There is an argument to be had there as well. Simply because that decent QB (say a Flacco) might get you into the playoffs with a decent roster around him and because of the nature of the playoffs in the NFL, that lesser team with the lesser QB gives you a feasible chance at winning a championship just by chance. Sure, the dice are loaded for Brady and he’ll have a better shot at a championship, but overpaying relatively might get you a decent shot and might be the best way to maximize your odds.

              I do think that if you have a sub-decent QB, paying 65% of the top QB rate might not be worth it because your odds of hoping for the stochastic nature of making the playoffs and winning a couple of games at a less than likely probability becomes even less.

              Which is why I’m glad that my favorite team chose not to pay Osweiler what he was offered. Because all evidence to date suggests that he is likely sub-decent and I consider it unrealistic to expect that defense to continue it’s very good level of play (especially if too much of the cap is going towards a subpar QB).

            • Abe Froman

              The old days of Johnson, Simms and Dilfer don’t translate. These are the top 15 QBs in Y/A in 2013, 2014 and 2015 who had never started a playoff game and were not rookies.

              Hoyer (started 2015 playoffs)
              Cousins (started 2015 playoffs)

              These are the mediocre/decent QBs. None of these guys should be getting 85% of the top salary. Conceivably Foles and Griffin are worth their mid-level salaries based on past season performance in Y/A and getting to the playoffs. Flacco made top 10 in Y/A once.

              • Independent George

                I was all set to object to lumping Simms in with Dilfer, then realized you were probably talking about Chris rather than Phil.

  • DragonPie

    Personally, I love the idea of not overpaying for Osweiler. Osweiler played very poorly last year in limited action and simply wasn’t worth anywhere close to what he was offered. I think that overpaying for a subpar QB is definitely a mistake.

    I also think that a decent rookie contract QB is one of the biggest competitive advantages that a team can have. And if you hit on a terrific QB, those QB’s are often underpaid compared to the league average QB. An elite QB can make all of the talent around them perform better and that means that you can choose to allocate money to other positions or get even greater return on money spent on complimentary positions.

    Other than that, I’d rather choose to be elite in areas that are less expensive to be elite in. I think that spending for top notch offensive linemen has a lower opportunity cost than being elite at WR, for example and can have an arguably larger impact.

    Or, if you have an elite QB, they can allow you to get by with lesser talent and you can put it on defense.

    But, if you have an average QB, you spend too close to what elite QB teams spend for that average production and lower tier guys perform too close to the same level as the mid-tier guys to be worth the difference in my opinion.

    So, attempting to hit on rookie contract QB’s and shoring up the rest of your roster is a good strategy. Eventually, you hope to hit that quality quarterback, but you don’t overpay for the middling subpar dude.

    At first, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Lynch pick, but even if he doesn’t work out, we likely have similar play to the Osweiler/Manning level of last year with Sanchez. If Lynch does hit big, we can be ecstatic, but if he’s serviceable, we use him for cheap through his contract. Maybe we give it another shot with another rookie during the same period and we gladly let him walk if he’s one of those middling dudes just like we did Osweiler. Seems like a sound strategy to me.

    Of course, every Broncos fan knows that we’re destined to somehow have Andrew Luck join our team and win a Super Bowl as he rides off into the sunset. The Colts and Broncos have established that history.

  • Phil


    I started I long message board post about this a while back (I’m barack carcetti in that thread)


    back in 2001, you had guys like Warner, Gannon, Garcia, Trent Green who were picked up off the scrap heap and played as well as anyone,

    you also had a lot of scrape heap guys that put together really good stretches of play, Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, Tommy Maddox, Doug Flutie

    where are those guys these days? is there a current starter that’s spent time in the Arena League or in Canada (I guess its been a few years since NFL Europe was around)? why not?

    why do starting QBs seem to come so much more from in the box than they did 15 years ago?
    are there old guys out there who could play well given a chance? as the NFL really gotten that much better at filtering through the QB prospects?

    idk, I think that’s an interesting question

  • Frank Yi

    In the 2 seasons after the SB loss to Seattle, Elway mentioned he was attempting to build a roster that in the future, can win without Manning (which, in 2015 was a reality). The trade for Lynch also seems to indicate that Elway has also seen the reality that though there have been teams with great defenses and sub-par offenses who won Super Bowls, most were not able to sustain the same kind of success long-term.

    Part of the problem with drafting developmental QBs in the modern CBA, as mentioned before, is that the limited number of reps allowed in practice doesn’t allow teams to devote much time on the developmental guys. The other problem is, though the relative quality and distribution of QBs aren’t different today than before (as 538sports mentioned), the pay for starting QBs isn’t varied enough – 21 QBs have an average contract value between $16 (Dalton) and $22.13 million (Flacco). The market rate for an average starting QB is a minimum $16 million/year. The contract average difference between Osweiler and Brees is only $2 million – the value of a backup QB (Weeden, Cassel) Granted, Brees signed his contract in 2012, but he was also a SB MVP and 3x All-Pro at the time.

    The top 5 QB contract averages all belong to Super Bowl winning QBs (Flacco, Rodgers, Wilson, Roethlisberger, Eli); the next 5 are Rivers, Newton, Ryan, Brady, and Brees (2 SB winners and a participant). So, 5 of the top 5, and 7 of the top 10 contract averages belong to Super Bowl winning QBs. So, we’re in the range of $20-$22.13 million here. After that? Cousins, Tannehill, Kaep, Cutler, Brock, Romo, Stafford, Bradford, Smith, Palmer, and Dalton.

    So, the question is how much can a team go cheap at QB and have sustained success? Maybe Denver, since they didn’t have quality QB play last season, and the defense remains largely intact. This is kind of the model the Seahawks were following prior to their drafting Wilson – and they were 7-9 in both seasons, though, they won their division in 2010 before they hit the jackpot in 2012 with Wilson. Maybe the Jets are trying to go this route, and are accepting their fate as an average team in the meantime?