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Is Quarterback Stability on the Rise?

This time last year:

Brady will be the Patriots week 1 starting quarterback for the 13th year in a row.

Brady will be the Patriots week 1 starting quarterback for the 13th year in a row.

It’s easy to remember those times and think “man, life moves pretty fast.” But I’m going to take the opposite approach.

Twenty-five teams — twenty-five teams! — are bringing back the same week 1 starting quarterback from week 1, 2013. That, of course, doesn’t include Foles or Henne, who ended last year as starters. Last year, twenty-six teams had the same week one starter as they did in 2012. As it turns out, the past two seasons have seen the highest week 1 starting QB retention rate of any seasons since the merger.

wk 1 starting qb

Despite what we often hear, quarterback stability is on the rise. Tom Brady, for example, is starting for the 13th consecutive week 1 in New England, while Eli Manning (10), Drew Brees (9), Philip Rivers (9), and Tony Romo (8) are all starting for at least the eighth consecutive week one. One reason for this is that rules changes have done a good job of keeping quarterbacks healthy. Anecdotally, it also seems as those teams are more willing to use high picks on quarterbacks than they have at certain other times in NFL history.  Excluding the Eagles, who have a new starting quarterback but are obviously set at the position, how did the other six teams who will have new week 1 starting quarterbacks spend the offseason?

  • You may not have heard, but the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel in the first round.
  • The Texans had the number one pick, but didn’t deem any quarterback worthy of that spot. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter, but this seems like a team destined to draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2015 draft.
  • Tampa Bay signed Josh McCown – it’s unclear what the long-term plan is here, although I thought Mike Glennon played well enough to stay in the picture.
  • Oakland used the 36th pick on Derek Carr, who will almost certainly be starting by the end of this year.
  • Jacksonville used the 3rd overall pick on Blake Bortles, who will start by the end of this year or week 1, 2015, at the latest.
  • Minnesota used the 32nd pick on Teddy Bridgewater, who also figures to start sooner rather than later.

What about the six teams that had a new week 1 starter last year?

  • Two were the Jets and the Bills, who used high draft picks on Geno Smith and EJ Manuel, respectively.
  • One was Arizona: at least in the short-term (i.e., until the NFC West devours him), Carson Palmer does appear to be the man for the Cardinals.
  • Kansas City traded for Alex Smith in the 2013 offseason; upside be damned, Smith has stabilized the position for the Chiefs.
  • Of course, Smith was the 49ers week 1 starter in 2012; that made Colin Kaepernick a new week 1 starter last year. It’s safe to say he’s solidified that position for the foreseeable future.

That leaves just one team — one team! — to have a new week 1 starting quarterback three years in a row: the Oakland Raiders.  The Carson Palmer-Terrelle Pryor-Matt Schaub Derek Carr1 lineage is a sight to behold. But it does feel that quite a lot of teams are “set” or think they are “set” at the quarterback position these days. Other than the Texans, Raiders, Bucs, and Jets, every other team either has a first round pick at quarterback2 or has an established player at the position, if not both. Most likely, we’ll probably see 24-27 of the same quarterbacks starting for the same teams in week 1 of the 2015 season as start week 1 this year, too.

  1. Post updated just before the start of the season after Carr was named Oakland’s week one starter. []
  2. Admittedly, this may not mean much in places like St. Louis, Miami, and Buffalo []

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • flowmotion August 19, 2014, 11:32 pm

    This line of thought has interested me for a while, and I’ve captured some data on it.

    It seems like there’s a decline in interest in the journeyman/veteran quarterback. In 2011, 13 teams started some type of middling vet, while last year that dropped to 4 teams. (Of course I would need to go back further to see if this just a fluke.)

    This year, 25 of 32 teams seem “set” at quarterback, at least in the near term, and only Houston and possibly Oakland do not have a plan in place. However, Alex Smith might hit free agency after this season, and Locker & Bradford might be done.

  • Matt August 20, 2014, 7:16 am

    Interesting analysis. Here are some of the factors I think have contributed to this.

    1. Passing is more important in the modern NFL, so teams invest more money in quarterbacks than at any other time in NFL history (I think this investment idea is true, but I haven’t collected any data to back it up). Therefore, with more money and resources invested, they are less likely to cut bait.

    2. I definitely agree the rule changes that protect quarterbacks are playing a big part here.

    3. Shorter drops and quicker passes protect the quarterback from unnecessary hits in the pocket.

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