With 2012 in the books, I wanted to provide a quick update. While Cam Newton is not a bust and the jury is still out on Christian Ponder (although some are calling for OC Bill Musgrave to be fired), it’s worth noting the situation of the other two first round quarterbacks. In Tennessee, OC Chris Palmer was fired in part for yet again failing to develop a rookie quarterback, this time with Jake Locker as the prized pupil. And in Jacksonville, a year after HC Jack Del Rio and OC Dirk Koetter were shown the door for largely non-Gabbert-based reasons, the GM who selected Blaine Gabbert — Gene Smith — has been fired, along with the 2012 HC (Mike Mularkey).
Speaking of GMs, the Jets relieved Mike Tannenbaum of his duties (as well as Tony Sparano and, finally, QB coach Matt Cavanaugh) after the Mark Sanchez pick, who graciously avoided the “bust” label when I ran the study in October on the basis of two AFC Championship Games in three years and about three seconds worth of thought. What about the other first round quarterbacks that I labeled as neither busts nor stars?
HC Steve Spagnuolo lasted only two years in St. Louis after drafting Sam Bradford; after three years, both OC Greg Olson and HC Raheem Morris were gone in Tampa Bay following the Josh Freeman selection. Norm Chow and Bill Musgrave were considered offensive gurus, but lost their jobs after failing to develop Vince Young and Byron Leftwich after only two years. In Washington, Jason Campbell sat his entire rookie season, but his offensive coordinator the first two years he was on the field — Al Saunders — was released after year two, when HC Joe Gibbs retired. Jay Cutler was drafted in 2006, and OC Rick Dennison and HC Mike Shanahan were gone after 2008. Packers HC Mike McCarthy was the 49ers OC when Alex Smith was a rookie, and he somehow still managed to get the Packers head coaching job after the season. The next year Smith’s OC was Norv Turner, who parlayed modest improvement in Smith into a head coaching job in San Diego. Jim Hostler was the next man up, and he was fired as OC after one year. Meanwhile, HC Mike Nolan made it halfway through the 2008 season before he was fired.
Of the 22 first round quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 1998 and 2010 who did not turn into stars, the results were nearly unanimously bloody for the offensive coordinator and head coach. You can re-read the full post here, but the obvious takeaway: when an organization misses on a first round quarterback, the owner is going to look for someone to blame. That seems like a particularly important lesson for teams to heed this year, where there may not be any star quarterbacks available. No doubt that’s part of the reason some expect Geno Smith will be the only quarterback may get drafted in the first round in April; in the same vein, the downside of missing on a quarterback may have influenced Andy Reid’s decision to trade for Alex Smith“>Alex Smith.
That doesn’t mean picking a first round quarterback is a bad idea. The upside is tremendous if you hit on the pick, and the alternative methods of solving the quarterback puzzle (free agency, trades, and using non-first round picks on quarterbacks) are likely inferior. But it’s always worth remembering how severe the downside is, too.