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Matt Schaub and a franchise quarterback in the same sentence

Matt Schaub and a franchise quarterback in the same sentence.

The Texans and Raiders recently made a couple of veteran quarterback acquisitions. The team with the first overall pick in May’s draft signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and then traded Matt Schaub to Oakland, owners of the fifth overall selection. Will either team now be deterred from spending a top five pick on Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, or Johnny Manziel? Putting aside your feelings on those players, one would certainly hope not simply as a matter of principle. The idea that a journeyman quarterback would cause an organization to pass on a potential franchise quarterback is absurd. If the Texans choose to select Jadeveon Clowney over a quarterback with the first overall pick, that’s fine, but the reason isn’t going to be because Houston is confident that Fitzpatrick is the quarterback of the future.

I thought it would be interesting to review the last 20 years of NFL history and identify situations where a team added a veteran quarterback and then still selected a passer in the first round of the draft. There weren’t quite as many examples as I originally expected, although part of the explanation is that there simply aren’t that many quarterbacks drafted in the first round, period. In addition, the 2011 lockout prevented this from happening that year, but teams that spent high picks on quarterbacks went after veterans once the lockout ended. Minnesota traded for Donovan McNabb after drafting Christian Ponder, the Titans signed Matt Hasselbeck and gave him the starting job over Jake Locker, and even the Panthers brought in Derek Anderson to do something for Cam Newton. But let’s look at some of the examples more similar to Schaub-to-Oakland or Fitzpatrick-to-Houston:

2013 Bills sign Kevin Kolb

Around this time last year, the Bills signed Kolb to a two-year, $13 million deal. But with the 16th pick in last year’s draft, Buffalo still selected Florida State’s EJ Manuel. Kolb would suffer a severe concussion in the preseason, which may wind up being a career-ending injury. The 2013 version of Kolb pre-concussion belongs in roughly the same tier as 2014 Schaub or 2014 Fitzpatrick; if Buffalo wasn’t deterred from spending a first round pick on a quarterback, I doubt Houston or Oakland will be, either.

2009 Buccaneers sign Byron Leftwich

At the time, the signing of Leftwich appeared to knock the Bucs out of the first round quarterback sweepstakes. In retrospect, this move was a preemptive strike by Tampa Bay to ensure that the organization would not be left out in the cold: many expected Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez to be drafted early, and the only other quarterback with a first round grade was Kansas State’s Josh Freeman. The problem? The Jets picked two slots ahead of the Bucs, and most expected New York to grab a quarterback. As it turned out, the Jets traded up for Sanchez, and the Bucs were able to snag Freeman. Leftwich was the team’s opening day starter, but Freeman started the final 9 games of the year.

2003 Bears sign Kordell Stewart

After releasing Jim Miller, Chicago was in need of a starting quarterback. Enter… Kordell Stewart? The Bears signed the formers Steelers quarterback, but that didn’t prevent them from spending a first round pick on… Rex Grossman? Cover your eyes, Bears fans.

2002 Washington signs Danny Wuerffel

Normally you would file this under “who cares” but remember: Steve Spurrier was the new head ball coach in Washington, and he was eager to bring together his former Gators quarterbacks. In addition to signing Wuerffel, Spurrier added Shane Matthews after the draft; in between, Washington spent a first round pick on Patrick Ramsey.

1999 Bears sign Shane Matthews

Matthews was far less accomplished than either Fitzpatrick or Schaub; he probably doesn’t even deserve to be on this list, but Matthews wound up starting the season at quarterback for Chicago. The Bears also added Jim Miller in December 1998, but neither of those moves prevented Chicago from drafting Cade McNown in the ’99 draft.

1999 Vikings sign Jeff George

The ultimate saga in drafting for value over need. In 1998, the Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham had a storybook season, guiding the highest-scoring offense (at the time) in NFL history. After trading Brad Johnson in February, Minnesota signed Jeff George to be the team’s backup quarterback in early April. Then, the Vikings used a first round pick on Daunte Culpepper.

1999 Eagles sign Doug Pederson

Andy Reid jumped from Packers quarterbacks coach to Eagles head coach after the 1998 season. One of his first moves was bringing in Brett Favre’s backup quarterback to Philadelphia. While many thought that move meant the Eagles would draft Ricky Williams, Pederson’s presence didn’t stop the team from drafting Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick. I’m still not sure how Eagles fans feel about that, because well, #EaglesFans.

1999 Browns trade for Ty Detmer

In March 1999, the Browns traded for 49ers backup quarterback Ty Detmer, surrendering early 4th and 5th round picks in exchange for Detmer and a late 4th rounder (who turned out to be the best player in the deal, Wali Rainer). Detmer was acquired with a mentorship role in mind — Cleveland owned the number one pick and would select Tim Couch — although I don’t see why one couldn’t say the same thing about Fitzpatrick or Schaub, too.

1995 Oilers sign Chris Chandler

The ’94 Oilers were terrible, finishing 2-14. Houston fans can probably relate to that. Then the team signed a journeyman quarterback and still spent a top-three draft pick on Steve McNair. Will history repeat itself in Houston?

1995 Panthers sign Frank Reich

After creating an AFC dynasty in Buffalo, Bill Polian went to do the same for the expansion Panthers. One of his first moves was grabbing Bills backup Frank Reich, who would either groom a rookie quarterback or start for Carolina. The Panthers owned the first pick in the draft, but traded down to #5 with Cincinnati, allowing the Bengals to draft Ki-Jana Carter. But the Panthers were still able to select Kerry Collins with the fifth overall pick, and did not hesitate to do so.

1994 Washington signs John Friesz

Right before the draft, Washington released Mark Rypien and added former Chargers quarterback John Friesz. A new era in D.C. was beginning under Norv Turner, and the Friesz signing did not prevent Washington from spending the #3 pick on Heath Shuler. Although Washington fans probably wish it had.

Both Schaub and Fitzpatrick can be reasonable stopgap quarterbacks, but neither should — or frankly, will — prevent their organizations from spending a premium pick on a passer. While I’ve identified eleven examples where that was the case, there are other similar situations. For example, this list doesn’t include the many times when a Schaub-like (or better) quarterback was already on the roster, like when the Chargers grabbed Eli Manning/Philip Rivers despite having Drew Brees, or the Favre Packers selecting Aaron Rodgers, or the Colts trading up for Jeff George with a young Chris Chandler already on the roster. The list also fails to include situations when a veteran was added prior to the draft but was cut before the start of the season, along with veteran quarterbacks who aren’t on the Schaub/Fitzpatrick level (i.e., Indianapolis adding Drew Stanton before drafting Andrew Luck). But no general manager wants to be remembered for passing up on a franchise quarterback because the team was “set” at the position with a Schaub or Fitzpatrick.

  • Justin

    While I don’t think it means they will pass on a quarterback, I do think these acquisitions will play into the decision making process. Specifically in Houston, where Fitzpatrick at least allows them to entertain the (probably false) notion that they have some capable option at quarterback. Now they can feel more free to take the best player available, where before they would have felt the need to draft a quarterback just because they had no other option. Oakland is a slightly different story, but they could decide that Schaub is a reasonable option as a year or two stopgap while they build the rest of their roster.

    By the way, I am a Vikings fan who is desperately, irrationally hoping that these teams pass on a quarterback so one of the top players falls to us at number 8.

  • Chase Stuart

    I’ve updated the post to include the Kolb/Manuel example from last year, which had somehow escaped me. Thanks to John Figueras for pointing that out to me.

  • Adam

    I guess it could be instructive to also see how long those contracts are for the pre-draft signees. If you hand out a one year deal to a Schaub/Fitpatrick type, that seems like a sign that the team is looking for a more permanent solution in the draft.

  • Richie

    What was the timeline of the Giants acquiring Kurt Warner and then drafting Eli Manning in 2004?

  • Bob

    Not quite the same, but…

    Denver acquired Kyle Orton as part of the Jay Cutler trade in 2009.

    In March 2010, the Broncos traded away Peyton Hillis and a conditional pick for Brady Quinn. The next month Josh McDaniels and Co. drafted Tebow with the 25th pick in the draft.