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.