Jacksonville has underdone significant upheaval over the past few years. In January 2012, Shahid Khan acquired the Jaguars. The general manager at the time was Gene Smith: after a 2-14 season, Smith was fired, and Khan brought in his man, David Caldwell.
Caldwell brought in his own man, too, when he replaced Mike Mularkey with Gus Bradley. The new management team also inherited Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. After two poor seasons from Gabbert before they arrived, Caldwell and Bradley could have decided to select a quarterback in the 2013 draft. But with the 2nd overall pick, there was no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III available, and the Jaguars selected offensive tackle Luke Joeckel.
When Jacksonville was on the clock at the top of the second round, the only quarterback off the board was EJ Manuel. The Jaguars could have drafted Geno Smith, but instead selected Jonathan Cyprien. In the third round, Mike Glennon was still available, but the team picked Dwayne Gratz. In the fourth round, before Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson, and Landry Jones were drafted, the Jaguars took Ace Sanders.
In hindsight, I don’t think any of those decisions to pass on a quarterback deserve criticism. Perhaps some Smith or Glennon fans think that taking one of them would have been the wiser move, but by not selecting a quarterback in 2013, Jacksonville has no sunk costs that would deter management from taking Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles this year. Of course, that presumes that the Jaguars do use a first round pick on a quarterback in 2014: the team may instead decide to use a later pick on Derek Carr, Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, or Aaron Murray (last month, I reviewed the passing stats from each of those quarterbacks in 2013).
But what if the Jaguars pass on a quarterback again? If the Jaguars prefer say, Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack to any of the quarterbacks available in the draft, that is a perfectly defensible decision in a vacuum. But it made me wonder: how often does a new GM of a bad team pass on a quarterback in consecutive years?
For reference, consider that Caldwell was one of eight general managers hired in 2013, along with John Idzik (Jets), Doug Whaley (Bills), Michael Lombardi (LOL), Steve Keim (Cardinals), John Dorsey (Chiefs), Tom Telesco (Chargers), and Dave Gettleman (Panthers). The Jets and Bills drafted Manuel and Smith1, and the Cardinals and Chiefs traded for Carson Palmer and Alex Smith, respectively. Meanwhile, Gettleman and Telesco were fortunate to inherit Cam Newton and Philip Rivers (who experienced a career revival under Telesco’s hand-picked coaching choice, Mike McCoy), alleviating any needs to find a quarterback.
That means the only team other than Jacksonville that didn’t address the quarterback position in a meaningful way (i.e., by doing something other than retaining Chad Henne) was Cleveland. Of course, the Browns had spent an even more recent first round pick on a quarterback than Jacksonville, after taking Brandon Weeden in 2012. And, as it turned out, retaining Weeden didn’t work out too well for Lombardi, Weeden, or well, anybody in Cleveland.
So will the Jaguars draft a quarterback this time around? Who knows: to be clear, I would not advise Jacksonville to draft a quarterback with the third pick just because. But we can look to history as a guide. By my count, there have been seven general managers hired in the last ten years who:
- Inherited a team that won 6 or fewer games;
- Did not select a quarterback in the first round of their first draft; and
- Won 6 or fewer games in year two
What did they do in their second draft?
2010-2011 Buffalo, Washington, and Cleveland
Buddy Nix inherited a Bills team that went 6-10 in 2009 and was led by an inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nix used his first draft pick on C.J. Spiller, and Buffalo finished 4-12 in 2010. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Fitzpatrick played moderately well, and the Bills were not in a position to draft Newton in 2011. As a result, the team drafted Marcell Dareus, Fitzpatrick declined, and Nix was gone after 2012.
Bruce Allen became the Washington GM in 2010 after the team bottomed out to 4-12 the prior year. Allen hired Mike Shanahan, and the team attempted to address the quarterback position by trading for Donovan McNabb. After an ugly season, Washington moved on from McNabb, but did not select a quarterback in the 2011 draft. That left the team free to trade up for Griffin, which looked great for a year, but after four seasons, Shanahan and was fired.
Tom Heckert was hired by the Browns in 2010. Coming off a 5-11 season, Hecker took Joe Haden in the first round and selected Colt McCoy in round three. Another 5-11 season had Cleveland needing a quarterback, but again, the 2011 draft was weird. After Newton, the other first round quarterbacks were Jake Locker and Gabbert, so passing on a quarterback made sense. And then the Browns picked 37th in the draft, right after Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton were selected. So McCoy wound up starting 13 games in 2011, before Heckert drafted Weeden in 2012. You know how that turned out.
2009-10 Chiefs and Rams
After a 2-14 season in 2008, Scott Pioli was hired by the Chiefs. Pioli traded for his old quarterback, Matt Cassel, and well, you know how that story ended, too (as an aside, Piolo drafted Tyson Jackson with the third pick, a player whom he can’t seem to quit). Across the state, a 2-14 season for the Rams led to the Billy Devaney hire. Of course, the 0-16 Lions had the first overall pick and drafted Matt Stafford. Devaney passed on Mark Sanchez (good) and instead selected Jason Smith (bad), giving Marc Bulger one last crack at the job (ugly). After a 1-15 season, Devaney used the first overall pick in 2010 on Sam Bradford.
Houston was essentially an expansion team again four years after entering the NFL. Rick Smith was hired, and he passed on Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, Vince Young, and Reggie Bush to select Mario Williams. [Update: Actually, Charley Casserly was the one who selected Williams.] After giving David Carr one last chance, Houston traded for Matt Schaub before the ’07 draft, and used the 10th overall pick on Amobi Okoye. [Therefore, it makes more sense to put Smith in the "trade for a veteran QB in year one" category.]
In ’04, the Browns finished 4-12. That led to Phil Savage getting the new GM job, and he used the third overall pick in 2005 on Braylon Edwards over say, Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback reins that season were handed to Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye. In the 2006 draft, the Broncos leaped the Browns to grab Cutler, leaving Cleveland without a quarterback seat once the music stopped (Cleveland drafted Kamerion Wimbley). Frye was the team’s starter in 2006. With a top-three pick in 2007 Joe Thomas was taken but Cleveland traded back into the first round for… Brady Quinn. Then, in the most surprising development yet, Derek Anderson had a Pro Bowl year during Quinn’s rookie year. After Anderson came back to earth in 2008, the team went 4-12 and Savage was fired.
So what does this mean for the Jaguars? I’m pretty surprised by the results: only one of the seven teams drafted a quarterback in year two (St. Louis with Bradford, by virtue of the first overall pick). In other words, most new general managers, despite (1) inheriting bad teams, (2) passing on a quarterback in round 1 of their first draft, and (3) seeing the team play poorly in year 1, didn’t draft a quarterback in the first round of their second draft. Perhaps the better way to phrase it is most GMs did not reach on a quarterback. It’s easy to think that Nix, Allen, and Heckert would have drafted Newton if they had the chance, so the real question — as it always is — comes down to evaluation. Are Bortles/Manziel/Bridgewater more Newton or more Locker?
Looking at the six GMs who did not spend their year 2 first round pick on a quarterback, two of them (Pioli and Smith) traded for veterans, which does not seem to be the Jaguars modus operandi. The Allen/Shanahan model looked pretty good, as waiting one extra year for a true franchise quarterback is worth it, but it comes with much risk (i.e., you don’t have a high enough pick that you have to mortgage the future to trade for that franchise quarterback). The other risk is the Savage/Heckert risk, i.e., that the quarterback you take in year three is Brady Quinn or Brandon Weeden. And there is still the Nix risk, where you wait too long that you’re fired before taking a quarterback.2
There’s no secret answer. Miss on your first round quarterback, and you will likely get fired. Wait too long, and you’ll be fired unless you figure out how to fix the quarterback position without spending a first round pick on one. Waiting until next year sounds nice, but there’s no guarantee that the talent will be any better a year from now. If the Jaguars’ top-rated quarterback isn’t one of Bortles/Manziel/Bridgewater, then it makes sense for Jacksonville to go elsewhere in round one and take their top quarterback in round two. But otherwise, I think Caldwell will buck history, and select a quarterback in the first round. If Clowney goes first overall and a non-quarterback is selected second, that will essentially put Caldwell in Devaney’s shoes, where he can get the top quarterback in the draft. That’s an opportunity I imagine many fired GMs wished they would have had.