We are just a day away from the NFL Draft. This is a time where teams can either build the foundation for a dynasty for the next 10 years, or they’ll either set their teams back for the next 10 years. The most common mistake that teams will make April 28th-30th, will be the decision to draft a player that will help immediately and fits a hole on the team. Instead, they should be looking at how a player will affect them for the next 5-10 years.
I made the point a few months back that if AJ Green somehow slid to the Houston Texans, they shouldn’t hesitate to draft him. This is the perfect example of thinking big picture. Everyone knows that the Texans are switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 and they had one of the worst defenses in 2010. They’ll eventually get someone to play those positions, whether it’s the 2nd round or later, free agency, or trade. What happens if they draft Aldon Smith at #11 and he starts immediately? He may be decent, but the team will look to upgrade in 3-4 years for a Pro Bowl type player.
At the same time, AJ Green will have already become a Pro Bowl player and to make matters worse, Andre Johnson, who could have groomed Green as his replacement, would now be few years older and deteriorating as a player. In this scenario, the Texans would still need to fix the outside linebacker position, replace Andre Johnson, and find a number 2 receiver as well. This conundrum they would be in would be a pretty likely scenario bases on the logical progression of events I’ve just laid out; all because on April 28th, 2011, they “needed” an outside linebacker.
The position this mistake happens the most at is the quarterback position. We all know how important the quarterback position is, yet it seems that most teams don’t realize how important the backup quarterback position is. Teams also don’t seem to realize how rare a top tier quarterback is and how ideal it is to groom one of these players. One team that realizes the benefits of having a legendary quarterback, mentor his replacement, is the Green Bay Packers.
Of course you have one of the best to ever play the game, teach the guy who replaces him. A rookie can see the dedication that goes into being great. A rookie can see the passion and love for the game that it’ll take to sustain success in this business. He’ll hear the stories of great athletic talents that have come and gone before him, that have failed because they weren’t ready to put in the work.
When Roger Goodell took over as NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue didn’t give a two week notice and say “here you go rook, here’s the keys to the car, don’t wreck it.” (Ironically, it appears that Goodell is about to wreck this 9 Billion dollar car anyway, or at least drive off the road into some mud before steering it straight.) But seriously, Goodell was groomed and taught the ropes by the man who’s done it. That’s how all people in positions of importance are taught. So, why wouldn’t some of the most successful businessmen, like the ones who run NFL franchises, realize this? With Peyton Manning at 35 years old, do you see his heir apparent on the roster? Is Curtis Painter the future in Indy? Simultaneously, 1 million Colts’ fans get nausea at the thought.
Green Bay gave the NFL the blueprint. If your favorite organization doesn’t get it now, they are operating with ignorance. The Packers waited for the perfect situation to present itself, and when Aaron Rodgers slid to the latter part of the 1st round, they pounced. They knew Brett Favre wasn’t ready to retire at the time. They knew Aaron Rodgers wasn’t ready to play at the time either. Honestly, no rookie QB is really ready to play. The Packers had the foresight to realize that Aaron Rodgers would see what Brett Favre did to be great. Rodgers witnessed firsthand how Favre demanded respect in a huddle and how he dealt with 80,000 opposing, screaming fans, while leading a team down by 6 in a two minute drill to win a game. No coach could ever teach or prepare Rodgers for his first snap, as much as watching one of the NFL’s great quarterbacks, up close and personal. How has it turned out so far? Aaron Rodgers is a Super Bowl Champion.
Looking at some other NFL franchises that had some of the most recent, GOATs (Greatest Of All Time) playing quarterback for them, you can’t help but realize that they sat in the War Room and let the future franchise quarterback pass them buy for a fix at linebacker, offensive tackle, etc.
The Broncos sent Hall of Famer John Elway out with back to back Super Bowl wins. They knew he might not come back after the first Super Bowl win, yet they waited until he retired to draft the future of the franchise. Denver has yet to get back to the Super Bowl. They’ve looked for their quarterback, in Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, and now Tim Tebow. It’s funny to think that Elway had to become a part of the front office to finally mentor the future of the franchise. He should have benn the mentor starting in 1995.
The Miami Dolphins had one of the most prolific passers in NFL history and his mentoring could have gone along way with the quarterback to come after him. Instead, the Dolphins have been a pretty dormant franchise trotting in the likes of Jay Fielder, AJ Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Dante Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Chad Pennington, and Chad Henne. Using a first round pick on a premier quarterback, when Marino had a few good years left, might have kept this train on the track.
The same story can be said for the Buffalo Bills and Jim Kelly who was the face of the franchise in the midst of their unprecedented 4 year straight Super Bowl run. Instead, they decided to wait until later and turn the ball over to Todd Collins, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe, JP Losman, Trent Edwards, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. None of these organizations have found the future of the franchise because they are all using the same broken formula.
The San Francisco 49ers are an oddity because it seemed as if they had this figured out but then went away from it. They groomed, successfully, Steve Young behind Joe Montana but when Young’s time was up, they turned to Jeff Garcia (which was ok), but followed that up with Tim Rattay, Alex Smith, and Shaun Hill.
Now, you might be wondering about the timing of this article. I release this now, so you may plead to your franchise of choice before the first round of the NFL draft kicks off this Thursday. Patriots and Colts fans alike, should be writing emails, snail mail, calling the front office and leaving voice mails, stating that New England and Indianapolis need to draft quarterbacks in the first round. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are both on the back side of their careers. These two future Hall of Famers should be mentoring rookie quarterbacks to take over in 3 to 4 years while they still have gas left in the tank.
The Patriots have two first round picks and there is no reason for them not to do this. For what they do, they should select Andy Dalton in the first round. Dalton would soak up all of the knowledge under Brady and when the ball is turned over to him, he’ll continue Belichick’s winning ways. Yes, there are other needs for New England that are more important for the 2011 season, but no other need is as important for the 2014-2025 seasons. Owners and General Managers need to think decades, not years.
The same goes for Indianapolis. I believe the best quarterback for what they do however is Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick has already worked with Peyton Manning at his camps in the past and seemed to by impressed by him. Manning isn’t just one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, he prepares better than anyone else, he works harder than anyone else, and he’s been an on field coach his whole career.
Whether you like it or not, this is the blue print for lasting success in the NFL. You’ll boo them this year, only to cheer them for this decision for the next decade. But what do I know, my opinion seems to differ from everyone else’s, so I can’t possibly be right.
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