Football general managers and owners know how a single NFL draft can set teams up for success or failure for a decade. It’s doubly true if the guy they select in the first round is a quarterback. Carson Wentz just reminded everyone that going the QB route proved to be a lousy idea for a long stretch of time.
Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert may change the narrative. But an astonishing statistic about quarterbacks from 2009-16 drives home the point about how risky it is to take signal-callers in the first round of the NFL draft.
Carson Wentz was the last QB standing from the 2016 NFL draft
The Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts last week closed the books on first-round quarterbacks from the 2016 NFL draft. Paxton Lynch lasted two seasons with the Denver Broncos, and the Los Angeles Rans dumped No. 1 pick Jared Goff on the Detroit Lions this month to acquire Matthew Stafford.
Taking Lynch was a mistake that the Broncos admitted after four starts. Wentz and Goff are more complicated to assess because both succeeded before something went awry. The other common denominator is that their original teams signed them to big new contracts before 2020, which would have been the year in which they played under fifth-year options that the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams could have exercised in early 2019.
The fact that they fell out of favor shortly after signing lucrative deals is a cautionary tale for NFL teams. The Kansas City Chiefs gave 2017 first-rounder Patrick Mahomes the Godzilla of all contracts in early 2020 instead of just exercising their fifth-year option. The Houston Texans gave Deshaun Watson a nice deal, too, under similar circumstances.
The Chiefs have no complaints yet, but the number of teams that can absorb Watson’s future salary cap numbers now that he wants out of Houston is limited. The Texans can still count on a haul of draft picks from someone, but they might also have to take an odorous contract off the hands of their trading partner to complete a deal for Watson.
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills face a decision next month on how much money to hand over to Josh Allen, their rising-star quarterback from the 2018 NFL draft.
A wild NFL draft statistic about quarterbacks
After the Philadelphia Eagles traded Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts, there wasn’t a single quarterback taken in the first round in an NFL draft from 2009-16 remaining with his original team. Twenty-two first-rounders are either out of the league or with a different team. They’ve disappeared like money invested in Gamestop or AMC stock last month.
Part of the reason they became so easily disposable is that some of them were awful. Yeah, Tim Tebow, Brandon Weeden, and Johnny Manziel, we’re looking at you. Others, like Robert Griffin III and Teddy Bridgewater, were victims of serious injuries that forced their teams to move on.
But the broad lesson is that the salary cap and the collective bargaining agreements with the union are saving NFL owners and GMs from themselves.
With NFL draft picks slotted into a salary structure for their rookie contracts instead of free to negotiate immediate pinball-machine deals, teams have a minimum of three years to evaluate quarterbacks. Granted, that wasn’t enough time to get a definitive fix on Sam Darnold or Mitch Trubisky, but it did weed out Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel.
When teams do find a quarterback worth keeping, the result is that Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan earn tens of millions a year. But the salary cap forces GMs to think hard about committing that much money at the risk of skimping at other positions. The Miami Dolphins did not want to keep moving forward with Ryan Tannehill, but the Tennessee Titans decided he was an acceptable fit at $118 million over four years.
The full list of 2009-16 first-rounders who are gone and sometimes forgotten
According to Pro Football Talk, these are the 22 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft from 2009-16. None remain with the teams that selected them:
2009: Matthew Stafford, Lions; Mark Sanchez, Jets; Josh Freeman, Buccaneers.
2010: Sam Bradford, Rams; Tim Tebow, Broncos.
2011: Cam Newton, Panthers; Jake Locker, Titans; Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars; Christian Ponder, Vikings.
2012: Andrew Luck, Colts; Robert Griffin III, Washington; Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins; Brandon Weeden, Browns.
2013: E.J. Manuel, Bills.
2014: Blake Bortles, Jaguars; Johnny Manziel, Browns; Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings.
2015: Jameis Winston, Buccaneers; Marcus Mariota, Titans.
2016: Jared Goff, Rams; Carson Wentz, Eagles; Paxton Lynch, Broncos.