Winning in the NFL is very hard. It’s so hard, in fact, that NFL front offices often attempt to come up with ways to “game the system” in ways no one has thought of before. There’s one theory fans swear by for managing a roster that may have been proven wrong this season, however. Which theory is it, and who are the teams disproving it?
One popular NFL theory on how to build a team
Quarterback is the most important position on the football field. No player has the ball in their hand more than the quarterback. They touch the ball on every offensive play.
Many times, they can call or change the play, deciding where the ball will go. They need to make decisions that can impact whether the team wins or loses. They’re also often looked at as the leaders of the franchise.
Because of this, quarterbacks are typically the highest-paid players on the field. That’s why in order to circumvent this need to pay a quarterback a high contract, many teams have been looking to exploit a loophole in the current NFL system.
If a team can compete using an effective quarterback on a relatively inexpensive rookie contract, they can save a significant amount of money and apply it elsewhere on the roster. They can sign skill position players the young quarterback can throw to or defensive players who can help protect the team’s leads.
Here are a few examples of teams who attempted to win using this approach:
- The Kansas City Chiefs opted to move on from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes was outstanding in his first season as a starter and has been good in 2019 as well.
- Lamar Jackson is in his second year in Baltimore. After leading the Ravens to the playoffs last year, he now has them playing like the best team in football and has made Joe Flacco a distant memory.
- Jared Goff led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl last year, coming up just short against the New England Patriots.
- The Houston Texans are currently winning with DeShaun Watson at quarterback, another young signal-caller.
- Dak Prescott is set to get a big extension from the Dallas Cowboys, but up until now, he’s played on a ridiculously cheap deal based on his output.
It’s a sound strategy that has helped some teams “cheat” the cap, so to speak. But how well does it actually work, and are there any teams proving it wrong?
How one popular NFL theory has been debunked
If you look around at some of the NFL’s most successful teams this year, you’ll find fairly highly paid quarterbacks, including:
- Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers
- Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers
- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints
- Tom Brady and the New England Patriots
- Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks
All five of these quarterbacks get paid a premium, and all five are leading elite contenders this season with a good chance to play in the Super Bowl.
Quarterback play is important, but so is having talent at other positions. This juxtaposition makes it difficult for front offices to know whether they should pay up for a big quarterback or draft one.
The correct path to winning in the NFL
If some teams can compete with a young quarterback they don’t pay a lot of money to, and other teams need a highly-paid star quarterback, which is the most successful way to build a winning franchise?
The truth is that there is no one way to build an NFL contender. If there was, everyone would do it. But the fact of the matter is each NFL team encounters so many variables — free agents, injuries, suspensions, and draft picks busting or hitting — that there is no one set formula for success. The NFL is a copycat league, but that neglects the fact that no two teams are exactly alike.
Another consideration is that it is very hard to draft a great NFL quarterback who plays at a high level from the start. Players still need time to develop even if teams don’t want to give it to them.
The bottom line is that teams need to go with the strategy that best fits their current situation and personnel.