Siborspace: Are QBs Overrated
Anyone who knows me would tell you about my infatuation with all things Tom Brady. He does so many things well on a football field that I cannot help but gush about him whenever I see a highlight on TV. I recognize that this is probably very annoying; however, he plays a position that has unmatched value to any other position in sports. A quarterback makes his team go- or does he?
This year, more so than in years past, many football clubs are making changes to their quarterbacks, coaches and sometimes to both. As teams' won-lost records fluctuate with these new players, I cannot help but wonder if the results we are seeing offer some kind of statement on exactly who makes the most impact on a football team.
The prime example that comes to mind here is the Jay Cutler-Josh McDaniels-Kyle Orton group. For those who don't know the situation, here is the short version: Cutler was the quarterback for Denver last season, making the Pro Bowl in spite of going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Orton was quarterback for Chicago, looking very average and going 9-7, also missing the playoffs. In the offseason, Denver hired McDaniels as their head coach, and he subsequently traded Cutler for Orton and draft picks. This season, the Broncos have a surprising 6-3 record, while the Bears are lucky to be at 4-5. The key question, then, is why?
It would seem that the quarterback switch has effected the change in both teams. However, we have to remember that Cutler was supposedly the superstar player and while his new team made no significant changes, its record is plummeting. It doesn't make any sense to think that Cutler and Orton have all of a sudden swapped bodies, and Orton is now a star while Cutler is not. No, there must be another factor in play. In this case, the catalyst for the change is Coach McDaniels.
After achieving great success as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, the league knew McDaniels was capable of being the architect of a great offense. His system is one that breeds success, and in the process, inflates the value of its quarterback. We are seeing this phenomenon with Orton right now, and last year we saw it with Matt Cassel.
A career backup who hadn't played a meaningful down of football since high school, Cassel was thrown into the limelight when he succeeded in Tom Brady's absence last season. The result of his success was a trade and contract extension that elevated him to one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. This year, on a Kansas City team with young players and a rookie head coach, he is struggling. It is not that he isn't good; instead, it must be understood that the system he was put in last year allowed him to succeed. The system drove him, not the other way around as is so commonly believed.
The consequence of this overemphasis on quarterback value is that teams cripple themselves when they should be spreading out their resources more evenly. The Giants have done this with Eli Manning, as did the Rams with Marc Bulger. There are few quarterbacks (really only Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees) whose value to their respective teams makes them worth their huge contracts. Teams ought to be spending those extra millions on finding the next McDaniels, a guy who can take the seemingly defective pieces he already has and turn them into something great. For the money the Raiders are spending on the comically awful JaMarcus Russell, what's the worst that could happen?