Sam Bradford evidently re-aggravated his injured knee in Monday’s win over the Bears, leaving his future with the Vikings and the Vikings’ quarterback situation in a bit of flux. It seems pretty clear that Bradford will miss at least a few more weeks, if not the rest of the season. Teddy Bridgewater will be activated in a couple of weeks, according to reports, but it is yet to be seen what their plans are for him in 2017.
That in itself may lead to a quarterback controversy. The Vikings could stick with the first-round pick from 2014 who this regime invested their time and energy into making a franchise starter. Or they could hold out hope that the former first-overall pick with a rough injury history finds his form.
Whichever route they take, general manager Rick Spielman has a big question to think about: Should I draft a quarterback next year?
The short answer is yes, of course he should. Now, does that mean putting everything into Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or Lamar Jackson? No, it does not. It just means giving the position some thought at all times.
The much longer answer is this: Bridgewater’s and Bradford’s injuries have shown that teams can never be complacent with their quarterback situation. The Patriots are a great example of avoiding this. Despite the fact that they have Tom Brady, they still drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in two of the last four drafts. New England now appears to be grooming Garoppolo to take the mantle from Brady in the near future and Brissett they were able to use as a trade asset. The point is they benefit from drafting quarterbacks despite their security.
Here is what always looking at quarterbacks gets you: Opportunity. Not just the opportunity to move up to get that big arm with a gold-enrusted pedigree, but the opportunity to find that diamond in the rough. Recent years have provided several examples of starting quarterbacks being found in later rounds: Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Dak Prescott and the most accomplished quarterback ever, Tom Brady.
I subscribe to the philosophy that teams should be drafting quarterbacks with purpose at least every other year. When I say with purpose, I mean with the thought that they take someone who they firmly believe could work their way into the starting job. That is what Russell Wilson did; Matt Flynn was signed to be the Seahawks’ starter in 2012 but the “undersized” third-round pick beat Flynn out as a rookie. Now here Seattle sits, with two Super Bowl appearances under their belt and a star quarterback for the next 10 years.
For examples of drafting without purpose, look no further than division rival Chicago. In 2010 and 2011, the Bears, who at the time seemed to have their franchise guy in Jay Cutler, took quarterbacks Dan LeFevour and Nathan Enderle in the sixth and fifth rounds, respectively. Of course, neither sniffed the field and are both out of the league. They were only meant to fill roster spots, not to actually compete for playing time. Those were wasted picks.
Even as Cutler’s position as a franchise quarterback got more tenuous, Chicago still failed to make waves in the draft room. They took David Fales, the quarterback with the most unfortunate name in sports, in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. He also never made any impact. Now, Chicago is without Cutler, without a franchise quarterback and forced to put all their eggs into the basket of Mitchell Trubisky.
That position is what the Vikings have to avoid.
It is one thing to be in the position of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts, with a clear-cut, can’t-miss, number-one pick like Andrew Luck. But guys like that do not come around often and most of the time, if a team is at the top of the draft in need of a quarterback, they end up reaching to get their man. Sometimes it works out; see Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, who have both made great strides in their second season. Other times, the teams end up with Blake Bortles or Mark Sanchez.
Of the 32 NFL quarterbacks who are currently first on their team’s depth chart, 20 were taken in the first round and nine were drafted first overall. The nine first-overall quarterbacks have combined for one MVP and two Super Bowl while the 11 other first-rounder combine for three MVPs and four Super Bowls.
Nine starting quarterbacks were selected in rounds two through four and four were taken later/went undrafted. All of these quarterbacks total two MVPs and seven Super Bowls, though to be fair, Tom Brady accounts for most of those.
The point is that although more than half of the league’s starting quarterbacks were first round picks, many teams have still found their franchise guy in round two or later. Now, of those 12 starters drafted in later rounds only seven have real job security past 2017 as opposed to around 13 for first-round picks. But that is still seven franchise quarterbacks that NFL teams did not have to use a first-round pick to snag. The reliable starters are there to be found without the huge price tag.
The Vikings are in a unique position in that quarterback is their only area of concern moving forward. If we operate under the assumption that Teddy Bridgewater is the starter moving into next season and he plays at least as well as he did in 2015, the Vikings will not need to hurry to get a replacement. 2015 Bridgewater is a more-than-competent NFL quarterback. But that does not mean Spielman should be complacent.
The 2014 Oakland Raiders are the prototype for what the Vikings should be looking to do in the next few drafts. That team had several needs heading into the 2014 draft: They needed a quarterback. They needed defensive help. So what did they do? They grabbed the can’t-miss pass-rusher in Khalil Mack with the first round pick and took a flier on a talented quarterback in Derek Carr in the second round. As a result, they now have the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Pro-caliber quarterback for the next decade.
Now, of course, a lot of mid-to-late round quarterbacks never make an impact. The Jets use the same “draft one every year” philosophy that I believe in and look where they are: starting a near-40-year-old quarterback while Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, second- and fourth-round picks respectively, take turns holding the clipboard.
But ask yourself this: Would you not accept a couple of drafts of failed quarterback gambles if it meant one of them eventually became Russell Wilson? Would this not be even more worth it in Minnesota’s case, where they have a couple of starting quarterbacks to fall back on if none of the picks hit?
Someone like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph or Washington State’s Luke Falk should be there for Minnesota to take such a chance on in the second- to fourth-round range. Worst case scenario, the quarterbacks the Vikings take in 2018 through 2020 become the backups and serve as a homegrown Case Keenum-type. Which given the Vikings’ injury history is a pretty important component to have.
But one thing is certain: If Bill Belichick knows not to be complacent with Tom Brady then that is a model the Vikings should be following.
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