Thursday, April 21, 2016

Armies With Nothing But Generals Don't Win Many Wars

As the college and pro football season neared and reached their ends last winter,  NFL "insiders" (actually outsiders) in national sports media grew louder in expressing a consensus opinion they'd been stating since September. The crop of college quarterbacks eligible for the 2016 draft contained a few players who might make competent pros, there were a couple of promising prospects needing work, but this was no bumper crop of signal callers.

Nobody would mistake this crowd for the class of 1983, ran conventional wisdom. There were no Andrew Lucks here. There might not be any Alex Smiths.

The draft is next week. The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles have already paid king's ransoms in future high-round draft picks to acquire the first and second overall choices. They did so in order to make sure they wouldn't miss out on quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The Rams have yet to say which one of these megastars of 2021 they favor, meaning the Eagles dropped off their ransom to the Browns to get their hands on the first runner-up.

This is what REALLY happens every spring. Without fail, at least one and usually more than one NFL franchise pulls up a year's worth of scouting and personnel evaluation, hits the delete key, and lets desperation rule. We need a new and better quarterback. QB X is new. We need him! This logical fallacy is akin to deciding that since a straight looks like it'll be the best hand at the poker table, drawing to fill one's inside straight is the best possible move.

At least the Rams have an excuse, not a good one, but a real one,  for saying the future had damn well better be now. They're moving to a new city with an easily bored community of sports fans, and even if they weren't concussed all the time, neither Case Keenum nor Nick Foles are what you, me or their moms would call gate attractions.

The Eagles are the finer, purer example of how quarterback lust drives front offices mad. Philly had already re-signed last year's starter Sam Bradford and acquired backup Chase Daniel for 2016 at a salary cap figure of $22.5 million. Draft pick number two will add a few mil to that total. Good luck fighting over the crumbs, you special team vets. Between that sum and the big bucks former coach Chip Kelly wasted on running backs, shoring up the rest of the Eagle roster will be impossible.

Get the logical contradiction here? Philly made a big and questionable commitment to its current questionable starter. It then mortgaged its short-term future in an investment in its long-term future, an investment that only makes sense if they pay Bradford to stink in 2016. Let's go to Fantasyland. Bradford defies the odds, has a great season and wins Comeback Player of the Year. What happens to QB of the Future then? The date where he begins to offer some ROI on yesterday's trade will be pushed back two seasons at least. He will be dead money wearing a baseball cap backwards on the sideline.

The 2016 draft, like many drafts before it, has been shaped by the inability of NFL front offices to distinguish between the definitions of two simple four-letter words. Yes, quarterback is the most important position in football. Most, however, is not a synonym for only.

Forget the irrationality of the Rams and Eagles paying Ferrari prices to acquire players rated as Subarus before QB frenzy kicked in. Just think about how they paid draft picks they now can't use to paint their houses or replace their cracked and failing roofs. Should either or both Goff and Wentz turn out to be sports cars, they won't impress the neighbors when they're parked in the driveways of two eyesores.

Andrew Luck WAS a consensus surefire franchise quarterback when the Colts picked him number one in the 2012 draft. He lived up to the billing, too. Indianapolis made the playoffs in his first three seasons with Luck pretty much the entire offense of a team with a mediocre defense.

In an exercise in idiocy, Indy's front office (who knows who runs things there, really?) passed on three chances to improve the tacklers and especially blockers among Luck's teammates. In 2015 the inevitable happened. The hits Luck took being the franchise became more numerous. His performance suffered, then he got hurt. The guy who should've been the league's next superstar is dangerously close to "what might have been" territory.

Number one pick Alex Smith was a disappointment in San Francisco. Andy Reid traded for him, let Smith play to his limitations in a no-risk offense, surrounded him with players suited for such a scheme, and hey, presto, the Chiefs are a playoff team.

Tom Brady is on the short list for greatest quarterback ever. He is why the Patriots have been the most consistent winning team in NFL history, 15 seasons and counting now. If we're talking trades, he'd be worth two ENTIRE drafts or more. Yet as was proved once more in the AFC championship game, Brady's only great when he's upright. Like any quarterback who ever lived, Brady's just another guy when he spends 60 minutes staring up at the sky after pass plays and goes back to the huddle picking grass out of his nose and ears. Brady is way more important than any other individual Pat, even Gronk. But as a group, his offensive lineman are just as important as Brady.

It's an equation first discovered by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Blocking + tackling = winning. The emergence of the quarterback has changed what blockers do, but it hasn't changed their significance. This will occur to either Goff or Wentz the first time some Ram guard yells "look out" this fall.

The men who run NFL franchises have spent their lives in the game. They know much much more about football than I do. It's the insecurity of their chosen trade that drives some of them to make the same blunder year after year. The fastest way to get better, not to win titles but to get better, is to get your hands on a real star quarterback. Fastest way to impress fans and the owner, too. Too bad trying to get one is also the bet least likely to pay off, meaning it's also the fastest way to get fired. I sure wouldn't want a gig where I had to eagerly play against the percentages just to draw a paycheck for another couple of years.

The future is never now but it's always unknowable. Goff and Wentz could become the next Brady and Peyton Manning. People DO fill inside straights sometimes.

If only more people tried it when I play poker.


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