Over the past few years for NFL teams that are rebuilding, the blueprint for potential success has been to draft a quarterback while also having a proven veteran signal-caller ahead of them.
It is a method that has had both positive and negative results for many teams. Some of the most successful examples have been Brett Favre-to-Aaron Rodgers and even Drew Brees-to-Philip Rivers to an extent. There also have been cases where dynasties have been set up with a little bit of luck, which was the case with Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady.
The most common example in today’s league though is drafting early round prospects and sticking them behind a veteran for an extended period of time. Sometimes it’s one season or it even can stretch out across multiple years. The 2018 draft class was notable because of their strong QB class at the top, but this year, it seems as if most of them went to a team that is currently using a “bridge QB” philosophy.
The Bridge quarterback is just a term used for veterans who are placeholder and showing the highly drafted QBs the way of the NFL and how to fully utilize being a professional. This year more than most though, it seems as if many veterans were rubbed the wrong way by their respective team who drafted these prospects.
There’s valid opinions on both ends of the spectrum and we’ve seen some veterans handle it all types of ways.
Take Alex Smith for example. During the 2017 Draft, while he was entering the tail-end of his contract, the Kansas City Chiefs traded their first-rounder (No. 27 overall), third-rounder (No. 91 overall) and a 2018 first-round pick to the Buffalo Bills in order to move up 17 spots to acquire Patrick Mahomes out of Texas Tech.
This is a move that clearly signaled that the team was ready to move on from Smith and the trade secured the rights to his replacement for the future. There are many ways that Alex Smith could have reacted to this situation, but it seems he knew ahead of time that the team was potentially looking for their QB of the future.
That brings me to another point. Let’s look at the other end of the debate and talk about a quarterback that didn’t know that his team was looking to draft another one. There’s been a media circus made about Joe Flacco‘s resistance to being involved with and his failure to initially reach out to Lamar Jackson.
Saw the news today that Joe Flacco still hasn’t returned Lamar Jackson’s calls/texts or otherwise spoken to him. I get the competition factor, but between him and Big Ben can only imagine the media reaction if certain other QBs acted in the way these guys are
— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) May 10, 2018
At the time, he reportedly didn’t responded to any of Jackson’s call or text messages reaching out to him to introduce himself and get some familiarity with the playbook. Smith and Flacco are two great descriptions of both sides of the debate at-hand on how veterans could handle their heir apparents and eventual replacements.
Let’s dive a bit deeper.
It is within Flacco and Smith’s rights to help or completely block out this newly drafted QB and I’m all for a being a competitor, but veterans have to have some self-awareness in the situation as well. There’s different ways to handle it and there really isn’t a right way, but there’s a way of being professional about it.
Alex Smith helped Mahomes learn the system, teach him the nuances/intricacies of the position and what it takes to be successful on the next level. He attacked the challenge head on and went out and had one of the better seasons of his career.
Smith showed a different type of competitive fire and embraced the challenge of interviewing for the next team that he would play for, knowing that Mahomes was going to succeed him eventually. Embracing the challenge of being a bridge QB helped him secure a trade to Washington. He’s now undoubtedly the top guy on the depth chart, plus he earned himself a four-year, $94 million extension.
Smith has now positioned himself well during the back-end of his career, while also getting paid handsomely and still playing with a team that has a chance to be competitive in the NFC East.
Let’s look at Flacco and how he’s handled the Ravens trading up to 32 overall for Jackson.
It wasn’t too long ago that Flacco went on a remarkable playoff run, which ended in a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That game seems like a distant memory now with the QB’s statistical output since that playoff run and the return on reward since signing a three-year, $66.4 million extension in 2014 that helped secure his stay in Baltimore through at least 2020.
Scheduled to be the the fourth-highest paid QB in the NFL ($24.75 million) next season, 2018 is a big season for Flacco and of course, it’s human nature to be disgruntled about a team drafting your eventual replacement. The drafting of a QB in the first-round will create tension amongst any veteran, but there are different ways to handle it.
It will be interesting to see how Flacco handles the entire situation as a whole once he’s forced to interact with the former Louisville signal-caller on a daily basis during the teams off-season program and beyond.
Flacco can prove to the organization that he has a role and future in the team’s long-term plans by going out and producing. He can also use this as an interview for the teams that may have interest in trading for him down-the-line.
The final example of this ongoing dilemma happened with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion and has already stamped his legacy as one of the all-time great players for the organization. Throughout the past few offseasons, he has threatened to hang up his cleats and retire. Ultimately, that never came to fruition. He’s set to return for his 15th season, but before making that decision there was a solid amount of scrutiny.
During the draft, the Steelers drafted Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph in the third round. This decision caught Roethlisberger by surprise and he seemed unhappy about it.
“I was surprised when they took a quarterback because I thought that maybe in the third round, you know you can get some really good football players that can help this team now,” Roethlisberger said. “Nothing against Mason; I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid. I just don’t know how backing up or being a third string — well, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart — helps us win now.
Those comments weren’t welcoming words of encouragement for the rookie and is yet another example of the variety of ways that veteran QBs handle recent draft picks. The team did the right thing in protecting themselves against Roethlisberger’s potential sudden retirement in the future, but he’s the one QB of the bunch that should not be worried about his job security.
I’m of the belief that veterans should have the want to of leaving the organization in a better status than what they found it. There comes a time when players exit their prime or when a certain marriage with a team just isn’t going as once planned. It is that respective teams right to establish a plan for life afterwards.
Regardless, there are a multitude of ways that veteran QBs can handle the situation of being faced with heir apparent below them on the depth chart. Alex Smith, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco are all different types of examples and it is interesting to see the different mixture of personalities dealing with the situation and what the end results will be.