Of course, Aaron Rodgers would rather have started as a rookie. Of course, he would rather have not been the poster child for patience when it comes to young NFL quarterbacks. "I think any quarterback would prefer to play right away," he said Wednesday on a conference call, after he was asked the obvious essay question ahead of Monday night's Eagles-Packers game: In 2005, the Packers drafted you in the first round and made you sit for the next three years behind Brett Favre. This year, the Eagles made Carson Wentz the draft's No. 2 overall pick and traded Sam Bradford to clear a path for him. Compare and contrast, please.
Rodgers was always held up as a counterargument, and often the only one, to the logical assumption that the Eagles would start Wentz immediately if they had a reasonable opportunity to do so. Well, hey, wait a minute there. I mean, Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for years, and he turned out OK. And it is difficult to separate the quarterback he has become - a Super Bowl champion, a two-time NFL MVP, one of the five most gifted passers in league history - from the manner in which he began his career.
Would everything have turned out the same for him if the Packers hadn't already had Favre, or if another team had drafted him before he dropped all the way to Green Bay at the No. 24 pick? In turn, is the experience that Wentz is gaining this season - throwing to subpar wide receivers and handing off to average running backs - so valuable that it was worth the risk of trading the incumbent starting quarterback and handing the team to a rookie? Hey, Wentz sure looks like he's been regressing over these last few weeks. Maybe sitting him this season wouldn't have been such a bad idea.
Around here, we tend to consider such questions from a parochial, almost myopic, point of view. So it's easy to forget that each team - including the Eagles - makes decisions within a certain historical context and with influence from a trend or trends. In that broader view, Wentz and Rodgers serve as excellent mileposts to indicate how much the league's collective thinking about young quarterbacks has changed. What they are, really, are products of their particular eras.
Start with the 11 drafts from 1995 through 2005, Rodgers' draft year. Over that time, 26 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Of those 26, five started Week 1 of their rookie seasons, and 14 started before their rookie seasons were half-finished. One more thing: Each of those five rookies who started immediately was among the top three picks in his respective draft, but there were six other top-three picks who didn't start right away.
Now, look at the 11 drafts from 2006 through 2016, culminating in Wentz's class. Over that time, 28 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Of those 28, 16 started Week 1 of their rookie seasons - more than three times the total of that previous period. Twenty-two started before their rookie seasons were half-finished. The urgency to play first-round quarterbacks immediately had increased, especially among those who were top-three picks. From '95 to '05, five of 11 started right away. From '06 to '16, 10 of 12 top-three picks started right away, Wentz among them.
So what happened?
"In general," Rodgers said, "I think you're seeing some better coaching starting at the younger levels. Guys are more prepared to play. They're doing more in college with protection adjustments, run-pass options at the line of scrimmage, and checks than we probably were 12 years ago, when I was coming out of the draft. So it's been fun to see that development of quarterbacks coming in. but it's also situational. Any quarterback needs a good supporting cast around him, and obviously Philly has done some good things with their roster there."
The counterintuitive part of this shift is that the 2011 collective bargaining agreement created a new set of rules that significantly lowered the money that teams could pay their first-round draft picks. The $50 million in guaranteed money that Bradford, for instance, received when the Rams made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 - and that has made him a well-paid pariah over his star-crossed career - hasn't been available to any draftee thereafter. Comparatively speaking, teams have less invested in highly drafted quarterbacks, yet in the aggregate they've been quicker to get those kids in the lineup.
"To me, it seems it's more of the necessity to win right away, and that job security is maybe a little bit less than it was 12 years ago," Rodgers said. "You're seeing teams fire coaches after one year, after two years. I feel like, 12 years ago, the stigma was maybe you give a guy three years to get his program instituted and get his guys in there and see if they can win. Now, there's not the same time of grace period, really. With the attention that our sport has and the way it's grown in popularity, there's a desire for these owners to win now, and if they're not doing it, they're going to make changes."
Rodgers and the Packers have bucked that trend. This is his ninth season as their starting quarterback, and Green Bay has had just one head coach over that time: Mike McCarthy. Doug Pederson can only hope Carson Wentz will keep him so secure.