A DECADE AGO, Super Bowls were being won by guys like Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer. Two of the dominant quarterbacks in the NFL were undrafted Kurt Warner and sixth-round find Tom Brady, who also won Lombardi trophies.
So, the idea that you could win it all without a "franchise" quarterback - or at least without a guy who emerged from college carrying that label - got a lot of traction.
But as Thursday's start of the 3-day NFL draft approaches, the diamond-in-the-rough rationale seems a bit dated. Remember, sports years are like dog years; guys drafted a decade ago are NFL senior citizens now, and most of the guys who came in longer ago than that are out of the league. In 2012, with the NFL built around passing and offense, you need a stud quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
Why have the Giants picked up two Lombardis over the last 5 years without ever fielding a really dominant team in that span? There are several reasons, but they all start with Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft, and a clutch performer in two Super Bowls.
Who else has won it all lately? Aaron Rodgers was a first-round pick. So was Ben Roethlisberger. Drew Brees went in the second round to San Diego (with the first pick in the round), because of his size, then ended up on the free-agent market as he entered the prime of his career, coming off shoulder surgery. Brees is the only non-first-round QB to win it all since the last time Brady won, back in Super Bowl XXXIX. (Who was the runner-up that year? I forget.) In any case, the Saints' blueprint for obtaining a franchise QB is unlikely to be successfully copied.
All of this is relevant in light of the fact that Michael Vick turns 32 soon, and the Eagles' backups are Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards. Right now, officially, Kafka, taken in the fourth round in 2010, is the quarterback of the future. Anybody can be the quarterback of the future, until the future actually arrives. Then, if you want to win a Super Bowl, you need a stud, somebody who can outgun another top QB in an important playoff showdown.
This was the unspoken rationale in September 2010. Andy Reid stunned an Eagles media corps indoctrinated in 5 months worth of strongly stated franchise doctrine, which held that the Kevin Kolb era had begun. Given the chance to convert the era of Kolb - a second-round-pick, game-manager kind of QB - to the era of recharged game-changer and former No. 1 overall pick Michael Vick, Reid did not have to think long.
When reports started to surface a few weeks back about the Eagles wanting to trade up from 15th overall Thursday, the immediate reaction was to speculate they were targeting Texas A & M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He has been tabbed as the third-best of a strong QB class headlined by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, who should go first and second overall. Reports are mixed on Tannehill, who apparently has the big arm but started only 19 college games, after converting from wide receiver.
Two problems with the Eagles moving up for Tannehill: 1. In a year when everybody thinks there is pressure on Reid to win it all or be gone, they would be expending lots of resources on something that would not be expected to help the team at all this season, and 2. General manager Howie Roseman, in his predraft session with reporters last week, was asked several questions about Tannehill, and Roseman said: "Historically, the successful quarterbacks in the NFL, they've started a lot of games in college." That's not a statement that precludes drafting Tannehill, but it would be hard to explain away on draft day.
Because higher-pick QBs tend to be the franchise guys, teams tend to reach for them. Some experts think that will happen with Tannehill, who might not be a polished enough prospect to go in the top 10, but almost certainly will be drafted there. DRAFTMETRICS recently calculated that more than half of last season's games were started by quarterbacks drafted in the first round, even with Peyton Manning missing the whole year. Almost three-quarters of those games started by first-rounders were started by guys who went in the top 13 overall. DRAFTMETRICS also noted that in 2007 there were four starting quarterbacks who began their careers as free agents, but only Tony Romo remained from that group in 2011.
Tannehill aside, one popular suggestion is that the Eagles might try to get their QB in the second round, when they have two picks, 46th and 51st overall. But if recent history says you aren't going to get a star then, is it worth spending the pick? The second round is a place where you're expecting to draft quality starters, whether it always works out that way or not.
Roseman is well aware, as he said last week, that in taking a non-first-round QB, "You are betting against the odds." But he also points out that you have to have a really terrible, disastrous season to get one of those early first-round draft picks, where those franchise quarterbacks usually come from. If you lack those picks, you still have to come up with quarterbacks.
"You're hoping you hit the jackpot on some of those guys," Roseman said.
Second-round possibilities might include Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, who very well could be a first-rounder except for having originally tried to make it in baseball and now being 28 years old, and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, a leader and a scrapper who lacks an elite arm. If they waited a little later in the draft, they probably could get someone like Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, whose 5-11 stature is pushing him down lists.
"When you get into the fourth round and you know there is a 25 percent hit rate, and you have a guy - like, we'll use Mike Kafka for example - that has a lot of the traits that you look for, you're kind of betting on those traits," Roseman said. "But obviously, there's something that leads him to go into the fourth round that he doesn't have . . . you're going to have a lot of those players in the fourth round [at all positions].
"Because the position is so important, you're OK with taking a few chances on players at that position and hoping that your evaluations on the positives that they have and the fit in the scheme works, and because we've had some success with those guys - whether it's Jeff Garcia or A.J. [Feeley] - after the first or second round, we feel like maybe there's enough positive traits that we can find someone."
The question might be, is it worth it this year, trying to find "someone" if he can't be "the one"? Or do you just wait and see where you are next year?