Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Feb 2006

Culpepper Option?

It looks like the Miami Dolphins have entered the Daunte Culpepper sweepstakes and " ... one source said the price for Culpepper will be more than the second-round pick" reported last week. The Fins are also still looking at Steve McNair and Patrick Ramsey. Nick Saban likes Vandy QB Jay Cutler, but fears he may be off the board by the 16th pick. (free registration/bugmenot required)

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 21 Feb 2006

44 comments, Last at 22 Feb 2006, 10:05pm by Howard Roark

Comments

1
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:28am

Talk of Culpepper gives me an opportunity to ask a question about the ratings on this site. For a QB, does DVOA take into account the score in the game?

Culpepper's season last year is considered bad largely for his TD/INT ratio (64% completion and 7.2 yds/attempt aren't too terrible) However, 8 of his 12 INTs came when his team was behind by double digits.

Take the Bengals game for example. Much was made of Culpepper's 5 interceptions, but the first came when his team was 20-0 down, and the other four came after half-time when his team trailed 27-0. Now, of course I realize that throwing INTs never helps the team, but my point is if your team is down by 27 you have to take more risks than you would usually take to try to come back. Turnovers, which wouldn't occur if your team was leading, might easily result. How do we judge what a QB does when his team is behind by 27? I'd rather see a QB do what Culpepper did, and try to make some plays down the field, even if it goes bad, rather than just dink and dunk to pad his stats in a lost cause.

2
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:34am

If the price is right, it's a great move. The price unfortunately is a problem.

Given his knee, you have to assume that the 'Fins will be offering conditional picks, and that might not be acceptable to Minnesota.

Further, Culpepper wants a new deal and more money. Again, if you're Miami you have to be thinking incentives and Roster Boni. If you're Daunte Culpepper you want upfront money.

If as seems likely, Brees is an FA, then there is a viable alternative, which might keep the price down. OTOH, I don't know how the lack of a new CBA affects agreeing a deal with either Brees or Culpepper.

Bottom line: If the trade price is right, Culpepper gets healthy and his contract is deal is cap-friendly, this makes a huge amount of sense.

3
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:39am

Great question, Ryan. I've been saying for a few months now that Culpepper's performance last year was hugely affected by the large number of points the Vikings' defense yielded pretty early in the games against the Bengals, Panthers, and Falcons, making his numbers look worse than the actual performance. Yes, throwing into heavy coverage will likely get your team beat. Throwing the ball away when trailing by 27 points guarantees your team will be beat.

4
by MRH (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:44am

Does anyone else think the Jay Cutler hype is getting to be a bit much? He looked great in practice for the Senior Bowl, he's big, he's strong, he's so healthy in his body and his mind...

Did he throw a football out of the stadium from his knees?

He was 6 for 19 with a TD and an INT when they actually played the Senior Bowl. This makes him a top of the 1st round pick?

5
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:54am

Re 2: Roster Boni? That sounds a little obscene... ;-)

Ryan, I agree that when down big, a QB (a good one at least) will take more risks and likely throw more interceptions. So maybe we shouldn't judge Culpepper too harshly based on INT totals. The problem is that either way you figure it, it still doesn't speak highly of the QB. It may or may not have been the case for Culpepper, but in many cases, the team is down big in part because of the QB's play. Maybe Culpepper didn't throw many INT's until down big against the Bengals, but if he had played better before then (barring freak ST plays, the Vikes must have had at least two possessions, and probably had more, before going down 20-0), they would not have been down 20-0.

Now I'll concede that having a horrible defense probably didn't help, but going into last year, Culpepper was put by many into the same grouping as Manning and Brady. Manning has had horrible defenses in the past, Brady had a horrible defense this year, and they both carried their teams in those cases. Culpepper didn't, so that right there knocks him down in some people's expectations.

I'll agree that I think it would be interesting to weight DVOA or DPAR somehow to take into account the score and time left--i.e. judge players not just by the outcome of their plays, but by how much their decisions contributed to the probability of winning or losing. But that would probably be very difficult.

One simple thing that might be insightful would be to look at just Culpepper's (or anyone else's) first half DVOA/DPAR. If you're just talking 1st half, then there's no pressure to take excessive risks, and also no pressure to play very conservative to protect a huge lead, and we'd get a better indication of how the player might play on an "average" team in "normal" circumstances.

6
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:55am

Cutler may eventually be a good, or even an excellent, NFL quarterback, but somebody is going to take an unwarranted risk on him. Drafting quarterbacks in the first round, particularly in the top half of the first round, just doesn't have a good risk/reward ratio.

7
by Fnor (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:58am

DVOA takes score and field position into account, so that is adjusted for, Ryan.

8
by Parker (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 11:59am

I agree with you in theory, Mc. The chances for something bad to happen would seem to increase when you are trying to make a big play and the only thing the defense is trying to take away is the big play. However, in the Culpepper vs Cincy game (if my memory isn't too clouded), I recall many of those INT's not being of the 'well he took a shot and it didn't work' variety and being more of the 'what the hell was that' variety.

One in particular was the screen pass that he threw WAY up in the air that would have gotten someone killed if there had been anyone other than Bengals in the area to catch it.

I've seen every game Culpepper has played as a professional. I am by no means a talent scout, but it looks to me as if his decision making ability is sub-par. I don't think he really knows what he is looking for when he steps to the line and has to read the defense.

The new OC here in Minnesota is talking about installing a West Coast offense (whatever that means, right). My understanding is that the QB needs to make quick reads and adjustments at the line in this style of offense. He needs to change protections and recognise who the hot reciever is. He also needs to throw on time, which is not something I've seen him do. There is a theory here that this system scares the bejeezus out of Pepper and that's why he is doing all he can to get out of here.

But then again, I'm just some guy wasting time in his office

9
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:00pm

Re: 1&3

I'm pretty sure DVOA includes an adjustment for score and time remaining. That said, even so it may not address the point about throwing the ball away or dumping it off vs. forcing it downfield. A throw away or dump off will always be better than an interception under any circumstance.

The only way to really address this point would be to separate out the 'uncompetitive' situations (let's say behind by more than 2 TDs). This was an idea floating around to address the heavy use of reserves by some teams that had secured their playoff positions before the end of the season.

10
by admin :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:08pm

Right. I was surprised to discover this, but when it comes to average value, the issue of game score is fairly overblown. For every QB who tosses up a bunch of picks when he's down by 21, there's another QB (let's call him "Bert Mourner") who gains a ton of garbarge-time yardage. It all ends up evening out.

A bigger issue with Culpepper, as I've mentioned a few times, is WHO he threw the INTs against. CIN, TB, CHI. These are the teams that led the league in INTs. And Culpepper was above average from Week 3 on.

11
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:32pm

Aaron points to another issue as well; evaluating Culpepper's season with only six and 1/2 games to work with.

In the opener against Tampa, Culpepper had a 40 yard td pass negated by a phantom offensive PI call (there wasn't even any contact), and then, after he had driven the Vikings down to the Bucs 10, with the Vikings trailing by four late in the game, he threw a catchable ball to Moe Willimas at the 10, but Williams tipped the ball in the air, and it was picked off.

These things tend to even out over the course of the season, but when the season is less than seven games, no so much. Having said that, Culpepper's weakness clearly is his tendency to take too long to find the right receiver.

However, unless a team offers a good deal more than the 2nd round pick which has been bandied about in various media reports, it's pretty tough to trade away a 29 year old qb who has had the seasons that Culpepper has. To add one more caveat, though, if Culpepper goes T.O. then what one is willing to do changes. I still doubt whether Culpepper is so inept in recognizing his interests.

12
by RH (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 12:57pm

The actual senior bowl itself is very nearly irrelevant- what's important is the practices leading up to it, and by most account Cutler looked excellent. I know for a fact the Titans front office likes him. It's an open question how much they like him.

13
by Dman (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:02pm

That knee is fettuchini. Any team paying big for this guy is taking a HUGE risk. Miami is on the brink and while you could say that culpepper might take them over the top, he could also drag them down, and with the age of that team it could mean a total overhaul. I like pep, but with an injury like that.... stay very very far away.

14
by Dman (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:04pm

Also, isn't it pretty common for a guy like cutler to shoot up draft boards like this because everyone and their mother is putting up a smokescreen. Really, are any of the top teams considering jay cutler over vince young or matt leinart? He'll be lucky to go in the first round.

15
by Ron Mexico (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:08pm

(let’s call him “Bert Mourner�)

Lol.

16
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:37pm

Trading Culpepper could conceivably make the Vikings a candidate for a major trade up into the top four with a view to drafting Leinart, Young or Cutler, no? They would presumably have the leverage (Daunte's going to cost more than a second round pick) and they obviously can't be viewing Brad Johnson as the future of the franchise.

17
by MRH (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 1:43pm

Re #12: I believe that is the conventional wisdom among insiders. My point is that may not be such a great idea. Maybe the game results should matter. Here’s the qbs from the Senior Bowls from 2000-2005 grouped by passer rating (min 9 att so I could include Whitehurst) with this year’s qbs in bold:

90+: Whitehurst; Frye; Rivers; Ramsey; Pennington; Greene,D.; Campbell,J.
70-90: Rosenfels; Navarre; Kittner; Pickett; Casey; Redman; Carson Palmer
50-70: Croyle; McCown; Losman; McMahon; Ragone; Rattay
Less than 50: Garrard; Cutler; Orton; Simms

Garrard and Simms haven’t been totally terrible and Orton is a “winner� so maybe that last group is not such a bad place to be. I know this is completely unscientific, too small a sample, passer rating sucks, etc. But I wouldn’t rush out and draft a qb from that last group in the top 16 no matter how good he looked in practice.

18
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 2:11pm

MRH:

I wouldn't draft a QB from that entire list in the top round other than Carson Palmer.

Geh. I think that just tells you "don't draft a QB from the Senior Bowl."

19
by MRH (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 4:36pm

Pat:
Here’s the list of other qbs who appeared in Senior Bowls 2000-2006 but didn’t have 9 passing attempts, just to reinforce your comment: David Carr; Dantzler; Davey; Jesse Palmer; Boller; Martin; Hamilton; Berlin,B.; Kingsbury; Leard; Wallace; Matt Schaub; Carmazzi; Jordan; David Rivers; Josh Harris; Robinson; Shockley; Hackney.

20
by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 4:47pm

Re 6: I think just the opposite. Drafting a quarterback in the first third of the first round proves to be the right move more often than not. (I'd refer back to the "Just Cut Him" thread, because I'm not combing back through it to pull quotes.) Since 1998, ignoring players who haven't had a chance to play much yet, teams hit on quarterbacks in the top third of the first round a majority of the time, and the benefits accrued to those teams are such as to make it well worth the risk.

As for Cutler, he's got a terrific skill set and he played on a bad team. Usually, prospects either played for terrific teams and had lots of support or they played for lower tier teams and spent their careers playing against other low tier teams. They don't generally play for the worst team in the best conference in the country and run around getting their brains beaten in. Just look at the number of Vanderbilt players getting invited to the combine (and then compare it to USC or Texas). Cutler hasn't been playing on anything like a level playing field with the other top quarterback prospects.

21
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 5:49pm

Sean, I didn't mean to imply the bust rate for qb draft picks in the 1st round was above 50%, I was trying to suggest that the costs of busting on an upper-echelon first round draft pick in the salary cap era needs to be examined more carefully. The bust rate for each position in the first third of the draft, and to break it down further, the first sixth of the draft, where signing bonuses get quite large, needs to be closely looked at.

I haven't taken the time to break it down by position, but it is a critical thing to examine; what are the odds, by position, of having a significant percentage of my salary cap consumed by a guy who I draft high in the first round, who never becomes an effective player? Does it take more time to evaluate a quarterback, thus wasting more years of salary cap space to a guy who never contributes a lot?

Look at the cap space that the Chargers have directed at Philip Rivers, without yet gaining a clue as to whether the guy can even be an average player. The Texans still don't know if Carr can be average; meanwhile, he consumes huge amounts of cap space. It seems to me, and it really requires a fair amount of time- consuming analysis, that at other positions it is more quickly concluded whether a guy can play, thus allowing teams to build rosters more effectively.

Of course, the best thing a team can do is be good enough to avoid the curse of the early first round drafting, and the attendent risks of devoting significant cap space to guys who have never played in the league. Also, the new CBA may render this concern moot, if the players and owners decide to devote more revenues to veteran contracts, and less to 1st round draft picks, than is currently the case. Until then, however, I think it would serve personnel guys well to examine more carefully what their bust percentage is by position, and how long it takes to identify a bust at any particular position.

22
by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 6:32pm

Will,

I hear what you're saying. I think the notion that quarterbacks bust more than other positions is a bit overblown-they're just higher-profile busts when it happens-and that while it might be easier to come up with initial reads on players at other positions, that doesn't necessarily mean that a franchise is more stable for having taken those players. Look at highly rated running backs. Jamal Lewis was the 5th pick in the draft, and he showed great ability, but within five years of his having been picked, the Ravens are already unsure of how much he can contribute going forward. Thomas Jones went 7th in that draft and was given up on, only to go on to Chicago and perform well (and to have Chicago draft Cedric Benson, who promptly got injured and whose effectiveness is also in question). Andre Johnson went 3rd overall and looked like a Pro Bowl player until last year, when he was terrible. Was that a one-year thing or is he going down the David Boston road? Tough to say, and he's going to be a fourth year player next season. Dewayne Robertson went fourth in that same draft- he looked like he was on the cusp of a breakout in 2004, but when Jason Ferguson left and was replaced by the undersized James Reed, Robertson was reduced to a non-factor. Was he a bad pick? Will he bounce back with a runstuffer placed next to him? Hard to say, and he's got a big cap number this season. Quarterback may take a bit longer to evaluate (and it doesn't always- no one had any illusions about Manning by the end of his rookie year), but once you've decided a guy can play, you don't have to look at that position again for another 10-12 years. Quarterbacks very rarely fall off unless they have injury issues, and they can be effective well into their mid 30's.

I actually think that San Diego and Cincinnati are two good examples of teams that wittingly or not followed the proper road to ensure themselves high level quarterback play. San Diego made a significant financial investment to Philip Rivers and a lesser one to Drew Brees. As it turned out, Brees was the better player, but the net result was that the team was getting elite quarterback play for the price of the combined salaries of Rivers and Brees- high, but not overly so. Cincinnati had a cheap, reasonably effective quarterback in Jon Kitna and added Carson Palmer to the mix. In this case, Palmer was clearly the better player, and so again, they got elite play out of the position for the price of Palmer and Kitna's combined salaries- high, but not overly so. And in each case, the player not playing retained some trade value, which would have allowed the team to recoup draft picks (Cincy chose to hang onto Kitna through the final year of his deal, but they could have moved him last year).

23
by Dave Keller (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 8:40pm

Perhaps Daunte Culpepper needs to have his arms ripped out of their sockets and replaced with duplicates.

24
by Green Bay for Life (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 8:53pm

OTOH, I don’t know how the lack of a new CBA affects agreeing a deal with either Brees or Culpepper.

I thought I had heard that they have a new CBA already or is that just phatom gossip.

Anyway, IMO i would not touch Dante Culpepper with a 10 Meter claiprod. I don't think his knee will be able to "athleticly" support his huge frame anymore. I think he has a good year maybe two left but he will not be worth the price he wants. If he is so scared of the "West Coast" offense perhaps he should look at getting a different job. Heck half his division runs it GB and DET. and most teams have a version of it in thier playbooks (single back, 3 Wr, and a TE. Look famliar?) for Miami i think to pursue Drew Brees would be a better alternitive. Miami has the Cap space to spend about 4-6 million on a QB (which would be a pay raise for Brees) and they don't have to cough up a valuable Draft pick for him. To me that is the perfect Win/Win for Miami and Cutler could sit behind Brees for a couple of years like Rivers did and then take over the team.

Of Course I think they may have to go after just above average talent in the form of Arron Brooks form NO.

25
by Sean (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 9:33pm

Jay Cutler isn't going to make it out of the top five, much less down to Miami.

26
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 9:57pm

Sean, here's a list of qb's taken with top-five picks in the first round (where the extreme danger of committing too much cap room to guys who don't contribute exists) since 1995.

Steve McNair
Kerry Collins
Peyton Manning
Ryan Leaf
Tim Couch
Donovan McNabb
Akili Smith
Mike Vick
David Carr
Joey Harrington
Carson Palmer
Eli Manning
Philip Rivers
Alex Smith

Let's toss out Manning, Rivers, and Smith as too early to judge, and say that if one doesn't know if the guy is worth the cap space after three years, when often there is another significant bonus coming due, then it wasn't a good draft. If one wishes to call Collins and Vick successful, then six of eleven were good picks. If one tosses out Collins, as I would, then five of eleven were good picks.

Vick perfectly illustrates the problem of the number one overall quarterback subset; these guys get so much money guaranteed right away, and the qb postion gets so much attention, that ANY success they have can lead to their quickly consuming vast quantities of cap space, without a lot of correlation to their ability to win games at a greater that average pace. There is no doubt that Vick consumes entirely too much cap space relative to his performance, and a case might be made for Peyton Manning as well.

Since I haven't yet done a similar analysis with the other postions (at first glance, a wide receiver pick in the top five looks really dicey),and the sample sizes are small anyways, I haven't established anything, but it sure is an interesting way of loking at things. Actually, looking at the number of busts coming form all positions, it really drives home the point that giving big money to people who haven't played a snap in the NFL, simply because they were taken in the top five, is a perilous position to be in. Trade down, trade down, trade down, would be my mantra, if I was a personnel chief.

Unfortunately, I think more teams a cued into this reality, which makes it harder for teams with a top-five pick to make such a trade.

27
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 10:27pm

Yeah, and look at the guys who failed -- Leaf, Couch, Smith, Carr, and Harrington (categorizing Carr as a failure for this exercise, failure defined as a guy who is definitely not worth the cap space he consumes). Alex Smith is an obvious failure, but to avoid a tiresome fight over whether he can be categorized as such after one historically awful season, I'll follow Will's lead and call him "too soon to tell".

All of them, with the exception of Couch, were reaches by teams that believed they were obligated to take a quarterback no matter what the value. (Couch, folks seem to forget, was every bit as highly touted as Peyton Manning, coming out of college.) All of them except Leaf and Couch were regarded as reaches even at the time they were drafted.

This exposes the most common, and probably most damaging, mistake a team in the top five of the draft can make -- reaching and overcommitting (in financial terms) to a quarterback because of the perception that you have to draft a quarterback if you're drafting that high and don't already have one.

A lot of this has to do with the strength of QB classes:

Leaf was the #2 pick because the perception was that there was a huge dropoff at the position after Manning and Leaf (the next QB drafted was Charlie Batch at the end of the second round.)

The sheer number of highly drafted QBs in 1999 got everyone buzzing, but Couch was the only QB regarded as a sure thing. Akili Smith is kind of the evidence against my weak-class argument. He was, basically, a mistake. Everyone knew when the Bengals drafted him that he was a mistake. They wanted Donovan McNabb and didn't get him, and wouldn't settle for anything less than the best "mobile" QB available.

In 2002, Houston drafted David Carr because they had the #1 pick and no quarterback, and the accepted unwritten rule is that, under those circumstances, you have to draft a quarterback. Detroit drafted Harrington because they'd convinced themselves they had to have a QB, and there was a big dropoff after Harrington (Patrick Ramsey was the next QB chosen, at #30).

In 2005, the 49ers made precisely the same mistake the Texans had made three years before -- you have to draft a QB if you have the #1 pick, although, while Carr is at least mediocre, Alex Smith is a total disaster.

If the Texans draft Vince Young #1, they will be making a huge mistake in the same vein (it's basically the accepted rule now that the #1 pick has to be a QB, as seven of the last eight have been). If they don't want Reggie Bush, they need to trade down to #4 and get D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Meanwhile, the best quarterbacks in the NFL... well... Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer were #1 picks. McNabb was a #2, McNair a #3. Ben Roethlisberger was a #11.

There are few top QBs who were not highly drafted -- Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck, and that's about it -- so you can see why teams with a high draft choice want to draft a QB. It's just that there's an unhealthy Pavlovian attitude about it that results in some disastrous selections.

Franchise QBs are, as a general rule, only available at the top of the draft, but if you're going to give a guy that much money, you have to be really, really sure he's going to be your guy. From the five failures listed above, I think the Browns (with Couch) are the only team that drafted him with the firm conviction that he was going to be a hall of fame quarterback. The other teams that made costly mistakes, it seems to me, did so because they believed they had to get a QB and just rolled the dice.

28
by Kuato (not verified) :: Tue, 02/21/2006 - 10:43pm

I believe that 4-6 million for Brees would be a big pay CUT, not a raise. He was franchised last year, so made over 8 million for the year. That is why they don`t want to tag him again this year because he salary would be 120% of last years, which would put him in the 10 million range. Which the Chargers seem to believe is too much money for a good QB with a possibly bum shoulder.

29
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 12:07am

Think of the quarterbacks who weren't drafted in the first round who have been championship-caliber at some point in the last ten years, if that term is defined as good enough to start for a team that got to the Super Bowl.....

Brett Favre
Kurt Warner
Kerry Collins
Brad Johnson
Rich Gannon
Jake Delhomme
Tom Brady
Trent Dilfer
Matt Hasselbeck

......heck, four of the nine won Super Bowls. Now, I'm not saying that they were all, Super Bowl winners and losers, terrific (and I can't remember if Chris Chandler was a first round pick); Collins benefited from the fact that the NFC playoff teams were terrible that year, the Ravens won despite Dilfer, and Johnson and Delhomme were merely good enough.

The point I'm making is that a franchise QB acquired in the first round, or even a frachise quarterback at all, is not critical to success, as important as quarterbacks are. If the Panthers get a break here or there, Delhomme could have prevailed over the ulitimate diamond in the rough, Brady.

One can never lose sight of building the entire roster, and drafting a potential franchise QB high in the first round often leads to inefficient acquisition of talent.

30
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 12:59am

Chris Chandler was a third-round pick by Indy in 1988.

I guess the appeal of taking QB's #1 is this: Drew Bledsoe, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Jim Plunkett and Terry Bradshaw (all #1 overall choices) were on the winning side a combined 11 times in the Superbowl and started a combined 15. That's a pretty high proportion of the Superbowls when you think about it. Of course, they all won with good teams, but it does tempt teams to chase after QBs who they think will make them regular contenders.

31
by Kal (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 1:21am

I keep reading this title and thinking 'Culpepper is going to run the option in Minnesota?'

Which is doubly perplexing since Minnesota has such crappy running backs and a bad line. But I'd pay to see it if only because QBs get creamed in that kind of game.

Looks like Will Allen was right - that if he gets traded it'll be for more than a 2nd round pick. Looks like I was right too - Miami is the team that appears most interested in him. I gotta say that I'd fear a Miami team with Culpepper as the team to take the AFC East. Even with the mighty Pats in the mix.

32
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 1:27am

Will, your last point there is only true to the extent that drafting a player at any position high in the first round often leads to inefficient acquisition of talent (because they usually are not good enough to justify the cap space they eat). I agree with you that the smart thing to do with a high pick is trade down to where draft picks actually become helpful.

Quarterback is the position, more so than any other, where the exorbitant expenditure of money can sometimes be justified, because hall-of-fame caliber QBs -- who, there is a good argument, are the only kind of player worth eight figures per year in cap space -- are generally only found at the top of the first round.

Yes, you can get to the Super Bowl with a merely OK quarterback and a lot of other talent elsewhere, sure. But let's look at all the Super Bowl champion QBs since, let's say, 1990, when our current playoff system began:

1990: Phil Simms (#7 overall), but the Super Bowl was played by Jeff Hostetler
1991: Mark Rypien (6th round)
1992: Troy Aikman (#1 overall)
1993: Troy Aikman (#1 overall)
1994: Steve Young* (undrafted, signed from USFL)
1995: Troy Aikman (#1 overall)
1996: Brett Favre* (2nd round)
1997: John Elway (#1 overall)
1998: John Elway (#1 overall)
1999: Kurt Warner* (undrafted)
2000: Trent Dilfer* (#6 overall)
2001: Tom Brady (6th round)
2002: Brad Johnson* (9th round)
2003: Tom Brady (6th round)
2004: Tom Brady (6th round)
2005: Ben Roethlisberger (#11 overall)

(* = Not with the team that originally drafted/signed him.)

So in this group we have 16 world champion quarterbacks. These fall into three groups:

1. Guys who came out of nowhere to become MVP caliber QBs, either for a career or for just a year or two, or who were picked up on the cheap because no one knew how good they were (Mark Rypien, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady x 3, making 7 out of the 16.)

2. Guys who are regarded as caretaker quarterbacks for teams carried by a historically great defense (Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, 2 out of the 16.) Note that Dilfer was actually a #6 overall pick, but since he was picked up by the Ravens basically for free, was universally regarded as a bust and is not credited with carrying his team to the championship, he most properly belongs in this category.

3. Highly drafted quarterbacks. (Phil Simms, Troy Aikman x 3, John Elway x 2, Ben Roethlisberger.) That's 7 out of the 16.

So this leads us to a few conclusions:

First, that there are two proven ways to build a championship team, where the QB position is concerned: Draft a hall-of-famer at the top of the first round, or be either good enough or lucky enough to acquire a guy for free who turns out to be a hall-of-famer. Note that, of the last 16 Super Bowl winning QBs, 10 are either in the hall of fame or are going to be, and an 11th, Roethlisberger, is certainly on that kind of career path. Of the other 5, two were the aforementioned Dilfer and Johnson (more on them in a moment), two (Rypien and Warner) were flukes, and one (Phil Simms) was a very good QB, although not quite elite.

Of course, there are Dilfer and Johnson, who prove that you CAN win with a merely OK quarterback, but to do so you need to build a historically great defense, which is of course an even more difficult task than acquiring a franchise quarterback. Chicago Bears, both of these guys can be had for peanuts!

Second, that in order to win more than one championship at a time, an elite quarterback is necessary, and, as mentioned, you can either draft one high in the first (as with Bradshaw, Montana, Aikman and Elway) or hit the powerball jackpot (as with Joe Montana and Tom Brady).

I guess that I've taken an awful lot of space to come back to mostly agreeing with you, Will. My argument is, you should draft a quarterback high in the first round only if you're really, really certain you're getting an elite talent that you'd be a fool to pass up. If that isn't the case, you're better off trading down and hoping to hit the jackpot on a QB elsewhere.

33
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 1:30am

Whoops... wish you could edit your comments. As you probably noticed, I put Joe Montana in both the "highly drafted" and "no one knew how good they were" categories... obviously he belongs in the latter.

34
by Sean (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 3:07am

Justin,

You're absolutely right- it's possible to win a Super Bowl with a caretaker at quarterback, but it's not possible to sustain success with an elite player. And there are two roads to obtaining an elite quarterback- you can draft him high, or you can hope to win the lottery with a mid or low round pick. In the first round, you're going to hit somewhere around 50% of the time. In rounds 2-7, you're going to hit around 10% of the time. Everyone always pulls the names of the guys who have been successful, without putting in the context of the much, much larger group of developmental quarterback prospects who failed to develop. For every Peyton Manning there's a Ryan Leaf, but for every Matt Hasselbeck there are ten JP O'Sullivans. Drafting lower round quarterbacks obviously has a fraction of the salary cap costs on its face, but there are hidden opportunity costs, and every year you go with suboptimal play at quarterback, you are not maximizing your investments in any other players, and particularly in your offensive skill position players.

The proper way to address the position is to dedicate a fairly high cap number to the quarterback position and then to address it with more than one player, a high round pick, and either a mid round pick or a veteran. Atlanta has a lot of money invested in Vick, no question, but that didn't stop them from drafting another quarterback as high as the third round, and as it happens, Matt Schaub can play. The Falcons have the flexibility now to allow Vick to develop (and he's got a phenomenal skill set and has shown flashes of being able to put it together) or letting him play out his contract and walk while keeping Schaub and signing him to a cheaper deal. Or they can trade Schaub and get more for him than they originally invested and then start the process over again. Basically, I'm a believer in drafting quarterbacks early and often.

For what it's worth, here are the other position groups who have been drafted since 95 in the top six picks:

RB- Ki-Jana Carter, Lawrence Phillips, Curtis Enis, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Jamal Lewis, LaDanian Tomlinson, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams

WR- Michael Westbrook, Keyshawn Johnson, Torry Holt, Peter Warrick, Charles Rogers, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards

TE- Kellen Winslow Jr.

OT- Tony Boselli, Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Chris Samuels, Leonard Davis, Mike Williams, Robert Gallery

DE- Julius Peppers, Justin Smith, Andre Wadsworth, Kevin Carter, Simeon Rice, Cedric Jones, Peter Boulware, Grant Wistrom, Courtney Brown

DT- Darrell Russell, Corey Simon, Gerrard Warren, Richard Seymour, Ryan Sims, Dewayne Robertson, Jonathan Sullivan

LB- Kevin Hardy, Lavarr Arrington

S- Sean Taylor

CB_ Shawn Springs, Bryant Westbrook, Charles Woodson, Quentin Jammer, Terrence Newman, Adam Jones

Are you better off investing a number one pick in Ki-Jana Carter as opposed to Akili Smith? Or Courtney Brown as opposed to Tim Couch? I don't know; so long as players are paid according to their draft slot, you're expending roughly the same amount of money regardless of the position. But the benefit of hitting on a Donovan McNabb or a Carson Palmer is much greater than the benefit of hitting on Shawn Springs or Torry Holt.

And when you are talking about the risks inherent in taking a top five pick, I really think that you can't ignore the figurative elephant in the room- the competence of the front office doing the selecting. The Bill Polian-led Colts had two picks in the top five, kept them both, and selected Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James. The pre-Marvin Lewis Bengals had three picks in the top five and took Ki-Jana Carter (mulligan), Akili Smith and Justin Smith. Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage had three top five picks with Baltimore and turned them into Jonathan Ogden, Jamal Lewis and Peter Boulware. Dwight Clark had three picks with the Cleveland Browns and turned them into Tim Couch, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren.

Sure, anyone can suffer some bad luck, especially when injuries are involved. But good GMs make good picks more often than not. And bad GMs make bad picks and then find themselves at the top of the draft where they make some more bad picks, until finally they get fired (but not until they've already done damage to the idea of the worthwhileness of a top five selection).

35
by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 3:29am

Sure, and top-five draft picks are usually a result of incompetent management, so unless the management is changed, the risk of failure is high. I think this is an underrated factor in explaining why so many top-five picks are busts.

Excellent points there, Sean. Your post yet again highlights the inherent danger in having a top-ten and especially a top-five pick, because of the extreme cost associated with them. The mantra really needs to be: Unless there's a guy available that I will not sleep for 20 years if I pass on, I'm trading down. I hope that sooner or later a front office will come along that firmly implements this philosophy.

36
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 10:58am

Prior to the 2005 season my hope/goal was that the Browns would escape the single digit draft position. (Having, remarkably, achieved that I have no doubt they will now trade back into that range just to make me crazy).

I think NFL teams regard the top of the draft as a bad gamble and are inclined to avoid it unless they absolutely fall in love with a player (the Giants with Manning). Net, the options for trading out of the top of the draft are, IMO, pretty rare.

Thus, most teams at the top of the draft are stuck with it. Unless the league and players agree to a rookie pay scale, I can't see this changing much.

37
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 11:29am

re 32: actually, Steve Young was a first round draft pick in the USFL, and a first overall pick by Tampa Bay in the NFL supplemental draft. Definitely not a player who "came out of nowhere". When you combine Young with Aikman and Elway, a fairly high proportion of Superbowls in the 1990s were won by these three QBs who were "can't-miss" guys coming out of college. More recently, the lower draftees like Brady, Brad Johnson, Delhomme have come to the fore.

I agree with the basic point made by a few posts in this thread though. For every Aikman, Young or Elway there are many other first rounders who never hack it.

38
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 11:35am

Prior to the 2005 season my hope/goal was that the Browns would escape the single digit draft position. (Having, remarkably, achieved that I have no doubt they will now trade back into that range just to make me crazy).

I don't think that's such a big deal with the Browns. I think the biggest problem with top 10 picks is the incompetent management problem. They're in the top 10 because they were incompetent, so they're likely to make a bad pick.

Now, it's still possible for a team to draft poorly with new management if the new management sucks. Yah, I'm looking at you, San Francisco. Last year was not the year to take a QB as first overall. San Francisco would've been much better off with Brown, or preferably, Braylon Edwards.

39
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 1:12pm

I think that with the tiny sample sizes involved, it is very, very, difficult to seperate out the effects of skill from the effects of luck, when evaluating draft picks at the top of the first round.

Sean, if Vick doesn't become a consistent performer it's a disastrous pick, given the cap space he has consumed, and is scheduled to consume. Now that the Falcons have wagered so much cap space on him, they'll even be more reluctant to cut ties, no matter what Schaub does; it's human nature. I'd rather have a guy go bust than perform just well enough at the QB position so as to encourage me to dedicate more cap space to the player, via a contract extension, and then have him never become an elite performer. Does this mean that one should never draft a qb at the top? No, but it means that one must be very cautious about avoiding falling victim to the Cult of the Quarterback, and thus devoting too much money, over too long a time span, to a guy whose performance doesn't warrant it, even if he isn't a flat-out bust.

I look at Peyton Manning, a great, great, quarterback, whose contract ties the hands of management somewhat. I think the same thing might happen with Eli Manning if he enjoys even a modicum of success. Are quarterbacks the most important players? Undoubtedly, and by a wide margin. It is possible, however, for personnel chiefs to become to focused on quarterbacks, and I think that some do.

40
by dadmg (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 2:38pm

Think of the quarterbacks who weren’t drafted in the first round who have been championship-caliber at some point in the last ten years, if that term is defined as good enough to start for a team that got to the Super Bowl…..

Brett Favre
Kurt Warner
Kerry Collins
Brad Johnson
Rich Gannon
Jake Delhomme
Tom Brady
Trent Dilfer
Matt Hasselbeck

Actually, Collins and Dilfer were drafted #5 and #6 overall in their classes, respectively. While neither has lived up to expectations (and neither team that drafted them went to the Super Bowl with them), they are nonetheless first round quarterbacks who've gone to the Super Bowl in recent years.

41
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 2:43pm

Yeah, I confused guys who haven't had careers which warranted a first round pick with guys who made it to the Super Bowl despite not being drafted in the first round.

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by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 4:21pm

Re: 38

There's certainly merit to your point. But there's also merit to the point that no evaluator of talent is going to be 'right' every time. And the cost of being wrong at the top are much steeper.

Said another way, IMO, the talent difference between the player picked #5 and the player picked #15 is generally much smaller than the $$ invested in the two.

43
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 4:45pm

ESPN has just reported that the Ravens informed Jamal Lewis that he will NOT be franchised.

So much for that rumor.

44
by Howard Roark (not verified) :: Wed, 02/22/2006 - 10:05pm

Given that Culpepper had MAJOR surgery to both arms, you've got to wonder whether the Vikings or anyone else will want him on their roster. The Vikings are probably going to cut him and take the financial hit.