Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Aug 2008

Favre Instant Analysis: Do Veteran QBs Improve Their New Digs?

An analysis of what the Brett Favre trade can do for the Jets isn't something that can be summated in a couple of paragraphs. There are countless variables that make this trade unique. For example, keep in mind that Favre is moving to a brand new offensive scheme for the first time since 1992, one that's already been implemented for several years and drilled all offseason by his new teammates. Will Favre's arrival change a scheme likely built around protecting the weaknesses of incumbents Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens? If so, you'll have eleven players having to learn on the fly, not just one. That's obviously not a positive, but does the addition of Favre's talents justify the change?

We'll be exploring the trade from a variety of angles over the next few days, but in the initial period following the trade, the first idea that came to mind for me was to look at how teams do when they acquire another team's starting quarterback and install them as their own.

Since 1983, there have been 41 quarterbacks who started the majority of the season's games for a team, left that team in the offseason, and started the majority of the season's games for his new team the year after. For each of those teams, we tracked their rank in points scored before the quarterback arrived and afterwards, as well as how the quarterback's old team did without him. In the interest of acquiring a larger sample, we used points scored instead of DVOA.

Just as a note, the reason we tracked offensive rank and not simply passing rank for the study is because the offensive effects aren't just limited to the passing game. In our injury research in this year's book, we discovered that injuries to a starting quarterback affect the running game more than injuries to a starting halfback. That sort of effect means that we have to analyze the offense as a whole as opposed to simply looking at the passing game.

Those 41 quarterbacks saw their teams improve by an average of two spots in the rankings -- not a huge amount, but then again, it would make sense to think that teams acquiring a new veteran quarterback to start would be acquiring them because they were unhappy with their current quarterback's performance.

Favre isn't just any quarterback, though, and he's not coming from just any team. The Packers had the fourth-best scoring offense in the league last year, while the Jets were a lowly 25th. What if we limit the pool to players going from a very good offense, one in the top ten in points scored, to an offense outside of the top ten in that year?

That leaves us with nine candidates. Of those players, seven saw their team improve, with only two suffering minor declines. The players:

Drew Bledsoe took over for Vinny Testaverde in Dallas in 2005 and saw his new team go from 25th in 2004 to 15th the year he arrived. Having a healthy Terry Glenn helped, but Bledsoe also had to play with Rob Petitti.

Drew Brees authored the biggest jump, leaving from 5th-ranked San Diego and taking New Orleans from 31st to 5th. Of course, there were many additions to that squad that changed things around, not the least of which was the return of a home field to play on.

Chris Chandler left Houston and its tenth-ranked offense to open up a spot for Steve McNair; replacing the ancient Bobby Hebert and installing Dan Reeves' ball-control scheme, Chandler moved the Falcons up a spot from 19th to 18th in the points scored rankings, then handed off the ball on the way to a Super Bowl a year later.

Jeff Garcia was Cleveland's big hope in 2004 after several Pro Bowl years in San Francisco; instead, the team around him collapsed and Garcia was left to try and win games essentially on his own. He actually raised their offense two ranking spots, but it was only from 29th to 27th.

Elvis Grbac was supposed to replace Trent Dilfer as Ravens quarterback following the latter's Super Bowl victory; instead, the team went from 14th to 18th in points scored, suffering from the loss of Jamal Lewis to a torn ACL and a disappointing year from Grbac, who'd retire following the season.

Bobby Hebert wasn't ancient in 1993, when he left the run-based attack of New Orleans for a pass-heavy scheme in Atlanta. The team dropped from 11th to 12th when Hebert took Chris Miller's job.

Warren Moon, who might be the closest comp to Favre in this entire situation, left a fourth-placed offense in Tennessee for a Minnesota attack that was 20th in the league in 1993. Replacing the punky QB known as McMahon and benefiting from the selection of Todd Steussie in the first round as well as the return of Terry Allen from a year missed with injury, the Vikings saw their offense shoot all the way up to seventh in the league in 1994.

Jay Schroeder is our final player; he bailed on a Redskins team that he performed poorly on for the Raiders, where he started eight games while splitting time with Steve Beuerlein. Schroeder's team got better by one rank, but it's of no real relevance to our discussion since Favre and Schroeder are in totally different scenarios.

It's not a large sample, but based upon these quarterbacks' experiences, we're seeing that the veteran guys tend to improve the offense in their new digs.

Oh, and if you don't believe me when it comes to quarterbacks affecting the running game? Those 41 aforementioned quarterbacks saw their new team's yards per carry increase by .31 yards, on average, during the season of their arrival. Teams that added a new starting running back under the same circumstances lost, on average, -.21 yards per carry.

Adding .31 yards per carry to Thomas Jones last year gives him nearly an extra 100 yards. Jones was already a sleeper pick in a lot of leagues, but he might be the player who benefits the most from Brett Favre's arrival. That's just one of the many ways we'll see the Jets change this year.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 07 Aug 2008

23 comments, Last at 09 Aug 2008, 10:01pm by Neoplatonist Bolthead


by thepeepshow (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 3:51am

Wow. Should I really be drinking that coolaid?

by Matt (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 4:48am

I guess the other question after this would be what the Jets can get by shipping Pennington off? They could make back some of the deal - a backup quarterback is already a luxury, and two of them (with Clemens) is overkill. But what could someone like Minnesota hand over?

by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 5:12am

Garcia just barely misses that list a second time for the Philly to Tampa move, since he only started 6 games (plus 2 postseason) versus McNabb's 10. Tampa also shot up dramatically offensively in that case, too.

Honestly, I don't see any reason not to drink the Kool-Aid. Not that I think Favre makes them serious Super Bowl contenders or anything, but the Patriots' slate just got a lot harder.

by fyo (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 5:22am

Lost -0.21 yards per carry?

Sad that a site like FootballOutsiders is suffering from the same "sale: -20% off" rubbish math as everyone else.

by Jon (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 6:36am

Your strict criteria leave out the obvious Joe Montana comparison.

by Josh (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 7:23am

Um, Warren Moon left Houston, not Tennessee...

by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 8:43am

I guess I'm skeptical that the Jets offensive line will be able to protect Favre. The Packers last year had a great offensive line and, not surprisingly, a very good running attack. Despite their attempts to cobble together a cohesive unit out of various players who were at one time good, the Jets figure to have neither. I'll be surprised if Peyton Manning isn't the consecutive games leader for quarterbacks come 2009.

Did the Patriots road get harder? Probably not. The Pennington-Coles-Crotchery short game has given them fits over the last couple of years. The last time Favre played this team, he lost on his own field 35-0 in what may have been the worst game of his career, and that Packers team was in better shape than these Jets.

by Fergasun (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 9:45am

Did any of these trades occur in August? I just am skeptical Favre is going to be able to pick up the playbook... but this analysis frictions up against my gut intuition...

by Gringo Starr (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 9:46am

I'm confident that the Jets will find a way to screw this up. They always do.

by Brian (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 9:56am

What really matters is who they are replacing.

Chad Pennington career passing: 5.5 Adj Net Yds Per Attempt.

Brett Favre career passing: 5.5 Adj Net Yds Per Attempt.

(Adj net yards accounts for sacks and Ints.)

by socctty (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 10:13am

Warren Moon left Houston, not Tennessee.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 10:28am

I guess he doesn't exactly meet the above criteria, but McNair to the Ravens is a decent comp. The guy played for a single organization and was traded during mid-summer so he missed the mini-camps. He didn't have much time to learn the playbook and struggled the first 6 games or so, but he eventually was very effective (until that stinkbomb in the playoffs vs the Colts).

by noah of arkadia or somewhere (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 10:40am

I believe the Packers believe Favre's decline is imminent. In fact, a player's decline often commences just when things are looking the brightest (as attested by last season's performance, not the offseason events). This is my perception only, mind you.

Can Brett beat the odds and perform at a high level, or at least at a level higher than Pennington for one more year? Can this brain-lazy, overconfident QB pick up a new offense?

As a Dolphin fan, I'm not exactly shaking in my pants. Not that the Fins need to be scared of anyone other than themselves.

by masocc (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 10:45am

Bill: You mentioned in paragraph three that you also tracked how the QBs old team did without him... but then never mentioned that again.

Just curious.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 11:25am

The Packers did not nor do they have a "great" offensive line. They have very good tackles, a solid center and poor guards. Different players were routinely shuttled in and out of the guard position due to inconsistent/poor performance.

The Packers were able to succeed BECAUSE of Favre's pocket presence. Not that it is that hard to notice a 320 lbs d-tackle come crashing through the line after Daryn Colledge falls on his *ss.

With Mike Wahle/Marco Rivera and Ahman Green the Packers were the best short yardage team around. I think they went two years at one pointing converting every 3rd and 4th and 1.

These days it's a hope and a prayer.

by Todd Collins Fan (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 11:47am

Props for the punky QB known as McMahon

by MJK (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 12:27pm

How much of this trend is the dreaded REGRESSION TO THE MEAN?

If a team is ranked ~25th in offense, it may because it was truly bad, but it may also be because it had bad injury luck, a brutal schedule, or some nasty weather to contend with, all of which are not repeatable phenomena.

Also, as you alluded, teams that were replacing QB's probably were working on improving, so one would expect them to get better. The same is true for teams with bad offenses, and they probably were doing a lot of things. New Orleans, for example, in addition to acquiring Brees, also spent their first round draft pick on the "greatest offensive prospect in a generation", and worked to make several other key offensive improvements.

To really get a good picture of how much adding the QB affected things, you would have to see how much (and in which direction) ~25th ish ranked offenses THAT DID NOT CHANGE QB'S changed, in the same time period.

I'm quite confident that adding a good veteran QB does help--but I'm not sure the effect is as dramatic as you suggest...

by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 12:44pm

I certainly think some of it is regression to the mean, but that regression to the mean is player personnel on crappy offenses gets swapped out quicker than personnel on good offenses, not divine right.

by MC2 (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 1:18pm

I think the key is to get off to a decent start. If the Jets start off, say, 1-3, we could see the Return of The Gunslinger, and things could get ugly in a hurry.

On an unrelated note, given Favre's penchant for looking for the TE in the Red Zone, Dustin Keller becomes an even more intriguing sleeper than he already was.

by andrew (not verified) :: Thu, 08/07/2008 - 2:06pm

Going back a bit further, there was a star quarterback playing in the NFC Norris who was dealt to an awful new york team, and improved their win total seven-fold (okay, from 1-13 to 7-7) with him. Tarkenton still considers that his greatest achievement in football.

by Jim Glass (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 2:56am

How many of those QBs were 39 years old?

The *only* QB I could find (in a brief search) who had really good looking numbers at 39 or later was Moon -- he threw for 4,000 yards at 39, but the team only went 8-8.

Testaverde threw for 3000+ at over age 40 in Dallas, but the team went 5-10 in those games and his passing rating was only 76.

That's about it.

I could see "regression to the mean" taking the Jets up from 4-12 to around 8-8 with Favre or without.

I could also see it dropping Favre *way down* from what his numbers were last year. What's "the mean" for 39-year-old QBs?

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 08/08/2008 - 8:44am

Well, that's one problem with analysis in cases like this, right? Favre is already so much of an outlier with respect to QB careers that it's difficult to predict anything other than "at some point, he'll decline rapidly." It's probably not unlike trying to project Randy Johnson's remaining years.

I'd also be interested to see how much of the increase in scoring was due to defense.

For example, Bledsoe's Cowboys may have jumped 10 spots in points, but it sure doesn't look like the offense was the driving force, moving from -2.8% to -3%. I'd think defensive changes had a little more to do with it (12.8% to -5.4%).

When Chandler moved to Atlanta, the offense actually declined (-2.0% to -4.1%), especially the rushing attack (6.1% to -18.5%) ... again in this case, the defense was probably a bigger factor than the change in QBs (21.3% to 0.2%).

Not all DVOA-era improvements came from defense, though. Under Garcia, Cleveland's offense stayed pretty much the same (-12.6% to -12.5%), but the defense dropped a bit (-2.7% to 8.4%).

I'm not convinced that moves like this tend to produce an improvement in offense; the teams as a whole may be improving, but I wonder how much of it comes from the teams also making changes on defense and seeing those changes have more of an impact.

I am definitely not convinced that changing the QB improves the running game. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see that YPC boost coming largely from a handful of the teams chosen for this study.

by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Sat, 08/09/2008 - 10:01pm

@18: I think a major component of regression to the mean is the way the schedule is structured. If you draw the hardest two divisions one year, you're not likely to do it again the next year.