Author’s Note: I have not posted on this site in over a year. I generally stick to managing our Twitter and Facebook pages and don’t have a ton of time to write articles. With that being said, this article is NOT about specifically the Dolphins or Ryan Tannehill. I am not taking a side about whether he is a franchise quarterback or not; you guys can debate that in the comments if you’d like. This is only about how important it is to find one.
In 1984, Dan Marino threw for a then record 5,084 yards in a single season. In 2001, Kurt Warner came within 255 yards of breaking his record, the closest anybody had come since Warren Moon in 1991. Fast forward to today. Marino’s name has fallen to fourth on the record list. The names above him are Drew Brees (twice) and Tom Brady. Brees and Brady both broke the record in 2011, and Brees again did it in 2012. Marino is currently the only player in the top 10 who accomplished it before the year 2000.
The NFL has gone through a shift in the past two decades. What once was known primarily as a running league; the NFL is now a throwing league, with quarterbacks as the most important players on the field. The term “franchise player” has been around for some time. Most people know it as a player to build your franchise around. However, a “franchise quarterback” is a relatively new idea. With the shift to a passing league, it has become near impossible to sustain a winning team without a franchise quarterback leading the way. For some teams, it has been quite the challenge finding one guy to play the position. Many teams have spent the last ten years trying and failing to find that guy.
From 2002-2012 (I excluded 2013 since the season is still in progress), 12 teams have had ten or more quarterbacks start a game for them. Those teams are: Dolphins, Bears, Rams, Raiders, Browns, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Redskins, 49ers, Vikings, Broncos and Panthers. Since 2002, the only one of those teams to win a Super Bowl was the Buccaneers.
Many of these teams have been struggling consistently throughout the past decade. Since Rich Gannon (who led the Raiders to a SB loss in 2002) left the team, the Raiders have started 14 quarterbacks, none of whom have been the long-term answer for the team. Their record during that span? 49-111 with no playoff appearances. The Browns have been looking for a quarterback since they reformed in 1999. They also went through 14 quarterbacks. Their record? 83-151 with one playoff appearance. And what team has gone through the most starting quarterbacks since 2002? The Miami Dolphins, with 16. Since 2002, the Dolphins record of 77-99 doesn’t appear to be as bad as the Browns or the Raiders, but they have done it with consistent top 10 defenses. They only have one playoff appearance during that time despite having future Hall-of-Famer Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas anchoring the defenses for years. The one thing all these teams have been lacking are franchise quarterbacks.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are the teams who have found their guy and stuck with him. The teams with five or less starting quarterbacks during this period are: Patriots, Packers, Chargers, Saints, Giants and Colts. Between them, they have won seven of the past ten Super Bowls. These are teams who have sustained periods of success. Tom Brady was discovered in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury. Since Brady took over starting duties, the Patriots are 147-46. They have missed the playoffs only twice and won three Super Bowls.
The New Orleans Saints had been the definition of ineptitude. Between 1967-2006, the Saints had exactly five playoff appearances, all as a wild card team. They had never made it past the divisional round and of course, never won a Super Bowl. Then Drew Brees arrived. There is not a clearer example as to how a quarterback can change a team than Brees and the Saints. In 2006, Brees turned a 3-13 team into a 10-6 team and made the playoffs. In 2009, Brees led the Saints to a 13-3 record and their first Super Bowl victory. Overall, the Saints are 69-43 since Brees came to New Orleans.
But it’s about more than just the record. Total QBR was developed by ESPN in 2006 as a way to measure a quarterback’s performance beyond mere statistics. It takes into account the game situation, win probability, dividing credit and something called a clutch index, which measures how important a play is. The Total QBR is on a scale from 0-100, with 50 being an average quarterback. In 2009 when Brees led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory, he was second in the league in Total QBR. The Saints played the Colts that year, and sure enough, Peyton Manning was number one in Total QBR in 2009.
When Total QBR was developed in 2006, Peyton Manning by far led the league in it that year. His 87.2 QBR was almost 20 points ahead of second place Tony Romo. That also happened to be the year that Manning won his first and only Super Bowl.
Total QBR also works the other way. The bottom five quarterbacks in 2006 played for the Browns, Vikings, 49ers, Raiders and Buccaneers. In 2006, those teams combined for a record of 23-57. None of them made the playoffs. The same held true in 2009. The bottom five quarterbacks played for the Panthers, Lions, Buccaneers, Seahawks and Raiders. Combined, their teams once again finished 23-57 with no playoff appearances.
No matter which year you look at, teams with sustained losing seasons like the Raiders and Browns consistently have quarterbacks who finish near the bottom of the Total QBR rankings. On the flip side, Tom Brady has finished inside the top 10 six of the past seven seasons and his team, the Patriots, have been in the playoffs six of the past seven seasons. It’s not a coincidence. In today’s NFL, you cannot sustain success without a franchise quarterback.