Last year, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon both took the majority of snaps at quarterback for their respective teams, and while neither was perfect, both displayed a great deal of potential that would suggest there was at least some possibility that they could lead their teams well into the future. Their reward for their more-or-less encouraging play? Michael Vick and Josh McCown taking their jobs.
The signings of Vick and McCown — McCown especially — were among the more shocking off the free agency period so far because it seemed like Smith and Glennon had both done enough to avoid worrying about job security for at least another year. But that’s the new reality for rookie QBs — you pretty much have to be good right away. Between the new rookie pay scale, which prevents teams from essentially being locked into first-round QB choices for a half-decade anymore (Hi, Sam Bradford!), and the immediate successes of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and RG3, rookie QBs are under a ton of pressure to make an impact as soon as they enter the league.
It wasn’t always like this – Peyton Manning threw a ton of picks his rookie year, and didn’t even look remotely decent after his first eight games, but nobody freaked and said, “Shit…can we get Jim Harbaugh back??!!” He was allowed to develop, and sure enough, in year two, he looked like Peyton Manning, and other than a rough 2001 campaign, there was no looking back. Eli was even worse as a rookie — does anyone remember those seven games he started on the back end of 2004? That some of the most unwatchable non-Tebow quarterback play of the past 20 years. And going into the 2007 playoffs, after 3.5 years as the Giants starter, the best thing you could possibly say about him was that he was a slightly-better-than-average quarterback. But the Giants stuck with him, and ended up winning two Super Bowls.
Of course, they stuck with Eli because they had to — they invested a shit-ton of money in him after taking him #1 overall, and they could hardly declare him a failure after a few years when he was by far the biggest decision the team had made in at least a decade. This was also the reason why Alex Smith hung on forever in San Francisco even long after everyone in the universe had decided that he was a bust (and eventually, became a decent starting QB). When you put that much money into a player, you kind of have no choice but to dig your heels in and hope the guy no one believes in anymore figures it out.
But the new pay scale has swung things in the opposite direction. If a quarterback hasn’t established himself in two years, there will be talk of drafting another one. Hell, the Jaguars stuck it out with Gabbert for three years, which most people thought was too long. (Note: Gabbert might be the exception to the “give the guy a chance” notion, because it really seems like just flat-out sucks.) It’s funny to think of what might have happened if the new, far less lucrative rookie pay scale exists, say 20 years ago. Think back to Peyton Manning’s aforementioned 2001 campaign, where he threw 19 interceptions, the team when 6-10, and Jim Mora went on his legendary PLAYOFFS??!! rant. At that point, Manning had two good seasons, two mediocre ones, and zero playoff wins. There would have undoubtedly been talk of the Colts drafting a QB. Actually, go back to 2002, pretend the current wage scale is in place, and now pretend Bleacher Report exists. So, picture this headline:
Indianapolis Colts: Should They Trade Up For Joey Harrington In The 2002 NFL Draft?
Going back to Smith and Glennon, it’s quite possible that both will eventually start for their current teams again — Geno could win the job in training camp — but the fact that both appear to be having their development arrested in favor of veterans who can *win now (a dubious claim for Vick and McCown), suggests that young talent at quarterback just isn’t being values like it used to me. You either make an immediate impact, like Wilson and RG3 did, or you stumble out of the gate and quickly become expendable.
The situation isn’t entirely bad — it’s certainly a good thing that teams are no longer trapped with their same shitty quarterback for years and years because of his giant contract. But we might going too far in the other direction — to a point where if a QB isn’t good right away, we immediately question if they’ll ever be good, and start thinking about drafting another one. QBs shouldn’t hold teams hostage because they’ve already been given too much money that they can’t live up to, but they shouldn’t be disposable, either.